Christians and The Hunger Games Print
Reviews
Written by Douglas Wilson   
Friday, 23 March 2012 11:28

There are ethical dilemmas, and then there are the phony baloney ones. The famous National Lampoon magazine cover did not pose a genuine ethical dilemma—buy this magazine or we shoot the dog.

Many years ago I was working on a television show with the local PBS station at WSU, and Nancy and I were invited over to dinner by the producer and his wife. They were very gracious, and we enjoyed our time with them. But one of the events of the evening that turned out to be a dud was when our host brought out a game which was called, I think, Scruples. Something like that. At any rate, the point of the game was that you drew a card that dealt you some kind of ethical thumb-sucker from a stack of ethical conundra, to make up a funny-sounding plural. If you are stuck in a lifeboat, and you will most certainly die if you don’t do something, do you eat the fat guy or the skinny guy first? That kind of thing. You were then supposed to say something like whoa, and think about it for a while, twisting in the wind. I can really see how a living room full of wealthy relativists in an upscale neighborhood in the eighties could really be flummoxed by the game, but we were no fun at all. There are certain things you just don’t do because the Ten Commandments were not suggestions, and the game is over.

This said, The Hunger Games specializes in a similar kind of elaborate set-up for situation ethics. In this review, I will not be going after the book for stylistic faults. It does not open itself up for that kind of thing the way Twilight did. The writing in this book was competent enough, and the pacing delivers what it promises. The premise had a lot of potential—gladiatorial games meet reality television in a dystopic future.

The country is Panem, set in a future and really messed up North America. The place is run by the Capitol, and there are twelve districts run by the harsh and cruel guys in the Capitol. There had been a war of rebellion sometime back, and the Capitol had won it, and now exacted a harsh and inflexible penalty on all the previously rebellious districts. Those districts have been utterly cowed.

The book is written in the first person, and the protagonist is a young girl named Katniss Everdeen. Her father was killed some years before in a mining accident, her relationship with her mother is strained because of how her mother had collapsed after her father’s death, and the only person she really loves is her younger sister, Primrose. But then Prim, as she is called, is chosen by the lottery for the Hunger Games. Katniss volunteers to take her place, which is good and sacrificial and noble, and that is the point of the whole set up. We’ll come back to it.

Every year, each district is forced by lottery to send one boy and one girl (between the ages of twelve and eighteen) as tributes to the Hunger Games, where they are all put into a closed off area, a vast outdoor arena, and forced to fight it out to the death. The arena is full of cameras everywhere, and everybody in Panem is forced to watch the games. As I said earlier, the premise is one full of dramatic potential.

Katniss is tough and edgy enough to be a survivor in the Hunger Games (which means she will have to kill other people’s brothers and sisters), and soft enough to be likeable. The reader can begin to identify with her . . . if the reader takes his eye off the ball. I don’t like books that make me choose between the fat guy and the skinny guy.

Suppose the Capitol bad guys had decided to set up a different required sin in their games. Suppose it were the Rape Games instead. Suppose that the person who made it through the games without being raped was the feted winner. Anybody here think that this series would be the bestselling phenomenon that this one is?

Hunger_Games

In short, when you have the privilege of setting up all the circumstances artificially, in order to give your protagonist no real choice about whether to sin or not, it is a pretty safe bet that a whole lot of people in a relativistic country, including the Christians in it unfortunately, won’t notice.

As the book progresses, the ethical problems are effectively disguised. The first way is by having a number of the wealthier districts send tributes who are semi-pro. In other words, they are not reluctant participants, but are eager for the glory that attends winning the games. When that kind of guy comes after you, everything is self-defense. Then there is the fact that there are a bunch of them out there killing each other, and Katniss doesn’t have to do it. And the third device, and the one that keeps you turning the pages, that the author does not reveal whether or not Katniss will be willing to kill when it gets down the bitter end, and her opponents are innocents like she is. In other words, you have a likeable protagonist who is fully expecting to do something that is perfectly appalling by the end of the book.

There is a twelve-year-old girl named Rue that Katniss teams up with, and there is an expectation that later in the games the alliance will be dissolved . . . and you know what will happen then. Rue is the same age as Prim. There is a boy from her own district named Peeta who has been in love with Katniss forever, and who gave her family a loaf of bread a number of years before. Is he going to kill her or vice versa? I hear that spoilers are supposed to be bad, so I won’t tell you what happens.

