Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Hunger Games and atonement theology: a short film reflection

This post has been further developed into a 500 word film review for Touchstone magazine here.

Hunger Games is a deeply disturbing movie. The movie is set in a future in which each year, 24 children are selected to fight in a televised death match. Roman Gladiatorial style human-tertainment is repulsive enough applied to adults, but to conceive of it for children takes a particular chilling imagination.

To live in a society in which children are sacrificed annually for the sake of peace beggars belief. That said, it should make worthwhile discussion for those who hold to a Christian faith, have just journeyed through Easter and believe in the sole primacy of substitutionary atonement – Jesus dying as a substitute for others.

The Hunger Games is built on substitution, the willingness for some to die for the peace of all. Is this really the best, the only way, that God could conceive to deal with human rebellion?

What is interesting is how the actions of the heroine, Katniss Everdeen, offer other ways to frame atonement, in particular the scene in which Katniss buries her friend, Rue Roo.

(Substitution is only one of four better known understandings of the cross held through church history; the other three being Christus Victor, satisfaction and Abelard’s moral theory of atonement).

The flowers laid so lovingly on the chest of Roo began a moment that sparked a riot among those watching. Grief stricken, they protest against the powers and forces that oppress them. In Katniss, we see a desire to live differently, a questioning of the values that shape her world, a willingness, even unto death, to seek another world of possibility. Her act, the laying of the flowers, spark a communal desire for freedom.

On Easter Sunday, I was part of a church service in which the cross was flowered. Flowers laid lovingly (yes on an empty cross, not an dead body). This is the possibility buried (pun intended) in Easter, a questioning of the values that shape our world, a willingness, even unto death, to live differently, to work toward another world of possibility.

All of which refuses to be futuristic sci-fi. On the way home one of Team Taylor wondered if the way our planet today treats the poor in Africa is much different from The Hunger Games. You could sense the ache – that in our generation, justice and equality will be made concrete. May the flowers she, and so many others, laid on the cross this Easter, spark a very different sort of atonement, a renewed willingness to make plain “God’s Kingdom come, God’s will be done on earth, as in heaven.”

Further posts on film and atonement:
– Never let me go: atonement theology at its best and worst here
– Inception: dreaming of atonement here
– Harry Potter as a Christ figure here.
– Holy week atonement theologies here.
– Atonement theologies: a short summary here.
– Edmund Hillary and atonement here.
– and a sermon I preached on atonement, referencing Whale Rider and Edmund Hillary, made it into this book (Proclaiming the Scandal of the Cross: Contemporary Images of the Atonement), a really practical resource, filled with atonement sermons, none of which are substitutionary in tone. Me alongside CS Lewis, Richard Hays and Brian McLaren! 🙂

Posted by steve at 09:40 AM