Below are the 15 most-read articles of 2022. They’re just a sampling of the many, many excellent pieces that we published on a variety of topics, from movies and literature to sports and technology.
This collection highlights how we at Christ and Pop Culture seek “to edify the Church, glorify God, and witness to the world by encouraging and modeling a biblical presence within culture.” If you’re new here, these articles will provide an excellent introduction to our approach to cultural commentary. If you’ve been reading throughout the year, see if your favorite article made the list, and thanks for reading along in 2022!
And if you’ve benefited from our work, your gift will sustain our efforts in the year to come.
My shyness in talking with my kids about sex didn’t come from guilt over wrongdoing, but from a sense of privacy, a desire to not mess things up, and an intuition that sometimes “less is more.” And yet, my embarrassment was being portrayed as a problem to be fixed and overcome, rather than a signal with an important meaning. Apparently my ability to be a good parent partly hinged on whether I could conquer my bashfulness.
Whatever we make of the past two and a half years of social distancing and Zoom meetings, lockdowns and mask mandates, sickness and death, of one thing we can be certain: COVID-19 raised the stakes of our pursuit of intimate relationships. This increased intensity revealed the degree to which Christian communities idolize romance while presenting opportunities to respond to this awareness with ancient answers. To be sure, whether living through a global pandemic or not, both married and single people are affected by romance idolatry, but the consequences are unequally distributed. Case in point: single Christians have been uniquely impacted by social isolation and the accelerated coupling encouraged by the pandemic, and this is true not only for those who are straight, but also, and perhaps especially, for LGBTQ+ Christians.
You need Station Eleven because it will not only clear your eyes, it will teach you how to heal your heart. Station Eleven focuses very little on the global disaster itself, and almost entirely on the clarity that the disaster affords, and the way people re-make their sense of “home” after the damage. “We weren’t making a show about a pandemic,” says main actor Mackenzie Davis. “We were making a show about life after tragedy and trauma.” Davis plays the adult version of Kirsten (Matilda Lawler), a young girl who is orphaned by the flu and would have died herself if not for the concern of a well-meaning stranger named Jeevan (Himesh Patel) who takes her under his wing. Twenty years later, Kirsten is a member of The Traveling Symphony, a troupe of Shakespearean actors and musicians who circle Lake Michigan, bringing joy, memory, and meaning to the scattered communities on the shore.
The Making of Biblical Womanhood describes how the Protestant rejection of monasticism led to a narrowing of the horizons for women, away from the possibility of a heavenly (albeit disembodied) equality with men to a very earthy sexual imperative that still shapes the evangelical male gaze today. Rachael Denhollander, an advocate for sex abuse survivors, views the sexual abuse scandals permeating the SBC as a theological problem rooted in a faulty view of manhood and womanhood common in conservative evangelical circles (remember Mark Driscoll’s sermons on womanhood and sex?). This perspective distills women down to their sexuality as experienced by men.
Everything Sad is Untrue will be unlike anything you’ve ever read, but it will also be very much like all the best things you’ve ever read, and that’s part of what makes it so good. Familiar and unfamiliar, as most true stories are: familiar because they tell the truth, and unfamiliar because each storyteller is unique. Everyone has a story to tell—Daniel Nayeri might say that everyone has a thousand and one stories to tell—but not all stories are beautiful or true. Not all stories are good.
Stranger Things has always been about recalling people to life—about fighting for your life and others’ lives. Joyce Byers recalled her son, Will, to life in season 1 and again in season 2. All the kids fought for the life of Hawkins and to prevent the Upside Down from taking over the world in season 3. This helps explain why—even though I’m not a fan of horror, and I’m slightly too young for most of the ‘80’s callbacks, and I’ve never played Dungeons & Dragons—I have always resonated with the big themes of this show. Good art calls to life, no matter when it was made or what it’s about.
These storytelling threads aren’t poorly executed, exactly, but they raise questions about how well The Rings of Power will manage the balancing act required of a straight-faced fantasy story that also seeks to climb to the top of the “prestige TV” heap. For years Christopher Tolkien, as steward of his father’s artistic legacy, shielded as much of the Middle-earth mythos as he legally could from entertainment corporations, rightly understanding that the spirit of literary works aptly described as “Herodotus meets the Elder Edda” stood little chance of being honored by big-budget screen adaptations. The younger Tolkien has now passed on, and such concerns seem increasingly quaint in the age of extended cinematic universes and IP-ravenous streaming platforms.
