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Published: Saturday, 8/4/2007

Heavens! Simpsons movie treats religion kindly

There s a Christian Web site never mind the name, it s not important that conducted a poll asking whether The Simpsons Movie is appropriate for Christians.

Of the 570 responses, 51 percent of the people said No, 17 percent said Yes, and 32 percent checked Unsure.

So, a majority of those voting felt the cartoon movie is offensive.

But wait!

There s an important factor to consider when reviewing those numbers.

The majority of Christians polled had not seen the movie, but based their answers on their opinion of the TV show, the Web site reported.

D oh!

Would you write a report on a book you haven t read? Would you critique a concert you didn t attend?

Of course not. So how much credibility can a poll have when the people who are casting their votes have never seen the movie in question?

I went to The Simpsons Movie, rated PG-13, on opening night. Not that I m a Simpsons fanatic I only watch the TV show occasionally but it just worked out that way.

I think many of the people who voted that the film is offensive to Christians would be surprised by what they d see on the silver screen. I know I was.

This is not a religious movie, of course, but spiritual themes are woven throughout the plot, starting with a scene in church where Grandpa Simpson gives a prophecy.

The scene is definitely over the top, with a beam of light hitting Grandpa and sending him into a seizure in which he rolls around in the aisle shouting what seems to be gibberish.

Homer s wife, Marge, yells at him to Do something!, so Homer grabs a Bible, flips frantically through it, and shouts, This book doesn t have any answers!

Offensive? Or does Homer represent people who have no clue what s in the Bible, turn to it only in desperation, and don t know where to look or what to look for?

As the story unfolds, everything in Grandpa s cryptic prophecy comes to pass, just as the words of the divinely inspired Bible prophets invariably proved true.

Then there s Ned Flanders, the Simpsons nerdy but kind evangelical Christian neighbor.

Of all the characters in The Simpsons Movie, Flanders is treated with the most respect by the screenwriters. In fact, it borders on reverence.

When Bart is feeling low, Ned offers him a cup of hot cocoa.

Bart turns down the offer, but Flanders goes ahead and makes him a cup of cocoa anyway. He places it on the windowsill, tops it off with whipped cream, cookies, and chocolate shavings, then walks away.

Bart sidles over, snatches the cup, and gulps down the cocoa.

In another scene, Homer, true to form as the world s worst role model, dares his son to skateboard naked through town, which, of course, Bart does.

Bart, of course, gets in trouble, but Flanders is there to help. He gives Bart an extra pair of pants he happens to carry around, just in case, for his own two sons.

He tells Bart that Homer would do the same thing, but Bart knows better.

When an angry mob storms the Simpsons home, Flanders slips a wooden plank from his window to their house, helping the family escape.

Flanders uncompromising love and compassion spur Bart to tell Homer at one point that he wishes Ned were his father. And when it looks like Springfield is going to be destroyed, Bart hurries to church to be with Flanders during his last moments on Earth.

I kept expecting the filmmakers to pull the rug out from under Flanders, but they never did.

Another religious reference, lasting probably 10 seconds, made a lasting impression.

When doomsday looked imminent, we get a view of a church, and a bar next door. Suddenly, a crowd runs screaming out of the church and into the bar, while another crowd runs screaming from the bar into the church.

I can t speak with much authority about the TV show, but I have interviewed experts who said that it makes more references to God, prayer, and faith than any prime-time program except Seventh Heaven and Touched by an Angel.

There s no doubt that most of those references are sarcastic and skeptical, so it s understandable why one would assume the movie treats faith the same way. The Simpsons Movie is still The Simpsons, not Little House on the Prairie or Veggie Tales. But when it comes to dealing with matters of faith, the goofy yellow cartoon family is much kinder and gentler on the big screen.

David Yonke is The Blade s religion editor. Contact him at dyonke@theblade.com or 419-724-6154.



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