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Why The Hunger Games is the most “Christian” book I’ve read in a long time

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Know what drives me nuts? Prejudgment. All forms of it. It doesn’t matter if it’s someone prejudging another person, a situation, or a book – it makes me angry. The only thing that’s worse than prejudging, are those who rely on other’s to form their judgments for them.

Now, since I’m a writer, I’m going to stick to books for this Monday Musing. Something that really bothers me among Christians is the idea that all mainstream books must somehow be avoided. If the writer doesn’t spew forth scripture and mention the name of Jesus a minimum of sixteen times in the book, then it’s worthless.

As the Hunger Games series grew in popularity, I waited, because I knew the conservative bloggers and radio hosts were salivating to jump all over these books. And they didn’t disappoint. I read countless times: The Hunger Games is evil! Kids killing kids shouldn’t be glorified! No Christian should read these books! Keep them out of our precious children’s hands!

It was Harry Potter all over again. One radio show I heard spent an hour denouncing the books so when the question time opened, I called. I got through and I asked if anyone on the program had read the books. Silence. Then they answered no, but that they didn’t have to because they knew what it was about. I hung up and haven’t listened to the radio show since.

See, I’ve always been a big fan of using the brain the good Lord gave me.

When the Harry Potter series created a stir I read them. Know what I found? A story that teaches that love is the most powerful force on Earth. A whole series based around the fact that Harry was protected because someone loved him enough to lay down their life sacrificially for him, so that Harry might live. The Potter series is all about sacrificing yourself for others, even people you don’t like. Good triumphs evil. How were these bad messages? Aren’t these the same truths taught in the Bible?

Saint Augustine gave us the idea that all truth is God’s truth when he said, “A person who is a good and true Christian should realize that truth belongs to his Lord, wherever it is found, gathering and acknowledging it even in pagan literature, but rejecting superstitious vanities and deploring and avoiding those who ‘though they knew God did not glorify him as God.”

Which leads me to The Hunger Games (a series so wonderfully written and captivating that it took me only four days to fly through all three books). I hear the shouts: It’s a story about kids killing each other, yes and no. Although, I’d have to ask, if it is, how is that any different or better than Aslan sending the Pevensie children into hand-to-hand battle?

For those believing this is a story that glorifies killing each other, I’ll share Katniss’ quote (who is the heroine of The Hunger Games series): “Because something is significantly wrong with a creature that sacrifices its children’s lives to settle its differences. You can spin it any way you like. Snow thought the Hunger Games were an efficient means of control. Coin thought the parachutes would expedite the war. But in the end, who does it benefit? No one. The truth is, it benefits no one to live in a world where these things happen.” Clearly, those who miss the fact that this story is serving as a warning, miss the point entirely.

What is the Hunger Games about? Let’s see, little guy volunteers to fight and takes on insurmountable odds (and needs to kill in order to win)….huh, sounds and awful lot like David and Goliath.

I find it funny that these devote Bible-bangers somehow forget that much of the history of the old testament is that of violence and God sending people into war. Often they were instructed to slay every man, woman, and child (as well as livestock) within a city. When God sends the ten plagues, who does he come after? All the first born CHILDREN. Why? Because sometimes we only sit up and listen when terrible things happen to kids.

This is the same theme of the Hunger Games. The people of Panem have watched year after year as their ‘firstborns’ are taken away from them to die, but it’s not until one special volunteer goes to the games and bucks the system that a change in the country can happen (huh, again, oddly like little someday-to-be King David). On top of all this the character of Peeta is a perfect example of Christ-like love. A person who loves to the point of death, a love that isn’t based on the other person’s actions, emotions, or ever receiving anything in return.

And for that matter, my read through the Hunger Games series brought more self-reflection and led to more worshipful moments than any Christian book has in the last five years. I found myself constantly stopping and asking questions. If I was in the same situation what would I do? Would my character be strong enough to be like Peeta and say “If I’m going to die, I want to be me. I don’t want them to change me.”? Or would I be weak and allow circumstances to morph my moral fibers? Could I truly put others before myself, even if that meant my own demise? What does it look like to obey a leader whose actions you don’t agree with? What is true love? What characteristics make a man hero-worthy? When is rebellion allowable — or is it? Am I humble enough to accept help without feeling beholding? Could I lie to my heart for as long as Katniss did? Do I place ideals (like Gale) or people (like Peeta) first? Each instance that I found myself lacking, it drove me to my knees in prayer. It sent me searching scripture to find out what I truly believed. And it challenged me to become a better person.

