Knox McCoy podcasts and writes about pop culture for a living. That's right—he yaps about TV, movies, and books. His memoir, The Wondering Years: How Pop Culture Helped Me Answer Life's Biggest Questions, takes a look at his formative years and how pop culture shaped him and his faith. Like that time he tried to save his dog, Elway, from total damnation by covering her face with his palm and reading Bible passages to her after being traumatized by a viewing of "All Dogs Go to Heaven." Or when he latched onto an unusual comparison for understanding the hierarchical organization of the universe's powers: God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit—"like Danny Tanner, Uncle Jesse, and Uncle Joey, but way better." The book is complete with oh so many pop culture references, dad jokes, and witty footnotes.
Here are just of a few of many pop culture icons who helped Knox McCoy answer his questions about God and the universe and his place in all of it.
Alex Trebek, Jeopardy!
"This need for formality, answers, and processes in the pursuit of understanding is why I was and always will be a Trebekian. It's why I couldn't just spin a wheel and see what happened. I had to understand the wheel, why it spun, and what all the spinning was really about."
McCoy, like most of us, grew up with the kings of TV game shows. But he felt a stark difference between Alex Trebek and Pat Sajak: Trebek does all the legwork on his game show, while Pat does little but read off prizes. McCoy sees himself in Trebek, always seeking knowledge and maybe giving an answer or two in the form of a philosophical, religious question.
"Is it possible that there's a simplicity to the complexity of God? Is it possible that the God I learned about in the Old Testament, who could level cities with fire and order the firstborn children of Egypt dead because of a national stalemate—could it be that his real nature is like the patient and benevolent water in Moana?"
Moana is one icon McCoy experienced with his children and found that the movie had surprisingly deep messages. He's especially moved by the water and its godlike power. It made him reconsider his God, and the imagery he's kept in his mind for his whole life as an evangelical Christian. There's patience, calm, forgiveness. It's not all the scary Old Testament stuff.
Bart Simpson, The Simpsons
"It's easy to shine a light on what you disagree with and reject ... but I'm doing my best to say 'E my S' to that attitude."
Okay, Bart Simpson is more of an anti-influence, but he's important all the same. McCoy spent his childhood years avoiding the crass Simpson family—especially that rude boy with that awful catchphrase. But Bart taught an important lesson in humanity: You don't have to actively hate the things you don't like. You can just let it go.
Harry Potter, Harry Potter series
"Because if a guy like Harry Potter couldn't even get his eyesight fixed, what made me think I didn't need to handle my own problems?"
This one is my favorite! And it is...eye-opening. (*rimshot*) But really, I never thought about how it seems so obvious that someone could fix Harry's eyesight and then he wouldn't need to wear the glasses that always need to be reparo-ed. But that's the POINT! Some things you just need to work through, despite the difficulties. McCoy is on to something here.
McCoy has another book out this summer, All Things Reconsidered: How Rethinking What We Know Helps Us Know What We Believe, in which he wields his usual humor, pop culture references, and anecdotes to broaden our brains into reconsidering big ideas.
He asks deep questions like "Does prayer work? Is anyone even there?" and "Are participation trophies truly the worst?" to get to the heart of our thoughts and belief systems.
Want to start reading The Wondering Years? You can listen to first chapter from the audiobook right now...