Saturday, February 19, 2011

Losing the young and how not to keep them

Those of you who know me know that I am a huge fans of "The Simpsons." It can be argued that I am perhaps most annoying whenever I bring one or thirty Simpson anecdotes to any conversation. I do so not because I want to show off my ridiculous recall of Simpsons minutiae but because I genuinely believe that "The Simpsons" is one of the finest satirical comedies (or at least used to be) on television.

Last night, I watched the episode "She of Little Faith" from season 13. In this episode, the local Presbo-Lutheran Church burns down thanks to one of Homer's and Bart's ill conceived plans. Unable to rebuild, the parishioners turn to mega tycoon Montgomery Burns to fund the church and his method is to turn the church into one huge advertisement campaign. Going into the church following the renovations, the Simpsons are aghast that the Christ on the front entrance has a lasso, showing that "He's all man" according to Homer. Upon the walls of the sanctuary are advertisements for various local Springfield shops including "Sportacus", "Let's Get Fiscal Financial Planning" and "Buzz Cola." You can even get your photo taken in a cardboard cutout of Christ during the Last Supper. There's even a money changer! The pews are now comfortable recliners.

Now, we come to Lisa. Lisa is, after Homer and Ned Flanders, my favorite Simpsons character. She's a genuine seeker for truth though I may question where that takes her. Nonetheless, Lisa is the show's embodiment of moral outrage. She laments that all of these nice things have cost this church its soul. In her outrage, she is displayed as a "Pouting Thomas" on the Godcam and once the Noid is introduced to give a sermon on deliciousness, she cries that she's had enough. Reverend Lovejoy says that it's the same basic message but dressed up a bit. Lisa then quips, "Like the whore of Babylon?" She then storms out of the church saying she's never returning and later that night prays to find a church free of corruption.

I believe Lisa is being a little simplistic when she says that the corruption must spread beyond just this one church, but she may not have another choice. Other Simpsons episodes have shown that the Catholics do have a presence in Springfield, but mainly for mockery purposes. But, regardless of whatever other churches are out there to choose from in the mythical land of Springfield, Lisa's leaving is exactly what is going on with today's youth in the church.

For years, evangelicals and church growth movements have insisted that churches ought not to be counter cultural but part of the culture itself. And what has been the result? Even in churches where there are many attempts to give the church "street cred" and a "rock n' roll" image, the youth are leaving in droves. They've been told that church is cool, that it's hip, that it's no different than the other facets of your life. You can come in wearing your backwards or sideways hats, do skits and rap songs, rock out to songs with good beats. But, they still leave and many will not come back. Those who do come back will generally go to a different denomination. Those who leave permanently often become atheists or adherents to other spiritualities or pay lip service to the confession they were brought up in.

But Lisa is different from most other American youth. As I said earlier, she's a genuine seeker, an intellectual, a vocal pro-claimer about the good and the ill in society, not that I agree with her assessments. Lisa's quest lead her to Buddhism. I don't believe that the vast majority of today's American youth would go through the same searching that Lisa does. They may later in life, but more often not. But this episode rightly shows what is wrong with modern American Mainline Christianity. It isn't drawing the lost, it is pushing away the lambs. Rather than admit that such a style of catechesis and worship and theology is only one inch thick, they keep playing to the tired old template. Einstein is said to have remarked that doing the same thing 10,000 times and expecting a different result every time is the very definition of insanity.

Yes, The Simpsons is a TV show. But great satire comes about when there is more than a grain of truth in it. Bravo, Simpsons!


  1. Thinking about that rap we heard at Timmy's baptism last year...

  2. I've been slowly falling in love with the Simpsons over the past couple of years. I haven't watched enough to get into it, but I enjoy what I've seen.

    Although if we're talking cartoon satires, my heart still belongs to Futurama.

  3. Tim,

    Futurama is a favorite of mine too. Canceled way before its due. One of the things I like about science-fiction (even comic sci-fi) is that it is an excellent means of commentary on present society.