Final Thoughts on Mockingjay

How does one end a well loved series? That’s a question that haunts television, movies, and of course books. It seems like it is often difficult to have a series end in a satisfying manner. I’ve been giving my thoughts on the Hunger Games series throughout the year, and now I’ll be looking to see how the trilogy ends. Is it an ending that satisfies or leaves you with a bad taste in your mouth?

MockingjaySince this will be regarding the third book of a series this will contain spoilers from the first two books, The Hunger Games and Catching Fire, so you’ve been warned. I’ll try to keep it light on the spoilers for this book, but can’t guarantee anything on that either.

Plot

The last book ended with a number of obligatory cliffhangers to make you anticipate the next book. Katniss and two of the other tributes of the 75th Hunger Games escape with the help of a still existing District 13, but three others are captured by the Capitol including Peeta. To make matters worse after Katniss wakes up from her injuries from that ordeal, Gale is there to let her know that District 12 has been bombed and destroyed, but he has managed to rescue her family.

So this sets up where the last book starts. Katniss finds herself in District 13, which lives underground. The new surroundings are quite foreign to Katniss as District 13 runs on a military like efficiency. Everyone is dressed similarly, has a set daily schedule, and only uses the basic necessities.

Now the plot of this book doesn’t revolve around a Hunger Games, but rather the war that is raging across the nation of Panem. With the Capitol leading one side and District 13 leading the other. What District 13 wants to do is find a way to unite the districts against the Capitol, and the best way to do that is to get Katniss to be the symbol (mascot?) of the rebellion.

So no problem right? The Capitol is evil and standing up against them should be no problem. Things aren’t quite that simple, the fact that Peeta has been captured by the Capitol and that the leadership of District 13 seems a little iffy makes Katniss unsure of what she should do.

So that’s the basic setup. The plot has a good amount of tension that makes you want to know what’s happening next. However, at that same time there are a number of things that are just kind of over the top. Some that spring to mind are bows and arrows that can take down hovercrafts and the whole last section of the book where the Capitol is revealed to be pretty much a Hunger Games arena.

Characters

A lot of the characters return for the final installment, so if they’ve survived the previous books they’re pretty much in this book. The thing is that there are a good number who haven’t survived. Even the ones that have been in previous books have undergone certain changes in Mockingjay. These aren’t changes that are against character necessarily, but rather changes that have come out of the circumstances in previous books. Let me give a few examples.

The first is Katniss. Just like with The Hunger Games and Catching Fire, Katniss is our guide to the world of Panem. I’ve always thought that this choice was largely a strong point, with some minor weaknesses. In Mockingjay, I think it starts to become a larger weakness, maybe not more than a strength, but up there.

With each book the conflict has escalated. In the first book it was just about surviving the Hunger Games so telling it from Katniss’ point of view made a lot of sense. With Catching Fire we have another Hunger Games, but there is also this whole alliance thing trying to break out of the arena and keep Katniss safe that she doesn’t know about.It makes her view point miss a good amount, but it’s still small enough to work well.

Now with Mockingjay there is no Hunger Games, the nation is at war and one person’s perspective on a whole war is going to be lacking. Plus add in the physical and emotional trauma that Katniss has sustained in the past two books and it leads to a character who is still strong, but unable to carry the whole load of a war (even if she was still physically and mentally unaffected by the previous two books). This also means that some parts and aspects of the war are just unknown to Katniss or only heard about later.

This may lead you to think that Katniss isn’t as strong as the previous books but I don’t think this is the case. I’ll admit to understanding this view since she spends a fair deal of the book wandering around some hospital or other building in a wounded or emotionally unstable state. I’d say though that it is more about one person coming up to their limits in terms of what the strength of one person can accomplish. So unless Suzanne Collins was wanting to turn Katniss into Rambo or something it seemed like a fairly natural progression to me.

Gale also has a shift in this book. In previous books he was more of an anti-authority, voice of the people character and really only seemed to trust Katniss. In this book we see him gravitating towards the authority of District 13 and putting quite a bit of distance between him and Katniss (which to be fair Katniss has contributed to over time). This makes sense as Gale is more anti-Capitol, but it seems to cause him to not see the flaws in the authority system he is embracing. It makes for an interesting shift, but made Gale an even more unlikable character in my mind.

