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So Are Christians Now Okay With ‘Harry Potter’?

The Harry Potter series has turned 20. Have Christians grown out of their outrage about it?
| Jun 29, 2017 | 25 comments |

Harry Potter has turned 20, and I’ve not seen nearly the Christian outrage I used to see.

No, I’m not complaining. I discovered this series in my early 20s. Rather quickly I joined the Harry Potter fandom, just in time for book 7 and film 5 to release. Not only did the series not share actual divination-based witchcraft—the kind the Bible explicitly warns about for clear reasons—it was overall well-written and just exquisitely plotted fun.

Most of my Christian friends must agree with me. In the last week I’ve seen only Harry Potter positivity: quotes, memories, and glee over the Facebook magic-wand app tricks.

What a change from the Christian world 15 years ago. Back then, we perceived that most Christians couldn’t stand this series. From my (false?) memories, parents were building bonfires to roast the paperbacks. They were banning students caught with the books.

At the very least, Christians had several VHS tapes and nonfiction books warning about Harry Potter’s dangers. I recall seeing an article or two, mainly about the controversy. Some Christians were also duped by a July 2000 Onion satire about Rowling’s supposed Satanism. (Sixteen years later, The Babylon Bee—a site by and for Christians—offered a similar satire, only this time from the perspective of Christians gently ribbing other Christians.)

My wife recalls going to a Christian speaker at her library. He specifically warned about Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, aghast that Rowling’s world portrays a witch (Ginny Weasley) using a magic book to allow her body to be taken over by an invisible dark spirit. (For some reason, he did not recognize the story actively condemns this behavior.)

Surely some of these anti-Potter views are still around. Here on Speculative Faith, we’ve written about them here and there. However, I’ve moved from “not shutting up about Harry Potter” to writing more generically about Christian myths about magic and witchcraft.

So why aren’t Christians bothered about Harry Potter?

Here are a few theories about why, before I ask you for your thoughts:

1. Maybe more Christians do dislike Harry. They’re just really quiet.

People with legit concerns about Harry Potter may not be talking as much as they once did.

Maybe they’re afraid other Christians will call them “legalistic,” despite their own motives.

Comically enough, “that looks like legalism, so you’re a sinner” is itself a rather legalistic accusation. Concerned Christians ought to feel free to speak up. We ought to feel free to discuss these “disputable matters” in love, as Paul encourages in 1 Corinthians 8-10.

2. Maybe more Christians do dislike Harry. We just don’t hear from them.

As I get older, I find I’m blessed with far more mature and delightful Christian friends.

They care about biblical truth, including the truth of what God’s hated “witchcraft” actually is and why He hates it). They also care about biblical imagination, following Jesus and pursuing His holiness, which drives their secondary pursuits of fantastical storytelling.

As we move deeper into these kinds of real-life Christian circles and social media circles, we’ll be more “sheltered” from other Christians. We’ll no longer hear those beliefs shared.

3. Maybe more Christians are simply indifferent to popular culture.

For this one, I really, really hope that’s not the case. If anything, I’m seeing many more Christians who embrace popular culture exposure, discussion, and praise/criticism.

Maybe too many Christians are doing this. Some Christians treat popular culture as some unique grace from God, rather than a thing humans do naturally—as a broken reflection of God’s original creativity, a reflection that needs to be restored by Jesus Himself.

But even that flawed view is a conscious and studied view. More likely, we see among Christians an indifference to popular culture and imagination. This indifference is either positive: “popular culture can’t hurt me, so I won’t worry about it.” Or this indifference is negative: “popular culture is worthless, compared with real Kingdom work, so why bother.”

If this theory is right, Christians just don’t care to talk Harry Potter because we’re flippant about popular culture. We’re not taking it seriously as a human creation, for mixed good/ill.

4. Maybe more Christians are distracted by socio-political issues.

This theory about Christian silence about Harry Potter can be negative or positive.

The positive side is this: Fifteen to 20 years ago, Christians felt we had some edge in the “culture wars,” especially on the sexuality front. Maybe we felt we had time to critique fantasy series and other threats (either real or imagined) from popular culture.

Celebrate that thing that goes before destruction (Proverbs 16:18).

