Christ and Pop Culture's Best Features of 2011

This year, rather than feature our most popular features of 2011 (which we will unveil later, in a smaller post), we thought we’d draw your attention to the posts our writers dubbed the “best”. We had our writers vote for favorite posts, based not on whether they were interested in the subject matter, or whether it seemed particularly popular, but based on the thoughtfulness and insight found within.  

10. Repent, for the Stupocalypse is Nigh!
By Carissa Smith, March 24th, 2011

In this article, Carissa looks at a peculiar genre of film and fiction that invisions humanity’s future as doomed by stupidity. She focuses on M. T. Anderson’s YA novel Feed (2002), Mike Judge’s film Idiocracy (2006), and Gary Shteyngart’s novel Super Sad True Love Story (2010), but also explores the larger question of how technology is effecting our lives and whether we should resist:

“At their best, the prophets of the stupocalypse remind us that what is at stake is not really intellect but rather the malformation of the soul. . . .What concerns me about the future is less the diminishing of intellectual capability . . . but rather the ways in which we are complacently allowing ourselves to be formed by technology use, without reflecting on its influence.”

9. “Nostalgia For the Absolute” in Terrance Malick’s Tree of Life
By Nick Olson, July 25th, 2011

Tree of Life, our #1 film of the year,  may well be the most visually stunning film of the year, or the decade, if some viewers are to be trusted. In this feature, Nick helps us to investigate the web of meaning and significance within this beauty by tracing some of the philosophical influences upon Malick and highlighting the role of the Gift and Grace at the center of his film.

“Many critics — myself included — have used the word ‘impressionistic’ to describe Malick’s aural, visual, and intellectual feast. The most lasting impression that the film inspired in me was a sense of awe at both the beauty of creation and the inherent contingency of my own existence upon that creation. I’m quite certain that this film will leave a wide variety of impressions amongst its viewers. It is certainly a film that inspires intensely personal memories, reactions, and emotions. Malick invites us to bring our own unique experience of family life, and we’re left to wonder to what extent nature and grace has been cultivated in our own lives. Have we failed to “notice the glory” like Mr. O’Brien? Or has the symphony of grace all around us de-centered our tendency to live a self-focused existence?”

8. Dear Driscoll, MMA is Not a Measure of Manhood — Jesus Is
By Brad Williams, November 17th, 2011

Mark Driscoll loves MMA, a lot (and videogames, not a bit). In fact, he appears to be under the impression that most men should love fighting and competition and domination, which seem to be biblical qualities of manliness to Driscoll. In any event, Driscoll wrote a post defending UFC “biblically,” and our own Brad Williams pinned him to the mat (metaphorically) and forced Driscoll to tap out (that’s a thing, right?) with his response, which looks at what biblical “manhood” is and why he “could never” knee a brother in Christ to the face (so he says, but don’t press your luck):

“Think of it, Christian. It’s easy to understand an all-powerful God laying waste to His foes. You don’t even have to be all-powerful to do it: Zeus did that to the Titans. What is unworldly, unnatural, and man-changing is the idea of an all-powerful God-man allowing weak, pitiful, wicked creatures to spit on him, beat him, and nail him to a tree. His glory is found in his groaning, not only in his roar. I don’t love Jesus because he can pin me to the mat: I love him because he didn’t. I love him because he never will. He is strong and mighty, but it’s his compassion for the weak that captivates.”

7. The Beautifully Dark Side of Videogames
By Richard Clark, March 23, 2011

Could video games teach us something meaningful about our desires and our inclination towards sin? Unlike other artforms, which occasionally try to hide the reality of sin and come off sentimental, Richard argues that video games reveal our sin nature:

“When I am given a blatant moral choice, I may make the outwardly righteous choice, but my inward tendency still remains. I do what it takes to progress, not because it’s right, but because it alleviates my boredom and allows me to feel good about myself. While playing Pitfall, I used crocodile heads as stepping stones. In the city of Rapture, I killed untold numbers of people, simply because they are insane. It wasn’t enough to win a match of Mortal Kombat against my friend; once he was unconscious, I had to turn into a dragon, and bite him in half.”

6. Illegal Immigrants: People, Not Political Capital
By Brad Williams, September 20th, 2011

Alabama passed a law last year which made it a lot easier to arrest and deport illegal aliens, and in so doing put a lot of pressure on illegals in ‘bama to leave the state. To many people, including many Christians, this law was a great idea: it punished law breakers and lifted a burden from the state. But Brad has some objections. It turns out, those “illegals” are actually humans, and deporting them is a bit messier than many politicians would have us think. This is one of several CaPC articles that we will probably be reposting on Facebook throughout the election year as a healthy reminder to my friends and family:

“This political season, please try to remember that illegal immigrants are not money sponges who are looking to exploit our welfare system. They are men and women with families and dreams, and most of them are here to work and better themselves. They are image-bearers of God, and sojourners in our land: our response should be mercy, not wrath.”

