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‘Harry Potter’ and The Issues Beyond Fiction, Part 1

Does thinking Biblically about “Harry Potter” matter beyond story-discernment practice? At issue are how we define “witchcraft” the Bible forbids, where we believe sin really comes from, and whether we tell the truth even about perceived bad guys.

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.

True in computer programming, maybe even for Community Standards. But apart from Christ, the human heart is the real garbage producer (Mark 7).

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?

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Carole McDonnell
Guest

So true… I mean… what’s wrong with being teleported or translated? Philip was translated and even now many Christians are translated as God wills. I’m often amazed at what some Christians believe to be true Christianity and what they believe to be sin. They don’t realize they aren’t seeing things clearly.

A coupla weeks ago a Christian accused me of not being a liberal Christian (therefore not a Christian at all) because I said drugs should be decriminalized and folks should do community service or be fined as we do to folks who drive drunk. Although I tried my best — over and over– to tell him that in the Biblical Levitical model, God seemed to prefer the community service/reparations model over imprisonment, he was convinced that putting people in prison to “pay” for their even the smallest sin was the “Biblical” thing to do.  It’s very hard when one has all these zealous people who think they take their Bible seriously when what they’re doing is really mixing up American culture and world folklore with their faith. In the story I’m currently writing I have characters doing all sorts of Christian supernatural things and I KNOW I’ll be accused of being satanic because so many Christians nowadays are convinced that if something is supernatural it’s of the devil. JK is a Christian church-goer. She contributed her talents to this genre. -C

E. Stephen Burnett
Guest

… Whereas I’m one of those Harry Potter fans who not only never bought the “Rowling is a Christian and the series is all about the Gospel” belief, but doesn’t believe I need to, to enjoy Harry Potter as a secular fantasy set in a purely alternate world. 😀

I could be persuaded, of course, that Rowling had a grand and Christ-exalting conspiracy in mind the whole time. Yet it seems that faith would have also affected certain comments she made since the series’ conclusion about Dumbledore’s “orientations” (which, because it’s not in the actual books, counts as fanfiction to me, perhaps the first documented case of an author “fanfictioning” her own books).

So instead I suggest that secular authors borrow from the Christian worldview all the time, redeemer-model and everything, to make great stories. In fact, if they didn’t borrow even a little from the Biblical worldview of good-versus-evil, good-wins, and true-heroes-die-to-save-people, their stories wouldn’t be nearly as good. Even God-ignoring-based franchises like Marvel Comics’ Thor (the film, anyway) or Star Trek borrow from the Bible. The main difference between secular saviors and Christ, though, is that Christ died to save people from themselves and their own heart-corruption. Other saviors die only to save from an External Enemy.

Bruce Hennigan
Guest

Stephen

What a great post! I can’t wait to read the other points. I just talked about this on my blog. My upcoming book has “demon” in the title and one of my very best friends told me he “couldn’t” read it. When I asked him why he said because the Bible forbids witchcraft. Even though my book has nothing to do with witchcraft, he equated the word demon with the concept that any book with demon in the title is honoring Satan and somehow this is tied in with witchcraft.

So many Christians, myself included, have this broad, generic ideas of what constitutes “truth” in the Bible. And yet, we haven’t bothered to truly study the scriptures to back up these “truths”. Your case in point about witchcraft is right on the money.

How do we handle this as authors of speculative fiction? I’m not sure. I can’t sanitize the evil in my books. The subject matter is spiritual warfare. It would be like doing a story on the war in Afghanistan and not talking about anyone getting shot or hurt. Evil is necessary in order for good to be truly seen. That is a disturbing statement, but it is true. God allowed evil into the world and it is evil that caused Joseph to be sold into slavery so he could save his nation during the famine. It was evil that drove Moses out of Egypt into exile in the desert so he could see the burning bush. And, it was the ultimate evil of nailing Christ to the cross that brought us redemption.

I guess for those of us who struggle to write speculative fiction, we have to accept the fact we will alienate some readers if we include these elements of perceived “witchcraft” or the “occult” in our work. What we must strive for is to never glorify such behavior and show the ultimate downfall of all things evil and  the triumph of all things good. 

Morgan Busse
Member

Great post Stephen 🙂

Esther
Guest

This IS a great post, Stephen–one of your best, and I’ve read many! I’ll be looking forward to reading the follow-up posts. I do want to open the following for discussion and your take: you said:

“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.”

But we do have scriptural mandate for putting good stuff in our minds. See Romans 12:2, Ephesians 4:23, Colossians 3:10, and the infamous Philippians 4:8. So there has to be something to the “garbage in>garbage out” thing. What do you think it is? How does it apply to Harry Potter, Twilight, or Chronicles of Narnia, for that matter?

E. Stephen Burnett
Guest

[W]e do have scriptural mandate for putting good stuff in our minds. See Romans 12:2, Ephesians 4:23, Colossians 3:10, and the infamous Philippians 4:8. So there has to be something to the “garbage in>garbage out” thing. What do you think it is? How does it apply to Harry Potter, Twilight, or Chronicles of Narnia, for that matter?

One solution may be that good stuff varies from person to person, similar to how some believers had no qualm about eating meat sacrificed to idols (Romans 14, 1 Corinthians 8 ) but others were tripped up because of their life stories or stigmas.

For example, Daniel (Daniel 1), and the Apostle Paul (Acts 17), and many readers of Speculative Faith — if I may be so bold to draw a comparison! — may have unique callings, and be “strong” enough in faith, to read today’s equivalents of Babylonian mythology and actual sorcery manuals (though not to practice it), or Greek poetry.

Yet if another believer, perhaps a newer Christian, is put off or offended by this, or would simply be wasting time apart from his own calling(s), don’t do it.

But for the latter group: if you are sinning, the garbage is from your own heart, not the Thing. Yes, the Thing may show sins, and there may be certain kinds of sins showed that tempt the majority of people. (I would classify porn in this, though seeing someone without clothes is not intrinsically wrong.)

But if exposure to the Thing causes me to sin, it’s still my own fault. Ergo: I need to seek Christ, and very likely I personally need to avoid that Thing, at least for now.

With something like Harry Potter, though, I believe many Christians, often with good intentions, wrongly apply their own callings and scruples to other believers. It may be a sin, at least of wasted time, for them to read books like that. Yet it’s not a sin for me, and one shouldn’t define sin based on surface “appearance.” Next week I hope to show how that not only un-Biblically defines “witchcraft”, but leads to actual mysticism — practiced by those who think they mainly avoid sin by shunning Things that are supposedly bristling with Evil or perhaps demonic influence.

Rebecca LuElla Miller
Admin

Stephen, this is a terrific post, and I love the discussion. You’ve set the tone with your reasoned, thoughtful approach. I too was struck by your take on “garbage in, garbage out.” I think you’ve identified something so critical — we Christians have been lulled or perhaps seduced by our culture so much so that we do not recognize when we are compromising. The heart is desperately wicked, and we deceive ourselves, to the point that we have come to believe we can insulate our children, and perhaps even ourselves, from the ravages of sin.

