The Catholic Bart Simpson

I don’t normally watch the Simpons, but the episode the other night caught my attention when I heard that Homer and Marge were sending Bart to a Catholic school – and when Bart offered (in all sincerity) to pray a Rosary for someone.  I missed the end (only saw up to the panic-stricken Marge (a Protestant) dragging Bart and Homer out of First Holy Communion Class), but I think any Catholic watching it must have been laughing heartily most of the way. 

Watching Catholic Bart being Catholic with conviction and sincerity (up to where I left it) was interesting, especially watching him doing normal Catholic things in front of his worried ‘Protestant’ family (e.g. doing the Sign of the Cross before his meal).  I’m highly doubtful as to the evangelising effect a Catholic Bart might have (although who knows – God works in mysterious ways) but to me it showed (strangely enough) how confidence, conviction and sincerity in someone’s attitude toward something (particularly religion) is undeniably attractive; it’s the thing a good leader has (or is able to show). 

On Sunday, reflecting on the Gospel reading in his homily, our priest observed that sometimes he sees people in restaurants doing this: (he did the sign of the cross super-quick and small across his chest, glancing furtively from side to side).  He had the whole congregation in stitches (though I’m sure the laughter was heartier by the odd twinge of guilt). 

Showing youself to be Catholic in restaurants and public places is challlenging thing, precisely because it lays you open to being judged, derided or challenged – the same is true of anything that exposes some deep truth about a person.  People are funny; we like to wear masks.  But there is a definite difference between standing in the middle of the major intersections on Queen Street waving evangelical banners, and saying grace before a meal in a restaurant.  Doing the Sign of the Cross is not some sort of subversive attempt to convert the table next to you – if anything it is admirable.  I think this is where a lot of evangelicals go wrong; their actions are often more off-putting than anything, and certainly won’t convert anyone to Christianity.  By the same token, Christians should not hide their faith – how and where is the balance to be struck?

There is a lot to be said for confidence, courage, and joy.  One thing that gives me confidence is seeing other people being confident:  I think there are few things braver, bolder or more inspiring than one of the best soccer players in the world scoring a brilliant goal, then making the Sign of the Cross and pointing to heaven as his team mates pile on top of him.

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    Comments: 49

    1. fishe June 23, 2010 at 2:43 pm

      RE: the last sentence…doesn’t that sort of carry on also grate you though? It brings up all those lovely questions like “so God favours that player over the goalie?”

      It’s just a culturally relevant response to success. Read anything more into it and you have problems. Just like all other religious behaviours.

    2. JoyfulPapist June 23, 2010 at 3:06 pm

      Fishe, your comment betrays the misconception that prayer is about ‘getting things’.

      God loves us all, but no Catholic would make the mistake of thinking that those he favours have an easy ride. Quite the contrary! Just look at our history to see what we expect to have happen to those God favours, starting with the unmarried teenage mother, moving on to the crucifixion, and then working your way down through the last 2000 years of heroes and heroines whose love for God led them to into extraordinary – but by no means comfortable – lives.

      Today, for example, is the feast day of St Thomas More and St John Fisher.

    3. JoyfulPapist June 23, 2010 at 3:09 pm

      Inkling, I read recently a comment by a priest who reported on a conversation he had with a mother and her rebellious teenage daughter. The priest asked the mother if she prayed – and she said yes, morning and evening every day and often during the day. He then asked the daughter if she had ever seen the mother pray. The daughter said no, and that to her the whole idea of the mother praying was ‘weird’.

      Faith, as the saying goes, is caught, not taught. If even our children don’t see us at our devotions, how can we hope they will treasure what we value?

    4. Tristram Shandy June 23, 2010 at 3:13 pm

      I am one of those furtive sign of the cross in restaurant people – although I’m better when I’m with other Catholics. I am at my most furtive (ie only briefly bowing my head in silence – unobtrusively of course!) when with non-Christian friends. It’s a failing on my part as I should be prepared to thank God in all situations and, as you mention Inkling, it is a good witness to my faith to friends who don’t get many witnesses to any faith in their daily lives.
      As for the football players crossing themselves – I think it is a powerful sign to counteract the extreme egotism of modern day sport. There is something bigger than that player and despite them being the centre of attention for ten other hugging teammates, thousands of screaming fans and millions of television viewers, they acknowledge that all glory should go to God. (Our sense of awe and piety has really been lost in recent times) Although we tend to only thank God when we succeed, we should also thank God when we fail. We should thank God when we wake up and when we go to sleep. We should be thankful every moment of every day of our life for God bringing and keeping us in existence. So thanking God whenever we succeed (perhaps by scoring the winning goal against Paraguay on Friday morning…please???) is great, but should not be the only time we thank God.

