‘The Great Pumpkin’ is a Cartoon for Atheists

Would you be shocked to hear that Charles Schulz considered himself to be a secular humanist at the end of his life? Certainly, he may not have been an atheist but he obviously had grown tired of sentimental religion. “‘I despise those shallow religious comics,’ he said. ‘Dennis the Menace, for instance, is the most shallow. When they show him praying–I just can’t stand that sort of thing, talking to God about some cutesy thing that he’d done during the day.'” This from an interview by David Templeton which can be found on Metroactive.com.

I’ve written before about It’s The Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown because even as a Christian I was fascinated by how Linus was treated concerning his faith in this mystical gourd. Linus even states himself, while writing a letter to The Great Pumpkin, that if this being isn’t real he doesn’t want to know. In other words, blind faith. His defense against Charlie Brown’s derision is that he’ll stop believing in The Great Pumpkin if Charlie Brown will stop believing in the guy in the red suit and beard.

I’m sure Schulz must have believed in God at the time, but you have to wonder if he was working out his theological position on faith. The entire cartoon is a parody of religious faith because Linus, like a Christian waiting for the return of Christ, never meets up with his revered vegetable.

I’m not the only atheist who has considered this cartoon to be anti-religious. On the forums for AChristianAndAnAtheist.com there is a discussion of the cartoon and on the forums for FayFreethinkers.com one person in a discussion on religious cartoons wrote, “…’The Great Pumpkin?’ What a great anti-religious teaching tool!”

So let’s make it official. I realize that Schulz might not have sanctified this, but pop culture is often decided on by the public, not the artist–I say we claim It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown for atheists, agnostics and freethinkers. It’s very Freethunk! If you have a family, have them watch it as a tradition for Halloween or watch it on your own with friends. Discuss the lesson with your kids or friends after the cartoon is done. And you should definitely note the lesson with your Christian friends since they hold Schulz up as one of their own. You might say that It’s The Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown is nostalgic Halloween freethinking.

Update 10/23/2012: I wanted to add this link to the others I used. It has several quotes including the ones mentioned in the post, but it does specify that Schulz was a member of the Church of God even as he considered himself a humanist. I didn’t want to leave the impression that Schulz had rejected religion or God, he may have simply reinterpreted such faith with leanings towards secularism. He also had bouts of depression and insecurity (no surprise there considering his comic strip characters) and may have even wavered back and forth from religion to philosophy.

The point of this article was not so much that Schulz was a secular humanist, but that his Great Pumpkin cartoon is geared heavily towards skepticism of the supernatural and of god-like figures. This is especially interesting considering that Linus in the first TV special A Charlie Brown Christmas takes time to tell us the real meaning of Christmas in a short sermon. There is also the well known book The Gospel According to the Peanuts (approved by Schulz) which interprets the comic strip as theology for Christians. Could Schulz see what he had created with the allegory of The Great Pumpkin? Or like Linus, did he care not to know that his god could be a fake?

One thought on “‘The Great Pumpkin’ is a Cartoon for Atheists

  1. I watched this show with my own boys (9,7,4) last night on ABC for the first time in probably 40 years. I’m an atheist (and a big proponent of street epistemology) and am doing my best to rear my boys as freethinkers in the Bible Belt. When Linus wrote his letter to the Great Pumpkin and closed with the postscript, “If you really are a fake, don’t tell me. I don’t want to know,” I couldn’t believe what I was watching as it so closely resembled the conversations I have had with doxastically-closed Christians in recent months. I sat there wondering if I was the first to ever make these connections — obviously a quick Google search landed me here so clearly I am not. Glad to be in good company!

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