The truth is, the ravages of sin are already eating away at the hearts of our dear darlings, and of course at our own as well.

Yet I think Esther’s questions are spot on. Be not conformed to this world was not written only to weak Christians. (I’ll have to write another comment about that subject). Take Ephesians 5:8-10 for example. And there are many others like it — admonition to put off evil and to do good, to not be conformed to our former lusts (1 Peter 1:14), not to love the world (James 4:3) or the things of the world (1 John 2:15).

As I write this, however, I’m aware that each of these involves our response — rejecting evil or loving the world or making ourselves like our sinful desires. Jesus seems to say that we are to do what it takes to:

“If your eye causes you to stumble, pluck it out and throw it from you. It is better for you to enter life with one eye, than to have two eyes and be cast into the fiery hell (Matt. 18:9)

In the end, I think there are things that exacerbate our propensity to sin. We all have our favorites. As the Holy Spirit convicts us, we must not ignore Him and act as if porn isn’t a problem or alcohol or more money or our name in lights (or on the cover of a book).

If reading books with graphic love scenes puts lustful thoughts into a person’s head, is it the fault of the writer? the book? or the reader? The reader. You made a clear case for that, Stephen. It still doesn’t mean that the book is a neutral agent, however, or that reading such shouldn’t be plucked out like the eye Jesus referred to.

Becky

Jill
Guest

This is why I love studying history–because I have a basis to understand the significance or lack thereof of superstitious notions and practices.

Fred Warren
Member

The bit from Monty Python and the Holy Grail comes to mind…



VILLAGER #1:
     We have found a witch. May we burn her?
CROWD:
     Burn her! Burn! Burn her! Burn her!
BEDEVERE:
     How do you know she is a witch?
VILLAGER #2:
     She looks like one.
CROWD:
     Right! Yeah! Yeah!
BEDEVERE:
     Bring her forward.
WITCH:
     I’m not a witch. I’m not a witch.
BEDEVERE:
     Uh, but you are dressed as one.
WITCH:
     They dressed me up like this.
CROWD:
     Augh, we didn’t! We didn’t…
WITCH:
     And this isn’t my nose. It’s a false one.
BEDEVERE:
     Well?
VILLAGER #1:
     Well, we did do the nose.
BEDEVERE:
     The nose?
VILLAGER #1:
     And the hat, but she is a witch!
VILLAGER #2:
     Yeah!
CROWD:
     We burn her! Right! Yeaaah! Yeaah!

Bruce Hennigan
Guest

Ah, but she was a witch after all! I’m not sure what that means!

E. Stephen Burnett
Guest

Go-go gadget video-embed.

Methinks Christians need to push back against nonbelievers’ accusations that we’re all just witch-hunters, etc., because those are often unfair and wrongful.

Yet one of the best ways to push back is to stop practicing behavior like that. Discernment is not defined by what is most strict, or by shrieking against Things that “appear” to be evil (that per-version of 1 Thessalonians 5:22 again). It’s defined by Scripture. Avoid “every form …” or “every kind of evil,” other translations more helpfully say. The KJV’s avoid the “appearance of evil” meant not whatever appears to you or anyone else [who?!] to be evil, but avoid actual evil wherever it appears.

Still, when set to the music of parody, un-Biblical “discernment” can be most comical. 😀

Leanna
Guest

Kinda nit-picky but people do talk with the dead in Harry Potter:
-the ghosts (technically they’re dead although they haven’t passed on)
-the photos (They aren’t really the people, just talking representations, but I’m being nit-picky here ‘cuz someone might seriously question it)
*some SPOILERS*
-in the last book when Harry uses the you-know-what, he talks with his parents and two other dead friends
 
I do like the Harry Potter books and don’t think they’re evil, btw. 🙂

Kaci Hill
Member

Well, and those are the parts that are legitimate concerns. Like or not, there’s a class on seances and a couple other things that now escape me. But as it’s not the only story with a ghost in it (Hamlet, anyone?) I don’t think that argument can work without throwing out other works people don’t challenge much. Oh, and Macbeth has not one but three witches; and I think the Tempest (?) includes both a wizard and a ghost. Just sayin’.

Literaturelady
Guest

I love your posts!  They challenge my thinking and help me to ponder through an issue that often I’d taken at face value!  Thank you for this.
I’ve never read the Potter books.  Is there a Supernatural Supreme Good Being in the story?
This occurred to me as I was reading your bit about flying broomsticks.  You said that we often subconsciously label such things as “witchcraft” when the Bible has clearly said what witchcraft is.  (I’m guilty of this myself. :-))  However, I do have a problem with flying broomsticks and their magical relatives.  My question is: where does the supernatural power to fly the broomsticks come from?  Is it from God or a representation of Him, or from the Devil?
In real life, supernatural power comes from either God or the Devil.  The Bible is clear that there is no middle ground.  I believe this truth applies to stories because they are mirrors of reality.
In stories, I don’t have a problem with gifts of prophecy or miracles given by God or a representation of Him.  But if the ability to fly broomsticks in stories does not come from God or a representation of Him, the power is demonic.
And I guess this is where the connection (at least in my mind) between flying broomsticks and evil comes.  All the stories I’ve read had true witches on broomsticks, and the power to fly those floor cleaners must have come from the Devil or a representation of him.  It’s not the objects themselves that I have a problem with, but where the power to fly them comes from.  Often as not, in stories it comes from evil.
If you’ll pardon my lecture, I did want to bring that point up and hear your thoughts on the matter.  I’ve found several of your posts helpful in rethinking my preconceived notions and seeing matters about truth and writing in a new light!
Blessings~
Literaturelady

Kaci Hill
Member

Is there a Supernatural Supreme Good Being in the story?

 
None that I’m aware of, but I’m not the person to ask. I think Becky pretty well answered the rest. It’s just something they’re born with, so it’s not really the same type of thing. Sort of like how in other religions, a “demon” is basically any non-human and/or immortal spirit (the dead can become demons) and can become good or evil, making it a bit different from the Judeo-Christian beliefs. (Yes, I’ve been watching weird stuff again. Someone just remind me to pull out occasionally.)
 
The trick with any fantasy world is that it’s really hard to separate supernatural powers from magic/occultism/paganism.  How the author approaches it, as a result, is important.
 
 
 
 

Rebecca LuElla Miller
Admin

Lit Lady, I’ll take a stab at answering your question. As I understand the Harry Potter books (and I have read them all and seen the movies), the magic that occurs is not supernatural in the way that you’re describing it — as a not natural power that must therefore derive from either supernatural Good or supernatural evil. Rather, it is the condition of the fantasy world J. K. Rowling made up. The magic derives from the people who are born with it — people she calls wizards — who must learn to control it and to grow it and to use it for good. It’s no different really than being born with athletic skill or the ability to sing, though it clearly has the potential for great power.

 

Consequently, the school has classes to teach the pupils how to fly a broom. It’s not instinctively an acquired skill though it is an inherent ability.

