Harry, Harry, Harry

With the final Harry Potter movie at last in theaters, much talk has once again turned to how the stories about a boy wizard should be understood. Apparently there is a die-hard group clinging to the claim that the Potter books represent a threat.

It seems there are two main criticisms. One claims that these stories about wizards advance the cause of the occult. A second claims that Harry behaves in such unrighteous ways, and receives the approbation of his elders in doing so, that he is no role model for young people.

I’d like to consider each of these more closely. Does Harry Potter advance the cause of the occult? I’m no expert on the occult and have no desire to become one, but I do know that the description of sorcery and witchery in the Bible is not in Harry Potter.

In the imaginative books, wizards have power but must learn to use it and control it (hence the school for witchcraft and wizardry). What is it the young people learn? How to fly their brooms, how to make their magic wands do what they want them to do, how to mix potions for desired magical transformations, and how to defend themselves against evil spells.

The students are not taught how to bring up the dead or how to acquire more power from a spirit.

As it turned out, the more the accusations were leveled at author J. K. Rowling and Harry Potter, the more Christian leaders spoke up to say the idea was false that the books advocated the kind of sorcery the Bible condemned.

Ted Olsen, Christianity Today‘s online and opinion editor, put together an Opinion Roundup on the subject.

One of the most quoted supporters of the Potter books is Christianity Today columnist Charles Colson, who, in his November 2 Breakpoint radio broadcast, noted that Harry and his friends “develop courage, loyalty, and a willingness to sacrifice for one another—even at the risk of their lives. Not bad lessons in a self-centered world.” Colson dismisses the magic and sorcery in the books as “purely mechanical, as opposed to occultic. That is, Harry and his friends cast spells, read crystal balls, and turn themselves into animals—but they don’t make contact with a supernatural world. … [It’s not] the kind of real-life witchcraft the Bible condemns.” [emphasis mine]

Even a less than supportive review in World magazine drew the same conclusion as Colson did:

Still, [World] magazine notes that Rowling’s witchcraft bears little resemblance to modern wicca. “A reader drawn in would find that the real world of witchcraft is not Harry Potter’s world. Neither attractive nor harmless, it is powerful and evil.”

Interestingly, Rowling herself weighed in on the controversy:

In a quote from a CNN interview: “I have met thousands of children now, and not even one time has a child come up to me and said, ‘Ms. Rowling, I’m so glad I’ve read these books because now I want to be a witch.’ They see it for what it is. It is a fantasy world and they understand that completely. I don’t believe in magic, either.”

Certainly there are pastors and others in Christendom who have spoken out against the Harry Potter books — I heard of another just last week. However, I have yet to hear anyone explain how books written as pretend, with no connection to genuine occult activity, still manage to teach the unsuspecting about the sorcery condemned by the Bible.

That logic is inescapably bad. I can only surmise that someone holding this view cares little for the actual meaning of words or the context in which they appear. Or that they have not read Harry’s story and have closed their ears to all reason.

I’ll look at the second major objection to Harry another day.

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15 Comments

  1. All this frenzy. I just saw on Facebook (via Stephen Burnett, who always comes up with interesting links) that Pat Robertson said, “The lady who wrote Harry Potter [J.K. Rowling], I understand, was deeply involved in some of the occult things.” Here’s the link. Ugh. I wish he would check his facts.

  2. But what is this about? That was the October 30 issue of World. The following issue, November 6, included an announcement that God’s World Book Club, a division of the organization that owns World, was withdrawing the Harry Potter books from its catalog. “We reviewed and recommended the Harry Potter books as wholesome, good-versus-evil fantasy in the spirit of J.R.R. Tolkien or C.S. Lewis,” the full-page announcement said. “However, the fact that the books are not Christ-centered and further evidence that they are not written from a perspective compatible with Christianity have led us to retract the books. … We sincerely apologize for offense given and thank our customers for contributing to the discussion that led to this decision.”

    Why do they think the books are written from a perspective not compatible with Christianity?

  3. Oooooo…I can’t wait until I get a publisher and my book comes out. It’ll be interesting. I think I read somewhere, someplace and can’t remember where but one of the reasons you don’t find many Christian films is because of how critical we are as a Christian community about them even when they are fiction.

  4. Never mind. that was from 1999. :)

  5. I’ve always been on the fence about the Harry Potter books and admittedly haven’t read all of them nor watched all the movies.

