‘The Hunger Games’, Hope, Social Action and the Church image

‘The Hunger Games’, Hope, Social Action and the Church

The Hunger Games trilogy is something of a sensation in the world of teen literature. It’s difficult to pinpoint its appeal, but I for one have been sucked in. For those who haven’t read the first book or seen the film, the plot is quite straightforward: In a post-apocalyptic North America, society is made up of the Capitol and twelve districts. Each year the Capitol chooses two teenaged ‘tributes’ from each district to compete in the Hunger Games. In the games, the tributes have to fight each other to the death with the last tribute alive being crowned the victor. The victor gets to go back to their district wealthy and famous.

I read one article that claimed that the author, Suzanne Collins, was trying to show what a world without God might look like: oppressive, bleak, and hopeless. Now, I don’t know exactly what was in Collins’ mind – herself a practising Roman Catholic – but my suspicion is that there’s more to what’s going on than just a Godless world; indeed I don’t think she would miss the fact that even the Church has been guilty at times of being complicit in the oppression of the people; especially the poor.
In The Hunger Games hope is used as a weapon to enforce the oppression of the people by the Capitol. In the film adaptation the President of the Capitol tries to explain the importance of having a winner in the games to the game-maker for that year. He says:

Hope, it is the only thing stronger than fear. A little hope is effective; a lot of hope is dangerous. A spark is fine, as long as it’s contained.

Karl Marx said in A Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right that “Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people”. He saw religion as offering a small hope – too small to be dangerous, but just enough to keep the ‘masses’ in line. It’s almost, and I could be reading Collins wrong here, similar to the hope that the people in The Hunger Games might have in the possibility of there being a winner from their district. Was Marx right about religion? Is this what the Church is doing when it offers hope? Is it just offering hope in heaven after death, or is there more to its hope?
I would suggest that we need to look at the reality of our hope – is it material or is it abstract? When we offer the gift of salvation; what in real terms are we offering? When we pray for healing, are we offering real hope or a temporary salve?
Any hope that the Church offers needs to go beyond the kind of hope that is offered in The Hunger Games; that is, beyond a hope that is immaterial to real life. Hope should, I would suggest, not only be in a future destiny, but should first be based on the entering into history of the embodiment of hope (those who are familiar with Liberation Theology will see certain parallels here).The incarnation and resurrection concretise in the present the possibility of God’s kingdom of justice and righteousness now, and they take place in our material universe. The Church when it offers hope must, therefore, offer something material. Social action is good theology and something that is worth engaging in, not just for the sake of lost souls, but for the sake of the physical, social and economic needs of real people. Indeed, in the gospels we see that Christ doesn’t seem to be in too much of a hurry to dish out the hope of heaven to people. He tends first to meet them in their immediate needs. In embodying hope, he embodied it in the present; and the Church surely needs to consider how it follows him in doing this and thus avoid falling into Marx’s definition of religion.

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