The Hunger Games & The Gospel | Notes & Review

Julie Clawson. The Hunger Games and the Gospel:Bread, Circuses, and the Kingdom of God. Patheos Press, 2012. (149 pages; 3930 Kindle locations)

One Hand Clapping – Julie Clawson’s website

Introduction: Let the Games Begin

Although not explicitly “Christian” books, the themes explored in The Hunger Games are the same ones Christians have wrestled with since the days of Jesus and his apostles. Themes of love, compassion, and justice in the face of oppression. Themes of what it looks like to live full of the hope that a better world is possible. (Loc. 97-)

Amidst the excitement of a well-told story, The Hunger Games addresses those hard questions that people in our culture can’t help but ask—questions not simply about why there is evil in the world (because we all already know it’s there), but questions about how to respond to that evil. People aren’t interested in theoretical musings that have no relevancy; they want to know how injustice can end and lives can be improved now. They want to know whether their core beliefs have anything to say to the realities of oppression, violence, and economic inequalities that continually confront them, and whether they can do anything about those problems. (Loc. 102-)

Jesus didn’t come offering spiritual advice meant only for some elusive future realm; he offered people a tangible way to live transformatively every day. (Loc. 109-)

The good news that Jesus taught of the Kingdom of God offered tangible ways for how a world full of injustice and oppression can be transformed into one of hope—which was a message of good news back when Jesus first preached it and still is for us today. (Loc. 116-117).

Living in the new world is difficult, requiring change and growth, but it isn’t impossible. It’s just that the struggle to end oppression and build a better world is complicated and messy—which is the sort of honest yet hopeful message that speaks into the lives of readers. (Loc. 198-200)

But since the end of the Cold War and the beginning of the so-called “War on Terror,” it’s been hard to sell such black-and-white views of the world anymore. Many supposed utopias themselves suppressed justice and freedom, making naïve solutions no longer an option for speculative fictions. Hence the rise of dystopian fictions which “present for the first time bleak analyses of human society without promise of the euphoric ending which is usually expected in that literature.” [i] (Loc. 206-211)

But of course, stories have always been the best way to pose challenging questions about the world around us. While at times some find it necessary to disguise their critique of the powers that be in fictional guise, stories also have the ability to connect with people on a deeper level. We are drawn to stories because our lives are stories—unfolding narratives of groups of people trying to live as best they can in the world. (Loc. 230-233)

From crafting parables to revealing poignant glimpses of the Kingdom in the Beatitudes, Jesus drew his listeners into imaginative pictures of what living in the ways of God looked like. The freedom of stories allowed him to safely comment on the current socio-political situation of his time and then illustrate how an alternate social order might value people far differently. To those living under the oppressive regime of the Roman Empire, these stories presented ways of being in the world that allowed even the marginalized and the poor to reclaim their identity as children of God. (Loc. 242-246)

To a people used to centuries of living under the exile, manipulation, and oppression of conquering empires, Jesus’ stories demonstrated that empires don’t have to define who they are. To illustrate this, he wove tales that reminded people of their identity as followers of God and encouraged them to define themselves by that identity instead of the one imposed upon them by Rome. People created in the image of God should reflect that image in their daily lives. (Loc. 251-254)

Our world is much like Panem, where the wealth and comfort of the few in the Capitol is provided through the oppression of the districts. Where having the latest toys, instant everything, and the fashions of the moment (at the cheapest possible prices) are more important to some than the lives of the people who suffered to supply them. Where protecting a political ideology and hoarding one’s wealth are higher priorities than feeding the hungry. Such a world obviously is not a realization of God’s dreams. And sadly, Christians, especially in countries like the United States, have often been seduced into living in the ways of the world that devalue the image of God in others. Many Christians have forgotten how to live in the world in ways that are not of the world. What Jesus delivered as a transforming message of hope has been spiritualized away to nothing more than pithy sayings or pleasing rituals designed to make us feel content as we live in the ways of the world. But for those who know that life is not as it was meant to be, stories like The Hunger Games serve as reminders of what it looks like to choose a different path. (Loc. 271-279)

To that end, this book seeks to explore the good news in Jesus’ stories about living in the way of the Kingdom of God by looking at the example of similar stories in The Hunger Games. (Loc. 281-282)

