OMG: Peanuts is atheistic?

After seeing the strip below, I wondered whether Charles Schulz, the creator of Peanuts, was an atheist. It turns out that he was, or at least a “secular humanist.”  This is a surprisingly strident cartoon for a family-oriented comic, but was it was actually published—on August 9, 1976.

From an interview with Schulz (link above):

Though his philosophical views evolved over the years–“The term that best describes me now is ‘secular humanist,'” he explained–his characters continued to quote biblical passages, occasionally musing about the darker inconsistencies of religion. These thoughtful reflections were never heavy-handed; rather, Schulz had become the reigning master of the lighter-than-air, spiritually resonant comic-strip koan.

“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. I don’t think Hank Ketcham [Dennis‘ creator] has any deep knowledge of things like that.”

h/t: Grania


45 Comments

  1. Paula Kirby
    Posted May 22, 2012 at 3:03 am | Permalink

    Wonderful!

  2. Steve Smith
    Posted May 22, 2012 at 3:07 am | Permalink

    The Nietzsche Family Circus

    • onkelbob
      Posted May 22, 2012 at 6:51 pm | Permalink

      [a href = “http://www.bay-of-fundie.com/img/2008/fc/ofc-crock.jpg”]Dysfunctional Family Circus[/a]

  3. Posted May 22, 2012 at 3:10 am | Permalink

    One of the earliest Peanuts collections I ever read was The Parables Of Peanuts, which I was nine. A book of religious advocacy, supported by cartoons for children. It gave me the impression Peanuts had always had a religious undertone.

    • Kingasaurus
      Posted May 22, 2012 at 3:58 am | Permalink

      “It gave me the impression Peanuts had always had a religious undertone.”

      I’ve felt the same way. Maybe Schulz’s views evolved over time, because I was under the impression he was a traditional believer for a long time.

      I seem to remember hearing that Schulz went out of his way to claim that the Great Pumpkin was not a statement on religion, but I’m wondering whether he was just doing damage control and keeping his views private at that time and was worried about losing readership if he made his views more well-known.

      Personally I don’t see how the Great Pumpkin couldn’t be a statement about blind faith and religious credulity. It’s blatant.

      I also remember how outwardly emotional he was during one of his last interviews, when he knew he was terminally ill. I know all Seculars don’t react the same way to the looming prospect of death, but I remember thinking at the time,”sounds to me like a guy with no belief in the afterlife.”

      • Notagod
        Posted May 22, 2012 at 9:51 am | Permalink

        Sounds to me like it could be someone that is unsure. It is also common for christians to be emotional about their death.

      • the Siliconopolitan
        Posted May 22, 2012 at 12:18 pm | Permalink

        Blatant, perhaps. But Linus is always shown as a sympathetic character. He is justified by his faith in the face of the unbelief of the gentiles around him.

    • John Scanlon, FCD
      Posted May 22, 2012 at 5:31 am | Permalink

      Same here, but R. L. Short’s other book ‘The Gospel according to Peanuts’.

      I went right off Charlie Brown after that, though Snoopy was still cool.

      I don’t ever remember seeing the strip pictured, but probably missed a few… thousand.

      • Reginald Selkirk
        Posted May 22, 2012 at 6:21 am | Permalink

        I feel the same way about The Tao of Pooh.

  4. rivqaberger
    Posted May 22, 2012 at 3:19 am | Permalink

    Interesting. Peanuts were also used to illustrate Abraham Twerski’s self-help books, which are based on the 12 steps and have a religious undertone IIRC: http://www.amazon.com/Waking-Just-Time-Therapist-Approach/dp/0312132077/ref=ntt_at_ep_dpt_5

  5. Posted May 22, 2012 at 3:37 am | Permalink

    I always knew Snoopy ruled, and now I have evidence.

  6. Glenn Butler
    Posted May 22, 2012 at 3:40 am | Permalink

    Watching Linus wait for The Great Pumpkin suggested to me that Schulz was agnostic/atheist.

  7. Posted May 22, 2012 at 3:42 am | Permalink

    Such stridency! I love it.

    /@

  8. Dan
    Posted May 22, 2012 at 4:48 am | Permalink

    I wonder how much input he had into the Christmas Peanuts movie? That definitely seemed overwhelmingly pro-Christianity to me, although I haven’t seen it since I was a young religious teenager. Am I remembering it incorrectly?

