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Harry Potter and The Half-Baked Offense

Following the last Harry Potter column in this miniseries, few readers had much opposition to the Potter books’ portrayal of magic and wizardry. That seems understandable, though, at a site devoted to discussion about fantasy worlds and faith — unlike […]
| Feb 7, 2007 | No comments |

Following the last Harry Potter column in this miniseries, few readers had much opposition to the Potter books’ portrayal of magic and wizardry. That seems understandable, though, at a site devoted to discussion about fantasy worlds and faith — unlike some other sectors of cultural Christendom, we don’t reflexively recoil from anything that includes elements of fantasy.

Instead, the questions had become, What is the series’ view of good and evil? What example do Harry’s and his friends’ disobediences set for children? How does Rowling portray adult authority in the story? And so on.

Toward the last, though, reactions turned to trying to explain why so many Christians have so strongly opposed the multimillion bestselling series about The Boy Who Lived.

After all, we have all kinds of things to oppose — things that I would submit are far more dangerous to the health of the Church and particularly its youth than anything little ol’ J.K. Rowling could write. Joel Osteen is just the first of these examples; also, those disgusting magazines with chapters of the Bible thrown in alongside Tips About Boys for teen girls; and (I’m afraid this is going to be very unpopular) treating Rick Warren as though he’s come up with Biblical truths no one ever knew before.

And that’s only nonfiction. Some of our fiction is worse, either doctrinally, or artistically, or both.

Ergo, along with all this supposedly bad “worldly” stuff, we have even worse “Christian” stuff with which we should contend. Why single out Rowling’s series?

Writing Howlers about Harry

I couldn’t help but consider some Christians’ reactions to Harry Potter when reading the Chamber of Secrets scene in which Ron Weasley, one of Harry’s best friend, fearfully opens a letter from his mother. The letter reads itself, actually, in all capital letters — it’s a dreaded “Howler,” screaming bloody murder about how much trouble Ron is in for taking his father’s enchanted flying car to Hogwarts school. (That’s one of those child disobediences that have garner so much attention here.)

Meanwhile, we have the Christians who took seriously the satirical story by the website “The Onion” and email-forwarded it all over the place, screaming bloody murder about how Rowling was going to turn all of the children into heathens.

Unfortunately, I fear they’re the same types of people who believed the whole hoax about Madalyn Murray O’Hair and the FCC and perhaps the Illuminati all trying to shut up Christian evangelists on TV (sadly, this email forward proved to be untrue). Or they got upset about supposedly finding the pagan symbolism of the Proctor and Gamble logo, the hidden messages in the Disney movie Aladdin, or — Rush Limbaugh once got a kick out of this — the subliminally whispered word “S-s-Satan” if you play backward the theme song to “Mr. Ed.”

Frankly, I believe some “Christians” are going to have their brains expanded more amazingly so than other believers when we’re all given their new bodies at the New Heavens and New Earth. (Whoa — this is incredible — this new body, this new mind — good grief, I think I must have been stupid back there.)

And we’ll all have a good laugh about it. At this point in time, though, it’s not that funny.

Many people, if they are true Christians (I submit the false ones pass for true Followers far too often), are plain crazy and reactionary. And, truly, God only knows why — though we can certainly speculate.

Opposites detract

Meanwhile, even non-crazy Christians have always been divided into two opposite camps on any popular media Thing. As has been the case with frequent theological imbalances throughout church history, since the days of the Corinthians and the Galatians, you’ll have two sides: the Antinomians and the Legalists.

We’ve all likely met both types.

The Antinomians — quite prevalent in the Western church — throw out most Biblical discernment and embrace nearly everything cultural, forsaking obedience to avoid anything that will lead to temptation — or that even could result in other Christians with “weaker” consciences being tempted themselves.

Stacks of verses oppose their position, among them 1 Corinthians 6, verses 12 and over, which tell us specifically to “flee” a certain type of sin that’s overly represented in too many movies and books.

Meanwhile, though, the Legalists insist that almost nothing in culture is lawful to us and thus we’ll be more spiritual — thereby keeping ourselves pure and sweet and comfortable (and also somehow impress God more) by abstaining from “worldly” stories.

Perhaps they believe that verses like Philippians 4:8 forbid us from thinking about anything but good, noble, pretty things, and never ugly things. But if Paul disallowed thinking about uglier things from time to time, that would logically rule out his encouraging them to practice “what you have learned and received and heard and seen in me.” That would include some of the nastier things in Paul’s thought life, such as dealing with evil religions, pagans and heresies and public debate.

The problem with this approach is not just its un-Biblical and arrogant nature, but its inconsistencies. Many comment-authors addressed these before: for example, many Christians’ opposition to Harry Potter ignores “witchlike” or magical characters elsewhere, such as in fairy tales, Mary Poppins or even Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest.

And I still contend that the occult elements of Star Wars, though easily tolerated by the spiritually discerning, are even worse than those of Harry Potter: Jedi knights are just magicians under a different guise, and The Force is little more than the dualistic, New Age idea of a “neutral” godlike magical power.

But again, those are secular stories. How much worse are the stories put out by Christians that are full of un-Biblical notions — and how much more worse are the nonfiction “Christian” books that sometimes advocate plain heresy?

Here Paul’s words come to mind again:

[W]hat have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. “Purge the evil person from among you.”

1 Corinthians 5: 12-13 (ESV)

Paul’s context is actually about rejecting someone practicing sexual sin, but his words likely apply to “judging” church “outsiders” about their bad theology too. If we do that at all, it would seem we would focus on cleaning out the Church first, whose readers and authors should know better, and secondarily we would publicly question the bad teachings of secular books and stories.

Ah, yes, but that’s quite a task. As Bilbo Baggins said, in the (ahem) “secular” film version of Fellowship of the Ring: “Now — where to begin?”

E. Stephen Burnett is coauthor (with Ted Turnau and Jared Moore) of The Pop Culture Parent: Helping Kids Engage Their World for Christ, which will release in spring 2020 from New Growth Press. He also explores biblical truth and fantastic stories as editor in chief of Lorehaven Magazine and writer at Speculative Faith. He has also written for Christianity Today and Christ and Pop Culture. He and his wife, Lacy, live in the Austin area and serve as members of Southern Hills Baptist Church.

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