More Mindless Ranting About Harry Potter but Not From Me

Friends,

I am a huge fan of books, and anyone who has spent any time here at all knows this to be true. So I have a tendency to get rather worked up when I read about people who are in favor of, for lack of a better term, censorship in reading.

I should also point out that I am a preacher. To make that point clear, I study Scripture and expound upon it for a living. It is my job to know the culture, to know the Word, and to make sense of the former in light of the latter. I do this day in, day out, 24/7.

I should point out one more fact: I am a dad. That’s right: the Lord has blessed me with three sons. I love my sons and do all that I can to help them understand their position in Jesus Christ as baptized believers saved by God’s grace.

All three of these are tough jobs. It’s a lot of work choosing which books are worthy of my time and dedication. It requires a lot of dedication to read all the books that I must read for Seminary, preaching, entertainment, and studying. I read a lot of books and a lot of journals (like JETS, BibSac, Modern Reformation, Books & Culture, Touchstone and a few others). I also read several blogs on a fairly consistent basis.

It’s a difficult job to be a preacher too. Those who do not preach have no idea what it is like to spend enough time to produce an 8-10 page sermon every single week (and on top of that, to prepare Bible School lessons, Bible Study lessons, in some cases a second sermon for the evening, to visit, preach the occasional funeral, and still have time for a family). A lot of reading goes into preparing the sermon too: commentaries, theologies, etc. Reading the right books is vital and I do not choose which books to read capriciously.

Being a dad is the most challenging of all my responsibilities. On the one hand, convincing my sons that reading is a useful expenditure of time is one challenge. On the other hand, being knowledgeable enough of the books they have to read for school in order to explain he difficult parts of the books, and be conversant about them, is quite another challenge altogether. (Recently, my high school  freshman aged son read Of Mice and Men. I had fun trying to recall what I learned when I was a freshman in college so that I could explain parts and help his own studies of the book.)

Well, this is all prefatory to let you know that I do not speak in this post of things with which I am unfamiliar or without knowledge of; these are my credentials. I understand books. I understand children. I understand Scripture. Not perfectly in any of the three cases, but well enough to know that Harry Potter books are not the dangerous rantings of a satanist whose ambition and goal is to warp the minds of all the children that Jesus loves; Rowling should not have a mill-stone tied around her neck and be cast into the sea. I do think perhaps the fear-mongers among us, the graceless among us, and the legalists among us really need to tone down their rhetoric or show us book, chapter, and verse where it says that interaction with (i.e., reading) is dangerous to the soul, the faith, the body, or justification by grace.

This is not to say that the seven books by Rowling about Harry Potter are perfect. They are flawed in some places, dull in others, repetitive in still others. There are times when lines of morality are not in perfect accord with what some people perceive as perfect, error-less, pristine Christian theology. But, neither was Bunyan’s (A Pilgrim’s Progress), neither was Lewis’ (Space Trilogy, Narnia), and, lest we excuse Christian novelists, neither, by a long shot, are Lahaye and Jenkins (Left Behind) or Peretti (This Present Darkness, etc). I read the first 8 Left Behind books and I am frankly stupefied that people rage against Harry Potter and not against Left Behind. I have never had a parent tell me, “My child is having nightmares because he read Harry Potter,” but I kid you not I had a middle school English teacher tell me that of one of her students was terrified (and not in a good way) because of the Left Behind teen novels.

The irony is, for example, that people say: “Harry Potter is not Christian.” The other irony is that people say, “Lord of the Rings was Christian.” A further irony is that the authors of the books have said exactly the opposite. Rowling claims that her books are Christian in nature and Tolkein denied that his was. I love irony. Tolkien is revered; Rowling is vilified. I love irony. We embrace the ones who rejected the label and reject the ones who embrace it. Talk about shooting your own wounded! Sometimes Christians are the most backward people on the planet: Raging against friends (those not against us) and welcoming those who hate us (those not for us). By this logic, we should not watch any of the Star Wars movies either because we might all start believing in Wookies and Yoda and Greedo!

My point is that people should, really, if they want to be consistent, rage and rant against those insipid Left Behind novels which are so rife with theological error it is beyond comprehension. I mean if we are setting some sort of standard by which to measure what is Christian what is not, then Left Behind fails miserably next to Harry Potter. It is profoundly ironic the things that Christians rage against at times.

