Sometimes the Bible references were clearly cited. When he catches Snoopy taking food out of the refrigerator, Charlie Brown pulls out a Bible and quotes from the Ten Commandments: “Look, it says here in Exodus, ‘Thou shall not steal.’” Snoopy borrows his book, flips the page and hands it back. “Deuteronomy 25:4 …” Charlie Brown reads, “Thou shall not muzzle the ox while he treads out the grain.”
But often, they were more cryptic. When Linus asks Snoopy, “Does it bother you that the Bible doesn’t speak very highly of dogs?” the beagle replies with a reference to one of Jesus’s teachings, “Sure it bothers me, but I just turn the other muzzle.” In a famous strip from 1959, Linus built a sandcastle that the rain washed away. Linus concludes, “There’s a lesson to be learned here, but I don’t know what it is …” But many readers would have recognized the allusion to Jesus’s parable about a man who built his house on sand in Matthew 7, and Schulz later said that this was exactly what he intended.
Schulz’s willingness to include his faith in his work cut against the grain of his era. Chic Young, creator of the Blondie comic strip, reportedly warned mid-20th century illustrators to avoid mentioning religion in their work. Lind says that almost no other mainstream cartoonist dared to include religious references in their strips at the time.
As Schulz said in 1966, “Just the mere fact of quoting from the Bible, of course, for a long while was forbidden in comic strips because somehow they just didn’t want you to go near these areas.” But, according to Lind, the cartoonist’s bravery “opened the flood gates” and other cartoonists soon picked up their pen to share spiritual thoughts as well.
Schulz was criticized by some devout believers for making religious references in “such a lowly thing as a comic strip.” But a comic strip may have been the perfect place for Schulz raise spiritual questions. “When readers come to the end of the panel, there is a gap not only between two rectangles, but also the action contained in each and the reader must then fill in what happened, creating a sense of mental ‘closure’ so that the episode makes sense,” Lind writes. “As the reader fills in this narrative leap, they begin to connect with the scene, for they helped create it.”
This was exaggerated in the Peanuts strips, which tended to have an excessive amount of white space throughout and sometimes very little action. Additionally, the “pint-sized” characters were able to raise adult questions in a disarming way. The result is that readers become participants of the strip’s conversation instead of merely spectators.
When he had Linus ask, “Do you ever pray, Lucy?” Schulz was nudging readers to reflect on their own prayer habits. (Schulz penned 40 different strips that addressed prayer.) When Charlie Brown confessed to Lucy, “Sometimes I wonder if God is pleased with me,” Schulz was tapping into a common stirring among many to live a “good life” that even a perfect God would deem laudable.