Along with the majority of Springfield, Homer and company are lured into the Movementarian cult by a slick pamphlet and tantalizing promises. But as Marge begins to realize that the cult only has money on its mind, she must try her hand at deprogramming to rescue her family.
Homer takes Bart to the airport to greet the local football team after their championship loss. At the airport, Homer meets Glen and Jane, a pair of recruiters for a new religion called Movementarianism. They invite Homer to an introductory session at their resort, where a number of Springfield residents watch a video about the religion. The video explains that the Movementarians plan to take a spaceship to the planet Blisstonia. They are guided by a mysterious male figure known only as "The Leader." Most of the attendees are brainwashed into worshipping The Leader, but Homer does not pay enough attention to the video to be affected. After trying other methods, Glen and Jane finally convert him by singing the theme to Batman, replacing the word Batman with the word Leader.
After Homer joins the sect, he moves his family to the Movementarian compound. The compound is a fenced agricultural facility where everyone is forced to grow and harvest lima beans from dawn to dusk. The Leader lives in a "Forbidden Barn", where his spaceship is supposedly stored. He only appears briefly, riding through the fields in a Rolls-Royce.
As Movementarianism gains popularity, Mr. Burns decides to start his own religion, jealous of The Leader's tax-exempt status (claiming the $3 a year he already pays for taxes is outragous). Burns declares himself a god at a grand display atop one of his buildings, with Springfield residents and Burns's employees looking on. However, the Springfieldians are unconvinced after his outfit catches fire in a pyrotechnics display.
Though defiant at first, all the Simpson children are converted to Movementarianism. Bart plans to cause trouble with his "Li'l Bastard Mischief Kit," but the Movementarians outwit him with a "Li'l Bastard Brainwashing Kit." Lisa loathes that "The Leader" is the answer to every question at the Movementarian school, but she complies for the sake of her grades. Maggie and other babies are brainwashed by Barney the Dinosaur, who sings them a song about The Leader. Marge is the only family member to resist the Movementarians' methods, and she escapes from the compound, narrowly avoiding many obstacles along the way. Outside, she finds Reverend Lovejoy, Ned Flanders, and Groundskeeper Willie, and with their help, she poses as The Leader and tricks her family into leaving with her.
In Flanders's rumpus room, Marge deprograms her children by promising them what appear to be hover-bikes. In reality, Marge had suspended regular bikes from the ceiling with wires, and Flanders provided hover-bike sound effects while hidden in a closet. Homer yields after Ned offers him a beer, but just as the first drop lands on Homer's tongue, he is captured by the Movementarians' lawyers. Back at the compound, Homer tells a crowd of Movementarians that he is no longer brainwashed. He opens the doors of the Forbidden Barn, hoping to expose the religion as a fraud. However, he is surprised to find "one hell of a giant spaceship," and The Leader proclaims that, due to Homer's "lack of faith," humanity will never reach Blisstonia. The Springfieldians fear that The Leader is speaking the truth, but as the spaceship begins to fly away, it falls apart, revealing The Leader on a pedal-powered aircraft departing with everyone's money. Everyone's faith is broken—except Willie's—but The Leader does not fly very far, crashing on Cletus Spuckler's front porch.
As the Simpsons return home, Lisa remarks, "It's wonderful to think for ourselves again." However, the family soon becomes hypnotized by a FOX television commercial, which declares, "You are watching FOX." In unison, the family responds, "We are watching FOX."
The episode was the second and last episode written by Steve O'Donnell and was based on an idea from David Mirkin. Mirkin had been the show runner during seasons five and six, but had been brought back to run two episodes during the ninth season. He said he was attracted to the notion of parodying cults because they are "comical, interesting and twisted." The main group of writers that worked on the episode were Mirkin, O'Donnell, Jace Richdale and Kevin Curran. The episode's title "The Joy of Sect" was pitched by Richdale.Steven Dean Moore directed the episode.
Aspects of the Movementarians were inspired by different cults, including Scientology, Jim Jones, the Unification Church and the Peoples Temple, the Heaven's Gate group, the Unification Church, the Oneida Society, and Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh. In particular, the leader driving through the fields in a Rolls Royce was partly inspired by the Bhagwans, and the notion of holding people inside the camp against their will was a reference to Jim Jones. The name "Movementarians" itself was simply chosen for its awkward sound. The scene during the six-hour orientation video where those who get up to leave are induced to stay through peer pressure and groupthink was a reference to the Moonies and the est Training. The show's producers acknowledged that the ending scene of the episode was a poke at FOX as "being the evil mind controlling network." The episode's script was written in 1997, at roughly the same time that the members of the Heaven's Gate cult committed Mass suicide. The writers noticed strange parallels between Mirkin's first draft and Heaven's Gate, including the belief in the arrival of a spaceship and the group's members wearing matching clothes and odd sneakers. Because of these coincidences, several elements of the episode were changed so that it would be more sensitive in the wake of the suicides.
