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The words “hate,” “bigotry” and “intolerance” are mis- and over-used. But that makes it more important that we speak out against the real thing when it’s there.
I’m so glad that he spoke out.
But let me also hasten to add that we shouldn’t leave it to the President to remind us of the need to condemn hate and evil – that’s the job of the Church.
The past few months have witnessed, to borrow from Yeats’ poem, “The Second Coming,” a “rough beast” slouching to be born. That “rough beast” is open, and sometimes violent, expressions of bigotry and intolerance.
Now Christians have ample reasons to be wary of those words “bigotry” and “intolerance,” since we’re often unjustly accused of both. But to use the medieval Latin phrase, “abusus non tollit usum,” the misuse of something does not negate its proper use. There are such things as bigotry and intolerance.
Some of it, such as Texas high school students taunting their Hispanic opponents at a basketball game with chants of “build that wall!” are easy to rationalize as youthful hi-jinks, until you put yourself, as Jesus commands us to, in the shoes of the kids being taunted.
Other examples, such as the killing of an Indian-born engineer, and the wounding of two other people by a man who had earlier yelled “get out of my country!” are impossible to ignore. The fact that the man may been under the influence of alcohol when he pulled the trigger does not make the crime less troubling.
While alcohol lowers inhibitions, it doesn’t create the impulses being inhibited in the first place. To quote another Latin phrase, “in vino veritas,” or wine brings out the truth.
Likewise, the vandalizing of Jewish cemeteries in St. Louis, Philadelphia, and Rochester, New York, along with bomb threats against 120 Jewish Community Centers across the country is nothing less than alarming.
And it’s not just Jewish Community Centers. In the past two months, four mosques have been deliberately set on fire.
The good news is that, amidst all this hate, we have seen examples of grace: Two American Muslims raised over $140,000 to repair the damage done to Jewish cemeteries, and Muslim veterans have vowed to protect Jewish cemeteries. As one veteran tweeted, “If your synagogue or Jewish cemetery needs someone to stand guard, count me in. Islam requires it.”
Strictly speaking, while I am thankful for his words, I am not sure that it does. But there is no questions about Christianity. As Paul says in Acts 17, God determines when and where we live. And as Esther so courageously demonstrated in difficult times, silence is not an option.
August 14, 2016 in America, Current Events | Tags: 2016 Election, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, America, breakpoint.org, donald trump, Dr. Ed Stetzer, God's judgement, hillary clinton, john stonestreet, roberto rivera | Leave a comment
I suppose you’ve noticed all the gallows humor going on regarding the presidential election. And for good reason.
So, have you heard this one? Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are stranded at sea on a life boat. Who survives? Ha! America does!
Ok, now that I’ve offended everyone: What a bizarre election year this has been. As my BreakPoint this Week co-host Ed Stetzer has said quite a few times, “When political historians look back on the early 21st century, the phrase we’ll hear the most is, ‘except for 2016’.”
Now, despite the dire warnings from both candidates about the consequences of electing their opponent, the most important thing about this election is not who becomes president. The most important thing about this election is what it reveals about us as a society.
Nearly 40 years ago, in a famous speech at Harvard University, the great Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn said: “There are meaningful warnings which history gives a threatened or perishing society. Such are, for instance, the decadence of art, or a lack of great statesmen.”
Talk about prophetic!
Folks, I might as well just say it: I am convinced that this election is an indication that God is judging America.
Now claiming to know God’s mind both for what and with what He is bringing judgment is theologically indefensible and only makes us look silly. (You may recall a few notable Christians who stuck their foot in their mouths after 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina). And yet, as Stephen Keillor argued in his book “God’s Judgments,” it is also theologically indefensible to not acknowledge God’s working in history, including through acts of judgment.
And in this case, I am ready to say, God is judging our country. Why? As my colleague Roberto Rivera often says, “The five scariest words in the Bible are, ‘…and God gave them over’.”
The most common way God judges is with the natural consequences of our choices and behavior. This is especially true in politics, which is mostly downstream from – and a reflection of – the broader culture. In other words, especially in our country, we tend to get the leaders we deserve. Which is why this November we should cast our vote with fear, trembling, weeping, praying for mercy, and maybe even while wearing sackcloth and ashes.
Whenever I think of stepping into the voting booth on November 8, I somewhat melodramatically think of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Christmas letter: “One may ask,” he wrote, “whether there have ever before in human history been people . . . to whom every available alternative seemed equally intolerable, repugnant, and futile…”
Look, I realize that many of my brothers and sisters in Christ have found a level of clarity about the upcoming presidential vote that I have not–perhaps out of resignation or from some political calculations. Perhaps I will too, but until then, I hope there are some things on which we Christians can agree.
