‘Harry Potter’ and The Issues Beyond Fiction, Part 2
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.
But let’s not let “the world” — however we define that — set our agendas.
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?
[…] 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? […]
Not bad arguments
Well…and then you have the unrighteous judge parable…or the slightly vindictive host who threw a party…
… And perhaps even told to children, besides.
Somehow, it seems He thought His main point — My Kingdom is coming; it’s the issue you must face; what will you do about it? — was more important then giving Good Moral Examples.
Ever hear “Far Far Away” by Five Iron Frenzy? If not, go here.
And Peter was a liar
a traitor just like me
and Judas was a hypocrite
and Paul a Pharisee
When truth can be so distant
and hope evades our reach
Peter swam across the water
and found it on the beach
Just wanted to share. 0=)
It also kinda undermines a kid’s basic ability to detect right and wrong. There’s plenty they’re ignorant on, but hey.
Besides, if we want to be picky, Edmund is Judas, Susan’s a whiner who ultimately rejects Aslan and Narnia (a Christian turning her back on her own faith? Forever?), Peter’s a bit cocky at first–and in the movie struggles to keep the faith he once had, Puddleglum is a total Eeyore, Jill is a coward, Eustace is a coward and an arrogant little twit in need of a beating, The Magician’s Nephew (name escaping me) is Adam…who brings evil into the world, Shasta’s dumb, Aravis is a snobby nobleman’s brat (even if I love her)…I mean…I could go on…
…because…after the Spirit got done with the canon, then splintering off the Protestants from the crazy Catholics…he breathed divine inspiration into Lewis, who just hasn’t made it into the canon officially yet.
You mean Pixar, who put all the innuendo between the Potato Head couple and Shrek? And Cars? And the dragon-donkey hybrid children? And the almost incestuous relationship between Prince Charming and the Fairy Godmother? As I said…I could go on…
The longer version….now that I’m done being a smart mouth. Again, for those new to the site and/or who haven’t interacted with me: I’m a latecomer to the fantasy thing, have seen the second through the “Deathly Hallows 1” movies, haven’t read the books, and was once cut off by an adult at eighteen for saying “There’s a spirit behind everything” in a Harry Potter discussion (long story). Most of what I think about writing fiction, CBA, and Christian author/reader relationships was born in college. So this is relatively new ground for me.
I tend to think it’s somewhere in the middle. It’s *not* just a book/movie/song/whatever, or we wouldn’t be having this conversation. On the other hand…Oh, how does that expression go? “There isn’t a demon behind *everything,* but that doesn’t mean there isn’t one behind *some* things.” Or something like that. Harry Dresden (Jim Butcher) puts it something like, “Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean there’s not a demon about to eat your face off.”
…especially given Jesus was accused of being demon possessed. Just saying…
Oh, don’t even get me started on the “Narnia and Middle Earth aren’t the same thing!” nonsense. I used to believe that. It’s a bit embarrassing. Beliefs simplify exponentially once you start treating music and books the same way you do movies. Simply put, in the end I could not justify why I had no problem with Gandalf but had problems (ignorantly, too) with Dumbledore. I could not justify why Narnian magic did not bother me and Hogwarts’ did. They did not compute, after months of trying. The Narnian concept of Deep Magic is beautiful, but it’s still magic. Period.
That’s just ignorant. A selling point for me on the series was how pointed Rowling in making sure such distinction was made. You don’t torture. You don’t use magic to control people. You don’t invoke a killing spell. It’s bad form to use transfiguration as punishment on a student (even if he deserves it). The series has a few things I could criticize (and do), but let’s at least get the facts straight.
I’m gonna go back under the other comment for the rest of this, Stephen.
Stephen, you’ve said a LOT of good things here. For now, let me just highlight this one:
That is so true! Yet sadly we see time and again Christians having an answer to Christopher Hitchens or The Da Vinci Code or Love Wins or even Harry Potter. When will we stop being reactionary and return to the head of the line where we lead our culture to faith in Christ? Instead we act as if we need to follow behind a man carrying a leaky bucket, sopping up the mess he’s making.
How much better if we got out in front with a sound bucket we could offer to switch out for his porous one. Or for the other folk, we could lay a bit of indoor/outdoor carpet so they won’t slip on the wet floor. Or we could map out an alternative hallway and put out detour signs. Or … The point is, getting out in front seems like it gives us a real chance to make a difference.
