Category Archives: Logic

On The Hunger Games: A Response to Kevin Swanson

I guess I never realized just how controversial The Hunger Games really is… until yesterday. After putting some finishing touches on my review and sending it out into the world wide web, a good friend referred me to Kevin Swanson’s take on the film. I was intrigued, to say the least.

I’m all for opposing opinions – and when someone disagrees with me, I appreciate it when they put forward a strong, well-reasoned argument. It causes me to examine my own position and see if it stands the test. But after listenening to Swanson’s argument, I wasn’t impressed with its strength or reason. It fell flat. Very flat.

If you can spare a few minutes of your time, I’d like to explain why I think it fell flat. This isn’t a detailed dressing-down – just an overview, covering the most prominent issues. And if you’re critical of what I’m trying to do here, be ye comforted: I listened to the “lecture” twice, just to make sure I was correctly taking in all he had to say.

1. INSINUATION
Throughout his talk, Swanson (and his daughter, Emily) seem to imply that if, in fact, you do appreciate/enjoy/recommend The Hunger Games, then something must be wrong with you. You’ve been “sucked in.” You’re a zombie, absorbing the mush of pop culture without a second thought. Wait… what?

This strikes me as a really poor way to argue: it’s sloppy and it’s arrogant. A species of the “if you don’t agree with me, you must be crazy” line of thought. I may not hold the same view as you on a given subject, but it doesn’t necessarily follow that I have no good reasons for my own position.

More than once, Swanson reminds us how terrible it is that “little boys and girls” across the country are watching The Hunger Games and drinking it all in.

They’re enjoying the popcorn, they’re enjoying the pop, and they’re not thinking that they’re turning into Nazis.

*cough* Um, apart from the obvious stretch in logic here (Nazis? seriously?), Swanson’s core assumption ignores the fact that there are big boys and girls across the country who are watching (and reading) The Hunger Games, analyzing its themes and ideas, and reaching conclusions based on their analyses.

I know. I’m one of those “big kids.”

2. SELF-DEFENSE IS NOT ALLOWED
I also take issue with Swanson’s flippant dismissal of self-defense as a morally justifiable action. It’s actually a bit unsettling, to tell the truth.

According to this logic, if I’m assaulted on the street, I’m not allowed to use lethal force to defend myself. The “right thing” for me to do is just stand there and take it. Similarly, if my wife is assaulted, she must refrain from using any life-threatening measures against her attacker. If that means she’s raped, tortured, and her brains are then shot out, so be it.

Needless to say, I find this idea supremely loony. I’m not interested in starting an in-depth debate on the subject, but I think the evidence (biblical or otherwise) in favor of self-defense is strong and plentiful. Far more so than Swanson acknowledges.

3. “MURDER” AND ILLOGIC
Swanson’s intolerant view of self-defense is what leads him to brand Katniss Everdeen, the heroine of The Hunger Games, a full-fledged murderer. Why? Because on more than one occasion, she defends her life (or the life of a loved one) by using lethal force against her assailant. That, says Mr. Swanson, is a brazen violation of the Sixth Commandment. I’m not so sure.

Swanson also dishes up one of the worst, most illogical comparisons I’ve encountered in a long time. Seriously. It’s a humdinger.

At one point in the story, Katniss is chased by four “career tributes” (i.e. trained killers). Unable to fight or outrun them, she clambers up a tree. The tributes decide to play along, and promptly pitch their camp around Katniss’ refuge. They know she’ll have to come down sooner or later, and when she does, they’ll be waiting.

Hours later, Katniss’ pursuers are fast asleep, confident that she can’t escape without waking them up. That’s when she catches sight of the giant wasp nest hanging a few branches above her. She cuts it down with her survival knife… and sends it plummeting into the midst of the tributes below. Three of them run like heck. The fourth is stung to death.

Swanson dubs this “one of the most horrific murders” he’s ever seen in a film. Not only that, but he then proceeds to draw a comparison between it and a Bible story.

Remember 1 Samuel 26? King Saul is after David (again), trying to kill him (again). In the midst of this madcap chase, Saul encamps on the hill of Hachilah and lies down to sleep. David’s men see this, and urge their leader to take advantage of it. “Kill him in his sleep,” they say. But David refrains from doing so.

Swanson tries to compare this to Katniss’ situation. According to him, what she should’ve done is… well, we’re not actually sure what she should’ve done. But killing wasn’t on the list. David had an opportunity to eliminate his enemy the same way Katniss did. He restrained himself. Katniss should’ve done the same.