5. Scientific Advance, Art, and Horsing Around With Humanity
By Jason Morehead, September 26th, 2011

Today, for my art, I will be injecting myself with horse blood and prancing around a room with pseudo-horse-legs. For art. And science. Weird? Shocking? Silly? Jason reminds us that the future of scientific advancement will be very strange, and that there are already movements like “transhumanism” which seek to drastically challenge our understanding of humanity. We may not want to think about the idea that the concept of “human” will be increasingly challenged in the coming years, but as Christians, we need to be aware of the world around us:

“The traditional Christian belief that human beings are somehow unique and set apart from the rest of Creation (because we’ve been created in image of God) and have been set in a position of governance and stewardship over Creation has been called into question by these numerous advances. If we’re able to develop robots and computers that are increasingly capable of artifical intelligence, what does that do to notions of our own reasoning capabilities? As we become increasingly capable of improving and enhancing the body via cybernetics, genetic engineering, and other such “upgrades”, how does that shape our view of the human body, which we believe to be a temple meant to honor God?”

4. The Magician King: Enduring the Loss of Eden
By Carissa Smith, September 13th, 2011

Continuing her work reviewing Lev Grossman’s Magicians series, Carissa writes a thoughtful and thorough review of The Magician King, paying particular attention to how Grossman’s work intersects with C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia and what it means to a modern reader to lose Eden:

“Despite all their hyper-referential snark, Grossman’s novels strike me as genuinely longing for a lost Eden. They reflect a zeitgeist in which we know we can’t build the perfect society. We know that heaven can’t be earned, only granted—but, entitlement-prone generation that we are, we feel that it ought to be granted to all of us, as our rightful inheritance. To those with this mindset, what the gods choose to give and take away seems purely random.”

3. Is Tim Tebow Christianity’s MVP?
By Drew Dixon, December, 8th, 2011

Tim Tebow plays football, allegedly, in Denver, which is a city in “Colorado” USA. You might have heard his name mentioned or have witness the hot-new-trend that is his namesake: Tebowing! Christians have had very mixed responses to Mr. Tebow this year. They love his football playing skills, or they hate them. They love his proud and open faith, or they find it obnoxious and offensive. What’s a Tebow supposed to do (to quote Billy Corgan, sort of)? Drew dives into the debate with a healthy reminder of what we can and cannot say about Tebow’s heart, and how we ought to respond to his public displays of affection for God:

“Biblically speaking, public piety tells us very little about someone’s faith. Prayer is a religious act and John 3:16 is a verse—neither actually tells us all that much about Tebow’s character and whether it’s worthy of applause. While I appreciate Tebow’s public piety, I find myself wanting to gently warn the millions of Christians following his story that his public displays of faith are not necessarily indicative of what it means to follow Jesus.”

2. ‘Go the **** to Sleep’ and the Backlash against ‘Perfect’ Parenting
By Erin Newcomb, June 30th, 2011

So, this guy writes a “kids” book that expresses what just about every parent has felt at one point or another: “Please go the @#$@#% to sleep so I can rest!,” and it explodes on the Internet. The book was extremely popular when it came out, although, naturally, some Christians found it to be in bad taste. The gimmick is that the book has cute, kiddy illustrations juxtaposed with the F-bomb. In one of the best CaPC articles I think we’ve ever published, Erin explores the book, its popularity, and the controversy, in a way that is engaging, poignant, and downright wise. If you missed it earlier this year, read it:

“The lingering conversations for me and my husband centered not around the crude language but around the necessity of grace. Of all the prayers I can say on behalf of my daughter, I keep returning to the supplication for grace—to cover the parenting mistakes I see and the ones I don’t even realize I make, to appeal to the one Perfect Parent who understands the frustration of watching His children struggle for rest and peace. Parenting my daughter takes me to new heights of joy and unplumbed depths of anxiety, but it hasn’t brought me any mystical wisdom—just the echo every evening that I can’t control everything, even bedtime. Mansbach’s book iterates that frustration, the fragility of parenthood, in cathartic sentiment if uncouth execution.”

1. Happy Valley: The Delusion of Penn State’s Paradise, Lost
By Nick Olson, November 13th, 2011

The story of Penn St.’s sexual abuse scandal and the fall and death of Joe Paterno might be the biggest college sports story of the school year. We learned that the beloved coach had done little to stop what he had good reason to believe was the sexual abuse of minors by one of his coaches: America’s favorite sport was soiled by America’s most despised crimes. In his moving and personal article, Nick brings the Gospel to bear on the Penn St. scandal without trivializing the abuse that boys suffered or treating Paterno as a sermon illustration. Nick’s article is about Penn St., “Happy Valley,” our culture, and our hearts. It is an excellent feature, whether you are a Penn St. or Paterno or football or sports fan or not. Read it:

“People have been quick to dump burning coals on everyone involved in the scandal, and rightly so. I would hope that child molestation would still be a sharply foul odor to our moral senses. But we should also question the cultural conditions that might lead a man into a downward spiral to the point where he, a 60 year old, could sexually exploit and damage adolescent boys. Make no mistake, if Sandusky is a monster, then our culture is a horror story: 1 in 6 boys are molested by age 16, and 1 in 4 girls are molested by 18. If, at root, the problem includes pride, selfishness, and the propensity to view other people as objects for our own personal pleasure, then perhaps we need to consider not just the monstrosity that Jerry Sandusky devolved into, but the foundational conditions for this monstrosity that are also at root in all of us—even in Happy Valley.”

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  • http://www.alienman.blogspot.com Brad Williams

    I think the illustration of the Nittany Lion is also my favorite of the year. It’s fitting that it goes with the favorite article.


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