When I first started going to church, I was basically a 19 year old punk. I longed for some kind of community and stability and much like any other angst ridden teenager, I was searching for something greater than myself. I was also really into this girl that I worked with that happened to go to this church down the street from my house. We’re married now, but that’s not the point of this story. Once I started going to church, and getting more into the history of the Bible, I was actually surprised at how much I knew. How did I know what I knew? I wasn’t sure. Until I came across the word transubstantiation and knew what it meant.
We were in a college aged Sunday school class, designed to get college aged Christians to really think about their faith. It was fairly challenging, and we dug into a lot of interesting topics. My memory is a bit fuzzy, but I remember looking into what other religions practice and why, and where and when different denominations of Christianity began. Again, details are fuzzy, but someone said the word transubstantiation and I was one of the few that could correctly apply the word. Other people knew what this was after it was discussed, but they didn’t realize this was the name for the conversion of bread and wine to body and blood at the Eucharist. The someone that mentioned the word transubstantiation was a professor at the local Bible college. He was surprised that a fairly new Christian knew this word and what it meant, but was not surprised that I learned it from The Simpsons.
The reason I knew what this was? The Simpsons. The person that was impressed that I knew what it was? A professor.
What a weird intersection – faith and cartoons, colliding in a church on a Sunday morning.
So when I ask, “Does pop-culture matter,” realize I’m not asking a rhetorical question. I’m looking for an answer. I am not Catholic and I have never been to mass. I likely would have never otherwise knew what this word meant. And there but for the grace of The Simpsons, go I.
In the particular episode, Homer and Bart attend Catholic school after Bart is kicked out of Springfield Elementary for a prank he did not do. Why Homer was dragged along to Catholic school, I can’t quite remember. I think there was a falling out with their Protestant church, because I do remember a scene depicting the difference between Catholic and Protestant Heaven. This might possibly imply that the writer actually believes there is more than one heaven. Or perhaps, and I believe this is far more likely, this scene is a satirical jab at religious folks who are zealous and petty enough to have their own separate versions of heaven.
Or it’s just funny.
So eventually, we get to a scene where Homer is in class with Bart. Homer is decidedly unprepared for a test, so he writes the answers on his arm. His right arm reads “GOD = GOOD, DEVIL = BAD” and his left arm reads, “TRANSUBSTANTIATION.” Hilariously, the text on his left arm essentially runs the length of his arm and is virtually impossible to conceal.
In the grand scheme of things, it is very likely that pop-culture does not matter. But there have been countless times where I knew some bit of seemingly unimportant trivia or some historical fact, simply because I heard it on The Simpsons, saw it in a movie, or heard it in a song. I am often deeply moved by music, and know far more about The Killers and Pink Floyd than perhaps any human being should. One thing is for sure, I will likely never look at communion the same way ever again. I’m not sure if God is happy that this scene sometimes slips into my mind’s eye during communion, and I’m not sure if I have Homer Simpson to blame (or thank) for this. If nothing else, I suppose I’ll find out when I get to Protestant Heaven.