Why You Should Read the Hunger Games (and Other Books Too)

by admin

“All things are lawful,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful,” but not all things build up.
(1 Corinthians 10:23 ESV)

Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good.
(Romans 12:9 ESV)

…but test everything; hold fast what is good.
(1 Thessalonians 5:21 ESV)

I must admit: I am offended.  I am offended by the tendency of too many Christians to simply refuse to engage with anything in the world for fear of contaminating themselves with the world.  I am offended by the idea that we should throw into the trashbin anything that we suspect might maybe be a little bit offensive, uncomfortable, or controversial.  Is this the spirit of the age – to be so terrified by everything that our first instinct is to duck and cover?

I could take this in so many directions but the one that has my goat this morning is books.  I just finished reading “The Hunger Games“.  Now frankly, it is not the finest literature ever produced, but it is worth the read in my opinion for two reasons.  First, the books engage a number of cultural realities that presently have far-reaching influence over Christians and non-Christians.  Second, the books (and the new movie) are incredibly popular, especially amongst young people.  What is so grabbing their imaginations and keeping them interested?  Should we not investigate such icons as a basic responsibility of a parent, or at least someone who at some levels “is my brother’s keeper”?

Some say no.  One vociferously opposed such an idea.  One told a friend of mine that it was wrong to read the Hunger Games.  Why?  Because it has violence in it.  I’ll give the benefit of the doubt and I’ll assume she meant the books feature children killing children.

Which is, on its face, logical.  If the book were centred around children maliciously seeking to kill each other for simple, selfish reasons, like for example the Reena Virk slaying, I’d absolutely be first in line to condemn the books.  Children exposed to the glorification of such monstrous activities would be the last thing I would be in favour of.  But the truth is, anyone who has read the books can tell you, without spoiling the story, that at no stage, at no level do the books glorify violence.  In fact, the books speak the opposite message – that the cultural glorification of violence in fact has real consequences, social and emotional.

This isn’t the first time that I have seen such offhanded dismissal of popular books.  About 5 years ago the Twilight books were reaching a crescendo of popularity.  Around that same time my wife’s sister, who was a young teen, came to stay with us.  In the interests of getting to know her and her interests better, I decided to read the Twilight books she was in possession of.  I was told by a well-meaning friend of mine that “nobody who aspires to be a pastor should be reading such evil books”.  After reading them myself, I came to the conclusion that they were not books I would recommend to anyone – but not for the reasons my well-meaning friend thought.  The way the books view unhealthy obsession with romantic relationships and the tolerance of evil are definitely huge black marks against them.  The material that he was concerned with – supernatural werewolves and vampires drive the entire plot of the books – was simply window dressing to a story that embraces and encourages young women to completely throw off all authority and embrace fickle emotion and depression.  In 99% of young women, this behaviour leads to a completely destructive life-path.  In the books it leads to sunshine, joy and supernatural power.  Needless to say, bad message.

But I would never have arrived at the real reasons to object to the books if I had simply refused to sully my eyes with them.  And I would have been foregoing the opportunity to have real dialogue with a lot of people who want to talk about books and stories because they are popular.  If we simply shut our minds off and form a little subculture, are we any better than cloistered monks?  Are we any more effective at communicating the love of Jesus to a world that desperately needs Him than say the Amish?  Is that what Jesus wants?

What particularly bothers me about this whole mess is that such simplistic “baby out with the bathwater” thinking is really the height of hypocrisy to the world beyond our cross-laden buildings.  To the rest of the world it is simply ridiculous that we should be up in arms about a book like the Hunger Games “glorifying violence amongst children” when the book that we revere, the Bible, features incest, idolatry, child sacrifice, rape, adultery, genocide and a host of other monstrous acts – sometimes religiously driven.  If we simplistically wash our hands of literature, then we should expect the rest of the world to simplistically wash their hands of the Bible.

And we wonder why we aren’t heard.

2 Responses to “Why You Should Read the Hunger Games (and Other Books Too)”

  1. Tara Dong (@TaraDong) says:

    AMEN! I’ve been oft criticized for the freedom I’ve offered my kids in what they read and watch. I grieve for the loss of other Christian parents, the conversations they haven’t been able to have with their kids about their faith. The amazing dialogue I’ve had with my kids when books such as these spark their interest in who God is and what the bible says are priceless. They run far deeper than “children killing children” and into much larger discussions such as God’s desire for compassion and doing the right thing in the face of oppression, as well as how sometimes there is simply no “good” thing to do, only the right and painfully difficult thing. This is something my kids are well acquainted with as Christians in a largely post-christian culture – and the Hunger Games (and Twilight, and Harry Potter before that) gave us much opportunity to talk about the challenges they (my kids) face.

    I am grateful that God not only shapes our hearts, but gives us the strength and intelligence to discern good from evil by actually examining it.

    As I prayed about this one day, the picture of Jesus being admonished for his associations with tax collectors and prostitutes came to mind. He was IN the world…for better or for worse and calls us to follow in his footsteps.

    Keep preachin’ Oliver!!

  2. Beth says:

    I read a good portion of the first Hunger Games novel for a friend who wanted another assessment of whether or not she should put up a fight when it was assigned reading for her son’s grade 7 class. My impression was that it was Gladiator meets Survivor in 1984. Is the book itself absolutely horribly evil? I don’t think so, but is it really what I want to be dwelling on? Where does Philippians 4:8 come into play? That’s one of my major considerations when deciding whether I want to read/watch something or encourage or caution my children in what they’re consuming.

    That said, I think there’s a big difference between understanding and critically analyzing philosophies behind/depicted in literature and mindlessly consuming the latest popular story. Whether I want it to or not, what I read will stay with me and shape me. Is it worth digging through two tons of muck for a teachable moment/point, or can I find that same point brought home elsewhere in contemporary culture without having to hold my nose quite so much and spending the next several hours trying to get the manure smell out of my clothes and out from under my fingernails? There are any number of things that the culture embraces; which ones do we also embrace, which ones do we shun?

    Yes, the Bible does contain a multitude of horrific things (as our current sermon series through the book of Judges makes abundantly clear!) and even a cursory reading of history reveals the depths of man’s depravity. But I think there’s a big difference between coming to terms with evil in reality and choosing to be entertained by it in fantasy. I don’t want to become comfortable about being entertained by depravity.

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