In the beginning, there was a group of friends, and their opinions were without form and void, and at parties they had nothing to say. And the New Yorker said, “Let there be think pieces.”

And the friends read the think pieces, and saw that they were good. And immediately accepted them as gospel. Soon, every friend had read the Gospels according to the Atlantic, and Mother Jones, and the New York Times Magazine—and soon did they accept the one true and correct analysis of everything: from ending the filibuster to establishing a no-fly zone over Ukraine.

For through the think pieces, all things were known. Were trees smart? Known. Could abortion be funny? Depends on who’s telling the joke. Unlike the religious right, these liberal friends did not blindly trust the dogma of priests in robes, but wisely exalted the insight of academics in doctoral robes and scientists in lab robes.

And thus, the think pieces formed the friends in their own image: the image of the omnipotent intellectual. And at parties, one friend would turn to the others and announce: “We’re in the middle of an invisible wave of COVID,” and the friends would nod, appreciating this mystery of faith. And a second friend, who had been meaning to read that article but hadn’t gotten around to it, would say, “Forgive me, friends, for I am uninformed.”

And as penance, his friends would sloppily recount the Parable of the Invisible Wave, saying: “Cases are up, but we don’t even know they’re up—wait, that can’t be right.” And another friend would jump in, suggesting, “It’s because of testing.” But lo, even though the friends could recite the entire article word-for-word (for Alpha begat Beta who begat Delta who begat Omicron), everyone had to admit they hadn’t fully unpacked what its almighty Author had meant.

So the friends would conclude: “The invisible wave is just a metaphor. Think pieces aren’t always meant to be interpreted literally.”

And all were happy and contented in the paywalled gardens, where the knowledge of COVID waves and whether or not The Joker deserved mental health care was perfect and complete. The friends were free to read any article they so chose, unless they had already read their five free articles for the month and didn’t know how to clear their cookies.

But the end times were drawing nigh…

Wine country was burning, democracy was dying, The Gap was not expanding its gender-neutral clothing options rapidly enough. And as the world grew darker and darker, the friends needed the word of the Good Periodicals more and more. Five free articles were no longer enough!

For the Antichrist, Donald Trump, would soon return to his tortured human vessel, and knowing the specific legal strategy he would pursue to regain power was the only way to make the coming apocalypse easier to swallow. The four horsemen of autocracy were upon them! The next pandemic would rain down from the heavens unless the friends learned what scientists were already doing to prevent it!

But praises be! The friends were saved! For they put their money in the digital collection plate, and subscribed to one year of print and online access to the Good Periodicals!