Fantasy Friday – Truth In Fiction

Over the past couple days, there’s been a small discussion over at author and friend Mike Duran’s site in response to an article I wrote here at A Christian Worldview of Fiction entitled “Realism In Fiction.” The central issue is whether or not authors have the same burden to be truthful about God as about Mankind.

In contrast, I recently read an article by Travis Prinzi over at the Rabbit Room about fantasy, particularly the fantasy tradition created by five writers who might be considered at the top of the genre.

In Travis’s article, he used the word “truth” nineteen times. Here are a few samples:

  • George MacDonald wrote that fairy tales are “new embodiments of old truth.”
  • G.K. Chesteron believed that “the world is wild,” and that the philosophy of the fairy tale was far closer to truth than “realism.”
  • Tolkien argued that in “escaping” to the world of Faerie, we often encounter truth in a more potent way than in non-fiction or in works of “realistic” fiction.
  • C.S. Lewis believed that in fairy tales, our imaginations allow us to grasp important truth about spiritual reality that our intellect alone, through reason and propositions, cannot fathom.
  • Madeleine L’Engle … criticized the idea that the “real world” was only found in “instructive books,” and wrote that “The world of fairy tale, fantasy, myth…is interested not in limited laboratory proofs but in truth.”

I’m not surprised by the marriage of truth and fantasy literature. I’ve long stated that the fantasy genre is best equipped to deal with spiritual realities. What surprises me most is that some aspiring Christian writers apparently find spiritual truth — specifically truth about God — so hard to pin down.

One commenter, for example, said

God by definition defies classification. You can’t pin Him down like a bug on a board.

Who is to say He isn’t portrayed realistically?

In those lines I hear an echo of Pilate’s question to Christ, “What is truth?”

Who God is cannot be known completely by any human being, but what God has said about Himself most certainly can be known. Fantasy allows us to explore His self-revelation and what that means to us.

Shouldn’t realistic fiction take up the mantle as well and strive to faithfully show God, not in the way a theology treatise would, but the way He works and acts in the real world?

So often art is defined using the terms “beauty” and “truth.” I guess I’m wondering what kind of art we Christians will create if we don’t pursue truth about God.

Beyond Plateaus

Mountain climbers are familiar with reaching plateaus. You don’t get to one without a lot of serious work. Often when you arrive, you’ll find a scenic view and certainly a good place to rest. But if you have set a goal for yourself, staying on the plateau will defeat you.

Staying on plateaus can be tempting — for mountain climbers, for writers, for Christians. One of the things the long journey of writing novels and waiting to find an agent and publisher has taught me is to keep working. There was a time I thought my work was ready for publication. In fact I confidently read other books and believed my writing equal or better.

Apparently I was the only one. Yes, I got good responses from critique partners and others in mentoring groups. But there is still that elusive “We want you to be our author” phone call. Something, therefore, needs to be better. It pushes me forward to improve.

But what happens when I don’t have that incentive any more?

Lady Gaga (bet you never thought you’d hear me quoting her here, did you 😉 ) said in anticipation of her next performance, she (mentally) takes the awards she’s won off the wall and stuffs them in the closet. In other words, she’s determined not to let past success affect her goal. She’s not going to stay on the plateau.

I think some writers are content with the plateau. Publishing was their dream. Now they have books out and enough sales to get the next contract. Who cares if they improve their writing or become better at plotting their stories? Who cares if their characters are retreads? I mean, those sales show the fans are there.

I think it would be easy to fall into that attitude, but the plateau isn’t the mountain top.

Plateaus can become traps for Christians in our spiritual walk, too. Our friends all believe pretty much the same way we do. We become comfortable with our church. We tithe and attend, and even participate in special work events in the neighborhood.

God is good. He’s forgiven us by His grace and we’re thankful. So very thankful.

And there we stay.

But look at what Paul wrote to the church in Thessalonica:

Finally then, brethren, we request and exhort you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us instruction as to how you ought to walk and please God (just as you actually do walk), that you excel still more. (4:1)

What a statement! You’re doing a good job, now go out and do better!

In the next verses, it becomes clear that Paul has in mind, in particular, their sexual purity. But then in verse nine he turns a corner and commends that church for how they love other Christians. And yes, he follows up with the same admonition:

Now as to the love of the brethren, you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves are taught by God to love one another; for indeed you do practice it toward all the brethren who are in all Macedonia. But we urge you, brethren, to excel still more (4:9-10)

A couple things I learn from this. The Christian life isn’t a “let go and let God” proposition. There is a “work out your salvation” aspect, and that doesn’t deposit us on a plateau at some point, where we can sit back and enjoy the view — not, at least, if we’re to take what Paul said seriously. Rather, the Christian life is dynamic.