Peeta also has a pretty drastic shift in this book. I won’t give too much away, but circumstances kind of change Peeta into a cold person, at least towards Katniss, for a good portion of this book. We see this kind of change in a few other characters like Finnick who removes his brash confident exterior for a more vulnerable and humble picture of himself at times. So we have development for a number of the characters that we’ve come to know.

We’re also introduced to a number of new characters some major, others minor. Since it is a Hunger Games book, there is also no guarantee that any of the characters are going to survive the book, whether they’re new blood or not. You’ll go through a number of characters in this one, some that you’ll miss and others that you won’t.

Themes

To me it also seems that the themes of this book have shifted just a bit like the characters themselves. The theme of survival is largely absent. However, the theme of corruption and abuse of power is all over the place. This has been seen throughout the trilogy through the Capitol, but Mockingjay adds another player to the corrupt and power hungry. That is the leader of District 13, President Coin.

So you have the whole rebellion against a corrupt Capitol going on through the book, but as you travel further on you have real questions about the morality and goodness of President Coin and District 13. It then becomes a struggle of who does one support if both options are corrupt. Positions of power and authority are not viewed favorably in these books.

In addition to the themes of corruption and abuse of power, you also have the theme of morality in war. What is morally acceptable and unacceptable in war? Is war even a time to be asking that question? These kind of questions are explored through the book. Katniss seems to think there should be morals and that certain lines shouldn’t be crossed, but sadly both the Capitol and even District 13 don’t seem to agree with her.

One last theme I’ll touch on that I mentioned earlier is the idea of the limits of one person. Katniss as the Mockingjay symbol for the revolution does more than most people would do for a war effort, but you constantly see Katniss run up against the limits of what she can do on her own throughout the book. While one person can have a more significant impact in a small arena battle, as the conflict spreads to all out war a person’s impact may be less noticeable.

Overall Impressions

This was another book that I read rather fast once I started getting into it. Like the other books it hooks you into the story and you want to see how it all ends. There are weaknesses that come from having Katniss being the only point of view that are stronger in this book. She misses some fairly significant moments because she’s not there to witness them. This fact also leads to some slower parts of the book.

The book just kind of seemed all over the place in some ways. It has slow parts and fast parts, but then has setting or circumstances that just make you scratch your head (which is what I was thinking about for the last quarter or so of the book while in the Capitol). The ending I found mostly satisfying. I didn’t like some of the parts about how it ended, but overall I don’t object too strongly. At the end of the day The Hunger Games is still the strongest book of the trilogy. The whole trilogy is still worth your time to read, but the follow up books never seemed to capture the focused story that the first book presented.

Final Thoughts on Catching Fire

Trilogies make for interesting situations. You may hook people with your first book, but it is hard to make a middle book that doesn’t feel like it is doing more than treading water up until the inevitable cliffhanger. It can then also be difficult to make a final book that ends the whole series in such a way that people are happy.

Catching FireToday though I’m giving my thoughts on Catching Fire which is the second book of the Hunger Games trilogy. How does it fare in regards to this fate? Does it work well enough on its own or does it simply set us up for the last book? Do we see it building on the themes of the first book, setting up new themes to consider, or simply meandering around to simply get where it wants to go?

Understand that I’ll be going into the plot and such of the first book when talking about the second. You just have to in some regards, so if you haven’t read the first book maybe you’d want to start with my thoughts on The Hunger Games.

Plot

The plot of Catching Fire picks up pretty much where The Hunger Games left off. You have Katniss and Peeta as winners of the previous Hunger Games, a fact that is rather controversial since there is only supposed to be one winner of the Hunger Games. Between this and a number of other aspects regarding the last games, the spark of revolt has been developing in a number of districts.

Katniss’ actions during the last Hunger Games were unintentionally that spark. The Capitol is not happy with her and wants her to put out this spark she started. She is to try to do this while on a victory tour that involves visiting each district as well as the Capitol itself.

As Katniss soon finds out, the spark is beyond her control. Coincidentally though, this year marks a special Hunger Games called a Quarter Quell that happens every 25 years. This involves having a Hunger Games with some special modifiers added. For the 75th Hunger Games it is that one male and female from the previous winners in each district will go back into the arena to see if they can survive again.

