A Christian Response to The Hunger Games, Harry Potter, and Other Popular Books and Movies

About 5 years ago I wrote this post on my other blog in response to what I saw as a very poor response from the Christian community to the Harry Potter phenomenon. Now, five years later, Harry Potter remains popular, but as new books and movies have come along, it's been pushed out of the spotlight by the newest and the latest.

As I write this today, the popular "thing" is The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins. In our media-centered world, people's interests and tastes change quickly. In a few months the Summer movie season will kick in and something else will be the next blockbuster.

So how should one respond to all this stuff coming from books and movies and television and the Internet? As a Christian are we close ourselves off from popular culture because it's too gory or deals with "new age" topics or witchcraft or magic? Should we limit our reading and movie choices to those produced by the Christian community and shun those created by 'secular' authors and producers? Do we limit our discussions only to Biblical and religious topics and avoid talking about the latest and greatest?

To put it bluntly, are we not allowed to enjoy that movie or book that everyone is talking about? Does being "in the world, not of it" mean that the only book we are allowed to read is our Bible and the only movie we can watch is The Ten Commandments? Is everything you can't buy at a Christian bookstore automatically "bad"?

As Christians the Bible is our "Instruction Manual". There are many verses that tell us about our relationship to this world:
"If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you."
John 15:19 (ESV) 
"Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect."Romans 12:2 (ESV)
"Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him."1 John 2:15 (ESV)

This can get to be a very sticky issue, "In the world not OF it". There have been many sermons preached, many blog posts written, whole books devoted to the topic of how to be a Christian in a secular world. I am not going to rehash all those discussions because, honestly, I think most of them miss the mark.

I am not going to get into a deep, heavy, theological discussion here. That's what churches and preachers are for. I will encourage you to find your own way of being "in the world not of it". What I will offer here is my own experience and thoughts of how to react to the latest and greatest books, movies, games, websites, and everything else that comes down the pike in our media saturated western world.

In the blog post I mentioned at the beginning of this post I addressed Harry Potter specifically. As new things come along it's hard to discuss everything specifically. Besides, there are many that are more than happy to do that, to pick apart a book, movie, game, or website and tell you how good or bad the writer is, why the themes and story of the thing are good or bad. And as much as I would enjoy doing that with The Hunger Games books, The Avengers movie that comes out in a couple weeks, Diablo 3 that comes out next month.... it's all just too much to keep up with.

What I, and maybe you, need is some general guidelines on how to deal with this stuff. Should we read those books? Should we go to that movie? Should we play that game? What are we to do? Is any entertainment "OK", or should everything be about working for God's Glory (1 Corinthians 10:31)?

The answer is, there is no answer. This is where I divert into opinion and experience, because in the end that is really all I have to offer. My opinion and experience my not be better than anyone else's, but at my age I think I might have experienced enough that some of it might be helpful to you. So here goes.

I don't think "being in the world not of it" means we have to "shun" everything that is not "Christian". If you walk into a Christian store you will find Christian music, Christian fiction, Christian clothes, Christian toys, and so on an so forth. All these things are offering a substitute for it's secular counterpart. Some Christian music sounds a lot like what Christians call "secular" music. Those Christian T-shirts look just like the one's you see at the mall, only they changed the words to convey a "Christian" message.

Don't get me wrong, I really like some of these "Christian" things. There are fantastic Christian musicians and really good Christian writers. But if the secular version is so bad, why is the Christian version trying so hard to look and sound like it?

Let's be honest. Over the course of human history there have been some really amazing things come out of the human mind. The works of Shakespeare, the Mona Lisa, the music of Mozart, The Honeymooners, Gone With The Wind, I could go on. I'm betting that if you are a Christian you know these things. All of them "secular", that is to say, God is not the main character in any of these.

If God gave humans a mind to create these amazing things, did he mean for us not to enjoy them? I don't think so.

Now this is a slippery slope because I also don't think that he meant for us to just dive in and enjoy everything. There are things that the human mind has created that are horrible and demeaning not just to God but also the anyone that exposed to it.

So here is the rule to follow in deciding what to read, watch, listen to:

"...whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things."
Philippians 4:8 (ESV)

Does this mean only "Christian" things? I don't think so. Because if you are familiar with those things in the Christian store I mention, you know that there are even things there that are not "worthy of praise". Some of that music and some of those books are just awful. Just labeling something "Christian" does not make it good. And, likewise, labeling something "secular" doesn't automatically make it bad.

So what am I saying? Well, I'll cut right to the chase: Read that book. See that movie. Play that game. Visit that blog or website. Don't be an idiot about what is going on in the world around you. Don't close yourself off from the world. Be able to talk about that book or movie that everyone else is talking about. 

Every conversation is an opportunity to do good in the world. Every status update is an opportunity to befriend someone.

How can I say this? Because Jesus himself used the popular entertainment of His time to befriend and teach people: story telling.

In an age long before television and movies, before the printing press made written works common, people told each other stories. Some about history, some made up. All of them entertaining. And Jesus did too. There are many "parables" recorded in the Bible. Which also tells of the crowds that gathered to hear them.

What is our Christian response to The Hunger Games? Twilight? Super heroes? And everything else in our media/entertainment centric lives? Use your judgement, but in my opinion, go ahead. Read it, or see the movie if you want to. If you are comfortable with who you are and what you believe, then a book or a movie is not going to change you. But maybe a conversation you have about it later on will add some good to the world.

One thing you shouldn't do is judge the work based on what you've "heard". Withhold any opinion on it until you've seen it or read it. If you don't know anything about it, don't take anyone else's word about what a work is or what it's about. You don't know if that person has read/seen it or not. This happened a lot when Harry Potter was the rage. A lot of Christians criticized it because it was about "witches and wizards and bad magic". Some churches went so far as to have Harry Potter book burnings. All based on what they thought it was about and not having read it.

And remember that what you are reading, watching, is a work of art. Maybe it's good art, maybe it's bad, but it's art. It's foolish to judge art with the same guidelines as you judge reality. The characters are doing things in a world created by the artist, not the real world.

Generally speaking, don't be a jerk. As I said, everything is an opportunity to do good.

And, in all things, don't be a jerk.