Oh, My Pop Culture Religion: Complexity of Faith in Dumbing of Age

A couple of us here at Lady Geek Girl & Friends are fans of David Willis’s webcomic Dumbing of Age, a story about college freshmen trying to figure out life. We love it not just because of the great plots and characters, but because of the sensitive, realistic way it addresses real issues that people have to confront in real life, but that often don’t get much representation in mass media. Dom previously wrote about the phenomenon of racism within a mixed-race family in the comic. Today, my focus is going to be on the religious journey of Joyce, the comic’s main character.

I love Joyce to death. While the comic is full of characters I love, some of whom arguably are more interesting than Joyce (for instance, one character dresses up as a superhero and fights petty crime!), the more the comic goes along, the more I’ve come to appreciate her. She is kind, sweet, adorably naïve, unflappably cheerful, and fiercely loyal to the ones she loves. She also grew up in a sheltered, fundamentalist Christian household. Going from that to the huge, diverse, and largely liberal Indiana University was bound to cause some culture shock. But while this clash is sometimes funny, Willis has never portrayed her as a strawman (strawwoman?) parody of a Christian. It is one of the most sensitive, heartfelt stories of religious struggle that I’ve ever encountered in geek media. I feel as if I have a personal stake in the outcome of her journey because I’ve struggled with similar issues. Details—and spoilers—below.

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