Love Thy Nerd
Love Nerds + Engage Culture + Build Community

Stranger Things & A Better Story

To understand the intersection of Christianity and nerd culture, we must examine how recent media, such as the latest season of Stranger Things, can serve as a reflection of cultural perception. In this popular Netflix series, we are introduced to a group of nerds who form their own tight-knit community called the Hellfire Club. These social outcasts, who find themselves excluded from sports teams and mainstream cliques, band together to celebrate their shared passion for Dungeons & Dragons. They create a space where loyalty, love, support, and a sense of family thrive.

As the story unfolds, we encounter another group—the jocks—who make it clear that the nerds are unwelcome and unwanted. Instead of embracing friendship and unity when faced with challenges, the jocks resort to brute force and use the Bible to justify their acts of violence, twisting scripture to suit their agenda.

Stranger Things paints a vivid picture that compels the audience to consider which team they are rooting for. Would they align with the Hellfire Club, a band of rag-tag nerds and social outcasts who always have each other’s backs, offering a seat at the table to anyone who feels excluded? Or would they gravitate towards the Christian jocks, whose exclusivity, hasty judgments, and reliance on fear-driven violence tarnish their portrayal?

Photo Credit: E! Online

The answer becomes clear: If one desires to be part of the social elite, seeking power and influence, they must choose to align with the Christian jocks. Perhaps, by conforming enough, they can gain scraps from their table. However, for those who don’t fit in, for the nerdy, the awkward, or the uncoordinated, there is always a seat waiting among the “freaks and geeks”. At Hellfire, individuals are not only welcome but also supported and loved.

Some might see this portrayal as an antagonistic critique of the Church by the media. It would be convenient to dismiss this as another reason why the media is deteriorating. However, whether we like it or not, this story resonates because it reflects a reality felt by many. We catch a glimpse of how we are perceived through the eyes of the culture surrounding us, and it may not always be a pleasant sight.

“By confronting historical stereotypes and bridging the gap between Church culture and nerd culture, we can forge a path towards an environment that celebrates diversity and fosters a genuine sense of belonging.” -Zach Miller

To fully comprehend the significance of Stranger Things’ narrative, we must delve into the historical context that has perpetuated the divide between the Church and the nerd community. The Satanic Panic of the 1980s and 1990s played a substantial role in associating nerdy teenagers with the occult, leading to misguided perceptions and a false dichotomy that alienated these individuals from religious values. The resultant stereotype depicted them as socially awkward and incompatible with church culture, driving them to find solace in alternative communities centered around shared interests, like role-playing games.

This reflection holds significance not only within Stranger Things, Netflix’s most-watched English-language series, but also resonates across numerous contemporary productions. This pervasive perception has prompted discussions even among non-Christian figures, like Rainn Wilson, who tweeted, “As soon as the David character in ‘The Last of Us’ started reading from the Bible, I knew he was going to be a horrific villain. Could there be a Bible-reading preacher on a show who is actually loving and kind?” Wilson’s tweet garnered substantial attention, striking a chord with many Christians who shared his frustration. Rather than viewing this as a mere source of displeasure, may we embrace it as an opportunity for introspection and transformation.

Photo Credit: Twitter @RainnWilson

Now, more than ever, we have an opportunity to reshape this narrative. Love Thy Nerd seeks to establish a new table—one that embraces and celebrates the passions of nerds. As we engage in honest self-reflection, we must acknowledge the unintended consequences of well-intentioned Christians inadvertently excluding nerds due to fear and uncertainty. Love Thy Nerd aims to rectify this by offering a seat, fostering relationships, encouraging meaningful conversations, and, above all, demonstrating love and acceptance, simply because we genuinely want to understand and care for every individual, regardless of their background or interests. 

By confronting historical stereotypes and bridging the gap between Church culture and nerd culture, we can forge a path towards an environment that celebrates diversity and fosters a genuine sense of belonging. As we navigate this nuanced conversation, let us approach it with humility and empathy. Our goal is not only to inspire Christians but also to engage deconstructionists, people of various faiths, and those who find solace within the pop culture and nerdy interest communities. Together, let’s reshape the narrative and create a culture that welcomes all who seek connection and understanding.

Zach has a degree in business administration and spent the first part of his career in construction management at Disneyland. Currently, Zach is a Producer for PlainJoe, a Storyland Studio. PlainJoe is a design studio dedicated to helping the Church achieve "storytelling worthy of the story" through intention design of spaces, brands, and digital tools. Zach is also a card-carrying nerd, and is passionate about supporting the work of Nerd Culture Ministry.

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