Thanks for this thought and the many others in this post, Stephen.
I enjoy reading your arguments. You do a fantastic job of saying what often materializes in me as a gut feeling. I love that you’ve thought it out and done your research. I also appreciate your kindness in pointing out the flaws in the arguments out there. God bless, Stephen, and keep it up.
I *gasp* liked The Covenant. For those of you not familiar with it, it’s a movie about a group of kids heir to demonic powers, although the movie never actually says the power’s demonic; it does a good job of showing it. (It doesn’t view well, though; it would’ve made a better novel, I think.)
Most of the boys with the power abuse it. One, though, sees how addicting the power is and doesn’t want it. Unfortunately, he has no choice in the matter—it’s his birthright. So he resolves not to use it, because it’s addicting and turns a person terrible.
Circumstances align so the “good” kid has to use his powers to save his girlfriend (and take care of the villain). Even that “good” use of his powers has negative effects. It’s bad. The movie leaves off with something happening that makes you wonder if the kid’s gotten himself addicted.
Even Paul quoted secular sources. Quit pointing the finger and looking at what might be redeemed in something. So Twilight is porn to you because you have lust issues? Avoid it—but don’t assume that everyone has your same problem. (My mother says she read a scene and that it’s emotional porn. I don’t get that claim—but my mother also refuses to believe me when I tell her I’m not crushing on anybody.)
Non-Christians think we have problems thanks to Genesis and Judges (which I read in grade school). That’s not touching on the witch of Endor (who evidently never did get executed like the law demanded); or that Jesus’ response to his frightened disciples in the locked upper room was why He couldn’t be a ghost, not that ghosts didn’t exist.
Another great post! It’s amazing the flaws that many Christians have in their critical reviewing. I’m glad I’m reading these posts so I can fix the errors in my own thinking and hopefully avoid future mistakes!
But I’m getting really confused about the content of Harry Potter. I’ve never read it myself; I’ve only read articles or blog posts about it. One article said that Harry is actually rewarded for breaking a rule (flying on his broomstick without a teacher present). I believe the author has read the Potter books, and she was using this as an example, along with three others, that the stories actually do NOT have good morals. However, Kaci in her comment said that the stories made a distinction between good and evil. So I’m confused. Perhaps “big” sins like murder and torture are condemned, but “little” ones like lies are not? I’d appreciate it if you’d let me know what is presented as right and wrong in the Potter books.
I’m also interested in hearing why you enjoy the Potter books yourself. I’d like to know why you might recommend them to a Christian reader or writer (or why you would not, as the case may be). I’m interested in hearing your defense of Harry Potter and what you might say to Christians who claim the books are bad because the Bible forbids magic. Would you mind telling me in a comment?
Last thing: I understand that a fiction story doesn’t HAVE to contain a spotless hero. But it really is no fun to read about a main character who is obviously and consistently selfish or greedy or proud. I read a book in which one of the main characters is caught up in what HE thinks is best and in HIS desires for the future. His selfishness is shown to be sinful and harmful, but his attitude got to the point that I quit caring what happened to him. (Therefore, the climax in which he has to face his greatest fear didn’t set my heart a-patter.) You’ll lose your readers quickly if your character is too flawed. Just wanted to mention that and see if anybody agrees.
I haven’t read the books, myself. I’ve seen most of the movies. My personal criticisms are:
I have serious trouble with adults relying and putting so much on a child. Harry is eleven in book one. As he gets older, that’s less of a problem. But the kid is eleven.
Harry is a moody, angsty teenager. I can count on one hand the number of times he smiles or appears happy (including a very much needed moment with Hermione in Deathly Hallows 1). I don’t like the kid. So even when he performs his acts of heroism, it’s not that impressive to me because, honestly, he’s a moody teenager doing things out of a rather stubborn sense of duty.
Ron…Okay, it’s not a dislike of Ron as much as it takes him until Deathly Hallows to prove he’s got a backbone (that said, I loved him in DH1, even when he pulled his stupid stunt). I finally started to see what Hermione sees in him.
Dead girl in the boy’s bathroom…it’s just weird. I think it’s supposed to be funny, but it’s…weird. And she hits on them.
Half-Blood Prince still felt like “Hogwarts High School Musical” to me.
