Flanders' Book of Faith
by Matt Groening
Harper Paperbacks, April 2008
96 pp., $9.95
One of American television's best-known evangelicals has published a book outlining his Christian faith and practice. But it's not who or what you might expect. Ned Flanders, The Simpsons' zealous next door neighbor presents his theology in Flanders' Book of Faith, part of the long-running, animated comedy's Library of Wisdom series based on each of the show's characters.
It's a slim, illustrated book, less than a hundred pages, and it presents the title character with the same mixture of affection and mockery with which Ned has been portrayed in the series for nearly two decades. What is interesting, however, is that the credited author is Matt Groening, the series creator, and the publisher is HarperCollins, a division of Fox. Together, this puts an imprimatur on the basically favorable view of believers that The Simpsons' irreverent writers have been running away from for years. That is, Ned Flanders is an exemplar of good-natured and (literally) muscular Christianity.
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.'" ...