Last September, Mark Pinsky’s The Gospel according to The Simpsons: The Spiritual Life of the World’s Most Animated Family hit shelves. It landed on Publishers Weekly’s Top 10 Religion Books best-seller list in October and stayed there for five months.
Pinsky, religion writer for the Orlando Sentinel, has co-authored a leader’s guide for the book with popular youth writer Samuel “Skip” Parvin. It’s now available from Westminster John Knox Press.
The guide’s 62 pages are packed with questions and activities to jumpstart any discussion of The Simpsons and spirituality.
The guide devotes a chapter to each of the 10 episodes it analyzes—episodes like “Homer vs. Lisa and the Eighth Commandment” and “Homer the Heretic.” Each chapter includes an episode synopsis, an Old and New Testament Scripture lesson, an activity, questions for discussion, a prayer and “something to talk about.”
A section entitled “How to Use This Guide” offers tips for using the guide in Sunday schools, Bible studies or even retreats and lock-ins. Pinsky and Parvin prepared the guide with an eye toward youth and young adults, but it’s applicable to anyone, they write.
“A consensus seems to be forming in this country that popular culture may be one avenue to reach people not otherwise inclined to church, if only by stealth,” writes Pinsky in the guide’s introduction. “Little by little, Hollywood writers and producers are discovering that faith may actually have some entertainment value.”
And the examination of faith in entertainment makes for excellent discussions. The guide’s chapter, “How We See the Bible,” analyzes an episode called “Simpsons Bible Stories,” in which the Simpsons get bored in church, fall asleep and dream of themselves in particular Bible stories.
Pinsky and Parvin use this episode to discuss “four ways of looking at the Bible”—as the literal word of God; as the inspired word of God; as containing God’s word; and simply as a “good book” for ethical and moral guidance.
The authors ask, “Does it make you uncomfortable when The Simpsons uses the Bible in a humorous way, or do you think it makes a point about how society views the Bible?”
The leader’s guide is an example of a good idea well-executed. It will help those struggling—like the Simpsons themselves—to figure out their faith.
Pinsky is currently working on The Gospel according to Disney: Cartoon Faith & Values for WJK, slated for spring 2004.
Cliff Vaughn is BCE’s associate director.
Buy the leader’s guide
Read our interview with Mark Pinsky