The world runs on violence. That’s the message of the best selling book by Suzanne Collins titled The Hunger Games and it is also the message of mimetic theory. For many of us, there is a growing concern that this violence threatens our very future. As political, economic, and other forms of social oppression spread throughout the world, I’m convinced that this violence needs to be confronted. Throughout human history we have confronted violence and have tried to subvert it in two distinct ways. The first way is offered to us by Collins in her books. According to The Hunger Games, the best way to confront and subvert violence is with violence. The second way is offered to us by mimetic theory, which takes its inspiration from the Gospel. According to this approach, the best way to confront violence, and the only way to truly subvert it, is through universal sacrificial love and forgiveness. It is confrontational because it meets violence head on and, by refusing to play by the rules of violence, it offers another way of being. It is universal because the principles of sacrificial love and forgiveness include even our enemies.
The choice we make between these two ways matters if we want to have a future. It’s the choice between the way of life and the way of death.
The Hunger Games – Our Cultural Fascination
The first book in the series, The Hunger Games, was released in 2008. It quickly became a USA Today and New York Times bestseller and has spent more than 100 consecutive weeks on the New York Times list. The Hunger Games has been sold over a million times as a Kindle ebook, making Collins one of six authors to join the “Kindle Million Club.”
The series has captured the imagination of our culture – and with the release of The Hunger Games movie this Friday, I decided it was time to read the first book in the series. It didn’t take long before I discovered why so many are fascinated with it. Collins explores universal themes in a very engaging way. Like any good work of fiction, the reader can identify with the characters in The Hunger Games as they struggle with the themes of identity, love, greed, sacrifice, freedom, compassion, and violence. As I read the first book of the trilogy, I understood what Stephen King, the master of violent thrillers, meant when he wrote in his review of The Hunger Games for Entertainment Weekly, “I couldn’t stop reading [because The Hunger Games] is a violent, jarring speed rap of a novel that generates nearly constant suspense and may also generate a fair amount of controversy.”
I was also intrigued by the reviews from fellow Christians who engaged their faith with the books. There are at least two ebooks that relate the trilogy in very positive ways to Christianity. The Gospel According to “The Hunger Games” Trilogy was written by Andy Langford and Ann Duncan, who are both Methodist pastors. It compares the characters of the trilogy to characters in the Bible. For example, Langford and Duncan compare Katnis Everdeen, the main character of The Hunger Games, to Moses and Jesus in her attempts to overthrow the oppressive Capitol. The second ebook is Julie Clawson’s The Hunger Games and the Gospel: Bread, Circuses, and the Kingdom of God. Clawson’s book is very good and worth reading, as she reveals how the fictional oppression found in The Hunger Games is an allegorical critique of many real oppressive practices in our world today. I have only read the first book, but so far the most important revelation I have found in The Hunger Games have to do with desire and violence. Collins knows that desire and violence are mimetic (a term we will explore in parts two and three), but Collins doesn’t offer the Gospel’s alternative to violence. If the final two books in the series follow the trajectory of The Hunger Games, Clawson’s argument that the books are closely related to the Gospel is dangerously flawed. She writes, “Although not explicitly ‘Christian’ books, the themes explored in the Hunger Games are the same ones Christians have wrestled with since the days of Jesus and his apostles. Themes of love, compassion, and justice in the face of oppression. Themes of what it looks like to live full of hope that a better world is possible” (Kindle, 90) and that The Hunger Games helps us understand the “life affirming way of the Kingdom of God. That is the life Christians are called to: a life that, despite struggles and hardships, still chooses to work for a better world that reflects God’s dreams” (Kindle, 292).
Does The Hunger Games offer us that hope for a better world?
While I agree with Clawson that Jesus and his disciples wrestled with the same “Themes of love, compassion, and justice in the face of oppression,” found both in The Hunger Games and in our 21st century world, I fundamentally disagree that the methods used to fight the oppression in The Hunger Games are the methods Jesus and his disciples used or would endorse. To the contrary, the Kingdom of God that they lived and taught as the hope for a better world critiques those methods because Jesus and his disciples knew that using violence to confront violence makes the world a more violent place. The methods that the Kingdom of God uses to confront and subvert violence are nonviolence, sacrificial love, and forgiveness. It is because of those diametrically opposed methods that, as fascinating as The Hunger Games is, it is neither explicitly nor implicitly a “Christian” book.
In fact, The Hunger Games may be fascinating for the wrong reasons.
Because the way that we confront violence and oppression in our world matters. In fact, it is a matter of life and death.
The Hunger Games Blog – Table of Contents