I wouldn’t give the series to a younger kid. It gets really dark as the story progresses, and I just wouldn’t.
Movie two was kinda…well, I didn’t care for it. Never saw Movie 1.
The kids do lie and cheat. Usually it’s out of the perception they don’t have a choice. And usually when they break the rules it’s for the same reason. Not saying it’s right, just saying it’s not completely void of reason. They don’t always trust the adults, but, honestly, the adults aren’t always that trustworthy. The adults they do trust, however, they obey. Honestly, the evil pink lady…I never had a rebellious streak according to my parents, but I swear those kids were far kinder than I’d have been. She was evil.
I guess I didn’t see it so much as “promoting lying” or whatnot as much as a mindset where the kids are in a war mindset of some sorts.
I honestly don’t remember the broomstick thing. There’s plenty Harry gets away with and plenty that comes back to haunt him, if my memory serves.
I think this was mostly directed at Stephen, but if it’s okay I’ll offer an answer myself, too. Personally, I can see why parents wouldn’t necessarily want their kids reading it. It’s dark, and some really dark things happen. I don’t go around saying much about the series because I’m a substitute teacher who doesn’t really want kids running around saying “Miss Hill said it’s okay!”
I guess in my head, if Hogwarts had been a school for…I dunno, knights, or Power Rangers, there wouldn’t be nearly as much controversy. The storyworld assumes Witches/Wizards are kinda like the X-Men
At any rate.
Agreed. I think Harry’s real fault is he’s got a bit of a martyr complex. Or, at least from my perception, he does. That’s why Ron rocked at the beginning of DH1. He ripped Harry a new one in a way I hadn’t seen him before.
Amen to that. I don’t mind playing in the gray, done it, myself–and enjoy it–but yeah. At some point the guy has to have something, or one of us is picking up our toys and going home.
Thanks for answering, Kaci! Your reply is as welcome as Stephen’s or anybody else’s. I do want to understand a little of the Harry Potter content so that I can better explain my position on the stories. And if I ever had any desire to see the Potter films, it is now gone. 🙂
Haha. Sure thing. But please don’t only listen to the negatives. Goblet of Fire has one of the best movie depictions of evil I’ve ever seen. Deathly Hallows went well above my expectations (and made up for my disappointment in Half-Blood Prince). Movie three caught my attention, and four held it. So yeah.
Note: Pixar did not do the Shrek movies that was Dreamworks. I’m a huge fan of Pixar so I couldn’t let that slide. 🙂
I don’t think the morals in the Harry Potter books are particularly different from most kids books. Here’s an odd example. Harry really really doesn’t like his aunt and uncle Dursley, who are his guardians. At the beginning of Prisoner of Azkabaan, the uncle has locked all Harry’s school books and things away. Harry sneaks out a couple books so he can do his summer homework but otherwise leaves his things alone. His uncle lets him let his owl out at night in exchange for Harry promising not to send any messages by said owl. Harry keeps that promise.
On the other hand, cheating in particular doesn’t have natural consequences in the book. Harry and Ron are always copying Hermione but somehow they are still brilliant wizards by the end of the series?
At any rate, I think discussion of Harry Potter “morals” can be used both ways in an argument. 🙂 The overarching good is good and evil is evil is very clear to me throughout the series.
We’re pretty lucky I got as much as I did right. 0=)
I would suggest anyone wanting to form an opinion on the Harry Potter series to read the books first (like most things, the books are better than the movies; the characters more fleshed out, the motives better explained, Harry smiles a bit more :)).
I read all the books just to see what the hype was about, and my biggest peeve with them was actually from a technical/worldbuilding issue–The magic is too easy
The characters can make spells based on just knowledge and sometimes ingrediants. It doesn’t require mental strain (anymore than, say, arithmatic) and it doesn’t mark you to enemies as Gandalf’s power does. One of the Weasleys uses magic to get from his bedroom to the kitchen–a foolish use of power. Not to mention the lack of side effects when a spell goes wrong and turns Hermoine into a cat.
I’m sorry, but these arguments don’t convince me at all. J. K. Rowling definitely has children learning witchcraft in our world. Muggles (unmagical people) are ridiculed, especially Harry’s aunt, uncle, and cousin. Harry’s family is afraid of the very word ‘magic’, and his aunt is made to look like an idiot for being angry that her sister was a witch. There’s quite a big difference between Narnia and Harry Potter. No, there doesn’t have to be a figure representing God in the fantasy world, but, wait a minute! Harry Potter takes place in our world. If there’s no God there, then where is He? Anyways, it must be written within Biblical worldview framework. Who defines right and wrong? The author? Why isn’t torture or killing with magic allowed?
