Friday, 22nd October 2010
Sour D’oh Catholics?
When I read the headline “Homer Simpson is a Catholic”, at first I disagreed with it on two counts.
Then I thought that it could well be American English that gives religions an article, and that it is also perfectly possible for two-dimensional people to have a religion, albeit not necessarily to the point of being religious.
However, it turns out that the headline was mistaken for a third, and a totally different reason. The person whom it was supposed to be quoting had never said it at all.
Aficionados of The Simpsons know that the religion of the eponymous family is Presbylutheran. The Schism of Lourdes, which happened in 1573, had marked the Presbylutherans’ official split from the Roman Catholic Church. Unlike what usually happens, however, this was not related over a nuance of dogma, but because the Presbylutherans insisted on the right to attend church with wet hair. I find this weird, because that is something I do regularly, and I have never been told off for it. Incidentally, that right no longer obtains.
It began when in the episode The Father, The Son, and The Holy Guest Star Pastor Timothy Lovejoy informs us that his church is a part of The Western Branch of American Reform Presbylutheranism (a cross between Presbyterianism and Lutheranism). The denomination’s headquarters are in Michigan City, Indiana, and the elected head of the National Congress of Deacons is also known as His Holiness, the Parson.
Ned Flanders is an Ultra- Conservative Christian, and a graduate of Oral Roberts University. He thinks that hell was specifically manufactured for Jews, Hindus, homosexuals and pagans. Apu, of course, is Hindu.
However, the newspaper articles that went to town with the bad idea didn’t realise that Homer and Bart were merely considering becoming Catholic. This happened after Bart was expelled from school, ironically for something which he did not do, and enrolled into a Catholic school.
The semi-official Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano published an article by Father Francesco Occhetta arguing that cartoon characters Homer and Bart Simpson had quasi-Catholic tendencies. This was grossly misinterpreted, perhaps because Liam Neeson’s voice (he was the Voice of the priest) is what it is.
But just because Homer has been baptized and has even had conversations with God, and the article included the sentences “Homer finds his haven in God, albeit he sometimes gets His name sensationally wrong. [Homer calls Jesus Jebuus]. But these are just minor mistakes, after all; the two know each other well.”, and “The Simpsons remain among the few programmes for children in which the Christian faith, religion and the question of God are recurring themes. The family recites prayers together before meals and, in its own way, believes in Heaven…” it does not imply that Homer and Bart are Catholics – and the phrase ‘in their own way’ indicates this clearly.
The executive producer of The Simpsons, Al Jean, was not amused. He knows that The First Church of Springfield is Presbylutheran. However, he seems to be badly-informed about the fasting issue. He said “Homer’s diet would make it impossible for him to become Catholic; he could not go without eating meat on Fridays for even an hour.” Abstaining from meat on Fridays, nowadays, is a matter of choice – but it is amazing how many people still have similar ideas about the faiths to which they do not belong. In fact, jean said he has not been to church for 20 years so that explains his confusion.
Father Occhetta’s take on all this fuss was that he would not describe Homer and Bart as Catholic – “I would say they’re people of faith. Watching the Simpsons could help us spiritually.” he comments.
Whenever God appears on The Simpsons, he has five fingers – and all the recurring and guest characters have four. Take this as a “sign” that the whole caboodle was just “much ado about nothing”.