So Yale Divinity School is now, evidently, going to offer a class on Harry Potter. And of course, all the intelligentsia are being quoted as authorities on this matter–as they always are: From James Dobson to the Pope (is it any surprise they have this in common?) Here is a lengthy section from the Christian Post article:

The trend to offer Potter-themed courses was embraced by some readers and strongly rejected by others, according to comments posted in response to the article.

One reader by the name of “Blue Sky” wrote, “I think we should steadfastly resist any attempt to ‘Christianize’ Harry Potter.”

Another by the name of “Stan” said it’s a “sad state of affairs when Harry Potter is being ‘studied’ in colleges and universities throughout the USA.”

“No wonder the USA is declining in so many areas and is no longer the moral or technology leader,” the reader wrote.

The majority of Christians, especially those in the evangelical community, remain strongly opposed to the book, which they say promotes witchcraft, the occult and defiance against authority to children.

A number of prominent Christian leaders, from family guru James Dobson to the pope, have publicly denounced the series. They have either urged a boycott on the books or strongly advised parents to exercise caution when letting their children read the books.

Matthew Slick, the Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry, which reports on cults and other religious movements, said in a review that he found “no Christian principles at all” after reading the books.

Unlike some who have drawn parallels between Christian themes in C.S. Lewis’ “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe” series and J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy, Slick argued that the books taught anti-biblical principles.

In “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe,” he said that the “failures of the occult side were demonstrated against the power of grace, love, and truth of God, though done through metaphor,” where as the Potter books don’t.

He added that the books do not condemn lying and deception, justifying the vices as a long as they meet the ends of the characters.

Richard Albanes, author of “Harry Potter, Narnia, and the Lord of the Rings: What You Need to Know About Fantasy Books and Movies,” also rejected the comparisons drawn between works of Christian authors like C.S. Lewis and “Harry Potter.”

“There is this whole movement within Christianity where people are trying to say that the Harry Potter books are Christian novels. And that is just untrue,” he told Christian Broadcasting Network in a past interview.

Albanes said that while kids cannot replicate the magic in Lewis and Tolkien books, they can “really copy” the witchcraft that appears in the Rowling’s books.

“There is this crossover where the Wiccans know it, the occultists know, the practitioners of all these things know it, and they are using that curiosity that kids have for all of this stuff now through Harry Potter to attract readers to their real world how-to manuals. I think many parents just don’t get that. They don’t understand,” he said.

He further advised readers, especially parents, to use discernment in choosing fantasy novels.

“We need to not just cut everything out but to take care to look at what is good fantasy and what is bad fantasy.”

Allow me a few remarks here, but first I must say this. My concern here is not whether or not it is a good idea for Yale to offer such a course as part of their curriculm. I have no particular problem with it one way or another.  If a young person wants to go to Yale, spend that much money to study Harry Potter, then they obviously have more time and money than they know what to do with. Harry Potter does not require a college degree or a college classroom in order to be understand. Be that as it may, my comments are reserved here for those who feel that the world of Harry Potter is ruining the church and Christian faith and American youth and authors like Tim Lahaye and Jerry Jenkins and John Hagee are not.

First, I agree. We should resist any effort to ‘christianize’ Harry Potter just as we should resist any effort to ‘christianize’ any book except Scripture. When the final page of Harry Potter is read, it is no more Scripture than the first page. The author never made an explicit overtures claiming that it was Scripture. So what’s the point? It is a STORY! It is a story that takes us into a fantasy world where characters from someone’s imagination work out difficulties and issues. We understand it as fiction. Yet, I have never understood why these ‘anti-christian’ Harry Potter books celebrate things like: Self-sacrifice, love, Christmas, Easter, friendship, hatred of evil, love of good, and suchlike. Perhaps one of the esteemed cultured despisers among us can enlighten me. Yet I know plenty of people who quote Left Behind as if it were Scripture, and others who have ruined churches because of The Purpose Driven Life and still others who quote Joel Osteen as Scripture.