Chapter One: The Poor in Spirit: Living in the United States of Panem

Biblical scholars and historians have determined that most of Jesus’ early followers were the poor of the land. Many of them had lost their ancestral lands as the crippling Roman taxes and Jewish temple taxes sent them spiraling deeper and deeper into debt. They worked for minimal pay as tenant farmers or day laborers on the very lands they used to own. [vii]

The system of oppression presented in The Hunger Games is modeled on the tactics used in the Roman Empire. (Loc. 436)

Oppression crushes hope in whatever way it can—through lack of resources, denial of freedoms, and the threat of violence. This is Katniss’s world in The Hunger Games, it was Jesus’ world under Rome, and it is the lived experience of people all over the world today. (Loc. 476-478)

Oppression orchestrates compliance by crushing all hope. Yet Jesus came offering hope and the blessing of the Kingdom of God to those whose spirits had been broken. (Loc. 515-516)

Jesus told the poor in spirit that the blessings of the Kingdom were already theirs to live into. Not in the kind of 60-minute extreme makeover that our entertainment-obsessed culture seems to expect, but through the slow and faithful habit of living into the ways of the Kingdom—ways of justice, compassion, reconciliation, and self-giving love. It is choosing to join Jesus on his mission to set the oppressed free and bring good news to the poor. Building a better world isn’t some pipe dream about the next stage in human evolution, but the natural and tangible outcome of people actually living in this way of Jesus. But to make claim to that promise in reality, we must let go of our bread and circuses and commit to the discipline of standing in solidarity with the poor in spirit. (Loc. 610-616)

In a world where oppression thrives on strict hierarchies and fear, the ways of the Kingdom turned everything upside down. (Loc. 672-673)

For those of us in the United States, declaring our freedom from a system that benefits us at the expense of others often is too difficult for some. They desire to follow Jesus, but just can’t bring themselves to make the sacrifices necessary to love and respect others like Jesus did. It has become common for them to spiritualize away Jesus’ words and make the Kingdom about some heavenly future and not about the faithful transformation of their lives starting right now. (Loc. 697-701)

Katniss discovered that declaring her freedom from the Capitol brought her tremendous pain. And Jesus was accused of inciting rebellion and tortuously executed by Rome for daring to propose a different kind of kingdom. But even his instrument of death became a symbol of hope for those who truly believed that the ways of the Kingdom of God were the most blessed way to live. (Loc. 709-712)

Chapter Two: Those Who Mourn: Remembering the Things It Would Be a Crime to Forget

There is a power that comes from the process of mourning. Jesus called those engaged in that process blessed because they are the ones who will find comfort to heal their pain. But mourning is dangerous. As Harding mentioned, to even begin mourning societal pain requires that we first name the institutional evils that have caused suffering—an act which those who participate or benefit from such institutions are often reluctant to let happen. Naming cultural sins means someone must take responsibility for those sins and be called to account for them. True repentance involves not only ending one’s participation in sin, but working to repair relationships with the people one has harmed. (Loc. 734-739)

Unless we have the space to mourn, we cannot begin to heal. (Loc. 824)

Yet it is not just the small stories that must be remembered. Remembering the human moments and recognizing the individual sacrifices are vital parts of that process, but so is telling the truth about the societal sins of the past and the acts of oppression in the present. Naming the systems that cause pain and remembering the stories of those who have been hurt not only allows those people’s stories to be recognized and mourned, it holds the perpetrators accountable for their actions. (Loc. 855-858)

Knowing that one’s story has been heard—that the ravages of injustice will not recur simply because they have been forgotten—brings comfort to the suffering. Having others care enough to learn your story, to hear about your pain, is a reminder that you are not alone, but are instead part of a larger family that loves enough to help each other through the mourning process. (Loc. 959-961)

Jesus showed that living in the Kingdom of God means welcoming those who face oppression and suffering—being close enough to learn their stories so we can empathize as they mourn. But as Jesus demonstrated, this might mean challenging cultural constraints and seeing things that those in power might not want us to notice. And it might mean finally listening to stories that reveal our own complicity in oppression and injustice. (Loc. 979-982)

Confession and repentance are necessarily difficult. But being in conversation with the oppressed, especially those we or our ancestors have had a role in oppressing, shouldn’t be avoided simply because it’s hard. Not if we claim to care about living in the way of the Kingdom of God. The difficult process of mourning is a prerequisite for receiving comfort. (Loc. 1035-1038)