    5. fishe June 23, 2010 at 3:19 pm


      1. you don’t know what prayer is about any more than I do.

      2. have you ever prayed for something that isn’t good?

    6. fishe June 23, 2010 at 3:26 pm


      “counteract the extreme egotism of modern day sport” !!

      Seriously? It could be argued that it’s incredibly egotistic to perform displays like this. It implies that the player thinks God is on his side and the side of the team – that he has favoured them above the other team. It’s an attention grabbing display of victory.

      Plus, even the idea of “I give all the glory to God, I am merely a vessel etc.” is mostly used in highly egotistical ways. Especially in cultural environments where religiosity is pedestalled.

      I think that what I’ve said here is far more of a realistic view of the situation than any relatively esoteric and academic Catholic notion of prayer and public displays of religiosity that you guys may be putting forward.

    7. JoyfulPapist June 23, 2010 at 3:34 pm

      Hi fishe

      1. If you mean I don’t know what the soccer player’s prayer is about, that’s true. But your statement did assume it was a petition of some kind, whereas the circumstances point more to it being a praise or thanksgiving of some kind.

      If you really mean I don’t know what prayer is about any more than you do, then I’m prepared to hazard a guess that I’ve done more of it than you.

      2. Yes, of course. God has several answers to prayers of petition: yes, no, maybe, later, and LOL (or even ROFL).

      By the way, I’ve noticed that when atheists talk about prayer they generally mean a prayer of petition. The Lord’s Prayer is, of course, the classic model for prayers of petition:

      1. Address God
      2. Ask for God to be respected, and for the second coming and the remaking of earth on the model of heaven
      3. Ask for whatever is needful for the current day
      4. Ask for forgiveness of sins (I’m blown away by the fact that this is conditional – our sins are not forgiven unless we are forgiving. Wow!)
      5. Ask to be kept safe during times of trial.

      I tend to focus on prayers of meditation, prayers of contemplation, and (less often than I should) prayers of praise and worship. I’ve reached the stage of life where I’ve realised that God knows what is good for me.

    8. fishe June 23, 2010 at 3:43 pm


      1. I meant the later, and I meant in a real absolute sense. You doing more of it doesn’t lead to some super-human knowledge. You will know more about the Catholic theology around prayer though

      2. So what negative things have you prayed about, in either a meditation, contemplation or praise and worship sense? I can’t think of an example. Surely all the things you prayer for are positive and good – things that will benefit you. Do you contemplate to God on the death of kittens?

    9. Dei Verbum June 23, 2010 at 3:46 pm

      I confess to having dark thoughts about atheists sometimes so my prayer is for patience and perserverance

    10. fishe June 23, 2010 at 3:53 pm

      Yeah, getting your deeply held beliefs challenged sucks sometimes.

    11. Tristram Shandy June 23, 2010 at 4:06 pm

      Hi Fishe,
      If one is giving thanksgiving to God after success then presumably that person would think God is on their side. However, this is not an either/or to the other team. God is on everyone’s side. People remove themselves from God’s presence permanently after death, until then He is there by your side, and my side and everyone living person’s side. Patiently when we move away from Him but always lovingly at our side waiting for us to come back to Him. A comforting thought.
      However, you could be right – a player might only acknowledge God so that they look good to others. This might/might not be true. We cannot know what goes on behind someone’s actions (but God does!) You bring up a good point however and a danger that can be fallen into. I sometimes notice it with genuflecting before receiving the Host – why am I doing this? To give glory to God and show my due reverence and piety to the physical presence of God made flesh? Or to show others how good I am and how pious? Unfortunately it is sometimes the latter. This doesn’t mean that everytime I do it it is for personal, proud reasons.
      Similarly, it doesn’t mean every player who crosses themselves is doing it for the cameras. Even if that were so, this doesn’t mean that the act of thanksgiving cannot be a good example to others and a way for others to think about God (even if only briefly while watching football!). In that case, it would be another example of the tools of the Devil (pride) breaking in his hands and being used for good.
      Best wishes,

    12. Don the Kiwi June 23, 2010 at 4:06 pm


      …starting with the unmarried teenage mother…..

