Saturday, January 1, 2011

Defending Ms. Rowling

Lately, there's been some debate going on in The Real World about the content of the Harry Potter series of films and books.  Back in late November, I tried to start a room dedicated to the latest Harry Potter movie in a generic internet messageboard.  As you will see below, a Christian reader immediately piped up, outraged that such a topic could spring.  In the ensuing conversation, I prove to a series of people that the Potter films, and books in particular, are not sinful, anti-Christ, pagan scripture... I just used hyperbole, but whatever.  So do those wise men who stress the "growing influence of Wiccan practices in modern society.  Parents should be concerned!!"  Anyway, why should I stop at persuading this group?  I could help shielding parents in Christian homes around the world to see the truth.  ; )

I don't really expect to change anybody's mind with my argument.  I was basically writing for the sake of debate.  People of this sort aren't inclined to alter their opinion about such "delicate" subjects.  But I do wish they'd at least refrain from declaring J.K. Rowling a pagan without more solid evidence than the fact that she's created a fantasy world.

The proofs of the prosecuting party have been paraphrased for privacy.

Stereotypical Christian reader: Harry Potter is not worth reading or watching because there is no clear distinction between good and evil in the series.  Also, Rowling is obviously not a believer, so Christians should employ caution in reading her works, or not read them at all.

The Author: Well, everyone is entitled to their own opinion.  I don't think you can determine anything about J.K. Rowling's religion from reading the Harry Potter series, as it's obviously complete fantasy and not written seriously.  She's writing fiction and she knows it.  It's not a Christian series of books, but I don't think it's a pagan one either.  The word "God" is never used to my recollection, but the author never says there isn't one.  And there are some small themes that encourage virtue.  The bad guy in the Harry Potter novels is on a quest for immortality, and he's willing to hurt other people to achieve that goal.  Harry and his friends often put their lives in danger trying to stop the enemy, knowing that if they succeed they will have done a service to others.  They're honorable characters for that reason.  I'm certainly not suggesting the books as a substitute for C.S. Lewis' novels, but they are entertaining and not at all damaging to one's Christianity, I think.  What's wrong with witches in fairy tales like Hansel and Gretel, or fairy godmothers in Cinderella?

Another stereotypical Christian reader: Everyone’s worldview can be determined through their writings, and this principle applies to Rowling also.  The lack of stating that a God exists or including him in one’s speech and writing is just as harmful to one’s soul as coming out and saying that he isn’t real.  If this weren’t enough, God clearly condemns witchcraft in the Bible.  Galatians 5: 19-21 says, “Let no one be found among you who sacrifices his son or daughter in the fire, who practices divination or sorcery, interprets omens, engages in witchcraft, or casts spells, or who is a medium or spiritist or who consults the dead.”  A book or movie should not be experienced merely because it has several positive themes, and in the case of Harry Potter, the blacks outweigh the whites.  I’ve also heard of people who become absolutely obsessed with these stories.  Reading the books and seeing the films is not fine if you turn into a person who can think only of the next release in the franchise.  This would be paying more attention to worldly things than God.

The Author: I'm glad you were honest and admitted that you've neither read the books or seen the movie.  To tell the truth, I think the only people who speak out against the witchcraft element in the Potter series are those who haven't read it, because none of the sorcery in the series is insulting to Christians or applicable to those bible verses.  The way I translate those messages, God doesn't want his people to perform rituals and practices With An Aim to be gods themselves.  The magic in Potter isn't generally used with that goal in mind, except by The Dark Lord, whose mission is to become immortal.  The witches and wizards in Potter, when stripped of their abilities, are really like normal human beings.  They mostly share the same worldview and morals as muggles, or non-magical folk.  Their magic assists them in performing everyday tasks, like washing dishes, cooking, repairing broken objects, but only the dark wizards seek to lord their powers over others, magically enabled or not.  The magical folk for the most part live inconspicuous and humble lives, never making arrogant demonstrations of their power to muggles.  They don't interfere in the muggles' goverment, personal lives, or religious beliefs (although religion is never a part of the series).  I may have interpreted those bible verses wrongly, but I don't think the witchcraft in Harry Potter is of the type that they mention.  No one is sacrificed in the fire.  : )  In fact, much of the magic is playful and lighthearted, from the soccer/baseball game the wizards play on broomsticks to the art of transfiguration, morphing a pot into a bird for instance.

