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Monday, April 23, 2012

The Hunger Games: Revisited

A few weeks ago I posted a critique of the movie The Hunger Games. It came to my attention that Fred Edwords posted a short piece at the American Humanist Association's website addressing the general evangelical response to the movie. He linked to my original article and broadly addressed my comparison of the society of The Capital to where today's societies are leading. Mr. Edwords had two main points of contention that I feel need to be addressed.

Secular vs. Agnostic Society
The first point of contention that I considered the society in The Hunger Games to be secular and not merely agnostic. Edwords claims that there was no mention of God (which he's correct), thus the society must be concluded to be secular. He implies that that distinction removes the society from critiques of agnosticism. But is there really a distinction between secularism and agnosticism that allows such an escape?

In order for a society to avoid either label of "theistic" or "atheistic", it cannot affirm or deny either. It must simply hold the position that God's existence cannot be known. This position is called "agnosticism". Secularism necessarily entails "agnosticism". Since secularism necessarily entails agnosticism, secularism is subject to critiques of agnosticism by the necessary connection.

Avoiding Critiques of Agnosticism
The only way to escape the critiques of agnosticism is to deny that it is agnostic. If the society wishes to deny that it is agnostic, then it must either affirm or deny God's existence. If it affirms God's existence, then it is no longer secular. If it denies God's existence, then it is no longer secular. Since there is no mention of God in the movie, it is intellectually honest to conclude that the society may be either atheistic or agnostic regarding God's existence. But does THAT distinction undermine my critique?

Objective morality can only be grounded in something that is eternal (or it must be eternal itself- God-like). If a secular society is agnostic about the existence of the eternal, then it must also be agnostic about the status of morality (objective or relative). The only acceptable way to act when something is not known for sure is to practice the more inclusive option- moral relativism, in this case.

The Connection With Today's Society
Many people are pushing for our society to be more secular (though not necessarily atheistic). Thus they are pushing for moral agnosticism, which requires moral relativism to be practiced by the members of the society. If one is to examine a society from the outside and draw a conclusion about the society's position on God's existence, they would be correct to conclude that they cannot be certain that the society specifically denies God's existence. The reason is because the practice of moral relativism is consistent with both a secular society and an atheistic society. So, both are valid conclusions. However, both atheism and agnosticism (secularism) necessarily entail moral relativism, thus both are subject to the critiques of moral relativism. My critique was of moral relativism, thus it would apply to both secular and atheistic societies. Since those are the only two options to describe the society of The Hunger Games, it cannot escape my critique regardless of which option is concluded.

The distinction is a nuanced observation that I failed to mention. However, since it does not change the validity or applicability of my critique, it was not necessary to be mentioned. Since Edwords affirms that both the villains and heroes of the movie are secular, he affirms that they are moral relativists. Since he affirms that they are moral relativists, he affirms that my critique applies on these grounds.Yet, Edwords still denies that my critique applies, so its applicability must be denied based on another foundation. This is where his next point of contention enters.

The Comparison to Rome
As for the second point of contention: As Edwords accurately points out, the Hunger Games was a modern adaptation of the gladiatorial games of the Roman empire. He implies that since Rome was under Christian influence that the behavior of Rome accurately represents teachings of Christianity. He further implies that the reprehensibility of such behavior is reason to prefer a secular society. I see three glaring problems with this critique:

Claims vs. Truth
The first is that people may claim to believe one thing yet act in a way completely contrary to that belief. Any society could claim to believe one thing, yet actually believe another. The Crusades and the Spanish Inquisition specifically come to mind as people who specifically claimed to be Christian yet acted in numerous ways contrary to the teachings of Christianity.

Inconsistent Actions
The second is that Rome's gladiatorial games often included the torture and murder of Christians. If Rome was influenced by Christianity during this time, why did they kill supporters of the State for sport (much less at all)? If we combine this historical fact with the reality of the first problem mentioned, we have a society that claimed Christianity yet we can conclude that they weren't really influenced by it because of their behavior towards those who believed what the State claimed to believe. We have both a philosophical and historical problem here.

The Practice of Moral Relativism
The third issue is that a secularist must practice moral relativism. Any suggestion that any behavior is reprehensible is a direct violation of the practice of moral relativism. Further any suggestion that one action is morally preferred based on a moral judgment is a double-violation of moral relativism. If we combine this with my first objection, then we must question whether Mr. Edwords is really a moral objectivist in violation of his own claims of beliefs.

Even though the comparison of the society of The Capital to Rome is valid, the claim that Rome was truly a Christian society is not. Thus any insinuation that The Capital accurately reflects a Christian society is also incorrect. If Mr. Edwords wishes to maintain that the society of The Capital was actually secular, then he cannot turn around and conclude that it was also Christian. He has a choice, was the society of The Capital "Christian" or "Secular"?

So, is the comparison to Rome the loophole to ground the dismissal of my critique? If Mr. Edwords wishes to affirm that the society of The Capital was Christian, then he has escaped my critique of moral relativism. However, he has to support the position that the society of The Capital accurately reflects the teachings of Christianity by comparing the actions of the former with the doctrines taught by the latter and intellectually defend his comparisons against critique. If he wishes to maintain that the society of The Capital was secular, then my first critique still stands and his second complaint loses all intellectual force.

Fred Edwords provided two critiques against the Christian comparison of the society of The Hunger Games and where today's society is headed. He cannot maintain both critiques simultaneously because the foundations of each deny the other. Also, it does not matter which of his two critiques he chooses to maintain, neither hold water when investigated at a deeper level.

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