Skip to comments.Starving for Religion in 'Hunger Games'
Posted on 03/27/2012 6:46:41 AM PDT by rhema
The importance of religion in the wildly popular "Hunger Games" books and new movie is a lot like the barking of a dog in the Sherlock Holmes story "Silver Blaze."
Holmes directs a police inspector's attention to "the curious incident of the dog in the night-time." "The dog did nothing in the night-time." "That was the curious incident," remarked Sherlock Holmes.
The dog, of course, did not bark.
If you've been cut off from all popular culture for a while, "The Hunger Games" and its two sequels are novels by Suzanne Collins. She creates a dystopian future where the remnants of the United States are ruled by a despot who enforces his rule with an annual "game" that's a cross between Roman gladiator contests and a modern reality TV show. A couple of people from each province are chosen by lottery to enter into a group battle to the death, all televised. Last person standing is the winner.
Eventually, there's an uprising.
The plot is a gumbo that includes elements from Roman history and mythology; "The Truman Show" movie; Robert Heinlein's 1960s novel "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress;" "The Lottery," a short story written in the 1940s by Shirley Jackson; Madeline L'Engle's "A Wrinkle In Time" and who knows what else.
The core conflicts that drive the plot are moral choices when there are no good answers. And yeah, there's a romance conflict.
For my money, it's better written than the Harry Potter books -- more internally self-consistent with much more sophisticated character development. Like the Potter books, it's marketed as "young adult" fare but includes plenty of adult adults in its fan base. The first movie in what will surely be a series opened last week. Critics were generally kind and the box office was tremendous.
So what about religion? There isn't any. Not a prayer. Not an oath. The word "god" does not so much as appear in any of the books. Nobody even says "oh my gosh."
There's no ritual that isn't totally grounded in some materialistic purpose. Not a hint of serious superstition. Unless I missed it, there's not a remotely idiomatic reference to the supernatural.
The story is plenty busy without it, but such an unequivocal expunging can only have been intentional. We learn fine details about fashion and food and weaponry and the shape of furniture and the color of dust and so on and so on. She easily could have dropped in a couple of casual references to faith.
I've not been able to find any interviews she's granted on the topic, but it's pretty clear that, like Gene Roddenberry did when he created Star Trek, Collins wanted there to be zero religion in her world.
Based on her source material, she could have used religion as a positive or a negative. Here in the real world, people have turned to various kids of religion in the darkest moments of history. Victims of the Nazis prayed in the death camps. On the other hand, religion has been a tool of oppression in much of real history, too. From the imposed state faith of the ancient Roman Empire to the Catholic Inquisition to the Muslim theocrats of our own era, faith has been used by despots whose histories parallel some of the villains of Collins' story.
It's hard for me to imagine a real human future where either use of religion vanishes without a trace. But for her own reasons, Collins went in neither direction. It's a curious incident, a dog that should have barked.
A friend of mine who has read the books asked me a much more interesting question than "where is the religion." Where, she asked me, was God in this story? Had he abandoned humanity?
My friend is a person of deep and abiding faith who has survived some hard times. Her question was heartfelt. I thought about all of the real-world examples in human history where one might ask the same question. Theodicy is the toughest challenge for any religion that posits an all-knowing, all-powerful, all-good deity. Why does he allow evil to persist? Where is his hand in stories where horrors pile upon horrors?
Is God in the world of the Hunger Games? Religious commentators are trying to find him. There's a book titled "The Hunger Games and the Gospel." A paper titled "The Gospel According to The Hunger Games' Trilogy." "Hunger Games" bible studies.
The authors focus on plot elements that turn on moral questions, on discussions about good and evil characters, on redemption and faith in family and friends. Even though there's not a scintilla of actual religion in the stories, they are able to find aspects that represent their own religious values.
Finding the Almighty in apparently secular details has an ancient and honorable history. Look no further than the Bible and the Book of Esther. This is the basis of the Jewish holiday of Purim. The tale includes violence and romance, sexual wiles and betrayal, despots and heroes. (And like the Hunger Games, the central hero is a young woman.)
What it doesn't have, famously, is a single unequivocal mention of God. Not one. Yet it made it into the canon for Jews and Christians. And generations of theologians have delved into it to find religious meanings.
So maybe it is fair to search for God in the world of the Hunger Games. But given how hard Collins worked to scrub her work so squeaky religion-clean, I wonder what she thinks of the bible studies.