As followers of Christ, we need to go out of our way to listen to the stories of the oppressed. But we also need to discover how our lifestyle choices contribute to oppression in the world today. We need to know the stories of the people who grow our food, sew our clothes, assemble our electronics, mine our coal, and wash our dishes. Are we contributing to their oppression or are we helping them be comforted? We need to know our country’s true history and be honest about how its success and economic strength has been built upon a long list of injustices. We need to be aware of how many of the benefits we take for granted today are often rooted in the slaughter of the Natives, the seizure of other’s lands, and the enslavement of Africans. We need to hear such truths not so that we can simply feel guilty or bad about ourselves, but so that the reconciliation and repentance that mark the Kingdom of God can flourish.

Hearing those stories is the first step in the mourning process. The next step involves repentance—a word that literally means to stop in our tracks, turn around, and choose a different way. [VIA: And I would add, to “return” to the original starting point or trajectory.] It means being brave enough to apologize. Humble enough to try to make amends. And loving enough to accept how difficult that path will be. Like Germany discovered after the Holocaust, there can never be enough apologies, but they still must occur if true mourning is to take place.

But it doesn’t stop there. Being with those who mourn changes us. It isn’t enough to just be aware of the problems and feel sorry about them, although that’s where those of us unused to mourning must begin. Entering into relationship can lead to true reconciliation. Those once involved in oppression come to know those they are hurting; and it is very difficult to continue harming a person while helping him to mourn his pain at the same time. We then become motivated to end our involvement in economic, political, and social injustice. But this will require us to sacrifice our need for control or to always be right; and instead respect those we are in relationship with enough to learn from them. In loving others enough to make their mourning, healing, and comfort possible, we miraculously discover the same blessing for ourselves. (Loc. 1051-1071)

The Kingdom of God is a place of mourning. Even if it means subverting the mandates of the powers that be, following the way of Jesus means that we never pretend all is well when all is obviously not well. Living into the Kingdom of God means allowing pain and suffering to be healed. It means committing to the hard path of mourning even if it is embarrassing or involves repentance and sacrifice. For as Jesus promised, and Katniss discovered, those who are able to mourn are blessed because the process of mourning brings its own comfort. (Loc. 1083-1087)

Chapter Three: The Meek: Supporting One Body, Many Districts

While in modern English we associate the term with weakness, the Greek term used in the Bible, praus, connotes strength under control. It implies a person’s ability to control their impulses and desires so as to love and serve others around them. The meek are gentle and kind not because others dominate them into submission, but because they choose to devote themselves to others. The meek don’t let others walk all over them, but they do often willingly give up something for the sake of someone else. Be that a desire for power, the need to be right, a sense of entitlement, or even one’s own security, the meek willingly lay aside such things for the benefit of the greater good. As others have described it, meekness is about “replacing the clenched fist of self-protection with an open hand of welcome and service.” [lii] (Loc. 1113-1119)

Instead of a means for clinging to power through the subjugation of others, being members of one body now levels the playing field. All parts of the body are necessary and are to be honored and treated with affection. (Loc. 1191-1193)

Lives of service and love don’t just emerge in the moment of crisis; we exhibit such things because we were formed in the way of service and love. Kind and caring people were taught to value such things and so therefore can more easily live in such ways. (Loc. 1315-1316)

Overly sheltering children from the harsh realities of the world has also kept them from developing the spiritual ability to love their neighbor. Ironically (or predictably, depending on your level of cynicism), The Hunger Games series has become one more thing parents are trying to protect their children from. In 2011, the American Library Association’s annual top 10 list of books most criticized in their communities placed The Hunger Games at number five. [lxvi] As a book about oppression and war, it is not surprising that parents complained about the violence in the books. Surprisingly, however, the challenges to the books came from middle and high schools. (Loc. 1347-1353)

…the assumption that teenagers should not be encouraged to think critically about real issues in the world is what I find most unsettling. Well-written fiction presents the reader with opportunities to make choices about the world and to interrogate his or her own society. Books are safe places to practice the art of being in relationship with others vastly different from oneself, to discover that we are all connected and therefore have obligations to one another. To care for and stand in solidarity with the suffering one must first be aware that violence and oppression exist in the world. It is hard to see oneself as part of a body if one is kept ignorant about the very existence of other body parts. (Loc. 1360-1365)

