I have fallen victim to the Hunger Games craze.
I breezed through the first book in the Hunger Game trilogy in three days and then Catching Fire and Mockingjay over the past week.
So was it worth it? Did I get anything out of it? Did I learn anything?
Is there anything “Christian” about a series of books where teenagers are yanked from their homes and forced to fight to the death for the amusement of avaricious tyrants and bloodlustful elites? The rate at which people are killed amounts to genocide. The assaults on both life and liberty by the Capitol and its coolly sadistic President Snow are relentless. In fact, this regime seems capable of oppression and cruelty akin to (or even greater than, if imagination can allow) Nazi Germany and Stalin’s Soviet Union.
The themes are equally difficult to grasp with, but more on that later. Suffice to say, you really can’t get away with calling these childrens’ books.
But (except for the romance garbage) these books are fantastic. In the interest of full disclosure, I confess I’ve always had a strong belief and perception that the world is deeply, deeply broken and hurting. I’m drawn to those works—even works of fiction—that address the situation and acknowledge the difficulties.
Part of the beauty of the Hunger Games trilogy is its acknowledgement of the fact that our world has turned us all into victims and villains. Katniss Everdeen, the trilogy’s protagonist is heroic in her struggle against the dystopian society in which she lives, but she’s motivated by selfish desires. She does some despicable things and she hurts a lot of people along the way. I like how the structure of the society in which she operates forces her into impossible moral dilemmas, where she’s a villain no matter which direction she chooses.
To me this is very analogous to the world we live in. The Fall has made us all victims and villains. Things get ugly from the moment we’re born. Because “nice guys finish last,” the challenge of being faithful and good in a world where few choices are purely faithful or purely good is tormenting. Even Capitol citizens, beneficiaries of the regime, are portrayed in a sympathetic light sometimes. Think of Katniss’s prep team. They are stupid, calloused and vain, but the books have moments which reveal their humanity and make us wonder if we aren’t Capitol citizens ourselves, watching idly as the rest of the world caters to Western consumerism. Even the rebels find themselves under the headship of the shadowy District 13 leader Alma Coin, whose motives are suspect. No matter who she fights for, Katniss seems to support an imperfect system.
What would you do in Katniss’s position? The perpetual moral checkmate is agonizing, but it also forces us to come to terms with our own impossible decisions. The stakes seem somewhat lower, but are they truly? Our souls and the welfare of every man, woman and child who is our neighbor lie in the balance as we struggle through the gamut of life. We all live the Hunger Games, even if we have blinded ourselves to the cruelty perpetuated everywhere for reasons just as vapid as the Capitol’s voyeurism.
The point I’m making is simply this: It’s really hard to know how to act in a world where we can never hope to be morally blameless. The game is rigged from the outset. At some point, every honest Christian has to confess that our preference for black-and-white moral pictures is a vain one. The concept of original sin is the confession that we are condemned not only by our sins but by the sins that abound around us. Struggling deeply and honestly with life’s ambiguities, with life’s inevitable cruelties and hoping you can come out with as much of yourself as you can—these are the themes that Hunger Games addresses in terms so stark they cannot be brushed aside.
Thank God we have Jesus. Otherwise, the odds would never be in our favor…