Insurgent already grossed 54 million dollars this weekend when it hit theaters, drawing teens, tweens and their parents to yet another young adult blockbuster based on a bestselling book series.
But what about teens, tweens, and parents of faith? Should they be rushing to the box office?
While Divergent hasn't been the focus of conversation in Christian circles the way that the Harry Potter series was several years ago, perhaps it should be, especially since its author, Veronica Roth, is a professed Christian. Given her background, it would make sense that themes from Christianity might have found their way into the series, either because she intentionally introduced them or because they were the product of her subconscious.
So what will the Christian viewer find?
It's tempting to think first about witchcraft, since that was the primary point of contention in the discussion of whether the Harry Potter series supports a Christian worldview several years ago. But in the class I teach on the intersection of Harry Potter and Christian thought, one of the things I tell my students is that Christianity isn't just about witchcraft -- Christianity is a cohesive yet multifaceted worldview that addresses the most complicated and mysterious aspects of existence. The reasons for evil, the nature of humanity, the purpose of sacrifice, and the origin of sin all get addressed by Christian texts and Christian thinkers.
So does the Divergent series have much to say on any of these topics?
Intriguingly, the film released this weekend -- and the book upon which it's based -- has a lot to say about one topic in particular: human sin. In the time where the main character, Tris, lives, Chicago has been divided into five factions or subgroups. Each faction's members have a different personality type that gets embodied in the group's name: Erudite, Amity, Candor, Abnegation, and Dauntless. At the age of 16, every resident takes a test to assess which of these four character traits they hold most prominent, and then they are given a choice of which faction to join. Those who don't fit clearly into any of the factions -- like Tris -- are called Divergent, and that diagnosis makes them a danger to society.
As the series progresses, the reader learns (slight spoiler alert) that the factions originated as an attempt to eradicate humankind's inclination to evil. Because people weren't living well together, the factions became an experiment to see whether peace could be achieved.
So from a Christian perspective, it seems like the very existence of the factions is a response to original sin, or the idea that humans are created with an innate tendency to push themselves away from the hopes God has for them and the world.
But if the factions were intended to eradicate original sin, they didn't do it. At the start of the second film, sin is still deeply engrained in members of each and every faction. The Dauntless are prone to physical violence; Erudite idolize intellect at the expense of compassion; Candor are rude; Abnegation focus so much on others that they ignore their own needs, and Amity tries so hard to keep the peace that they miss opportunities to speak truth and seek justice.
Also, characters keep killing each other.
From a theological point of view, the factions failed because people can't be forced into good behavior any more than they can be forced to accept faith or salvation. For either of those things to happen, hearts have to be transformed. And in both Christianity and Divergent, that transformation happens because of a model.
In the case of Christianity, Jesus is that model. In the series, Tris functions the same way. Because neither fits into the society in which they live, each can be a powerful prophetic voice. Each can name injustice; each can transform hearts. nd each has to make some pivotal sacrifices.
That makes Tris something of a savior. Or you could say that Jesus is Divergent.
However you see it, it's not a surprise that Insurgent was the number one grossing film at theaters this weekend. After all, the plot of Christianity has captured the human imagination for two millennia. It's no wonder that a contemporary story with such similar themes is doing the same.