Skeptophilia (skep-to-fil-i-a) (n.) - the love of logical thought, skepticism, and thinking critically. Being an exploration of the applications of skeptical thinking to the world at large, with periodic excursions into linguistics, music, politics, cryptozoology, and why people keep seeing the face of Jesus on grilled cheese sandwiches.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010


New from the News You'll Think I'm Making Up But I'm Not department, officials at the Vatican have declared that after some years of serious study, they have found that The Simpsons are Catholics.

First, we had the Muslims claiming that Mickey Mouse was an agent of Satan.  Then we had the Seal-the-Borders Cadre howling that Dora the Explorer was an illegal immigrant.  Now, we have the leaders of one of the most powerful and influential religious sects in the world claiming a family of cartoon characters as members of the flock.

The official Vatican newspaper, Osservatore, has stated that a Jesuit study of the program has found that Homer and company "pray before meals, and in their own way believe in the beyond," and that this has led them to the inescapable conclusion that they are Roman Catholics.

I had always thought that becoming a Catholic was more difficult than that.  I figured that if you weren't born to it, you at least had to take a class or something.  Now, we find that technically, you don't even have to exist. 

Interestingly, the producer of the show, Al Jean, has weighed in on the topic.  "We've pretty clearly shown that Homer is not Catholic," Jean was quoted as saying, when he found out about the Vatican press release, citing the fact that Homer really would not be into the whole no-meat-on-Fridays thing.  (Which, as an aside, I thought the Catholics didn't even do any more?  I never seem to be able to keep up with what's on the Sin List and what's on the Not So Much A Sin Any More List.)  Jean also went on record as stating that actually, the Simpson family are members of the Springfield Presbylutheran Church.

Predictably, my reaction is:  WILL YOU PEOPLE PLEASE GET A GRIP?  Cartoon characters, which last time I checked aren't real, can't be "actually" anything.  The question of what breed of dog Scooby-Doo actually is is meaningless.  The question of whether Tinky-Winky the Teletubbie is actually gay is meaningless.  Are we reasonably clear on this point now?  Excellent.  Now all of you who were worrying about such things can go back to passing the time by chewing on the straps of your straitjackets, okay?

I'm simultaneously amused and amazed at how much time and energy people will spend arguing over issues for which no answer exists.  On the lighthearted side was the pair of students who came to me to help them settle an argument over who would win in a fight, Captain Jean-Luc Picard or Captain James T. Kirk.  (My answer was that Kirk would clearly win.  He would whip out his superior overacting skills and leave Picard in a fetal position, twitching on the floor.  At least that's what always happens to me when I see William Shatner.)  However, this same tendency to debate the unanswerable plagues us all the way up the scale, to the endless battles (both figurative and literal) that the religious fight with each other over what "god really wants us to do."

It's pretty critical, I think, to establish the ground rules for what is a decidable proposition.  For me, one of the most fundamental ground rules is the reliance on hard evidence.  You want me to believe something, agree with a viewpoint, accept what you're saying?  Show me the goods, and you're halfway there.  Whatever you're claiming had better be planted in the firm earth of reality, or I'm much more likely to roll my eyes or simply guffaw in your face.

So if you want me to take you seriously, don't come to me and start blathering about the religious views of cartoon characters.  Except, of course, for Bullwinkle, who is clearly a Zen Buddhist.  But other than that, if you spend your time making pronouncements about the "actual" views of fictional characters, all you'll have accomplished is destroying your own credibility.

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