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If We Burn, You Burn With Us?

2012 April 4

This week I am reflecting on some of the difficult questions The Hunger Games trilogy raises for readers – today the focus is on violence and oppression.

In reflecting on the events of Holy Week, I find it interesting that one of the common interpretations of why Judas handed over Jesus to the authorities is because Judas desired to push Jesus to assume the political role of the Messiah and lead a rebellion against the occupying Romans. Looking to the historical example of the Maccabees who purged Israel of the evil influence of the Greeks through violent rebellion and ethnic cleansing, perhaps Judas thought that when confronted with political arrest and trial Jesus would too come to the rescue of Israel and save them from the Romans. The other disciples’ tendency to carry weapons and their attack of the soldiers arresting Jesus hint that they too expected something more akin to violent rebellion. Jesus obviously had something different in mind – calling them to a way of life that did not use power to overcome but love to subvert and undo.

Yet the question has remained throughout history as to whether it is ever okay to respond to such oppression and occupation with acts of violent rebellion. It is the question that tormented Dietrich Bonhoeffer under the Third Reich with him eventually deciding that even though it was wrong to murder, he had no choice but to attempt to assassinate Hitler. And it is the hard question that The Hunger Games trilogy proposes as well. Panem is a country where a rich and luxurious Capitol rules the surrounding districts through oppressive and exploitative practices. The people in the districts live in dire poverty, exist on the brink of starvation, and have had all freedoms denied to them. They must labor to meet the insatiable demands of the Capitol and every year send two of their children as tribute to be sacrificed for the Capitol’s entertainment. It is no surprise that when Katniss, the girl of fire, provides the spark, the country erupts into violent rebellion in response to the injustices of the Capitol. But as the story unfolds, it becomes obvious that the Rebellion commits many of the same injustices as the Capitol once did and causes just as much emotional pain to the people of Panem.
So here’s the hard questions that I found The Hunger Games posing –

  • Is it ever okay to respond to oppression with violent rebellion?
  • Is it inevitable that rebellion will descend into injustice as well?
  • How does the example of Jesus factor into our responses to those questions?
  • Is it possible to change the “game” without giving into violence?
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    6 Responses leave one →
    1. linds permalink
      April 4, 2012

      This is the core of what bothered me about the books – well, not bothered, maybe, but felt lacking. I think Collins dodges the question on this one. And I get that she’s presenting a story set in a world where violence is a norm (and I can appreciate the fact that the characters don’t wrestle with the use of violence to maintain consistency of that world) — but I think she completely failed to let this central question be raised within the world of the story. We have sources from ancient Rome that show dissent against the bloodsport of the arenas – it’s hard to believe no one in Panem, especially if 24 are chosen at random each year, would question the role they’re being asked to play. And when the rebellion really heats up in the later books, the only real voice for the pacifist approach is a tortured, brainwashed Peeta.

      We’re talking about the question, so that’s something – I just wish there was a little more to go on from Panem and its characters.

    2. April 4, 2012

      The real enemy is never the other side, but the systems, powers, lies, … that try to use us as enemies. Our struggle is not against flesh and blood….

    3. April 4, 2012

      I think there was some important struggling with the oppression in District 13 … and Katness was unwilling to toe the line. I was shocked by her response, but the alternative who selected was a better balanced person. I think Peeta was the choice “for her to survive” because he was a balm for her anger, where Gale was more like flint.

      This is a theme I struggle with … because there are many levels of violence and counter-cultural actions are known to start fires. Not enough wisdom or discernment is brought into these discussions — I resonate with Bonhoeffer and his struggle. We each must do the work in our own context.

      I appreciate the the books introduce the struggle — thereby inviting is into this difficult work. There are no pat answers or quick fixes … death is always part of the equation, whether intended or not. Our actions, once made, cause chain reactions which are not under our control. I am continually grateful that, while God does not “do things to us against our will” — they are always active to redeem every opportunity presented.

      Saw the movie with my 13 year old son yesterday … lots to unpack still, and two more with whom to see the movie :-)

    4. April 4, 2012

      I haven’t finished the trilogy yet, but I’ve really enjoyed keeping up with your posts about The Hunger Games’ connection to Christianity. I’ve gotten bogged down by the media’s depiction of them so it’s been a breath of fresh air to read your Christian commentary on Collins’ message.

      Your mention of Bonhoeffer reminded me – – So many people want to say that those persecuted in the Holocaust didn’t necessarily do anything to ‘fight’ the oppressors and the evil they were facing. But just the other day I was talking to man I work with who served in the Army right after WWII. He worked right next to Dauchau, and he said that in the gas chambers, women and children had tried writing messages on the walls – how powerful in their last moments they wanted to leave a message behind. In so much of my reading/research about the Jewish Holocaust, I’ve found examples of this – people subverting by creating art though they face death in moments. Perhaps, in a way, this was one way, they found, to ‘fight’ nonviolently.

      Keep up THG posts! I’ve really enjoyed them :)

    5. April 4, 2012

      I haven’t finished the trilogy yet, but I’ve really enjoyed keeping up with your posts about The Hunger Games’ connection to Christianity. I’ve gotten bogged down by the media’s depiction of them so it’s been a breath of fresh air to read your Christian commentary on Collins’ message.

      Your mention of Bonhoeffer reminded me – – So many people want to say that those persecuted in the Holocaust didn’t necessarily do anything to ‘fight’ the oppressors and the evil they were facing. But just the other day I was talking to man I work with who served in the Army right after WWII. He worked right next to Dauchau, and he said that in the gas chambers, women and children had tried writing messages on the walls – how powerful in their last moments they wanted to leave a message behind. In so much of my reading/research about the Jewish Holocaust, I’ve found examples of this – people subverting by creating art though they face death in moments. Perhaps, in a way, this was one way, they found, to ‘fight’ nonviolently.

      Keep up THG posts! I’ve really enjoyed them

    6. April 4, 2012

      I have not read Hunger Games or seen the movie, but am very interested in this question.

      I find it interesting that Bonhoeffer is often the go to example (as he should be), because he is a western white male (much love and respect). Yet our brothers and sisters in Latin America have provided a much more varied, nuanced, robust and difficult response to this question in the liberation theology tradition some of which chose violence as a response, but the majority of whom did not.

      We live so far removed from the reality of this kind of violence and oppression that our imaginations are stunted in a way that prevents us from really wrestling with the issue. We NEED our brothers and sisters at the margins to teach us what these questions mean in reality. So, I can only offer up the practice of solidarity and incarnation as an answer to the question. Although I believe strongly that the way of Jesus is nonviolent, I cannot begin to walk in that way until I am willing to walk with those who know what this question means.

      Thanks for the post and question Julie.

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