 

In other words, the fantasy world Rowling built shouldn’t be equated with our world any more than Narnia should. Was the ability of the Pevinse children to pass through a wardrobe into another world derived from God or from Satan? Well, actually Lewis never said. He let the fantasy world play out and the good or evil show itself by its actions.

 

So too in Harry Potter — readers should let the fantasy world play out and let the good or evil characters show themselves.

 

To judge Harry Potter to be evil because it involves wizards is not consistent with enjoying Narnia despite the fauns and Centaurs and other creatures from mythology.

 

Of course, there are those who say Narnia is just as evil as Harry Potter. I credit those folks for their consistency but not their imagination or discernment of truth. Stephen has done a wonderful job exposing how the “witchcraft” of Harry Potter is nothing like Biblical witchcraft. The same can be said of the mythical creatures in Narnia. Though once they represented something ungodly, Lewis re-imagined or perhaps “redeemed” them so that they took on a different meaning altogether.

 

Hope this helps.

 

Becky

Literaturelady
Guest

Thanks for answering my question, Becky! I really enjoy the community here at Speculative Faith.
Blessings~
Literaturelady

Jennifer K. Hale
Guest

Love this post!  I know many who think the books are “evil.”  I especially loved what you said about sin in your #2.  Great, GREAT point that I think many are missing!
Thanks!

Bruce Hennigan
Guest

Good point. How deeply do we want to go into detail about these kinds of “devices” in our storytelling. There’s nothing sinister about broomsticks in HP. They are just a method of transportation. So, the power behind them is never explained as anything other than magic. So, the real question is, “Where does the power behind the magic come from?”
 
When the first automobiles rolled down our dirt streets and frightened women, children, and horses they were attributed to the devil because they elicited fear. That which we don’t understand we tend to fear. And fear generally leads to the impression there is some kind of evil involved. That is, unless you are living in Old Testament times when the “fear” of the Lord was as powerful motivator as the fear of evil.
 
And this discussion brings up a very important point. Are we writing about “magical” devices for the sake of glorifying magic? Or, does the device serve a purpose in the story? If the “magic” is there as an important part of the story, then can it be tied to the evil of magic as perceived from the scriptures? Aslan talked of a “deeper magic” in Narnia. And, the entire kingdom was filled with magical events. Did C. S. Lewis question whether or not using magic glorified Satan or was merely a plot device?
 
I don’t know the answer to that question. In HP is magic inherently evil? It would seem that Rowling’s intent in using magic is to show that any form of power can be used by good or evil. It is not the magic that is evil. It is the mind behind the use of it. Many times, Christianity is blamed for outrageous atrocities over the years such as the Salem witch trials, the Inquisition, and the Crusades. Kenneth Samples, theologian of Reasons to Believe once commented that if you add all the people killed in those three examples you have just over 1 million. Now, that’s a lot of people to die in the name of a “good” religion. But, if you add up the number of people killed in the name of atheism in the 20th century alone, you get a much larger number, 150 million!
 
The point is, looking at the numbers, you could accuse the systems of being evil. But, it is the sinful nature of man behind the system that causes the evil. So then, are we promulgating evil by using magic in our books? I would say it depends again on the purpose. The purpose of all that activity in HP is to show how evil “Deatheaters” following Voldemort use magic in a sinister, dark way to unleash evil on the world. It is not the magic to blame. It is the mind behind the magic. And, magic can be used for good to overcome evil as it does eventually throughout every book in the entire series.
 
HP is not the Bible. Nor, is it scripture. But, the intent of the story should be considered. Which brings up the question, is it okay to use such devices that defy scripture as a means to the end? Does the end justify the means? Can we forgive the use of such devices if the ultimate story is redemptive? What do you think?

E. Stephen Burnett
Guest

From Leanna:

Kinda nit-picky but people do talk with the dead in Harry Potter:
-the ghosts (technically they’re dead although they haven’t passed on)
-the photos (They aren’t really the people, just talking representations, but I’m being nit-picky here ‘cuz someone might seriously question it)
*some SPOILERS*
-in the last book when Harry uses the you-know-what, he talks with his parents and two other dead friends

True, and yet those “exceptions,” I would say to a well-intended, understandable Nitpicker, fall within the Rules of the Story-World.

If I remember right, what you pointed out about the paintings also applies to the ghosts in a way (the explanation is left fuzzy) and especially applies to not only Deathly Hallows’ finale, but the near-end of Goblet of Fire. In each of those, magic is credited with bringing back “shadows” or “imprints” of people who’ve already died. Yet it is in Order of the Phoenix and Half-Blood Prince, I believe, in which the explanation is made more clear: once people die in Harry Potter‘s world, they can’t come back.

(And in the fairy tale of the three brothers — a legend even in Potter‘s universe — when a man tries to bring someone back from death, it’s very wrong and results in tragedy.)

I do like the Harry Potter books and don’t think they’re evil, btw.

In no way would I take issue even if you did! Rather, I hope this column, and all other material on Speculative Faith about Potter and otherwise, will lovingly inform and challenge those who disagree, yet during discussions we can have fun and explore.

That leads me to Literaturelady‘s questions, many of which Bruce has already answered — nevertheless, I’ll take a crack at it, even if I’m just rephrasing what he said.

First, thanks for your encouragement. (And more material about the series, Christian reactions, and especially the ideas behind an alternative Story-World with different Story-World Rules, can be found in the Harry Potter category.)

I’ve never read the Potter books.  Is there a Supernatural Supreme Good Being in the story?

There is not; if anything, Potter‘s world is very “atheistic.” A few books may be proudly atheistic (such as Pullman’s His Dark Materials series), and others may be overtly theistic (including Christian fiction), but I’d put Potter in the class of God-ignoring. The question of God’s existence doesn’t affect the story one way or another.

So far I haven’t heard a good argument in favor of Rowling’s latent Christianity in the books. Messiah Metaphors don’t qualify for that, I contend. Lewis and Tolkien, the Patron Saints of Christian Visionary Fiction, were among the first to popularize the idea that pagan myths “anticipate” or have some echoes of the “true myth” of the Biblical Gospel. One can accept that without also accepting that the echoes are evil, or that they’re sufficient enough to give us truth without God’s specific revelation.

But, I would suggest that — like Daniel — a Christian could read and “use” even material whose contents were intended overtly to oppose truth. That’s the worst-case scenario. Yet Potter, which takes place in what amounts to an alternate universe, with very different Story-World rules, doesn’t even require that level of response.

This occurred to me as I was reading your bit about flying broomsticks.  You said that we often subconsciously label such things as “witchcraft” when the Bible has clearly said what witchcraft is.  (I’m guilty of this myself. :-) )  However, I do have a problem with flying broomsticks and their magical relatives.  My question is: where does the supernatural power to fly the broomsticks come from?  Is it from God or a representation of Him, or from the Devil?

Here’s a simple response, which may bear expansion here if that would be helpful, or perhaps in part 2 or part 3 of this series.

