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The Gospel According to The Simpsons: The Spiritual Life of the World's Most Animated Family [Paperback]

by Mark I. Pinsky, Tony Campolo
3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (56 customer reviews)

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Paperback, August 20, 2001 --  
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Book Description

August 20, 2001 0664224199 978-0664224196 1
The Simpsons is one of the longest running, funniest, most irreverent, and, according to some religious leaders, the most spiritually relevant show on television today. Journalist Mark Pinsky explores the moral and religious dilemmas faced by Homer, Marge, Bart and other key characters in the series - including Ned Flanders (the evangelical next-door neighbour), Reverend Lovejoy (the town's pastor) and the long-suffering Apu (the Hindu shopkeeper). Mark Pinsky looks at the show's treatment of God, Jesus, heaven and hell, the Bible, prayer, and asks why The Simpsons was so strongly denounced by conservative Christians back in the early 90's. He concludes by considering the question, Is The Simpsons supportive or subversive of religious faith? "The Simpsons is one of the most subtle pieces of propaganda around in the cause of sense, humility and virtue. Mark Pinsky manages to decipher the code without deadening the humour, which is quite an achievement." The Right Revd Dr Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Wales"

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Religion journalist Pinsky offers a thoughtful and genuinely entertaining review of faith and morality as reflected through the irreverently sweet comedy of The Simpsons, drawing on a wide if not encyclopedic knowledge of key episodes and interviews with the series' creators. The animated series is unique in many ways, including its longevity and creative freshness, but no less remarkable is the show's attention to religious themes especially considering the prevalent invisibility or irrelevance of religion on TV. A recent convert to the show who only started watching in 2001, Pinsky had been repelled by controversy surrounding the series' edgier early seasons. But as the program and its characters have matured, many viewers have seen a fundamental affirmation of spirituality, family and community life that emerges in spite of the sarcasm and exaggerated situations. Chapters are devoted to important characters Homer, Lisa, Ned Flanders, Reverend Lovejoy, Krusty and Apu and the faiths they represent, as well as to issues such as images of God, the Bible, prayer and ethics. Pinsky reminds readers that ultimately The Simpsons is played for laughs, not deep spiritual or sociological insight. Yet the abiding charm of the show is how often its caricatures are devastatingly on-target and point to a deeper truth, as Tony Campolo points out in an excellent foreword: "Do not go too hard on Homer Simpson because more people in our churches are where he is than any of us in the mainline denominations want to acknowledge." (Sept.)Forecast: One of WJKP's longest-selling titles has been The Gospel According to Peanuts, which clearly provided a model for this new rumination on faith and popular culture. Here's hoping that Pinsky's book achieves similar success; given the publisher's recent economic troubles (see PW's "Religion BookLine" newsletter, July 9), the small Presbyterian press could really use a hit.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

From Booklist

On the heels of The Simpsons and Philosophy [BKL Ap 15 01] comes a seriously funny examination of the spirituality of the popular TV show. The Simpsons, after all, spend more time in church than any other TV family, though Homer can still only describe his religion as, "you know, the one with all the well-meaning rules that don't work in real life. Uh, Christianity." Pinsky makes a compelling argument that the show's writers' view of religious expression is complicated and sympathetic, despite the lampooning of fundamentalist Ned Flanders and Springfield's apathy toward Lisa's Jesus-like social activism. Pinsky, who is Jewish, may be a bit more immune to the Simpsonian critiques of Christian excesses than some fundamentalists, and excessive quotation from the show sometimes makes the book confusing and out of focus. As in The Simpsons and Philosophy, however, those quotations are invariably laugh-out-loud funny, and in the end, no one--not even Baptist activist Tony Campolo, who contributed the foreword to this book--can keep from laughing at and with TV's most religious family. John Green
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

