Barth and Bart, Part 3

There are a myriad of examples to pull from, this article will focus on a few particulars but the show itself presents frequent examples. Quite honestly The Simpsons deals frequently, even if it is in passing, with the relationship between readers of the Bible and their interpretations of the text. Heit observes this and its connection to our culture when he writes:

 The show characterizes Christians in a way that problematizes the task of interpretation. Quite simply, many Christians are, to some extent, ignorant or self-serving when it comes to interpreting the Bible as an authoritative text in a particular context. While most Christians recognize that the Bible plays an authoritative role in their religion, they also do not understand the salient points, both in a narrative and theological sense.[1]

 Heit offers a few examples from the show to support this assertion. In “The Otto Show” Marge uses the Scriptures to argue that Homer needs to continue letting Otto live with them. Just when Homer is ready to give him the boot Marge chimes in: Doesn’t the Bible say, ‘Whatsoever you do to the least of my brothers, that you do unto me?’” Marge is correct in her interpretation and seemingly in her application of this text. But then in “It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad Marge” she changes her tune. When Becky comes to stay with the Simpson family and she begins to take over Marge’s chores and win the praise of the rest of the family members Marge is ready to boot her. Heit summarizes by pointing out that in this case Marge’s desire for personal comfort trumps the biblical imperative to care for her neighbor. “Marge, then, echoes the notion that a faith-based moral responsibility is relevant only so long as it does not infringe on the ease of day-to-day living.”[2]

Reverend Lovejoy too succumbs to this method of interpretation, indicating just how wide-spread its influence is. Springfield prepares to celebrate one of its favorite holidays, Whacking Day, by killing a bunch of snakes. In an effort to see the snakes spared Lisa appeals to her pastor for support. Reverend Lovejoy, in response, does the unthinkable. He literally invents a verse of Scripture which actually supports Whacking Day. He says:

 And the Lord said, “Whack ye all the serpents which crawl on their bellies and thy town will be a beacon unto others.” So you see Lisa, even God himself endorses Whacking Day.[3]

 While this is an obvious extreme case it is a hyperbolic picture of what Christians do when they interpret the Scriptures in a self-serving manner, based on their context, with no thought to its intended narrative and theological context. Homer too does this when he, in response to Marge’s assertion that Otto should be allowed to stay on the grounds of biblical care for neighbor, says to his wife: Doesn’t the Bible also say, ‘Thou shalt not take moochers into thy hut?’[4] Again it is an exaggeration of what happens (though perhaps not in some cases) among real Christians, but the effect is to show the ridiculousness of the interpretative method in total. Heit correctly picks up on one particular episode, however, which demonstrates the absurdity of this approach better than any other episode.


[1] Heit, 52.

[2] Ibid. 54.

[3] “Whacking Day.” 

[4] “The Otto Show”.

Trackbacks

  1. […] my articles “Barth and Bart: The Simpsons as a Call to Biblical Reformation” (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4). Also see Jamey Heit, Reformation in Springfield: The Simpsons, Christianity, and American […]

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