      I hope you don’t believe that you’re referring to Our Lady. If so, wash your mouth out.
      Mary was betrothed to Joseph. In the Jewish tradition of marriage, betrothal was marriage.And furthermore, why did Joseph consider divorcing her? No marriage, no divorce.

    13. JJS June 23, 2010 at 4:38 pm

      Showing youself to be Catholic in restaurants and public places is challlenging thing, precisely because it lays you open to being judged, derided or challenged – the same is true of anything that exposes some deep truth about a person.

      It’s true that any outward expression of religion seems to make some people very uncomfortable and defensive. I think G.K. Chesterton was right when he pointed out that the worst thing about modern secularists is that they’re all puritans at heart. For example they try to strip away any joy and devotion from the old festivals just like the puritans 350 years before them.

    14. JoyfulPapist June 23, 2010 at 5:05 pm

      You are, of course, quite right, Don the Kiwi.

      Fishe, I can think of several ways a prayer of petition could be negative – please, God, let Janey Smith come out in zits before the dance so that Jim Brown will dance with me instead would be a negative prayer.

      A prayer of meditation is taking a scene from the Bible, a passage from the bible or the Church fathers or some other source and thinking deeply about it.

      A prayer of contemplation is just keeping one’s mind as still as one can and waiting.

      And a prayer of praise and worship is just what it says.

      None of these are so much about what we want from God as about figuring out what God wants from us (and what we want from ourselves). So it is hard to see how they could be negative.

    15. JoyfulPapist June 23, 2010 at 5:52 pm

      Ah, I’ve just twigged!

      Fishe, am I right in thinking that you think prayer is about God? That it is our attempt to manipulate/influence God?

      Whereas I think it is about my education – in who I am, who God is, what I should be doing, what kind of person I should be.

    16. fishe June 23, 2010 at 7:48 pm

      Surely one cannot define the concept of prayer without reference to a deity? At a basic level it must involve God in some fashion.

      Either way, regardless of what you think, it’s beyond clear that the large majority of Christians view prayer as a conversation with God.

      The terms to manipulate/influence would be too strong. I mean, it’s freaken God. But doesn’t this just show another sillyness existing within religion – what possible communication would one human have with a God of the universe. The person’s future is already laid out anyway (believe many sects), so they’re basically asking for favours to change the path in a positive way somehow. It’s just so, so bizzare.

    17. fishe June 23, 2010 at 7:52 pm

      JP, also, in your negative example, that’s positive for you – that’s what I meant. Prayers are always positive to the individual. Either directly, like in your example, or indirectly, such as prayer for another individual’s happiness.

      Anyway, I’ve forgotten what the point of that convo thread was hehe.

    18. JoyfulPapist June 23, 2010 at 8:24 pm

      God is the whole point, of course. Prayer is about a conversation with God – a conversation, not a long shopping list. Conversation is two way – and prayers of petition tend to be about us telling God what would suit us.

      We are instructed to pray for our own needs and those of others, and on my own blog I’ve speculated about reasons for this. But one that intrinsic to prayer itself is that by talking to God about what I want, I find out for myself what I want.

      The other types of prayer are more about listening than talking – so much closer to real conversation.

      what possible communication would one human have with a God of the universe

      You’re right. It is amazing. That he loves each one of us individually and has time for each one of us individually.

      As to ‘the person’s future is already laid out’ – wrong sect. This is a Catholic blog.

    19. kiwiatheist June 24, 2010 at 1:26 pm

      So JP, are you suggesting that God doesn’t know what is in store for us? Surely this would mean that he is not omnipotent?


    20. JoyfulPapist June 24, 2010 at 1:32 pm

      Not at all, KA. There is a big difference between a path being foreseen and a path being preset.