I can’t name one Christian book that’s caused such thought and change to occur in my heart. Not one.

Bold statement time. I hope someday to write a YA novel engaging enough to catch the attention of mainstream teens. No, I have no aim to sell millions or have movie deals. That’s not it at all, but if I can capture the imagination and thoughts of a handful of mainstream readers, then yes, I believe that would be considered success to me.

Look at Stephanie Meyers – who wrote this way brilliantly. A read through the Twilight series doesn’t smack you in the face with the thought “this was written by a Mormon.” Not once. But you better believe that all the Mormon values are woven seamlessly through the story (purity, roles of men and women, sin, and forgiveness, afterlife). Say what you will about the poor quality of writing or the evils of vampires, it was a story that was told in an engaging enough way to capture the imagination for millions of readers. Any author worth their salt should perk up and pay attention to books that have mass followings. Not to copy (you won’t find me writing about vampires, dystopias, or wizards any time soon) but to ask yourself WHY did this touch people?

Much love -Jess

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About Jess Keller

I'm an author, speaker and chocolate eater who's chasing hard after my dreams.

11 responses »

  1. Hi, Jess! Thanks for this thoughtful–and thought-provoking–article! You are so right. People shouldn’t prejudge books. I can understand how it happens, though. I have two precious daughters, and I want them to read a wide variety of things, but I also want to protect them from something that would be harmful. I know I can’t protect them forever, but they’re only 10 and 13. I would like to think I can protect them for a little bit longer.
    But I did let my 13-yr-old read The Hunger Games. I figured if it was too violent, she wouldn’t like it anyway. Well, she loved it and zoomed through all three books, but admitted to be a little let down by the third book. Finally, I decided to see what it was all about. (Took me a long time! I had to read the movie previews before I actually was intrigued enough to read them.) The Hunger Games and its author turned out to be really morally responsible. I thought the author did an amazing job of getting us to like Katniss and want her to win so badly, even though she is not the most likeable person and has a lot of faults. But more importantly, I loved the way the author brought out so many moral dilemmas, forcing the reader to at least contemplate how difficult it would be to choose right over wrong in the circumstances the characters find themselves in. It is definitely a worthwhile read. And I would probably read the next two books in the series if I had more time, or if this was a genre I really enjoyed, or if I didn’t have books of my own I want to write! Frankly, the intensity of the suspense and violence did leave me feeling kind of beat-up and tired at the end of the book! But I think that’s just me.
    I can definitely see how Peeta is a Christ-like character in these books. And I also see how Katniss is us. She is me. At heart, I want to do what’s right, but I mess up a lot because I’m also selfish and fearful. I think this book really can make for wonderful discussions among young adults and teens.
    I also agree with you that we shouldn’t claim that only overtly Christian books are worth reading, and that it is good to be able to appeal to a nonChristian audience. We all have an anointing, I believe, but to do different things. We weren’t all called to write one certain genre or type of book. Thank goodness! God knew we needed a variety, and that’s one reason He gives us seasons! I feel a conviction to write what I write. It appeals to some nonChristians, and others despise my overtly Christian characters and say all manner of evil things about me and my books on their blogs and their Amazon and Goodreads reviews. But that’s okay. I must obey God rather than man. 🙂
    Thanks for this great article, Jess!

    Reply
    • Melanie!

      Thanks for all your feedback. I’m with you on the “protecting” kids aspect. I agree, and believe that’s a heavy call for parents. My issue wasn’t with that (I’m a big fan and encourage the parents of the kids my husband and I mentor in the youth group to read books before their kids do in order to decide if they are healthy for your kids or not something you want them to read). My issue is with people (adults) who have choose to have an opinion against a book without reading it. If they don’t want to read it, that’s their choice, but then if that book comes up they should just say “I don’t know/I haven’t read it” or “I’m not interested in reading it.” Instead of “well I heard it’s simply evil and no one with morals should read it.” I haven’t read the Eragon series, why, because they don’t appeal to me at all. If asked my opinion or recommendation I’d tell someone I can’t give one. I just wish people did that instead of jumping on a train of other people’s logic.

