The 2001 cover story about the evangelical presence of Ned diddly ed Flanders on “The Simpsons” is one of the most popular to run in Christianity Today. It’s author, Mark I. Pinsky, cobbled the article from his reportage for “The Gospel According to the Simpsons,” and it was based on details like these:
An Oral Roberts University graduate who is never without a Bible and a large piece of the True Cross (which saved his life in one episode when he was shot), Ned believes that an essential element of a good life is “a daily dose of vitamin church.”
There are two running features in the book that elucidate Flanders’s religious faith and its practical application. One is “What Would Ned Do?” Among the things he would do is sacrifice his son, as the patriarch Abraham was ordered to do, without question. He’d also audit his own taxes and charge himself an additional $65.42.
There is also an ongoing dialogue in which the children of The Simpsons ask him deceptively simple questions that require profound responses. “If God is love,” Lisa asks, “why does he send people to hell?” Ned thinks a moment, and then explains, “Technically, God doesn’t send anyone to hell, Lisa. People send themselves there. It’s what we call ‘free will.’” Bart scoffs that the Bible “is filled with trick questions.”
Bart is, of course, right. My favorite example is when Jesus was asked whether his followers should pay taxes in an act of submission to secular authority.
“Show me a denarius. Whose portrait and inscription are on it?”
“Caesar’s,” they replied.
He said to them, “Then give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.”