Wednesday, July 20, 2005

My last word on Harry Potter

For someone who professes he will be lightly blogging, Dan at Cerulean Sanctum has excelled at stirring up a hornet's nest on a few posts this past week Dan's latest rant about Harry Potter books has drawn attention from around the blogosphere, including the beer-swilling theologues over at Boar's Head Tavern. (Dan, I've got your back if the betrunkene Eber attack). David Wayne at JollyBlogger weighed in, although I don't think he's yet caught Dan's diatribe. Now all we need is for Adrian Warnock and Phillip Johnson to weigh in and we have the conditions for the perfect blogstorm.

Dan, a writer and professed aficionado on fantasy literature, has grave concerns about Harry Potter's impact on children in a culture that is far more open to paganism than in our recent modernistic past:
We cannot afford to be naive. If Harry Potter had hit the scene in the 1940s, I believe his impact would have been negligible compared with today. But given that the environment into which he's flown is primed for his brand of Neo-paganism, I believe the influence of Rowling's books is far more dangerous. While some might claim that I'm cutting my own throat as a writer of speculative fiction, I can't keep silent while a generation's defense against Neo-pagan thought is being systematically disabled by what many Christians consider a harmless story.
I am inclined to agree with him to the extent that Western thought has definitely moved towards the East and begun to adopt the possibility of spiritual things. While the hedonism of the 20th Century was based on nihilism, spiritual significance was rarely assigned to it. Today, people are more likely to conform a religion around less-than-Christian morals rather than reject religion outright or confess a lack of morality. It's far more dangerous to the Church, because it can sometimes look like Christianity -- but without the Word and without the Spirit.

It's difficult for me to swallow all of Dan's argument because I do not perceive a pagan agenda from J.K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter series. When I watch the movies (I've yet to read the books), I see strong metaphors about children in a technological age, both simple and complex moral ideas, and an authority structure that is proper for children. Harry is respectful of the right people and suspicious of the right people. He suffers his neglectful uncle and aunt with grace. He and his friends are loyal to each other while being fairly graceful to those who offend them. There is good and evil, and good is definitely championed.

The problematic part of this fantastical universe is it exists within the auspices of witchcraft, something the Bible defines as explicitly evil. It is not just a world of witchcraft, but one steeped into occult references and imagery as real and vivid as any you could find outside of a the realm of fantasy. In Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, there is a literal example of divination of the spirits I found startling close in resemblance to demonic possession. It was not referenced in that light, rather, it proved useful to Harry because the person divining the spirits foretold the future. The Bible has some very strong words about witchcraft and those who practice it (Exodus 22:18; Deut. 18:10-11; 1 Sam 23; Gal. 5:19-20; Rev. 21:8). That moment of divination was exactly what God condemned (and still does).

So do we toss out Potter and keep The Chronicles of Narnia, a classic work of fantasy that also references the occult and even has a witch for a character? C.S. Lewis was explicitly Christian in his work, and God's truth is constantly reflected against the failings of the occult. Rowling has no such bindings, and seems content to let imagination run free without any reflection on the spiritual implications of her work. To her, witchcraft is a harmless fictional device because it has no real power outside of fantasy.

I can see the danger of which Dan writes, and I can assume potential harm to readers whose fantasies might be allowed to run with Harry and carry over into the real world. We should not desensitize our children to the occult or witchcraft. We should not downplay it.

I know where to draw the line in my own life, and I see Harry Potter's world as a good metaphor with some general redeeming value. I will not be led into endorsing witchcraft. So when I read, it is of no greater or lesser value than the rest of the secular entertainment I consume -- music, movies, fiction, even the news media I work in and rely on. Much of this has references to things that have nothing in common with God. For example, I watch the TV show Friends. It's one of the funniest shows the last 20 years, but we're talking about six young people who have premarital affairs, live together outside of wedlock, and confirm little of my Christian values. If I let their values affect mine, I would be accountable to God. But their values don't affect mine, and I can laugh at that parts that do not offend my values or mores.

What I get out of watching Friends and the Harry Potter movies is not morality or spirituality. I get diversion. Potter movies do not cause me to think about witchcraft, rather, about what must be great difficulties of children who grow up in such a fantastical real world of technology that has as much evil as good. These are not items that I know are consciously sacrificed to idols. So while I take the liberty (1 Corinthians 8) of watching Harry Potter movies (and perhaps reading the books down the road), I do not want to stumble anyone. Neither do I have any children, so I don't want to endorse this book for your children. If you find this evil, by all means, avoid it. Don't let your children read it. Forgive me if my taking of this freedom has caused you to stumble into judgment or bitterness, because that would be my own true failing.

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