Faith and the Family Circus

I grew up in the home of a bookstore manager. You couldn’t walk four steps without stubbing your toe on something from Charles Spurgeon, Mark Twain or William Aloysius Keane—better known as Bil Keane, the creator of Family Circus, the cartoon that appeared each day in our newspaper.

I liked Jeffy best. He seemed to speak for me, with questions like, “Are you sure salad counts as real food?” Or when he prayed, “Our Father who art in Heaven, how did you know my name?” Keane often inserted his faith into the hilarious and heartwarming commentary on life. In one, Dolly wonders, “When people get to heaven, are they allowed to hug God?” In school, Billy asks his teacher: “Is it okay to pray before the test if I don’t do it out loud?”

Like fellow Christian cartoonist Johnny Hart, the creator of B.C. and the Wizard of Id, and Charles Schulz, the creator of Peanuts, Keane took heat.

One reader wrote, “I believe it is inexcusably poor taste and offensive to many readers both Christian and Jewish, to use texts from and reference to the Bible…especially in a comic strip.” Others offered praise. Bil Keane was startled by how much light the cartoon brought into homes.

Shortly after the attacks on 9/11, he received mail from readers who were gratified to find something in the comics about the influence of faith and God.

“I never set out to be an evangelist,” he said. “All I’m doing is showing the way [faith] touches a child’s life or family life.”

In one popular cartoon, Dolly asks her mom, “Is God white, black, brown, yellow or red?” Mommy answers, “Yes.”

Many feature church. Billy opens the church door and yells, “Are you home God?” Coming out of Sunday School, he tells his mother, “We learned the fourth commandment: ‘Humor they father and thy mother.’”  Family Circus is now under the direction of Bil’s son Jeff, who continues the delightful family and faith-oriented themes in what is the most widely syndicated cartoon panel in the world.

One has Dolly sitting in church, saying to her mom: “How much longer ‘til we goeth home?”

At 89, after 60 years of marriage, Bil Keane went home to the ultimate family circle, after causing millions to smile and think about things that matter.

May we do the same today with the gifts God has given us.


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Phil Callaway

Phil Callaway, the host of Laugh Again, is an award-winning author and speaker, known worldwide for his humorous yet perceptive look at life.

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