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The Reverend Timothy Lovejoy

By Sebastian Moll
Theological Faculty
University of Mainz, Germany
February 2012

A few years ago, The Times stated that Groundskeeper Willie of The Simpsons was “the most instantly recognizable Scot in the world.” Perhaps the same could be said about Reverend Lovejoy as the world’s best known minister. As such, I feel his exegetical and theological wisdom deserves a closer look here as an attempt to assign him his place in the history of theology. So let us take a look at three classic statements by this pastor of the “Western Branch of American Reform Presbylutheranism.”

1. “Marge, just about everything is a sin. [holds up a Bible] You ever sat down and read this thing? Technically we’re not allowed to go to the bathroom.”

Biblical Reference: There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:22-23)

Theological Impact: Martin Luther

Context: When Marge and Homer are having marital problems, Reverend Lovejoy visits Marge to counsel her. To her big surprise, however, he plainly suggests she get a divorce, which causes Marge to ask him whether divorce was not considered a sin. In Lovejoy’s above stated theological comment on sin, certain traits of Lutheran theology shine through. Not only does the Reverend consider the Bible the sole basis for the evaluation of sin (sola scriptura), he also strongly emphasises man’s sinful nature and his subsequent incapacity of living without sin. Unfortunately, he then draws a false conclusion from this insight, i.e., the idea that since man is a compulsive sinner anyway, there is no need for moral decisions anymore – which is exactly the reproach that Luther’s opponents always brought forward against him.

2. “Ned, have you thought about one of the other major religions? They’re all pretty much the same.”

Biblical reference: none

Theological Impact: Ernst Troeltsch

Context: Being annoyed with the constant questions and problems of Ned Flanders (classic: “I think I may be coveting my own wife”), Reverend Lovejoy encourages him to join another religion. The justification for this advice, although primarily caused by the mere wish to get rid of Flanders, is in fact perfectly in line with the position of Ernst Troeltsch, one of Germany’s most prominent theologians at the turn of the 20th century. He stated that Christianity is the way we perceive God’s revelation in our lives and that we thus – because of the lack of an alternative – consider it the absolute religion. Meanwhile, other people in completely different religious circumstances perceive the divine in different ways and form different religions, which they also can rightfully consider absolute.

3. “All things are about Jesus, Homer, except this.”

Biblical Reference: Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made (John 1:3)

Theological Impact: Karl Barth

Context: When Bart is secretly working at a burlesque house, Reverend Lovejoy comes over to his parents’ house to talk it over. Before he knows why Lovejoy came, Homer, being afraid of a boring sermon, asks him if his visit was about Jesus, which results in the above stated answer by the Reverend. While the particular exception mentioned may be debatable, the idea that everything is about Christ sounds a lot like the motto of another German thinker, the (in-) famous Karl Barth, whom Pope Pius XII described as the most important theologian since Thomas Aquinas. To Barth, Christ is God’s claim upon our whole life, and there can be no areas of our life in which we would not belong to Jesus Christ – even if it has something to do with your son working at a burlesque house!

All in all we might say that the designation “Reform Presbylutheranism” is not too farfetched when we consider Reverend Lovejoy’s wide-ranged theological basis. However, might he in fact be more influenced by the German tradition than has been acknowledged? At least that would account for his strong anti-Catholic sentiments. When asked to perform the last rites on a dying man, he just scoffs: “That’s Catholic; you might as well ask me to do a voodoo dance.”

Comments (1)

I presume that there is also an allusion to the philosopher AO Lovejoy, whose 'Great Chain of Being' was published in 1936. One conclusion you could draw from Lovejoy's ideas is that everything that is possible occurs. This might encourage admiration at the multiplicity in unity of God's creation, the pleroma. But it might also encourage satire in Simpsonish or other styles: why should you refuse to take any possibility, even it seems grotesque, seriously?
#1 - Martin - 02/27/2012 - 17:34

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