      That God can see all times at once and therefore knows what choices we are going to make does not take away our personal responsibility for and right to our own decisions.

    21. kiwiatheist June 24, 2010 at 8:41 pm

      Prove it!


    22. JoyfulPapist June 24, 2010 at 10:42 pm

      Are you sure your name isn’t really Thomas, KA?

    23. Don the Kiwi June 25, 2010 at 9:02 am


      You disprove it.:-)

    24. kiwiatheist June 25, 2010 at 12:45 pm

      Only my middle name ;-)

    25. JoyfulPapist June 25, 2010 at 1:42 pm

      That explains it – Thomas is a name strongly linked with independent thinking and a refusal to take the say-so of others – which is why the great Thomases have all made enormous contributions to our faith.

    26. kiwiatheist June 25, 2010 at 4:43 pm

      One tries one’s best ;-)


    27. kiwiatheist June 25, 2010 at 8:44 pm

      By the way Don, I believe in the Flying Spaghetti Monster as you believe in your god – can you prove the FSM is not real?


    28. Don the Kiwi June 25, 2010 at 9:41 pm

      But KA.

      Spaghetti is a man made food. The only time I have seen it flying is many years ago when I came home from the pub after having a few beers with my mates, and my wife threw it at me.

      It was a monstrous occasion.

      Fortunately, mt spaghetti since that time has remained compliant on my plate and been happily consumed.

      So, KA, you believe in a false god/monster – my God on the other hand, remains Mystery, as all scientists discover – the deeper they probe into the beginnings of the universe, the more they understand Mystery. :-)

    29. Dei Verbum June 25, 2010 at 9:47 pm

      if your FSM is the all loving and all powerful creator of the universe then perhaps your FSM is God.
      Have you tried praying to him and if so have your prayers been answered?

    30. kiwiatheist June 26, 2010 at 8:12 am

      DV, Yes, I have asked him for things and verily have they come to pass. It may have been coincidence of course, but that’s not how I see it ;-)

      Don, What omnipotent, omniscient, loving being would want to keep the most basic concepts of himself hidden from his people? Nah, the ‘mystery’ bit is an excuse for his non-presence just like the ‘faith’ thing.


    31. JoyfulPapist June 26, 2010 at 9:36 am

      Definition of terms KA. In a theological sense, mystery refers to something we are unable to fully comprehend – that can only be understood by analogy. You, I think, are using it in the sense of something that is deliberately kept hidden.

      Indeed, we are encouraged to explore and reason about the mysteries of God – and we’ve learnt a great deal through the history of God’s revelation to us.

      But what kind of God would be fully comprehensible to such limited creatures as we are? We cannot even have a discussion about the relationship between space and time without becoming tangled in the language. Like Groucho Marx and the club that would take him, I couldn’t possibly believe in a God I could fully understand.

    32. kiwiatheist June 26, 2010 at 12:33 pm

      But JP, there’s a difference between withholding information that could cause us harm and just hiding the most basic of information necessary for us to believe. Your god (and every other god out there come to think of it) has never provided any concrete proof of his existence. You can’t argue with that. Your ‘mystery’, ‘faith’ and other excuses are thinly veiled attempts to try and pass this lack of evidence off as something that is being done for our benefit. I just don’t buy it, sorry and nor should anyone with half an ounce of rationality.


    33. JoyfulPapist June 26, 2010 at 2:34 pm

      Yes, I can argue with that. The resurrection was concrete proof of his existence. You don’t believe it happened; but the people who were there do believe it happened. There are countless examples of concrete proof – but you don’t accept the testimony of those who saw it. That’s your right. Almost – with a second name like Thomas – it’s your destiny. :-)

      I believe in the experiences I’ve had. They are my concrete proof. However, I don’t expect you to believe on my say so. In fact, I cannot imagine what – up to and including a voice from heaven that you heard yourself – you would accept as concrete proof.

      Please tell.

    34. Dei Verbum June 26, 2010 at 2:53 pm

      JP has said it better than I but consider also if your faith in FSM really satisfies you.

      It is a also possible that the FSM and our God are the one and the same (as it follows there can be only one ‘all loving and all powerful creator’) but that you have not fully recognised Him and misnamed him as well.

