The Gospel according to Homer. Mmm ... gospel.
August 24, 2003
Bart Simpson and God?
The book according to Bart may not be in the Bible; however, Maj. Steve Schaick can explain the relevance of “The Simpsons” television show to the Bible.
With a little help from the long-running sitcom, the 39th Air Base Group’s senior Protestant chaplain has developed a popular approach to studying the Bible at Incirlik Air Base, Turkey.
“[‘The Simpsons’] is entering its 14th season and … I know there’s plans to continue at least for another year or so, for sure,” Schaick said.
Two years ago while stationed at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo., Schaick noticed a massive number of cadets going to the dining hall for carryout dinners at the same time each evening.
Schaick was intrigued.
“Hundreds of them, literally, would go into the dining hall around 5:15 p.m. or so to get their carryout dinner and carry their Styrofoam containers back to their rooms, and they’d huddle around TVs and watch ‘The Simpsons,’” he said.
That started the chaplain wondering how he could integrate the show into lessons on moral and ethical leadership.
“The staff that I worked with would often use movie clips to either introduce themes or reinforce themes,” Schaick said. “I guess my antennae are up for relevance. I often use movie clips and so forth in my sermons on Sunday morning.”
Schaick later introduced his “Blessed Are ‘The Simpsons’” Bible study at the Air Force Academy, which brought in droves of curious cadets. Those numbers have continued for Schaick at Incirlik. In January and February, he offered the seven-week study to about 30-40 airmen and their family members.
“It went very well. I was really surprised,” Schaick said. “I was expecting the idea to attract mostly young airmen and maybe a few high school kids or something, but I basically got folks from the whole spectrum.”
His innovative approach to teaching the Bible also earned him an award from the National Bible Association recently.
“I’m really flattered by the interest people are showing in this and a little humbled by it as well,” Schaick said.
When “The Simpsons” first aired on television, Schaick disliked the show’s irreverent nature and thought it was keeping young people away from church.
“I thought what little I did see of [the show] was a very slanderous kind of irreverent celebration of Bart acting out,” Schaick said. “… Then after watching a few episodes, I just … got drawn into it, and as a result, I’m kind of a big fan of the show.”
“Bart Sells His Soul” is one of Schaick’s favorite episodes, which he uses to illustrate the value of the soul and its need to be cared for.
In the episode, Bart and his friend, Milhouse, are doing remedial chores in the church. While cleaning the church’s pipe organ, Bart discusses with Milhouse the worthlessness of souls. Milhouse offers to buy Bart's soul for five dollars.
Bart takes Milhouse up on the offer and “immediately Bart’s [his] life begins to fall apart, and not even his dog wants anything to do with him anymore,” Schaick explained.
Although “Simpsons” creator Matt Groening does not claim to use the show as a means for teaching Christian morals, Schaick said such pop culture shows provide good channels for religious discussion.
“I just think there’s a lot of powerful media,” Schaick said. “But it’s kind of our instrument for the taking to help us make a link between our own confused lives to the answers that Scripture has for us.”
Schaick hopes his next Bible study, beginning Thursday at Incirlik Air Base’s Crossroads Cafe, will continue to bring fresh insight.
“I’m not sure that I’ve done it justice it yet,” Schaick said. “But every time I do one of these studies, people bring out insights and things that I’ve never seen.”