Although I myself enjoy some fantasy (not most modern fantasy, though), if someone’s conscience is telling them that all fantasy is wrong, well, I’m not going to be too upset. I think that discernment is at way too low of a level nowadays.
Also, the parables of Jesus, we know, are perfectly fine. Why? Because Jesus told them. Is Rowling Jesus? I didn’t think so. And Jesus told His parables, obviously, within a framework where God was the ruler. He is God.
But we, as humans, have to do things a little differently from Jesus. We are not the source of morals and ethics, God is. If there is no God in our stories, then our characters must either become a law unto themselves, or take their ethics from some other source (a powerful magician, nature, etc.). Your arguments are really unconvincing, and I think perhaps you need a bit more discernment yourself.
Well, yes, they are, but that’s addressed multiple times, especially in the face of Hermione who’s a “mudblood” (half). It may be the way the wizard-world thinks of muggles, but it’s put in a pretty negative light. I mean, racism exists in Remember the Titans, but it wasn’t exactly a pro-segregation movie. Know?
And Harry’s aunt and uncle locked him in a closet for most of his life. He has his own issues, but for the most part they deserve the disdain they get for being abusive to him. And their abuse of Harry is born out of hate toward their witch-sister (-in-law). No matter what you think of the witchcraft in Harry Potter, his aunt and uncle’s behavior is completely intolerable. You could probably argue the stereotype of the evil relatives who abuse the lead (pre-)teen protagonist is overdone and not really needed, but they really are unkind people.
Agreed, which is why I don’t like comparing them. Till We Have Faces or Lord of the Rings, as someone else suggested, is a mite closer.
Sort of. It’s an alternative world in which there is a magical race called Wizards. It’s like how in Aladdin there’s a race of Genies. But yeah, far as I can tell, there is no god of the Harry Potter universe. Or, if he’s there, he’s never appealed to that I’m aware of.
Though I could argue Middle Earth and Narnia neither one have a true “god” figure, either. (I’m using the small ‘g’ on purpose.) There’s an Emperor we never see in Narnia, and his son Aslan frequents the continent, but, outside the one line at the End of the Last Battle by Aslan, he can be either God or simply an all-powerful being with divine qualities.
I’m not saying it’d be a rock-solid argument, just that I could probably make one.
I’m pretty much the same way. I have a friend who can’t even read This Present Darkness due to her personal background. (And if I appear to be playing both sides, it’s strictly because I’m not out to insist a blanket answer on a point where Paul’s point on the gray areas seems to manifest itself. Know?)
Okay, I’m done for the time being. 0=)
Laura and Literature Lady, I was skeptical when the first Harry Potter book came out too, but I’d made a mistake before, jumping on a student for reading a book with the word “witch” in the title. Turns out, it had nothing to do with witches but was referencing a place, as I recall.
So when one of my students showed up with a copy of Harry Potter, I started asking her questions. This was a Christian school, so I could ask what needed to be asked, most specifically, what about this book is consistent with Scripture? She took a day or two to think about it and came back with loyalty and sacrifice for friends.
OK, that caused me to pause. When the movie came out, I decided to see for myself (I didn’t want to spend the money or time on a book). It didn’t take long for me to know that all the fears and accusations about witchcraft I’d been hearing were simply not true. There was nothing in the movie that was “serious occult” or real witchcraft. It was all along the lines of Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion (which I never heard Christians claiming as an occult ride).
I was troubled by the hilarity at the expense of Harry’s uncle and aunt. They were despicable characters, but I don’t happen to believe ridicule is an appropriate response.
Harry also was disobedient at times. He broke school rules, and his teachers were lenient. Did they reward his misbehavior? Not as I see it. The occasion I think Literature Lady is referring to, his teacher saw him fly without supervision in order to save someone else. She didn’t say, Oh he deserves to be rewarded. Rather, she was merciful, recognized his talent, and put him in a position where he could use his abilities for his house.