1. Harry Potter is set in what amounts to a completely different universe than ours.

2. In that imagined universe, origins, natural laws, everything, all have different Rules.

3. Among those Rules is one concept: somehow, brooms, cars, etc., can be made to fly.

4. This takes place apart from any spiritual connection whatsoever — because another one of the Story-World’s Rules is that God is not involved and the Devil is not either.

Someone could say, of course: cool! I can do anything if it’s in a Different World. But in that case the connection between our real world and the Story-World breaks down, and even a “secular” argument would be that this makes for a rotten story. You could invent a world in which bravery is evil and cowardice rewarded, just to be contrarian. But even most sinful people “sense,” based on their consciences and the imago Dei, that this is wrong. Common grace keeps even non-Christians from changing the rules too much, and for the Christian it’s seeking to honor God that does this even more.

In real life, supernatural power comes from either God or the Devil.  The Bible is clear that there is no middle ground.  I believe this truth applies to stories because they are mirrors of reality.

I believe stories should be this also; yet the parallels do have limits. Jesus Himself, for example, told “secular” stories in which the true God as a primary Character does not enter, yet many figures take on the role of God Himself — such as a king and a man who punish disobedient people by casting them into “outer darkness” (which, by the “rules” of the real Story-World, our own, only God Himself would have the power to do.)

This also brings me to consider more thing to be said about assuming that, despite the Rules of another Story-World, spiritual powers must be responsible for magic there:

1. Demons in our world can’t do things like routinely make objects hover, grant people or things with “apparating” or transporting powers, or cast spells or retain recipes that actually cause transformative effects. (Also: our world contains no such things as vampires, werewolves, dragons, boggarts, dementors, giants, or trolls.)

2. Thus, even if we consider Rowling’s world an automatic “mirror” of our own, and thus demons really are there and she didn’t “tell us,” those demons also wouldn’t be able to power that kind of fantastic magic. If we assume they do, then according to the mirror-our-world principle we would also need to assume they can do this here — and Scripture never gives any indications that Satan or the demons really can do this.

In stories, I don’t have a problem with gifts of prophecy or miracles given by God or a representation of Him.  But if the ability to fly broomsticks in stories does not come from God or a representation of Him, the power is demonic.

It could be. And yet, again, if the Story-World’s Rules include God’s non-involvement — an alternate universe like our own in some ways, but specifically unlike it in other ways — then to mix in those ingredients from our world is a foreign additive. In the Potter world, the magic of flying is just there, as much a natural law as gravity is here.

And I guess this is where the connection (at least in my mind) between flying broomsticks and evil comes.  All the stories I’ve read had true witches on broomsticks, and the power to fly those floor cleaners must have come from the Devil or a representation of him. 

Or people could have simply made them up, with right or wrong motivations.

It’s not the objects themselves that I have a problem with, but where the power to fly them comes from.  Often as not, in stories it comes from evil.

That I can understand! Yet even if the idea of flying brooms came from the Bad Guys (and there are real bad guys out there), it’s identical to the first-century church conflict over meat that had been offered to idols. Someone tried to use this idea, this Thing, for bad causes or even for the imagined benefit of an imaginary idol, or the actual Devil. Yet Paul never gave that notion credence. He did say, though, if you’re doing this in front of someone who hasn’t yet grasped that truth, stop. Loving your brother is more important than your freedom. I think he did imply the “weaker brother” will figure it out eventually, and it won’t be from someone legalistically demanding he be “free”! 😀 It will instead come from love, sensitivity, yet gentle challenges to grow in the Gospel.

If you’ll pardon my lecture, I did want to bring that point up and hear your thoughts on the matter.  I’ve found several of your posts helpful in rethinking my preconceived notions and seeing matters about truth and writing in a new light!

Glad I’m not the only one learning from these columns, and this new miniseries, then. Thanks again for your encouragement. And now you may have just helped me already write material for part 2 or part 3, or at least an outline for whatever does end up there!

Rebecca LuElla Miller
Admin

Stephen, you mentioned the eating meat offered to idols thing again here, so I’ll put my rant comments about that subject here.

[Jumping atop my every ready soap box]

The idea that eating or not eating meat offered to idols is some kind of a gray area that we can do or not do based on our level of maturity is erroneous. Luke clearly stated the truth in Acts 15, specifically Acts 15:28-9. James is writing to the Gentile believers on behalf of the apostles and elders regarding the matter of whether or not they needed to follow the Mosaic Law:

Forit seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to  us to lay upon you no greater burden than these essentials: that you abstain from things sacrificed to idols…

Notice, abstaining for eating meat offered to idols was something the church leaders agreed on, but they also had reason to believe that this was the standard given to them by the Holy Spirit.

What, then, was Paul going on about in Romans and again in I Corinthians? I believe he was giving the apologetic for the decision handed down by the church leadership.

The point is, Paul came at the issue with the understanding, that no, Christians were not to eat meat offered to idols. That was a done decision. What was not “done” was whether or not Christians should turn into meat police and ask ever person and every establishment where they ate if the meat had been offered to idols. If however, someone told them, The meat you are about to eat has been offered to idols, then the decision was made for them: for the sake of the person tattling reporting, they were to refrain from eating.

Then in Romans, Paul deals with the issue of people not eating meat at all to insure the fact that they wouldn’t accidentally eat meat offered to an idol and therefore disobey the church leaders. Here it was specifically saying, Don’t judge each other. If one eats meat, those who don’t, stop judging. If one doesn’t eat meat, those who do, stop judging.

The principles contained in the passages can be used today. But I don’t think they have anything to do with deciding to drink or not drink, smoke or not smoke, read fantasy or not read fantasy. Those are personal decisions, things we need to decide based on our own propensity to sin. If drinking is a problem for me, then I must not imbibe. Not because it’s a gray area and I don’t want to bring offense to someone. Rather because for me it is most definitely not a gray area. For me it is taboo.

At the same time I must not judge someone else who can drink with no problem.

As I see it, “gray areas” are really those things we are willing to forgo for others. Instead, I see the concept used too often to justify doing something other Christians think is wrong, or as a means to force legalism onto someone else.

Instead, I believe the passages were meant to foster unity and understanding and patience and sacrifice for one another.

Regardless, the rule was clear: don’t eat meat offered to an idol. That was not up for debate anywhere in the New Testament. How someone went about obeying was really the issue.

A comparable issue today might be this: women are to dress modestly. How, then, do we go about obeying that one?

OK, I’m about ranted out. It took me many times through the book of Acts before I realized, this meat offered to idols issue is not what we in today’s church think. So now I’m on a crusade. 😉

Becky

Rebecca LuElla Miller
Admin

Heheh — I hadn’t read all the way through the comments to realize you already answered Lit Lady. Excellent.