Excelling still more is a logical goal for those who stand next to perfection. It’s impossible to rest and think I’ve arrived when I look at God. He is the gold standard of purity and love.

Finally, though I’m an active agent in this excelling process, so is God. Look at what Paul said right before his first “excel still more” statement:

and may the Lord cause you to increase and abound in love for one another, and for all people, just as we also do for you; so that He may establish your hearts without blame in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all His saints. 3:12-13

The Thessalonians were to excel still more in the area of loving believers, but Paul prayed that God would cause this. The Thessalonians were to excel still more in the area of sexual purity, but Paul prayed that God would establish their hearts without blame in holiness.

It’s kind of like the really serious mountain climbers who are tethered together as they make their way up a rock face. One moves forward but not without the other. The first enables the second and the second supports and secures the first.

We have an incredible God who thinks and plans far beyond the ways we would choose. One part of that would seem to include our enjoying the plateaus He leads us to, but then we must keep going, thankfully, not alone.

Published in: on July 28, 2011 at 6:04 pm  Comments (1)  
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National Debt And Where It Leaves Us

For years I knew the US government was in debt, but as I understood it, we were in debt to ourselves. Something about selling bonds. I never really paid much attention.

Then one day, I learned we were in debt to China. In deep debt to China. I’m still not sure how that happened, but I suspect China started buying up our bonds.

And now our government is debating how to raise the debt ceiling — something else I don’t really understand. It sounds as if we have to give ourselves permission to go further into debt so as not to default on the debts we already owe.

No one in government seems too concerned about all this. Ho-hum, just another trillion we owe. Now who else needs a hand out or military intervention or bureaucratic oversight?

Oh, sure, there’s been some talk — public manipulation, I think — that social security checks won’t go out unless this mess gets dealt with one way or another. Never mind that social security belongs to the people the government took it from — with the idea that government would make sure (because individual people were too incompetent to do so) the money would be there when we need it.

President Obama’s idea is that the wealthiest one or two percent of Americans ought to pay more into the federal coffers so government can continue spending on all the things they deem important. Good things, many of them. Education and defense. Until recently, space travel. After the fact, levies in New Orleans. Low income housing, unemployment, medicaid and the like.

I understand the thinking here — we have a responsibility to help our neighbors, to care for those least able to care for themselves. It’s a commendable goal.

But here’s the thing. As shown in the 2010 census, the middle class in America is shrinking. The rich are getting way richer, and the poor are multiplying.

Sadly, some of those rich make their money on the backs of the poor and middle class. As an illustration of this point, according to news reports, the executives at Borders — that would be the book chain that has just gone belly up for good — were set to receive sizable bonuses (6.6 million dollars) back in April, even as 6000 employees were out of a job. Whether those bonuses were ever paid, I don’t know, but the rationale was that without that kind of incentive, those top execs (of a failing company!) would head off to greener pastures. In other words, other companies are giving that same kind of lucrative payout to their leadership.

How can this happen?

But here’s where I’m going with this. The government, which is to be the representative of the people in a republic, is all we have in a capitalistic society to keep greedy rich people from taking advantage of those dependent on their products and services.

Clearly our government isn’t doing the job!

Instead, after letting the greedy rich people get richer by merger or by mortgage, the government wants to come along and take a bigger chunk of that money. Honestly, it seems like a protection racket on a grand scale.

Meanwhile, what are entitlements doing to the rest of us? Well, I just heard recently of another creative way some people have learned to scam the system. Others have to be sure not to work too much so they don’t lose their benefits.

So here’s what I wish our government would do — their job! Regulators should regulate so banks aren’t operating like casinos. They should stop the legalized embezzlement (what else would you call someone taking company funds for their own personal use?) in the form of executive bonuses.

But to do this, I think we’d first have to stop the legalized bribery of congressmen by lobbyists. Let’s face it. The biggest job government has right now is to clean itself up!

More bad news (or maybe not) — it’s not going to happen.

So why wouldn’t that be bad news? Because as soon as we realize that government isn’t going to get any better — beyond, perhaps, marginal changes — the sooner we can stop looking to government to be the answer for what confronts us.

Paul says in Philippians

For our citizenship is in heaven from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself (3:20-21).