The Capitol is hateful, and cruel, and distasteful, and obnoxious, and decadent, and icky . . . but not evil, as measured against any external standard. The Capitol is to be disliked because the Capitol is making people do things they would rather not be doing. But nowhere is there a simple refusal. There is a desire to have it all go away, but everybody participates with an appropriate amount of sullenness.

The story is told with enough detachment and distance that you feel like the participants really do have to cooperate. Resistance is futile . . .

But think for a moment. Someone tells you to murder a twelve-year-old girl, or they will kill you. What do you do? Suppose they give the twelve-year-old girl a head start? Suppose they give her a gun and tell her that if she murders you first, and she will be okay?

This is what situation ethics specializes in. Suppose a woman is in a concentration camp, and she can save her husband’s life, or her child’s life, through sexual bribes given to the guards. What should she do? Suppose you could save one hundred thousand lives by torturing someone to death on national television. What should you do? The response should be something like, “Let me think about it, no.” As Thomas Watson put it, better to be wronged than to do wrong. It is not a sin to be murdered. It is not a sin to have your loved ones murdered. It is not a sin to defend your loved ones through every lawful means. But that is the key, that phrase. Every lawful means only makes sense when there is a law, and that only makes sense when there is a Lawgiver. Without that, everything is just dogs scrapping over a piece of meat. And once that is the framework, there is no real way to evaluate anything. The history of the Church is filled with families being martyred together. Survival is not the highest good.

Back in the Cold War, a joke was told about an admiral who was inspecting a destroyer, and was making the rounds while they were out at sea. He came upon a lookout, a lowly sailor, standing there with his binoculars. “Lad,” he said, “what would you do if a Russian destroyer appeared on the horizon there?” “Sir,” the man said, “I’d nuke ‘em.” “Oh,” said the admiral. “What would you do if ten of them appeared?” “I’d nuke them too, sir.” “I see,” said the admiral. “What would you do if the whole Russian fleet appeared there?” “I’d nuke them all, sir,” came the reply. “And,” the admiral said, pressing his point home, “where are you getting all these nukes?”

“The same place you’re getting the Russians, sir.”

When you are imagining some kind of scenario, it is easy to construct one exactly to the needs of your plot, and the sub-creating author can create a world in which it is not true that “God will not let you be tempted beyond what you are able to bear.” Your tributes are in the arena with a command to kill or be killed, and in this place it is not true that with every temptation there is a way of escape. For faithful believers, the way of escape might be martyrdom. Daniel’s three friends worked through it that way. They said that their God was able to save them, but whether He saved them or not, they weren’t going to bow down to the statue.

If you hate spoilers, you can stop reading here. Katniss does survive, and she does so without doing anything perfectly appalling. But this only happens because of luck, not because she learned anything about how the world is actually governed. There is a functional omniscience that the Capitol has in the arena—everything is filmed—and she has real distaste for that functional omniscience, but without any sense that there is any other kind of omniscience. And she does kill one of the bad guy tributes right at the end, but as this is arranged in the book, it is a mercy killing.

Out of five stars I would give this book three. In terms of holding your interest, Suzanne Collins gets four. In terms of keeping a sense of ethical tension in a world without ethics, she would get a five. That’s something that is hard to do. But in terms of helping Christian young people set their minds and hearts on that which is noble and right, we can’t even give it one star. We would have to assign, in this last category, one burnt out asteroid.




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Comments
Get the Point; Could've Been Said Better
javaJake (Registered) 2012-03-23 19:27:43

Hey Doug,

I enjoyed reading your article. You write very well, and I appreciate the insights. Thank you for sharing!

I wrote a fairly negative comment on a previous article you wrote on the Hunger Games book series, and having now read this, I wanted to write a comment here as well.

Your article is a very negative review of The Hunger Games' morality, which is acceptable. However, you failed to put this discussion in a philosophical context, where your thoughts are offered to the community to be consider *as* they view the movie, rather than (primarily) to be used as a deciding factor in the ever-pressing question, "Should I watch this movie?"

My primary concern is that Christians will take this article as the only basis for banning the movie.

The reality is, what media "does" to people is subjective, and each person has to make their own judgement about whether a movie is worth watching.
javaJake (Registered) 2012-03-23 19:28:21

(I didn't realize there was a comment size limit. This is a continuation of my previous comment.)