    On the one hand, I read some of the stuff covered in the book about “Finding God in Harry Potter” and all the various things that were very much “Godly” about the series and how Harry really did represent a Christ-like figure, which leads me to believe that the company that retracted carrying the Harry Potter books may not have read that one. And in that book and where I’ve read elsewhere it is obvious that the “witchcraft” used in the books are nothing like the stuff condemned in scripture nor like the stuff used by wiccas or even witch doctors (outside of the animal transmutation thing which gets really hairy in real life and I mean no pun of any kind there).

    Yet with the use of the terms “witch” and “wizard” and “witchcraft” and other terms to describe this stuff that is not condemned in the Bible, I am reminded of the need to “flee even the appearance of evil”. The way “magic” is used in the Harry Potter books is quite different than the way it is used in both Tolkien’s and Lewis’s series and whereas those men were known in their day to be Believers, Rowling hasn’t stepped out there and said that she is a Believer for sure even though she had been a part of a church at one time out where she lives (whether she still is or not is uncertain), so if we are to use these in an analogous or applicable way as we do with the works of Lewis and Tolkien, shouldn’t we be having some serious discussions with Rowling to find out for sure if the things “of God” we may see in there were as intentional as we think or if it is just a big strange coincidence?

    I have no problem accepting it as great fiction and a good series of books to start kids reading if they want to read it (and there obviously are quite a number of kids that don’t mind reading them), but to accept it as a Christian series per se might be stretching it until we get better confirmed information.

  6. Was still writing my last comment while Sally posted her follow up. I honestly didn’t see the second comment by her when I referred to what she said. ;)

  7. David, I suspect that Rowling is not a Christian, simply because she’s never made the claim that she is. I don’t think the Harry Potter books are Christian books at all, but I don’t see them at odds with Christianity. I think the kids are sinners and they do wrong things and the books don’t preach a gospel message, because they don’t deal with sin and repentance, but I don’t find them to be antagonistic to Christianity. I believe there is in the books a strong message of sacrificial love being worth more than life.

  8. Agreed with everything Sally said. :-D

    “flee even the appearance of evil”.

    Just a reminder for David, just as someone needed to remind me: very often 1 Thessalonians 5:22, with the best of intentions, gets taken out of context. In the KJV the reading is indeed “abstain from every appearance of evil,” but what that means is avoid actual evil wherever it appears. The concept of “don’t just avoid real evil, but anything that could resemble evil” isn’t in view there.

    (Otherwise, how could anyone follow this consistently anyway? And who defines what “appears” to be evil?)

    And other translations, such as the NIV or ESV, translate the verse more helpfully as abstain from every [form/kind] of evil. :-)

    Apart from this issue, the idea of being sensitive to those who might confuse a similar action with an actual evil motive might be a Biblical concept (in fact, I believe it is). It’s just not found in that particular verse or phrase.

  9. Sally, that “taking the books off the shelve bit” was in the Opinion Roundup too, but I didn’t include it here because seemingly it wasn’t motivated by the belief that HP dabbled in the occult.

    Unlike Pat Robertson’s remarks. How sad! I read and skimmed the comments to one article that quoted him, and it wasn’t pretty. Every kind of name calling (including one who said he was a “marron” :roll: )

    David, I think John Granger (Finding God in Harry Potter) stretches some of his points. I think some of what he says is valid because J. K. Rowling is obviously a well-read woman and was intentional in her writing. I think she did indeed put in religious symbolism — specifically Christian symbolism — but from what she said after book 7 came out, it seems as if she was struggling with her faith, which may or may not resemble Biblical Christianity, rather than proclaiming it. In the end, it would seem faith won out, but that still leaves a lot of things up in the air. She believes in the power of love, that much seems clear. Beyond that?

    So, no, I would certainly not call Harry Potter Christian fantasy. It’s typical fantasy, which means that it centers on a good-versus-evil struggle. And unlike Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials, I think Rowling’s good aligns with true good and her evil aligns with true evil. Hence, I have no problem recommending them.

    Becky

  10. Nikole, you make a good point. Will any fantasy escape without criticism? I sort of doubt it. There will be detractors who think it’s wrong because of the genre alone. My books don’t have God in them, so I suspect I’ll run into people who question them as Christian, too.

    Interesting to think about.