Then in Colossians, Paul says

Joyously giving thanks to the Father who has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in Light. For He rescued us from the dominion of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son (1:12-13)

Now that’s a kingdom I’m happy to be a part of.

And to think, the Father qualified me. I didn’t have to do a thing.

He rescued me. I couldn’t rescue myself.

He transferred me to the kingdom where His Son is in charge: “In whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. He is the image of the invisible God (Colossians 1:14-15a).”

That’s the governmental leader I can trust.


Published in: on July 27, 2011 at 6:24 pm  Comments (4)  
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Christians Have Answers

One of the latest catchphrases among Christians seems to be a reworking of an atheist question: “If Jesus is the answer, what is the question?” The Christianized edition is, “If Jesus is the answer, why are Christians afraid to ask questions?”

Oddly, this sentiment co-exists with a sort of artificial humility that has Christians backing off from knowing anything. Rather than offering a defense to everyone who asks us to give an account for our faith (1 Peter 3:15), we are now, apparently, to say spiritual things are a mystery. It’s a type of Christian agnosticism.

The whole notion of spiritual mystery is an outgrowth of postmodern thought and is not a Biblical concept. Instead Scripture teaches that God is transcendent:

“For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways,” declares the LORD. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways And My thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8-9).

Because God is Other, we will never figure Him out. Does that mean He remains cloaked in mystery? Actually no, for one reason, and one reason only. God chose to reveal Himself to us.

Hence, when the New Testament writers reference the mystery of God, they say things like “make known” or “speak forth” or “reveal.”

Clearly God has made known what Mankind needs to know, first in creation, then through His Word, His Son, and finally by His Spirit. The interesting thing is, the more we see of God, the more we see of God.

In other words, Christ, who is the image of the invisible God, makes reconciliation with God possible. To those who believe, He gives His Spirit who in turn teaches us all truth and brings to remembrance all that Jesus said (John 14:26). And of course Jesus said what He received from the Father. In addition, the Spirit “searches all things, even the depths of God” (I Cor. 2:10b).

In his first letter to the church in Corinth, Paul continued to explain the working of the Holy Spirit. Then he concluded the discussion with this amazing statement: “But we have the mind of Christ” (I Cor. 2:15).

So … it’s a fair assumption, then, that Christians have answers, even to hard questions.

I suspect the problem has never been about not having answers but about not liking the answers we have.

For example, a hard, hard question that has been asked down through the ages is this one: Why is there suffering in the world?

The Bible gives the answer: because of sin.

But no, we want more. That one’s too simple, too impersonal, especially when the suffering we’re asking about seems very personal. In fact, we’re often asking, Why me?

Again the answer, All have sinned and come short of the glory of God, and the wages of sin is death.

Another answer we don’t like.

But shouldn’t being a Christian change that? Shouldn’t Christians be able to count on God to get us out of suffering?

Again, the Bible gives the answers, ones we just don’t like. We are to expect persecution, to bear our cross, to share in the sufferings of Christ including the fellowship of His death.

When the questions involve the Big Things of life — why am I here, how did I come to be, what lies ahead — the Bible gives those answers too (for God’s glory; by His creation; judgment and life forever, either in His presence or cast from Him).

But how? How does it all work?

Need I say it? The Bible tells us how:

For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities — all things have been created through Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together (Col 1:16-17).

But to those weighty, cosmic questions, aren’t those answers illustrations of the earlier criticsm — they’re simplistic, impersonal.

I’ll answer with a set of questions of my own: Is Christ simplistic? Impersonal?

Perhaps how a person views Christ determines whether or not that individual believes Christians have answers.

– – –

For other posts on this subject see “Transcendence vs. Mystery,” and “Draw Near To God … For What End?”

Published in: on July 26, 2011 at 1:58 pm  Comments (7)  
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Processing The Horrific Through Fiction

Scripture refers to itself as a mirror that shows a person his or her “natural face” (James 1:22-24). Today in my post at Spec Faith I wrote that a novel not showing characters as sinners would be suspect of deviating from God’s revealed truth because man sins against man.

That fact was brought home yet again this weekend as the details trickled in about the attack on Norwegian citizens by someone wishing to keep alive the fear and anger generated by terrorists. First a bomb exploded in Oslo killing at least seven people. Then an hour and a half later a gunman attacked a political youth camp, and nearly ninety more people lost their lives.

Of course tragedy doesn’t require multiple deaths. It might be the lose of one person we’re close to. It might be injury or hunger, slavery, abuse, or exploitation. There are all sorts of ways that man sins against man.