First, our deepest problems aren’t political ones, and the state is not able to address them. Looking to the state for hope is always misguided, but every four years we seem to fall for it.
Second, although the presidential race is the only one being talked about, the most important political decisions we will make this year, I’m convinced, will be the local ones. The only thing to mitigate the chaos created by an ever-encroaching federal government convinced of its own indispensability is a stronger local, civil society.
Third, as Eric said recently on BreakPoint, the Church must be the Church. Look, the Church is not reliant one bit on the state to do the life-giving, Gospel-proclaiming, brokenness-restoring work God has called it to do. The Church is the most effective institution of social change, period.
June 23, 2016 in America, Culture, Eric Metaxas | Tags: 9/11, anderson cooper, breakpoint.org, chick-fil-a, CNN, daily beast, eric metaxas, florida, isis, Islamic radicalism, LGBT community, Lutheran Church Charities, media, mollie hemingway, Omar Mateen, orlando shooting, pam bondi, terrorism, The Federalist | Leave a comment
Two Sundays ago, an ISIS-inspired terrorist killed forty-nine people at a gay night club in Orlando. Yet just three days after the attack, the New York Times editorial board laid the blame for Omar Mateen’s self-professed act of Islamic terrorism squarely at the feet of…believers in traditional marriage. I’m not kidding.
For those confused about how Christians and social conservatives are responsible for a radical jihadist’s actions, the Times helpfully explains: Our “corrosive politics,” they write, paved the way for this monstrosity. And by “corrosive politics,” they make it clear they mean defense of the natural family and created differences between the sexes. The Daily Beast followed up, accusing conservatives who are mourning the tragedy of “exploiting the LGBT community.” Evidently if your politics don’t line up with the goals of the sexual left, you’re not allowed to shed tears for the victims of terrorism.
But by far the most disturbing response, at least to me, came from CNN’s Anderson Cooper, who decided to publicly shame Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi during a live interview. While Bondi tried to explain what Florida is doing to help the victims and their families, Cooper raked her over the coals about her opposition to same-sex “marriage.”
In fact, he all but called her a hypocrite for defending the Florida constitution which—at the time—defined marriage as the union of man and woman. An attorney general’s job, of course, is to uphold and defend her state’s constitution. But Anderson Cooper did not seem to care.
As Mollie Hemingway remarked at The Federalist, apparently Cooper and CNN cannot fathom how anyone could oppose gay “marriage” and also grieve the murder of fifty fellow human beings. The implication by the media is clear: If you haven’t been on board with the LGBT political program, you’re partially responsible for what happened in Orlando.
Let me just tell you my first reaction to this: I was angry—very angry. I wanted to get on the air and scream from the rooftops how absurd, immoral, and unfair this kind of equivalence is. A self-proclaimed ISIS devotee committed the worst mass murder in this country since 9/11, and the media can think of no one to blame but conservatives and Christians!
Now that I’ve had some time to compose myself, I think it’s important we don’t respond with anger. In fact, my BreakPoint colleagues and I debated whether we even should dignify this foolishness with a response. And we decided to do so for a couple of reasons.
First, although we can expect to see more abuse of Christians in the news, we cannot let this become the new normal. Not in America. And we should respond by defying the caricatures—just like the Orlando Chick-fil-A managers did when they opened their stores on a Sunday to feed blood donors. And then there’s Lutheran Church Charities, which sent comfort dogs to help mourners in Orlando.
In early May, Brussels Airport finally re-opened after being closed for nearly six weeks, following the March terrorist attack that killed sixteen people.
While it will not be back at full capacity until mid-June, the Belgian government sees the re-opening as part of their effort to regain some sense of normalcy after the attacks.
Another part of their efforts is figuring out how to deal with its restive and disgruntled Muslim minority, especially in places like the now-infamous Brussels suburb of Molenbeek. This tiny municipality, measuring less than 2.5 square miles, not only produced the March 22nd attackers, it’s also the reason Belgium produces proportionately more ISIS fighters than any other European country.
In recent remarks before the European Parliament, Koen Geens, Belgium’s Minister of Justice, told parliamentarians that “In Europe, very shortly we’re going to have more practicing Muslims than practicing Christians . . . That is not because there are too many Muslims, it is because Christians are generally less practicing.”