But as others have noted, this idea that the character must be perfect doesn’t fit with most other stories. Take Dragons In Our Midst, by Bryan Davis, for example. His protagonist, Billy Bannister, was far from perfect. He did all kinds of wrong things , from anger and doubt and even disobedience. In an early scene, he had a situation much like Harry Potter’s where he tried to stop another character from doing wrong, only to find himself caught for doing wrong. Later he sneaked into his house and eavesdropped on his parents, then accused them of lying to him. That’s for starters.
Of course Billy Bannister changes. But guess what? So does Harry.
All this to say, the Harry Potter books aren’t perfect. Reading with discernment means we’ll be alert to the things that contradict Scripture. People shouldn’t make fun of other people, even when the targets are despicable. Kids shouldn’t disobey. It’s good to point those things out. But the truth is, people do laugh at others and kids do disobey. Why not talk about those issues? That actually makes the stories worthwhile.
Plus, the HP series is so much more than that first book. There is a great story about love and sacrifice, prejudice and power, death and redemption.
Does this story take place in “our world”? Let me ask, can we find a train platform 10 3/4 by walking through a brick wall? That’s how the characters in the book found the train that took them to Hogwarts (a place that does not exist in reality). It’s similar to Lucy, Edmund, and Eustace entering Narnia through the painting of the ship on the sea. They were in our world, then they weren’t.
The absence of God or even a symbolic representation of God, unless you consider Harry a type of Christ in the last book, and I know many people do, would be the reason I wouldn’t consider the Harry Potter books Christian. Perhaps they are, perhaps they aren’t. People have that same discussion about Lord of the Rings.
But even if they aren’t Christian, they are not evil. There is a clear delineation between good and evil — the latter centered on the Death.
Here’s what I believe. People are free to read or not read Harry Potter, but no one should make pronouncements against the books as evil or harmful to a Christian without having read them. All.
I understand that the Harry Potter universe is an alternate version of our own, but does every fantasy story have to mention God directly? Can we appreciate the series for what it is and enjoy it, even while understanding that it is, in the end, flawed? The witchcraft of Harry Potter is clearly force-magic, which is simply fiction in the real world.
Harry Potter reminds me very much of C.S. Lewis’ Til We Have Faces far more than it reminds me of Narnia. The fantastic is more present throughout Narnia and children are involved – the veil is clearly pulled back from time to time.
However, in Til We Have Faces – a very pagan story set in our own (historical) world, the story is populated by the gods of old – the pagan gods. God never makes an “appearance” yet the power of the story is incredible. It teaches what’s true in a world where I am divorced completely from “reality” and the result is like seeing that truth for the first time. A lot of folks don’t “get” that book, but I think it’s nearly the greatest book Lewis ever wrote.
I hadn’t thought of that. That’s…I think I agree that’s a much more fair comparison.
This laptop is driving me crazy!!
Anyway, all that to say that though God did not directly appear in Til We Have Faces, He was present. He is present in every story I’ve ever read, because He is the light by which I see all things.
Whether or not Rowling intended for me to see Christ in her stories, He was there. He made her story subject to His rule, just as the old pagan myths became subject in Narnia. He breathed great Truth, and new Wonder, and meaning to me through her story because He can. He’s God. And He may use anything or anything He wants.
P.S. The relationship between Severus Snape and Harry Potter reminds me a bit of my own relationship with Rowling herself.
I thought she was wicked for so long…when really, she was just a woman who had lost her own mother, laid the question of death and pain on the line before God (in her character of Dumbledore) – lost and then regained her faith in Him by the story’s end. It has really been a beautiful and humbling struggle to watch through the eyes of a fictional boy – who was pressed but not crushed, persecuted but not abandoned, struck down but not destroyed.
God is not the enemy – death is. And I think Rowling knows that now. It was quite the passage she was reading when she plucked the line “The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death.”
God bless her – I know He loves her. He is chasing her just as hard and beautifully as He chased me.
Greetings, Laura — I think both of us knew there’d be some response to your comment! Thanks for stopping by and being willing to examine the suggested arguments here. At the same time, I wonder if you were able to read part 1 of this series?
Even if so, that builds on another more proactive series about God-honoring imagination I had been working on for a while, which isn’t as much about specific books as how imagination is seen in Scripture: Imagination: for God’s glory and others’ good.
Anyway, I’ll be referring to a few of those as I go through your comment. Here’s hoping nothing even comes across as adversarial. It would be best to have a more-personal relationship, best of all in a local-church context, and be talking about this over a table (with my wife joining us to rein me in if necessary!), wouldn’t it?
