Should Christians Watch The Simpsons?

By Alyssa Charpentier, GUG Contributor

This article was edited to Geeks Under Grace standards, and the personal opinions of this author are not necessarily that of Geeks Under Grace.

Pink donut with a bite out of it

They’re an all-American dysfunctional family, and they’ve recently been greenlit for their 36th season on television. Household head Homer Simpson, Duff Beer enthusiast and food fanatic, embarks on misadventures alongside his forbearing wife, Marge. Together with their three children — the academically-challenged prankster, Bart, the intellectually gifted Lisa, and baby Maggie — they exemplify the most unflattering and endearing aspects of American culture.

Matt Groening’s witty and subversive animated sitcom, The Simpsons (1989-present), spans every circumstance and topic, from parenting and marriage to pop culture and social trends. Fearlessly exposing weaknesses in the American way of life, the show challenges empty religiosity, inconsistent morals, and incompetent or corrupt authority while leveraging its cartoon medium and irony to achieve this light-heartedly. Silliness aside, it would be disingenuous to label The Simpsons a purely uplifting and positive show based on its creative and comedic merits. It may be a brilliant assemblage of storytelling and comedy, but all is not well in Springfield.

While gathering my thoughts for this piece, I perused Christian blogs and publications for answers to the question, “Should Christians watch The Simpsons?”, pondering the show’s persistent (albeit ebbing) relevance in entertainment. What may seem an obvious answer to some is a nuanced subject for this pop culture-engaged believer. Occasional responses yielded encouragement to my inquisitive Google search term. Others vehemently opposed Christians consuming such “inappropriate” and “corrosive” content. Between the extremes — and my own admiration for this clever TV series — I arrived at a conclusion.

What Characterizes The Simpsons?

The Simpsons is a family-oriented animated sitcom that delights in teasing, mocking, and dismantling certain ideas and behaviors, effectively critiquing the idyllic “American Dream” of prior generations’ longings. This essay will primarily address the show’s first ten seasons, or its Golden Age, the period most fans consider the “true” Simpsons.

Chaotic happenings center around the nuclear Simpsons family, consisting of food and drink-adoring patriarch Homer, who embodies the psychological id — a representative of man’s basest appetites — and Marge, the conscientious housewife who occasionally fancies something “more” in life. Their children mirror Marge and Homer’s attitudes and assume blemished characters of their own. Bart is disobedient, vacuous, and relentlessly ill-mannered. Lisa, internalizing her parents’ inattentiveness, harbors her insecurities in a cocoon of judgment and superiority over everyone from her family to classmates she envies and dislikes.

Employing humor to topple viewers’ defenses, The Simpsons immerses its audience in situations and character interactions that are never shy of absurd. Various adverts on the family’s television swipe at consumer culture, fads, and the lunacy of timely real-world events. Springfield residents spout off hilariously out-of-pocket phrases. Everything from shopping center monikers to political figures receives a satirical spin.

Characters like Comic Book Guy are a jab at pop culture fanatics who define their worth by an accumulation of factoids, pricey merchandise, and critical opinions on new creative content (“Last night’s Itchy & Scratchy was, without a doubt, the worst episode ever. Rest assured that I was on the internet within minutes registering my disgust throughout the world.”). Monty Burns, Homer’s employer, is the “greedy old capitalist man” incarnate. Reverend Lovejoy, Springfield’s spiritual authority and pastor of the First Church of Springfield, drones on endlessly with insufferably stuffy, often wildly incorrect sermons — putting his congregation soundly to sleep.

The Simpsons has an agenda: to incinerate cultural norms and preconceptions it deems excessive and dance gleefully upon the ashes. At its best, it achieves this thoughtfully, with depth, laughter, and care. At worst, it perpetuates the seeping toxic cynicism permeating America and dissolving its heart from within.

Dissenters accuse The Simpsons of being purposefully wicked and relentlessly mean-spirited. Indeed, some moments and scenes can be a bit “much” and warrant a skip-through. For example, the in-universe Itchy & Scratchy Show, wherein mouse Itchy brutally tortures and murders cat Scratchy, is an auto-skip during my private viewing. I don’t enjoy wanton violence; it crosses a distinct enough boundary to deserve a hard pass.

An earnest, ironic undercurrent flows through this show as it spotlights problems both uniquely American and broadly existential. Unfortunately, when too frequently consumed, the heaps of mockery and subversion may afflict an individual’s spirit, heart, and mind, desensitizing them to sarcasm and cynical postmodern perspectives.

