by Ethan Starr
While many might not immediately realize a Christian component to the Peanuts series (featuring Charlie Brown, Lucy, and friends), religious themes can be found in unexpected places when watching their 1960’s television specials. Though Charles Schulz is well-recognized as the pioneer of common American phrases like “Good grief,” the Christian themes of the some of his creations have gone largely unnoticed.
In addition to being a famed comic-writer, Schultz also taught Sunday school, and utilized his skills to communicate faith to young audiences by integrating a number of themes into his Peanuts creations. More than 560 of the author’s newspaper comic strips contained religious or theological references, and the Charlie Brown Christmas special is well-regarded by Christians for Linus’ explanation of the “true meaning of Christmas.”
America’s favorite Halloween television special—It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown!—includes many of these hidden religious themes, as Charlie Brown and Linus navigate the difficulties and disappointments of their Halloween night. In their search for acceptance and understanding of others, both boys endure setbacks, as the holiday fails to meet Charlie Brown’s expectations, and Linus misses the apparition of the Santa-like Great Pumpkin figure he reveres.
Charlie Brown experiences disappointment at the hands of some very un-Christian behavior. The character considers his night is ruined when he receives rocks while trick-or-treating, and expresses his displeasure in an echo of Matthew 7:9, “Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone?”
Linus’ night consists of a much more protracted disappointment, however, as he waits with anticipation for the Great Pumpkin’s arrival. While acknowledging in a letter that “everyone tells me you are a fake,” Linus affirms his faith in the existence in the Pumpkin that delivers candy to kids, promising, “I believe in you.”
Intriguingly, he adds a request that “If you really are a fake, don’t tell me,” as “I don’t want to know.” Linus bears a resemblance to the Athenians chastised by the Apostle Paul in his sermon at the Areopagus, as he, too, worships an unknown god. As stated by Paul, such a mistake can be made only out of ignorance; Linus simply doesn’t know better in this case, and only Sally rushes to his defense, insisting that “he knows what he’s doing.”
His enduring faith leads young Linus to spend the night in the pumpkin patch waiting for the materialization of the Great Pumpkin, as the mythical figure is said to always rise “out of the pumpkin patch that he thinks is the sincerest.” Linus remains insistent that his sincerity of purpose will ensure the apparition, and that his chosen patch has “nothing but sincerity as far as the eye can see” without his fear of “hypocrisy.”
This very Lutheran sentiment expresses a belief that the appearance of the Great Pumpkin can be warranted by faith alone. Linus’ faith is said to be legitimate as long as he is sincere, despite his lack of confidence in the validity of the Great Pumpkin’s existence. The implied conclusion holds that all the faith in the world is fruitless if directed towards a false idol.
If you take part in this annual October television ritual, be on the lookout for subtle theological themes—if you can’t find any, it’s nearly as fun to make them up yourself.