Just when you were disappointed — or perhaps rejoiced — that the very last Harry Potter film releases next Friday, along came author J. K. Rowling to quoth, “Pottermore.” Even before that, surely the Boy (Wizard) Who Lived isn’t dying anytime soon.
Yet recently I’ve concluded that thinking Biblically about Harry Potter applies to more than just how Christians respond to that series and its popularity.
First, it matters because people will have similar questions about other popular books. More recently that included Twilight and anything else with angsty vampires and other critters on the front covers. Now it’s dystopian or post-apocalyptic themed novels. The questions will be the same: Does this honor God? Doesn’t He hate witchcraft? What about all this dark stuff? Can one really “redeem” stories like this? What if others use them to sin?
Not to spoil the ending, but I am a Potter reader, a film viewer, and do consider myself a fan. However, I don’t want to practice a behavior I’ve seen in myself and other Christian Harry Potter fans: as if their loudest battle cry is “Those legalists are coming to ban our Potter books!” Instead of reaction, our goal should be proactive honoring of Christ.
Yet Potter discernment questions also count beyond personal fiction preferences, or what parents decide to let their children read, or what pastors may say about this particular series.
This issue matters because of how we live our faith. Who’s truly in charge of our universe? Can Satan call “dibs” on an object, a Thing? Is “garbage in, garbage out” a true axiom? Is practicing discernment only “legalism,” or always Biblical?
Here are the first of 14 reasons why the Harry Potter debate matters.
1. Because we need to define “witchcraft” Biblically.
Most Christians concerned about books like Harry Potter love Jesus, love His Word, and very rightly see that too many professing Christians are not even trying to apply Biblical discernment in their media choices. That’s a real problem, worth Gospel-based response.
Yet the prevalence of others’ failure to practice Biblical discernment does not mean that any concept (or the strictest practice!) of discernment is thus Biblical. Some “discernment” is based not on God-exalting thinking, but “folk theology” that only seems Biblical. Many talking points about Harry Potter fall into this category.
Of course, it does make perfect sense to avoid Harry Potter or other things if you truly have a personal-background, Romans-14 conscience issue about anything labeled “magic.” Occult practices and rejection of Christ are very real and risky. God warns against them, and not only in an Old-Testament, Law-of-Moses, so-called “legalistic” way. Thus, true Christians, if they want to be like the Christ Who saved them, will avoid practicing mystical junk. That could involve throwing out books of magic arts (Acts 19). Don’t get into that stuff.
But how should we understand witchcraft? Any definition shouldn’t come from “folk theology,” or passing resemblances, but Scripture itself. And throughout both Testaments, Scripture always defines witchcraft as actual pagan practice of false religion and even idol-worship that dishonors God. That includes trying to talk with spirits. Favoring mysticism above God’s Word. Cutting up or tattooing your body like the Canaanites did.
One might ask: do the following concepts fit inside the Biblical category of actual witchcraft? Or do they originate from popular culture, historic folklore, or perceptions of “magic”?
- Whimsical flying broomsticks.
- Cauldrons and potions with magical effects.
- “Wizards” who wear pointy hats and dress in long, shining robes.
- Disappearing from one place to appear almost instantly in another.
- Creatures such as werewolves, trolls, baselisks, centaurs, elves, goblins, and dragons.
With care, I would suggest that if you, even subtly, consider these things as exactly the same as Biblically defined practice of pagan occultism, you may have accidentally bought into some pop-culture notions yourself — and then have read those back into the Bible.
2. Because of where Scripture says sin really comes from.
Throughout many admonitions to reject Harry Potter books, or some kinds of music, or “the appearance of evil” (an out-of-context twisting of 1 Thessalonians 5:22), is this assumption:
To honor God and keep yourself pure, avoid the bad Things. “Garbage in, garbage out.”
Oddly enough, this is one of the few common beliefs shared by conservative and liberal professing Christians. It’s the idea that sin comes from your Environment, outside yourself, while you personally are Neutral or even Basically Good.
But what does Scripture say about sin’s true source? It certainly doesn’t come from a Thing.
[Jesus] called the people to him again and said to them, “Hear me, all of you, and understand: There is nothing outside a person that by going into him can defile him, but the things that come out of a person are what defile him.” And when he had entered the house and left the people, his disciples asked him about the parable. And he said to them, “Then are you also without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile him, since it enters not his heart but his stomach, and is expelled?” (Thus he declared all foods clean.) And he said, “What comes out of a person is what defiles him. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.”
— Mark 7: 14-23 (boldface emphases added)
Though I can appreciate the intent behind a phrase like “garbage in, garbage out,” Jesus Himself might voice disagreement with that. Sin doesn’t come from a Thing. It comes from the human heart. To believe otherwise is not only to agree with the Pharisees — and who wants to do that? — but to contradict Christ.
So if I’m using the Harry Potter books or any other Thing to sin, I can’t blame the Thing. I can only blame myself and my heart desires.
Sure, a Thing’s author or creator may be an unforgiven sinner, and very likely was sinning even while making the Thing. Apart from faith, everything is a sin, as says Romans 14:23.
But I can’t use that person or Thing as a “scapegoat” for my own sin. Similarly, if I have a sinful thought after seeing a scantily clad someone — yes, that person may be responsible for dressing with wrong motives, but I can’t blame her even partly for that sin. It is just as much a sin to make her a scapegoat. I’m responsible for that sin.
And only One true sacrifice took that sin on Himself, suffering God’s wrath in place of all people who would then become His children.
3. Because of God’s commands for Christians to practice truth.
“Witchcraft manuals,” accuses one site. Elsewhere the same writer calls Harry Potter “Satan’s books.” Similarly, “These books were taken into homes everywhere with a real evil spirit following each copy to curse those homes,” wrote one “discernment” blogger.
Bypassing the question of how anyone but God can know what the Devil is doing, why do so many Christians , surely even with good intentions, tell lies about Harry Potter?
I’m not sure how to soften that point. It’s simply bearing false witness to say that the books are “witchcraft manuals” (unless you believe the “apparating” or riding a flying broom really is possible and thus the books’ instructions about these practices are real). It’s at best bizarre to claim special knowledge of the Devil’s specific agenda. It’s slanderous to say the stories contain descriptions of wicked activity and “human sacrifice” without also saying it’s the bad guys who do that. And, again, it’s Scripturally squishy to say that Satan can own a thing.
Yes, some may ignore real enemies. Still, we must tell the truth, even about the bad guys.
Would you also be surprised to learn that in the Harry Potter books, no one tries to talk with or use demonic spirits of any kind? Or that “divination” as a school subject is viewed as absurd and ridiculous, hardly worth bothering about? Or that no main-character “wizarding” family is shown as divorced, but in fact Family Values shine surprisingly bright in the series?
Next week: what kind of rules help or harm Christians? Is “someone else used it to sin” a Biblical motive for discernment? How might mysticism sneak into even Potter avoidance?