In thinking a lot over the past week about The Hunger Games (my review), and especially in preparing what will be my final post (which I hope to publish tomorrow) about the books, I was reminded of a passage from The Confessions of St. Augustine. In it, Augustine of Hippo, a bishop from Northern Africa during the 4th century, writes of his student Alypius, who had become fascinated by the gladiatorial games in the Roman Colisseum:
[Alypius] had gone to Rome before me in order to study law and in Rome he had been quite swept away, incredibly and with a most incredible passion, by the gladiatorial shows. He was opposed to such things and detested them; but he happened to meet some of his friends and fellow pupils on their way back from dinner, and they, in spite of his protests and his vigorous resistance, used a friendly kind of violence and forced him to go along with them to the amphitheater on a day when one of these cruel and bloody shows was being presented. As he went, he said to them: “You can drag my body there, but don’t imagine that you can make me turn my eyes or give my mind to the show. Though there, I shall not be there, and so I shall have the better both of you and of the show.”
After hearing this his friends were all the keener to bring him along with them. No doubt they wanted to see whether he could actually do this or not. So they came to the arena and took the seats which they could find. The whole place was seething with savage enthusiasm, but he shut the doors of his eyes and forbade his soul to go out into a scene of such evil. If only he could have blocked up his ears too! For in the course of the fight some man fell; there was a great roar from the whole mass of spectators which fell upon his ears; he was overcome by curiosity and opened his eyes, feeling perfectly prepared to treat whatever he might see with scorn and to rise above it. But he then received in his soul a worse wound than that man, whom he had wanted to see, had received in his body. His own fall was more wretched than that of the gladiator which had caused all that shouting which had entered his ears and unlocked his eyes and made an opening for the thrust which was to overthrow his soul — a soul that had been reckless rather than strong and was all the weaker because it had trusted in itself when it ought to have trusted in you. He saw the blood and he gulped down savagery. Far from turning away, he fixed his eyes on it. Without knowing what was happening, he drank in madness, he was delighted with the guilty contest, drunk with the lust of blood. He was no longer the man who had come there but was one of the crowd to which he had come, a true companion of those who had brought him.
There is no more to be said. He looked, he shouted, he raved with excitement; he took away with him a madness which would goad him to come back again, and he would not only come with those who first got him there; he would go ahead of them and he would drag others with him. Yet you, with your most strong and merciful hand, rescued him from this, and you taught him to put his trust not in himself but in you. This, however, was much later. (Book VI, Chapter 8)
For me, this is a chilling reminder that I must always be on my guard against taking part in the sinful lusts of the world around me. I know for a fact that when I rely on my own strength to “rise above it”, I always fail. Sin is so enticing! It often seems innocent enough, but before I know it, I’m dragging others down with me.
Incidentally, this section is quoted from the Rex Warner translation, which I recently purchased and like MUCH better than either of the translations I’d read before.