Today’s entry in the Catching Fire discussion reflects on what the book “has to do with God.” We’re going to think about it theologically, in other words. While this may seem a strange undertaking for a piece of popular young adult fiction, I think it is worthwhile. For as much as the trilogy is a shiny piece of pop culture replete with teenage angst and not a little violence, it is also one which is rarely short on ideas. Though I suspect it was not written with theology in mind, the themes upon which it does reflect have theological implications all the same (see, for instance, my previous thoughts on The Hunger Games).
Having re-read Catching Fire in preparation for classroom discussion and this week’s premiere, my biggest takeaway was a broad theological concept that manifests itself a number of different ways. To put it briefly, the book made me think about sin. Not the popular idea of “angering God,” but the notion of sin as degradation/depravity/fallenness. Its effects upon individuals and societies make ours a broken world. Katniss’s is no different. As such, many of the reflections that follow revolve around this central theme.
- In the first book, we see Katniss and other adolescents forced to fight for their lives. They do so, I think, as a symbol and symptom of their broken world. At the end of The Hunger Games, they have won. That is, until we find out in Catching Fire that their fallen society is not done with them yet. The twisted net of sin–one that all Hunger Games tributes are caught up in–will not let them go. It keeps going. It never ends. Whether it be as popular entertainment or back in the arena, their sinful world is eating them alive.
- Speaking of their broken world, one of the interesting things about Catching Fire is how we begin to see the layers of artifice in the society of Panem slowly start to be peeled back. The first book presents us a society that works to maintain the outward appearance of at least political stability, even if it is predicated upon yearly violence. As sick as it is, the Hunger Games system is just how it works. Districts go along with it for the most part. The Capitol is happy. Things move on. In this second book, though, the hidden and deeply broken elements of their monstrous society are laid bare more and more. Rebellion brewing. Violent repression. Warnings from the President. This was never a world in equilibrium and we always knew that; we’re just seeing that more clearly now. Understood in light of the Scriptural message, is ours any different?
- One of Christ’s appellations is the “Prince of Peace.” Looking at the teachings of the Sermon on the Mount, not to mention the way in which His work was accomplished–not by the sword but through suffering and humility–many have looked to Christ’s model as one of nonviolence. In some ways, I think that there is a sense that nonviolence is what Katniss deeply desires in this trilogy. Sadly, though, this option is just not open to her. In neither of the first two books is she a bloodthirsty killer, but all the same she is forced into violence in order to survive. This presents an open question, theologically and philosophically: can violence ever be the ultimate solution to our problems? Will it make things better or will it simply beget more violence? Is this any way to solve things, or is this just the way our world tries to solve things? The effects of using violence to achieved change and freedom in the society of Panem will be explored more in the book Mockingjay, but they are worth considering here.
- As Catching Fire progresses, we the readers come to understand that Katniss Everdeen is becoming a powerful symbol of Panem’s resistance to its capital. A symbol by which they will fight. Her actions in standing up to the Capitol in The Hunger Games inspired many. While her little trick with the berries was, I would submit, a kind of non-violence or passive resistance, the spirit of said resistance is being co-opted, even as she is, for something much more severe. In the same way, there was always the danger that Christ’s mission–in his own lifetime and ours–might be co-opted towards much more nefarious purposes. That the gospel (literally “good news”) of Katniss is being used in such a violent way is haunting indeed.
- One of the “holiest” moments in the first book was Katniss’s funeral for her fallen friend Rue. Here, though, I would say that the two moments provided by an 80-year old participant in the arena serve this function. The first is one we only hear about: on the day of the reaping, a younger woman is chosen to return to the Games. On that day old Mags steps up to take her place. Second, during the Games themselves there is a scene when the old lady is slowing down her companions and decreasing their chances for survival. Rather than do so, she walks headlong into death to set them free. Sacrifice, surely.
- Lastly, a bit of a “reach.” In my discussion of The Hunger Games, I posited Katniss as a type of Christ. Fair enough. Here, though, she is almost a kind of Mary, we might say. Called to serve a cause greater than herself at a young age, she is the sign of a new state of affairs. The metaphor breaks down, though: she unlike Mary is not particularly willing, and the stakes are not exactly the same. She does, nevertheless, like the Virgin become an icon for devotion and fervor.