I’ve started reading Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games Trilogy. They have been out for a number of years, but the fourth and final movie is yet to be completed. Last night, as I read the first few pages of Chapter One, I was struck by a significant similarity between the world of Hunger Games and the 21st century Western world. I’m not suggesting that the authorities are forcing teenagers into an arena where they must fight to the death. I’m talking about the climate of the culture. However, before I draw comparisons, for those who may be unfamiliar with the story-line, let me briefly explain what Hunger Games is about.
In the first few pages Chapter One, we are introduced to the main character, Katniss, and the setting. That narrative is set in Panem, formerly known as North America, but several wars and natural disasters have radically altered the geological and cultural landscape. Katniss lives in one of 12 districts, District 12. We are very quickly informed that the people in the districts are living in poverty, hardship, and exploitation If people try to speak out they will be imprisoned or executed. The Hunger Games may be unjust, but people are just desperate to survive. They are powerless to do anything.
So what does that have to do with the West? How can a world largely known for prosperity, freedom and human rights be compared to a world of injustice, political dictatorship, and exploitation and powerlessness. I’m glad you asked – let’s look at a small excerpt from Chapter One.
In the fall, a few brave souls sneak into the woods to harvest apples. But always in sight of the Meadow. Always close enough to run back to the safety of District 12 if trouble arises. “District Twelve. Where you can starve to death in safety,” I mutter. Then I glance quickly over my shoulder. Even here, even in the middle of nowhere, you worry someone might overhear you.
When I was younger, I scared my mother to death, the things I would blurt out about District 12, about the people who rule our country, Panem, from the far-off city called the Capitol. Eventually I understood this would only lead us to more trouble. So I learned to hold my tongue and to turn my features into an indifferent mask so that no one could ever read my thoughts. Do my work quietly in school. Make only polite small talk in the public market. Discuss little more than trades in the Hob, which is the black market where I make most of my money. Even at home, where I am less pleasant, I avoid discussing tricky topics. Like the reaping, or food shortages, or the Hunger Games. Prim might begin to repeat my words and then where would we be?
We may not have executions, we may not have anything as barbaric as the Hunger Games and we may not be living in a culture predominantly marked by starvation. However, we are living in a culture where people are afraid to speak. Like Hunger Games, there are a multitude of issues going on, nationally and globally, that really matter. In many ways we are like the Capitol, drowning in affluence, obsession with celebrities and being numbed by mind-less entertainment that is robbing us of our intellectual and moral capacities.
Those who read widely will hear echoes of Orwell and Bradbury in Collins’ Hunger Games. Hunger Games depicts a totalitarian society, a world of injustice where the gap between the rich and poor is as wide as the ocean. It depicts a world that is dominated by immorality, exploitation and censorship. No one discusses what is important either because they are afraid or they are more interested in survival or they are too busy being entertained by celebrities and reality TV shows. Sound familiar?
Okay, it sounds like our culture, but I don’t just want to reflect on the culture, I want to think about the church, I want to consider the cultural impact upon Christianity. Surely if anyone should have anything meaningful to say to a world being moulded by meaninglessness, it is the church. Surely if anyone should have courage to speak, at a time when people are fearful, it should be Christians?
The reality is Christians have learned to “Work quietly . . . Make only polite small talk in the public market.” and “Discuss little more than trades.” In other words, the western church, save a few exceptions, has become compliant with the culture. The loud shouts of the New Atheists have caused Christians to shut up about creation; the New Global Morality of the humanists has silenced any discussion about the Word of God as the source of true morality; the Inclusive Fundamentalists have sought to silence those who disagree with their dogmatic beliefs about human sexuality and the Relativists have succeeded in making most people think of truth in terms of personal opinion rather than objective reality.
If I may draw a further comparison, this time from Gandhi, in the height of the Indian oppression, there were still political gatherings. Places where politicians gathered and played political games. When Gandhi takes the platform for the first time, the people switch off, talk to each other quietly and some even quietly start to leave. No one cares. But then, Gandhi starts to speak. At first no one seems to notice. Then, one by one, people stop their chats and turn to look at the speaker. What was that he just said? One by one people take their seats and begin to listen intently. What was happening? Gandhi was actually addressing the issues of the day. Important issues. Controversial issues. Dangerous issues. How many ministers are preaching about what really matters? Preaching nice sermons which fail to touch on the real issues of the day, is like talking about fire policies and procedures whilst failing to warn people that the building is actually on fire.
There is a quote which was assumed to have originated from Martin Luther , it wasn’t him, but it is a powerful quote:
If I profess, with the loudest voice and the clearest exposition, every portion of the truth of God except precisely that little point which the world and the devil are at that moment attacking, I am not confessing Christ, however boldly I may be professing Christianity. Where the battle rages the loyalty of the soldier is proved; and to be steady on all the battle-field besides is mere flight and disgrace to him if he flinches at that one point.
Are we really content, as Christians, to settle for a life which is spent on being entertained by sports, celebrities, and media? Are we happy to be moulded by fear; censorship and self-interest? More importantly, is Christ content with these conditions?