Anticipation of the potential blockbuster movie release of The Hunger Games sparked much debate on moral code and ethics. How should Christians respond to the trilogy?
Why So Hungry?
Suzanne Collins got the idea to write The Hunger Games while surfing TV channels. On one channel was a teen reality show with participants competing for a vain prize. On the next was a group of young people fighting in an actual war. The lines between the two pictures began to blur, and she developed the trilogy that is now a worldwide phenomenon.
So, what is all the hype about? The trilogy takes place in a futuristic dystopian world. Panem, in what used to be North America, is divided into 12 districts which are under control of the Capitol. Every year, each district is required to send two teenagers – one girl and one boy – to the Capitol to participate in the annual Hunger Games. In the Games, participants fight to the death, and the events are nationally televised throughout all of Panem. The Hunger Games are the primary way the Capitol strikes fear in the residents of Panem, and exert control over the districts.
The people in the districts live in an oppressed poverty; not because of the country’s lack of resources, but because the Capitol wants to remain all-powerful. There are strong similarities in The Hunger Games with many Third World countries today. The recent hype of KONY 2012 has brought to light the unimaginable horrors that happen in our world every day while we’re concentrated on who is going to win American Idol.
That is why Collins wrote these books. She grew up with the reality of war as her father fought in Vietnam, and she began to fear that today’s society is getting desensitized to images of war. In an interview for the School Library Journal, Collins said, “If there’s a real-life tragedy unfolding [on TV], you should not be thinking of yourself as an audience member. Because those are real people on the screen, and they’re not going away when the commercials start to roll.”
Criticism & Praise
Yet Collins has received much criticism from Christians and parents about the intense violence in these young adult books. In discussion boards online, some wrote that the characters in the books who find entertainment in the Games are no worse than those who read these books. After all, if we are entertained by books about children killing each other, what’s the difference? Many parents were outraged that their children wanted to read them.
One mom wrote, “Allowing a child to feed on something like this is just downright irresponsible! Parents don’t think for a moment that you will draw your child closer to Christ when they have been enveloped by the madness of books like this.”
Douglas Wilson, an editor of a religious and philosophical journal, wrote that The Hunger Games promotes nothing more than situation ethics. He believes the books are unsettling because the characters are put in a situation where they are forced to sin. He asked if they were about a different sin, such as the Rape Games, would there be as much love for the books?
On the other side of the spectrum, many Christians are embracing the trilogy. Some church leaders are developing Bible studies to correspond with the novels. Pastors from North Carolina, Rev. Andy Langford and his daughter Rev. Ann Duncan, created “The Gospel According to The Hunger Games Trilogy.” Langford told the Christian Post, “Sacrificial love is the most obvious theme throughout all three books, many of the characters have biblical parallels, which seem so obvious to us but most people missed.” Many other Christian reviews say they are a great way to initiate discussions with kids about violence, oppression and their solution in Christ.
What is a Proper Response?
I have personally read all three books in the trilogy and pre-purchased my ticket to the midnight release of The Hunger Games in IMAX. You could say I’m a fan.
Until researching the books online, I was unaware of any Christian opposition. I am appalled at some of the statements Christians have made against The Hunger Games, many of whom have not even read the trilogy. Yes, these books are violent, but they are mild in detail and are incredibly well written. Collins did a great job conveying violence without crossing the threshold into descriptive gore.
Panem is a godless society and the entire time I was reading the books, I was so grateful for the presence of God. I believe any society without Christ could easily turn to that type of violence. Quite frankly, we’re already heading there.
After reading The Hunger Games, I realized I had drawn closer to God. It gave me a deeper appreciation for the freedom I have in Christ. It also gave me a burning passion for souls.
There are children being forced into warfare and sex trafficking right now all over the world. There are parents desperately searching for their children, or mourning over their capture while some American parents worry that their child will not be able to handle a toned-down fictional version of war.
Ignorance isn’t always bliss; sometimes, it’s just selfish.
There are also a number of positive elements in The Hunger Games. The main character sacrifices herself for her sister. Many characters realize the importance of love and respond sacrificially. Isn’t that what the Gospel is based on? Without giving away any spoilers, the citizens finally realize they can fight for their rights and many are persecuted for it.
Remember the book of Acts and how Christians were martyred for standing up for the truth found only in Jesus Christ? The Hunger Games go much deeper than a mere excuse for violence; they are eye-opening.
The reality is that we live in a sick world. Christians are persecuted and martyred still today. Lost souls are passing on into an eternal damnation nearly every moment; that is the real tragedy. Why are some Christians more concerned with picketing the next blockbuster than spreading the love of Christ to a dying world?
Yes, the setting of The Hunger Games is depressing, violent and hopeless, but so is the world we live in. Don’t we know a Christ who came to save us all from such a world? We have the answer; we should spread it just as Christ calls us to do.
If you haven’t read The Hunger Games yet, I recommend it. If anything, it is a conversation starter and can open the door to talk about the need for God. If you would rather just watch the movie, the film is now showing in theaters. Take a peek: The Hunger Games on Rotten Tomatoes.