      But it is some consolation (to us theists) that you have finally recognised the supernatural and an A no more!

      Continue to pray, as it is this dialogue that bring us closer to the one true God.

    35. kiwiatheist June 26, 2010 at 5:17 pm

      Oh you boys and girls, you do make me giggle :-)

      I, like you guys, am actually an agnostic (as I can’t prove one way or another that your god exists, just as you can’t prove it to any degree of certainty). The only difference between us is that I go one god further than you guys. I believe that on the preponderance of evidence, it is unlikely that ANY of the many thousand gods known to mankind exist.

      And JP, I fibbed – my middle mane isn’t Thomas, it’s Robert :-)


    36. JJS June 26, 2010 at 5:40 pm

      So your namesake is St Robert the liar of Belgium? Bless you!

    37. kiwiatheist June 26, 2010 at 7:32 pm

      JJS, Love you mate. How’s dear ol’ blighty?


    38. JJS June 26, 2010 at 7:50 pm

      Sadly I’m back in Wellington!!!! Oh for an English summer :-)

    39. JJS June 26, 2010 at 8:07 pm

      One question, where’s Chris Sullivan these days?

    40. Dei Verbum June 26, 2010 at 8:21 pm


      I believe that on the preponderance of evidence, it is unlikely that ANY of the many thousand gods known to mankind exist.

      it may le ‘unlikely’ that thousands of Gods do exist (but this doesnt stop people believing in their own gods (including materialism, money, self etc)),
      but isnt it still more likely that there is one God?
      There are at least convincing arguments for the existence of a creator God, it is a rational position to take.

    41. JJS June 26, 2010 at 8:30 pm

      And the insight the Hebrews had was two recoginse that there is a transcendant God behind all things. It’s not just a case of choosing Yahweh over Zeus, the biblical idea runs much deeper

    42. JJS June 26, 2010 at 8:34 pm

      *to recognise. Spelling fail

    43. kiwiatheist June 27, 2010 at 9:49 am


      “…(but this doesnt stop people believing in their own gods (including materialism, money, self etc)),
      but isnt it still more likely that there is one God?
      There are at least convincing arguments for the existence of a creator God, it is a rational position to take”

      Hmmmm, where do I start? Firstly, just because lots of people believe something, doesn’t mean it’s true (we’ve covered this before in the ‘trillions of flies eat dung’ argument). Secondly, just because people believe that there are many thousands of gods, does not make it more likely that a single god exists? I’m really struggling with that one DV – perhaps you could follow your logic through.

      Lastly, there are no convincing arguments about the existence of god, well, not in the real world at least. Maybe in the heads of those who believe, but that does not make them any more real. As for ‘rational’, oh please!


    44. Dei Verbum June 27, 2010 at 10:49 am

      Kiwi A-(gnostic)

      just because lots of people believe something, doesn’t mean it’s true (we’ve covered this before in the ‘trillions of flies eat dung’ argument).

      I absolutly agree; Truth isnt a democracy or subject to populism! You would do well to remember this. But it also follows that because a few (or even many)dont believe then they arent right as well!

      Secondly, just because people believe that there are many thousands of gods, does not make it more likely that a single god exists

      No but it is surely true (from your view) that a greater number of Gods is less likely. That is; it is more likely that there is one (all loving and all powerful) creator rather than a mutlitude of competing supernatural beings? It is only your mindset that goes the next step and says; No God at all is ‘likely’,but you cant offer any proof of this anymore than I can for the opposite. You never the less hold the novel view,

      As for rational argument; simply on the basis of probabilities, there is a more compelling argument that God created the universe rather than some inconcievable occurance of random accidental events.

      Faith in a creator is supported and consistent with our understanding of science and the more we know the closer we confirm this consistency. Can you provide any science that is inconsistent with God having a part in creation.

      An infinite universe over infinite time might be sufficient and this was drove the so called ‘enlighenment’. But science now tells us that there is a start to creation(and an end) and finite ammount of matter in the universe.

      Is there anything you can offer instead?