I must REALLY be cut off from popular culture then, the first I heard about either the books or the movie was on Bill O'Reilly's show the other night, when he had a little blurb about it.
I looked for God in the earthquake....
Maybe the movie's characters might have looked as Elijah did.
If the author would permit such a search, of course.
Good insight. I noticed a similar thing with “Lost,” which our family just began viewing on Netflix.
So far the show has been entertaining, but after three episodes stuck on an island, you’d think the camera would catch somebody praying. I’d be happy with a “Thank God!” But... nothing.
The post-crash situation feels a bit contrived, but the lack of religion in such a dire situation is not realistic at all.
So its more internally consistent than Harry Potter... I know that all the teenagers are concerned about things like that. lol.
In the first Harry Potter book we are told that Hogwarts is “unplottable”, you can’t find it except through the train or something. It’s also guarded by all kinds of spells. But somehow Charlie Wesley’s friends could find it and fly right up to it to get Norbert the baby dragon.
The setup was more reasonable in “Battle Royale”. I wish this series would go away and die quickly because I really don’t want to see the knockoff versions. Here I thought the Ansty Vampire Romance novels were the worst but.... “Hunger Games” is written in first person present tense. If THAT gets popular, literature as we know it is over.
Most Americans believe in God but somehow none of the TV, movie characters seem to unless they are evil or insane.
I'll bet that the author of this has no idea they wrote a conservative script here too. An authoritative government that can't provide enough food (Cuba anyone?) that tries to deflect attention away from itself through ‘bread and circuses’ (Ancient Rome? Soviet Communism? Nazi Olympics?). Or is the author just as stupid as so many in the literary world in not knowing what true conservative values are, and wrote this novel to try to prove the superiority of central planning without really thinking it through? The lack of G-d might be a two-edged sword. Is it the absence that causes this or is the author just relishing the absence as a given in the future? If the latter they should take a clue from Star Trek, where they do not attempt to slap down believers cavalierly.
“The Hunger Games and the Gospel.” A paper titled “The Gospel According to The Hunger Games’ Trilogy.” “Hunger Games” bible studies.
Gee, some more Christian “authors” want to cash in on somebody else’s work...quelle surprise. I’m sick of going into my local Christian bookstores and seeing “clever” spins on worldly things.
I noticed that immediately in the remake of True Grit. The film shooting used a lot more dark and the characters were darker as well. Most of all, I noticed the hanging scene near the beginning of the show skipped the hymn singing and the references to religion which were prevalent in the John Wayne original.
The hymns and Sabbath Day hangings were an integral part of Ft. Smith's history. The growing religious population of the community felt that the hymns and Sabbath Day timing were the best ways to invoke the mercies of the Almighty for the souls he was about to receive.
“.... like Gene Roddenberry did when he created Star Trek, Collins wanted there to be zero religion in her world.”
Which explains the root coldness and shallowness of that series, and the need for Shatner’s legendary overacting.
There was the one episode strongly referencing Christ, the Son, in which Uhuru at the end says something like “Imagine what it would be like to be there, to see that actually happening again”.
-— I must REALLY be cut off from popular culture then, the first I heard about either the books or the movie was on Bill O’Reilly’s show the other night, when he had a little blurb about it.——
The kids know these books because they’re standard assigned reading material in the govt schools.
All those ‘skinned’, unemployed and desperate young people came up with enough of the ready to go to the movies this weekend.... and every weekend...
Gee, I feel sorry for them for being so broke, etc. (sarc)
I hope it is standard reading in Gov-schools,maybe it will teach them how to resist.
It is called “character-driven fiction” and it is already here. See Stephanie Meyers’ “The Host”. It is reported to be the first in a trilogy, w/the 2nd book to be called “The Soul” and the last one, “The Seeker”.
However, I do not think this is something new and I do not see why it is apocalyptic.
-—I hope it is standard reading in Gov-schools,maybe it will teach them how to resist.-—
Or perpetuate a state of confusion, like Shirley Jackson’s story, “The Lottery,” which I was subjected to in the 70s.
The problem with the grab-bag of amoral, immoral, or morally-confused literature shoved at the captive school-children is that it inculcates amorality, immorality, or moral confusion.
I was confused by the contradictory ideas presented in various novels, and rejected literature altogether. In the short run, it was an effective defense mechanism. Others weren’t so fortunate.
What’s wrong with that Shirley Jackson story? It’s an American classic.
Tabla Rosa. If there were no god, man would invent him.
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