Not surprisingly, people, and not just Muslims, took offense at his comments. Belgium’s Interior Minister said that Geens was “making an enemy of Islam” and insisted that “the overwhelming majority of [Belgian Muslims] share our values.”
Lost in the furor over Geen’s comments was the fact that he was talking primarily about secularism and the decline of Christian practice, and values.
Also lost in this conversation over Belgium’s future, Islam and its jettisoned Christian heritage, is that the nation has turned euthanasia into a fundamental right. As PBS put it, and everyone already knows, Belgium has “the world’s most liberal euthanasia laws.” Physician-assisted suicide there isn’t limited to the terminally-ill – people with psychiatric illnesses or even children can also be euthanized.
As a member of Belgium’s Euthanasia Control and Evaluation Commission told PBS, at the heart of the law is “a respect to individual autonomy.” Thus rather than being limited to the terminally ill, the dark practice is available to anyone who sees his or her condition as “hopeless.”
And that includes, as we’ve previously told BreakPoint listeners, children as young as twelve. All that’s needed is the approval of two doctors, three in the case of psychiatric patients.
By all accounts, Belgium’s law, which goes against everything Christianity teaches about the sanctity and dignity of human life, enjoys wide support. While Geens’ party, the Christian Democrats, has opposed Belgium’s euthanasia regime, their view is a minority one.
June 10, 2015 in Current Events | Tags: 1978, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, breakpoint.org, charles colson, college commencement speakers, harvard university, john stonestreet, political correctness, truth, what is truth | Leave a comment
In 1978, at Harvard, America heard from a prophetic voice. His comments have proven true and are worth revisiting.
Few college commencement speakers these days dare challenge our culture’s rampant political correctness and secularism.
But a generation ago, on June 8, 1978, the renowned Soviet dissident Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn gave a stunning address at Harvard University that not only made those assembled there uncomfortable; it provoked many to boo.
Why would the audience boo this moral giant, who had stared down a brutal communist dictatorship’s Gulags and won the Nobel Prize in literature? Because people expected him to celebrate the West and condemn communism, but he came over and condemned communism and the West. Not only this, but Solzhenitsyn had the gall to speak of something reviled at the time by the elites on both sides of the Atlantic: truth.
“[T]ruth,” Solzhenitsyn said at the start, “eludes us if we do not concentrate our attention totally on its pursuit. But even while it eludes us, the illusion of knowing it still lingers and leads to many misunderstandings. Also, truth seldom is pleasant; it is almost invariably bitter.”
In a classic analysis of our prevailing worldview, Solzhenitsyn said the West had exchanged belief in unchanging truth for a relentless legalism. The most tragic and significant result, he said, was the absence of “civil courage.” And he pointed to three lines of evidence: First, “destructive and irresponsible freedom had been granted boundless space.”
How a culture understands freedom – whether to virtue or for immediate gratification – determines its stability. As Os Guinness wrote in his recent book “A Free People’s Suicide,” the greatest enemy of freedom, ironically, is freedom. I would tweak that a bit—the greatest enemy of freedom is poorly defined freedom, what Chuck Colson called freedom without virtue.
Second, Solzhenitsyn pointed to the decadence of art and a lack of great statesmen. That line makes me think of the Rothko painting called “Untitled, (Yellow and Blue),” which basically is a blue stripe on a yellow background. That’s it… and it just sold at a New York auction for $46.5 million.
And the lack of great statesmen? While there are certainly many courageous individuals worthy of our respect, consider how our society has defined greatness down. This is evidenced by the fact that the Arthur Ashe Courage Award by ESPN, once awarded to Nelson Mandela, will this year be awarded to Bruce Jenner – not for his Olympic feats but for his announcement that he was a woman, a year after they awarded it to Michael Sam for announcing his sexual orientation.
May 27, 2015 in America | Tags: America, breakpoint.org, christians, fewer Christians, john stonestreet, mark twain, pew report, Pew Research, religion in the United States, russell moore | Leave a comment
What do we make of news reports on the recent Pew report on religion in the United States? Well, to paraphrase Mark Twain, “Lies, darned lies, and statistics.”
The headline of the New York Times was “Big Drop in Share of Americans Calling Themselves Christian.” It was a story reporting on a recent survey by the Pew Research Center.
According to the survey, “The Christian share of the U.S. population is declining, while the number of U.S. adults who do not identify with an organized religion is growing.” More specifically, seventy-one percent of Americans identify themselves as Christians, down from 79 percent in 2007.
