Last Sunday we had a special guest speaker at our church, Calvary Chapel Boise. Dr. Clark Peddicord teaches Philosophy and Theology in Berlin, Germany, where he lives and works with his wife Ann in an intentional spiritual community based in the southwest center of the city. The project is called “Philosophia Europa.” He was visiting Boise, ID and gave his views on the book series and movie called The Hunger Games. Below are my notes from his message. (Note: I have not read the books or yet seen the movie; the words here and opinions expressed are those of Dr. Peddicord. Also, this message gives away the plot, so consider this your spoiler alert!)
The Hunger Games shows us three main things:
1) It shows us that basic humanity is in danger. We as a culture, according to author Suzanne Collins and this story, are disconnected from life. We are devaluing human beings. We are rushing towards “reality TV.” Reality TV disconnects us from life. We watch intimate details of another person’s life, yet we are removed from that person. Suzanne Collins warns us that we are desensitizing ourselves. What is the difference, she asks, between reality TV and the evening news? It is important to ask ourselves: Are we changing as a society, as a culture, towards becoming more brutalized, and immune to human sensitivity and humanness?
2) It teaches us that life has immense value. Katniss says, “Prim, my sister, and Rue, my friend, aren’t they the very reason I have to fight? Because what’s been done to them is so wrong, so beyond justification, and so evil, that there is no choice. Because no one has the right to treat another human being like that.” This is not a happy story with a happy ending. This is a movie that makes you stop and think. There is one central scene in the movie. The scene is a conversation on the roof of the training center before the games begin between Katniss and Peeta, who for years has been secretly been in love with Katniss. They are talking and he says to her, “I won’t let them change me into something I am not. I want to show them that they won’t own me. If I’m going to die, I want to still be me.” Katniss remembers this conversation and what Peeta says at the moment of her friend Rue’s death. She thinks about his words and she says, “I remember Peeta’s words on the roof. Only I keep wishing I could find a way to show the Capitol that they don’t own me. That I am more than just a piece from their games. And for the first time I understand what he means. I want to do something right here, right now, to shame them. To make them accountable, to show the Capitol that whatever they do or force us to do, that there is a part of every Tribute they can’t own. The Rue is more than a piece in their games, and so am I.” Then she goes into the field and gathers flowers. She takes these flowers and covers Rue’s body with them.
Humans beings are of immense value. Humans beings have always honored the dead. Our ancestors have always done something special for human beings when they died. There seems to be a sense that the death of a human being is something special. It’s not simply because this is the death of another person of my species, but because there is some inherent worth and dignity in each person. We mark graves so we can remember people. The philosopher Roger Scrutin once said:
“Every now and then, we’re jolted out of our complacency. And we feel ourselves to be in the presence of something vastly more significant than our present interests or desires. We sense the reality of something more precious and mysterious that reaches out to us with a claim that is somehow not of this world. This happens in the presence of death, especially the death of someone loved. We look in awe at the human body for which life has fled. It is no longer a person, but the mortal remains of a person. This thought fills us with a sense of the uncanny. We are reluctant sometimes to touch the dead body. We see it somehow not properly part of our world, almost a visitor from another sphere. This experience, as a paradigm for our encounter with the sacred, demands from us some kind of spiritual recognition with the sacred. ”
Katniss recognizes that and gives that honor to Rue because human life is worth something.
3) It recognizes that we, as a species–as human beings–are deeply flawed. In book three, District 13 begins to resemble the Capitol in the way it is thinking and acting. The rebels and the Capitol get all mixed up. They begin to resemble one another. And in the final struggle, Katniss’ friend Gale finds himself strategizing with a scientist about how they can design battle strategies against the Capitol reminiscent of terrorist acts. Katniss calls them out on it. She says, “I guess there isn’t a rulebook for what might not be acceptable to do to other human beings, is there?” That’s a real sharp, edgy question! The Hunger Games points out that there is something really deeply flawed in us as human beings. Our experiences ultimately lead Katniss to to the conclusion that we as human beings are fatally flawed. And she says towards the end of the book Mockingjay something mind-boggling: “I no longer feel any allegiance to these monsters called human beings. I despise being one myself. I think Peeta was on to something about us destroying one another and letting some decent species take over because something is significantly wrong with a creature that sacrifices its children’s lives in order to settle its differences.” She is 100 percent right. There is something deeply flawed in all of us.
I salute The Hunger Games and Suzanne Collins for the insight it shows us and the questions it raises. But I have to point out that I think there is a problem with The Hunger Games. That is the value of human life throughout the story–what is the basis for it? What is the foundation for the value of human life? Why is Katniss’ sacrifice for her sister noble and good, and not just an idiotic thing to do (throw away your own life)? Why is Peeta’s unselfish love for Katniss and his good, basic humanness praiseworthy and not the mark of someone as an idealist or an illusion?
Stay tuned tomorrow for Dr. Peddicord’s biblical and spiritual approach to answering these questions!