    • Kingasaurus
      Posted May 22, 2012 at 4:50 am | Permalink

      No, you’re right.

      A bigger “keep the Christ in Christmas” message you’ll never find.

      That’s why I always presumed he was a believer – at least back then.

      • Posted May 22, 2012 at 5:14 am | Permalink

        Not even from Johnny (*retch*) Hart?

        Oh wait… that was Easter.

        • Hempenstein
          Posted May 22, 2012 at 6:36 am | Permalink

          Yep, Hart apparently went off the rails toward the end. He had some classics before then, tho. Unfortunately, my favorite one isn’t in any collection or available online.

        • Gregory Kusnick
          Posted May 22, 2012 at 9:48 am | Permalink

          I used to enjoy BC as a kid until I saw one of Hart’s anti-evolution strips and realized that for him, the whole cave-men-and-dinosaurs thing wasn’t a joke. It was a shock to learn there were grownups who actually believed such stuff.

          • Voltaire2
            Posted May 22, 2012 at 11:34 am | Permalink

            The Peanuts Christmas special was about focusing on what the holiday was about, not the commercialism choking it. Whether you are atheist or not, that point is well taken.

      • truthspeaker
        Posted May 22, 2012 at 5:44 am | Permalink

        Syndicated cartoonists usually have very little control over how their creations are used (Bill Waterston was the exception, and he turned down a lot of money to keep control over Calvin & Hobbes). It’s possible Schulz had little or no input into that special, or in the use of his characters in books.

        • Dan
          Posted May 22, 2012 at 5:53 am | Permalink

          That is true, I guess I just assumed that Schultz must have approved of it on some level. I would think the studio would at least let him have input on a script to keep him happy.

          Speaking of Calvin and Hobbes, that is the best comic ever, and Watterson definitely seemed like a freethinker.

          • Posted May 22, 2012 at 6:25 am | Permalink

            My understanding is that Schultz wrote the Xmas special himself, but that was in 1966. He was a practicing Christian at the time. He later wrote (if I recall correctly – I don’t have a link) that he regretted the scene with Linus reciting the gospel. A lot can change in 10 years.

          • Posted May 22, 2012 at 9:06 am | Permalink

            +∞ for Calvin and Hobbes.

            Check out this and especially this.

            /@

            • Hempenstein
              Posted May 22, 2012 at 5:04 pm | Permalink

              A friend posted this C&H with the comment, “A tutorial on the Tea Party’s philosophical roots.”

              • Joshua
                Posted May 22, 2012 at 9:48 pm | Permalink

                Bravo! I Love Bill Watterson.

    • KP
      Posted May 22, 2012 at 1:59 pm | Permalink

      I was going to say the same thing. The Christmas special is almost oozing with Christianity. Also, I thought that, at best, The Great Pumpkin thing was “accommodationist” – i.e., very sympathetic to Linus’ “faith” even though there was no Great Pumpkin.

  9. emmageraln
    Posted May 22, 2012 at 4:55 am | Permalink

    Reblogged this on emmageraln.

  10. gravelinspector
    Posted May 22, 2012 at 6:02 am | Permalink

    Dennis the Menace, […] praying

    ???What ???
    Dennis the Menace, as in red-black hooped jersey, Gnasher and beating up Softy Walter? Praying? As in, on the knees hoping for catapult supplies? Or did Dennis go trans-Atlantic at some point?
    Ah… it seems that since the days of my youth there has been a TV series, a movie … and thorough-going emasculation.
    Sacrilege!
    http://www.beanocomics.com/Denis_the_Menace/index.htm

    • Kels
      Posted May 22, 2012 at 6:49 am | Permalink

      Completely different character. In North America, Dennis looked more like this:

      http://www.dennisthemenace.com/

    • exrelayman
      Posted May 22, 2012 at 5:55 pm | Permalink

      A curiosity: the 2 Dennis the Menaces were first published on the same day.

      • gravelinspector
        Posted May 22, 2012 at 10:55 pm | Permalink

        [SFX : Theme from Twilight Zone]
        Someone, somewhere must have done a cartoon with the two Dennises (eh? that doesn’t look right!) experiencing either a full-body swap (as in Kafka and the cockroach ; BTW, what did the cockroach think?), or just a mind swap.
        I suspect that one swapped Dennis would have ended up in a locked ward of a hospital, while the other one would have just been hospitalized due to broken bones etc. Softy Walter would have got his revenge.