I will now take a step back, and say I've never been in a position where I can write and have hundreds hear what I have to say. That is something I'm sure you don't take lightly, and I am sure you have reasons for writing as you do. I guess the point of this comment is to suggest contextualizing this article so Christians do not react in a way that the world would see as pharisaical.
Not sure about you logic here.
CCH (Registered) 2012-03-24 13:08:20

"Suppose the Capitol bad guys had decided to set up a different required sin in their games. Suppose it were the Rape Games instead. Suppose that the person who made it through the games without being raped was the feted winner. Anybody here think that this series would be the bestselling phenomenon that this one is?"
Rape is always wrong. Defending yourself, even to the point of killing your adversary, is not. Unless you are willing to tell a woman to not defend herself when she is being sexually assaulted, I think you need to rethink your logic here. I am a Christian in the Army, and there are 12 year old kids trying to kill us in combat. Should we let them? Your basic premise seems to be that killing is always wrong. If I understand the thrust of your article, the main character should refuse to participate by…sitting on the ground until someone kills her? What is your definition of "refusing to participate." Does the main character go hunting for a kill? ...
Not sure about your logic here (part 2).
CCH (Registered) 2012-03-24 13:15:00

What do you define as “resistance” to the government in this setting? Does the main character go hunting for a kill? This seems to be the real moral issue. This is not religious persecution, which most Christians feel falls into the category of turning the other cheek. This is a government who places individuals in a self-defense situation against the participants will. If an individual does their best to avoid a conflict, but defends themselves when they are attacked, I fail to see when sin was committed.
Not sure about your logic here (final).
CCH (Registered) 2012-03-24 13:15:52

Doug, I appreciate your desire to help “Christian young people set their minds and hearts on that which is noble and right.” It is something that is sadly lacking in many areas today. However, in reading your article, I feel you have failed to meet the above goal through the expression of logic.
Ethical Situation Posited is Expected...
donjones (Registered) 2012-03-24 16:01:37

...because it is a fictional story. The author of a work of fiction gets to define the boundaries of the story. A future world is posited in which the government contrives to keep its "citizens" in chains. It holds a lottery to obtain players for a game not all that dissimilar to the Roman arena. Not too unusual for the genre. I have not read the book nor seen the movie, but from the reviews I have seen it sounds like a reasonable outcome if our government continues to over reach and attempt to impose its will on us.

Would I like to see a Christian outcome to the situation. Sure. But would a Christian author be able to make the case against an overweening government with similar success as The Hunger Games. Not so sure about that.
Ethical Situation Posited is Expected...
donjones (Registered) 2012-03-24 16:02:32

...because it is a fictional story. The author of a work of fiction gets to define the boundaries of the story. A future world is posited in which the government contrives to keep its "citizens" in chains. It holds a lottery to obtain players for a game not all that dissimilar to the Roman arena. Not too unusual for the genre. I have not read the book nor seen the movie, but from the reviews I have seen it sounds like a reasonable outcome if our government continues to over reach and attempt to impose its will on us.

Would I like to see a Christian outcome to the situation. Sure. But would a Christian author be able to make the case against an overweening government with similar success as The Hunger Games? Not so sure about that.
If Hunger games is a burt out star, the bible is a
grantryan80 (Registered) 2012-03-24 18:15:47

Setting Christian minds and hearts on what is moral, ethical, and right? What if it were the rape games?

I would argue that the hunger games, and its main character/heroine katniss possess more morality than the lead book you use to "mold christian minds and hearts." Katniss, in the face of tyrannical rule, forced to fight to the death or face death doesn't compromise her morals or who she is as a person in
order to survive. That is extremely ethical, and something the hero's of the bible get completely wrong.

We see early on katniss, offers herself as a volunteer to take the place of her sister prim. For one Prim hasn't even had a chance to enjoy childhood,
katniss on the other hand is a skilled hunter. When Abraham was forced with the decision to kill his own son, he never hesitates and also never volunteers himself to take the place of the innocent.

If Hunger games is burnt out star continued
grantryan80 (Registered) 2012-03-24 18:16:20

Katniss to displays defiance in the rule of the capitol, by refusing to give them a sole victor or by playing their game savagely.But here again when
Noah was faced with the destruction of all humanity and if he obeyed god he and his family would be spared. Even if you side with obeying god is ethical
Noah didn't have any choice if he cared about his family - his ethics don't matter. But rather than tell god to find another monkey or another way to solve the problem god himself created he follows it without question, with out even the slightest compassion for the humanity and animals that will be destroyed. What of the innocent kids and babies? Even katniss wasnt willing to let rue die to save herself.

