The Simpsons: The Father, The Son and The Holy Guest Star
The Father, The Son and The Holy Guest Star
Guest starring Liam Neeson
“You guys have more crazy rules than Blockbuster Video.” Homer Simpson
The Simpsons is one of the few shows on television that reguarly deals with the topic of religion. The Simpson family attends a Protestant Church every Sunday. Krusty the Clown is Jewish. And Apu is a devout Hindu. But what about Roman Catholicism? Is it the same as the Christian faith of Rev. Lovejoy’s Church or is it different?
With Catholic World Youth Day coming up soon, I thought it would be a good idea to have a look at this Catholic themed episode of The Simpsons. Oh, Simpsons, is there anything you can’t provide a sermon illustration for? Seriously, I’m eager to find out. When an episode of The Simpsons focuses on a particular issue, you know you’re going to get two things: shameless pay outs on easy targets and an insightful view of cultural perceptions.
During a typical random intro, Bart gets blamed for a prank pulled at the school Renaisance Fair. For a change he didn’t do it, but gets the blame anyway. This is the final straw for Skinner and Bart gets expelled. Where do we send Bart to school? What about the School for the Blind? Think of the leg up he’ll have over the other students… Nah, only one sacred cow per episode thank you. No, Bart is enrolled at St Jerome’s Catholic School. St Jerome – He suffered for our sins, now it’s your turn. Gee, I wonder if there is anything to say there about the relationship between Jesus and the saints in Roman Catholicism…
While being disciplined by his Nun school teacher, Bart befriends the cool, hip and Irish stereotype Catholic priest, Father Sean. In no time at all, Bart and Homer are converting to Catholicism, lured by pancakes, bingo and action packed comic books about the saints. This causes a split in the family.
Marge is concerned because Catholics are different to Protestants. In Marge’s head, they’ll end up in different Heaven’s – Bart and Homer in Catholic Heaven and Marge in Protestant Heaven. (I wonder if Lisa will end up in Buddhist Heaven?) So Marge fights back and works to bring her family back together.
What is the message here? Bart sums it up at the end of the episode – “The little stupid differences are nothing next to the big stupid similarities.” According to The Simpsons, there is no real difference between Catholics and Protestants. Instead of focusing on the differences we should be focusing on the similarities. After all, the two are basically the same right?
I grew up in a Roman Catholic family. I was baptised, had my First Communion, Confirmed – all in the Catholic Church. I went to a Catholic school and served as an altar boy. But today I am a Protestant. I am no longer a Roman Catholic. There is a difference. And that difference is grace. “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith-and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God- not by works, so that no one can boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9) The Bible teaches us that we are not worthy of God. That because of all our sin, we will never be good enough for God. So God, loving us so much, sent his son Jesus to die on the cross for us. Jesus paid our debt so that who ever believes in him is now going to Heaven and in a relationship with God.
The Roman Catholic Church may say they believe in grace, but in practice this doesn’t show. At every stage there are barriers put between you and God. You can’t talk to God directly, so you speak to Mary and the saints (never mind that Mary and the saints are sinful human beings like the rest of us and have no privelleged position before God that is not open to all Christians). You can’t ask God directly for forgiveness for your sins, so you go to Confession and tell the Priest your sins. And then, instead of gracefully giving forgiveness, you’re given penance – you have to do things, say prayers, whatever, in order to work off your sin. When you die, you’re uncertain of your relationship with God – you could end up in Pergatory where you have to work off your sins. That’s why there’s the line in the Hail Mary “Pray for our sinners now and at the hour of our death.” At every point the Roman Catholic Church is about having to follow their rules and traditions, do all the right things, and then maybe, just maybe, you will go to Heaven.
This is not the message of the Bible. The Bible teaches freedom from sin. We do good things, not to get in God’s good books, but because we are already in God’s good books. Jesus died so that we might be friends with God. Jesus died so that our sins may be forgiven. Jesus died so that we may have assurance of our salvation. That’s a pretty major difference. This is not a matter of small differences. This is a matter of how we relate to God and how we are saved. That’s a BIG DIFFERENCE!
I’m not a Roman Catholic. And for very good reasons.