Now I’m trying to keep the plot as bare as possible. Overall though, I thought the plot was an interesting setup. To me the plot moved along rather quickly. The tension that goes on at the beginning of the book keeps the first half moving along fairly quickly and then moving into the Hunger Games itself is of course going to be more action focused and interesting.

Admittedly, one could argue that it is basically a rehash of the plot in the first book. I certainly understand that criticism, but I think that there is a shift that is pretty significant between the first and second books. In the first book, the Capitol is doing business as usual. In the second, it feels like the Capitol is focusing on getting rid of Katniss and stamping out any sign of rebellion that they can. It is not business as usual, but a reaction to stop what has been set into motion using ways that are already part of how the Capitol does things.

One of the worst parts of the book is also similar, that being the love triangle. Maybe it’s just because I never really like Gale from the first book and he felt like he was the forced love interest in the first place, but it’s even more annoying here. Oh well, it’s there and not much we can do about it.

Another weak point of the plot this time around is that it is definitely not a stand alone story. It ends with a fairly dramatic cliffhanger. Maybe it’d be better to say several dramatic cliffhangers. While the first book had the foreshadowing of more to come it wrapped up most of the story and stood alone well. This one doesn’t. I can’t fault it too much for that, since it is often the fate of the middle book in a trilogy, but it’s disappointing mainly because it makes you want to read more.

Characters

Like the first book you experience the events of Catching Fire from the perspective of Katniss Everdeen. Also similar to the first book this is both a strength and a weakness. You wind up knowing Katniss and her thoughts quite well with her as the only perspective you get. The negative thing is that Katniss doesn’t know it all, which allows for mystery and twists, but this also gives you the feeling that you know something is going on, but not quite sure what.

In this book though, it doesn’t seem like Katniss is quite as good as putting things together as she was in the first book. She was able to figure out Haymitch ‘s thoughts in the first book and able to play things according to plan. In this book though, it feels like she doesn’t have much of any clue what is going on during the Hunger Games.

Many of the District 12 characters return and they’ve all of varied importance. The most important are probably Peeta and Haymitch, but Gale, Prim, Madge, and Mrs. Everdeen all play some significant roles as well. Peeta winds up back in the Hunger Games this time around as well, but winds up feeling a bit more like one always needing rescued this time around.

In addition to that you also get to meet all the other tributes from the other districts. They are a bit more important to know and remember for the most part in this book since they play more of a role before the Games and during than just being people to watch out for and kill before they kill you. That’s not entirely true of all of them, but there are more significant people to remember than the first book.

Katniss also gets to meet President Snow and have a conversation with him as well as a few other shorter interactions with him. All in all he sets himself up to be a person you can dislike pretty quickly a good villain to root against. There are a few other Capitol characters that are of interest too. Cinna and his stylist team returns and Katniss also gets to meet the new head gamemaker Plutarch Heavensbee who is somewhat of a mystery to her.

So overall the cast of characters expands quite a bit in this book. Where the first book focused mainly on the District 12 team of Katniss, Peeta, and Haymitch with exceptions like Cinna and Rue, this book makes most of the characters seem a bit more important. That’s not to say that everyone you’re introduced to makes it out alive, but just that there is a bit more interaction with a wider number of characters.

Themes (May Contain Spoilers)

Really I’d say that many of the themes from the first book transfer over to this book, but maybe in different amounts. The theme of abuse of power increases. Here we see the abuse played out stronger as the Capitol is starting to lose control over its districts. People are killed for the slightest provocation, it’s heavily implied that the setup for the 75th Hunger Games is in order to get rid of Katniss and remove her from influencing people to rebellion any more. The abuse of power only increases as the power is now being challenged in an intentional way.

Survival is also still there as a theme, but I think that this time around the focus on this is reduced. Katniss seems more focused on the survival of those around her rather than on herself necessarily. She wants to make Snow happy so that he doesn’t kill her family, she primarily wants to help Peeta win the Hunger Games and survive, and so on. I guess you could say the theme transfers more to protection than survival.

