He’s not there. Let’s get that straight from the beginning. Jesus is nowhere to be seen in The Hunger Games.
No, Katnis is not a Christ figure. Neither is Rue or Peeta. The bread Peeta tosses out in the rain to Katnis is not Jesus as the Bread of Life.
Are there themes that coincide with the grand narrative of Scripture? Of course. Christianity is, as C.S. Lewis called it, the one true Myth. Other stories are going to reflect concepts from the Story. It is inevitable.
In Panem itself, however, there is no mention or even hint of religion. There is no church, no priest, no one ever offers so much as a prayer, either for help or forgiveness. In all the life-altering events of The Hunger Games, spirituality is conspicuous in its absence.
If Jesus isn’t in The Hunger Games, why is that? It’s simple, the Church left.
I am not speaking about the fictional future history of the dystopian society depicted in the books and film. I do not mean the Church left Panem. I mean the Church left the arts. Writing, film-making, painting, composing, all of those have been left to the world.
Just so we are clear, by “Church” with a capital “C,” I mean the Church as a whole. In general, Christians and the Church in Western Civilization, where the majority of popular works of art are produced, have left artistic endeavors to those on the outside.
Sure, the Church makes art for itself. We make Christian books, Christian movies, Christian paintings and Christian music, but outside of our self-imposed ghetto, no one cares. We’ve made what was once a meaningful noun, into a meaningless modifier.
While we are so busy fighting issues in the realm of politics, the culture is being gradually, but consistently, pushed further away from a Christian worldview by an entertainment industry that has no use for Christianity unless it is to sell something to a niche market.
The Church is not active in the arts, therefore, the Church, along with her Christ, is not present in the arts.
Previously, books and films presented the Church as the place of salvation. Characters would go to the physical location of the church building to seek guidance and hope. The symbolism is unavoidable. The Church had answers for life’s most difficult problems.
But then something changed. Societally, the Church began to view the entertainment industry, as well as the sciences and higher education in general, as the enemy. Christians were told to leave those places of influence, lest they be influenced themselves.
So, with relatively few Christians remaining in the arts, unsurprisingly, the view of the Church in the arts took a negative turn. Characters found the answers given by the Church and her representatives had no relation to modern life. The place which once held all the answers became the place with no real answers.
Think of the Academy Award winning film Million Dollar Baby. Boxing trainer Frank Dunn, played by Clint Eastwood, goes to the priest for advice on a difficult decision. The priest essentially tells him to wash his hands of the whole situation and “leave it with God.” The priest gets up and leaves Frank still wrestling with the problem, unable to truly help him during his most troubling time.
In Changing Lanes, Ben Affleck’s character, Gavin Banek is frustrated with life and the seeming futility of it all, so he goes to a confessional to discuss matters with the priest. He is searching for meaning in all of the trying events of his day, but the priest can only respond by asking, “Why does life need to have meaning?” Seriously, the representative of the Christian perspective is asking the struggling secular man, why life must have meaning.
Those films allowed the Church to have a say, but in the end, the Church’s opinion was useless. The Church was unable to respond to life’s hardest moments and toughest questions. “Just have faith” rang hollower and hollower, until finally Hollywood decided it didn’t even need to ask anymore.
My Sister’s Keeper is a gripping story of a family dealing with an unavoidable, on-coming tragedy in a variety of ways. The only way they don’t deal with it? Church. The only idea of spirituality mentioned in the film is other relatives speaking about the healing powers of positive thinking and other New Age ideas.
In Avatar, there is a sense of some spiritual connection to the planet, an extension of the Gaia idea – a deified Earth, but nothing beyond that. There is no chaplain to discuss deeper issues with the soldiers in the marauding military. No one speaks about ethics from a Christian perspective. There is no church.
This was never more obvious than in The Hunger Games. Parents ready themselves for the possibility that their children will be sent away to die in a televised spectacle and no one ever so much as asks God why. Teenagers fight in a computerized forest and no one ever bows their head asking any higher power for protection. No one even raises the idea that life is intrinsically valuable because it has been created and given meaning.
Revolution is stirred in the hearts of the people once more, not by Katnis offering herself for the life of her sister, but by playing the game in a defiant manner toward the all-controlling Capitol. Insolence was the spark for the populace, not love or sacrifice. The ethos of Christianity is nowhere in Panem, not even as something to mock.
It is as if “The Lottery” has been stripped of it’s subversive religious subtext and has it replaced with a sense of aloof indifference. The Church and all her tradition is seen as something to ignore rather to attack. She is the enemy too pitiful, weak and useless to even acknowledge.
The only thing appealed to in any sort of spiritual manner is “the odds” and the mockingjay pin Katnis gives to her sister, but those are of no help as Primrose is selected as the tribute. Both the odds, which were supposedly small for someone so young and who had not bought food by increasing the odds of being selected for the Games, and the pin, which Katnis had said would keep anything bad from happening to her, helped Primrose. Even the stand-in’s for God seemed powerless.
So what is the Church to do? How do we deal with popular culture that has left our worldview behind, deeming it a part of the unevolved past? There are three potential solutions, two of which will end and have ended disastrously. Only one provides the way forward for the Church in an increasingly indifferent culture.
Tomorrow, I want to explore the three solutions, particularly the one that will allow the Church to change the current situation – Why Jesus isn’t in The Hunger Games and what we can do about it.
This is not a critique of the artistic merit of The Hunger Games film, which I have seen, or the books, which I have not yet read. I am only analyzing the absence of the Church and the Christian worldview from the story.