The Hunger Games, Dionysus and Medusa: The False gods of Entertainment and Security

I know, I know…it’s been more than two weeks since my last post. But if you knew that I was traveling in Turkey and Greece for the last fortnight, you might cut me some slack. In fact, my travels have awakened some things formerly dormant in my brain, and I’m hoping that I can generate a few thoughtful posts out of the experience. So consider this the first installment in my debriefing….

By far the most spectacular ancient site I visited during the last 14 days was Ephesus. This  city is the setting of Acts chapter 19, and the Bible also contains a letter to the Ephesian church. The city is fabulously reconstructed, from the council room (bouleterion) in which I taught my fellow students, to the spectacular two-story Celsus Library, to an enormous theater seating about 25,000 people. (Fun fact: the most recent artist to grace the stage of that theater was Elton John.)

But out of all the spectacular sights, one remarkably well-preserved mosaic gave me the most food for thought. It’s located in the terrace houses, houses of wealthy people stacked up the hillside near the main drag of ancient Ephesus. As I looked into the living room of one of these houses, I saw mosaics of two different heads: the heads of the gods Dionysus and Medusa.

Now, you might be thinking that I am a total nerd. Or you might be wondering how on earth I think this is important enough to blog about. But stay with me. In ancient Greek culture, Dionysus was the god of the grape harvest, of wine, and of the so-called “good life” more generally. Some might say he is the god of revelry and entertainment. That’s why you often find temples in his honor next to ancient theaters. Medusa is a bit more complicated, but suffice it to say that the image of her head came to be used as a symbol of protection and security.

So the family that lived in this house, when considering how to adorn their floor, chose to symbolize their commitment to the gods of security and entertainment.

I guess this struck me as interesting because I when I saw this I was in the middle of reading The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins. (Don’t worry, this isn’t a spoiler.) The setting of the book is a future Romish society named Panem. Maybe that doesn’t sound all that interesting, but the name is derived from the latin phrase Panem et Circenses: Bread and Games.

You see, the politicians of Panem, like the leaders of ancient Rome, knew that if they met people’s basic needs of life (food, water, protection) and gave them some sort of distraction (circuses, theater, gladiatorial battles) then the citizens would abdicate their responsibility in public life.  These politicians knew that people worshiped Dionysus and Medusa, and as long as they did so they would hand over all of their political power and freedom to their leaders who keep them fat, ignorant, and entertained. In other words, they would sacrifice free, purposeful lives at the altars of Dionysus and Medusa.

Now I know that most people in our day and age don’t even know who Dionysus and Medusa are, much less worship them. But I do wonder if our lives are sometimes similarly devoted to these false gods. We might not have their heads designed in our living room floor, but some of us do spend a huge chunk of our lives trying to make enough money to put a $4000 sofa and $5000 TV in our living room. Add a state of the art security system, and we have it made. And while comfy couches, security systems, and flat screens aren’t bad in themselves, when we devote a significant part of ourselves to obtaining them we may have added Medusa and Dionysus to our pantheon of gods.

After all, what do most people in the West today consider to be the American Dream?

Often, it can be summed up as a nice big house in a nice secure neighborhood with just enough money (or credit) left over to buy toys and tickets that distract us from the meaninglessness of making our life goal our own comfort and security.

In essence, when so many of us are relentlessly pursuing this version of the American Dream (and it’s not only an American phenomenon) we are serving the gods of Dionysus and Medusa, panem et circenses. It turns out we are not so different from the ancient Greeks. We are not so different from the residents of the Capitol of Panem.

It was in this kind of environment that Paul wrote to the church in Philippi (another ancient city I visited last week). In his letter, he makes this radical statement:

For, as I have often told you before and now tell you again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ…(Philippians 3:18-20)

In other words, if you have committed your life to Christ, you are not primarily a citizen of Ephesus, Rome, Panem, or even the United States. If you have committed your life to Christ, your primary allegiance is to a different King.

This King doesn’t want to sap your life of meaning and purpose for his own power. He wants to infuse you with power so that your life in his kingdom is with meaning and purpose. He doesn’t want to keep you “fat and sassy” (as my great-grandmother used to say) so you will be content to be a slave to your own comforts and distractions. He wants to free you up to live a life that is about so much more than your own security and entertainment. When you serve Christ, you serve an entirely different kind of God than Dionysus and Medusa.

That’s why Paul, in that letter to the Philippians, says that the goal Christ has given him is worth his suffering. It’s worth his restless hunger and relentless focus. In the same way, Christ empowers you and me to live a life that brings food to the hungry, water to the thirsty, safety to the vulnerable, and beauty to those used to only seeing the ugly things in life…and to bring all of these things to others even at great cost to ourselves.

We do that because Christ died to give us this kind of life, a life we have just an intermittent taste of right now but will enjoy fully when he returns for us. On that day, there will be no more hunger and no more meaningless and distracting games — only life-giving bread and beauty and entertainment that brings true joy.

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3 Responses to The Hunger Games, Dionysus and Medusa: The False gods of Entertainment and Security

  1. Kathleen says:

    Wow! Welcome home and thank you for some deep, meaningful food for thought again!

  2. Jennifer says:

    Very interesting connections there! Can’t wait to hear more stories. Now you have to go to Turkey and Israel to complete your Holy Lands tour! I kept thinking of the verses in Isaiah 55 as you were writing too because they remind me to seek what really satisfies–the kind of joy that is only given through a Savior like Jesus.

    • kbrooksy says:

      That’s a great connection with Isaiah 55. I love how the good news is so interconnected! And yes, I would love to go to Israel too. But we’ll have to save up for a while to make that possible 🙂

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