A theme that is somewhat new with this book is the idea on who to trust. Can Katniss trust President Snow if she does what he wants her to do? Who can be trusted in the arena as allies? How far can they be trusted? In Katniss’ mind the answer is typically that nobody can really be trusted at least not for any length of time, with the exception of Peeta.

So overall, this book has similar themes, but the focus is slightly different. Instead of Katniss being solely focused on her own survival, she’s instead focused more on protecting others. She’s also more willing to be actively antagonistic to the Capitol as the book goes on, although still most of the time it winds up being unintentional than intentional.

Overall Impressions

I’ll admit, I didn’t quite like this book as much as the first one. The first was groundbreaking but so much of this book seemed like it was retreading the ground the first book did. This wasn’t all bad as I mentioned earlier, but I’m not sure that is was necessarily good. There were aspects of the book that were better like the arena being rather interesting and having more interaction with other tributes, but it just wasn’t quite enough to make me enjoy it more than the first.

Now I still read through this book rather quickly and was looking forward to the last book after I was done. It’s just that this wound up being a middle book of a trilogy after all. A story that really didn’t end, cliffhangers galore, and getting us ready for the final conflict and the final book. Catching Fire is still a good book, but I think I liked The Hunger Games a little better.

Final Thoughts on The Hunger Games

I’m sure that most of you have already heard of The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, the first book of the Hunger Games trilogy. There are even movies made of this book and the sequel. Obviously, I’m a bit behind the curve and have just started reading the series. Unlike the last fiction work I read which took me a couple years to get through, this one took me less than a week.

Hunger GameIt’s funny when something like The Hunger Games comes around there are always those who love it with an undying passionate love and those who seem to despise the book with an undying passion of their own. Sometimes it is hard for me to figure out if the hatred for a book is simply due to the love other people have for the book (as some kind of self-imposed balancing force) or due to honestly thinking the book is terrible.

Personally, I really enjoyed the book. It was easy to read and had a plot that sucked me in. I would say the book does have a few flaws, but nothing to really hinder it too much. However, let’s look a little closer at what The Hunger Games is about and what it has going for it and against it.

Plot

The plot focuses around the titular Hunger Games. The Hunger Games take place in the post-apocalyptic country of Panem that is built on the ashes of what we call North America. The country has twelve districts and is ruled over by The Capitol. The event known as the Hunger Games is where twenty four tributes aged 12-18 from the twelve districts are forced to fight to the death in arena combat. Now if this wasn’t morbid enough, the games are also televised and treated like we treat reality television competitions like Survivor.

Our window into the world of The Hunger Games comes through the main character and heroine of the book Katniss Everdeen. Katniss is a 16 year old girl from District 12 who finds herself in the 74th Hunger Games and trying to survive. Of course this will be no easy task as there are twenty three other participants that are trying to do the same thing.

I may be oversimplifying the plot a bit, but this captures the essence of what the book is about. I must say though, that while the plot seems fairly simple, it also always feels like the plot is bigger than what we’re seeing. Perhaps that seems obvious since the Hunger Games is part of the a trilogy and everything. Even so, it does a good job of keeping a tight plot in a stand-alone book while still creeping it’s tendrils out in such a way that I wondered if there is more going on than we’re privy to.

The plot and world that is presented is an interesting one, even if it isn’t maybe the most original. I’m sure many people can find books or short stories that this will remind them of. I had thoughts of the short story “The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson while reading it, but truthfully this did little to cause me to dislike The Hunger Games, but more wonder if there was any inspiration from it.

I’ve also seen criticism of the plot being that it wouldn’t be possible because something as horrible as the Hunger Games would be resisted against too much. I’m not sure if I buy this as part of what keeps people doing it is the oppressive, totalitarian nature of the Capitol. They appear to be better fed, resourced, and armed than at least District 12, so it all seems a bit one sided.I don’t underestimate the power of fear and oppression. However, even if it is still unlikely, I’d say that I don’t really require “realism” in my fiction of this type.

One negative I do have about the plot is that it tries to shoehorn a love triangle into the works. Which, I must admit, is not the most convincing plot point in the book. It seems like included because it was needed to gain traction as a young adult novel and not really because the plot needed it.