Product Details

  • Series: Gospel According To...
  • Paperback: 164 pages
  • Publisher: Westminster John Knox Pr; 1 edition (August 20, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0664224199
  • ISBN-13: 978-0664224196
  • Product Dimensions: 8.5 x 5.6 x 0.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (56 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,464,557 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Longtime religion writer Mark I. Pinsky (b. 1947)was a free lance writer before working for 25 years for the Los Angeles Times and Orlando Sentinel. His primary specialties are religion, politics (Sun Belt evangelicals) and popular culture (The Simpsons, Disney, South Park, etc.) "You can find God in the funniest places -- and where you least expect."
Since leaving the Sentinel in 2008, Pinsky has concentrated on books, free lance writing (USA Today, Harvard Divinity Bulletin, etc.), college lectures around the country, and adjunct teaching at the University of Central Florida. He has held numerous fellowships, including Princeton University's Woodrow Wilson School, University of Cambridge (Templeton) and Duke University Divinity School.
For the moment, he is trying to figure out how to make his first three books available online(he owns the electronic rights), and to find a publisher for his latest nonfiction book, "Unfinished Business: The True Story of an Appalachian Cold Case Murder." His literary agent is Gail Hochman, of Brandt & Hochman. This book represents a return for Pinsky, who covered numerous capital murder cases, including serial killer Ted Bundy and Green Beret Capt. Jeffrey MacDonald.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
71 of 80 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Finding God In Unexpected Places October 18, 2001
By mjanke
In THE GOSPEL ACCORDING THE THE SIMPSONS, Mark Pinsky shows us that it's possible to find God in some of the most unexpected places. Originally, The Simpsons was largely eschewed by the evangelical Christian community, because of Bart's rebellious ways. But as the show grew older, and the focus turned more towards Homer, Pinsky shows that people of faith who weren't watching were missing out on some of the most "Christian" television around. Seriously.
The Simpsons not only contains blatantly Christian characters but it explores issues of faith that other shows would never touch with a 50 foot pole. Ned Flanders, though ragged on by Homer a lot, is perhaps the best depiction of an evangelical-type Christian in mainstream television history. Lisa Simpson seems to present the side of the social Gospel. Marge's real faith in God also shines through. Though characters with faith are often made fun of, in the end the show always seems to prove that the joke is on the joker, not the jokee. The Simpsons isn't trying to evangelize, but it is surprisingly fair and evenhanded in its presentations, and with how it deals out the humor. In its history the show has dealt with subjects like cults, hypocricy, why God allows evil, hell, and forgiveness.
THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO THE SIMPSONS surprised me, made me laugh out loud multiple times each chapter, and was just an all-around enjoyable read. The picture of Christianity that is presented isn't perfect. The writers stumble on theological points many times (such as grace vs. works). This will happen when you're not a theologian and, in most cases, not even a Christian. But in spite of that, Pinsky shows that the Springfield world of Homer is one that is rich in faith and religious devotion.
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22 of 24 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars D'oh-licious! June 9, 2002
Princeton-trained religious columnist Mark Pinsky offers a dual book in "The Gospel According to the Simpsons." On one hand, it is a survey of basic twentieth-century (and some earlier) Christian thought, especially Christian thought in the context of a more global society, as the Simpson's Springfield is a microcosm of American and World cultures. On the other, it makes a convincing (although somewhat unnecessary) argument that there is a very valid reason to pay attention to The Simpsons. Better-written, more accessible, and with far more depth than the "other" Simpsons book ("The D'oh of Homer: Simpsons and Philosophy"), "Gospel" is an excellent tool for those interested in either critical analysis of the show, or an excellent introduction to modern theology.
The chapters are arranged in an intelligent manner, outlining basic precepts of different Christian faiths: the idea of a personal God and personal prayer, the role of evangelizing, the existence of Heaven and Hell, the authority of the Bible, and so forth. Pinsky does readers the service of exploring the Jewish tradition and even the "miscellaneous" (Hindu/Buddhist) traditions in separate chapters; although these serve as mere introductions to these religions, it offers a nice balance and places the entire book within a larger context.
Although those who have studied Christian theology might want more depth, those people aren't the book's target audience. For those who want to make the teachings of Buber, Tillich, Lewis, Boenhoffer, and other recent theologians accessible to all (especially the low-attention-span, pop-culture oriented youth), "Gospel" is a great way to go about it. The writing is clear (not surprising since Pinsky is a journalist), and the topics timely.
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18 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Simpsons is funny and deep November 12, 2002