Katniss wouldn't even kill peeta (her love)to save her own life. Lot by contrast offered his daughters to the angels in order to keep them from being
offended by his cities rudeness. Nice parenting. Even better ethics.

If Hunger games is burnt out star continued
grantryan80 (Registered) 2012-03-24 18:16:48

What about Jesus? surely he had more ethics than Kat right? See here's the thing, Katniss didn't know her outcome - she only wanted to die honorably as
herself if that's what it came to. Jesus on the other hand allows the jews to sacrifice him, but he has the knowledge that he will be going back to
heaven to be at the right hand of his father and rule? So wait if he doesnt die, if his life only gets better after the Crucifixion. what did he sacrifice? what did he give up? Katniss on the other hand is willing to die and face the unkown, just not at the expense of her morals. And her temptation wasn't drinking water in the desert it was not savagely killing those trying to kill her.

If Hunger games is burnt out star continued
grantryan80 (Registered) 2012-03-24 18:17:18

Christians themselves believe an innocent man had to die for the evil they commit. So Jesus had to be nailed to a cross, beaten and whipped and tortured for days because i masturbated to Jenifer Lawrence just so god could stand to look at me again? In what world is that ethical. In what world would punishing a innocent man for the things the rest of the world did be ethical? be moral? be noble? be good?

Even God himself creates a being that's imperfect and he cant stand so he punishes them for his mistake? he threatens them under eternal punishment to him back? he kills his own son to save the low life's he created? he kills 2 million more people than the devil in the bible and yet Satan is the evil
one?

grantryan80 (Registered) 2012-03-24 18:18:28

Which brings me to the comment what if it was the rape games? would it still be a best seller? How about a book that says rape a virgin so long as you marry
her (Deuteronomy). or moses commands his faithful to slay every woman, and male child, but keep the female children for themselves in Exodus or that fact that owning another human being, slavery, is permitted throughout the old and new testament. And how did that book do? oh its the number 1 best sellerof all time! People love a book that is pro slavery, anti gay, anti women's rights, pro rape, pro child slavery and rape. Hows that for ethics. how doesthe hunger games look in comparison to that?


grantryan80 (Registered) 2012-03-24 18:18:56

love me for ever or I'll torture you isn't an ethical or loving choice or even a choice. The character Katniss, faced with kill innocents or be killed finds away to survive and win, with out compromising herself, she refuses to give the capitol their victor, their way. She was prepared to die in order to keep that code. Something the Biblical Heroes couldn't and wouldn't do.whenever god was clearly in the wrong.
If the Hunger games is a burnt out star the bible is a black hole!
Really, Grant?
gorgo (Registered) 2012-03-25 04:54:57

Who are you trying to convince, and of what are you trying to convince them?
grantryan80 (Registered) 2012-03-25 06:31:03

The great thing about logic and facts is people don't need to be coninvced of them (they are true regardless.) I'm merely offering an opposing view - the author of this blog says hunger games is not a good book to mold christian minds, I say not only is it, ethically and morally it's more sound than the bible - make of that what you will.
gorgo (Registered) 2012-03-25 07:14:36

"ethically and morally it's more sound than the bible"

We can ignore Hunger Games itself, for the moment, since it is merely a novel and should be taken as such and no more. Belaboring it would be pointless.

Instead I ask you to provide two things.

1) Provide a specific instruction or example from the Bible which believers are commanded to follow today, that is morally or ethically unsound.

2) Describe the criteria or basis by which you have judged it to be unsound.