    Becky

  11. Stephen, thanks for elaborating on that verse in 1 Thess. I was about to do the same. We must have heard or read the same article. I know I was made aware of this just recently.

    Becky

  12. Mr. Burnett, thanks for your addition to that. I’ve heard that before too. And if it were to turn out that Harry Potter actually WAS evil, would evil have not thus “appeared” therefore need to be avoided? My comment up there really can be read with either interpretation in mind, although frankly I didn’t take the time to quote it accurately and with the chapter and verse source as I usually try to do with those things. ;)

    Sally, I’m in agreement that Rowling probably isn’t a Christian as she has never publicly proclaimed Christ even if she purposefully put in some Christian themes that she may have been familiar with at the time.

    Becky, people like Pat Robertson mean well but are usually quite ill informed about these things. They have sooooo many things to have to respond to and whatnot that they go more with their gut reaction and instincts rather than having the time to properly research things, and unfortunately, they do have people that do the research for them which compounds the problems because if that person doesn’t understand what they are reading or viewing then they cannot properly give the correct information to a person like Pat who if he had read it probably wouldn’t have said what he had said because he would have known better.

    Also, I think the author of that book (you said John Granger, right?) did an updated version for all seven books. Have you read that one yet? I know I haven’t even seen it, except on Amazon I think it was. I figure once I make it through all seven books I’ll read that one to see everything he has to say on the matter.

    Personally, I think the books are just fine and are no different than Bedknobs and Broomsticks or Mary Poppins (come on now, you know she was a witch, right?) so as far as any real criticisms from me, I really don’t have any at this point. What I’ve read so far is as fine as anything I read growing up and I see no problem with kids reading them, but I do think that parents should be more knowledgeable about both the books and their faith and if they want to do what Mr. Granger recommends and use them to illustrate Jesus, then why not? If God can have the rocks cry out for His glory, why not a seven book series of books on kids doing some “practical magic”? Ultimately, we have to go with His leading in each of our personal lives, but we still need to have good knowledge on matters such as this too.

  13. if it were to turn out that Harry Potter actually WAS evil, would evil have not thus “appeared” therefore need to be avoided?

    Absolutely! Yet I’m with Becky in that it seems (my phrasing, not hers):

    1. One can’t prove Harry Potter stories, or the enjoyment thereof, is evil from Scripture itself. Instead one must resort to Anectodal Evidence to make that case. This may be right or wrong. I’d simply say that based on Scripture, one could make a case from Anecdotes alone that it was wrong to eat meat sacrificed to idols, so you’d better check to make sure your meat was “untainted.” That’s a position Paul did not endorse. He only talked about being sure not to eat meat if it would legitimately hurt someone.

    2. If one tries to rule out Rowling’s “redefinitions” for magic, “witches” and wizards and whatnot, then this also applies to The Lord of the Rings and The Chronicles of Narnia. One can’t simply say “well, those are about wholly imagined worlds,” especially given how, say, the Story-Universes of “Narnia” actually number two, for Lewis also imagined fantasy scenarios, devices and even functional magic occurring in “our” world.

  14. Thank you for that very even-handed review, Becky! I didn’t like the books, based on what I had heard after they first came out, but my son’s god-mother recommended them, and since she was also our pastor’s wife and an elementary school teacher, agreed to read them to be sure I wasn’t making a mistake.

    As it turned out, I was quite favorably impressed with the books! I was even more thrilled to discover how reading Harry Potter spurred my reluctant reader on to greater and larger feats of reading. Given what he graduated to reading after those books (thick political thrillers, heavy textbooks, books on theology…), I wasn’t sorry at all that he read Harry Potter.

    Now, the movies…those are another story. We agreed several installments ago that they had gotten too dark and scary for even the “big people” in our family; we wanted to see more of Dobby and the other funny incidents that Rowling writes into her books instead of being blasted by one terrifying event after another, and we decided we didn’t need to see any more too-dark Harry Potter on the big screen. But then–we don’t do terror, so that’s just who we are.

    I don’t know why we would be debating whether Rowling intended her books to be Christian fantasy. Her (Anglican?) church background and the state of her heart (which is ultimately between her and God) are moot points: her books were published by a secular, ABA publisher.

  15. […] my article “Harry, Harry, Harry” I concluded that bad logic, an indifference to the meaning of words, or closed ears had to be […]


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