      I’m with you on Katniss being a good picture of us and Peeta being a picture of Christ. Throughout the series I had moments where I wanted to reach into the pages and shake Katniss silly. She would make me so mad. I wanted to yell “can’t you see he loves you!?! Can’t you see you love him??! Drop all the other distractions and admit it and start acting like it!” Wow, conviction anyone? Every time I felt my anger rising towards Katniss, I realized that I was more frustrated with myself for acting that way towards God again and again. She is so selfish for so much of the story, yet Peeta chooses to love her and goes into everything with the mindset that he’ll give up his life for hers.

      Lastly, I hope I didn’t sound like I was bashing Christian fiction, because that’s not my intent (goodness, my bookshelves will support me there). I love Christian fiction and I think there are amazing books coming out and the industry has made leaps and bounds in the past twenty years. I believe God calls some authors to write in CBA and some are called to write for ABA and some are called to write in both. Some are called to self-publish and some are called to remain unpublished. God speaks to each of our hearts and no calling is above another. My wish is just that at some point another “Narnia” type series can come out that will draw a wider pool of readers to more truth.

      P.S. Your books are among my favorites in YA fiction right now! But you knew that. 😉

      Reply
  2. Thanks, Jess! 🙂
    I didn’t think you sounded like you were bashing Christian fiction. You were just tired of people bashing a book you believe contains a wonderful Christian message, if people will just read it and really think about it. 🙂

    Reply
  3. Sara Katherine

    Wow. Beautiful! I loved this post so much! I believe the same thing, Christians are too fast to close themselves off to current culture. If we can’t relate to our peers at all on any level than we are going to severely hinder ourselves and the spread of Christianity/being able to help others. I’m not saying every pop.culture book you read should be looked at as a witnessing opportunity but it certainly opens doors for friendships and fellowship that might have otherwise been closed.

    I grew up reading voraciously. I read lots and lots. I read the Lord of the Rings books in junior high. Narnia in elementary school. Eragon (Inheritance trilogy) as they each came out and everything in between. Crime novels,classics, biographies, books from all sorts of different recommended lists. Reading boosts vocabulary and imagination and the ability to relate to others. Which should be a primary goal of Christians I believe. Even if they think something is evil (i.e. Harry Potter) I think they should still read it to know exactly for THEMSELVES what they are refuting. I can understand some parents wanting their kids to be a little older reading the Hunger Games but to rule it out completely would be a disservice.

    Beautifully written. Thank you.

    Reply
    • Thanks Sara! I agree with you 100%. I hate this knee-jerk reaction to culture that many in our Christian circle have (including myself in that circle because I’m a believer too). I’m a voracious reader as well and I believe that not only does reading boosth vocab and imagination (as you pointed out) but that it makes us better thinkers and makes us consider WHY we believe things. Even if we disagree, our own moral fiber becomes stronger.

      Wonderful to “meet” you 😉

      Reply
  4. Wow, maybe I will read these books afterall! Janny

    Reply
  5. Can’t wait for your YA book! Great post. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, as always.

    Reply
    • Speaking of the YA book….there will need to be some devoted time during our get together to brain storm and talk about it (and room for you to tell me I’m crazy).

      Reply
  6. Regarding the Harry Potter series, let’s state the obvious. At the very least, it is a moral conflict of interest to make use of a character who specifically performs witchcraft to illustrate the admirable qualities of God, as seen in Jesus Christ, when that same God specifically condemns such practice and refers to it as an “abomination”. Surely there are much better examples in literature; howbeit, not as popular.

    To use such ‘heroes’ for this purpose runs the risk of blurring the lines of good and evil, especially in children. There is the common fallacy of so-called “white witchcraft vs black witchcraft”, which infers a battle of good vs evil. As you may know, the God of the Bible makes no such distinction. To Him, all witchcraft is evil. And so it stands to reason parents who want to serve this God will teach their children not to engage in witchcraft or, minimally, they run the risk of hypocrisy. (And none of us wants to promote religious hypocrisy, right?)