 

Becky

Literaturelady
Guest

Thank you, Stephen, for your in depth answer!  Glad I could help you with my comment!
Blessings~
Literaturelady

Steve
Guest

I kind of take the middle road. Sort of. I don’t care (mostly) of what the world does. Let them write, read, drink and be merry for soon they will die and their life will be laid before their eyes. What I do care about is my relationship with Christ and those who are my brothers and sisters. For me Harry Potter is a non-issue. I have no desire to read it and barely have enough time to read the Christ-centered fiction on my list. (My TBR list is at around 20 books. And the kindle isn’t helping.)

If a sibling in Christ wants to read the Potter series my question would be “Why?” Not enough Christians authors to read and support? Will it strengthen your walk with Christ? Is it purely entertainment? How many hours of your life will be spent reading the series? Is this good use of the money God has provided for you?

Just because we can do something doesn’t mean we should.

P.S. If I was an author I may read one of the books just to learn the techniques used to create such a popular series. 

Rebecca LuElla Miller
Admin

Hi, Steve,

 

I’ll give you a couple reasons I read the Harry Potter books (and I didn’t spend any money because I borrowed them). When they first came out, I was teaching teens. I wanted to know, quite frankly, what the talk was all about and on what side I should enter the discussion.

 

What I found was an engaging story. The more I read (and by that time I’d left teaching to become a writer) the more I realized that the good versus evil struggle was something important and could foreseeably have a big impact on our culture. Plus I wanted to read good fantasy to learn how to write good fantasy.

 

Did reading the books help me in my Christian walk? Most certainly. It made me think about a lot of things regarding good and evil — the willingness to stand alone and self-sacrifice being two important ones.

 

I’ll add one other thing, Steve. I think we Christians are to have an impact on our world. I don’t feel like I can turn in and pay attention only to my Christian brothers and sisters. I feel I have an obligation to make disciples, too. That means I need to be able to engage those in the world in the same way that Paul was able to engage the Athenians using their religious practices and their literature. Consequently, even if I didn’t grow as a Christian by reading HP, I think it would still be worth my time.

 

Becky

Shannon Dittemore
Guest

E. Stephen Burnett, will you be my BFF? 🙂
Great post. Thank you for sharing.

E. Stephen Burnett
Guest

(Echoes everything Becky already wrote) I think a lot of this does have to do with one’s personal callings/vocations in life. If God has you working overnights as a factory worker, to take care of a wife and four children, for example, trying to get into Harry Potter books may not fit within those goals. Or if you’re an overseas missionary, or nonfiction-only-oriented theologian, or one of those more rare than oft-perceived people who would have actual spiritual difficulty with a series with surface-level similarity to their own anti-God experimentations with occult paganism.

But for a reader who wants to honor God through enjoying stories, and much more so write them, one would likely need to know what’s out there already. Harry Potter is among the best, as Becky has said, especially with its intricate story-world and plot layering, memorable characters, and timeless and true good-versus evil themes.

I kind of take the middle road. Sort of. I don’t care (mostly) of what the world does. Let them write, read, drink and be merry for soon they will die and their life will be laid before their eyes.

Though I can appreciate this perspective, especially as it concerns this present evil age that Christians should indeed avoid, I might caution against accidental (though well-intentioned) Gnosticism that can result from avoid-the-world beliefs. God will not simply annihilate every Thing in the world in favor of saving souls; rather, He is in the process of redeeming all His physical creation, to bring it into the New Heavens and New Earth. Isaiah’s and Revelation’s prophecies about that After-world describe physical things like commerce, eating, fruits, ships, kings, and valuable treasures.

So a Christian might find some success in basing beliefs on “avoid the world,” but one might end up rejecting things that need not be rejected as much as transformed in our sight, in the process of renewing our minds (Romans 12). Christ doesn’t command “look at the world first, then avoid what you see” — even if this belief is subconscious, it not only extra-Biblical but takes the focus off Christ. Instead He says: I died for all who will repent and believe in Me; therefore, look to Me and imitate what you see, thanks only to My Spirit Whom I’ve sent to dwell in you and make you like Myself.

What I do care about is my relationship with Christ and those who are my brothers and sisters. For me Harry Potter is a non-issue. I have no desire to read it and barely have enough time to read the Christ-centered fiction on my list. (My TBR list is at around 20 books. And the kindle isn’t helping.)

With this I can certainly emphasize! I believe there’s a t-shirt about that: So many books, so little time. That’s another reason why I’m glad we’ll have continued learning, and surely books still, in the New Earth. Not only will we have much more time (e.g., eternity) to catch up reading, but we’ll have new and certainly better books also.

I’ve been looking into getting a Kindle, by the way. Any recommendations?

If a sibling in Christ wants to read the Potter series my question would be “Why?” Not enough Christians authors to read and support? Will it strengthen your walk with Christ? Is it purely entertainment? How many hours of your life will be spent reading the series? Is this good use of the money God has provided for you? Just because we can do something doesn’t mean we should.

I love thinking about it this way, though, because indeed the questions Paul asks Christians about their choices — such as in 1 Corinthians 6, though specifically about sexual lifestyles — are not based on all things are lawful, but some things will Get You!, but instead, “’ all things are lawful for me,’ but not all things are helpful. ‘All things are lawful for me,’ but I will not be enslaved by anything” (1 Cor. 6:12). In other words: sure, it might be okay, but will it benefit you? — just as you’ve recommended.

Mind if I break these down and issue answers to these questions?

If a sibling in Christ wants to read the Potter series my question would be “Why?”

Here I could echo Becky’s answers again, while adding this overarching reason: Harry Potter made me very glad for the true Savior Who died, not just to defeat a Supervillain but to save His people from their own selves. It also led to more longing to write better stories that point toward His Kingdom.

Not enough Christians authors to read and support?

This will sound a bit snarky, which I don’t think I can help: not enough good ones. Not yet, anyway, at least in the speculative genres. Many Christian nonfiction books are even worse, with really bad teaching. Yet that leads to a related point: sure, I may love a book like Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology, for it fulfills a primary need to understand Scripture and God’s real-life “story,” yet I also read online newspapers and articles about other things. Why? Because I know from Scripture that I as a believer am meant to engage with the world, Biblically, and know what’s going on. How exactly that affects my decisions and time-spending, though, depends on my unique calling.

Will it strengthen your walk with Christ?

In my case it did; I’m sure that was the same for many other discerning Christians. However, I do grant that many might read the Potter books, or even Christian books, or the Bible itself, and not have their walks strengthened! In that case, then, the fault lies not with the books or their authors (especially in the case of Scripture!), but the folks’ own hearts. Are they letting Christ transform how they use Things?

Is it purely entertainment?

Could be. That’s why I enjoy a good Justice League or Avatar: The Last Airbender animated episode on occasion, or a bowl of ice cream. These are all much closer to “pure entertainment” (though it’s fascinating how this well-done “entertainment” can actually also echo God’s truths if you look!). Yet even these can glorify God to us, for though we must not fear suffering and tough tasks if they are God’s will for us, neither should we fear good gifts like tasty foods and fun games, stories, or anything else.

How many hours of your life will be spent reading the series?

