The Hunger Games: Wall or Bridge?

Scott Smith —  May 15, 2012 — 17 Comments

May 10,2012 marked our kickoff meeting, and it went great!

Following is video from our second section which was a panel discussion about The Hunger Games and other dystopian tales that are popular in young adult literature today. Like it or not, this story is part of the conversation happening in culture today. What are we to do with that? Our panel discusses the good and the bad of the genre, and explores ways in which both may be used to illustrate the truth of Christianity.

(After watching, feel free to weigh in with your thoughts!)



Download PDF from the meeting.


Topical Resources:

  1. Written Reviews
    1. Deeper Hungers and Darker Games by Anthony Weber
    2. The Hunger Games: A Film Review and Reflections by Holly Ordway
    3. The Hunger Games Movie: A Christian Perspective by J.W. Wartick
    4. The Hunger Games: Tribute to Life by Marcia Montenegro
    5. The Hunger Games Revisited by Luke Nix
    6. The Hunger Games, by Christianity Today
  2. Video Review
    1. Identity & Substitution in THE HUNGER GAMES by James Harleman
  3. Other
    1. More depth on the concept of a metanarrative:
      Cutting to the Core: Finding the Metanarrative by James Harleman

Scott Smith

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Scott Smith is a lifelong Christian and an active member of his church. He enjoys blogging and teaching on Christian theology and defense as well as engaging skeptics in debate regarding Christian truth claims. Scott is a co-founder of Etcetera as well as TC Apologetics, and in his spare time he runs his own 3D design company.
  • Kim

    In the discussion, it was mentioned that the dystopian society in The Hunger Games is a “godless” one.  How did you come to this conclusion?   I ask in the greater context of assumption.  

  • Anthonyweber

    Kim, all I meant by “godless” is that the world of the Hunger Games is completely absent religion of any kind.  I really enjoyed the series, btw, as it was well written and full of good insight into human nature.  

  • Kim

    One of the panel members, I believe, mentioned it in reference to the Capitol in comparison to Nazi Germany and Stalin.  I found the assumed correlation interesting. Especially considering many say Hitler was an atheist.  He was Catholic.  And because the book was being discussed in a Christian forum.  Hm…  just interesting.

  • Anthonyweber

    Kim, I agree the reference to Hitler and Stalin is “interesting,” since is is an apt comparison between the oppressive tyranny of the capitol of the Hunger Games and the way in which Hitler and Stalin (among many other dictators throughout history) ruled their nations. I believe it was Stalin who said that one death was a tragedy; a million a statistic.  This is certainly a series in which the view of individual human life matches Stalin’s.   
       As for the Hitler/Christian connection, I urge you to read mainstream historical analysis of his life.  Yes, he was raised Catholic and he clearly played the Christianity card to convince the German church that he was their man.  As his writings and speeches show,  he often reference God in his  fight for political power; as his actions clearly show, this was not a reflection of genuine belief.  Not only did Hitler have very specific plans to eradicate the church in Germany (Hitler told Hermann Rauschnig that he planned “to stamp out Christianity root and branch”), at one point he actually gave Mussolini a gift of the collected works of Neitzsche.  Oh, and he started a Holocaust.
       These do not strike me as Christian things. Christianity has its share of bad historical events to own up to; this is not one of them.

  • Kim

    Anthony, your points are well taken.  I’m sure there are conflicting references of Hitler as Christian/Atheist that show he used it as a “tool”.  Psychopaths do that.We could probably send quotes back and forth.  I was more interested in the assumed connotation of the term “godless” which I find interesting in this context.  It goes to the core of religious belief, that without God, humans are intrinsically evil.  I would argue humans are intrinsically good and/or evil, with or without a belief in God.  One does not require the other.  That’s the discussion I find interesting.  so, to rephrase, the fact that the Capitol in this story has those traits, as you stated, there was an assumptive leap to “godless”  I can only assume myself, that the statement comes from one who does not agree with my argument. 

  • Anthonyweber

        Kim, I would say that with or without God, humans are naturally inclined to do the wrong thing. Think of it as a default setting on a computer.  However, we are not stuck with this dilemma.  Christian theology offers a grim diagnosis of the human condition, but also offers a cure. So you were right – I disagree with you :)   Whatever their inherent nature, I believe people can choose to do good or evil things with our without claiming a belief in allegiance to God.
       Here’s the thing: I think Christians are sometimes viewed as curmudgeons who hate humanity or suffer some kind of depressive self-abasement because of this view.  In my experience, I see the opposite effect at work.  Our inherent fallen nature is tragic because we are being of eternal importance.  I think quite highly of our value and worth (as you know from our animal rights thread).  
       Here’s a question: do you believe people actually choose to do good or evil things, or are they simply predisposed because of evolution, genetics, and social influences?  For that matter, with what standard do you determine that  a person is born good?

