It has recently come to my attention that a simple listing of Simpsons episodes openly dealing with spiritual issues can be a bit difficult to find. Since I have watched an episode every night of my life for the past 15 years (thirteen of those as a campus pastor) it took little energy to create such list. So I hope this helps!
Homer Vs. Lisa and the 8th Commandment (Season 2): Homer steals cable (as American as stealing apple pie!), but Lisa fears for his soul. This is a good episode for bringing up character issues, stealing and integrity. How do we respond when corruption is the norm?
Homer the Heretic (Season 4): Homer skips church and proceeds to have the best morning of his life, thus deciding to never go to church again and develop his own faith. This episode brings up the issues of Church and community. Why do we bother to be a part of something so messed up and annoying (sometimes)?
In Marge we Trust (Season 8): Burned out, Reverend Lovejoy passes on the job of spiritual advisor to Marge, who tackles the responsibility with cheerful fervor. But pat answers soon go awry. I like this episode for dealing with the difficulties of the Christian life. Does Christianity guarantee happiness and the easy life? (Answer, no.) How do we listen, grieve with those who grieve, and how does Jesus call us to care for others in genuine community?
Lisa the Skeptic (Season 9): Lisa uncovers what appears to be an angel skeleton causing a debate between faith and rationalism. This is a good one dealing with the value of skepticism. Does God require Christians to check their brains at the door?
The Joy of Sect (Season 9): The Movementarians set up camp in Springfield, asking people to surrender all their possessions and labor to the cause (which almost everyone does). Other than being freaking hilarious, this episode deals with reason and faith and cults. How do we believe in evangelism (or Evangelicalism) without falling into the trap of religion as manipulation? Can Christian faith operate as a set of rules, “do this in order to go to paradise”?
Simpsons Bible Stories (Season 10): In three parts, this episode colorfully retells the stories of Adam and Eve, the Exodus and David and Goliath. I like this one for a look at how today’s non-churched culture sees the Bible. Where does the Word of God intersect post-modern culture? How do we apply this dusty old book and seemingly nonsensical OT stories to real life?
Faith Off (Season 11): Bart becomes a faith healer after removing a bucket from Homer’s head, but then goes through a crisis of belief. Miracles. Are they real? Do they happen today? Should we pray for/ask for healing? What if it doesn’t happen? If I pray for someone not to die of cancer and they do, does that mean I don’t have faith? or I didn’t pray correctly? These are all extremely poignant questions dealt with in this episode.
Missionary Impossible (Season 11): Homer needs to lie low and ends up being sent to a pacific island as a missionary where he quickly corrupts the indigenous population. Missions and evangelism. Do all paths lead to heaven? Why should we bother trying to convert people away from their beliefs if they are happy the way they are? Aren’t missions just an attempt to convert people to our Western culture? This episode raises these tough issues.
She of Little Faith (Season 13): Lisa shops for a new belief system, one that suits her wants and needs. What does the church today stand for? Relativism, commercialism and health and wealth have all caused much of the mainstream church to be so watered down that universalism has made it seem that all faiths are basically the same (and none of them worth real devotion). Can’t I just shop around for the pieces of religion that serve me the best and follow that? These issues are so much a part of Western culture that many won’t even see the need to discuss this. It’s just accepted truth.
Pray Anything (Season 14): Homer tries to get to the bottom of Flanders’ success, and decides it is prayer. But does he have a grip on what prayer is? This episode deals with the nature of prayer. How does it work? Can I/should I pray for anything? How do I know if God is answering? What about people who misinterpret God’s answers? Should prayer always be an individual exercise? or communal?
There are many more great Simpsons episodes for spiritual discussion, but these are some of the most obvious. I used some of them in talks and discussions and could imagine a zillion other uses. (Here is a link to a site where a guy developed a 10 commandments series using Simpsons episodes.) So go crazy! Who doesn’t like to talk about real life issues and the Simpsons? Get your Flanders on!