Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Can a Christian Watch or Read Hunger Games?

I read the Hunger Games trilogy before its first book became a smashing box office success. This past weekend's opening grossed $155 million. That could buy you a lot of food in Katniss's home of the Seam in District 12. It also has a lot of people wondering what this movie and the books are all about. Hunger Games has led both the Christian and non-Christian alike to ask profound existential and intellectual questions about the contents of the trilogy (topics like the effects of war, poverty, government, oppression, ethics), especially given its popularity among younger teenage audiences who often may not be as mature as the subject matter they are reading.

Now, to Collin's credit, the books were written to a more young adult level. And the fact that the junior high and high school aged group has picked them up, I think is testimony to her superb writing, entrapping story telling and engaging subject matter. The books suck you in. She doesn't always answer all the questions and tie things up with a pretty bow. But that's where the reader comes in.

So, what's a Christian to do? Can a Christian watch or read The Hunger Games?

That's a question I've been pondering since I finished the first book and blazed through the second and third books as well. Much could be said about the contents, themes and imagery in the book.

The setting of the book is a dystopian future set in what once was North America; think of it as the Roman coliseum gladiators meeting up with Big Brother in a post-apocalyptic alley. The atmosphere is godless (and perhaps that's the point) although I haven't read too much about the author or her world view; she's a great writer though and tells a great story.
No doubt Collins has many points to make along the way, namely, what is the line between reality and entertainment? What happens in a society when people will endure anything so long as they are fed and entertained and if you control that you control the society? This is much like the way that the Romans used the coliseum: panem et circenses they called it. In fact, the mythological tales of Theseus destroying the Minotaur (after being throw into the Labyrinth by Minos) is one of the foundational pieces for the first book. The second is even better: Spartacus breaking free from the gladiator ring to lead a rebellion against the oppressive government. Katniss has her own Third Servile War to participate in. Both stories form the entire arc of the Hunger Games.
Rather than promoting book bans and burnings, I would encourage Christians to approach reading the books and watching the movies in this way: as mature, well catechized youth and adults. Parents and children could watch / read together, giving families the opportunity to discuss what is right and what is wrong and what if any Christian themes are present.

Furthermore, I know many of our youth today are reading these books. It behooves us to know what they are filling their heads with so we can respond clearly and thoughtfully. They speak the language of these popular books and movies and it helps us bridge the gap when we can converse clearly and intelligently with them on the issues of their day and culture. Ultimately this allows us to declare the Gospel in their particular and unique context, much like St. Paul did before the Greeks in Acts 17, quoting Stoic philosophers like junior highers quote Harry Potter spells. Patronus!!!

And lastly, I actually happen think there are Christian themes in the Hunger Games (the books at least) - I have yet to see the movie - and those should be discussed and enjoyed even when they are found in the most unlikely places. Whether these are intentional or unintentional (ala Francis Rossow's Gospel Patterns book) is another question entirely.

As many have noticed, some of the more apparent themes are rather nihilistic: hopelessness, suffering, death. But underneath it all there is this: take away the political, the the bleak world where men use men for their own gains and power struggles and there is one story plot that stood out in the Hunger Games - love gives way to sacrifice and sacrifice gives way to love. Sacrifice and Love.  If you've read the books, it's all too apparent.
By her own admission, Collins was heavily influenced by themes of war and how people live during wartime. And it shows in her writing. These themes of love, sacrifice, an unlikely hero (and heroine in this story), epic struggles against good and evil. This is not just the stuff of the movies and books. It's the stuff of reality. That's the story of the New Testament...the only myth which is also made fact, as Lewis once commented.

Now, if a Christian does not want to read them or watch the movies. Fine. No one is forcing or coercing anyone to see the film or read the books. You are free to read or not to read; just as the Corinthians were free to eat or not to eat meat sacrificed to idols. However, in Christian freedom, we must also not make a law that says "thou shalt not read" where God has not commanded such. If that were the case, we wouldn't be watching or reading a lot of things or talking with a lot of people for that matter, ultimately including ourselves; for if we take our sin seriously we shouldn't listen to the things that come out of our wicked, old-sinful heart according to Jesus. And, by the way, have you read some of those stories in the Old Testament?

Thanks be to God we are free in Christ from sin and death. We have been freed from ourselves by his death for us. Christ is greater than Theseus (who could only mythologically rescue from death) for he defeats sin, death and the devil by entering the Labyrinth of his own creation in time, in human flesh. He does this not in fictional fairy land or in a dystopian sci-fi story, but in human history. In the days when Quirinius was governor of Syria. He was Crucified under Pontius Pilate. And he rose from the grave. He is not here; He is risen! And over five hundred witnesses saw him alive (1 Corinthians 15). Christianity is a faith founded on fact. And the facts are built around sacrifice and love.

True Sacrifice and Love. Greater love has no man than this, that one lay down his life, not only for his friends, but for his enemies. Jesus, the One greater than Spartacus who leads an all out rebellion against the powers of hell and the prince of this world. He has set you free. And if the Son sets you free, you are free indeed.


  1. This series is next on my list. I'm glad you took the time to read and comment on it. Have you read Generation iY by Tim Elmore? I am about halfway through it. No one else I know has read it. I am curious to hear your thoughts on it and whether you think it's accurate. Let me know if you ever get the chance to read it.

    1. I'll have to check out the books you mentioned; I'm always looking for new good reads, regardless if they have some Christian message or not.

  2. The best review of the books &/or movie I've read so far. Thank you for your thoughtful evaluation. I think another reason teens are drawn to stories like these is that they often experience helplessness & despair, whether from seemingly impossibly difficult SATs, or cruel bully peers, or parental abandonment (from divorce or neglect). From the outside, one might notice that low SAT scores don't destroy one's future, for example, but when the teen is in the midst of his/her suffering, the despair is real. That's where Christ on the Cross can bring sublime comfort -- our Savior suffers with us, not with mere empathy (although that is significant comfort), but with glorious sacrificial Victory! Love & sacrifice is the subtitle to the One True Story -- Christ Died for Us.

    1. Gretchen, thank you for your kind words. I hope to do some more evaluation, especially after the Issues Etc. interview sparked some thoughts on different questions and of course, more answers I thought of after the fact. And thank you for reading as well.

  3. Nicely done! I also enjoyed the interview on Issues, Etc. I'd like your thoughts on something I've been trying to work through on the trilogy. I've put it up here: http://gottesdienstonline.blogspot.com/2012/05/what-hunger-games-teaches-us-about.html

    1. Jason. Thanks for reading and for your encouraging comments.

      I just read your post, in fact, not more than a few minutes ago. Even without the supporting article you cited, you're on to something. Very soon, I'm hoping to write a bit of a follow up to the Christological themes in the book, Katniss's volunteering as tribute is the first and obvious one, but there are others more compelling perhaps, or better said,longer-lasting.

      At any rate, I'll add some thoughts that your piece gave me soon.

  4. Great post, and I hope to catch your interview on Issues, Etc. I don't find The Hunger Games to be a very good book, mainly because I don't feel teh world they take place in is "sadistic" enough to make the violence believable. Here's my post on it: http://derekjohnsonmuses.com/2012/05/14/a-social-analogy-for-the-hunger-games/
    Keep up the good work.