    • Kim

      Good question.  I think humans will do what is in their (individual, family) best interests first, as a rule. Those actions can be viewed as good or bad depending on context as judged by others looking in from the outside “objectively”  (I use objectively facetiously) . If you look at most so called evil deeds, the perpetrator almost always (with the exception of a true psychopath) has JUSTIFICATION for the act.  They believe they are doing good.  I also see significant evidence to show that exterior forces (religious doctrine, government) usually have very little impact on dissuading those who will do evil things. Think of the significant drop in crime due to capital punishment.  NOT.  

      I think this concept falls on a spectrum, not one or the other (good or evil).  I would never label any one person as good or evil  (with the exception of a true psychopath) Also, and I think this is relevant, I see no proof whatsoever that a belief in the supernatural, or God, is in any way related to being “good”  That concept is imposed control of the masses by an elitist religious power (the papacy, etc, etc…)  Now, don’t misunderstand. In that statement, I am not making any proclamation good or bad about religious thought.  I am saying that the threat of hell and damnation is and always has been exactly that–a threat. (the same as a secular threat–you’ll go to prison)I think a moral code (religious based or otherwise, i.e. Humanist) is only an attempt to put into words how we should interact with each other. Does one follow the other?  chicken or the egg?I disagree that humans are naturally inclined to do the wrong thing.  I’ve seen countless examples of people doing incredible, selfless things for others.  I’ve seen  many more doing awful, evil things to others.  I think the world is full of terrible crap. I’m not sure humans have figured out how to resolve that.  Religion often takes a very bad path.  (Inquisition!)  I realize that is in the past. But I must ask. Is it?  The issue I have with religious doctrine is how easily humans cite it as justification to demonize other humans.  But I realize , while relevant, that truly is another conversation. I will leave you with this thought though:  every war ever fought, ever, was over a difference in religious belief.  Do you agree?  If so, (I’m right and I can prove it) what does that say about how we perceive good over evil and translate that into our interactions with each other?  In other words, our justification for doing “bad” things in the name of doing “good”

      • Anthonyweber

              Kim, I agree that people don’t need to cite God in order to do good things or behave altruistically.  Plenty of people who attached themselves to religions of all kinds can be jerks, and plenty of people who disattach (?) themselves from God can be great.  The opposite is also true. 
           Somehow, in the midst of a world that is full of “terrible crap” (well said), those of us who desire peace in the world try to find a way to play well with others.   
           Do people ever cite Christianity as a justification for doing bad things? Absolutely.  Unscrupulous people cite just about anything to justify what they want.  It does not follow that the worldview cited  for justification is the problem.    
             Now, if the worldview has within it something that logically leads to terrible crap, then that’s a different story.  Christianity has been distorted many times over the past 2,000 years, and every time it lead away from the message of Christ, not toward it.  When Jesus says, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” and somebody who claims to follow Jesus tortures and kills their neighbor, that’s not a logical conclusion.  Does that make sense?
             In response to your final thought: It will come as no shock that I don’t agree with your religious war theory :)  Check out the summary of a speech given at Samford University to the Alabama Political Science Association.  It’s called “The Myth of the Modern Religious War.” Because it’s 0nline, it’s got some great links to other studies to support their conclusions.
           Let me know what you think, Kim.

        • Kim

          Thanks for the
          link. I’ve read the article and concede that I do not have enough knowledge or
          data to refute one way or the other, other than to say this seems plausible yet
          I agree with some of the comments on the bottom.  But having said that, I will also concede that I threw a
          general statement into the mix and am learning, that with you oh-sharp-one,
          that I must choose my words carefully. 
          (A worthwhile practice indeed.) 
          So, if you will allow…

