The Countercultural Response To Culture

Blog | | Monday, March 26, 2012
The most countercultural response to that which shapes our culture actually is our response to one another. Scripture calls us to unity, not to uniformity. In loving those with whom we disagree, we set ourselves apart from the world.

The Hunger Games is the latest book-turned-movie to chalk up box-office records, earning in the first weekend of its US release more money than all but last year’s Harry Potter movie and The Dark Knight back in 2008.

Note, that means it earned more than any of the Lord of the Rings or Twilight films and seven of the eight Harry Potter movies. Of course, money earned may not mean more tickets sold, due to rising theater ticket prices, but it’s still an indication that a lot of people in the US saw the movie.

Some of the interest might be a result of hype and some a result of a genuine affinity for the story because the books were so popular. The problem, of course, is that The Hunger Games is incredibly violent. And it’s about children.

Still, for the most part reviews from critics and viewers alike have been positive. Among Christians, the response seems mixed. One reporter pinpointed violence as the target of the negative criticism, coupled with the hedonistic pleasure in watching it:

In discussion boards online, some [Christians and parents} wrote that the characters in the books who find entertainment in the Games are no worse than those who read these books. After all, if we are entertained by books about children killing each other, what’s the difference? Many parents were outraged that their children wanted to read them. (from “The Hunger Games: A Christian Response” by April Allbritton)

On the other hand, other Christians are viewing the popular books and movie as an opportunity to initiate conversation with teens about ethical, moral, and spiritual matters.

Some church leaders are developing Bible studies to correspond with the novels. Pastors from North Carolina, Rev. Andy Langford and his daughter Rev. Ann Duncan, created “The Gospel According to The Hunger Games Trilogy.” Langford told the Christian Post, “Sacrificial love is the most obvious theme throughout all three books, many of the characters have biblical parallels, which seem so obvious to us but most people missed.” Many other Christian reviews say they are a great way to initiate discussions with kids about violence, oppression and their solution in Christ. (from “The Hunger Games: A Christian Response” by April Allbritton)

With such varied opinions, what’s a parent to do in regard to allowing his or her children to view the movie or read the books? I mean, one person says the story ends with hope and another says it is hopeless. One says it’s all about sacrificial love and another says it shows a society with absolutely no ethics or morals. A third takes the story as a cautionary tale — this is what the world looks like when society is godless. How does someone committed to following Jesus Christ proceed?

I think the first step is to remember who we are — redeemed sinners who have been rescued from the dominion of darkness and transferred to the kingdom of God’s beloved Son because through His death and resurrection, our sins are forgiven. Our allegiance, then, is to God, and we should take our cues from Him.

He gives us some specifics about how we are to live in the world, and I don’t see any loopholes — do this, unless it involves entertainment. Treat others like that, unless you think your children will benefit if you don’t.

No, God didn’t give us “out’s,” even if a Christianized culture grows up and takes an offensive stand against evil. Hence, His command for us to go into all the world and make disciples doesn’t come with an escape clause — I’ll go everywhere, just not to people I don’t like. Nor does the command to speak the truth in love come with the caveat that allows us to be mean to those who disagree with us.

Who we are as followers of Jesus Christ should make all the difference in how we respond to The Hunger Games. However, I don’t think that means we all have to respond in the same way. Someone with young, impressionable children would be justified in saying, this movie is not for our family. Someone else with a teen keenly aware of the plight of youth in the world — sex trafficking, children conscripted into armies, sweat shops — might think there is benefit in viewing the movie and discussing how such a society might come into being.

So the second important thing for Christians to remember is that our opinions about the story are not definitive for all other Christians.

Such a position can seem on the surface like situational ethics, but we need to remember that God knows and understands our uniqueness and does not treat us all the same, even as He remains the same and His commands remain the same.

Consequently, the principles of God’s word are firm, but whether a person is faithful to those principles by going to see The Hunger Games or by staying away, is variable.

The most countercultural response to that which shapes our culture actually is our response to one another. Scripture calls us to unity, not to uniformity. In loving those with whom we disagree, we set ourselves apart from the world. We can warn, rebuke, critique, recommend, endorse, encourage, but in the end, if we do so in love, we will stand out from those around us who do not know Jesus Christ as Savior.

In actuality, what we think about a movie and a set of books pales in comparison to the light we can shine into a dark world in need of a Savior by refusing to vilify those with whom we disagree.

Toward the conclusion of “The Hunger Games: A Christian Response,” Allbritton summarized her position:

The reality is that we live in a sick world. Christians are persecuted and martyred still today. Lost souls are passing on into an eternal damnation nearly every moment; that is the real tragedy. Why are some Christians more concerned with picketing the next blockbuster than spreading the love of Christ to a dying world?

Yes, the setting of The Hunger Games is depressing, violent and hopeless, but so is the world we live in. Don’t we know a Christ who came to save us all from such a world? We have the answer; we should spread it just as Christ calls us to do.

It seems to me, one way to start is by responding to one another in a manner that makes no sense to our culture — by loving our brothers and sisters in Christ, even when we disagree.

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8 responses

  1. Sherwood Smith says:

    *applauding hard*

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  2. Really? Christians are griping about Hunger Games that much? Oh. There’s so many better things to be doing. I’m not interested one way or the other because post-apoc meets Survivor doesn’t interest me. :-p

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  3. BTW, I should clarify that I did not write this post because of any comments responding to Spec Faith’s feature article about The Hunger Games.

    Sherwood, Kessie, thanks for your feedback.