    45. TTM June 27, 2010 at 11:39 pm


      belief in God is more rational, if there is objective morality (justice), and if there’s such a thing as truth (and, so, a basis for rationality). These reasons were very compelling and served to remove the obstacles to my own conversion; I did this after I began to take an interest in philosophy. If you’re serious about discussing this, and open to reasoned argument (and ‘open’ means open to change in one’s own position), I do recommend taking it upon yourself to look deeper in seeking the truth of the matter. If all this is true, there is a promise attached to it: “Ask, and it will be given you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you” (Mt 7:7). To the eye of faith, your very presence here already shows that there’s grace at work in your life already. Consider yourself invited.

      I’d like to try to reply to some of the things you’ve brought up so far.

      Your god (and every other god out there come to think of it) has never provided any concrete proof of his existence

      Correct me if I’m mistaken, but you seem to have a scientific assumption regarding “concrete proofs”. If this is the case, I’d like to invite you to re-examine the principle here, because, philosophically, this is a very limited way of approaching the One who is, by definition, beyond science. Science studies physical things and phenomena that are measurable. God, by definition, is beyond such a divisible science (dealing with quantities and quantifiable things).

      A good example of something that is beyond science is things like justice. If somebody stole some things that belonged to your loved ones, can you scientifically prove the wrongness of that act? No, because it’s qualitative, not quantitative. I think this is a good example which shows limitations of scientific proofs, but one that also shows how God is beyond science, since justice is one of His attributes.

      Now, this exclusion of concrete proofs no longer strictly applies with the Incarnation. As JP pointed out, the resurrection is a good, historically documented ‘proof’. This may be a fruitful topic of exploration later.

      like you guys, am actually an agnostic (as I can’t prove one way or another that your god exists, just as you can’t prove it to any degree of certainty). The only difference between us is that I go one god further than you guys. I believe that on the preponderance of evidence, it is unlikely that ANY of the many thousand gods known to mankind exist.

      Agnosticism, I think you’ll find, is descriptive of the belief system that one can’t know that God exists. I’ll have to ask you to re-examine this one too. Not to worry, though – didn’t Socrates say, “an unexamined life is not worth living”? It’s a praiseworthy thing to be able to re-examine one’s position honestly and with humility.

      As for the “many thousand gods”, you’ll find that both Greek philosophy (through reason) and the Jewish people (through revelation) arrived at monotheism. For Socrates (‘the god’), Plato (‘the One’) and Aristotle (‘First Cause’), this grated against the polytheism of their own culture (for this, Socrates was executed for atheism against the gods of the State). For the Hebrews, they shed their blood in witnessing for the One God (in the Maccabean revolt, for example). It is an oversimplification to number God among ‘the gods’ (because the nature of God excludes this).

      I would be interested in replying to the other points as well, but will see how we fare with the above points.

    46. John Jensen June 28, 2010 at 8:21 am

      I believe that on the preponderance of evidence, it is unlikely that ANY of the many thousand gods known to mankind exist.

      KA, you are comparing apples and oranges. ‘Gods’ refers to possible entities within an all-embracing reality. In this sense, whether a particular god exists – Zeus or whatever – is an empirical question, to be satisfied by investigation – in fact, by the method you imply in your discussion of God.

      But God – what we are talking about here – is something which, in a very important sense, it is impossible not to believe in – if ‘belief’ is, in fact, the proper word here. The fact that you exist and experience the world around you means that – whatever the ultimate reality of that world is (e.g. if you think that all is material, then somehow the ultimate particles, space-time, etc, is what is ultimate) – that there is something ultimate beyond which you cannot go. And that ultimate is what we call God.

      What you are disagreeing about is the attributes of God, not whether He – or It – exists. Existence itself – even if you are a solipsist and think everything is illusion – is the place to start.


    47. kiwiatheist June 28, 2010 at 6:36 pm


      I will get around to answering you but I’m a little busy at the moment. Perhaps we could continue the discussion offline before this topic gets shut down? Maybe Joyful Papist could start a discussion on her blog to allow this (, or you could e-mail me at mikef(2 underscores)57(at)hotmail(dot)com?


    48. JJS June 28, 2010 at 6:45 pm

      KA are you ok?? You’re always good for a pithy response!!

    49. TTM June 28, 2010 at 7:13 pm


      sure. I’ll send you an email.