Once you answer these questions, I'll then ask you on what specific basis you judge Hunger Games to be a superior moral guide.
Christians and war
KarenW (Registered) 2012-03-27 06:22:05

Very interesting article, although I thought your "rape games" comparison was incredibly weak (all of the boys would win and all of the girls would lose, right?) A much better comparison would be all of the Christians drafted during the Vietnam war. I'm sure there were many who faced the ethical dilemma of being forced by the government to kill for a very dubious cause. Their choice would be to break the law by fleeing the country, or to obey, trust God and hope for the best. Personally, I would have been one of the draft dodgers, but my point is that such a thing is a TRUE moral dilemma, hardly a phoney one. I'm not so quick to condemn those Christians who fought in that war, and even killed innocent people, because they undoubtably did not believe they had a choice.
One more thing...
KarenW (Registered) 2012-03-27 06:44:10

As much as I enjoyed "The Hunger Games," I did think that the story would have been 100 times better if written from a Christian point of view. In a totalitarian government such as Panem, Christianity and all other religion would certainly be forbidden. Christianity would have to be a secret underground movement - that would have been a fascinating element to the story. Plus, the moral dilemma would not be nearly as simple as you imply. If a Christian was chosen for the games, they could take the easy way out, which would be to just refuse, in which case they would be quickly executed. But would that really accomplish anything? The Capitol would just choose someone else. As with my Vietnam War comparison, the Christian could just pretend to submit, vow not to murder, and trust God to keep him safe. I have to admit I would love to read a book like that!
To fight or not to fight
Vegasmom (Registered) 2012-03-27 09:01:38

"Tributes are in the arena with a command to kill or be killed, and in this place it is not true that with every temptation there is a way of escape. Daniel’s three friends worked through it that way. They said that their God was able to save them, but whether He saved them or not, they weren’t going to bow down to the statue."
And that's exactly what the main character did! She didn't bow down to them. She refused to kill in the end. She killed only in self defense but not in order to win. You miss the whole point of this story. With your type of logic, we'd still have slaves today! It's not a sin to have your loved ones murdered??? Really? You would just sit there and do nothing if someone came into your home and took your children to slaughter them? Are you saying we should allow murder and slavery because it's Christianly not to fight back? I suppose we should not have gotten involved in WWII either. Let all the people die and let the Nazis take over the world? Boy I'm ...
part 2 to To fight or not to fight
Vegasmom (Registered) 2012-03-27 09:02:52

...sure glad you were not in charge or we would all be doomed.
Great Point
yancychaj (Registered) 2012-04-06 07:14:50

I think you make a great point.we as Christians should be careful what we watch there is something as the war of the media.The media is always trying to sell something weather we like it or really understand why.There is a thing like relativism we must guard what we watch and our kids watch.to give you an example why does the media always sell bears with almost nudity and there seem to be fun with bear. at first you say that is so fake but watching it so many times you start to accept it and it just becomes something so normal.Our mind accepts everything that comes at us through images and ones it seen it just once it is lodged in our mind and our subconscious doesn't differentiate between wrong or right so in the long run of watching something that is just not the best thing we assimilate it.Just like the movies since it's just a movie we can defend it but really what do we want to put in our mind specially if we are Christians.
Overly simplistic analysis
prairiejane (Registered) 2012-04-06 19:43:38

This is not a book about maintaining Christian faith in the face of tyranny, it's about maintaining humanity in the face of tyranny. I think you ignore the fact that children are trafficked for the sex trade, child soldiers, forced labor every day. We know from the experiences of these survivors that God has imbued every person with a keen survival instinct; the story is not as far fetched as you imply. While some sects believe in pacifism, protection of oneself, one's family, or innocents is not incompatible with most Christian denominations.
By What Standard?
SouthronSteel (Registered) 2012-05-20 04:38:03

". . . ethically and morally it's more sound than the bible - make of that what you will."

How do you determine what is morally or ethically sound? By what standard are you measuring the Bible's ethics and morality?

Let us suppose for a minute that everything I say or do is right, true and law. By what standard would you be able to show that I was doing or saying wrong? By necessity, anything I do or say is right. Yet you are doing the same thing to God and His Word. "God you are wrong because I think you are," you say. That it is foolish.

One more thing. Lot is not exactly held up as a shining example of what to do in the situations he was faced with.
By What Standard?
SouthronSteel (Registered) 2012-05-20 04:43:19

". . . ethically and morally it's more sound than the bible - make of that what you will."

How do you determine what is morally or ethically sound? By what standard are you measuring the Bible's ethics and morality?

Let us suppose for a minute that everything I say or do is right, true and law. By what standard would you be able to show that I was doing or saying anything wrong? By necessity, anything I do or say is right. Yet you are doing the same thing to God and His Word. "God you are wrong because I think you are," you say. That it is foolish.

One more thing. Lot is not exactly held up as a shining example of what to do in the situations he was faced with.
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Last Updated on Sunday, 25 March 2012 20:33