Desiring God writer Tony Reinke mentions this in an article: “Unchecked, the sarcastic man’s affections become so corroded, his eyes so deadpan, so I-know-more-than-you, that those same eyes cannot weep at created beauty, let alone see it.”

What a frightening possibility: to develop so many calluses that one hardens any sense of softness! Jesus says in Matthew 5:8 that the “pure in heart” are “blessed,” and they “shall see the kingdom of God.” Purity arises from a will to honor God, living according to His holy standards. God does not desire that we embrace the cynical and sarcastic nature of our world. Rather, He calls us to “Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone” (Colossians 4:6) and to think on “whatever is pure,” noble, and praiseworthy (Philippians 4:8). Incessantly mocking society, or anything, contradicts the exercise of graceful speech and thoughts.

On this front, The Simpsons may impair Christian viewers who regularly watch it. As Reinke further explores in his article, the caustic sarcasm of modern entertainment builds little and erodes much. It successfully rips at, strips down, and slices holes in our social fabric, but doesn’t replace those cuts with newer, brighter patchwork. Once it has rampaged, it abandons its bulldozed concepts in smoking rubble with no plans to rebuild what it’s broken.

This is, perhaps, The Simpsons‘s greatest fault: it opposes too many things and promotes far fewer healthy alternatives. In its sometimes misaligned quest to decry evil, it struggles to advance the cause of Good — a common pitfall for popular secular shows.

Lego figures of the Simpsons family

Where The Simpsons Excels

The Simpsons has convinced many Christians that its biting and self-aware humor — peppered with raunchy moments, violence, and dark jokes — deserves no kind words and even fewer views. But what does Groening’s golden-hued family do right?

In moderation, The Simpsons is incredibly entertaining and uplifting. Its clever and timeless comedic barbs assure the viewer that today’s problems aren’t so different from yesterday’s. Furthermore, they are seen and felt by people who desire change, the ultimate aspiration of satire.

Seeing this can inspire a Christian who thinks no one “gets it” anymore and others do not care about the state of society. It proves even secular TV shows hold refreshingly Christian-aligned beliefs: adultery is wrong, family is vital, and many life events arise from divine intervention and prayer, as is the case in the Simpsons’ reality. Plenty of the show’s creators aren’t devout Christians, but the general morals remain intact.

In the Simpsons’ Golden Age, that fondly named decade following its ’89 pilot, themes of family and forgiveness, acceptance of what one has, marital devotion, and contending intelligently with personal differences emerge. The episodes delight with their tactful and contemplative approaches to these issues.

Lisa Simpson navigates her gifted mind and develops love and appreciation for her less-than-gifted relatives. Bart embarks on life-threatening dares, only to tearfully promise never to try them again when his father puts his own life on the line to prove their danger. Homer recalls the heart-warming reason behind his lack of baby Maggie photos: they are posted in his workspace where he “needs the most cheering up.”

Episodes like “Lisa’s Substitute” explore the characters’ vulnerabilities, as Lisa, fed up with her father misunderstanding her, clings to a brilliant substitute teacher for a paternal relationship. In the end, she’s forced to bid him goodbye. After name-calling her father, Lisa retreats to her room to mourn the absence of her adult friend and intellectual companion. Homer finds her there and assures her he doesn’t hold her insult against her and, in perhaps one of the sweetest moments in Simpsons history, says he’s never lost anyone special to him because all the special people in his life live under his roof. He proceeds to make Lisa laugh, then visits with his other children. None of these moments are undercut by jokes or gags. Homer invites Marge to bed after assuring her he’s on the roll of his life — all because he successfully cared for his children that night. Talk about parenting!

Another classic episode, “The Last Temptation of Homer,” tests Homer’s marital vows. Attractive new coworker Mindy intrigues him with her shared habits and hobbies; inevitably, the pair develop chemistry. Homer then attends a work retreat with Mindy, leading to a pivotal moment in his hotel room that determines he is a man of fidelity — and there is no woman he finds lovelier than his wife, Marge. Other women have tried and failed to seduce Homer; when he waves his initial bouts of lust aside, a resolutely loyal man appears.

