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.
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?
- Galatians 5:13. ↩