Again: if one’s calling is to have his/her mind transformed to be more like Christ’s, and then to engage others in this way, time spent reading the series is time well-spent. But if one has different callings, gifts, preferences, or just doesn’t care for that style of telling the story, I dare not call you “legalist” just because God has different goals for you!

Is this good use of the money God has provided for you? Just because we can do something doesn’t mean we should.

Same answer as above, and finally, also mentioned before, based on 1 Cor. 6:12: amen.

P.S. If I was an author I may read one of the books just to learn the techniques used to create such a popular series. 

‘Tis likely you already know that many folks here are either authors or attempting to be so. I’m among them, meaning I do have more of a reason to check into this series.

Yet I might point out also that as noted above, the issues involving the Potter series overlap into non-fiction areas of life. How someone understands just these three issues will affect more than his fiction enjoyments: what “witchcraft” does God really forbid (and therefore I am “safe” from compromising on this just because I avoid what seems to be obvious mysticism)? Am I treating sin like a Thing outside myself, contrary to Christ’s words? (I dislike this one, because like most people I want to think sin is Out There, in a bikinied body-flaunter or wasted-time-tempter, instead of in my own heart!) And am I telling the truth even about real bad guys? much more so perceived villains like J.K. Rowling who actually may not be closet Satanists?

It’s likely we know — and have surely practiced ourselves! — our own kinds of “mysticism,” as if we can merely get rid of Things and thus eliminate sin in our lives. Examples: beliefs that drum rhythms are demonic. Or we’ve gone overboard or fudged details in the name of beating even real bad guys. Examples: Ergun Caner did this in the name of anti-Muslim apologetics; I did it recently and ignorantly when I wrongly claimed a direct article was in John 1, in response to Jehovah’s Witnesses at the door.

Thus the Harry Potter issues are a great conversation-starter, giving us not only cause to examine our beliefs about stories, but about how we think about other things.

Hope that’s helpful! I’m around for more discussion, along with many here, for sure.

Steve Taylor
Guest

Thank you Stephen for your reply. That’s a lot to respond to. With my speed of typing it would be much easier for me to verbalize my thoughts but in a nutshell here goes.

First let me say the Kindle is really nice. I can carry my Bible, fiction and non-fiction books and upcoming books all in one small unit. The best thing is that reading on the e-ink screen is clear and sharp and easy on the eyes (unlike back-lit tablets). One could read for hours. Battery life is great too. I have the DX only because I’m so used to the large paged books but it’s not necessary. My wife has the Kindle 3 and it’s just fine since the font size is adjustable. Even though I’m a fan of paper books (and haven’t given them up) the e-reader is a fantastic addition to my reading lifestyle. In many cases the prices for books are better too. Holds 3500 books which takes up no space in your home.
++

I do have some concerns with books like Harry Potter and most modern literature in ways that are a bit hard to explain in a short post. You say that good triumphs over evil. Is that God’s version of good versus evil or man’s version? In many ways they are different. For instance: Would you have destroyed Eden because your children ate fruit they weren’t supposed to? Would you blind a man just to get his attention? Would you allow most of the human population to spend eternity in Hell just because they didn’t follow you? Get my point? His ways are higher then our ways. Why do I need to get my version of good and evil from the world? I have a hard enough time weeding out the false messages that the church continues to dish out. 

I do care about people but the church is not the moral police. Sure we want a decent and safe society to raise our families in so we vote and do our best to accomplish that but when it comes to individual rights people have a freedom to do as they wish even to the point of self-destruction. It’s sad but God has given us a free will to do as we choose.

Quote: “Gnosticism that can result from avoid-the-world beliefs. God will not simply annihilate every Thing in the world in favor of saving souls; rather, He is in the process of redeeming all His physical creation, to bring it into the New Heavens and New Earth.”

By “the world” I do not mean the physical world. I strictly meant he world’s philosophies and religions. Of course this planet will be recreated to it’s original intent for all eternity. How can one really avoid the world’s systems? I’m a broadcaster for a worldwide media company so by no means am I sheltered from the world. However in my personal time I choose to surround myself with things that glorify God by not allowing mass amounts of the world to infiltrate my thought. Call it self-censorship. Not an easy thing to do. I still study apologetics and other fields so not all is rose colored. I was not raised in a Christian home and spent many years in the Godless sex, drugs and rock n’ roll world. I know what the world can do to a person and I don’t plan on going back. I also do not believe that saying a prayer is all it takes to be a Christian. Faith in Christ is an ongoing belief that one must do until the end and we can draw closer to God the more we walk with Him. If we spend our time eating the world’s food we’ll just get fat and lazy and if our relationship with God falters not only do we lose but also those around us we should be impacting.

1 John 4:4-10 You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world means enmity against God? Therefore, anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. Or do you think Scripture says without reason that he jealously longs for the spirit he has caused to dwell in us? But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says: 

“God opposes the proud
but shows favor to the humble.” 

Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.”
++

Harry Potter may be fine for an adult that is grounded in Christ but is it profitable? I don’t need to read such things to be able to relate to the youth of today. I find the more I know the One who created us – the better I understand others. I don’t need to drink to understand a drunk or shoot-up to understand a drug addict. Drawing closer to the Creator equips me with all the heart and information I need to know.

Is Harry Potter good for kids, Christian or not? I say no. Sure it’s a Hollywood version of the occult but does it draw kids into it? Does it point the way to Christ or does it point the way to spiritualism and false religion? Christianity in the United States is shrinking. Why are their fewer of us then ever before? 88% of all kids raised in Evangelical homes leave their faith in Christ. Why is that? Are we dropping the ball on what we should be doing and embracing the things we should be avoiding?
When I became a Christian in January of 1983 everything changed for me. Growing up as an avid reader I immediately knew (without anyone telling me but the Holy Spirit) that I need to change my reading to things that glorified God. Of course this was way before Al Gore invented the Internet so my only option was going to a Christian bookstore. Not much to choose from and most of it wasn’t very good but I stuck with it anyway and am glad to say there are a lot better authors and stories today then ever before. If Christ can die on the cross in my place I sure can put up with some poorly written books.  

I want to clarify that something for pure entertainment is not a bad thing. I’m not legalistic by any means but I do believe that entertainment should be carefully monitored. Everything has a message, even toddler programs. I love classic movies but even when watching them one must keep the mind of Christ lest we fall into false beliefs.
We’ve been warned over and over in God’s Word about wolves destroying the flock. Who are these wolves and are they only in the church? Which is more dangerous to the Christian – Satanism or the prosperity gospel? I think the subtle beliefs of the world could hold a bigger danger to the Christian since we’re not usually gullible enough to fall for the seriously obvious crimes. Just a thought.
True sin is something in ones heart but what can a follower of Christ do to live a life separate from the world yet still impact it? But since the Word of God never contradicts itself I’ll close with this.