Fiction is one way we can process the horror of real life. Some people turn to it as an escape — the escape from prison J. R. R. Tolkien so famously talked about (see related thoughts in “Hope Or Truth”). Others turn to it for an explanation: why do people act in such horrific ways? Still others look to fiction to find a measure of justice they wish they found in the real world.

Of course writers often use fiction to work out the issues in their own lives with which they’re struggling. Anne Rice claimed her vampire novels were expressions of her search for spiritual truth. J. K. Rowling whose mother had recently died explored the theme of death in her Harry Potter novels.

Readers, I suspect, gravitate to the novels that speak to the issues of their lives, whether coming of age or coming of old age.

We often talk about characters we relate to. One commenter to Sally Apokedak’s article, “Harry Potter The Orphan” had this to say about Harry Potter:

He is particularly relatable to the generation that grew up with him (most are in their 20s now). He is the “everyman” for our generation. The story is one of choice and self-discovery. If you remember, the sorting hat wanted to put Harry in Slytherin, the house infamous for its output of dark wizards, but due to his protests the hat opted for Gryffindor, the house of heroes. It is that duality that allows us to relate to Harry. Everyone has their darker and lighter sides, and as we grow we choose who we will become. Ultimately, I think Harry’s popularity is a result of his relatability to what is currently a younger audience.

Clearly this commenter’s remarks show the propensity for readers to work out their own struggles through the struggles of the character to which they relate.

Hence, if a reader feels powerless, he gravitates to a character who starts out powerless only to discover he has more power than he imagined possible.

Which brings me to one final way in which readers process life through fiction: they see hope. A reader understands he won’t wake up one morning to learn that he has magical power. But he sees overcoming played out in actions, often actions that stem from nothing magical, but rather from qualities like courage and hard work, loyalty and faithfulness.

Seeing characters behave heroically helps a reader to believe that heroism is still something to be desired. The world may be filled with man sinning against man, but the inevitability of it is brought into question. And that generates hope and longing and pushes us to find real world examples of heroism, or more importantly, the Source of heroism.

Published in: on July 25, 2011 at 6:50 pm  Comments (2)  
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Fantasy Friday – Is Harry Potter A Character Readers Love?

Of course opinions about literary characters vary from reader to reader, but some general consensus eventually forms. More than one person has said that Harry Potter is a likable person but not someone to love.

I’ve thought about this some and have to agree. But in the same way that opinions vary, so do the reasons for the opinions. My friend and fellow speculative fiction writer, Sally Apokedak, concluded that she didn’t love Harry as a character because he was an angry young man.

That wasn’t on my radar screen at all. In fact, I thought Harry was quite docile in the opening book, even compliant. It is in book one that readers should have fallen in love with him, I think. But I didn’t.

He was in dreadful circumstances and he bore them well. When thrust into the limelight, he didn’t revel in it or try to capitalize on his fame.

Actually, he didn’t do much of anything. Instead, stuff happened to him. He didn’t craft a plan to go to Hogwarts to get out from under his home circumstances. Instead, the opportunity came to him, and he went along with those who told him what to do, whether that person was Hagrid or Mrs. Weasley or his teachers.

Here is the reason I don’t believe I loved Harry Potter as a hero of a series of brilliant novels — he was not the agent that made things happen. Consequently, I feared for him but didn’t get in his corner and cheer him on to success.

Granted, when presented with a definite choice, Harry came through with good decisions. He stood up for Nevile, the brunt of many students’ ridicule, he refused Draco Malfoy’s offered friendship, he chose Griffindor as his house instead of Slytherin, and throughout the series he did things like going back to warn Hermione of impending danger when the troll was in the school.

In the end of the series, he even forgives and rescues Draco and offers Voldemort a “chance at remorse” (Wikipedia).

Yes, Harry had moments when he was angry, generally times when he seemed painted into a corner. In Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix the ministry rep, who later became the headmistress who replaced Dumbledore, didn’t allow the students to learn defense against the dark arts because she and others in wizardry leadership did not believe Voldemort had really returned. Harry knew they were wrong and that their actions laid the wizarding world open to danger. He was disgruntled until he had a plan of action.

Was he vengeful as some believe?

When his godfather was killed, he was angry and when Dumbldore was killed, he determined to destroy the hidden parts of Voldemort that kept him alive. These responses don’t seem untoward or out of the normal range of emotions for someone in those circumstances. I believed his reactions to be realistic and believable, and I wasn’t at all put off by them.