But now the culture has changed. We see the real threats to biblical morality don’t come from a fantasy series that itself offers very Christian-influenced themes of good, evil, and redemption. We see these threats overtly, from people who flagrantly celebrate the worst sin, “pride,” under that very label—and often want to punish Christians who disagree.

The negative side is this: Now that pride-ists are winning the “culture wars,” Christians are fighting in kind. We put our trust in Gentile princes and the illusion of great numbers, rather than in Jesus himself. We are neglecting the gospel, although only the gospel can change people from the inside out. And thus we also neglect gospel-sourced engagement with other potentially hazardous gifts, such as imagination, fantasy, and Harry Potter.

5. Maybe more Christians practice better discernment about fantasy.

Of course, this is the theory I’d prefer to accept about my sisters and brothers in Christ.

In this view, Christians no longer seem to be blasting Harry Potter (or other fantastical stories) because they’re fearfully quiet, or unknown to the rest of us, or flippant about popular culture, or we prioritize more important(?) social and political matters.

Instead, we’re no longer blasting Harry Potter, et. al., because we know this story does not uniquely threaten us—at least no more than any other popular culture story.

Rather, we know the Harry Potter series includes great good. We know that God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and love and self-control (2 Timothy 1:7). And we know the apostle Paul’s encouragement and gentle warning to the Galatian church:

For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.1

Why do you think Christians no longer publicly blast Harry Potter—if indeed we don’t?

  1. Galatians 5:13.
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Kirsty
Guest

““that looks like legalism, so you’re a sinner” is itself a rather legalistic accusation. Concerned Christians ought to feel free to speak up. We ought to feel free to discuss these “disputable matters” in love, as Paul encourages in 1 Corinthians 8-10.”
I like this.

WriterOfMinds
Guest

I think there’s a sixth possibility … that opposition to Harry Potter was a sort of fad within the Christian community, that has now died out due to the simple passage of time. Does that mean we’re all more discerning now, or will we gleefully hop on the bandwagon when the next moral panic fad comes along? I’m not sure.

notleia
Guest
notleia

Inorite?

Autumn Grayson
Guest
Autumn Grayson

I think part of it is that people just aren’t thinking about it as much anymore. A lot of Christians still disagree with Harry Potter, but after the initial controversy, it’s sort of old news now. People have moved on with their lives whether or not they agree with those books.

My parents have pretty much always thought Harry Potter was bad, though they weren’t crazy book burning types. They just forbade me from reading it and sometimes did annoying things like blame some people’s behavioral problems on the fact that they read Harry Potter growing up. I’m somewhere in the middle I think, there’s potential problems with the series, and at the very least I think some Christian fans can be a little careless about the whole thing, but I don’t think it’s much worse than other books with magic in them that Christians do approve of. I’m not really interested in Harry Potter, though, since I saw a few of the movies and didn’t care for them that much.

Travis Perry
Editor

I am not thrilled with Harry Potter, but I would say the Christian overreaction to it is probably worse than any harm that could come from Harry Potter itself.

The Christian overreaction of course treats any fictional mention of magic as an invitation for demonic possession or a direct gateway “drug” to full Satanism. This is so over the top, it damages the idea that there is any danger at all in ANY form of fictional magic (or any form of fiction at all for that matter). The overreaction is so ridiculous that reasonable people will conclude that no story like Harry Potter has any possible harm to anyone at any time and may in fact conclude that about other stories as well.

My answer to that is, “Not so. Discernment means even ordinary things can be bad in the wrong hands.” So parents should not drag their kids to Harry Potter movies with a gush of enthusiasm and poo-pooing any idea that this could potentially be a problem. If they take them, it should be with discernment fully engaged.

Why do I say that? Because I Peter tells us “to be sober” (or serious) and vigilant because out enemy is seeking whom he devour, like a lion would. If we really believe in a supernatural spiritual struggle and believe the Bible is valid, then we need to act as the Bible says. Sober. Vigilant.

“What could be in Harry Potter that would require anyone to be sober?” someone might ask. Look, EVERYTHING is a potential danger and being sober means ABOUT EVERYTHING. Yes, even entertainment. Perhaps especially entertainment.