2 Corinthians 6:14-18  Do not be joined to unbelievers. What do right and wrong have in common? Can light and darkness be friends? How can Christ and Satan agree? What does a believer have in common with an unbeliever? How can the temple of the true God and the statues of other gods agree?
We are the temple of the living God. God has said, “I will live with them. I will walk among them. I will be their God. And they will be my people.”
  “So come out from among them
and be separate, says the Lord.
Do not touch anything that is not pure and clean.
Then I will receive you.”
 “I will be your Father.
You will be my sons and daughters, says the Lord who rules over all.”

—  Even though I am not a writer I enjoy this site and all it’s thought. Keep up the good work   
 

E. Stephen Burnett
Guest

Hey back, Steve, and thanks again for your thoughts. One can only point out the more-obvious reasoning of the “actual demons possess Harry Potter paperbacks” “discernment” for so long. After a while that doesn’t help, and I think it’s far better to ask the kinds of questions you ask: about whether the series will actually benefit a Christian personally. In response I gave some replies above, summarized with this:

Harry Potter made me very glad for the true Savior Who died, not just to defeat a Supervillain but to save His people from their own selves. It also led to more longing to write better stories that point toward His Kingdom.

Furthermore, what God uses to echo His truths in my life, given my callings, may not be the same as what He uses in your life. On that it would be very wrong for either you to say apart from direct Scripture, that a Thing is wrong for all Christians, and it would be equally wrong for me to suggest that if you don’t agree with me that this Thing is beneficial, you’re a Legalist, and I must avoid you legalistically.

Now for a few more thoughts in reply, before I return to editing and proofing tomorrow’s part 2. Some more-detailed thoughts, especially about the rules of Story-Worlds, will be there, and I hope you don’t mind if I point to that in lieu of more here.

First, thanks for your Kindle advice and recommendation! One of those little toys may very likely be my wife’s and my gift to ourselves this Christmas.

I do have some concerns with books like Harry Potter and most modern literature in ways that are a bit hard to explain in a short post. You say that good triumphs over evil. Is that God’s version of good versus evil or man’s version?

Oh, man’s version, assuredly. Yet it’s an area like this that makes us look at not only our views on fiction, but elsewhere.

Can sinful man fully grasp God’s truth, apart from God’s own regeneration of man’s heart through the Holy Spirit? Not at all. But can sinful man come close to reflected God’s truth, in his stories and other deeds? Yes indeed.

The doctrine of total depravity (better called total inability, I think, based on R.C. Sproul’s suggestion) wouldn’t deny this. There’s also a Biblical truth of common grace, to which Jesus refers in the Sermon on the Mount when He says that God causes rain on both the righteous and evil. And He shows this even more explicitly when He says that even evil people know how to give good gifts to their children. He doesn’t say this is without bad motivation, and in fact He uses this as a from-the-lesser-to-greater argument for God’s goodness, but He still credits this as a “good” deed, even if flawed and apart from Him.

Other instances in Scripture confirming that God’s truth, though not His specific revelation in Scripture, can be seen elsewhere: many of the Psalms, the prophecies that even Persian astronomers/astrologers knew about a coming Savior (perhaps because of the remaining influence of Daniel in their secular society?), and to be sure, Paul’s application of a “truth” wrongly applied to Zeus in Greek poetry, which the apostle “stole” and used to describe Christ instead, and proclaim the Gospel (Acts 17).

So yes, ultimately man’s view of good and evil is tainted. But it can still contain echoes of the Biblical struggle between good and evil, and serve as a “pre-baptism” (as one of the Patron Saints of visionary fiction, C.S. Lewis, would say) for learning that truth.

In many ways they are different. For instance: Would you have destroyed Eden because your children ate fruit they weren’t supposed to? Would you blind a man just to get his attention? Would you allow most of the human population to spend eternity in Hell just because they didn’t follow you? Get my point? His ways are higher then our ways. Why do I need to get my version of good and evil from the world? I have a hard enough time weeding out the false messages that the church continues to dish out.

This is true. Yet I might turn that around and suggest that Christians ought to “go after” their own false portrayals of good-versus-evil rather than expecting higher standards from secular authors. Too many of our stories will easily show a Savior, but One Who saves from an External Villain, not the primary villain of ourselves — there aren’t enough Christian stories that show how Christ was our enemy Who saved us anyway. It’s not enough to show a Savior. We need to also be reminded what we’re saved from.

Compared with some of those stories, Potter actually seems “safer.” It’s like the fact that some Christians would actually do better going to secular colleges than a “Christian” campus that waters down Biblical truth and discernment, slowly and subtly.

And I might contend again that the Potter books approximate the good-versus-evil struggle better than much well-meaning, “inspirational” Christian books. Still, I’d prefer not grading on that curve, and challenge Christian authors to outdo popular fiction naturally by pointing toward the transcendent themes of Scripture and the real battle between good and evil, as best as we can portray it given God’s revelation to us.

In the meantime, I can enjoy the Potter books as fantastic fiction. Or I can study them even to understand my culture, as Daniel did when captive in Babylon (Daniel 1). Or I can “use” their themes to start conversations about the real thing — just as Paul did.

I do care about people but the church is not the moral police. Sure we want a decent and safe society to raise our families in so we vote and do our best to accomplish that but when it comes to individual rights people have a freedom to do as they wish even to the point of self-destruction. It’s sad but God has given us a free will to do as we choose.

Agreed with the we’-re-not-moral-police. (I might only add the caveat that Romans 13 encourages good citizenship, which applied in a representative democracy that gives the people the of government participation means we must be good leaders.)

Glad to hear you shook off Gnostic-esque influences, maybe sooner than I did! It’s been only since 2006 that I came to grips with the wonderful and liberating truth that Christ is redeeming, not just human souls, but His whole creation (along with His Church) to glorify His Name forever. That includes not only the material world, but specific Stuff …

I was not raised in a Christian home and spent many years in the Godless sex, drugs and rock n’ roll world. I know what the world can do to a person and I don’t plan on going back.

This seems even more illuminating, because if I had to describe my background I would say it was somewhat “sheltered,” though certainly not as much as many others I knew. For me it was my “besetting sin” to treat Things as bad and myself as quite jolly decent, which in my case led to pride. So far, my walk in Christ has led to the realization that while Biblical discernment is still vital, not all Things I put on my “bad list” were truly evil, and if someone abused the Thing, it is their fault, not the Thing’s fault.

For you, though, it seems an opposite scenario. So clearly God has grown a different emphasis in your life, guarding against previous sins, and that has led to different personal convictions and “bents” of personal discernment! I love how He customizes His approach with different people, though for sure that can be frustrating sometimes. …

I also do not believe that saying a prayer is all it takes to be a Christian. Faith in Christ is an ongoing belief that one must do until the end and we can draw closer to God the more we walk with Him. If we spend our time eating the world’s food we’ll just get fat and lazy and if our relationship with God falters not only do we lose but also those around us we should be impacting.

“Decisional regeneration”: not original with, say, Charles Finney, but he popularized that ridiculousness and the American church has never quite recovered from it.