Sheltering teenagers from harsh realities does them a disservice not only by making them ill-prepared when they actually do encounter such things, but also by encouraging them to assume their own comfort and ease is far more important than the well-being of others. (Loc.1367-1369)

When life is all about me it is easy to become apathetic about the suffering of others. With this mindset it doesn’t matter if my consumer choices are contributing to workers being abused or exploited. It doesn’t matter if my daily habits harm the environment and contribute to the destruction of people’s homes. It doesn’t matter if people of a different skin color or gender are marginalized so long as I get ahead. Growing up without being required to think about the plight of others can create adults who have neither the means to understand how their choices affect other people, nor any reason to care. It produces adults who believe the world is there for the taking, and not the meek members of the body of Christ who are concerned with the health of the whole. (Loc. 1371-1376)

The world is full of violence and societal systems that treat human beings as tools to be used instead of people to be loved. One can respond with more violence, or one can choose to live as part of the body of Christ. (Loc. 1384-1385)

Using “safe” stories like The Hunger Games to help young people think through the full cost of the violence they will inevitably encounter and be forced to choose to participate in or not is part of healthy moral formation that shapes them into the sort of people they will be in the world. That is the power of a good story, it teaches us about ourselves and how to be better people living in community. (Loc. 1389-1392)

That is how and why the meek are blessed. They are blessed by that experience of true community. They don’t strive to make it their own, fearful that at any point they might lose a bit of their treasured position or possessions. Instead they live as but one humble part of the whole body, seeking to make a better world for all—making real the very Kingdom of God. (loc. 1427-1430)

Chapter Four: Those Who Hunger and Thirst for Righteousness: Loving Like the Boy with the Bread

The Hunger Games continue because some desires can never be satisfied. Hunger that allows some to live in luxury while others starve does not ultimately fulfill. The hunger that devours others—abusing, exploiting, and using them to meet the demands of one’s own self-serving appetite—is a hunger that is never filled. It demands more and more, tightening its oppressive grip to extract tribute from those with nothing left to give. (Loc. 1450-1453)

As the Catholic Worker Movement holds, we don’t live in a society where it is easy for people to be good. All of our culture’s incentives encourage us to live for ourselves, not the common good of all. This cultural condition is what prompted Catholic Worker founder Dorothy Day to write,

The greatest challenge of the day is: how to bring about a revolution of the heart. [lxxiv]

Our hearts need to be radically changed before righteousness can be the guiding factor in our lives. (Loc. 1533-1538)

But sadly even in our churches it can be rare to hear a call to live righteously in ways that put the needs of others before the demands of personal piety. All too often churches are just as consumer-driven and individualistic as the culture around them. Some believe that caring for the welfare of the community must be rejected out of hand as a distraction from the more important demands of personal holiness. In others, while lip service is paid to “loving your neighbor as yourself,” the focus typically tends to remain on the second part of that command—ways to love oneself more. Righteousness becomes less about living rightly in relation to God and others and is instead reduced to individual acts of personal piety, or worse, the never-ending consumption of religious goods and services—the latest devotional best-seller, the hottest new worship band, the next big Christian conference or event. Instead of building up the whole community, righteousness gets twisted into a mockery of itself where personal religiosity itself becomes a commodity to be hungered after and consumed. But that is not what Jesus said would bless and fill us. (Loc. 1541-1549)

Many Christians are so disgusted to be in “exile” amidst sinful cultural, economic, and political systems that they metaphorically hang up their harps while cursing and withdrawing from the system. Since the system is evil, they choose to wash their hands of it and refuse to get involved. Their own purity matters more than seeking shalom for all. (Loc. 1584-1586)

People still suffer whether we want to admit it or not. (Loc. 1652-1653)

It is impossible to be in right relation with other people if we refuse to let the truth about who they are and how they are suffering be told. To leave them alone to bear the emotional and physical costs of actions they engage in, often on our behalf, does not serve the Kingdom of God. (Loc. 1687-1689)