The biggest increase and the subject of much of the media coverage was the religiously-unaffiliated, or the “nones” as they are sometimes called. They went from 16 percent of those surveyed in 2007 to 23 percent today. And among 18-to-25-year olds, the percentage of the unaffiliated rose to 34 percent.
While Pew declined to speculate on what is behind the statistical decline of self-identifying Christians, the New York Times didn’t hesitate. Clearly, they claimed, part of the reason is the “politicalization of religion by American conservatives.” The one outside expert quoted in the piece reinforced the notion of a “backlash against the association of Christianity with conservative political values.”
This so-called explanation ignores the inconvenient fact that the biggest decline noted, again, is in the liberal mainline denominations.
So what ought we to make of this report? Well, the first thing, as with all such reports, is to acknowledge its critics who call some of its findings into question. For instance, over at the Gospel Coalition, Joe Carter pointed out that the “Christianity in decline” meme ignores the fact that, according to the survey, the number of Evangelicals is growing, and the percentage of Americans who describe themselves as such remains stable.
Mark Gray of Georgetown University offered similar criticisms regarding the conclusions drawn about Catholicism.
Still, the fact remains that fewer Americans self-identify as Christians. And Russell Moore is correct to note that what the statistical decline most reflects is the demise of what he calls “Bible Belt near-Christianity.”
As Moore writes, “For much of the twentieth century, one had to at least claim to be a Christian to be ‘normal.’” But this is no longer the case. “Those who don’t believe can say so—and still find spouses, get jobs, volunteer with the PTA, and even run for office.”
And jettisoning controversial teachings, especially on what he calls “pelvic autonomy,” won’t help, Moore says, because “people who don’t want Christianity, don’t want almost-Christianity” either.
“We do not have more atheists in America,” Moore stated. “We have more honest atheists in America.” And that’s exactly right.
NEW BOOK–For Love of Country: What Our Veterans Can Teach Us about Citizenship, Heroism, and Sacrifice
November 11, 2014 in America, Current Events, Eric Metaxas | Tags: breakpoint.org, chuck colson, eric metaxas, For Love of Country: What Our Veterans Can Teach Us about Citizenship Heroism and Sacrifice., Howard Schultz, John Calvin, Rajiv Chandrasekaran, Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz, Veteran's Day, Washington Post reporter Rajiv Chandrasekaran | Leave a comment
What can we learn from our veterans about citizenship, heroism and sacrifice? As one powerful new book shows — a ton.
Chuck Colson had a very high view of the men and women who serve in our nation’s military. And as strange as it may sound at first, he frequently referred to military service as an act of love.
As Chuck related on BreakPoint, “Reformer John Calvin called the soldier an ‘agent of God’s love’ and called soldiering justly a ‘God-like act.’ Why? Because ‘restraining evil out of love for neighbor’ is an imitation of God’s restraining evil out of love for His creatures.”
This Veterans Day, I think it’s fair to ask how well we, the citizens of the United States, are responding to that love. How are we acknowledging and supporting our nation’s veterans and active military?
That’s the topic of an extraordinarily powerful new book by Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz and Washington Post reporter Rajiv Chandrasekaran called “For Love of Country: What Our Veterans Can Teach Us about Citizenship, Heroism, and Sacrifice.”
Schultz’s interest in the men and women of our armed forces began when he was invited to speak on leadership at West Point. After touring the grounds, learning about the Military Academy’s traditions and standards, observing the young men and women of the corps, Schultz went to the podium to speak, but found himself choking up.
“My visit,” he wrote, “revealed to me just how disconnected I had been from those fellow citizens who have dedicated years of their lives to defending the freedom I hold dear . . . I had never visited a military base. Before going to West Point, I had never even spoken to anyone in uniform. I was embarrassed.”
Since then, Schultz has visited military bases, spoken to military and defense leaders, and learned about the unbelievable challenges facing our veterans and those still in service. These encounters inspired Schultz to commit Starbucks to hiring 10,000 veterans over a period of five years—and it led him to team up with Chandrasekaran to write “Love of Country.”
The first half of the book is a collection of extraordinary stories of bravery, suffering, and self-sacrifice in Iraq and Afghanistan. The second half deals with the struggles of physically and emotionally wounded soldiers and Marines and their families, as well as the survivors of the fallen. But we also get to see how veterans continue to give back to their communities: becoming disaster relief volunteers, educators in inner-city schools, and on and on.
