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.
Waugh anticipated post-Christian Europe, which could be the theme of “Brideshead Revisited,” one of my favorite TV dramas.
-—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.-—
This means of categorization is like the Dewey decimal system, or alphabetical order. It’s not very informative.
It would be like categorizing religious beliefs by chronological order.
Like David Copperfield?
Is that the South American tribal chieftan who insists on captives’ reading Dickens to him? (I never remember titles!)
I think I saw that episode. Uhura realizes (I think toward the end) that the sun worshippers are actually Son worshippers, and she explains this to the captain or Spock or somebody. Am I remembering it correctly?
Right. Dystopian literature is almost always religion-free.
Copperfield sort of touches it because you get the idea that he’s actively telling you the story now. But most of the story is in the past. Most of the time you see present tense it’s in spy stories, it adds a lot of immediacy to the story, especially if it’s first person. First person past tense you always have the nagging feeling that the narrator lived through the current scene because he’s telling you it happened in the past, move it to present tense and the poor slob could die at any time, of course they don’t but it feels that way.
Yes, you are. Ends with her declaring “...he is the son of God!” A hard-to-find episode.
Very well said. Whether Hollywood or the author intended to, the film is a conservative tour de force about the evils of a dictatorial central government that oppresses and enslaves its citizens, and the flickering of freedom and the spark that will start a revolt to throw off the yoke of the oppressor. Seems very topical to the US, the Obama Administration,and what conservatives need to do.
Yes! But that’s only part of it.
A Lit class is like a history class where things are presented in chronological order within the bounds of a certain period or culture. The alternative is what? The teacher picking out material that supports a certain belief system only - inevitably including much inferior material along the way?(left wing teachers actually often do this and that is the result) Or just stuff they like with no relevance to literary significance?
One of the things the Capital used to keep the people under control was to feed them a carefully measured ration of hope.
If there is religion running rampant then your monopoly on hope goes out the window.
The original basis of the myth is Thesis but the state reminds me greatly of North Korea. Everything is run by the state and the state is run by one man.
See, as a reader/writer myself I disagree. As a writer I can use first person present tense to get a cheap emotional connection that the story or writing don't justify. It bring an immediacy to the story. It's a crutch for a poor story or characters that wouldn't keep my attention.
As a reader it drives me absolutely bonkers - except when it's done incredibly well. I can think of one present tense book I've read in the last ten years that worked, and it worked so well I didn't even realize it was present tense for the first twenty pages, the writing was that good.
It's moot to me, the sort of stories I want to tell need the distance that past tense (and usually third person limited view) can give. But if the new hot thing turns out to be, oh, present tense second person omniscient, I'm out of here.
In an absolute sense, one would choose the best, age-appropriate literature. Of course, what constitutes the best literature is debatable, but the principle shouldn’t be. However, it is not necessary to compile a list of great books because, concomitant with the first principle of choosing good books, is the issue of authority. Ultimately, parents should have the primary responsibility for guiding their children’s education.
There is no solution to this problem with respect to government schools, because they have no formal purpose, although it is possible to discern various de facto objectives.
Yep. That’s the one.
A compelling defense of “The Hunger Games:
My concern with respect to today’s children is along the same lines as the following I found:
A few years ago, a college writing professor, Kay Haugaard, wrote an essay about her experiences teaching The Lottery over a period of about two decades.
She said that in the early 1970s, students who read the story voiced shock and indignation. The tale led to vivid conversations on big topics the meaning of sacrifice and tradition; the dangers of group-think and blind allegiance to leaders; the demands of conscience and the consequences of cowardice.
Sometime in the mid-1990s, however, reactions began to change.
Haugaard described one classroom discussion that to me was more disturbing than the story itself. The students had nothing to say except that the story bored them. So Haugaard asked them what they thought about the villagers ritually sacrificing one of their own for the sake of the harvest.
One student, speaking in quite rational tones, argued that many cultures have traditions of human sacrifice. Another said that the stoning might have been part of a religion of long standing, and therefore acceptable and understandable.
An older student who worked as a nurse, also weighed in. She said that her hospital had made her take training in multicultural sensitivity. The lesson she learned was this: If its a part of a persons culture, we are taught not to judge.
I thought of Haugaards experience with The Lottery as I got ready for this brief talk. Heres where my thinking led me:
Our culture is doing catechesis every day. It works like water dripping on a stone, eroding peoples moral and religious sensibilities, and leaving a hole where their convictions used to be.
I don't think I ever saw that episode.
I found it interesting that the country in "Hunger Games" is called Panem... as in "Panem et Circenses", or Bread and Circuses."
The Capitol of Panem (cleverly named "Capitol") has an Imperial Roman feel in its architecture and symbolism.
I almost added that line myself! Absolutely true.
Well it does create intimacy and immediacy. Whether it’s cheap or not depends on who’s doing it. The good news is that even the newest hottest trend never hits more than about 10% of the books, so if it’s annoying (like say sparkling vampires) it’s really easy to avoid. Heck I almost never wind up reading anything less than 5 years old anyway, too many books not enough time.