Chapter Five: The Merciful: Recognizing the Humanity of Others

The spirit of retribution insists they must pay, sometimes painfully, for what they have done. Mercy is the exact opposite. Mercy acknowledges that by the standards of the world there may not be a good reason not to shoot, but refuses to shoot anyway. (Loc. 1805-1807)

Our English word mercy derives from the Latin word merces meaning recompense. To show mercy is to erase the debt between two people, to forgive what is owed by acting as if recompense has already been paid. A merciful person therefore does not respond to an injury by insisting that whoever hurt them must pay for what they have done, but instead forgives the injury, essentially canceling any supposed debt that might have arisen. In a world where retribution is the norm, mercy is both rare and deeply unsettling for those who receive it. Nevertheless, Jesus called the merciful blessed. (Loc. 1810-1814) [VIA: To be merciful is to be the kind of human that is greater than the written law; that is, to transcend the dictum for the sake of human redemption.]

In this Kingdom, the covenant God made with Abraham that his people will receive blessings in order that they may be a blessing to others, is lived out even amidst those we label enemies. (loc. 2012-2013)

Mercy requires that we compassionately care for those everyone else is telling us to despise. (Loc. 2059)

Chapter Six: The Pure in Heart: Looking Past Artificial Exteriors

“Pure” in one sense can refer to the physical state of an object; gold and silver are purified to remove anything in them that is not gold or silver; clothing is washed to purify it from dirt. But the term is also used to describe one’s commitment to a cause. (Loc. 2098-2100)

Those whose hearts are intent after the ways of the Kingdom are blessed not simply because they will see God in heaven someday, but because they see where God is working in the world already and choose to join God there now. Being pure of heart is so much bigger than sexual purity or even being forgiven. God has not called us to simply accept a static state of being, but to embody the ways of the Kingdom of God in every moment of our lives. To be pure in heart is a dynamic vocation in which we direct all of our passions and desires after the ways of God. It is to love what God loves and care for those God cares for. It is to resist the ways of the world in favor of the ways of God. (Loc. 2107-2111)

The Hunger Games series repeatedly confronts us with this juxtaposition between façade and reality. (Loc. 2141-2142)

Sadly, like the glistening buildings Katniss encountered in the Capitol that were masking oppression, and like those in the religious sects of Jesus day that missed the mark of genuine purity, the church today often hides an impure heart behind the façade of proper or passionate worship. All too often Christians get so caught up in how best to live amidst our culture that we end up mistaking our forms of church for the function of church. (Loc. 2214-2217)

Their pure hearts and concern for others motivate Katniss, Finnick, and Haymitch to act in ways contrary to their nature. Throughout history oppressed peoples have done the same in order to survive and protect those they love. Women often choose to stay in abusive situations so they can protect their children. Children forced into debt slavery in places like India are told that their parents will be killed or severely beaten if they do not work hard enough to repay their predatory lenders. In both situations it is out of tremendous love and a desire to protect others that they take on the persona of the submissive and accommodating victim. In a similar manner, persons of color in the United States during the period of slavery and after often felt they had no choice but to accept the dominant culture’s lie that they must act inferior to people with white skin. To avoid beatings, lynchings, and arbitrary arrests, not just for themselves but for their family and their community, they often took on a subservient and deferential persona. Knowing what was good, true, and right in the world had to be masked behind an outward acceptance of oppression since they or their loved ones would be punished if they dared challenge the unjust actions of the powerful. To judge such compromises fails to see how those actions actually mask a pure heart. (Loc. 2307-2317)

As the saying goes, freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose. (Loc. 2325-2326)

An individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust, and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for law. [cxii]

Chapter Seven: The Peacemakers: Subverting the Games of Violence

Peacemakers do not withdraw from relationships with violent people or shy away from conflicts, but instead engage in the work of healing and restoring broken relationships. They live a life that seeks to undo injustices, relinquish revenge, and actively care for others. Those who choose this life can see the ways they have done violence to others and seek to make amends for their behavior. They see the situations where violence is usually the default approach and seek to find more creative and loving ways to deal with the situation. Choosing to be a peacemaker means not just abandoning the way of violence, but deliberately living a life that seeks justice and reconciliation. (Loc. 2420-2425)