          On the surface,
          my comment certainly suggests that I meant that wars have been fought solely
          over “differing religious beliefs” (as described in the article) and will
          wholeheartedly agree that wars have been fought over territorial disputes
          and/or resources. So, my rephrased comment is this: every war that has ever
          been fought stems from the narcissism of humans engendered by (or at least
          embodied by, or at a minimum supported by) religious belief.  Ha! Sound familiar.  So now, I believe, our two debates have
          merged.   We’ve already agreed
          that there is a spectrum of good and evil, that religion has a multitude of
          “good” aspects, as well as some that are not so good, and that individuals will
          inevitably come to their own conclusions regardless of the doctrine.  So here is the question: if people are
          willing to go to war over territorial disputes and/or resources, what made them
          think they had a right to them in first place as opposed to the other
          guys?  The concept of “ownership”
          appears to be unique to humans, at least in this sense as far as I can see, and
          ties directly to the idea that humans believe themselves to be at the top of a
          hierarchy of “value”.  (This, in my
          view, is very different than an individual conflict, such as a wolf and a bear
          staring each other down over a moose carcass.  That situation is an example of immediate need and conflict
          over an available resource.)  Wars (fighting
          between nations or groups) are fought over ideology.  (You could argue that the side on the defensive, maybe not,
          but I’d argue that with humans, it is usually much more complicated than that.)

          So, here is the
          rub: when any one (or group) feels they have the divine right, that they are
          superior and therefore entitled, they tend to have no qualms about picking up a
          club to defend that right.

          • Anthonyweber

            Hey, I found this old thread I had forgotten about…. :)  “when any one (or group) feels they have the divine right, that they are superior and therefore entitled, they tend to have no qualms about picking up a club to defend that right.”  What if I rephrase it like this: “Sometimes, groups who feel they are superior because they have a divine entitlement have no qualms about picking up a club to defend that right.”  If we can agree on that, then we agree (hmmmm. That’s last sentence is not as profound in print as it was in my head).  I would add that this happens with every group, not just religious ones. People don’t need a “divine excuse” to pick up a club.  (Paging Stalin…)  
              I wonder if part of the fear of religious extremism is the idea that people who think God supports them are more likely to commit atrocities without qualms.  That does seem to follow. But I think history would suggest that singling out the religious urge does not do justice to the facts. Plenty of horrible things have been done by people embracing a range of worldviews. God, biology/evolution, reason – they all get cited at times. Sure, in a world in which everyone is religious is some form (up until what, the 1600’s?) all wars are “religious.”  But once atheism gained momentum, it did not bring peace to the world by getting rid of the urge to reference God.  (Paging the French Revolution….).
               Can we agree that people are inclined to cite the greatest force they can think  of to justify very bad (and sometimes very good) things? If so, I don’t the issue is WHO or WHAT they cite as much as WHY.

          • Kimberli

            Agreed, with two added points.  I am not promoting Atheism as a replacement, but certainly feel a message of Humanism is more the ticket (you know, that stuff Jesus taught) with or without belief in a supernatural power.  It’s about keeping a human face on the opponent and promoting compassion.  

            The problem that arises, I believe, when you bring a deity into the mix, is that it becomes much easier to demonize the opponent, make accusations of acts against God.  Therefore, making them no longer worthy of human treatment.  This is what happened in the Holocaust of course.

            Take for example the cult of Jeffrey Lundgren. He claimed he got a call from God and convinced his followers to murder five people. Their testimony is mind boggling. I realize this is one situation, but I think it illustrates the power of belief and the ability to dehumanize.  

            A Humanist view keeps everyone human, promotes tolerance and compassion and keeps the playing field level, if that makes sense.

            The problem with most religious teachings is the creation of an us against them mentality.  Good vs. bad. And yes, this can happen among people supporting many worldviews, but it seems to be integral to a Judeo-Christian message: if you aren’t good, you’re bad.

          • Scott Smith

            I’m late to the discussion Kim, but you’ve sucked me in. I can’t help but notice your selective allusions to the Bible.

            #1 – “Humanism… you know, that stuff Jesus taught”
            Are you honestly suggesting Jesus taught humanism?

            #2 – ” The problem that arises when you bring a deity into the mix”
            Presumably, then, you’re quoting Jesus as a guy we ought to listen to – except when he says that stuff about being God. So, what is he, a madman? If so, why listen to him at all?

            #3 – “It seems to be integral to a Judeo-Christian message: if you aren’t good, you’re bad.”
            I don’t think you can combine Judaism and Christianity on these sorts of points. Christianity doesn’t talk about groups of people as good vs bad – it talks about all people as being fallen (ie – unable to be good). The question then becomes whether we are willing to take advantage of the remedy offered.

            I suspect if we teased this out, I would not take issue with a lot of what you had to say about humanism. But as we’ve discussed in another thread, I believe Christianity is the only worldview with a basis for treating other humans well that is not arbitrary.