The comparison and conclusion look good on the surface, but it falls apart under scrutiny. Just take a look at the actual passage: David refused to kill Saul, not because he had moral qualms about killing in self-defense, but because Saul was God’s anointed.

But David said to Abishai, “Do not destroy him, for who can put out his hand against the Lord’s anointed and be guiltless?” And David said, “As the Lord lives, the Lord will strike him, or his day will come to die, or he will go down into battle and perish. The Lord forbid that I should put out my hand against the Lord’s anointed.” (1 Sam. 26:9-11)

I don’t think those tributes were anointed in any way, shape, or form.

4. EXAGGERATION
At some point in his talk, Swanson labels Katniss a “potty-mouth.” And it was at this point that I laughed. Out loud. Not in derision, but in complete disbelief. You’ve got to be kdding me, I thought. A potty-mouth? Really?

Consider: in one or two scenes, Katniss says “damn” and “hell” to express her frustration. She may also exclaim “God” once or twice (though I don’t remember her doing so). Now, I’m not excusing such talk, but come on – does that really make her a potty-mouth?

Think about the connotations. A potty-mouth generally refers to someone whose speech is characterized profanity and vulgar language. Richard Pryor probably qualifies, but I don’t see how Katniss Everdeen does.

If you’re going to be sloppy and exaggeratory in your choice of words and epithets, don’t be surprised when I get suspicious of anything else you might have to say on a given subject.

5. UNACKNOWLEDGED DIFFERENCES
Another thing Swanson repeatedly fails to do is distinguish between the descriptive and the prescriptive. If you’re not sure what I mean, think about this: George Orwell’s 1984 is descriptive. Karl Marx’s Communist Manifesto is prescriptive. If I don’t acknowledge the difference between the two, I’ll wind up believing that Orwell was as big an advocate of communism as Marx was.

Crazy stuff, right? But that’s pretty much what Swanson does when examining The Hunger Games. Using the logic that he does, it’s no surprise he winds up dismissing it altogether.

6. LACK OF DISCERNMENT
As I wrap this up, there’s one more thing I’d like to address, and it has to do with the conversation between Mr. Swanson and his daughter, Emily, who participates in the recording.

Maybe “participate” is too strong a word.

Swanson is supposedly co-reviewing the film with his daughter. But over the course of their half-hour recording, she contributes very little to the conversation. In fact, I don’t think the review would’ve ended up much different if she had just kept quiet altogether. Her Dad did 95% of the talking. No offense to either of them, but it reminded me of a one-sided conversation… with a parrot in the background.

Emily tells us several times that the only reason she wasn’t “drawn in” was because her Dad came along. To which I say, If these problems with the film do exist, why can’t you see them? You’re able to watch the film but unable to discern its messages? Seems like a fishy combination to me.

I’ll quote an excerpt from one of my mother’s posts, as it concerns this very subject:

When our children are little, we shield them from much of the ugliness, the sin of this world. It’s our job not to let a 7 year old view content meant for a 17 year old. We ground them in the truth of the Word and the seeds of discernment grow ever so slowly. We can’t preview every exposure, every book, every movie, every conversation they overhear. The goal is to equip them to stand fast and stay faithful, long after we’re six feet under and unable to whisper cautions in their ears.

If we had an 8-year-old watching this film (bogus, I know, but humor me), then I would understand his inability to discern the themes and ideas. But Emily isn’t an 8-year-old. She seems to be over the age of 13, but the lack of discernment is as big an issue as ever. Without her Dad, it sounds like she wouldn’t know what to think of the movie.

This leads me to conclude that 1) she’s not been trained to think biblically for herself or 2) her Dad doesn’t trust her to think biblically for herself. Either way, there’s a problem. At that age, you should at least be making an effort to consider what you believe and why you believe it. She seems content to let her Dad do that for her.

7. CONCLUSION
Needless to say, I appreciate/enjoy/recommend The Hunger Games. Is it perfect? No. Does it tout a distinctly Christian worldview? No. There are problems with it, and I’m more than ready to acknowledge that. We should exercise discernment with it the way we should with all literature.

That said, I think the story is challenging, thought-provoking, and rich – well-worth the time of mature Christian readers. My advice: chew the meat, spit out the bones. There’s a lot more meat than bone there, anyway.

