Defeating evil requires supernatural help, whether that’s on Stranger Things, in our world, or in our own hearts.
Spoiler warning: I’ll keep this post generic. But if you want to avoid any and all discussion of Stranger Things season 4, you might want to come back and read this after you finish.
How do you conquer supernatural evil when your superhero has been depowered and your world is devoid of realized faith and active religion? If you’re in Hawkins, Indiana battling demonic killers feeding on trauma in Stranger Things 4 you turn to 80s pop culture totems. What we turn to for nostalgia, they’re turning to for salvation.
At the end of season 3, Eleven lost her superpowers. The young girl escaped from a research facility in season 1 and has been using her telekinetic abilities to save the show’s other heroes from extra-dimensional demons ever since. But with her abilities missing, the heroes face supernatural evil without a supernatural counter. Throughout the latest season, the group can’t help but make comments about how much easier things were when they had Eleven and she had her powers. The kids have no equal powers to match the demonic forces.A disenchanted world is incapable of confronting and overcoming evil. Click To Tweet
In some fictional worlds, this would be where the heroes could turn to their faith and a good supernatural power. The White Witch was unaware of the Deeper Magic in Narnia that would bring Aslan back to life after his sacrificial death. To defeat Sauron, the Middle Earth fellowship needs help from the resurrected Gandalf the White sent back by the Creator, Eru Ilúvatar. Even the humble mortal characters, like the Pevensie siblings and the four hobbits, are inspired to act by their faith. That type of inspiring faith is currently missing from Hawkins, Indiana.
That’s not to say religion is completely removed from the world of Stranger Things, but all that’s left are ineffective relics. A statue of Jesus that sits idly by while a character hacks into the school computer to change a friend’s grade. An out of context Bible verse quoted by a human antagonist only causes the townspeople to look for members of the harmless Dungeons & Dragons club. And, most symbolically, an abandoned church serves as a potential refuge and rendezvous for rescue of one character.
Yet this church has long been boarded up and emptied of most of its religious significance. In the place of pews and parishioners? Crates of nostalgic consumer goods, including Levi jeans and JIF peanut butter with 80s era accurate labels. The hollowed out church can only provide momentary, fleeting sanctuary. The bad guys break in and capture the good guy. There’s nothing the jars of peanut butter can do about it.
The things may be strange in Hawkins, but at this moment the only supernatural things of note are on the dark side. As Stranger Things 4 has ramped up the evil menace facing the kids (turned young adults) on bikes, the only response so far to darker evil is to add more kids and more pop culture nostalgia. The growing group might be empowered by friendship, but that can only get them so far.
The Fellowship of the Ring needed more than just camaraderie and warm feelings toward one another. They needed supernatural help to conquer Saron. The show’s creators recognize the gapping supernatural hole. It’s meant to serve as added tension for the heroes. In an interview with Variety about the first seven episodes, Matt Duffer, one of the brothers behind the creation of the show, said:
Because it’s so often that she’s [Eleven] able to come in and kind of rescue our characters and she isn’t there. And so they feel particularly vulnerable. And I’m hoping you feel that way, and you should, that they are exposed and vulnerable in a way that they haven’t been before as they move into this final fight with Vecna.Matt Duffer, “‘Stranger Things’ Creators Answer Burning Questions,” Variety
The viewer is meant to feel “exposed and vulnerable” in a world filled with evil without a corresponding good. The problem becomes when it’s not only Stranger Things, it’s our culture as a whole. A disenchanted world is incapable of confronting and overcoming evil.
Evil Things in Our World
The vestiges of Christianity in our culture still allow us to recognize evil. We are often united in identifying evil, but that unity quickly dissipates when we seek solutions. We have disavowed the tools by which we can critique evil and even more importantly the weapons by which we can conquer it.The vestiges of Christianity in our culture still allow us to recognize evil, but we have disavowed the tools by which we can critique it and even more importantly the weapons by which we can conquer it. Click To Tweet
We have been awed by the self-sacrifice of Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who refused to leave his country for safety and instead stayed behind to lead and fight. Meanwhile, the seeming self-obsession of the police involved in Uvalde, Texas school shooting caused outrage. We can rightly see one act as courageous and the other as cowardice. But on what basis do we make those judgments?
In rejecting the supernatural, we’ve rejected solid grounding for objective truth. We know it’s right for a leader to bravely stand with his people in the face of danger and wrong for police to fail to rush in to protect the lives of innocent children, yet there’s no rationale for why that should be the case. We may all have opinions on what is good, right, and brave, but no real justification for calling someone else to hold the same opinion. As Tim Keller writes in Making Sense of God, “While there can be moral feelings without God, it doesn’t appear there can be moral obligation.”
In The Abolition of Man, C.S. Lewis highlights the dilemma. He calls it the “tragi-comedy of our situation.”
In a sort of ghastly simplicity, we remove the organ and demand the function. We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honor and are shocked to find traitors in our midst. We castrate and bid the geldings be fruitful.C.S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man
Like Stranger Things, our world faces an upside-down crisis. We want to laud bravery and self-sacrifice in the face of evil, but the secular worldview provides no grounding for such actions and offers no force through which we can obtain the needed power. The Duffer brothers realize that friends playing a Kate Bush song on a Walkman can only get you so far. Defeating evil requires supernatural help, whether that’s on Stranger Things, in our world, or in our own hearts.