Which does not mean it is impossible to enjoy anything, like Harry Potter. But it does mean we should look at every aspect of every story and really give them a thorough view. What is potentially harmful we should openly identify. And discuss. That’s what it means to be alert, to be ready, to be sober, to be vigilant. To have the mind engaged, to notice problems before they happen and put a stop to problems before they get out of control.

So, I can say some good things about Harry Potter, such as the virtues it shows, loyalty, etc. And I am especially glad this fantasy-based world does not include any Pagan deities as far as I know, the inclusion of whom I think is a bad thing for reasons that are not simplistic and which I don’t care to explain in detail now. However, I do retain some concerns:

1. Calling non-magical humans “muggles” dehumanizes the human race a bit. It also sort of sets up someone reading the books (or watching the movies, whatever) to wish that he or she were special, too, as in separate from the rest of humanity or the ordinary humans he or she lives with. Or perhaps feeling special or different is already a characteristic of the base demographic of Harry Potter to a degree–and being special or unique is hardly a characteristic of Harry Potter alone. Still, the story certainly normalizes feeling separate from everyone around you–and based on what? The ability to work magic, right? (though of course only a young person would tend to take that literally…ahem)

Is there real magic a person can work in this world, if you really want to feel special by doing magic? Yes, actually. Not the Harry Potter kind, but isn’t it at least possible that someone getting a positive feeling about magic from HP could seek it out in real life? Of course it’s possible. How likely is it? I don’t know, probably not very. But possible enough to require dealing with it–and what’s the best way to deal with it? I believe it’s to talk about the issue openly, as I am doing now.

2. Magic gets mostly positive advertising without much downside or cautionary notes. This post comments that the magic the Bible condemns is only the divination-based type. That claim is simply untrue and while I can establish that with dozens of verses, let me offer just one: Revelation 9:21, in which there is not the slightest hint of divination in the words as used in Greek or English or any other language–yet this form of sorcery or witchcraft (based in the use of mind-altering drugs) is condemned. Magic is better defined as “seeking supernatural power outside of God.” Does Harry Potter show that? Of course. Realistically? No. But if a person only knew about magic from Harry Potter and had no other sources at all, would not that person possibly seek out magic? Why not? Looks pretty fun and exciting, right?

Note that magic is not a fantasy in our world–I think some of the casual attitude about such stories must be based in the idea that there is no such thing as sorcery, not really; there are no witches or wizards in the real world; there is nothing to worry about. But real ones DO exist, even though the Harry Potter kind does not.

Note also that a story that portrayed guns in a positive light might cause someone to be curious about shooting guns. Or perhaps not. But for the small percentage of people who read about guns in stories and become shooters because of it, a parent should be thinking about how guns and gun use is portrayed in a story. Even if the guns portrayed have no actual relationship to current weapons–because people can pick up attitudes from things that are not realistic and carry them over into the real world. (Of course.)

3. I’m also concerned about the immerse nature of the fantasy world of HP. I get concerned about ALL immersive fictional worlds, in fact. I think people can lose themselves in fiction in a negative way. I think it happens all the time. I have done this myself. But as immersive fantasy worlds go, HP is far from the worst. It’s a concern, one to watch out for, but not terrible.

As of the moment, that’s all I can think of to say. As I said, I’m not thrilled with HP, but I don’t have problems with other people liking it. Many far worse stories exist than Harry Potter. Still, I think it’s important to hit the following points:

*Stories actually can be bad in terms of influence.
*Magic IS real and is not just divination–though it isn’t the Harry Potter stuff either. *Doing magic does not make a person special.
*Don’t get wrapped up in a fantasy world so much you lose track of real life.

People should be warned, as I just did, and walk into this story or any other alert and vigilant. Because that’s what spiritual warfare requires.

notleia
Guest
notleia

Because it has to be referenced:

CONSTANT VIGILANCE

Paul Lee
Member

….is the price of the need to be certain, of assurance. The price of freedom is embracing the fact that someday, something horrible will happen, that you might be the one to make that horrible mistake, and that there’s nothing you can do right not to preemptively avoid that doom.

Paul Lee
Member

(Random thoughts, not meant to be confrontational…)

Or perhaps feeling special or different is already a characteristic of the base demographic of Harry Potter to a degree

Yes, feeling special or different is a base characteristic of demographic of humans. We’re all the heroes of our own little monomyths. That’s why evangelical Christianity can demand that we lay down the lordship of our lives before Christ. The evangelical conversion narrative wouldn’t work otherwise, and if Christians expect the need to be special to disappear for believers after getting s-s—-, then that narrative doesn’t fit with the broader narrative of the Christian experience.