September 23, 2014 in America, Current Events | Tags: America, breakpoint.org, Dennis Prager, Hugh Hewitt, isis, Islamic radicalism, Islamic State, Islamic terrorists, john stonestreet, Secular society, Stephen Meyer, syria, terrorism | Leave a comment
News broke recently of two beautiful teenage girls from Austria, aged 15 and 16, who became burka-wearing recruiters for the terror group known as ISIS, or the Islamic State. And their journey to radicalism is not an isolated case.
In my own state of Colorado, a 19-year-old female just pled guilty to trying to join ISIS, too. And then there are the two young American men who died in Syria fighting for ISIS.
Why are young 21st-century Westerners converting to a brutal form of Islam? Why would young people, with seemingly so much to live for, leave the West for terrorism?
This question came up last month in a panel discussion with radio hosts Hugh Hewitt and Dennis Prager, as well as Stephen Meyer of the Discovery Institute and myself. We all agreed that the answer was not the radicalism of Islam, but the current emptiness of Western materialism.
The idea that matter is all that matters pervades everything young people see and hear these days. They hear it in science class, from the new Cosmos television series, and even, and as I added especially, in advertising and other media messages. Nearly every commercial message tells us that we’re born to be consumers, that stuff will make us happy and save us from our misery, and that there’s nothing beyond the immediate gratification of this world to live for.
As Dennis Prager said that night, “Secular society produces a lot of bored people . . . Secular society is a curse because ultimately life is meaningless if there’s no God.” The materialistic salvation sold to us promises to fill what Pascal called the God-shaped hole in our hearts … with stuff. But many see the meaningless of secular salvation, and they become bored; others become angry, even murderous.
Remember Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris, who killed 13 people at Columbine High School? They weren’t Muslims. Then there’s T.J. Lane, a 19-year-old serving three life sentences for shooting to death three high school students in 2012. At his sentencing, in which he taunted his victims’ families with expletives, Lane opened his blue dress shirt to reveal a T-shirt on which he had scrawled the word “killer.”
We’ve always had young murderers, but the nihilism of today is different. Writing in Time several years ago, Harvard’s student body president called it the “Rude Boy” culture. The tough guy of the ‘60s and ‘70s, he observed, would say, “I’m better than you, I can beat you up”—but the tough guy today says, “I flip you off; you don’t matter and neither do I.”
And that’s a whole new level of brokenness. That’s the cultural shift toward nihilism. A few years ago, the rock band Switchfoot hit the nail on the head when they sang, “We were meant to live for so much more. But we lost ourselves.”
This sort of empty pop-nihilism, to borrow a term from Baylor’s Thomas Hibbs, makes even the evil radicalism of extremist Islam look attractive to some. And parasitic ideologies like these find folks in despair easy prey.
Might it be that ISIS finds this shallow ground as fertile soil from which to harvest young souls for its deadly agenda?
Decades ago, even before the Internet and social media took over so much of our lives, Aldous Huxley warned of the capacity of the media to exploit “man’s almost infinite appetite for distraction.” Could it be that even ISIS looks attractive to those who, after having their fill, still feel empty inside?
For the rest of the post…
September 22, 2014 in Bonhoeffer for the Twenty-First Century, Can Bonhoeffer Be Abused?, Charles Marsh, Conspiracy and Imprisonment, Costly Grace, Eberhard Bethge, Eric Metaxas, Hitler/Nazism, Serving Jesus in the Severest of Trials, Standing Against Evil in Society, Who is Dietrich Bonhoeffer? | Tags: Abraham Lincoln, blog about dietrich bonhoeffer, bonhoefferblog, breakpoint.org, c.s. lewis, dietrich bonhoeffer, dr. bryan galloway, Eberhard Bethge., Elvis Presley, eric metaxas, friendship, homosexuality, male friendships | Leave a comment
Rediscovering a Lost Love
In January 1944, German pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer sat in a Gestapo prison. He passed the time by writing, and in one of many letters to his dear friend Eberhard Bethge, Bonhoeffer tenderly reflected on what Bethge meant to him.
Back then his missives didn’t raise eyebrows. They sounded like those of so many before him who, in moments of triumph and trial, had taken their greatest joy in the love of a friend of the same sex.
Of course, times have changed. Years after Bonhoeffer’s death, while speaking publicly about their friendship, Bethge found himself facing an awkward question:
Surely, said one audience member, your friendship with Dietrich “must [have been] a homosexual partnership.” How else could Bethge explain the startling affection Bonhoeffer had for him?
