Fr. Robert Barron, producer of last year’s much-touted Catholicism series, offers some thoughts on the popularity of the Hunger Games over at the Corner. His reflections won’t, perhaps, be terribly novel to those with a solid religious background, but as that represents a shrinking demographic in our country, he says, we shouldn’t be surprised to see pop culture begin investigating or dabbling with the allure of human sacrifice:
The really interesting question is this: Why has this motif of the sacrificial victim played such a large role in the human imagination for so long? Why do we keep acting out this scenario, both in reality and in our literature? The contemporary literary theorist Rene Girard has speculated that practically every human community is grounded in what he calls “the scapegoating mechanism.” [. . .]
He found that Christianity was the one religion, philosophy, or ideology that both unmasked this scapegoat mechanism and showed a way out. For at the heart of Christian revelation is God’s utter identification, not with the perpetrators of violence, but with the scapegoated victim. The crucified Jesus is hence the undermining of the dynamic that has undergirded most civilizations and that continues to beguile the human imagination to this day. [. . .]
Human sacrifice flourished in the midst of some of the most sophisticated and intellectually advanced civilizations in history. It is demonstrably the case, and not just a matter of speculation, that what brought it to an end in both the Roman and Aztec contexts was nothing other than the influence of Christianity, the religion centered on a crucified Lord.
What haunted me as I watched The Hunger Games was that the instinct for human sacrifice is never far from the surface and that it could easily exist alongside of tremendous cultural and technological sophistication.
Alarmism isn’t quite the right response here since, as he notes, not only does the film’s plot move in a direction which eventually calls into question the macabre ritual, but the source of the contemporary American public’s interest in the movie may well be “due to our at least implicitly Christian formation.” In other words, we want to see this non-redemptive sacrifice, get our money’s worth for a good half-hour of death without the Cross–and then reject it, reawakening both our disgust and our higher sense of compassion alongside the story’s main characters. Is this a voyeuristic arrangement on the public’s part? Maybe. But perhaps we should be thankful it’s not an endorsement.