Coexist? Seriously?

Whenever I see a “COEXIST” sticker (like the one above) on the back bumper of a car, I can’t help but laugh. I realize that many people slap it on their vehicles under the naive assumption that they’re saying something profound in an incredibly clever way. Then again…

When you stop and think about it; when you consider the implications of that word in that context… is it really such a clever slogan after all? Is it even intelligent? I would say not. Granted, it looks cool and it sounds cooler; but if you throw away the rose-colored “let’s all just get along and have world-peace” glasses, it’s quite plain that the “COEXIST” sticker is nothing more than godless asininity dressed up in a fancy ball gown.

But wait, you say: wouldn’t it be good thing if everyone could just put aside their differences? Wouldn’t it be great if we could just be nice to one another? Wouldn’t it be fantastic if we could all just hug, hold hands, and be friends?

Sure, I reply. That’d be dandy! Smashing! Positively phenomenal!

Unfortunately, in a world desiccated and corrupted by sin, it’s impossible. Nice thought, yeah – but totally out of touch with reality. No can do, crackerjack. Sinners can’t just “be nice” and “coexist” together as one big happy family. Sinners lie. Sinners hate. Sinners kill. Sinners SIN. There can be no “peace” in sin.

But there’s another reason the sticker is false…

Behind it lies religious pluralism: the fundamentally-flawed belief that all religions are true and valid. That very idea alone worthy of head-scratching in a “what the heck?” sort of way.

Let’s see. What have we here?

  • C – the crescent moon and star of the religion of Islam
  • O – the peace symbol, or Pagan pentacle
  • E – the symbol for male and female, a Scientific equation
  • X – the star of David, standing in for Judaism
  • I – the wand and pentagram of Wiccan
  • S – the symbol for Chinese Yin-Yang
  • T – the cross of Christ, representing Christianity

Each of these religions claim something different as truth. That’s all good and well, but they cannot all be correct. If I say the sky is blue and you say it’s purple with pink polka dots, we’ve just made two contradicting statements. Either one of us is right and the other is wrong, or both of us are both wrong. Point is: we cannot both be right.

Just consider the Christian religion. It’s very foundation rests on the claim that Jesus Christ, the God-Man, is Lord and Savior; the one and only Lord and Savior. Christ says it Himself in John 14:6, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.”

That’s a pretty strong statement. He doesn’t say, “I am one of many ways, one of many truths, one of many sources of life.” His claim is exclusive: you come to God by Me and by Me alone. In modern speak, that adds up to, “My way. No highway option.”

Obviously, Jesus is no pluralist. Either He’s right and all other religions are wrong; or else He’s wrong and some other view is right. In no case, however, can all religions be true and valid.

That’s about as black and white as you get.

Clearly, I believe Jesus is right. Of all the so-called “truths” – He’s the only one. And because I believe and rest my soul on that, I should live like I really do believe and rest my soul on that.

That means I’ll take my faith and it’s implications seriously. That means I’ll not be content to keep my religion to myself, to simply “be nice” and “avoid stepping on toes” while the world goes to hell in a hand-basket. That means I’ll act upon the biblical injunction to shine the light of the Gospel of Christ wherever I go. That means I’ll recognize the notion of “coexistence” for the fallacy that it is.

In the words of Charles Spurgeon,

If sinners be damned, at least let them leap to Hell over our dead bodies. And if they perish, let them perish with our arms wrapped about their knees, imploring them to stay. If Hell must be filled, let it be filled in the teeth of our exertions, and let not one go unwarned and unprayed for.

Story Review: Love Is A Fallacy

It is my decided opinion that Max Shulman’s Love Is A Fallacy is one of the funniest and most clever short stories ever penned. And if you haven’t read it, you must – you simply have no idea what you are missing.

The tale is related to us in the first person, and revolves around a high-minded university student who introduces us to himself in these lofty terms:

Cool was I and logical. Keen, calculating, perspicacious, acute and astute – I was all of these. My brain was as powerful as a dynamo, precise as a chemist’s scales, as penetrating as a scalpel. And – think of it! – I only eighteen.

This brainy individual has a roommate by the name of Petey Bellows: dense, emotional, impressionable, and (worst of all, we are told) a faddist who is unfailingly “swept up in every new craze that comes along”.

One afternoon, Petey showcases this abominable weakness of his, bemoaning the fact that raccoon coats are the latest fashion – and the fact that he hasn’t got one. “I’d give anything for a raccoon coat,” he declares impulsively. “Anything!”