Second, why is this a ‘sad state of affairs’? Stan must never have been to college and seen the things that are passed off as ‘of educational value.’ I had to read a book, actually a play, in college called ‘The Frogs’ by a fella named Aristophanes. This book featured: Zeus, Pluto, Charon, belching Frogs, Hermes, Pan, and much more. Still, I have never felt the urge to start worshiping any of them because I read the play. I read The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe but I didn’t start believing that lions talk, that wardrobes have magic back doors, or that beavers might actually invite me in for tea. I had to read some Hindu Myths, but I have never felt like becoming a Hindu. Although someone did point out the other day that after listening to ‘Christian’ professors at college he essentially rejected the Biblical Jesus and continues to write books and train young people in ‘Christian’ studies based on his rejection of said Jesus. More irony.

Third, what does reading Harry Potter at college have to do with being a leader in technology and morality in the world? I can make a case that America has never been a leader in morality and perhaps only mildly a leader in technology. But reading books causes a decline in technology and morality!? Stan, have you watched television lately? I’d rather my sons read a book called Harry Potter than to watch 98% of the garbage on television. Really Stan, whoever you are, you need to rethink your approach here.

Fourth, what is this nonsense that the book teaches ‘defiance against authority’? Frankly, if our nation ever becomes as corrupt as the world of Harry Potter I hope the children will be defiant. Someone will need to because it evidently will not be the adults. The children in Harry Potter respected those in authority who exercised their authority within the boundaries it was meant to be exercised within and rejected the authority of those who were evil and did not. (We can learn from children in that regard.) And they should have. I don’t think any one who has read the books will agree that the books teach children to defy authority; that is simply fear-mongering hyperbole at best, and stupid at worst. But a little child will lead them…you see, in the books it was only the children, and a few adults, who recognized the growing threat of Voldemorte and it was only the children who were willing to do something about the growing threat–often at great risk to their own lives. The children in the books did the right thing while many of the adults simply turned a blind eye. You would have to be rather obtuse to miss that point. It is in the real world where adults have not taken the call to arms against evil and injustice seriously. It is in the real world that adults still prefer to simply raise taxes to solve problems instead of warring against that which is wrong or dealing with it on a hands on basis.

Fifth, the books do not promote ‘witchcraft’ or the ‘occult.’ When the author of the books specifically says that ‘I go to church myself’ she cannot simultaneously be promoting that which the church is opposed to. I can make the case that ‘magic’ isn’t really a major theme in the books at all but rather a vehicle. It is incidental to the stories and the children in the stories often have to accomplish their goals by using their heads or by going to the library or by being a team; but always it was because of love and the author made that clear in vol 1 of the series. Nothing that is accomplished in the books is accomplished apart from love. Would that more adults understood this.

Sixth, who cares what James Dobson or the Catholic Pope have to say? What weight does their opinion carry? Are they God? Are they Scripture? Are their words binding? I think not. Who cares what they say? Certainly not I, but will I be accused of promoting defiance of authority? I hope so.

Seventh, to Mr Matthew Slick who, after reading the books, ‘found no Christian principles at all.’ Sir, are you mad? How can you say the books do not ‘denounce deception and lying’ when it is clear that books do precisely that very thing in their condemnation of Voldemort? If evil is condemned, and it is, then how can all evil not be condemned? Voldemort was evil and all of his evil was denounced by the author and her characters. She left nothing out of the picture. I remember that the book of Moses (Exodus) reports two mid-wives lying to accomplish their own ends. The Bible is silent about their ‘lying’ too and actually states that God rewarded their ‘lying.’ Should we quit reading the Bible now? Only a legalist/perfectionist can make the claim that the books do not denounce evil as evil.

Eighth, to Mr Richard Albanes who thinks we should read Tolkien and Lewis but not Rowling: Here’s someone who disagrees with you and gives ample evidence to support his claim. (For the record, I happen to disagree with Mr Barger, the author of the linked essay, at nearly every point, but my point in linking to him is because I agree with him that people who condemn Rowling should be consistent in their reasoning and condemn Tolkien and Lewis too.) I’m not sure what ‘movement’ he is talking about within Christianity, but I have noted above that I agree that the books shouldn’t be ‘christianized’ by which I define ‘christianize’ as ‘canonize’ or ‘inscripturate.’ They are stories for crying out loud!

Finally, Mr Albanes said this:

Albanes said that while kids cannot replicate the magic in Lewis and Tolkien books, they can “really copy” the witchcraft that appears in the Rowling’s books.

