Continuing our week on The Hunger Games in the context of youth ministry, my class met yesterday and discussed the following question “Where is God?” More specifically, we talked about theological themes, issues, and questions arising from the text.
Be aware that there are SPOILERS here for the book and trilogy; proceed with caution if you have not yet read them.
I opened with the following philosophical question: What does it mean that Katniss has to lie continually in order to survive both the Games and society? While growing up, she was always under the watchful eye of her government. During the Games, all of Panem watches her on their televisions, ready to lend their support and aid if she can arouse their sympathy. Her ability to hide a part of who she is and put on a face that will be acceptable to her society is vital.
While “bearing false witness” officially breaks a commandment, I encouraged my students to think of Katniss not as a sinner for her actions, but rather as someone caught up in the sin of her society. What kind of world is it, after all, where we are forced to lie–or sin–in order to live?
This led to a discussion of the idea of original sin, not as something inherited in any kind of genetic sense, but rather as a pervasive fact of society. We today, just like Katniss, cannot avoid sin every moment of every day. We might avoid lying and lust, and that’s good. But what about oppressing our fellow human beings?
Look at the clothes you are wearing. The food you are eating. Are these products derived from equitable practices, or the cutthroat world of globalization and predatory capitalism? Isn’t it sinful that we in America meditate, eat, drink, and entertain ourselves to death when people in other parts of the world die for lack of basic needs? By action and inaction (omission and commission), we are caught in this world of sin and cannot get out.
Some other thoughts:
- The Absence of God. Unlike Narnia, Lord of the Rings, or even Twilight, the supernatural has absolutely no role in The Hunger Games. The novel–and their society–is completely without reference to God. Within this vacuum, my students reflected on how the Gamemakers themselves exist as gods for the participants. Further, the Capital idolizes their creation, often experienced as disposable gods in the form of teenage Tributes.
- The Image of God. Time and again, Collins describes the Capital as an image-obsessed and vapid society. Take a look at Effie Trinket. There is a persistent sense in the midst of this decadent city that citizens are even beginning to deface even the image of God in their persons…perhaps a final sign of how truly lost they are.
- Rue. A younger girl forced to fight in the Arena along with Katniss. The two join together and attempt to survive. When the frail 12-year-old is killed by one of their competitors, everything stops for a moment. Katniss grieves, adorns her body with flowers, and says goodbye to her young friend. There’s something here, I think, about a respect for life and the finality of death. Even if there is no reference to eternity, this is one of two real “religious” moments in the book.
- Blood Cries Out. Just as Lincoln spoke of the blood sacrifice of so many offered upon the altar of the Civil War, the Games provide more blood than we’d like. They are violent. They are graphic. People die. They die not because they have to, but because they are forced to. From the Capitol’s point of view, they die in order to keep the population in bondage. They die, then, as a symptom and result of this society of sin. They die not to erase the results of this sin, but to cover it over for a time and patch things together. But just as Cain’s murder of Abel caused the very ground to cry out at the injustice of it all, so too this adolescent blood points towards a reckoning. There is indeed life in the blood, but not life to keep the Capital going forever. Life to overcome the Capitol.
- Katniss as a Type of Christ. To begin with, Katniss volunteers for the Games in order to save another: her sister. But there’s more. At the very end of The Hunger Games, only Katniss and her fellow District 12 Tribute Peeta remain. They have been led to believe that they can both win as a team. This is, of course, until word comes down from the Gamemakers that only one can survive. Rather than try to kill each other, Katniss has a radical idea. They will both kill themselves (via poisonous berries they’ve found) and leave the Capitol with no winners whatsoever. In other words, they will show their viewers what these Games really are: a great vehicle of death. They will carry this death upon themselves in all its absurdity, and in so doing show their world how horrible it is. They will “stick it to the man” by taking everything “the man” has to offer. When I see Katniss with those berries, I picture Jesus on the cross. This is the second, and perhaps most truly theological, moment in the book.
There is, of course, more to see here. What do you think?