Marge has had her almost-flings, too, like in Season 1’s “Life On the Fast Lane,” wherein a suave Frenchman attempts to woo her during bowling practice. Interestingly, Homer’s selfishness enabled this situation to happen. Had he purchased Marge what she wanted for her birthday instead of what he wanted (a bowling ball), he wouldn’t have provoked her into passive-aggressively taking up his bowling hobby. Thus, Marge never would have found brief solace in the arms of a man more attentive to her needs.

When the dust of these budding romances settles and the correct decisions are made, Homer and Marge realize there’s no one they’d rather be with than each other. No matter how alluring the temptation, physical or emotional, the grass is the greenest right where they’re at – 742 Evergreen Terrace.

The children likewise experience growing pains. Oft-critical Lisa has strong opinions but can recognize and reflect when she’s wrong or has pushed something too far. “Lisa the Iconoclast” sees the determined little girl refrain from proving she’s right about the sordid past of their town’s founder after realizing how much his celebration means to Springfield and, consequently, how much it would devastate them to know the truth. Bart has moments of genuine concern and respect for his dad and the divine, the latter of which manifests in “Bart Sells His Soul.” Together, the Simpsons learn and embody valuable lessons through their many misadventures, with plenty of laughs along the way

The series ultimately builds the story of a deeply imperfect but loving family. Faults and dysfunction aside, each member sacrifices what is necessary to make amends, displaying the devotion at the heart of their household. These aren’t “good” people, as most would understand the term, but neither are they monsters.

Homer cherishes his wife and kids. His love and sense of duty bloom from a decidedly flawed vessel, but Homer makes the right decisions when and where they count. He may be distracted by donuts, Duff, and the occasional lady, but his deepest desire is to please his family. Marge may be a better woman than Homer technically deserves, but she adores him and his inexhaustible quirks. He’s a challenging husband, to be sure; nevertheless, Marge proves even such seemingly incompatible pairings can work.

Their marriage is eventful, stuffed with moments that might have pushed them from each other forever. It is also rich with affection, attraction, intention, and reassurance. A Season 2 episode concludes with Marge cradling Homer and singing “You Are So Beautiful to Me” when an insecure Homer fears she no longer finds him attractive.

The Simpsons is memorable because it weaves comedy and social critiques with relatable, everyday human struggles. The characters’ emblematic fallen natures produce astounding depth and humanity, and their deficiencies contrast compellingly with their underlying longing to improve.

Like Homer, viewers may wrestle with impure thoughts or anger. Homer’s exaggerated reactions to these feelings and accompanying consequences model the foolishness of handling them inappropriately. Homer’s behavior also sympathizes with our misguided natural impulses.

Bright, opinionated minds like Lisa’s can learn through her social rejection to adhere to personal convictions while feeling empathy for naysayers — and reevaluating beliefs when proven wrong. In its humorous, roundabout way, The Simpsons shows how we ought not to be, intermittently exploring how we should be.

No matter the shenanigans, Homer apologizes to his wife and kids at the end of each episode after acknowledging he’s wronged them. The kids learn, too, from their poor choices and mistakes. Forgiveness, acceptance, and understanding underpin the household’s core dynamic.

Krustyland attraction at Universal Studios

Laughter Is Clever Medicine

Even when it’s not popping satirical wisecracks or taking stabs at politics, the show tickles tremendously with other flavors of humor: irony chief among them, but also wordplay, puns, pop culture nods, “I’ve been there” daily life struggles, and the occasional esoteric literary or scientific nod. 

An iconic moment finds Homer desperately trying to assemble his new backyard barbecue, a project that ends more disastrously than this essayist’s IKEA attempts. Piling on the humor is Homer’s bashed-up barbecue’s public reception — critics herald him as a genius “outsider artist,” commending his ability to transform rage into creativity. The Simpsons has a side effect more severe, perhaps, than its sarcasm: it may produce belly-deep laughter.

It famously excels at spotlighting niche and nuanced issues society frequently ignores, misunderstands, or, worse, praises, handling them in a way that will have many Christians in agreement with the show writers. Critiques abound for corporations and consumerism, modern art, mega-churches, companies conducting self-censorship, Apple product fanatics, Disney (who now ironically own the show), Congress, gun control, income taxes, and far more topics than can be listed here. A knack for cerebral witticisms has had the observant, Simpsons-loving American chuckling for decades — and Christians can get in on the funnies, too.