Fully agreed with 1 John 4: 4-10, of course, and your application above! Yet because of my background, I’m guessing, I’ve seen the “avoid the world” notions applied apart from Scripture’s definition of “the world” and in very damaging ways. That’s one reason this issue is very personal to me. Do we, as Christians, start with whatever The World is doing, define it in well-meaning but subjective ways, and then try to avoid that? Or do we focus on Christ and His finished work, seeking to know and imitate Him, and therefore customize our approach to Things — either accepting and redeeming those Things if they echo His truths, or rejecting them if they do not?

Going overboard with “avoid the world” is definitely less prevalent a problem than that of professing Christians who don’t even bother. But it’s still an equally dangerous risk.

Harry Potter may be fine for an adult that is grounded in Christ but is it profitable? I don’t need to read such things to be able to relate to the youth of today. I find the more I know the One who created us – the better I understand others. I don’t need to drink to understand a drunk or shoot-up to understand a drug addict. Drawing closer to the Creator equips me with all the heart and information I need to know.

For me, and for many others, it was indeed profitable — just as understanding secular stuff (with God’s help!) aided Daniel, and just as the Apostle Paul was able to attain even brief exposure to Greek poetry to find a good conversation starter to lead to the Gospel. Thinking about it, I didn’t read Harry Potter at first to “relate to the youth of today.” I was a Youth of Today. And I read it to find out if it was truly the great storytelling, which accidentally echoed timeless good-versus-evil truths, as I’d heard it was.

Is Harry Potter good for kids, Christian or not? I say no. Sure it’s a Hollywood version of the occult but does it draw kids into it? Does it point the way to Christ or does it point the way to spiritualism and false religion?

Even if it does, am I responsible for someone else (ab)using a Thing for his or her own sinful desires? More on this coming in part 2, or perhaps part 3. Many people use even Scripture itself to start cults or take God’s Name in vain … that doesn’t “taint” it, though.

However, in the words of movie critic and fantasy author Jeff Overstreet:

I have yet to meet a child who has sought in earnest to become a real-world witch or wizard because of Harry Potter. If I do meet one, he or she will be a child in need of good teachers who can teach how to read a book.

Christianity in the United States is shrinking. Why are their fewer of us then ever before? 88% of all kids raised in Evangelical homes leave their faith in Christ. Why is that? Are we dropping the ball on what we should be doing and embracing the things we should be avoiding?

No, people are not forsaking Christianity (not that they were ever saved in the first place, then!) because of the Church’s lack of emphasis on discernment. This implies that it’s a Place, a Thing, that’s tempting them toward evil. While I’m sure many Christians have indeed failed to teach discernment, and the Devil exploits that, it’s these people’s own sinful hearts that push them from God. We can’t ultimately blame The World or Things, or react by saying “we need to teach more on this Gospel fruit!”

Alas, no. It’s the Gospel itself we need to return to. I suggest that jumping right into “we need to teach our children and youths more about discernment” is like applying the proverbial band-aid, not just on a gaping and bleeding wound, but on a dead body that first needs spiritual resurrection.

Actually, this might be the most important point from this whole reply. 🙂

Thus, in that case, I think I’ll end it now. But I’d love to continue this dialogue, with participation from anyone else, either here or in response to part 2 that will release tomorrow morning.

Christian Miles
Guest

Three years ago, I wasn’t allowed to read Harry Potter. My family believed lies told to us by other Christians, who said Rowling was a witch and that the Potter books were Wiccan teaching manuals. I don’t doubt that those Christians meant well, but none of them had ever picked up a Potter novel. They’d read e-mails like this one, and then forwarded those on. My parents got one of those messages, and immediately put a Potter blanket ban over our household. (Our pastor at the time ranted about the books, too, basically saying they were a gateway drug to the occult.)

So, I believed all those things about The-Boy-Who-Lived right up until my Sunday School teacher set me right. She’d read the books and loved them, and encouraged me to give the stories a chance to form my own opinions. So I watched the first movie, and was surprised that I really liked it. The characters, plot, and storyworld were engaging, and the magic wasn’t anything different from what I’d seen in various Disney movies and whimsical fairytales—meaning it held no semblance to reality. I didn’t learn how to hold a séance or summon demons to do my laundry for me (hardy har), which is what I’d been told I’d learn if my young, innocent brain stumbled upon the Potter books.

What I did learn was that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. After watching the five movies that were out at the time, I picked up the books and soared through them. They helped me through a difficult time where my family had just moved from Alaska to Wisconsin. We were making it paycheck to paycheck, and were living with my grandpa in his tiny house. I had no real friends at the time, but Harry, Ron, and Hermione filled in wonderfully.

The thing that most surprised me about the Potter books was how moral they were! My faith actually grew while reading them.What I don’t like to see now is Christians who hate Potter, but are more than happy to let Star Wars into their homes. I like Star Wars, but did anyone understand what “only a Sith deals in absolutes” actually means? Also, many of the Potter-bashers I knew had no problem with The Wizard of Oz, which has a “good witch” in it. What’s up with that?

I’d continue this comment, but I have to go mow the lawn before it gets dark out. But I’ll leave you with this excerpt from an interview with J.K. Rowling, which I wish I’d seen many, many years ago.

Q: Do you believe in witchcraft and have you ever done any witchcraft?
A: No.

Q: What are your feelings towards the people who say your books are to do with cults and telling people to become witches?
A: Alfie. Over to you. Do you feel a burning desire to become a witch?
Alfie: No.
A: I thought not. I think this is a case of people grossly underestimating children. Again.

Diana
Guest

Hello all! This is my first time on this site but the HP conversation caught my attention.
It’s always been really tough for me to say anything about this. I enjoyed the story. I enjoyed a lot of the ideas in the story and I never thought of it Biblically until I heard pastors start talking about it in sermons. My uncle is a huge Pentecostal pastor and he’s always spoken against HP.

I guess that makes me a black sheep.

I have to say, though, that I always agreed with the idea that what “sin” comes into your mind doesn’t stick unless you let it and you don’t have to live according to anything you see or hear from movies, books, etc.

Harry Potter, to me, had a clear interpretation of what was good and what wasn’t. Sure, Harry wasn’t always good himself but the point with him was his growth and change to become a better person, no? In my novels of Zirconya, one of the MC’s starts out as a horrid man that people just won’t like, but in him you see the majority of change in his thinking, beliefs and ideas of right and wrong/good and evil.

Sometimes, to get a message across, you need to show the evil side of things. You need to see dark to recognize the difference when light is introduced. If you’ve never seen dark, how do you know what it is?

blogged once about an idea that often gives me a nudge in my writing; using this sudden interest in the dark to shine a light. In my honest opinion, I’ve seen a lot of that in HP. Granted, I haven’t read all the books nor seen all the movies, but from the first 4 movies, it’s been clear to me. I used to be one of those, “HP? Pft. Spare me. Dumb witchcraft.” But when you see and try to understand the message, it makes a lot more sense.

Just my two cents.

~Diana Ilinca   

Ashlea Adams
Guest

Thanks for the groovy article! I look forward to reading more.