March 12, 2006 at 10:42 pm #64763
Shortly after the first Harry Potter books came out in the United States in 2000, The Onion ran a story with the memorable headline “Harry Potter Books Spark Rise in Satanism Among Children.” Included in the article was an interview with a young six-year old Potter fan who says that the books taught her “Jesus died because He was weak and stupid.”
Though The Onion is a satiric newspaper and the story was a complete fabrication, the conceit that there is something evil lurking behind Harry’s magical powers is no laughing matter among some conservative Christians who presume that magic must come from the devil. But in imaginative works of fiction like the Potter books, including the latest, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, magic is no more a gift from the devil than is Superman’s X-Ray vision or Huck Finn’s raft. The magic in Harry Potter is simply an aspect a different, fictional world. Still if Harry’s magic isn’t Satanic, neither is it Christian. He never really acknowledges God, nor the sources of his powers (if they have a source), or for that matter any reality beyond the one he is in. Though its source is never acknowledged, if anything, the Harry Potter series is post-Christian because it is unconsciously filled with the values and vocabulary of Christianity.
Potter’s universe has a clear moral code, and, what’s more, people who follow it, people who don’t, and people who change sides. This concern for the knowledge of good and evil and the possibility of both redemption and a fall from grace are clearly Christian themes.
The outright battle between the light and dark wizards which began at the end of the previous novel reaches full force with Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. The Dark Lord, Voldemort has assembled hordes of followers called “Death Eaters” who cause all sorts of violence and danger that threaten both the wizard and muggle worlds.
The story’s external conflicts are matched by equally intense internal battles. Harry is constantly tempted to use his considerable powers to quench his growing anger and need for vengeance. Dumbledore, the master of the Wizards School, Hogwarts, is confident in the goodness of others but even his deep wisdom is susceptible to trickery. Severus Snape, Harry’s former potions teacher, is also a former death eater and no one knows where his allegiances lie.
To complicate matters even further, as the “The Chosen One,” Harry is believed to be the only wizard who can kill Voldemort. But he is also racked with doubt about his abilities and concerned that any relationships he has could distract him from his mission. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince constantly asks profound moral questions but struggling with deep ethical dilemmas does not necessarily make a novel Christian, it just makes it human.
Harry truly grows up in J.K. Rowling’s newest installment. He becomes a leader on the Quidditch field (sort of a wizard soccer, but with flying brooms) and comes to realize, again, both the phenomenal importance of his friends and the strengths and limitations of his mentors. By the end of this second-to-last novel in the series, Harry makes certain realizations about the future of his life (to say more would spoil it). Suffice it to say Christians would call this a vocation; Harry calls it his destiny.
Such talk of vocation and destiny mark the Potter tales as post-Christian, which reflects the post-Christian England in which the series is set and the series’ author, J.K. Rowling writes. While the Church of England is the official state church in England, for practical purposes Christianity has been supplanted by a secular culture with a lingering residue of Christian values and vocabulary. Just as Beowulf was a pagan story told in a newly Christian land, so Harry Potter has Christian elements that can appeal to a widely secular audience. What is perhaps most profoundly Christian about this latest Potter novel, and the entire series, is that Harry was saved as a baby because Voldemort could not overcome the love of Harry’s mother. Years later, Dumbledore insists that Harry’s ability to love is ultimately why he is stronger than the Dark Lord.
Love as the source of our strength is neither secular nor is it especially pagan, it is a Christian value. Harry’s magic might not necessarily come from God but it does come from love. Vocation, destiny, redemption are certainly Christian themes, but they also appear in literature and myth, and it seems a bit selfish for Christians to claim them as exclusively theirs. The difference is that while other religions talk about the importance of love, Christianity invests love with, as Dostoevsky said, a “harsh and dreadful” power. If–as John says in the New Testament–God is love then Harry Potter is Christian enough for me.
by Jeff Guhin, associate editor at BustedHalo.
Comments to: firstname.lastname@example.orgMarch 13, 2006 at 1:21 am #96829
Awesome article Pam!! Thanks!:wizard:
:DMarch 13, 2006 at 1:11 pm #96086
I love the Harry Potter books. In one of them Dumbledore tells Harry that people much choose between doing what is right and doing what is easy. There is a lot of sage advice that lies among those pages.
MarciaMarch 13, 2006 at 4:16 pm #96089
Great article! We love the Harry Potter stories in our home.
Some wonder why we even condone such a thing because we are Christian. That makes no sense to me whatsoever. People who say things like that aren’t seeing the big picture.
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see the underlying good values in the stories. Our children go to a Catholic school and the books are fully welcomed there.:clap:March 13, 2006 at 5:51 pm #96090
The site that I got this article from is actually a Catholic website. I like this little blurb from their “about us” page that desribes why they’re called “Busted Halo”:
Catholic Christian belief is that all God’s children are “saints in the making.” Everyone is called to aspire toward the holiness and selflessness of a Mother Teresa or Saint Francis. At the same time we are all too often aware that this journey toward sainthood is one fraught with imperfections, struggles, and mistakes. Each of us sports a Halo that is either dented, scratched, tarnished… in some way Busted. Yet God loves us anyway and continually calls to bang out the dents and polish our halos up to a nice golden shine.
One thing I like about being Catholic (and a convert from Protestantism) is that while they have great reverence for scripture, they don’t base every teaching on a literal translation of the bible only. They are not “bible fundamentlists” I think :jesus: would approve of that :love:
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