The Hunger Games trilogy is set in the nation of Panem, home to a dystopian society that exists in a post-America and “post-God” world.
Panem largely occupies what was formally North America. Its residents live in “The Capitol” and thirteen other geographically distinct districts. The elite and wealthy of the nation live in the Capitol alongside the leaders of Panem’s dictatorial government. The districts are governed by this regime and face constant oppression as they fulfill what the Capitol sees as their sole purpose for the nation — the production of goods and services for the people of the Capitol. In most of the districts the people are poor, dependent on welfare from the government, and live in fear of what may happen if they step out of line.
The Hunger Games are an annual event that the Capitol established for the purposes of keeping the districts in line and providing the citizens of the Capitol entertainment. The Hunger Games Wiki (yes, the trilogy has its own dedicated wiki community) sums up the games well when it states that the games are an event “in which twenty-four children between the ages of twelve and eighteen, one boy and one girl from each district, are chosen from a lottery and entered into a gladitorial competition where they must fight each other to the death until only one remains standing.”
The games are brutal and savage. They put on display the gross manifestations of the sin and desire for survival that lies deep within the contestants. The games also display ways the oppressive government sins against the contestants and the districts. And if all of this weren’t bad enough, the people in the Capitol love watching every minute of the games, capitalizing on the contestants who become celebrities, and talking about them wherever they go.
This background material helps one understand why the author, Suzanne Collins, named the nation Panem. According to The Hunger Games Wiki, the name “derives from the Latin phrase panem et circenses, which literally translates into ‘bread and circuses’. The phrase itself is ‘used to describe entertainment used to distract public attention from more important matters.'”
The idea of distraction and the nation of Panem fit well together. The Hunger Games distract the people of the Capitol from realizing the ways that they oppress the people of the districts. The Hunger Games distract the people of the districts from realizing that they have great power even in the midst of the oppressive system that they are under. And everyone in the nation is distracted from asking big questions about the government or why their world is organized the way it is.
The questions that the series raises about oppressive governments, love beyond boundaries, the effects of war, self-sacrifice, the brutality that people can inflict upon others, dedication, and hopelessness are all relevant for us today.
Yet, readers may notice that in the midst of these “ultimate questions” there is no form of religion or concept of God among the people of Panem.
This fact is what led the professor of one of my preaching classes, Dr. Joy Moore, to assign our class the first book of the trilogy. Dr. Moore pointed out to us that a “post-God” and “post-Christian” world is one that we as preachers may soon inhabit. As religious concepts and the story of God’s redemption of the world in Jesus Christ fade in importance throughout society, the preacher will have to be ready to tell the story in new ways.
In order to help us begin practicing living and preaching in such a world, Dr. Moore assigned us the task of preaching a sermon to the people who reside in the Capitol city of Panem based on the first book in the trilogy, The Hunger Games. Dr. Moore asked us to look for echoes of the Christian story and glimpses of ways God might be working in the post-America and post-God world of Panem that is narrated in the book. We were then asked to faithfully preach the Christian story, the Gospel, to this “congregation” who has no conception of God.
Below are three sermons from my class. We each took a different creative approach.
I envisioned preaching my sermon, which is audio only, to a group of Capitol citizens I encountered on the Capitol’s busy streets. Here is the audio:
Pete Brazier, a visiting student from the Methodist Church in Britain, produced a short sermon that he envisioned would be given to small groups of Capitol citizens and perhaps also be broadcasted over the airwaves.
Andrew Ruth’s sermon assumed that any challenge to the Capitol’s reign would warrant immediate death. He produced a 5 minute video to quickly convey his message.
Andrew aptly introduced his video by stating:
I don’t think that my single sermon can include neither all the nuances of Christian faith nor the particularities of every Bible story. These will require conversations and community to gain intelligibility (cf. Kallenberg).
Thus, I am pretending that there exists an underground Christian community. I assume that I am a product of this community, and their faithful, though clandestine witness to the Triune God. This underground movement retains copies of the Bible in languages they comprehend. As I imagine myself in this community, I assume that at one point I was a full participant in the culture and life of the Capital City. I altered my appearance and filled my existence with entertainment. The physical alterations I made to my body via cosmetic tattoos still remain, while I have slowly relinquished other practices I once held.
We as a community have decided after much prayer and fasting that the Lord is calling us to announce our existence, even if it means inviting persecution. To do so, I will hack into the national television feed during the middle of the Hunger Games, and as quickly as possible share the content of the Christian faith. We pray that the Holy Spirit falls, like at Pentecost, and that through this sermon and the subsequent conversations instigated by the Underground. Pray with us.
Best of all, it pushed us to see anew that God’s redeeming activity pops up in our everyday lives. We asked: Can we recognize it? Can we communicate it?
Have you read The Hunger Games? If so, what were your thoughts on the book and how it could connect to Christianity?