Peacemakers are children of God because they embody the opposite of violence. By definition, violence involves actions or words that damage or abuse others. At the very core of the word is the term violate. To violate something is to desecrate or profane it; in other words, to disrespect the very nature of what that thing was intended to be. Violence toward others sends the message that the other person does not deserve respect, is not worthy of our compassion and love, and should not be treated as an image bearer of God. Peacemaking, as the very embodiment of the ways of God, can’t help but work to counter these dehumanizing effects of violence. But as Katniss discovered, even with good intentions at heart, it is hard to avoid getting caught up in cycles of violence. (Loc. 2427-2433)

The way of empire has always been to justify the escalation of the cycle of violence, as seen so tragically in the aftermath of 9/11. The Romans made an art of the kind of ‘scorched earth’ policy that ‘taught a lesson’ to people who would dare resist imperial authority. Jesus reverses this completely. [cxix]

Chapter Eight: The Persecuted: Finding One’s Voice in a Distracted World

Apparently, the translators were not struck by the oddity of someone being persecuted because he is righteous. My own reading of human affairs is that righteous people are either admired or ignored, not persecuted; people who pursue justice are the ones who get in trouble. [cxxxiv]

Jesus not only calls the persecuted blessed, he promises that those who live according to the Kingdom of God will be persecuted because they are living in culturally subversive ways. These days, however, many Christians (in the Western world especially) are so wedded to the exploitative, consumerist, and self-centered ways of culture they have become convinced that to resist these ways is itself a sinful act. Instead of calling corporations to stop oppressing and exploiting their workers, some Christians see their ability to indulge in the luxuries those businesses provide as proof of God’s blessing. (Loc. 2817-2821)

If this is going to be a Christian nation that doesn’t help the poor, either we have to pretend that Jesus is just as selfish as we are or we’ve got to acknowledge that he commanded us to love the poor and serve the needy without condition. And then admit that we just don’t want to do it. [cxxxvi]

…the ancient Romans knew, keeping the masses entertained also keeps them subdued. It’s a strategy any parent is familiar with. (Loc. 2864-2865)

Entertainment is not just a tool or something that drugs us into mindless apathy; it can shape our very imaginations and bring us joy. (Loc. 2912)

Living counter-culturally to the ways of the world does not mean abandoning pleasure and joy—or entertainment and good food for that matter. Not being distracted by bread and circuses does not mean rejecting them entirely; it just means learning to enjoy them the right ways despite pressure and persecution to do otherwise. The blessed in the Kingdom of God know how to live in right relation with others. They do not enjoy what hurts others, but seek for all to share in the joys and blessings of life as God intended. Yes, this may require some to end their over-indulgence or alter their buying habits to support fair practices so that everyone has enough and works under fair conditions. But when people love their neighbor, caring for them in these ways is the least they can do, no matter how the world tries to persuade or persecute them into only caring for themselves. (Loc. 2961-2967)

Conclusion: Dandelions in the Spring

Sometimes it’s hard to remember the good. In a world full of injustice, pain, oppression, and persecution it can be hard to find joy and continue to have hope that the dreams of God can be realized. Like Katniss, we must remind ourselves of where we have experienced those moments that affirm life. I find that stories like The Hunger Games provide me with some of those moments of hope. They remind me that although I will constantly stumble amidst hardship, and that I will never bring about a perfect world through my efforts alone, it is still worthwhile to hunger and thirst after righteousness. That however dismal the outlook may appear, it is still more blessed to live in the ways of God’s Kingdom. That Katniss struggles and suffers and has to remind herself to remember the good helps me know that I am not alone. As Sam said to Frodo in the film version of The Lord of the Rings, these stories mean something because they remind us to hold on to the truth that “there’s some good in the world . . . and it’s worth fighting for.” [cli] (Loc. 3113-3121)

And though she took a few detours in getting there, Katniss finally realizes that the trust and joy that love affirms are the building blocks to a better world. It is difficult, and love always involves the risk of suffering, but like the dandelion ushering in the spring, it is where one finds hope. (Loc. 3140-3142)

Recommended for Further Reading

Walter Brueggemann, Out of Babylon, Abingdon, 2010.

Julie Clawson, Everyday Justice: The Global Impact of Our Daily Choices, InterVarsity Press, 2009.

Richard A. Horsley, Jesus and Empire: The Kingdom of God and the New World Disorder, Fortress Press, 2002.