Characters

The character that you spend the most time with and come to know the best is Katniss. After all the novel is told from her perspective in the first person. While I’d hold that this is an overall positive choice of perspective, it does hold a few weaknesses. The strength is that you get to know Katniss really well. She’s a great character. She’s strong, smart, but still real enough to do very stupid things in the midst of everything too. She seems like a well fleshed out and very human character.

The problem with this is that the other characters are only able to be known to the extent that Katniss knows them. This leads to weaker characterization of the supporting cast. While I think that the cast of supporting characters are still presented and developed fairly well, there isn’t nearly as much development of them as their is of Katniss. This makes it easy to see other characters as perhaps more one dimensional than they really are, simply because that’s primarily how Katniss perceives them.

Another potential negative is that Katniss really doesn’t know a lot of what’s going on during the book and neither do you. She doesn’t understand the thoughts and motivations of other characters unless it is later divulged; you don’t know what’s going on elsewhere until she gets the information. This isn’t a terrible thing as it helps create a tense atmosphere and has you trying to figure out what’s going on too, but I could see how some might get frustrated with it.

Themes (Some Spoilers Possible)

The Hunger Games is an interesting beast. I found it to be an enjoyable book, but it deals with subject matter that is a bit uncomfortable, like the whole teenagers being forced to fight to the death thing. I’ve seen some try to make it seem that the book glorifies violence and is an endorsement of what the Hunger Games in the books represented. I’d have to disagree with this assessment.

In fact I’d say one of the main themes of the book is the misuse of power and violence. While the other main theme is survival and the willingness to disobey the authority in order to survive. These two linked themes can be found all over the place in the book.

We see the misuse of power underneath the reasoning for the Hunger Games in the first place.The reason for this terrible event is to remind the districts of a time when they tried to rebel against the Capitol. It is a reminder of who is really in power and what happens when that power is resisted. It is the pinnacle of power and violence being abused.

As you proceed through the book, this abuse of power is highlighted again and again. While many people in the districts go hungry, we find that in the Capitol there is plenty of food to go around. Both the quality and quantity of food in the Capitol far exceeds the meager portions that can be found in District 12 where starvation is a very real fear.

To make matters even worse the citizens of the Capitol are so self-absorbed and separated from the plight and abuse that takes place in the other districts. The Hunger Games are presented as some spectacle complete with stylists, parades, and even televised interviews.They present the Hunger Games as if those participating were doing this for some noble cause, or as if the majority weren’t going off to their deaths.

The other main theme is that of survival and that sometimes defying the authorities is necessary in doing so. Again this is a theme that is present from the opening pages to the end of the book. We first see Katniss getting up and sneaking out of the boundaries of District 12 to hunt in the nearby forests. This is something that if she was caught she could face severe punishment, but hunting was a way that she could provide food for herself and her family. Survival was more important than obedience.

This continues in small and large ways throughout. Even Katniss volunteering for the Hunger Games in place of her sister could be viewed as defiance to the status. It is also an example of another significant theme in the book, which is self-sacrifice. Katniss is willing to sacrifice herself to protect her younger sister. There are also other examples from Katniss and other characters that are willing to sacrifice themselves for others throughout the book..

Personally, I would say that these are the strongest themes of the book and carry the weight going forward. Katniss’ main focus is on survival, and while she does realize that her need to survive is because of the abuses of the Capitol, her defiance is not necessarily ideological as much as practical. She wants to stay alive and keep those she cares about alive. So she doesn’t always think too hard about the consequences of that survival when it is in defiance to the power of the Capitol.

Overall Impression

As I said near the beginning, I enjoyed The Hunger Games. It’s an engaging book that deals with themes and a plot that can be a bit disturbing, but that I feel ultimately serves a purpose. I certainly liked it a lot more than the last fiction book I read.

 

 

 

 

Reflections on Church Membership

I remember the first time I became a member of a church. I didn’t really know what membership was about, but as I became a member of the church that helped grow my faith as a young Christian it was like a right of passage. It felt like being accepted as an adult, able to be a member of the church that was so foundational in my early faith.