Chris Turner's book Planet Simpson describes the Movementarians as a cross between the Church of Scientology and Raelism, with lesser influences from Sun Myung Moon and Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh. Moon's ideas of constant social interaction with very little privacy, as well as the mass marriages were referenced in the episode, as was Osho, who was known for his large fleet of Rolls Royces which he would drive daily through his compound, waving to his followers. Planet Simpson also notes the Simpsons' chant at the conclusion of the episode as evidence of a "true high-growth quasi-religious cult of our time," referring to television. The book refers to a "Cult of Pop," which it describes as "a fast growing mutation ersatz religion that has filled the gaping hole in the West's social fabric where organized religion used to be". Martin Hunt of FACTnet notes several similarities between the Movementarians and the Church of Scientology. "The Leader" physically resembles L. Ron Hubbard; the Movementarians' "trillion year labor contract" alludes to the Sea Org's billion year contract; and both groups make extensive use of litigation.The A.V. Club analyzes the episode in a piece called "Springfield joins a cult", comparing the Movementarians' plans to travel to "Blisstonia" to Heaven's Gate's promises of bliss after traveling to the Hale-Bopp comet. However, it also notes that "The Joy of Sect" is a commentary on organized religion in general, quoting Bart as saying, "Church, cult, cult, church. So we get bored someplace else every Sunday."Planet Simpson discusses The Simpsons' approach to deprogramming in the episode, noting groundskeeper Willie's conversion to the philosophy of the Movementarians after learning about it while attempting to deprogram Homer. Author Chris Turner suggests that Marge should have instead gone with the "Conformco Brain Deprogrammers" used in the episode "Burns' Heir" to convince Bart to leave Mr. Burns and come back home.
In The Simpsons and Philosophy: The D'oh! of Homer, the authors cite "escaping from a cult commune in 'The Joy of Sect'" as evidence of "Aristotle's virtuous personality traits in Marge." As the title suggests, the book The Psychology of the Simpsons: D'oh! examines "The Joy of Sect" from a psychological point of view. It discusses the psychology of decision-making in the episode, noting, "Homer is becoming a full-blown member of the Movementarians not by a rational choice, ..but through the process of escalating behavioral commitments." The Psychology of the Simpsons explains the key recruitment techniques used by the Movementarians, including the charismatic leader, established authority based on a religious entity or alien being (in this case "Blisstonia"), and the method of taking away free choice through acceptance of the Leader's greatness. The book also analyzes the techniques used during the six-hour Movementarian recruitment film. In that scene, those who rise to leave are reminded that they are allowed to leave whenever they wish. They are, however, questioned in front of the group as to specifically why they wish to leave, and these individuals end up staying to finish watching the film. The book describes this technique as "subtle pressure," in contrast to the "razor wire, landmines, angry dogs, crocodiles and evil mystery bubble Marge confronts to escape, while being reminded again that she is certainly free to leave." The Psychology of the Simpsons writes that "the Leader" is seen as an authority figure, because "He has knowledge or abilities that others do not, but want." Instead of traditional mathematics textbooks, the children on the compound learn from Arithmetic the Leader's Way and Science for Leader Lovers.
In Pinsky's The Gospel According to the Simpsons, one of the show's writers recounted to the author that the producers of The Simpsons had vetoed a planned episode on Scientology in fear of the Church's "reputation for suing and harassing opponents". Pinsky found it ironic that Groening spoofed Scientology in spite of the fact that the voice of Bart Simpson, Nancy Cartwright, is a Scientologist, having joined in 1989. Pinsky notes that Matt Groening later "took a shot at Scientology" in Futurama with the fictional religion "Church of Robotology". Groening said he received a call from the Church of Scientology concerned about the use of a similar name.
Jeff Shalda of The Simpsons Archive used the episode as an example of one of the "good qualities present in The Simpsons," while analyzing why some other aspects of The Simpsons make Christians upset. The book I Can't Believe It's a Bigger and Better Updated Unofficial Simpsons Guide commented that the episode was "an odd one," with "a lot of good moments," and went on to state that it was "a nice twist to see Burns determined to be loved." However, the book also noted that "The Joy of Sect" is "another one where the central joke isn't strong enough to last the whole episode." In a 2006 article in USA Today, "The Joy of Sect" was highlighted among the six best episodes of The Simpsons season 9, along with "Trash of the Titans," "The Last Temptation of Krust," "The Cartridge Family," "Dumbbell Indemnity," and "Das Bus."The A.V. Club featured the episode in its analysis of "15 Simpsons Moments That Perfectly Captured Their Eras." The episode is used by the Farmington Trust (UK), an organization which encourages Christian education in schools, colleges and universities. In their lesson plan, An Introduction to Philosophy: The Wit and Wisdom of Lisa Simpson, the episode is described in a section on "False Prophets" as applicable for "..studying the more outrageous manifestations of ‘religion’ or those simply alert to the teachings of Christ on the subject." This episode is the origin of the term "Jerkass Homer," used by alt.tv.simpsons members to describe a perceived change in Homer's personality around season nine or so. Homer shouts "Outta my way, Jerkass!" while driving into the Movementarian compound, and once again when he's told there will be a free movie.
↑Groening, Matt. (2003). Futurama season 1 DVD commentary for the episode "Hell Is Other Robots" [DVD]. 20th Century Fox. "I did get a call from a Scientologist who had somehow gotten hold of the script."
↑Clark, Mike. "New on DVD", USA Today, Gannett Co. Inc.,. Retrieved on 2007-10-24.