Few television families are as true to life as the Simpsons. At least on a metaphorical or symbolic level. Last night as I watched the episode entitled “She of Little Faith,” I was reminded of just how large a role religion plays in this sit-com. While the majority of Springfield’s inhabitants don’t ever question the correctness of the local church, Lisa Simpson remains the avowed skeptic. Conflicted over her own sense of what is right and family expectations, she becomes a Buddhist yet continues to attend church with her family. This image of religious compromise strikes many as precisely what is wrong with organized religion today – it lacks the coercive power it once had.
In a free-market economy religious belief is a commodity to be selected and purchased. Most people are far too busy trying to get ahead to spend much time thinking about religion; it is far simpler to allow the clergy to do that. They come back to us, telling us what to believe, like some congressional report from heaven’s house of representatives. We pay them a salary and their service is to make sure we believe what keeps God happy. Religion, potentially the most powerful motivator in the world, is up for grabs like former Soviet nukes. Anyone is free to declare him or herself a religious leader, qualified or not.
So over the weekend thousands flocked to Washington to hear 2012 presidential hopefuls Beck and Palin tell them how to restore “honor” to our nation. Beck commented that his rally marks the point at which America starts to “turn back to God.” Most Americans at the rally (or those at home) seldom think about the amorphous God to which he refers, for themselves. Americans are consumers. We purchase what we like. If the God that is touted will make things better for me, then I’ll buy it. This is the price we pay for refusing to take religion seriously at an academic level. It is not about to go away. I side with Lisa Simpson as the honest individual who has an examined life. Facing opposite me on the Mall are tens of thousands who would rather be led. I am afraid. I am very afraid.