The Hunger Games back in May or June 2010. As a long-time aficionado of dystopian fiction, I was intrigued by the book’s underlying premise (a totalitarian state forces children to fight each other to the death as a means of maintaining control over the country) and obtained my copy from Amazon. To be honest, when the book came, I was disappointed to note that it was clearly aimed at Young Adults. But the story description still interested me and I began reading. The Hunger Games started slowly, but quickly gathered pace – and soon, I was hooked. Moreover, by the time I reached the part where Katniss Everdeen and Rue had made an alliance and watched the Capitol’s seal floating in the sky, announcing the day’s deaths, I was convinced that this wasn’t just a ripping yarn; it was something special, something to rival the masterpieces that are Brave New World and 1984. Needless to say, I read Catching Fire as soon as I’d finished The Hunger Games and pre-ordered Mockingjay. Without a doubt, I’d say The Hunger Games is the best series of dystopian fiction I’ve ever read, and I only hope the film adaptations – the first of which is due out next week – do the books justice.
Generally speaking, The Hunger Games trilogy includes many of the elements that mark out a piece of fiction as ‘dystopian’. As noted already, there’s a totalitarian government. The majority of the people are oppressed. There’s an especially nasty way of keeping people in line (here, the actual Hunger Games themselves). I needn’t go on; you get my point. But like most other dystopias, in the world of The Hunger Games, there’s also no mention of God, no mention of Christianity, no mention of religion; any place for the divine or the transcendent is occupied by the nefarious President Snow and the political structures by which he governs. The nation of Panem – formerly the United States of America – is arguably the atheist state come to fruition.
Why do dystopias tend to exclude God? On the assumption that any work of speculative fiction is in fact a comment on today’s fears about tomorrow’s realities, I suggest that dystopias testify to our fears, however unstated, about the possibility that, one day, society will reject God entirely; that God will abandon us to our own devices; that the future is not providentially ordered (however one conceives that ordering). The world will face its end without an accompanying modernistic notion of progress or a religious guarantee of eschatological fulfilment.
And that’s why in dystopias, there’s usually an individual or a group of like-minded individuals who take definitive action against the ruling body. In The Hunger Games, it’s Katniss Everdeen, who becomes the symbol of rebellion in Panem, rallying the people in the outlying districts to full-blow insurgency. But these individuals take action because there is no-one to fight on their behalf. Dystopian rebellion is the voice of lament in a world without God. There are many Christs, but no resurrection.
What am I trying to say here? Well, if dystopias do constitute comment on today’s fears; and if dystopias are narratives without hope, or narratives where the only hope comes from human decision and action; then it’s a fair bet to say that there’s a creeping fear, culturally speaking, that we are truly alone, that God’s apparent silence is equal to God’s absence, God’s impotence, even God’s non-existence, such that we need to assert our own control over future possibilities now in order to prevent societal dissolution. Dystopias are prophecies of doom.
But this is where the Church comes in, because it alone, as the body of Christ, can testify to the ongoing presence of God in this world and point to the eschatological future that awaits it. This does not mean that all is well. There is need for lament now, and there’ll be need for lament in the future; but lament is not and cannot be the final word, for the presence of Jesus in the Church, and the presence of the Church in the world, shows us all that God has not abandoned us. There can be no true dystopia when God promises to become all in all.
About Providence, Divine Action and the Church
In this blog, Terry J. Wright posts thoughts and shares research on the Christian doctrine of providence. This doctrine testifies to God’s provision for all things through creation’s high priest, the man Christ Jesus. However, the precise meaning and manner of this provision is a perpetually open question, and this blog is a forum for discussion of the many issues relating to providence and the place of the Church within God’s action.