  11. Marella
    Posted May 22, 2012 at 6:30 am | Permalink

    I never saw anything about Peanuts that made me think Schulz was religious, and the Great Pumpkin was so obviously a satire on religious beliefs that only atheism or a very weak deism made any sense. I’ve always liked Peanuts.

    • Notagod
      Posted May 22, 2012 at 10:05 am | Permalink

      Always makes me smile. Great Pumpkin was one of my favorites.

  12. swbarnes2
    Posted May 22, 2012 at 9:21 am | Permalink

    Schultz used to be religious. I’ve seen a book of some non-Peanut’s single frame stuff, it’s about the foibles of a church community.

    At some point, his daughter was very badly injured by her horse, I think this caused him to rethink his religious beliefs.

    Sorry, but I can’t find this on google, I just remember reading it in the book of church-themed drawings.

  13. RFW
    Posted May 22, 2012 at 10:41 am | Permalink

    Oliver Cromwell put it this way in 1650:

    “I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ, think it possible that you may be mistaken.”

    Entirely different context, of course.

    http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Oliver_Cromwell

    • the Siliconopolitan
      Posted May 22, 2012 at 12:21 pm | Permalink

      But he failed to fondle those bowels.

  14. abrotherhoodofman
    Posted May 22, 2012 at 7:29 pm | Permalink

    Emailed that one straight to Ma & Pa. Thanks, Professor Coyne!

  15. McCthulhu
    Posted May 22, 2012 at 10:50 pm | Permalink

    I always liked Peanuts. When I became older and started getting more PO’d by religion I did get turned off of the Christmas special.

    The thing about Charles Schultz is one can see his mind does question things via the years of the comic strip. He didn’t take everything at face value. I think he started out more religious than he was later in life. There was a university prof. where I went to school in Calgary who had this saying that the only correct theologian is the one that admits he may be wrong. I think even if Schultz still considered himself a religious person later on, he was of this type, someone that still questioned and didn’t take everything ‘on faith’.

    If more religious people were of this type, I think a lot of the problems that spring up in America would distill down to a few fringe nutcases and believers and non-believers would be able to agree on a lot more. It would certainly help get rid of idiocy like schoolbooks from Texas and having to fight to keep evolution in school curricula.

  16. db
    Posted May 23, 2012 at 4:48 am | Permalink

    There’s a career-spanning collection of Schulz interviews in print which includes this quote from some time in the last couple decades of his life (I have the book on my shelf, but can’t immediately cite chapter/verse):

    “I think the best religion is no religion at all.”

    Four years after his first use of that “…might be wrong” line, Schulz (note: no “t”) employed it again, this time spoken by Linus, in a multi-week arc where the kids are disturbed to find that their summer camp is run by fundies. For anybody interested in the topic of religion in “Peanuts”, it’s worth reading in its entirety (Peppermint Patty gets in a great dig in the final frame of the arc). Starts here:

    http://www.gocomics.com/peanuts/1980/06/03

    re: Great Pumpkin: although the idea yielded a lot of cogent comment on religion, Schulz stated its origin was simpler: what if a kid got his holidays mixed up? Got a season ahead of himself? But as the GP device featured in 40 years of Peanuts’ 50-year history, there was ample opportunity to explore its implications, e.g., “We are obviously separated by denominational differences.” One of my favorite bits was this sad result of Marcy’s exposure to Linus’s Halloween evangelism (which some years saw him going door-to-door and handing out tracts):

    http://www.gocomics.com/peanuts/1977/11/01

  17. Posted May 23, 2012 at 5:23 am | Permalink

    Charles Schultz was obviously a gentleman, since he phrased that title as a question.

  18. Doug C.
    Posted May 25, 2012 at 8:10 am | Permalink

    Schulz’s biography portrays him as initially Christian & religious and eventually a non-believer. As a child I was an atheist and saw no dissonance between celebrating Christmas (family, presents, tree) & not believing in any god.
    I still like the Peanuts xmas special and consider it a resonant piece of art. The Great Pumpkin is certainly about the struggle between faith and reality and , no matter what Schulz says, it is clear who won.

    Many people grow up believing in the tooth fairy and the Easter bunny but it is clearly a more limited group who are willing to give up the penultimate fantasy.


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