May the odds be ever in your favor: The Hunger Games and religion
Where post-apocalyptic narratives and dystopian narratives are fertile ground for the exploring or re-imagining of the roots, purpose, and role of religion, this weekend’s box office record breaker, Hunger Games, makes nary a mention of God, gods, or practices of any mystical or spiritual nature. When I read the series a few weeks ago, the absence was glaring, not only because of the nature of my job, but because in order to create an alternate reality, writers of this genre, usually also create an alternate religious landscape.
I am, of course, not the only one to have noticed. Religion bloggers and young adults on messages boards have taken to the internet to point it out, some, saying “no matter,” and briefly turning themselves into film and literary critics mining the series for Christian themes such as sacrifice and redemption.
Blogger and author Julie Clawson even wrote a whole book called The Hunger Games and the Gospel, where she, according to the Amazon description, explores “the series’ themes of resistance to oppression and hope for a better world, portrayed honestly as messy and difficult endeavors, echo the transformative way of life Jesus offered his followers.”
In general, I’m not a fan of “The Gospel according to the most current pop culture phenomenon” genre, but I do think the Hunger Games is a great way to get young adults talking about socioeconomic justice, as Clawson aims to do in her book. And the series certainly does a better job of exploring justice, the futility of war, and the immorality of a reality where children kill children, than more mystical religious themes such as blood sacrifice.
Reading the book or viewing the film before bringing in any religious “dialogue partners” (to quote an old film and theology professor of mine), it’s obvious that each character has a varying sense of the injustice of relying on the favor of odds for one’s own well-being. (The slogan of the games, chanted by game officials, is “May the odds be ever in your favor.”) If the odds aren’t in your favor in this world, hunger, malnourishment, poor working conditions, or death are part of your story.
Many Christians, though they rely instead on God’s favor, aren’t so different. For those of us with enough, we thank God for our blessings. But what about the fatherless 16-year-old girl in Appalachia, whose father died has in a mining accident and who has to work in order to feed her family because her mother is too sad to get out of bed in the morning?* Would we say that God is in her favor? Our theology says that each human being has is loved equally by God, but is that the faith we practice?
I think that despite the lack of explicit mention of religion, author Suzanne Collins has managed to deeply explore it’s place in society as well as the importance and power of hope. (Unfortunately, I have to admit, that after the first book, the series is all downhill.)
*This is the narrative of the main character, Katniss Everdeen, whose father died in a mining accident. She's forced to hunt to provide for her family thereafter. She's also the character who volunteers in place of her younger sister to fight in the Hunger Games.