Wes Howard-Brook, Come Out My People!: God’s Call Out of Empire in the Bible and Beyond, Orbis Books, 2010.

Brian McLaren, Everything Must Change: When the World’s Biggest Problems and Jesus’ Good News Collide, Thomas Nelson, 2009.

Joerg Rieger, Christ & Empire: From Paul to Postcolonial Times, Augsburg Fortress, 2007.

Desmond Tutu, No Future Without Forgiveness, Image, 2000.

Brian Walsh and Sylvia Keesmaat, Colossians Remixed: Subverting the Empire, InterVarsity Press, 2004.


[i] Claire Bradford and Kerry Mallan, New World Orders in Contemporary Children’s Literature (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008), 29.

[vii] See N.T. Wright, The New Testament and the People of God (1992) and Richard Horsley (Ed.) In the Shadow of Empire (2008).

[lii] Brian Walsh and Sylvia Keesmaat, Colossians Remixed (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2004), 175.

[lxvi] “Frequently challenged books of the 21st century,” American Library Association,

[lxxiv] Dorothy Day, Loaves and Fishes (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 2007), 215.

[cxii] Martin Luther King Jr., “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,”

[cxix] Wes Howard-Brook, Come Out My People!: God’s Call Out of Empire and Beyond (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 2010), 414.

[cxxxiv] Nicholas Wolterstorff, Justice: Rights and Wrongs (Princeton: NJ: Princeton University Press, 2008), 111.

[cxxxvi] “Jesus is a Liberal Democrat,” The Colbert Report, December 16, 2010,

[cli] The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, Directed by Peter Jackson (2002: New Line Cinema).

— VIA —

Clawson offers a brilliant treatment of the Christ / Culture conversation through these popular books. Considering most of the “Christian literature” out there offers only polarized or compromised ethics on the “culture wars,” I recommend Clawson’s book highly, not only for its form and content, but also its ethic and engagement. Clawson neither demonizes nor sanctifies the Hunger Games books, and avoids the whole “sacred or secular” argument, a perspective that is rare but needs attentive appreciation.

There are areas of historical criticism that I would like to address with a few questions.

Is 21st-century American Culture truly equal to first-century Roman Imperialism? While Keesmaat & Walsh, Wright, and others suggest that the parallels are eerily similar, I think there’s much to be cautious of in drawing these correlations. Elements of similarity in disparity, wealth, and societal constructs are drawn in equal force to the practices, forms, and governance in both societies. But is this really accurate? Case in point, there are huge differences between those in power & wealth and those in subservience and poverty. However, Roman Imperialism offered these options of position and power to aristocrats and dignitaries through means of nepotism, bribery, and violence as standard and public practice. While these may exist in American culture, there are distinct ethics and laws that prevent such means a priori  of operating in our capitalist and democratic society. Also, while there are taxes in both, taxes in the Roman Empire were equated to “tribute” and “honoring” of the Emperor himself (cf. first-century numismatics) and was deeply imbued with absolute power and deified autonomy, authority, and sovereignty. Taxes in American culture are, a) far less in percentages, b) nowhere near the “tribute” of Roman Imperialism, and c) ideally and fundamentally providing solutions and civic entities that support society as a whole such as police, fire, roads, education, etc. Now, while there is much criticism — especially in the current political climate — the freedoms that citizens enjoy in order to debate, argue, and even lambast and smear opponents is evidence that we live in a fundamentally different culture from Rome. Participate in any criticism of the Roman State, and you end up on a cross.

The above inquisition does nothing, however, to the narrative illumination that the Hunger Games and Clawson’s insights provide in compelling the reader to enter into the real world of pain, suffering, and injustice. Thinking of the Hunger Games, not just as a best-selling fiction novel, but also as a creative parable and subversively prophetic calling to those of us who may actually be more of the “Capitol” than of the “Districts,” makes Clawson’s read very well worth it for Christians and non-Christians alike. Clawson’s integration of the Biblical stories and teachings is also well done as she provides a refreshing interpretation of well-known passages.

About VIA


  1. Great review.

    I was not aware of any connection between the Gospels and The Hunger Games. I never saw the movie but, when I get a new job, I will want to buy the DVD.

  2. Pingback: The Hunger Games | Review & Reflections « vialogue

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