More amazing was how his desire to do whatever was required to bring an end to Voldemort crystalized. The compliant child became the determined savior willing to give up his own life to bring an end to the evil that threatened the rest of the wizarding world.

His actions were admirable. They were not lovable. For me to have gotten behind him in a more meaningful way early on, I think Harry would have had to be a different person. But then the books would have been completely different.

Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows, Part 2

I just got back from seeing the last of the Harry Potter movies. As usual, I came away feeling quite satisfied. The movie-makers, unlike those putting out the Narnia stories, did a good job faithfully rendering the book, in this case Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows.

My only complaint was that I expected a review of Part 1 at the beginning to orient me to this last half, but that was absent. Consequently, I spent a few minutes trying to remember where we were in the story and what had happened last.

A couple things struck me as I watched it and afterwards as I discussed it with my movie buddy. First, I believe author J.K. Rowling when she said she never set out to write a children’s series. Harry Potter moved into dark and dangerous waters, and this book is the culmination of his fight against evil. Harry faces the greatest task, against the greatest odds, and must pay the greatest price.

In conjunction with that point, I can’t believe I didn’t see sooner (and without having to read it online) that the books — all of them — are about death. From the first to the last Harry is grappling with the loss of loved ones, and he eventually must come to grips with his own death.

Which brings me back to the original point: with such a serious theme running through all seven novels, it’s hard to call these children’s books.

Here are a couple other odd tidbits I thought about the movie.

Somewhere in the first half there were some awkward attempts to lighten the mood with humor. I didn’t think they worked. Rather, I thought they felt inappropriate by insinuating themselves into a serious story. Fortunately there weren’t many of these moments — I don’t remember any in the second half.

Similarly I thought “the kiss” was out of place and ill-timed.

On the other hand, the end, which some disliked in the book, I thought was handled very well. I thought it was appropriately brief but powerful, and it was such a nice tie to the first movie, it made me remember that one with greater fondness.

I also was struck by how the least likely characters ended up playing such key roles: the once-school-joke Neville Longbottom, the silly house elf Dobby, the less than grounded Luna Lovegood, even the apparently traitorous and wicked Professor Snape.

Now that it’s all over, I can’t help but wonder if J.K. Rowling will ever write again. Certainly she doesn’t need to — her fortune and literary fame is clearly established. But did she dig out the answers to the big questions that pushed her to write Harry Potter? Does she have others that might compel her to develop another fantasy world? Could she ever come up with one different enough from Harry Potter but equally as rich? It seems to me, anything less would be a huge disappointment, so perhaps the effort might seem too hard or too risky.

In the same way, will the young actors Daniel Radcliffe and Emma Watson be able to break from the mold they’ve been poured into and continue working in their profession? I have to say, of all the characters in the movies, I thought Emma Watson the most improved. She also seems to be interested in growing as a person, so she may not stay in show business. I suspect none of the main players need to work any more if they choose not to. But perhaps their drive to perform will draw them back to the big screen, even as Ms. Rowling drive to write may cause her to imagine another rich story.

Published in: on July 21, 2011 at 5:39 pm  Comments Off on Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows, Part 2  
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The Disobedient Harry Potter

Earlier this week I said critics of Harry Potter had two main complaints, one being the issues of wizardry and the second being Harry’s disobedience.

It’s true that Harry is not The Perfect Boy, but I wonder about this as a reason not to read the books. As I recall, Tom Sawyer wasn’t the perfect boy either, nor was Huck Finn. Ann Shirley wasn’t the perfect girl and neither was Jo March. To bring the discussion back to fantasy, Edmund Pevensie wasn’t the perfect boy, and his sister Lucy, as lovable as she is, happens to fall sort of being the perfect girl, too.

The point is, if readers are only going 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 badly, using those to show points about His Kingdom and the natures of those who’ll dwell there…

[Examine this criticism] 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?

Of course there is disobedience that serves to warn and there is disobedience that trumpets rebellion, so one might argue that when books do the latter, they should be shunned.

Does Harry Potter trumpet rebellion? I suppose the answer might be somewhat subjective, but I think I can build a case for the opposite. Harry Potter is not rebellious unless you think standing up to evil is rebellious.

Some of his teachers saw the Big Picture and understood the serious threat that Harry alone was qualified to fight. They counseled him and protected him as best they could, and at times that included extending him mercy. At other times, he faced just punishment. Never was he applauded for disobeying, however.

The overall impression, in my opinion, is that Harry obeyed as best he could.