As the years passed though, I wondered if being a member was largely symbolic. When I transferred colleges my sophomore year I was only able to go to that church probably about a third of the year. I considered it my home church, but honestly during my college years it felt like I didn’t have a steady church home. It was a weird split being involved with two congregations at the same time for a few years. I was still more invovled with my home church than my college church at this time, but you just felt like you missed so much of what went on during the year. I was also never able to make annual meetings because they would always wind up on weekends that I was back at college, so I often felt like there was little change after I became a member from before I became a member.

I retained the membership to that church until my wife and I moved to Massachusetts for me to go to Seminary. We started going to the church and fairly quickly became members; we liked the church, they were having a membership class fairly shortly after we started going, and I needed to be involved in the work of the church for Seminary and membership is typically required for such things. Again though, membership just seemed a bit strange. I did it more because the church required it, than any sort of personal reasons. Maybe this boils down to the fact that if I’m going to a church, I’m going to be committed to that church and get involved in the ministry of that church. Membership didn’t bother me, but it also wasn’t something I viewed as a badge of importance either.

Later at this church, I would be part of the leadership that would dissolve membership (as well as all offices, including our own) as part of a restructuring of the church. It wasn’t a permanent removal of membership necessarily, but it was enough to cause a major ruckus in the church. Admittedly, looking back I think we could have introduced the idea better, but at the same time I’m not sure if this would have made things better, worse, or the same. People left over getting their membership taken away, and it just struck me as odd. I never held my membership as super important. I was part of a congregation because of my relationships, my attendance, and the work that I did in the church. I didn’t necessarily need to be an official member to be considered a member.

I don’t say that to dismiss people’s thoughts on membership, but I just didn’t quite understand their position as to why it was so important. If it was about power, about the only power I got from membership was voting on the budget and electing people for offices, which was pretty much just affirming the one person who was willing to do the job. If it was about their connection to the church, leaving over it seemed to be an odd way of voicing such a concern. I mention all this because in my life of viewing membership as something minor, I ran across people who felt that membership was of significant importance, at least enough to leave a church over.

This brings us to today. Last Sunday my wife and I became members of the church we’ve been going to since the beginning of this year. I’d like to say I view official membership as something super important, but I still don’t. However, due to something I’ve read recently, I think I might have some idea why.

When I was reading Resident Aliens the book I gave my thoughts on not long ago, I came across this quote, “We shall have to break our habit of having church in such a way that people are deceived into thinking they can be Christians and remain strangers.” Now it may rub people as a bit of an overstatement, but for some reason it really struck me. For some reason this quote and my thinking about membership intersected. I wondered is this idea that we can remain strangers while going to the same church part of the reason for membership? We don’t really know too many people beyond surface level so we need a procedure that will help us know who is committed, who believes the right things to be involved with ministry, and will allow us to still remain mostly strangers.

Now I admit that this may sound anti-membership, but this was just my thoughts when these two ideas collided. What are the reasons for membership? I’ve heard it used as a tool used for churches to know who is allowed to be invovled with ministries, but is membership the best way to figure this out? I’m not sure as I’ve gone through membership classes and interview that people would know me enough to know if I was a good fit for the various ministries of a church.

I’ve also seen membership used as a sign of commitment by members to the vision and body of the church. This kind of works for those who become members right at a given time, but as leaders change, new people come, people go, and the vision changes this isn’t a good barometer either. It can be a sign of commitment through all changes, or it can easily turn into a sense of entitlement because of holding a membership for x number of years. Perhaps what would be needed is a membership renewal after so many years to recommit to the vision, particularly if it has shifted since last membership.

Membership has also been viewed as a way to get power in the church. It is a way to get a voice in the church. I’m not sure this is a good reason. As I’ve already said, becoming a member didn’t really give me a feeling of great power in the church. If anything actually being involved with the ministries of the church was more empowering, but even then it was also frustrating and humbling more than empowering.

The bad thing with all of these though is they seem to operate from a place that considers being strangers the status quo. We need to know who is able to do ministry because we don’t know others enough to where they are in their faith and what their gifts and talents are if they are mature enough to be involved with ministry. We use membership as a sign of commitment because the commitment isn’t cemented in our relationships with the people of the church. We use membership as a way to get power because the power of the church doesn’t come from knowing one another and valuing each others voice, but from a title.

