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Ned Flanders — popular face of Christianity
by Graeme J. Davidson,
17 October, 2009

Ned Flanders is the popular face of Christianity to millions around the world. Young folk recognise his image more readily than that of the Pope, Billy Graham or any other Christian, other than Jesus.

....You’d have to be a saint to live next to the family at 742 Evergreen Terrace, Springfield, USA. And, in the popular fictional TV cartoon series The Simpsons, Ned Flanders, who admits he’s “about as exciting as a baked potato" is that selfless neighbour. He has to suffer the boorish Homer Simpson and the nasty pranks of his mischievous 10-year old son, Bart.
....Since it first aired 20 years ago, The Simpsons has gained a huge international audience. It’s America’s longest running cartoon series and prime time entertainment, while The Simpsons film has grossed over US$500 million.
....Much of the success of the nearly 450 animated TV episodes lies in how they incorporate popular celebrities and satirise our middle class values, including religious attitudes.
....Ned Flanders is irritatingly cheerful, helpful and forgiving. He believes that God is good to him and has little to complain about, except for Homer Simpson’s swearing on the other side of the fence.
....In contrast, Homer has a love-hate relationship with Ned. In defending him in front of the church congregation, Homer explains, "This man has turned every cheek on his body. If everyone here were like Ned Flanders, there'd be no need for heaven: We'd already be there." But mostly he finds Ned’s goody-two-shoes Christianity infuriating: “I don't care if Ned Flanders is the nicest guy in the world — he's a jerk!"
....Many evangelicals have taken Ned’s bible-based Christianity to heart, treating him as "television's most effective exponent of a Christian life well-lived". Others see him as the show’s way of taking a cheap shot at biblical fundamentalists, while liberal Christians cringe at Ned’s determination to take the Bible literally, including its inconsistencies.
....Nevertheless, Ned Flanders is the popular face of Christianity to millions around the world. Young folk recognise his image more readily than that of the Pope, Billy Graham or any other Christian, other than Jesus.
....A fan of The Simpsons, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, says that Ned Flanders is “ludicrous and foolish but generous. He actually does forgive people”.
....Ned’s pastor, the Rev Timothy Lovejoy of the First Church of Springfield, doesn’t attract the same kind of attention. Maybe that’s because he’s disillusioned and burned out by Ned. Ned kept calling Lovejoy over everything and anything, including confessing, “I think I'm coveting my own wife".
....At first, Lovejoy listened. “After that”, he says, “I just stopped caring. Luckily by then, it was the 80s and no one noticed”. He now seeks revenge by encouraging his dog to poop on Ned’s lawn.
....Sixty-year old Nedward Flanders says his youthful appearance is because of “clean living, chewing thoroughly and a daily dose of vitamin church”. Yet his parents were “freaky beatniks” who didn’t believe in letting discipline interfere with Ned’s creativity– until the young Ned became too wild for them. A psychiatrist sent him to the University of Minnesota Spankalogical Protocol, where he received eight months of spanking therapy. That knocked the anger out of him.
....The born again Ned now studies the Bible and prays twice daily, and is involved in his church and nearly every Springfield charity and good cause. Nevertheless, Ned can’t always resist temptation, like the time he and Homer had a wild weekend in Las Vegas and he married a cocktail waitress though already married to Maude.
....Despite being a good man and having a strong belief in God, Ned has had the misfortune of Job. His wife, Maude, died in a bizarre accident, his house was the only one destroyed in a tornado and the shoddy replacement that church members built for him collapsed. Homer constantly abuses him and steals from him, and his retail store selling left-handed goods is often near bankruptcy. Yet Ned Flanders is no hypocrite. He believes God still blesses him.
....If only Ned Flanders would stick to the spirit rather than the literal letter of the Bible, Homer Simpson, and most of us, would find his faith – as Ned would say – very “okily dokily”.

 

 

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