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.