Our narrator, initially unsympathetic, quickly realizes that he might be able benefit from his friend’s new obsession. He offers to get Petey the desired object – in exchange for the exclusive privilege of dating Polly Espy, Petey’s girlfriend. Understandably, the poor fellow objects… but only at first. Soon his lust for the coat gains the upper hand, and a bargain is struck.

Our narrator assures us that he wants Polly only for a “shrewdly calculated, entirely cerebral reason.” As a freshman in law school he would, in only a few years, be entering the practice. And of all the successful lawyers he has observed, the vast majority are married to beautiful, gracious, and intelligent women. Polly fits all of these specifications… almost.

Beautiful she was. Gracious she was. Intelligent she was not. “But I believed that under my guidance she would smarten up. At any rate, it was worth a try. It is, after all, easier to make a beautiful dumb girl smart than to make an ugly smart girl beautiful.”

Our protagonist decides that the best way to begin sharpening his new date up is to give her a course in logic. A good plan, no? What better way to help this lovely but dull-witted creature attain a satisfactory level of intelligence? What better way to get the cog wheels of her mind turning?

It’s a good plan, indeed. Unfortunately, it begins to go awry in the final act, and soon backfires completely, leading up to an enormously funny climax that had me laughing out loud.

As you can see, Shulman’s tale is nothing complex; what makes it so enjoyable is the ample amount of cleverness and wit he laces into it. In some ways, the writing style reminds me of Wodehouse, in that it fits the bizarre story and oddball characters to a tee.

Read this one. It’s short, it’s creative, and it’s tons of fun. You’ll be laughing by the time you reach the end… and you’ll also be heartily grateful for those illogical, God-given gifts called emotions.

(Read Love Is A Fallacy here.)

Earth Day + Darwinism = Contradiction

Well, tomorrow is April 22: Earth Day. Therefore, I submit the following for your consideration. It may be of great help should you happen to encounter any rabid Darwinists…

“Has anyone else noticed a contradiction implicit in the annual Earth Day celebrations? That vast majority of devotees at such fetes are Darwinists who believe humans have an obligation to protect the environment. Starting with a naturalistic worldview, though, why should anyone care?

“For millions of years, Mother Nature has spewed noxious fumes and poisonous gasses into Earth’s atmosphere and littered the landscape with ash and lava. Indeed, the most ‘natural’ condition in the universe is death. As far as we know, the Earth is completely unique. Death reigns everywhere else.

“Species have passed into extinction at a steady rate from the beginning of time, the strong supplanting the weak. Why shouldn’t they? Each is in a struggle for survival, a dance of destruction fueling the evolutionary process. May the best beast win. That’s the logic of naturalism. Yet the sense of obligation to steward the Earth is strong. Why?

“The moral motivation for Earth Day simply does not follow from Darwinism. It makes sense, though, if God entrusted man with stewardship over the Earth… Earth Day makes sense for theists, but not Darwinists.”

~ Gregory Koukl, Tactics (Ch. 10, pp. 153-154)

Condemning Condemnation

It always makes me laugh when, during the course of a debate, one of the participants resorts to the “Condemning Condemnation” card. You know. Like when someone says that such-and-such is wrong and their opponent immediately declares, “But it’s wrong for you to judge!”

Wait… what?

One of my favorite parts in Gregory Koukl’s Tactics is when he shares a conversation where this sort of fallacious argument reared its ugly head. He promptly nips it in the bud.

Lee: I’m not a homosexual, but I think it’s wrong to condemn anybody for anything.

Greg: Why are you condemning me, then?

Lee: What?

Greg: I said, why are you condemning me if you think it’s wrong to condemn people?

Lee: I’m responding to the fact that a lot of Christians condemn people.

Greg: I understand. And it sounds like you’re condemning me because I just condemned homosexuality as wrong.

Lee: Yes, I am. You are supposed to love everybody.

Greg: Wait a minute. You’re not listening to yourself. You just said it’s wrong to condemn people. And now you admit you’re condemning me. So I’m asking, why are you doing the very same thing that you say is wrong when I do it?

Lee: No, I’m not. [Lee pauses as the light slowly begins to dawn.] Okay, let’s put it this way. I’m not condemning you, I’m reprimanding you. Is that better?

Greg: Then my comments about homosexuals are simple reprimands as well.