I think people can lose themselves in fiction in a negative way. I think it happens all the time.

Absolutely, and it’s been documented that people can lose themselves into fiction in negative ways. (Think, the people who have played World of Warcraft for a week straight.) And it happens all the time for me, but not in regard to fiction or any other entertainment. I get lost in my own fiction, in my own inability to get a grip on reality, even without any entertainment. That inability to get a grip on reality is at least a huge part of the problem in probably every case, I think.

I agree that we should be always sharp and capable, ready to act with all that we are, always alert to the ramifications of even the small choices. Still it’s not possible to be constantly vigilant, to observe and correctly judge all things at all times, and there is a kind of deliberate vigilance that wears you down and causes defeat.

….but I don’t even have a bone in discussions regarding the Christian use of entertainment anymore really. I’m just here for nostalgia and to procrastinate because I suck. 🙂

Richard Mull
Guest

The sad reality is that I find so few believers who actually take a serious look at what the Bible has to say on the subject of witchcraft, magic, sorcery and the occult. God’s word never treats it as fantasy and harmless. Search any good scripture search engine for words like sorcery, witch, witchcraft, and numerous other occult words and you will find very definitive truth in both the old and new testament.

Jesus taught 12 ordinary men to cast out demons, heal the sick and preach the kingdom of God. I spent 7 years in theological training and you know how many minutes we spent learning any of those subjects? Zero.

Today, in our ministry we see people every day and minister to people all around the world who have been tormented by demons. I’ve cast demons out of people who have been tormented because of reading Harry Potter and watching the movies. There were a few people who did serious research about the book and the history of the author J.K.Rowling. The book that I read is now out of print, but he clearly documented the intentionality that was behind the book being a primer and a gateway into real occult magic.

God had a zero tolerance for things that we are becoming numb to. Our cultural standards and morays have more influence on too many as opposed to God’s Word.

I challenge you to take serious what the God of the Bible actually says on this subject. I could give you all the scriptures. I’ve logged them all, but you might think I just picked the ones that support my narrow view. I challenge you. Do your own research, Ask the God of the Bible what He has to say and let your views be shaped by Him

notleia
Guest
notleia

Bless your heart

HG Ferguson
Guest
HG Ferguson

Dr. Raymond Dillard. OT professor. Hebrew expert. Bible commentator. Westminster Theological Seminary. Deut. 18:11. Citation: I WAS THERE. “There shall not be found among you [the people of God] one who casts a spell.” That’s not divination. That’s sorcery. And if that doesn’t take care of our boy wizard, you tell me what does. And please don’t insult my intelligence by saying “Well, we don’t know what that meant to the first hearers.” It means the same thing then it means right now. Also: when YHWH opens this discussion in Deut. 18, He says when you go into the land, YOU SHALL NOT LEARN TO DO ACCORDING TO THE ABOMINATIONS (pl.) there, of which spell-casting is but one. This does not say YOU SHALL HAVE NO IDOLATROUS INTENT. What do they do at Hogwarts? They go to school. To LEARN. This verse alone puts HP in a bad light. This does not mean as Christians we cannot enjoy it as a story. What it does mean is that we must not let it direct the way we think on this subject. Debates like this did not exist prior to HP, all Christians were united on one thing, sorcery/magic/divination is evil. That’s not the case anymore. I echo what Richard Mull and before him, Travis Perry has said here. Listen to the Word of God.

notleia
Guest
notleia

“It means the same thing then it means right now.”

Nope, not really. I didn’t even get into the difference between “denotation” and “connotation.” We could get all Ship of Theseus on this, but the important part is that the ontological function of the word “witchcraft” in this context more or less reduces down to “unapproved religious ritual.” In HP, magic functions more like a science than it does a religion. They’re not appealing to Baal or Moloch when they fetch something from across the room with “accio.”

But I guess the moral of this story is that none of us are convincing the other. I just wish you guys had a better sense of how textual support is supposed to work. But until seminaries require a literature degree, it’s probably gonna be hit and miss.