Monday, May 16, 2005

As a GenXer, I feel talked down to.

Somebody in my church is thinking of doing this as an adult ed curriculum to attract young adults.

Is it just me, or is this sort of patronizing?

I'm assuming someone with a lot more RE experience than I have will read this and can tell me if I'm right, but these lessons sound like they are on a high school level or so.

I like The Simpsons, but I think I could handle writing a list of what I would do if I had 24 hours to live on my own.

thinking "Mostly, I think I'd do paperwork to make the lives of those I was leaving behind easier."

God Dwells in 'The Simpsons', Authors Say

By Richard N. Ostling

© Associated Press, August 7, 2002.

Sunday school teachers with restless teenagers or distracted adults might consider something a little different this fall: The Simpsons.

After all, in one episode of the popular animated TV sitcom, God tells the hapless Homer that even he is bored by parson Lovejoy's sermons.

Now the cartoon family is heading for a church near you, thanks to a 10-lesson study guide to The Gospel According to The Simpsons.

The original book was written by Mark Pinsky, religion reporter for the Orlando (Fla.) Sentinel. He co-wrote the study guide with Rev. Samuel (Skip) Parvin, a United Methodist pastor in the Orlando area. Both are published by the Presbyterians' Westminster John Knox Press.

Since Pinsky is a Jew, the prayers and themes are not explicitly Christian, so the course can be adapted for synagogue use.

The pious might feel the show has too many brushes with blasphemy to be suitable for church treatment. A church signboard on the show: "God welcomes his victims." Description of God after a dream: "Perfect teeth. Nice smell. A class act all the way."

But Rowan Williams, the newly appointed archbishop of Canterbury, leader of the world's 77 million Anglicans, calls the program "one of the most subtle pieces of propaganda around in the cause of sense, humility and virtue."

Pinsky's book argued that The Simpsons raises important religious issues in its cockeyed fashion. In the study guide he says church use of popular culture could help attract outsiders, but admits this may also smack of desperation and reflect a "dumbing down of serious discourse."

Each of the 10 sessions begins by viewing a Simpsons episode available on commercial rental.

For instance, in one show Homer is told that a Japanese sushi chef made a mistake cutting a poisonous blowfish and that Homer will die in 24 hours. Homer puzzles out a "to do" list for his last day. Item No. 1: "Make list." Item No. 9: "Tell off boss."

Next, participants write Homerlike lists of a dozen things they'd want to do if they had 24 hours to live. Then they read aloud a pertinent Old Testament passage, Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 ("For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven"), and a New Testament passage, Jesus' parable of the rich fool (Luke 12:16-21).

The group then discusses Homer's priorities and their own.

One item on Homer's list is a man-to-man talk with son Bart to pass on three sentences that will help the lad get through life: "Cover for me. Oh, good idea, boss. It was like that when I got here." There's further discussion of this and other goofy but intriguing plot turns.

The session concludes with a prayer: "God our Creator, help us to value each moment of every day. We realize that there are no guarantees in this life. . . ." As people leave they're asked to talk to someone they respect in the coming week about life priorities.

Themes of other lessons:

The nature of and reasons for prayer. (Bart, in danger of flunking, asks God to close school the next day so he can do extra study, and a blizzard ensues.)
Skepticism and faith. (Lisa Simpson doubts a skeleton with wings dug up at the site of a new mall is an angel, as people assume. Turns out she's right; its a publicity stunt.)
Why good people suffer. (Warmhearted neighbour Ned Flanders quits his job to open the Leftorium, a store with gizmos for left-handed people that flops.)
What is the soul? (Bart sells his soul to a playmate for $5 and tries to get it back.)
Thou shalt not steal. (Homer bribes a cable TV installer to get service for free.)
Thou shalt not commit adultery. (Wife Marge is tempted to be unfaithful to Homer after he gives her a bowling ball for her birthday.)
How to view the Bible. (A Simpsons episode with four fractured Bible stories according to the dreams of various characters.)
Identity and calling. (TV performer Krusty the Clown, who is Jewish, shares his troubled relationship with his father.)
Why attend worship? (Homer splits his pants, is unable to go to church with the family, and has such a good time he decides to stop attending.)


jfield said...

It may be an assinine way to atract young adults but otherwise I think it is a reasonable scaffold to use pop culture to get people to think about theological issues.

You're a self directed learner and anyone else's activities will seem contrived to you, but I suspect many people would enjoy the easy intro.

fausto said...

And Bart even mentioned Unitarians to a Catholic priest on last night's episode.

Chalicechick said...

Well, Homer did, and only in the context of offering to kick one of our asses.


Ps. Thanks Jfield

Steve Caldwell said...

I'm OK with using pop culture to talk about theology and philosophy.

I'm waiting for someone to adapt the book Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Philosophy: Fear and Trembling in Sunnydale along with the DVD collections into a youth or adult RE class that talks about Kierkegaard, Platonic eudaimonism, Nietzsche, and other topics along with being chock full of religious symbolism.

Chalicechick said...

Oh, I am OK with using pop culture to talk about these issues, I just find:

A. This curriculem itself a little dumb

B. the assumption that twentysomethings will like a Simpsons curriculem no matter how dumb a little annoying.

I was starting to feel that I was needlessly being a whiner on this one and I called to ask Katy-the-Wise. I said that I thought it sucked, but I was far from the acerage twentysomething so perhaps a bad person to ask.

Katy made the point that the average UU twentysomething was probably far from the average twentysomething so maybe I wasn't so off.

I thought that was a fair point.


Denise said...

CC, have you read the full curriculumn? Have you read the workbooks for Religion and the Simpsons (forgive me for not tracking down the full title of the book(S))?

I have actually read them and I found them pretty interesting (and I'm not a young adult anymore) and my 18 year old also found them interesting. We didn't have the videos to watch along with the topics but if we had, we would have REALLY enjoyed it.

There are similar books for "Peanuts" and "Harry Potter" though The Simpsons was my fave of the bunch!

Chalicechick said...

I haven't read it, I'll admit.

If it is a good curriculem, great, though the AP article sure did it no favors in describing it.


Chalicechick said...

I haven't read it, I'll admit.

If it is a good curriculem, great, though the AP article sure did it no favors in describing it.


jfield said...

I didn't mean to make you out to be some stick in the mud on this one at all. I suspect you and Katy are mostly right in principle. I'm just somewhat enamored of Pinsky's book and rather curious what someone did with it.

Denise said...

I think the AP article was pretty cruddy, now that I look closely. I also popped over to Amazon and read through the reviews of The Gospel According to The Simpsons and those tweaked my memory a bit more. The book focuses on Christianity and it gives little in the way of thought or information on other belief systems. They're mentioned but they do get the short end of the deal. I think that actually this is probably what I liked about the book, from a UU perspective.

We often find ourselves (at least in my UU world) ignoring the Christian or working overly hard to include other sects and this book brought Christianity back to the front of the line in a way that didn't feel threatening to the non-Christians in the household. (am I making sense?)

Chalicechick said...

What confuses me about that is that Rich Asterling is normally a really good writer.

I liked his book on Mormonism.