As for people becoming obsessed with this series, I agree there are better things to be a follower of, but will Harry Potter really encourage them to learn witchcraft and wizardry?  I don't think so.  Any sane person knows Harry's world is fake, and completely fictional.  If you're a really devoted believer, and choose only to read specifically Christian books, then you'll miss out on a lot of great literature.  The Iliad and the Odyssey, The Three Theban Plays, The Oresteia, any of Shakespeare's stuff, Fahrenheit 451; these are all very good stories, even if they don't encourage Christianity.  There's a reason we study them in a "Great Books" class.  Harry Potter is a fun series.  It's a well-written tale of good vs. evil, and in the end, the power of Love is stronger than any of the evils the bad guys can act.  It doesn't encourage Christianity, but neither does it any other religion, and it doesn't deny the existence of salvation or Jesus.

Yet another stereotypical Christian reader: "It's a well-written tale of good vs. evil."  This is why I choose not to read the Harry Potter books.  The books try to make any form of magic ok as long as it’s not employed to gain power.  God hates everything to do with witchcraft, even when it’s seemingly harmless.  2 Chronicles 33:6 "He made his sons pass through the fire in the valley of Ben-hinnom; and he practiced witchcraft, used divination, practiced sorcery and dealt with mediums and spiritists.  He did much evil in the sight of the Lord, provoking Him to anger."  In Galatians 5:19-21 "Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God."  Deuteronomy 18:13-15 "You shall be blameless before the Lord your God. For those nations, which you shall dispossess, listen to those who practice witchcraft and to diviners, but as for you, the Lord your God has not allowed you to do so. The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your countrymen, you shall listen to him."

"Any sane person knows Harry's world is fake, and completely fictional."  Although Harry’s world is pretend, that doesn’t mean that witchcraft is not alive and real.  Harry Potter fans, although they realize that Potter’s world is fiction, may be tempted to experiment in real, immoral practices.

“If you're a really devoted believer, and choose only to read specifically Christian books, then you'll miss out on a lot of great literature.  The Iliad and the Odyssey, The Three Theban Plays, The Oresteia, any of Shakespeare's stuff, Fahrenheit 451; these are all very good stories, even if they don't encourage Christianity.”  I repeat what someone said earlier.  A book should not be read merely for the presence of several positive themes.  A book should be read if it has something to spread of value, whether it be history, philosophy, religion, or something else.  The documents we are reading in Great Books have stood the test of time.  In the long run, Harry Potter is just a fun read.

The Author: Well, if absolutely all magic, witchcraft, and wizardry is evil, then how do Harry Potter haters explain the way that Gandalf is a "good" wizard?  How is the cause for which he uses his powers better in the eyes of God than than the purpose of Saruman?  Why is Harry Potter evil, and Gandalf not?

"Although Harry’s world is pretend, that doesn’t mean that witchcraft is not alive and real.  Harry Potter fans, although they realize that Potter’s world is fiction, may be tempted to experiment in real, immoral practices." Umm, I believe the most magic you'll find in this world is at Las Vegas, at least to my 9th grade knowledge.  The majority of people buying costumes, wands, cauldrons, action figures, and props will probably be doing so because they're Potter fans and collectors, not because they think these toys actually work.

I do think that if you only read specifically Christian novels, then you WILL miss out on a lot of good literature.  And if you read only "great books", then you will run out of books pretty quickly.  Harry Potter will probably not survive as long as Shakespeare's works for instance, and definitely not as long as Homer, Sohpocles, Virgil etc.  But it's still a great read. It does have something to say of value, I think, and I would call it "literature".

God also condemns murder, adultery, and theft, doesn't he?  Yet we read about those crimes sometimes.  And if we're mature, we're not inspired to act like those people.  Just because we read or hear about such heinous criminals and sinners, that doesn't make us one of them.  What's wrong with reading about witchcraft if we read about, say, Agamemnon and his family in the Oresteia?  We read plenty of myths about the Greeks gods, but do we believe them?  Will we believe any of the false messages that Rowling tries to spread in the Potter series?  But then I've already established that the magic of Harry Potter is not Christ-denying.  I think one of the reasons God condemned the sort of sorcery he described was because the people who tried to practice it were pagans who worshipped their craft.  None of the Potter characters have witchcraft/wizardry as their religion.

Your soul is not in danger if you read or watch this series.  The magic described herein is no worse than that in The Lord of the Rings.  You should not judge the books unless you yourself have tasted them.  Even more, you should definitely not criticize the author, which is unfair unless you've any material to back up your claims.

One more stereotypical Christian reader: Let’s ponder two questions.  Does The Bible ever describe such a thing as “white” magic?  Second, does God ever require use to sin to bring about good?  Do the ends ever justify the means?

Consider these following bible verses:
Ephesians 5:1, 3, 8, 10, 11, 12, 15, 16
1: Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children...
3: But do not let immorality or any impurity or greed even be named among you, as is proper among the saints
8: for you were formerly darkness, but now you are light in the Lord; walk as children of light
9: for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness and righteousness and truth
10: trying to learn what is pleasing to the Lord
11: and do not participate in the unfruitful deeds of darkness, but instead even expose them;
12: for it is disgraceful even to speak of the things which are done by them in secret
15: Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise
16: making the most of your time, because the days are evil.