          • Kimberli

            Scott, I understand how the written word can sometimes lack certain subtleties, so I’ll clarify.  In the discourse, I was thinking of a conversation with Anthony, whom I know, and feel comfortable discussing this concept with at this level.

            My mention of “that stuff Jesus taught” was in no way meant to be hostile, but a reference to all the good messages of human compassion, etc.  Good catch though, I should not have capitalized the word and clarified my personal definition of human-ism.  As in, human based values, i.e. love your neighbor.

            Your number 2 seems to just be an angry response.

            Number 3, yes, indeed, I’ll point to Christianity here (though I think there is a thread from Judaism) the underlying problem with a message of good vs. evil, that one can only be one or the other, can be taken to the extreme, where people will act, in the name of their god, to punish those they deem bad.  As Anthony pointed out, and I agree, this can happen outside religion, but my concern is what happens when people, humans, cite God as the aggressor, that they are simply the hand, and they don’t take personal responsibility.  

            You and I will not agree on a worldview of the source of morality, and that’s fine. So I’ll just say this.  I am comfortable with my respect for my fellow man as motivation enough to do “good” by him. I don’t feel that is arbitrary at all.

          • Scott Smith

            Oh, I didn’t take it as hostile at all. I know you well enough  not to think that.

            I didn’t intend #2 to sound like an angry response – sorry if it did. I just thought it humorous that you would talk about what Jesus said in the Bible and then suggest that we are bringing deity into the conversation. My observation was that Jesus claimed to be deity, so I’m not sure how you can pull out one without the other.#3 – Fair distinction, and it goes to a number of conversations we’ve had, notably at Brew. I was explaining the Christian view of people’s goodness/badness. You are pointing to the actions of Christians. Those are two very different things, and I would join you in condemning the behavior you have pointed out. But I would want to clarify that these are the actions of people, and not an accurate reflection of Christianity.I would really like to continue the human rights discussion if you’re ever interested, but I won’t split this thread. Maybe back on FB or in person sometime. :)

          • Kimberli

            Scott– I think we agree. Jesus may have claimed to be God, but I don’t recall any call to violence by him in his name.  Am I right?  

            So we agree, it is when people act, ostensibly in the name of their god, that is the problem. And this is not limited to Christianity, certainly we know of other religious zealots.

            But I was trying to make the point, that if you look at the Christian message, the concept of good vs. evil, heaven and hell, (which we did not see previously, or say in Eastern religions) the very idea itself is polarizing.  Us vs. them.  I’m not saying the entire doctrine is wrong.  I’m saying that this is an inherent result of promoting that kind of thinking.  Make sense?

          • Scott Smith

            I’ll take a look at this and comment in a new uncramped comment. :)

  • Scott Smith

    Kim – 

    You’re right. Jesus did not offer any call to violence per se – certainly none in the name of Christianity

    I also agree with you that people’s actions are the problem. Their motivation may be interesting, but it does not automatically indict. People have both oppressed others and served others in the name of God. That doesn’t mean that God automatically endorses either activity. And, as you say, no religion or ideology has a corner on this market – we could find examples of naturalists doing similar activities.

    I take your point on the “us vs them” mentality. And, as with so many things, I suspect we would agree on most everything with respect to this topic. Just need a beverage and a few hours to tease it out. :)

    Here’s the thing though. Christians don’t always represent Christ accurately. (Again, same could be said for many ideologies.) And worse, even when they have the best of motivations, their actions are often misunderstood or misrepresented. Christianity is not about us vs. them. It is the solution to the human problem of us vs him (God). But I digress…

    Sure the Christian message is polarizing. It’s intended to be. Jesus didn’t say he came to bring warm fuzzies. He said we would have problems. He said that following him would be difficult. He said it would cause divisions in families. But he didn’t frame it in terms of us vs them. He talked about the rebellion all humans have committed against God and pointed out a way of reconciliation. Sure, it ruffled feathers. But isn’t any truth claim  divisive? Is claiming there is a God any less tolerant than claiming there isn’t? If I make a wrong calculation in math, is it helpful for me to accuse my teacher of having an ‘us vs them’ mentality? The issue isn’t about the conflict between people. The issue is truth. If what he said was true, there are logical consequences we must consider. And whatever is true, we ought to align with.

    If we’re just after the conflict though (as you framed it), then you’re right. That message is wrong and un-Christian and unhelpful. A better way to frame Christian evangelism is “one beggar telling another beggar where to find bread.” Being a Christian doesn’t give anyone grounds to see others as beneath them. If anything, it’s the opposite.