Perspectives of Christianity

If Christians have one impenetrable argument against The Simpsons, it’s that the show has featured dangerously misleading interpretations of Scripture. While the bulk of these more egregious instances, such as God Himself stating, “There are many paths to Heaven,” occur in much later seasons, they warrant mentioning.

The Simpsons toys with spiritually lethal pluralism, among other erroneous beliefs, meaning its enjoyment is better suited to established, discerning Christians than those still figuring out their faith. When it isn’t outright twisting Christian doctrine, it takes swings at church life, Christian hypocrisy, and evangelicals, albeit in an illuminating, Genesis-esque “Jesus He Knows Me” kind of way rather than anything hateful.

Reverend Lovejoy, Springfield’s passionless preacher, may resonate with viewers who have attended one too many uninspiring sermons. This critique should motivate Christian leaders to energize their work, ensuring it doesn’t give their congregation the equivalent of a dose of NyQuil. Every tongue could take a cue from the Reverend’s wife, Helen, and tamp down on gossipy tendencies.

The Simpsons has also shown an appreciation for God and religious concepts, particularly the power of prayer, and even implicitly honors Christian ideals and characters. Its lower opinions can teach Christians how to avoid contributing to church hurt, mega-church prominence, and skewed perceptions of what it means to be a believer, while its higher ones affirm Christians are onto something by choosing faith over worldliness.

Ned Flanders, Homer’s long-suffering Christian neighbor, repeatedly endures Homer’s affronts while seldom losing his cheerful disposition and kindness. Though Ned slowly becomes a tragic character throughout the series, he maintains his faith. He embodies Christ’s promise that we will have trouble in this world. Episodes like “Hurricane Neddy” push this gentle soul to his breaking point, exploring trials in his faith more thoughtfully than might be expected of a mainstream comedy series. It’s not a Christian program by any means, but neither is The Simpsons entirely dismissive of religion or divinity’s important place in our lives.

Figures of Homer, Milhouse, and Ned Flanders

Conclusion

The Simpsons want viewers to know they will never be the quintessential happy family. Their tomfoolery assures the audience, all of whom are sinners, that everyone can enjoy love, gratitude, purpose, and grace in this life. If non-believers hold this to be true, how much more should Christians, who know they have a future and hope in Christ?

When Bart disobeys his father or Lisa launches into a spirited rant, Christians should feel compassion for these characters. They may catch glimpses of their own rough edges or empathize with real-life people who challenge and vex them. If the Simpsons, sinners who profess a modicum of religiosity but likely don’t really know Christ, can find it within their God-given consciences to love each other and resolve personal wounds — what they’ve been doing for over thirty years — can this not inspire the ever-developing Christian?

Pastor Dave Dunham writes, “…the show is not commending bad parenting, reveling in disobedient children, or applauding the mockery of faith. Rather, they are showing these things in order to point out the absurdity of them in hopes that changes can be made.”

What are these characters, according to their creator? Matt Groening shared that The Simpsons personalities are “Creatures of consumption and envy, laziness and opportunity, stubbornness, and redemption. Just like the rest of us. Only exaggerated.”

Is The Simpsons suitable for Christians? Weighing the pros and cons, believers can determine, per their personal convictions, what the answer is for them. As a lifelong lover of the characters, dynamic humor, darling moments, on-point social critiques, and impeccable creative craftsmanship behind the show’s earlier seasons, I remain a fan. It’s not a perfect show, but neither am I a perfect person; so long as that is true, I expect to cherish this talented TV series for years.

About the Author

Alyssa Charpentier is a novelist and the author of the Myrk Maiden Trilogy. Her first book, Daughter Darkness (the Myrk Maiden #1) is a recipient of a Silver Award from Literary Titan. Alyssa is passionate about powerful stories, thought-provoking entertainment, and sharing commentary on films, music, and other inspiring media.

This article was edited to Geeks Under Grace standards, and the personal opinions of this author are not necessarily that of Geeks Under Grace.

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2 Comments

  1. Pat on February 25, 2024 at 3:21 am

    “God has no place within these walls, just like how facts have no place in organised religion”

    -Superintendent Chalmers

  2. steve on December 18, 2023 at 11:26 am

    At its best, The Simpsons is a great PG show (12+) with clever satire. the only thing that really turned me off as a parent is the constant sarcastic humor, which hit its peak in 90’s American TV. I’d let my older kids watch it, if it was still worth watching. They had a good run, but 36 seasons? Its impressive but not justified.

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