I bought this book for two reasons. One was I am a huge Simpsons fan, the other was I was just finishing seminary and thought this book would just be a light read to pass the time. I really thought that at most it would just be good for a few laughs. However, I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the writing and the deep aspects of faith, prayer, grace and other Christian topics that where addressed.
Being a seminary grad, I always watched the Simpsons with one side of me laughing and the other side trying to figure out what message the show was trying to convey. So some of the things that this book points out concerning faith matters that the Simpsons address I already knew. Still, this book brings with it a unique insight and helps one appreciate all aspects of the show that much more.
Overall, I recommend this book for anyone who is a Simpsons lover or has a Simpsons lover in thier family. I especially recommend this book for parents whose kids love the Simpsons and they do not. This book offers some unique insights into how to turn this TV show into a time where parent and child can address issues of faith.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A reverent look at an irreverant show December 14, 2001
One of my favorite TV shows these days is "The Simpsons", which is arguably the funniest thing on the air. People who give the show a cursory glance always seem to think it lowbrow and crude, but as any fan of the show will tell you, it is intelligently funny, and if you peel back the intricate layers, you will ultimately find a moralistic foundation. As such, I was drawn to "The Gospel According To The Simpsons", which proposed an interesting thesis for the show's quality: that of strong religious roots, and that the show portrays religion in a very positive light.
Mr. Pinsky begins his book by relating his way of coming to watch the show. He fell into the category of people who found the show crude, but never sat long enough to dissect it. Finally he came around, and recognized that a case could be made for "The Simpsons" to be the most religiously-based show on television today.
Each chapter tackles a specific topic - primarily the individual characters in the show. Mr. Pinsky develops a very strong character profile, showing how each character can be related to people we run across in real-life - or even who we may be in real-life. In doing so, he tackles the religious complexities of each character, and weaves this into his broader thesis. He shows that despite Homer's numerous flaws, he does have Christian beliefs, suggesting he is like a person who believes in God, but doesn't grasp it firmly - using his belief when it serves him. Ned Flanders is described as a cariacture of the born-again or evangelical Christian.
Throughout the chapters, Mr. Pinsky highlights many episodes in which religion - or a religious moral - was very much at the forefront. Again, he uses these examples to bolster his main thesis.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars D'oh!
This work should probably be titled "Spirituality According to the Simpsons," though it will not have the same ring to it as the chosen title, "The Gospel According to... Read more
Published 2 months ago by SLIMJIM
5.0 out of 5 stars Great book
I really enjoyed this book. I learned a lot about how religion was portrayed in the show that I really didn't notice until now.
Published 10 months ago by TechGeek
2.0 out of 5 stars Skip it.
Being a fan of The Simpsons, I was excited to read this book. The purpose of the book is to examine the spiritual aspect of the show. Read more
Published on June 1, 2009 by W. Matthews
5.0 out of 5 stars Fantastic book ESPECIALLY for Christians.
I am an Orthodox Christian, and as conservative as we are, I recommend this book to ALL Christians. I've been watching the Simpsons since it started, and only after i read this... Read more
Published on January 22, 2008 by Mr. Albert Osseily
4.0 out of 5 stars Mistitled but good read
Who would expect such a clever critique of American religiosity from a cartoon sitcom? This is a very entertaining read that unveils how the Simpsons cartoon has more religious... Read more
Published on September 7, 2007 by Joshua V. Schneider
5.0 out of 5 stars An interesting premise and lots of fun (a conservative Christian...
Some of the one star reviews that this book has generated tell me that some people have entirely missed the point of the book. Read more
Published on August 4, 2007 by DWD's Reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars The Simpsons and God in the same place...Who-diddly-knew?
Upon first watching The Simpsons, I don't think the average viewer's initial inclination would be to call the show spiritual or religious. Read more
Published on December 11, 2006 by Cassie W.
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting little book
This is far from a groundbreaking work on religion, to put it mildly, but it does provide an interesting, and, for the most part, a surprisingly valid way of looking at the pop... Read more
Published on May 19, 2006 by Dave F.
5.0 out of 5 stars GREAT BOOK
for any true child of God who is a simpson shows there are secular shows to be enjoyed in a Christian way.
Published on March 8, 2006 by E. B. Williams
4.0 out of 5 stars Better than expected
I am a Simpsons fan. That is what lead to my interest in this book, although I admit I was intrigued whether this was going to be another religious shot across the bow of the... Read more
Published on December 3, 2005 by R S Cobblestone
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