Judging from last week’s column, it seems there’s plenty of life left in the Harry Potter discussion between Christians — even before delving into the related issues of how our reactions to that particular series also overlap into our real-life beliefs and practice.
Thus, let’s continue with this series, today with a focus especially on how our thinking about the Harry Potter series also relates to how we view Biblical discernment.
For all these, the Harry Potter discussion matters …
4. Because Christians might overdo “discernment” practices in one extreme or another, based mainly on reactions.
Unlike some who were exposed early to abject worldliness and no discernment, and who are thus more careful about that, I grew up exposed to other well-meaning Christians’ overdone, un-Biblical discernment: treating outside Things as evil, while ignoring their own heart sins.
Yet others may not think that’s as serious a problem. And in some sense, I would agree. For many professing Christians, extreme and un-Biblical discernment is not as prevalent as total lack of discernment. “Whatever,” or “it’s just a book/movie/song,” is heard far more often than cautions to Beware the World. I do believe Christians should bring up such problems.
However, it won’t work just to say “we need to discern more!” or maybe suggest “this will keep people from leaving Christianity.” That’s the equivalent of applying a Band-aid, not just to a bleeding gaping wound, but to a dead body. Instead, before anyone gets anywhere near teaching on how to discern Things, people need spiritual resurrection. They need to see that Christ personally is worth more to them than other “pleasures,” and thus even the seemingly minor sin of wasting time on Things is foolish.
Also, we may often risk saying too much about what Things to avoid without saying why. Or we may not caution about how one can overdo “discernment” in un-Biblical ways. Or well-meaning Christians may only teach rightly about what to shun without giving alternatives about how we might actively honor our Savior in our creative or entertainment pursuits.
Scripture’s main rule for discernment is not “look first at what the world is doing, then do the opposite.” That would be wrong to believe, for even a sinful world can echo God’s truths thanks to His common grace.
But it would also be impossible to practice that consistently. The very fact that we’re using the internet to discuss this proves we can’t practice an ethics based on we-must-avoid-everything-of-the-world. Instead of basing our beliefs on reaction to bad guys, real or imagined, Christians are meant to imitate Christ actively, looking first to Him personally and His goodness. If we happen to see that in the world, great. If not, we should avoid it.
5. Because “that looks bad/demonic/wicked to me” is not the same as Biblically based discernment.
Yesterday I was reminded of how well-intended but flawed practices of discernment can not only raise our standard above the level Scripture itself raises, but come back to bite us.
Last summer I posted on Spec-Faith about Mark Driscoll of Seattle, one of the Famous Christian Pastors, who was on video ranting about Twilight. Now, as rants go it was okay, but as I noted in August, Driscoll kept overdoing his mostly-valid criticism of Twilight’s content. His main argument: it looks demonic, so file it under Avoid. Sure, that can be true, but for things like Twilight one should say more. You can’t just assume “the Devil is behind it” based on appearance or similarity to other stuff that may be more easily proven harmful.
Otherwise, you run into situations like Driscoll himself recently encountered — after the internet went nuts with a critique of Driscoll’s condemnation of supposedly effeminate men. Anthony Bradley, a World magazine columnist, summarized this yesterday, and I had to note the irony: Driscoll himself said some books appear “demonic,” then others blasted him for similar reasons. Both sets assume this: “that Thing or person looks bad to me, based on my personal background or struggles.” But that’s not only simplistic, but un-Biblical. We can find better reasons to oppose Twilight, or critique Driscoll, besides mere appearances.
6. Because this helps us see our inconsistencies, which come when we enjoy other imagined “worlds” without direct God or Biblical parallels, then have different expectations for a “secular” story.
Many questions over Harry Potter specifically arise when people compare those stories to other stories they trust, such as The Chronicles of Narnia. They note the differences, and decide they don’t want to bother with things that don’t follow Narnia’s Story-World rules.
For example, this was one of the fairer objections to Harry Potter I’ve heard, from Wretched Radio host Todd Friel (whom I respect). I took these notes from his June 10 program:
One difference between Narnia and Harry Potter is Narnia’s clear defining of good versus evil. Harry Potter is different. In Narnia, “the evil is not glamorized. It is clearly presented as, you know, evil.” So there’s no confusion for children or adults. But Harry Potter only shows bad versus even badder. “Nothing in there is identified as coming from God, being a representative of God, versus evil.”
Harry Potter himself is supposed to be a kind of Messiah-figure, but he lies and is also a bit of a scoundrel. He practices “black magic that is kind of masked in white. It’s more dark versus darker in Harry Potter, versus darkness-versus-light in Narnia.”
I guess I’d simply ask why then we’ve been letting Jesus’ parables get by. After all, though many of His stories do have allegorical elements and characters “standing in” for God, sinners, or even evangelism itself, other parables don’t follow the expected Narnia template. (That’s true especially if one assumes, contrary to C.S. Lewis’s statements, that Narnia is made up of Direct Allegories.)
Instead, Jesus told parables in which people behave badly, using those to show points about His Kingdom and the natures of those who’ll dwell there. Compare with these statements:
- “Nothing in there is identified as coming from God, being a representative of God.” I’m thinking of the woman looking for her lost coin, or the man giving all he has to gain treasure in a field. These are “secular” stories with a point, not to put allegories into each element, but to reinforce His message: the Kingdom is worth everything. Is it a rule that every story must have a God-representing figure? If so, why?
- Harry Potter is a scoundrel. So was King David, the apostle Paul, and every person before Christ saved us (and quite a lot afterward, too!). Even for stories, whence comes this sudden rule that characters must behave perfectly? Jesus did not follow that “rule.” Instead He told stories about ten virgins behaving “selfishly” (Matt. 25: 1-13) and a shrewd money manager (Luke 16: 1-13), not to say “imitate all their behavior” but to say My Kingdom is coming; you’d best respond accordingly. (Anyway, Harry doesn’t stay a scoundrel; he grows, as part of a much bigger story.)
Because Christ Himself in his parables did not follow these “rules” for Christ-figures and moral behavior, why might we expect more of Potter and other stories? Do we expect only the secular stories to have decent characters who are not “rogues,” or Christ-figure characters, or even more obvious sources for “magic” in their worlds’ rules, or even higher distinctions between good and evil to make absolutely sure we aren’t confused?
Even if we enjoy fiction, do we subconsciously believe stories, both Christian and otherwise, would best be pressed into obeying the same Story-world rules of The Chronicles of Narnia?
I don’t think that’s a Biblical expectation. And I think most people, when asked graciously about this, might see that it’s better to be consistent in their expectations of stories. After all, they likely already enjoy less-controversial fare such as Pixar movies, traditional fairy tales and Christ’s own parables! Thus my suggestion would become not just adopt my view, but: consider applying more consistently the view you already hold in other areas.
Next week: what does Scripture say about getting tied up in rules that (hint) “have indeed an appearance of wisdom”? And don’t most Christians believe anyway that someone out there is strong enough to be exposed to bad Things so as to warn us about them?