I’ll also blend my thoughts with that others have already said. That leads to my first thought: that not every Christian who enjoys Harry Potter lacks Biblical discernment, and certainly not every person who does this is tempted by made-up “magic” in another world to indulge in the same here. Even if someone has experienced this temptation, or even called a Wicca cult somewhere and said “hey, how do I get into witchcraft?”, that does not automatically make the Thing that person abused sinful for every Christian. As I hope the above showed, most people already believe this in other ways; they just have not yet seen the need to apply this consistently to secular stories like Harry Potter.
Question 1: Is this really “witchcraft”? Are the very real and dangerous pagan religious practices that dishonor God the same as made-up “magic” like flying cars, wands that shoot energy beams, animal-transformation powers and whatnot? See more in part 1.
More on whether this is really “our world” in a moment.
Question 2: If someone else, even children, use a Thing to sin, is that my fault? Is the Thing therefore corrupted? I hope to explore more of this in part 3, on Thursday, July 21. Yet part 1 already touched more on this, and suggests that folks who with good intentions try to avoid contact with Things that others use for their own sinful purposes a) do so without specific Biblical support, b) can’t do this consistently anyway.
Question 3: Without knowing me personally, or Cymru or others who’ve commented here and said that God has used even these secular stories to echo His truths, are you sure you might not be accidentally making some assumptions? These might include thoughts like: Well, they don’t really mean that stuff, or perhaps, I wonder what their real reasons are? or even They must be more compromisers in the Church. Maybe I’m projecting, though, and in that case, please forgive me! I just know that’s what when I was growing up, I used to think that about Christians who had different media/story enjoyments than I did. (Of course, I’m not denying these folks are out there; as written above, I merely suggest their main problem is rejection of the Gospel, not merely Biblical Discernment.)
But the fact remains that, contrary to Anecdotal Evidence that says others are using this stuff to sin, many Christians simply are not — and not the non-discernment kinds of Christians, but Christians who care about what they read, and their kids read, and want to honor God actively (not just shun the world reactively) in their choices. So if nothing else, it’s Anecdote vs. Anecdote, a stalemate — like playing “Rock, Paper, Scissors” and both playing the same hand motion at the same time. 😀
Question 4: Have you read the series all the way through? The whole theme was the Dursleys was that they disliked imagination and preferred “values” such as gluttony and selfishness rather than heroism and wonder. “Magic,” in that other-world (more on this in a moment!), is merely a means toward adventure and fantastic explorations, the same kind of thing you get in this world with, say, whitewater rafting and enjoying others for their own value, not just for what you can get out of them.
Moreover, the Potter series eventually crescendos in a mission to save the world from the most evil wizard ever, whose mission is to subjugate Muggles, non-magical people, as an inferior race. Your statement that the series advocates this very message hasn’t taken that into account; thus, I urge you to correct that fact error, if nothing else! 🙂
Of note: I don’t claim (and have said this before) that you must read the series to know what’s in it, or else you can’t critique it. After all, I’ve critiqued the anti-Biblical book The Shack‘s blatantly un-Biblical teachings and haven’t been able to stand reading more than the first two chapters! Instead what I suggest is that you have missed what’s actually in the books. (By contrast, no one who dislikes my critiques of The Shack‘s contents has yet claimed my understanding of the book is flawed; they just said it’s just a book, it’s no big deal, it made me feel good, and other highly Biblical objections. 😉 )
Question 5: What does this prove, though? I would not deny it! 😀 But as mentioned above, no one said every series’ Story-World rules must be the same as Narnia‘s. A better case to make might be that Narnia is simply superior storytelling.
Actually, no, it takes place in an alternate imagined universe, just as much as Narnia.
Here’s how I know. In this world, are there witches, wizards, a secret society of them, wizarding schools, and any “magic” in this world as there is in Potter‘s? If not, then it’s another world — which just happens to resemble ours more closely. As Philip said: “The witchcraft of Harry Potter is clearly force-magic, which is simply fiction in the real world.”
Question 6: Because Narnia has crossover elements into “our world,” in which it’s said that there are four children, a mysterious old professor, a magical wardrobe, etc., and thus that world’s magic often reaches into “our world” also, and because any story that purports to be set in “our world” still includes things that never actually existed, how is this different from asking “suppose a few natural laws were different also”?
