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.
I finished The Hunger Games last night - 2 AM or so... great fun read. I'm also reading On Character - Essays by James Q Wilson, they dove tail nicely... Good and evil are defined in traditional terms in both books. It's religion - just not obvious.
A certain conservative blogger (who is banned on this site) described the film as feminist propaganda in the guise of a snuff film marketed at kids. Gotta love the Internet.
Does it have a point? Killing people randomly is bad?
Does it have anything to do with reality?
Look, if you want to subject your kids to stuff like that, its your prerogative.
The problem with monopoly, compulsory schooling is that there is no escape for literary dissidents such as myself.
And literature is playing for keeps. It’s religion by other means.
The Humanist Manifesto crowd intended it that way.
-—If there were no god, man would invent him.-—
How do you know?
It’s about a society that was cut off from the outside world and developed differently. It’s a fantasy. Literature is supposed to disturb...like Aristotle said, purge that stuff so you don’t have to deal with it in real life. Can kids be exposed to something as disturbing as ‘Crime and Punishment’ or ‘King Lear’? It is high school we’re talking about I presume.
Like the article implied, there is really nothing original about this film, or the books for that matter...
A part of me was entertained by the movie, the other part was disturbed by the giddiness of the patrons who were mainly little teen and pre-teen girls and boys who don’t seem to see through what the film is trying to communicate to them...
There were several moments in that long film (2hrs 20mins) that you could have heard a pin drop...Everyone was apparently stunned by some of the scenes, but of course the romantic trist was predictable, and what I believe most of the teenage crowd was there to see...
IIRC, that movie was rated PG-13...I believe it should be noted I considered it to be a HARD PG-13/SOFT R rated film...
Like I said a part of me was entertained, but a part of me wondered what was so socially redeeming about it??? What does it say about our world we live in now...You know, reality???
I have not read the book(s)...Not sure I have a desire to do so...So I went in and didn’t see this country’s future, or anything resembling America, past, present or future...
I kinda thought this was more like an “alternate” reality in popular Sci-Fi vernacular...
What was amzing to me is how sheeple the district people were, and how 17th century the “Capitol” (ruling class) carried themselves...Don’t know why it lasted even 74 years with this type of “game” going on before someone finally decided they had had enough...
I wonder how long it would take us (in our reality) to say enough is enough???
Too many cowards out there...There may be a few, but we’ll get chopped up and mixed into the meat you buy at the grocery store these days for our efforts...
I will hold out final judgement on the series of books and films coming out of this franchise...I give this first installment a 5 out of 10 for effort...
Maybe the sequals will complete the series and warrant a better outcome and consideration from me...
- Evelyn Waugh
Some smart man said so. I just can’t recall who it was. :o)
I haven't read the books, but is this a case of either an unreliable narrator or unsupported bragging by one of the characters (think Colonel Klink bragging about Stalag 13). Or maybe the author just decided that internal consistency got in the way of the story telling. Or even a case where the fanboys memorized the stories, while the author just cranked them out and didn't remember all the details like Arthur Conan Doyle's case of Dr. Watson's wandering war wound.
There is not a lack of “religion” in LOST, the series-but although it plays like it is Christian at times, this series is based on New Age and the Occult (sorry to ruin it for you), but having watched the whole thing (and ‘bought’ a couple of the seasons, and then regretted it-I threw them away rather than sell them and subject others to this trash!~ In the end this show isn’t a “science vs. religion” thing it is purely the “Mystery religion” of the devil mentioned in The Revelation of John.
Was that the episode where the situation was like Earth but if the Roman Empire hadn't fallen? That episode bugged me because the plot point relied on confusion between sun and son, which would only take place in some Germanic languages but not in Latin.
There’s no “thank God” ever on broadcast TV. Standards and practices is afraid people will complain they’re taking the Lord’s name in vain.
Si Dieu n'existait pas, il faudrait l'inventer.
English translation: If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him.