Both “Take Me to Church” and “False God” exemplify how human longing for transcendence is experienced in a secular, disenchanted world where God is not. We long for that Greater for Whom we were made, although we can hardly name him or our desire. Yet, intimations remain: hints, hunches, and guesses. A rumor that perhaps we were made for Someone else. Depictions of romance like these show the artists seeking a new home for our desire toward transcendence, in romantic love.
The character isn’t just relatable because he mildly loses his cool, but also because he uses drama to add dimension. So it’s no surprise that Arnold Worldwide creatively modeled the Dr. Rick ads off of the sitcom—characters in funny situations. Think of modern sit-com characters like Michael and Dwight from The Office, Moira from Schitt’s Creek, Captain Holt from Brooklyn Nine-Nine, and Gloria from Modern Family. The humor isn’t just in dialogue, but physical humor coupled with the cadence and mannerisms of the role.
To what degree did “Our Lady Undoer of Knots” provide a space for women to be something more than merely Adam’s helper? I’m curious what knots remained stubbornly tied when Protestants gave Mary and monasticism the slip and proceeded along spiritual paths without them. I’m learning that the historical oddity isn’t the supposed “introduction” of Mary into what was otherwise a religion with a “masculine feel” to it (in John Piper’s words). The historical oddity is that Mary went missing. Her disappearance is intimately related to evangelical assumptions about women today.
Zelensky reminds us that we recognize heroes not because of some intrinsic goodness within ourselves, but because they resonate with a goodness that transcends us—a goodness that calls us to set aside our sinful nature for the good of others. We are, it turns out, desperately starved for heroism. Real heroism, the sort we try to capture in our stories. The sort we recognize with an almost unanimous voice and spirit when we see it because we’ve spent so much time imitating it with shadows on the wall.
What makes Wordle stand out even more among the slew of gaming options, though, is that Wardle designed it without ads, link sharing, or leveling up. You can share your results to social media, but your results don’t link back to the site where you can play. There are no ads on the site, there’s no data collection, and there’s no way to advance to a new level in the game. Wordle has to spread via direct sharing, and it isn’t trying to sell us anything. Neither does it seem to be taking anything from us—aside from three to thirty minutes of our attention a day. Attention, we should note, that most of us give to our phones anyway. I’m happy to trade a few minutes of social media scrolling for a few minutes of a word game instead. Wordle engages the brain in a simple puzzle, invites you to share your results with your friends, and then puts you into a “force-quit” until the next day when a new word becomes available. What’s the reward for winning the Wordle of the day? Satisfaction, and the fun of participating in a shared game with friends, acquaintances, and strangers who are also “at the table.” There’s light competition, if that’s your thing, but the sort that builds relationships.
While Gen X and Boomers have helped Christians consider the cost of playing video games, they rarely consider the cost of neglecting them. With rare exceptions, we’ve done two generations of Christian gamers (Millennials and Gen Z) an enormous disservice by ignoring games and failing to offer tools to think critically about entertainment. A healthy theology should drive Christians to develop a framework for critically evaluating games that takes them seriously as a vehicle for artistic expression and aesthetic resonance.
Joyful as the visual effects are, the heart of the movie is the care and love the characters have for each other. Discovering, in the end, that all the rules that give their life meaning are ultimately meaningless (how could they not be meaningless in a world as expansive as one with an infinity of infinite universes?), they at once lean into and resist that nihilism, imposing order by noticing and caring for each other as individuals. Choosing love, even when they don’t entirely understand each other, takes the meaninglessness of individual existence and insists on its meaningfulness, restoring the characters to each other at the end of the film.
I don’t care a lick if she’s using her phone to watch BBC adaptations of Dickens novels instead of porn. The point is that on most nights, she and her husband aren’t trading back rubs and chatting about their day: they are propped up before the soft glow of their separately streamed shows, ending the day half a foot (yet a million miles) apart. All the better if they feel proud to be watching “high quality content” rather than trash. If they were watching trash, they might begin to feel guilty and turn it off, and turn towards each other, and then who knows what might happen—what secrets might be shared, what consolations given? I shudder to think of it. The flesh is on our side less than you might think. We want your patient and her husband to be too preoccupied for both pillow talk and sex, isolated by our perfectly bespoke algorithms.
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