The Simpsons has been a vehicle for social commentary since it began, and its religious episodes have had an exceptional impact on modern culture.
For over 25 years, The Simpsons has been one of the most popular TV shows in the United States and throughout the world. While portraying a dysfunctional family living in the fictional town of Springfield, the show has parodied all aspects of American society – and continues to do so. The Simpsons was renewed for seasons 27 and 28 on May 4, 2015.
Several episodes of The Simpsons have focused on faith, religion and spirituality over the series’ run, presenting America’s diversified religious landscape. Many different characters actively practice a wide variety of religions. Different denominations of Christianity are mocked most often. These religious episodes have sometimes drawn significant criticism from religious institutions. However, it would be misleading to characterize The Simpsons as solely anti-religious, as the parody is generally warmhearted, and some episodes can even be described as spiritual in nature.
The Simpsons themselves go to church every Sunday, even though it’s more of a habit than a question of deep faith. Their next-door neighbors, the Flanders, represent the archetype of conservative Christian Americans. The father of the family, Ned Flanders, has become so iconic that he has influenced social beliefs on the sexual attractiveness of the devoutly religious. Studies conducted by professors from Oxford University, the University of Otago, and the University of Maryland have found that non-believers find religion unattractive in potential relationships and have deemed this occurrence “The Ned Flanders Effect.” According to Dr. Jonathan Jong of Oxford University, “The stereotype may be false but does exist … and it is having a real impact on society.”
One of the most talked about episodes in the past 25 plus years has been “Homer the Heretic” during the fourth season of the show. [video clip] In this episode, Homer Simpson decides to skip church and have an excellent time staying home instead. As a result, Homer gets to feel the wrath of God, who visits him in a dream. Another memorable episode is called “She of Little Faith.” [video clip] In this episode from season 13, Lisa Simpson becomes a Buddhist despite her skepticism about organized religion. The episode has been said to point to the zeitgeist in America with people fed up with traditional options and seeking something different. Lisa has been a Buddhist ever since.
The Simpsons has drawn criticism from the religious communities over the years, but there also those who say it’s the most religious show on TV, and God himself is never mocked. The Simpsons turn to him whenever they have a crisis, and believe in heaven and hell.