BTW...didn't we see a similar premise in The Running Man?
>>>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.<<<
I read “The Hunger Games” about two weeks ago on the advice of our high school librarian, who pointed out that it was popular with some of the readers at our school. I could see the appeal, but it came across to me as watered-down science fiction written in the style of a romance. I was consistently annoyed at the lack of foreshadow throughout. At one point, objects literally fall from the sky without any advance warning whatsoever. I’m also tired of the story with the strong heroine in the absence of strong male characters, which is the template in much of youth literature.
After reading “The Hunger Games,” I re-read “A Clockwork Orange.” Another dystopian world, this time painted in vivid colors. I was astonished at the depth from Burgess compared to the shallowness of “The Hunger Games.” Burgess puts more meat on a single page than “The Hunger Games” had in the entire book.
Just my opinion, like comparing McDonald’s to a fine restaurant. At least Burgess explicitly explores issues of faith and belief.
Scholars should be involved in choosing the great books just as doctors choose the best medicine. Parents can effectively guide education up until the teenage years but after that one needs an amount of expertise in a wide variety of subjects that most people can’t provide individually. A lot of very educated people had illiterate parents.
North Korea was the best example of what I was thinking the Capitol in Hunger Games was based on. Complete control over people, no religion, breaking apart families, etc.
I thought you might want to read this.
Your problem there is that picking “great” books is opinion based while picking the best medicine is adult based. And as we’ve already discussed to death the book “scholars” are picking as great tend to be books only they want to read and normal people only read when forced to in school. The “great” books wind up being one of the primary reasons people avoid school and hate reading, largely because scholars like them for tortuous and annoying language that normal people don’t want anything to do with. At some point you have to ask: is a book that 99% of the population will loathe and despise every single word of actually “great” or is it just that the literati are addicted to self abuse? You know my vote on that one.
Thank you sir. I knew it was something like that. It was so long ago that I read it, and my short term memory is approaching 5 minutes, I couldn’t recall the exact quote or the author of it. It is true of course. We just saw a gathering of atheists in the news. They are the most religious people on earth. They have made their unbelief their god. Environmentalists make nature their god. Everybody pays allegiance to something.
What you said.
Give an example of a book that 99% will loathe. And influence on other writers is a large factor - that is fairly objective. Say Joyce, whose influence can still be seen in everything from literary fiction to pulp thrillers.
or subsidizes immorality
“A Clockwork Orange’ is a classic - “The Hunger Games,” - a fun read... You’re right - it’s “like comparing McDonalds to a fine restaurant”. I have no defense.
“Give an example of a book that 99% will loathe.”
Make 100 random people read it, maybe 1 will actually do so.
A great book, just far beyond most of the population.
Well it was the source of the name of one of my favorite bands....Marillion.
Reminded me of some of the elements in RUNNING MAN.
Maybe but it’s not remotely a standard literary text.
I have yet to hear a good review of Moby Dick.
Sure, I can see your point...
But the truth is that that worldly situation is something that might have been avoided had people had the courage to stand up to those that would bring such an un-Godly process to their civilization (for lack of a better term)...
Sure, there are people who do come out and become the fighters for good against evil...But, there was no resolution to the problem in this first film...
I understand some things develop further in the next book (movie), and the setup on this film is kinda obvious...
We saw a little of that after the folks in Rue’s district fought back after she was killed...That was actually something that surprised me, as I just can’t imagine some of us just standing by to watch kids be offered up as “tributes” for a slaughter, with only one winner..The last boy or girl standing...
Taking 74 years of this just doesn’t compute to have someone who grew up in that environment to be the only one to setup for the real fight that is sure to come up...
Someone who has read the entire series should chime in here and let us know if the system will be changed by this girl, and her partner...From what I heard the formula for the screenplay was pretty close to the novel...
This is just my opinion BTW...
Even if the US goes totally socialist...It will not take 74 years to correct that issue...
And yes, before anyone says we are almost there, I get it...
We still have a few more battles to fight and win though...
One of my favorite books in the world. I know a number of people who like it. You really have to love words though.
Yep, and there are mobs of brainwashed idiots in our country a well, who do not, or better could not, understand the effects of their ignorance...
Joyce is a fine example, lit nerds like you like his books, nobody else does. Influence on other writers (who lets face it have a high chance of being lit nerds) really is no reason to force high school kids to read it. If they start reading books by somebody that was influenced by Joyce they can look it up by CHOICE later in their life, when they’ll probably have a longer attention span and be more capable of wading through his pointlessly meandering sentences. That’s another part of the problem with how we shove “great” books down the throats of high school and college kids, we know scientifically that people in that age group have the attention span of gnats and yet we try to make them read books where the first sentence takes 27 words to say there’s a stream that goes past a house some fields and a castle. Really save the Joyce and stuff for grownups that have the attention span for it, leave it there to find if they want. Making them read it in school only teaches them that books suck.