    So, along comes Harry, who may be a “great guy”, but he’s breaking God’s command concerning witchcraft. As a follower of Jesus, what am I to say to my kids? That depends, partly, on the kid.

    Let’s see, to my 7 and 9 yr olds I might say, “God says witchcraft is very wrong. We are never to do it. Go play with your… Pokemon?” (Hmmmm. This may need some rethinking.)

    To my 11 yr old- well, she would probably have a fit if I read or watched young Potter in her presence. So I would just give her permission to NOT read it, but also instruct her, “Just don’t yell at kids who do.”

    To my 16 yr old- “You know witchcraft is wrong. Harry is not real. Have a nice read. Stay in school. Eat your veggies.” Oh, and “don’t read it in front of the 11 yr old!”

    One more thing… I have yet to read any H.P. stuff- who has the time? (Plus, I am addicted to non-fiction.) But perhaps I’ll read it when I get to heaven- you know, with all that extra time in eternity. Do you think they have the Potter series up there in St. Peter’s library?

    Blessings!

    -Tom from Vegas

    Reply
    • Tom from Vegas – thanks for taking the time to stop by, read, and comment. Means the world. I got the chance to visit Vegas last year and really loved seeing all the different hotels, like Disney for adults. Didn’t partake in the gambling, but saw a few shows. My husband and I look forward to going back again.

      I loved your input. My husband and I serve as youth leaders at our church – I mentor both College and high school girls. We are always urging the parents to be involved in what their children are reading. You sound like a great dad who knows your kids well (and knows how to monitor what’s best for them).

      You make a valid point that sorcery is forbidden in the Bible. And I agree that younger kids who could be influenced should be steered away until they are old enough to discern messages better. Although, in the same vein that would mean to steer the same child from the Narnia series which is chock-full of sorcery on both sides (Aslan is forever speaking of magic and harkening the deep magic). I’d argue that the same conversation needs to happen with a child who reads C.S. Lewis’ classics or the Potter series.

      I don’t believe any of the popular books are great “live like this” Christian messages. But I do believe that as Christians we should approach everything looking for truth. As a writer I’m passionate about fiction and the power it can have in the lives of it’s readers. I just wish that so many didn’t believe that if it’s not written by Billy Graham it’s inherintly evil. I’m only speaking of adults here, but God gave us a mind and I believe that engaging it in “pop” fiction books and being able to discuss the truth messages found within opens an amazing door to spead the gospel (yes, I gave a gospel message to a non-believing friend over discussing the Potter series – she never ‘got’ how Christ sacrificing himself could have power/mean something tangable until I liken it to Harry’s mother doing the same and Harry being protected by that love/sacrifice). Needless to say, my friend came to church with me that next week and has been a believer ever since. Had I ruled the Potter series out as an “evil” book, not fit for my Christian eyes, who knows where my friend would be spiritually.

      Reply
      • Jess,

        Thanks for your input. We seem to approach all this very similarly. For my wife and I, though we see the potential Christ figure in Harry Potter’s mom, we wanted a place to “draw the line” to illustrate to our kids that there is a godly stand which we are to take. We never wanted them to feel ‘deprived’, but we wanted them to learn to make good choices to avoid evil things based on biblical principles. So, we chose H.P. as a “no-fly zone” until they got older, specifically because it showcased a school that taught young children to perform witchcraft- directly in contrast to the Scripture’s commands.
        However, with the Narnia series (esp. ‘Lion, Witch, Wardrobe’), we saw an opportunity to reinforce the much more obvious gospel message. The kingly Aslan character, who was mocked and abused by demon-like beings, and who gave his life as a blood sacrifice for his followers, then rose from the dead to ultimately defeat the evil one. And the witch in this story was obviously evil, making it easier to see the “good guys and the bad guys”. This is important (and easier to defend) especially with younger readers/viewers. We actually sat with our two youngest in the theater and whispered the meanings of the allegorical figures and actions into their ears as the movie progressed. Yet, we found they saw most of the parallels on their own because we had long taught them from biblical narratives.
        Basically, we set up clear “black and white” icons in order to make it easy for them to practice discernment, but we did it in such a way so as not to make them think imagination or vivid fantasy was strictly forbidden by God.

        Cheers! -Tom from Vegas

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