I don’t know if these are fair thoughts against membership or not. I mean I’m one who doesn’t hold  membership that important in the large scheme of things, so I could just be off on my own here. As I said I’m not against membership, but I do wonder if we need to reflect over our reasons for membership. We need to make sure we’re not encouraging a way for the church to stay strangers by incorporating a rubber stamp system so that people know who is okay and who isn’t.

Assassin’s Creed II, Religion, Power, and Control

A common sentiment that I’ve found is the idea that we’d all be better off if there wasn’t religion. This view believes that religion is the cause of much of the evil and conflict in the world. You see this sentiment appear in video games too. Too often if there is a religious order they are usually intentionally or unintentionally part of the problem. Assassin’s Creed II seems to follow this at first glance, but I think that there is more going on with it than that. Dealing with a theme like this will mean that I will be dealing with spoilers to Assassin’s Creed II. The game is four years old at this point, so I won’t be spoiling anything from a new game, but if you’re like me and behind on your games, this serves as a warning.

As I said, at first glance Assassin’s Creed II looks like it echos the complaints against religion. The Templars who are the antagonists of both the first and second game are associated with the Catholic Church. This is clearer in the first game as the Templars are associated with the religious order of the Knights Templar. Assassin’s Creed II picks this up as a number of the men involved in the plot that killed your father and brothers are established in the Catholic Church. Involved in the conspiracy is an archbishop, a monk, a friar (in downloadable content for the game), and even the Pope himself (he actually becomes the Pope after being the mastermind behind the plot, but still you seriously have to fight the Pope in this game).

With this kind of evidence it could be clear that Assassin’s Creed has a dim view of religion and would chime in that religion is the root of all the conflict and evil in the world. Hold onto that judgment for a bit though. In a conversation that takes place while fighting Rodrigo Borgia, the man who became the Pope, Ezio (your character), basically asks how Rodrigo could do what he’s done when it goes against the teaching of the Bible. The Pope simply says that he doesn’t believe in God or the Bible and that it was all just a show to be able to achieve power. You see, actual religious belief had very little to do with the whole thing. It was the mask to be worn so that one could achieve goals and gain power and control.

Now this may not get religion off the hook for many people. After all many believe that religion is a sham and just used to control people, Assassin’s Creed doesn’t really help that. The question that may be needed is, what about the people who are actually believers in a religion, are they to be written off because some who wield power are just playing the system and wanting as much control as possible? This is a question that isn’t important in the world of Assassin’s Creed because Ezio finds out the truth of human creation, he meets a recording of Minerva, a member of a more advanced civilization that created the human beings. So ultimately religion isn’t really true in Assassin’s Creed so it isn’t a game that promotes religion, but it isn’t necessarily out to blame religion for all the evil or conflict in the world either.

What leads me to say that? Well how about the fact that in the modern day story line the Templars have abandoned any sort of religious affiliation. They are instead connected to what is probably the largest power structure in modern day, a multi-national corporation, Abstergo Industries. I think this leans towards the idea that the Templars are more interested in power and control and will use any system it can to gain it. So while the Catholic Church was strong and wielded a fair degree of power, that was infiltrated and propped up by Templars. When it became less powerful, it was then abandoned. Once that structure was abandoned a new power structure had to be developed.

So why is this important at all? Maybe it isn’t, but I think it is important because power and control are not just facets of religion, despite so many people insisting it is. Assassin’s Creed II just gave me an illustration of this truth and made me think about the topic a little bit. The truth is our history is littered with conflict over a number of different reasons. I would be lying if religion wasn’t one of them, but it is not the only one. Many other things have been used to gain power and control over others. Many other items have been a cause of conflict. Land, money, politics, nationalism, ethnic superiority, resources, all of these have been used to claim power and control.

Honestly, more often than not it is hard to isolate just one of these as the only reason for conflict. Even events like the Crusades are so mired in religious, political, and nationalistic issues it is hard to isolate just one issue that was the cause of them all. It is just more complicated than that. There will always be people out there who want power and control over others. Some have used and will continue to use religion as a means to do that. Others will use wealth, nationalism, politics or some other way to gain power or control over others.

I could probably go further with this, but I think that is enough. Do you think this makes sense? Agree? Disagree? I’d like to hear what you think. Thoughts from anyone who’s played the game? Thoughts on drawing themes like this from games?