    I don’t think there’s been widespread criticism of the movie by Christians, Kessie, but it does come up and it does influence people’s recommendations. Which is fine. I’m all for us voicing our opinions, as you who have read my comments over time here at Spec Faith surely know. ;-)

    I think it’s another thing, however, to turn into sign-carrying hate-mongers shouting ugly things (think Westboro Baptist). But it’s easy to get caught up in the Internet culture which seems to give a pass to name callers when they are commenting about something controversial. I’ve been thinking about this some lately (and wrote about it on my own site Friday, which is probably why it was still on my mind today). If we would begin to see each controversy as a new opportunity to show Christ by our love for one another, I wonder how that would change our impact on the culture.

    Becky

    Rebecca LuElla Miller’s recent blog: What Does God Think Of Social Media?My Profile

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  4. It made more money in the first weekend than LotR?  I’d like to see those stats adjusted for inflation, just because I find that hard to believe. I find myself on the fence about it–one moment exasperated by the hype and another wanting to go see the movie for myself. And it’s not like I have a lot of time for the introspection–homework is always lurking.

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  5. [...] on how the book and movie differed.I’ve read some responses to the story which are negative, some which say that it is “no worse” than other violent stories kids are exposed to, and some which are positive. I definitely situate myself in the last category.I write this as [...]

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  6. Becky, God has used you to offer all of us such wisdom here — all of us. That includes  those who defend the Hunger Games books and can’t believe any other Christian might have a personal issue with them, and those who say they abhor any kind of violent story and can’t believe any Christian might enjoy or find redemptive themes in them.

    Either way, such critics are dead-set on being countercultural:

    • The books’ defenders want to counter the culture of (real or perceived) legalism and previous religious opposition, or censorship, to what could be good stories.
    • The book’s critics want to counter the culture (real or perceived) of thoughtless Christians who accept anything secular and don’t care about harmful effects.

    But as you said, the best way to be “countercultural” is not to lambaste either legitimate critics or legitimate fans. Non-Christians do that. It’s a hallmark of the culture: portray all opponents as exactly alike, enemies, fault the lowest common denominator, marginalize and generalize, and never give up, never surrender.

    Christ offers a different way, which the Apostle Paul, inspired by God, fleshes out in the NT: Christ has set us free, and helps us think redemptively, but we also have a crucial responsibility to love one another as He loves us, and not to cause legitimate offense.

     

    In a recent online discussion, I had an opportunity to see this play out. A Christian radio host had, alas, opened the discussion with a clip in which he admitted he would judge a book by its cover and surface media coverage, then kept right on and ignorantly stirred things up (and this guy, whose theology where it counts is right, should know better).

    In reply, the usual trolls swarmed in, from either end of the divide, with replies like:

    1. Oh that people would hunger for the Bible instead of this trash of the world!
    2. What’s the big deal? It’s just a movie! Anyone who says otherwise is a legalist.
    3. 1 Thessalonians 5:22 says “avoid the appearance of evil.” So even if it could be bad (and isn’t actually) and only looks nasty to me, all Christians should avoid it.
    4. All you people who can’t see the books’ clear intent are just silly and backward.
    5. Fear for the children. (I’ll only ever talk about the books’ effects on children.)
    6. Come on, we’re all adults; let’s act it. (I won’t address the children issue at all.)

    Here’s hoping I didn’t fall into any of those, especially the even-numbered ones.

    Instead I had a pleasant conversation with a mother, who sounded “legalistic” at first — at least, if one judged her statements as having the “appearance of evil” of legalism! — but who truly had legitimate concerns about young children being forced to read these books in public schools. Now that, I think, is a lack of discernment, at least equally bad as Christians who thoughtlessly say “well, it’s about killing, so it must be evil for all.”

    Really, the main issue here is that of Story and its purpose. Too often Christians have assumed they know what Story is for, and can therefore move on to resultant actions, like determining what makes a good story and what makes a bad one.

    Secondarily, many Christians are in the habit of outsourcing all discernment to other Christian critics or leaders, who may or may not have a clue what they’re talking about.

    Thirdly, many Christians habitually skip over primary discernment — by which I mean personal discernment; I am discerning for my own mind and heart — in favor of secondary discernment, on behalf of someone else, such as children. While secondary discernment and not exposing children to stuff too soon is vital, it’s still secondary. We need a better, Gospel-driven theology of Discernment, alongside a theology of Story.

    Finally, if we only ever get riled about the “bad” stories, what does that say about us?

     

    All this, and I haven’t even read the books, and don’t yet understand the hype. I do, however, understand the persistently wrong premises of critics and supporters, who wrongfully praise or condemn a secular story. It’s merely Harry Potter all over again.

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  7. Saying that the characters in the story who enjoy the games as entertainment are no worse than the people who can enjoy reading the story… is kind of like saying that those who crucified Jesus are no worse than those who read the Bible.

    Oh yeah, we are those people.

    I hate it when my argument turns out to agree with what I intended to argue with ;) 

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  8. Timothy Stone says:

    I agree. Ma’am, with the call to respect other’s opinions, and with Stephen’s statement that we should understand that both extremes on this issue are not completely without merit, but go way too far.I must disagree however with idea that to ENJOY the violent elemrnts is okay. To read of evil and violence (both necessary and unnecessary violence) can often make a great tale with heroics and all. Enjoying the overall tale is fine. but unless it is silly Looney Toons, enjoying someone (even if he is a bad guy) getting hurt, IS evil, in my opinion. 

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