While the world is overun by Pottermania, the exploits of Bart, Lisa, Maggie, Marge and Homer Simpson - alongside the other animated residents of Springfield - are being used to encourage children to reflect on the big issues in life in a new book from the Church of England.
To coincide with the launch of the Simpsons’ first feature film (which is alreday a big box office hit), 'Mixing it up with The Simpsons' suggests screening extracts from episodes of the hit show to invigorate church youth group programmes, as part of a new series providing contemporary material for youth workers to use in mid-week groups or ‘Sunday School’ settings.
A week ago, the first in the series was launched - a book using Harry Potter as a starting point for discussions abut beliefs and the world around us.
In the latest release from Church House Publishing, youth clubs are prompted to reflect on God’s love for humanity after watching a scene in which Lisa Simpson – an eight-year-old school girl – gives a Valentine’s Day card to the most disliked boy in her class. And after watching a sketch when Bart gets expelled from school for embarrassing his head teacher during a school inspection, youth workers are encouraged to leave a plate of doughnuts with a ‘do not touch’ sign by them, to explore how Christians can deal with temptation.
In other sessions, issues of self-image are explored through the story of ‘Lisa the Beauty Queen’, and Homer and Barney’s relationship is used as a foundation for a reflection on the importance of friendship.
The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, is known to be a fan of the American animated series and believes that the long-running animation represents “one of the most subtle pieces of propaganda around in the cause of sense, humility and virtue.”
With its compelling characters and comical storylines, the Church hopes that Springfield will become a springboard for discussion of important themes.
The author of the book, Kent church youth worker Owen Smith, believes The Simpsons is an unexpectedly rich resource for exploring Christian themes and theological concepts: “This incredibly popular animation engages with everyday issues, from gossip, fighting and sibling rivalry, through to identity issues and citizenship. The book builds on this platform and teases out a Christian message through activities and discussion”.
After watching the suggested sections from the animation, groups using the book are guided through a range of discussions on the emerging theme, relevant Bible passages are listed to present the Christian perspective, and a ‘prayer activity’ is provided to conclude the session.
See also 'Reading Harry Potter too religiously', by Simon Barrow - http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/5504