(Galatians verse we’ve seen twice before in this debate)
Philippians 4:8
Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, let your mind dwell on these things.

The Author: Well, it’s Christmas break, and I can finally assemble a response to the last message.  I’ve read up on the subject and have gathered several testimonies to support my view.

I have no bible verses in my head which confirm "good" magic.  In fact, nobody arguing for the magic of Harry Potter can produce verses which support it.  This is because flying broomsticks and magic wands are just never promoted in the Bible, obviously for the simple reason that they’re not real.  It doesn’t condemn broomsticks or wands either.  Maybe it’s about time we really deduce how the word “witchcraft” is defined in The Holy Word.

Sasha in this essay at the Christian fantasy review blog,, says, “In the real world, we as Christians know that witchcraft is evil.  What are the definitional characteristics of real-world occultic witchcraft?  It is, quite simply, forbidden supernatural power derived from a spiritual source.  In our world, witches get their un-natural power from demons or ambiguous spiritual forces, and they seek this power contrary to the command of God.  In some small part of fantasy literature, the magic portrayed is extremely similar or identical to the real-world occult.  Usually such a story takes place in our own world and the magic is in form and source the same as the witchcraft forbidden from the Bible.  Such magic is obviously evil.  Note, though, that all parts of the definition must be met for this sort of magic in fantasy to be automatically classified as bad.  The supernatural power must be obtained from a spiritual source in a forbidden manner.”

Some may disagree with this definition, but it makes great sense to me.  If someone believes that “witchcraft” means absolutely all magic, and therefore all magic must be evil, Sasha has an answer to that too. “What is magic?  For the purposes of this essay, I will define magic as that which breaks real-world rules or the laws of nature in our own world.  Anything ‘supernatural’ — that is, outside of the natural way of things in our universe — counts. (Notice that under this definition, miracles such as Jesus performed are ‘magic’.)” Note especially that final line.

Anyone who has read or seen the Potter series clearly knows that the “magic” does not come from the devil or Satan worship.  In the volume 24, no. 4 issue of Christian Research Journal, Mark and Carol Hausmann Ryan stated, “The Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter series are works of fantasy.  In both, the authors create multidimensional worlds peopled with various creatures, many of whom use magical powers to affect physical changes in their world.  Some of these creatures are bad and use their powers for evil, and some of these creatures are good and use their powers to battle evil.  The “magical” powers are “natural” attributes of the respective fantasy worlds in which they operate.  In this sense the magic is more akin to the ability of animals to speak and wear clothes in children’s literature such as The Wind in the Willows and Winnie the Pooh.  Within the context of the world of the story, clothed talking animals are not supernatural, occult aberrations but the normal state of affairs.  In other words, the magic is mechanistic, not occult: the make-believe laws that govern their use in these make-believe worlds are physical laws, not spiritual or moral laws.  These practices are not the same as the occult-based wizardry and sorcery practiced in the real world by real people and condemned in the Bible (which illumines the real world).”

Truly, it’d be a shame if God condemned all magical characters in writing.  We’d have to toss away Mr. Toad and Piglet, discard Merlin, and ignore Cinderella’s Fairy Godmother.

Some people argue that Harry Potter is not to be touched because the magic of Rowling’s series resembles the practices of real-life “Wiccans”.  They say, “Rowling has done her research well.”  This is ludicrous.  Much of Potter’s magic could have been taken out of an old Looney Tunes episode, from the potion-brewing to the flying broomsticks to the spell-casting.  The author did not have to go around asking “witches” how they do this and that.  In fact, she couldn’t.  No person can describe what flying on a broomstick feels like because no one has done it.  Neither could Rowling inquire how witches apparate (or warp) from one location to another.  It just isn’t done.  Those abilities exist only in the world of fantasy.

If, after all this you still believe that Harry’s magic is evil, in response to “not dwelling on evil things”, I must highly recommend a book called The Giver (review coming up sometime not so soon in sci-fi weeks).  It’s about, among other things, how man tries to completely purge his world of sin and suffering.  His attempts, however, result in humans becoming dull and emotionless.  It’s a very profound and thought-provoking book, and one of the main messages is that without evil there can be no good, and anyone who tries to deny man’s sinfulness is foolish.  You can’t cover up evil and pretend that it doesn’t exist.  No one should only read about good, positive role models (kind of like Harry) and shun any and all material having to do with evil.  You shouldn’t associate with evildoers for sure.  God tells us not to.  But I don’t see how reading or watching accounts about them is sinful, when they’re not designed to induce desire for that certain behavior.

And so ends the great Harry Potter controversy.