Question 7: Must every author, Christian or non-, include a God-figure or mention Him or else we should not enjoy the stories? But Christ Himself, telling His stories “within a Biblical review framework,” (more on the but-He-was-Jesus bit in a second), often “left God out” of the story. For example, in two parables in Matthew, He included a king, or a man, who “stood in” for God but wasn’t pure allegory, but had an “outer darkness” to punish people. That’s close to “fantasy,” and it does not specifically include Christ or a “supposal” of Him. (More about this is in part 5 of the Imagination series.)
Question 8: Can non-Christian (or confused or professing-only Christians) authors know some about right and wrong, even if not all of it, and even despite inconsistent or baseless worldviews have such truths in their stories? Or should they, or else we should not read what they wrote? Or did Christ say that even evil people could give good gifts to their children (though He didn’t say they weren’t really evil or that these good deeds saved them)?
It is. But I would encourage you to go back and read the first part of the article. Christ did not say “whatever the world does, do the opposite,” or even “whatever problem most people are having, correct for that, and don’t beware opposite issues.” All of that only results in reactionary behavior that, by accident, could result in hijacking Christ and the Gospel as a means to preferred ends: even good things like discernment.
Question 9: Just because most professing Christians — and I completely agree! — fail to practice discernment, does that mean any discernment, or the strictest kind of discernment, is therefore more preferable? Or are there opposite extremes also?
Question 10: Yes, and Jesus also walked through a locked door without commanding us to do the same! 😀 At the same time, does this address the prophet Daniel, who studied actual pagan mysticism manuals for God’s glory and with His help (more on this in Imagination part 4), or the Apostle Paul, who used a pagan Greek poet (a Cretan, I recall) who stumbled upon a truth about God but wrongly applied it to Zeus — before Paul stole the line and used it to lead to a call to repent and trust the true God?
Indeed, yet again, many of His parables didn’t specifically include God in their Story-Worlds, and we still find His people using even actual pagan stuff in the service of the Kingdom — with or without the original authors’ permission or even willingness! 😀
Again I’d refer to the Bible’s lack of specific rules against how to set up a Story-World, or commandments that “if you tell a story, it must be like so-and-so.” And again, at least two Biblical human heroes, Daniel (Old Testament) and Paul (New) were somehow able to be exposed to actual Babylonian mythology stuff that was far worse than Harry Potter or else a Cretan poet who incidentally echoed a truth but applied it to Zeus.
None of this applies to a Christian who genuinely struggles with, say, his personal background in paganism or any passing similarities in an imaginary story. For that person, he should avoid eating the “meat.” Yet others genuinely need not worry about asking whether a meat has been offered in a pagan ceremony (cf. 1 Corinthians 8-11:1).
Perhaps so, in other areas, maybe? Yet so far I haven’t heard reasons to reject the good-parts-version of Harry Potter, or any non-specifically-Christ-including stories, based on a consistent discernment worldview that takes all of Scripture into account.
At the same time, if the only responses to this series were from praise-raisers, that wouldn’t be any fun and we wouldn’t have any iron-sharpens-iron conversation at all! Thanks for your feedback, and — optimally after you read the other columns? — maybe we’ll chat again. I hope so. If nothing else, you may see better where I’m coming from.
[…] to pick books with perfect characters, then we all must stop reading fiction. Stephen Burnett in a post at Spec Faith does a brilliant job deconstructing this argument: Jesus told parables in which people behave […]
As a mom with kids in public school, the template of Chronicles of Narnia was where I finally had to land. There were so many books glorifying witchcraft in the school library. My daughter’s teacher dressed up as a witch for Halloween. (I kept my daughter out of school that day.) It was a constant battle to fight the darkness. Saying I hate public school might be an understatement. We live in such an imperfect world, and trying to figure this out on my own on this earth has been hard. I’m looking forward to seeing Christ and having Him tell me where I was spot on and where I might have over reacted. I’d rather over react, as long as I didn’t slide into legalism, then not react at all. My kids, and their future, were that important. I’m praising God that my last child graduated from High School in May. Now her decisions are between her and God. Please God, I pray she caught all I threw out there and, thank you, God, she’s still at home for two years of college so I can supervise a tiny bit anyway. ? Man, navigating this world is hard!