He was shamefully abused by his uncle and aunt, yet early on he submitted to them. There came a time when he did stand up to them, yet in the end he righted the relationship to the best of his ability. If anything, his relationship with his relatives shows the growth in his character.

Some of the adults in Harry’s life were misguided and some were evil. Some Harry suspected of being evil but didn’t know for sure. Again, as best he could, he obeyed those in authority over him. When he disobeyed, he did so because he believed he was advancing good or standing against evil.

To discuss whether or not he should have made himself the authority to determine who he should or should not obey is similar to a discussion of whether or not Christians should have obeyed the Nazis.

Today the church is fiercely criticized for complying with Hitler’s forces. But I suspect at the time many believed they were doing the right thing to obey the authority over them.

Regardless of a person’s conclusion about Harry Potter’s virtue, I believe the books and movies offer rich opportunities to discuss just such matters. I can’t help but think society is better off if we discuss a topic like obedience after having read Harry Potter rather than something like vampire love after having read a certain set of popular books that escaped the vitriol aimed at the boy wizard.

Published in: on July 20, 2011 at 6:47 pm  Comments (11)  
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Have You Heard The Latest About Harry?

When I was a kid we sometimes played a stupid game on rainy days called Telephone. The idea was, the teacher (usually) whispered something into the ear of the first student who then turned and repeated it in his own whisper to the person next to him. Finally after what seemed like hours, everyone in the room had passed the phrase along, but it no longer resembled the original. (Ha, ha, ha! So fun sitting there watching other kids whisper! 🙄 )

It was a boring game, but the message got through — repeating a thing can change it, and we really shouldn’t believe what we hear when it’s a rumor. Some kids even intentionally changed the original phrase just to spice up the game. Others filled in gaps when they didn’t hear the whole message clearly, adding in their own thoughts so what they were passing along made sense. One way or the other, the original always changed.

I think some adults need to play a round or two of Telephone. Today, with Internet chatter and email forwarded messages and Retweets, it is so easy to start a juicy bit of something going, and people believe it, often without challenging the veracity. I read it, they say, which makes it so. Or I heard it from my ___ (pastor, hairdresser, friend, spouse, co-worker, boss, or some other person in the know).

Off we go, then, repeating a thing as if it is true when in fact we have no idea if someone someplace along the line of repetition didn’t misunderstand or intentionally change the message.

How does this connect with Harry Potter? Once again, because of the recent release of the final Potter movie, Harry is making headlines. It seems some Christians are once more claiming untrue things about the books, movie, and author. As a result discussion is popping up on Facebook and on blogs at at media sites.

In his article “Pat Robertson Warns Against Harry Potter, TV Witchcraft And ‘Demonic’ Ouija Boards,” Eric Hananoki posts various video segments of Robertson expressing his views about Harry Potter and J. K. Rowling. The latter bothers me the most. Here’s the most troubling line”

“Well, Narnia is different. It’s not glorifying magic and the occult,” Robertson replied. “The lady who wrote Harry Potter [J.K. Rowling], I understand, was deeply involved in some of the occult things.”

Back in 2008, the watchdog site Snopes debunked a letter that was circulating about the evil influence of Harry Potter and how the books were drawing kids into the occult. It seems that much of the source material for the letter came from a satirical article meant to poke fun at the very ideas the letter embraced.

In my article “Harry, Harry, Harry” I concluded that bad logic, an indifference to the meaning of words, or closed ears had to be behind a continued accusation of the occult against Harry Potter and his imaginative author. I’ll add one more likely possibility: people are simply repeating what someone else before then said — never mind that the message may be scrambled or completely made up. Why, after all, should we let a little thing like the truth spoil a good rant.

And ranting against the occult gets attention. I remember when a pre-school director and her staff were mercilessly grilled in court and their entire school torn apart, the yard dug up, because they were accused of ritualistic Satanic abuse. Those people’s lives were destroyed, yet no evidence ever turned up and several witnesses later recanted their testimonies.

We Christians should do better. It’s not a minor thing to accuse another person of involvement in witchcraft. For an influential television personality to do it despite evidence to the contrary, breaks my heart.

After the last book came out in 2007, Rowling finally discussed the religious themes of the series. Witchcraft and satanism wasn’t part of the mix.

Are the Harry Potter books Christian? I have no reason to believe they are. I have lots of reasons to believe they are not entwined with the occult. And it’s time Christians stop parroting uninformed bits of falderal, especial when it slanders someone else. Did we not learn what idle repetition does when we played Telephone?

Published in: on July 19, 2011 at 6:34 pm  Comments (2)  
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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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