Épître à l'Auteur du Livre des Trois Imposteurs (1770-11-10)
These days, all teenage literature is disturbing. Just take a walk through the Young Adult or Sci-fi/Fantasy section of B&N or your local library. It’s a horror show.
The other problem is that literature is presented as, “Here’s something.” “Here’s something else.” There’s no rhyme or reason to the presentation or analysis. Even worse, the implication is either that pursuing meaning is not worthwhile, or simply impossible.
No they’re not. The kids know them because the kids read them and talk about them. Kid culture self perpetuates very well without any help from the schools. You can tell the kids are reading them voluntarily because they went to see the movie, nobody ever pays to watch movies made from assigned reading.
I haven’t seen the film - could be true about it. It’s not true about the book. Well, ‘snuff film’ part might be right - the idea behind the book is a fight to the death in a future day arena. If accurately portrayed in a film, it would be gruesome - twenty-four teens go in - one is to come out. There’s some twists and turns that make it into a love story - but the deaths are detailed and some are overdone even in the book. Hmmm, might skip the film.
That was the FIRST highly vaunted book!!
First person present writing will never get popular with the writers, it’s too difficult and counter intuitive. Series that use it have been popular with readers before, but because so few writers are comfortable with it it never takes off.
I saw the movie,took my entire family.I did see God in the good versus evil,The heroine only killing in self defense or in mercy,as she killed the last boy to end his suffering.I saw it in the way she cared for the little black girl.I saw it in the way she prepared a funeral for the little girl,and in the way thar her black partner saved our heroine because of her treatment of the little girl.I saw no sex or nudity anywhere in the movie,and the blood and murder scenes were toned down to the point that you almost wondered if anyone actually died.I dont really even recall any cursing.I saw the way she inspired hope in people,Like a younger Sarah Palin perhaps.I saw her sacrifice herself for her younger sister,and in the way she was able to save both herself and her partner.
I saw God,maybe you dont or cant,but I did,and I saw good triumph over evil and inspire hope in a hopeless populace.
The rise of ‘young adult lit’ has been a disaster for children’s literacy. There is plenty of genuine literature that kids can and should be reading. Instead we have an industry that caters and panders to them with lowest common denominator fare. And a good teacher will provide analysis. Usually Lit is presented as part of a class with a theme - American Lit, British Lit and so forth. It supplies a de facto analysis...a history lesson of what a culture was writing.
Yes that’s the one.
Interesting point about the Son/sun language dichotomy. That was the real plot twist at the end, kind of surprising (and a bit of welcome warmth), given the series’ staunch, cold secularism.
In high school literature is only used to buttress the leftwing ideology like history class. It is one of the big reasons that kids hate reading, they never learn to like it, just analyze it from a leftwing perspective. Theyll assign students to read novels like the Adventures of Huck Finn, the Great Gatsby and then give tests and assessments that lead them to conclusions about characters attitudes and motivations. Students come away never learning to appreciate literature but to analyze it from a leftwing perspective. This is brainwashing.
Look at those who are Godless, they worship government as God or worship Gaia or their own bodies’ pleasure.
Everyone has a God.
Reminds me of the last few paragraphs of Brideshead. Something like the single lamp left in the [chapel’s] window guiding the crusaders home. But the passage you cite describes the entire notion of modern “art,” banal, venal, mindless precisely because of the absence of God.
Somehow Waugh slipped under my radar for many years, and I’ve only started really getting acquainted with his work in the last year or two...truly a fascinating individual.
-—No theyre not. The kids know them because the kids read them and talk about them. Kid culture self perpetuates very well without any help from the schools.-—
Like Harry Potter, it’s not an either/or, it’s a both/and.
Read ‘A Handful of Dust’. It’s great.
That episode was titled, "Bread and Circuses." Coincidental to it's references to Imperial Rome, its original broadcast date was on the Ides of March, 1968.
It’s generally an either/ or. What does sometimes happen is schools realize that tons of their kids are consuming a media product and decide to try to figure out if there’s something in there that can be spun into their curriculum. But that isn’t pushing it as reacting to it.