Editor's note: This article was originally written in October, 2013.
The recent passing of Marcia Wallace, the voice of Mrs. Krabappel on The Simpsons, put me in a reflective mood. The show remains my all-time favorite and people are often surprised I'm as sentimental about it as I am, or that I lump Homer Simpson into the pantheon of my heroes alongside such men as Augustine and Alexander Hamilton. Hear me out.
The Simpsons might be the last mainstream "family values" show for the foreseeable future. For all the jokes, the Simpson family is the only television/movie family I can think of that attends church (specifically, Christian) services every Sunday. For all Homer kicks and screams about it, the fact is he's dressed every Sunday in his blue suit and sits up front with Marge, Bart, Lisa, and Maggie (he may doze off during Reverend Lovejoy's sermons, but it's ok to have a sense of humor, people!). Remarkably, The Simpsons is quite open regarding religion. I challenge readers to think of another show since The Simpsons debuted in 1989 in which one of the recurring characters is a clergyman; in an inordinate number of episodes, Reverend Lovejoy is almost always the first person the family turns to (typically Marge) for advice. Even Vatican officials have recognized the unique position religion has on The Simpsons, remarking in L'Osservatore Romano in 2010 the show is "among the few TV [programs] for kids in which Christian faith, religion and questions about God are recurrent themes... The family recites prayers together before meals and, in its own way, believes in heaven..."
In the relativist Western world, this is seriously deserving of recognition. (While this is an accurate statement it needs to be understood the Simpsons aren't Catholic. Nonetheless, as a Catholic I can't recall anything during the show's zenith - those classic first 10, 11, 12, seasons - that undermines Catholicism.) It may be "irreverent" at times, yet, religion is simultaneously acknowledged as something "everyone" adheres to, whether Christian, Jewish (Krusty and his father), Hindu (Apu), or Buddhist (Lisa), and something that holds a unique position in "everyone's" lives. Whatever problems exist with non-Christian worldviews and religions, I still prefer a watershed cultural medium that, in its own fashion, reveals why religion is needed.
Homer, Work and Family Am I crazy? How can I say "Homer Simpson" in the same breadth as Augustine of Hippo or Alexander Hamilton?! Yes Homer is an alcoholic, yes he's lazy, yes he's stupid, but Homer, to his perpetual consternation, unequivocally loves his family. He works a job he absolutely hates because it puts food on the table for his family. How many men can say they have pictures of their little girl at the office with the words "Do it for her" around them? Nothing in pop culture is as indicative of true self-sacrifice and true fatherhood as that. Even as a husband, as many times as he screws up, Homer is admirable. While Homer Jay Simpson sacrifices his happiness for the sake of his children, he sacrifices everything else for Marge. Additionally, he always is the one to apologize for doing something dumb. He always is the one trying to resolve the effects of sin in his marriage. He may do it at Marge's prompting more often than not, but the mark of an honest, sincere man is to accept that he's wrong and make restitution. Homer doesn't simply act "after the fact" though; many a time he has acted proactively. I recall the episode where Mr. Burns built a casino and we became exposed to Marge's gambling addiction. Throughout the entire episode Homer attempted to shield Bart, Lisa, and Maggie from this previously unseen problem and encourages them to think well of her, picking up the slack at home in Marge's absence, all the while trying to prod her away from the casino.
And to her everlasting credit, Marge forgives Homer every time. She accepts her "Homey" for the fat, flawed, yet shockingly sweet, sensitive, caring, man he is. If ever there was a non-judgmental person in pop culture, it would be Marge. She still challenges him to better himself; however, it's done lovingly and subtly, without being confrontational or demeaning, and equally if not more importantly, she does so patiently. While I am one of those who considers the show a shell of its former self, The Simpsons remains a rarity in our culture: a show about people, with all their flaws and imperfections, who nevertheless possess "old fashioned, family values" and struggle to live honest, dare I say, God-centered lives. There is much to admire and respect in these characters as well as creator Matt Groening for writing them as he did.