Bonhoeffer and Bethge’s friendship was not an isolated victim of this kind of revisionism. Modern readers seem to be on a virtual crusade to open every closet in history.
Thus, we’re told, the bachelor Abraham Lincoln was obviously gay because he shared a bed with his best friend (a practice that was common with both sexes at that time). Ditto William Shakespeare, who wrote love sonnets for an unnamed male friend. The biblical David, who lamented Jonathan’s death, calling his friend’s love “finer than the love of women” was plainly gay, too, the reasoning goes. And the Apostle John, “the disciple whom Jesus loved,” has sparked speculation of his own.
You see, to the modern eye, all close love is sexual love. Deep friendship, especially between men, gives us an uneasy feeling. This leaves modern men with a tough choice: They can risk being pegged as gay for forming deep friendships with each other, or they can give up on making friends and just have “bros.”
That, argues Stephen Marche in “Esquire” of all places, is what the majority of men are now doing.
“The word bro,” he writes, shows an “underlying contempt for male friendship it implies.” “Bros,” he says, are “men who get together to be idiots with one another,” drink, watch sports and grunt, but never get involved in each other’s lives. So dominant is machismo over male friendship these days, that when two “bros” get a little too close, popular culture has a new, sexually-charged term for their relationship: “bromance.”
All of this leads Wesley Hill to ask in “Christianity Today,” “Why Can’t Men Be Friends?”
Citing sociologist Niobe Way’s recent book “Deep Secrets: Boys’ Friendships and the Crisis of Connection,” Hill writes that “[pre-adolescent boys talk] in shockingly intimate terms about their male friends.”
But as the boys grew older, Way reports that they “lost the intimacy they once enjoyed. Afraid of being perceived as gay or feminine, they withdrew,” despite longing for male friendship.
This isolation is not benign. Way correlates her findings with data showing that male suicide rates skyrocket at puberty—while among women, who tend to maintain strong friendships, the rate remains steady.
Young people are flocking to theaters to see “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire.” So we probably should be prepared to talk to our kids about the movie. I’ve got some thoughts.
Over the Thanksgiving weekend, the second film in the Hunger Games series, “Catching Fire,” set box office records, shattering the record previously held by the first Harry Potter movie.
Like the Harry Potter films, “Catching Fire” and its predecessor, “The Hunger Games,” is based on a best-selling series of novels aimed at a younger market. But that’s where the similarity ends. There’s no quidditch, wands, or spells. And while people die in J.K. Rowling’s novels, Suzanne Collins’s books are steeped in death, suffering, and sorrow.
Okay, there’s one other similarity: You can’t avoid either the book or the film series. So it’s probably a good idea to engage with our kids on the subject.
Collins’ trilogy—“The Hunger Games,” “Catching Fire,” and “Mockingjay”—is a dystopian tale set in a totalitarian successor state to the United States known as “Panem,” from the Latin word for “bread.”
The name is ironic and telling. Ironic, because while the inhabitants of the Capitol live in decadent splendor, those inhabiting the outlying districts barely scrape by.
The name is telling because the defining ritual of Panem is the Hunger Games in which two young people from each district fight each other to the death while the entire nation watches. Hence, panem et circenses, bread and circuses.
Collins’ heroine is a sixteen-year-old named Katniss Everdeen from District 12. She’s a reluctant heroine who only volunteers for the Games to spare her younger sister. After her victory at the games, she becomes a symbol of resistance.
That resistance is the “Catching Fire” of the title, a fire that the regime desperately seeks to extinguish, starting with Katniss.
As Alissa Wilkinson of The King’s College wrote in Christianity Today, Collins’ novels are a critique of “our entertainment-sodden culture.” The games are the ultimate “reality TV” show: People are literally eliminated by the competition.
In the arena, “things like bravery and skill with a bow might matter,” but entertaining the viewers can literally make the difference between life and death. When Katniss asks her mentor how one wins the games, he replies “you get people to like you.”
Not by being brave, bold, or pure of heart but by putting on a good show. Sound familiar?
That’s not to say that individual characters aren’t virtuous; Katniss and her co-winner Peeta certainly are. But Panem’s ideology—as in “a set of conscious and unconscious ideas that constitute one’s goals, expectations, and actions”—is about power and appearance.
There’s another aspect of Collins’ world that stands out: it’s a religion-free zone. The word “god” never appears in the novels, not even as an exclamation.
Thus, like many dystopian stories, hope is in short supply. When one evil is vanquished, we cannot be confident that what takes its place will be any better.