“There is this crossover where the Wiccans know it, the occultists know, the practitioners of all these things know it, and they are using that curiosity that kids have for all of this stuff now through Harry Potter to attract readers to their real world how-to manuals. I think many parents just don’t get that. They don’t understand,” he said. 

Sir, what is the witchcraft that you are referring to? Polyjuice potions? Gilly-weed? Mermaids? Fireworks? Invisible cloaks? Magic Mirrors? Talking pictures? Flying broomsticks? Has it ever occurred to you that this might just be satire? You know, taking every sort of witchcraft stereotype known to humanity and mocking it? Or is it Quidditch? Oh, I must say, last week I went to a Quidditch match myself. It was quite amusing. All the local witches were there, even though they had cast a lot of protection charms and hexes and spells, I still saw the quidditch matches being played. I saw some house elfs and some werewolves and goblins and a couple of blast-ended skrewts and a giant three-headed dog and a unicorn. And there were others playing with their magic wands. Oh, seriously man. Copy? The other day one of my sons cast an ‘avadra-kadavra’ spell on me and you know what? Nothing happened! Do you have an imagination?

Seriously, the only comparison that exists between Harry Potter and real witchcraft is in the minds of the paranoid. And for the record, I have read all the Harry Potter books, so has my eldest son. Neither of us have decided to stop being loved by Christ or to stop loving Him. We have not been converted to Wicca.

Well, that’s enough of a rant for today. What I think is that people should read and make up their own minds. That is why God gave us minds in the first place: So we would think. I am reminded of Daniel the prophet who went in to Babylon and was immersed in the Babylonian culture: He learned their language, studied their writings, even took on the name of one of their gods. And yet Daniel, for all that, remain a Christian and was used by God in a powerful way. I remember Paul the apostle quoting from Pagan poets to make his point while preaching. I think that Potter will serve a similar purpose. I may not be able to go into the local school and talk to kids about Jesus, but I cannot go into the school (where I work) and talk to kids about Harry Potter. I can plant seeds or water seeds. I think rather than Potter being a mess that will lead people away from Christ, it can be a tool used to lead them to Christ. It is no more perfect a tool than Paul’s pagan poets, but it is a place to start. I think Christians need to get off their morality high-horses and stop being so opposed to books.

It is a story. Brooms cannot fly. Goblins are not real. There is no ministry of magic. There is no Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. However, there is a Voldemort. And if we are careful, we can see him weaving his evil spells all over. The battle is not against Potter or Rowling any more than it is against Charles Schultz and Snoopy. The battle is against the powers of darkness in the present darkness. Christians really need to wake up to this and soon because I fear that in many cases Christians are simply fighting the wrong battle if not the wrong war. I leave you with the words of Dumbledore:

Your mother died to save you. If there is one thing Voldemort cannot understand it is love. He didn’t realize that love as powerful as your mother’s for you leaves its own mark. Not a scar, no visible sign…to have been loved so deeply, even though the person who loved us is gone, will give us some protection forever. It is in your very skin.” (Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone)

Imagine that! Love! And sacrificial love at that! And Matthew Slick said there were ‘no Christian Principles’ at all in the books. Will not Right triumph over evil soon? I don’t think he read them.

jerry

PS–I will correct any errors as I find them. I welcome all comments and discussion on this post.

Advertisements

  1. “The children in the books did the right thing while many of the adults simply turned a blind eye. You would have to be rather obtuse to miss that point. It is in the real world where adults have not taken the call to arms against evil and injustice seriously. It is in the real world that adults still prefer to simply raise taxes to solve problems instead of warring against that which is wrong or dealing with it on a hands on basis.”

    WELL SAID!

    May in the Bay

  2. May,

    Thanks. I appreciate the feedback. I hope things are going well in your world.

    jerry

  3. Friends,

    If you click the link back to the hogwarts professor’s blog you will see that he has lumped me into a paragraph that is not entirely satisfying. I posted a complaint and he rewrote the paragraph only slightly although he didn’t post my complaint.

    jerry

  1. 1 HogwartsProfessor.com » Blog Archive » Hogwarts Professor at Yale

    […] blogosphere picked the story up as well, of course. There were quite a few Christian defenses, anti-intellectual rants, and the occasional snide aside (”In later modules the students will […]




Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s



%d bloggers like this: