A Christian Liberty Debate: What about Harry Potter?

by Dave Miller on July 30, 2011 · 71 comments

I wrote an article Monday at sbcIMPACT about Harry Potter.  In it, I admitted my deep, dark secret – I’m a fan of the books and movies.  But I’m also a little wary about the subject.  Below is my original post, then some very insightful comments by David Rogers that present a reasonable case for why Christians should be careful about the Potter phenomena.  Both David and I believe this is a matter of liberty and conscience, but that does not mean that Christians should fail to exhibit discernment.

So, here is my original post and David’s comments.  Let us know what you think.

TRUE CONFESSIONS:  I’m a Harry Potter Fan

 few years ago, a man came to me deeply concerned about the pernicious effects of this new phenomenon, the “Harry Potter” books.  Christian young people were reading these books and being seduced into witchcraft, sorcery and all kinds of occult practices.  This was a godly man, a good man, a man of the Word who served God faithfully and was truly concerned about the evil effects of J.K. Rowling’s books on Christian young people.

A few days later another man in my church came to me and told me how much he had been enjoying reading the first couple of entries into the Harry Potter series.  Well-written and harmless fiction in the Narnia/Lord of the Rings genre.  This was a godly man, a good man, a man of the Word who served God faithfully and was completely unconcerned about the effects of reading the Harry Potter series.

Two men.  One book series.  Two very different opinions.  At the time I was intentionally taking the cowards way out.  I did not read the books and I was able to say, “I really have no opinion since I haven’t read the books myself.”  But then my daughter, an avid reader, decided she wanted to read the books and so we had to face the issue.

So, I read “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.”  And I was captivated.  I loved it.  It is well-written, enjoyable fiction.  I have read all the books and watched all the movies.  In fact, last week I did something I had never done – I went to the theater to watch the final installment of the series.  Not being sure how all of my church members would react to seeing the pastor at a Harry Potter film, I waited until they were released on DVD or on PPV and watched them in the privacy of my own home.  But with this eighth film, the final installment, my patience got the best of me.

When the Potter series first came out, there was a lot of fear about the series.  Now, there are churches doing “Bible studies” based on these popular books and there are few Christians who still see them as they did when the series started.  This probably would have been a hot topic about 5 years ago and now it may be greeted with a great ho-hum.

But this is something we need to reflect on.  Should we assume that good entertainment is always good?  What should a Christian say about the Harry Potter books and movies?  Should the sorcery and witchcraft, the spells and divination that are part and parcel of the series bother us?

Perspectives

1)  Harry Potter is GREAT fantasy fiction.

No doubt about it, JK Rowling stands with the fantasy greats.  She may not be Shakespeare or Hemingway, but she can hold her head high among the great fantasy writers of all time.  I am not sure if I qualify as an expert on this, but I would think that my knowledge of this genre is well above average.

The key to great fantasy is believability.  I am quite sure that if I could find the right wardrobe, I could take a vacation in Narnia.  I have no doubt that a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…well, enough of that.  I have full confidence that archaeologists will one day unearth the remains of the Shire and the bones of Bilbo and Frodo.  The great fantasy writers create a world that is real, that comes alive.  Rowling does that at Hogwarts School.

2)  Harry Potter touches on noble themes

Another marker of great fiction is its nobility.  Luke and Han came against the Empire and the Death Star to preserve freedom.  Aslan laid down his life for Edmund.  Someone had to stop Sauron, and the task fell to a couple of innocent hobbits.

Harry Potter touches on these high themes – fighting the Dark Lord, sacrifice, service to others, good and evil.  In fact, in the last couple of books, Harry takes on almost a messianic stature, even to the point of laying down his life for others.

3)  The world of Harry Potter is not theistic

Both the Chronicles of Narnia and the Middle Earth books (more subtly) share a theistic outlook.  But in Harry Potter, there is no god.  There is power, there is magic, there is divination, but there is no hint of a theistic world-view anywhere.

4)  Harry Potter delves into things that are biblically forbidden.

Witchcraft and divination – the Bible is pretty clear about these things.   Harry attends a school of witchcraft and wizardry, takes classes in divination and spells and potions.  The Old Testament attached a death sentence to these kinds of occult practices.  It is because of these that many Christians believe that these books are not within the boundary of acceptable Christian entertainment.

5)  Harry Potter is a modern example of meat sacrificed to idols. 

The early church had a controversy that means nothing to us today – whether to eat meat sold at the local idol temple.  The best meat was offered to the idol.  Idols, being man-made, are not hungry.  So, the priests took their cut and sold the rest at the temple meat market.

And the church was divided between the “yessies” and the “no-noes.”  Yessies said that an idol was nothing and because we are free in Christ, eating meat sacrificed to an idol is no big deal.  But the No-Noes came back that idol worship is evil and no Christian should have any part in that.  There are many such issues today and Paul gives us a clear way of handling this in Romans 14 and 15.

Each of us is to live according to our own conscience.  The no-noes should not judge and condemn the yessies.  The yessies should not disdain the no-noes and their strict rules.  Each of us is to follow our own conscience and allow others to do the same.  We also should be careful to respect others, as Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 10.

My Conclusion

To me, Harry Potter is a clear example of a “meat sacrificed to idols” issue.  Follow your conscience and understand that others who live under the Lordship of Christ may have different convictions.

That’s how I see it.

Comments by David Rogers

David’s First Comment: (July 25, 1:27 PM)

Dave,

In the spirit of Rom 14-15, I tend to avoid these conversations. I could easily find myself judging someone else’s servant, and I don’t want to do that. However, I think your post invites a response from the other side, and I think it would be good that that side is at least presented. Like you, I leave this matter up to each individual and his/her conscience before the Lord, but here are my reasons why I do not read/watch/listen to horror/occult-oriented media in general (having not read/watched the Potter books/films–with the exception of one of them being shown on a flight I was on one time, and not being able to avoid seeing some of the scenes–it is harder for me to make direct observations on them specifically):

1. I believe the power of the occult is real. It seems clear to me that the Bible warns against being involved in occult practices. I don’t think I will have much opposition to the point that, as Christians, we ourselvss are not to practice sorcery, nor consult with spiritists, witches, etc.

2. I realize most of the books, movies, etc. in this genre are purely fiction, and serve for entertainment purposes, and that the great majority who read/watch/listen to them do not do so in order to directly practice occult arts. However, I believe there are certain ideas, practices, paraphernalia, etc. with connotations that are not spiritually neutral, but rather linked directly with the one the Bible identifies as the enemy of God.

3. I make a distinction between literature and art forms that deal with occult themes in a way that holds out the power of God as morally and forcibly superior to the power of the enemy (as represented by the occult) and those which deal with the occult strictly for entertainment purposes or which depict practices the Bible clearly condemns in a spiritually or morally neutral or positive manner. The Bible itself narrates stories involving the occult, but never in a spiritually or morally neutral manner, or merely for entertainment purposes.

4. I have had personal experiences, and dealt with others in counseling, who have come into various forms of spiritual bondage as a result of dabbling in the occult. While I don’t believe it is spiritually healthy to go through life looking for a demon behind every bush, I believe it is best to live our lives in such a way that does not make us vulnerable to spiritual bondage. I believe the Bible teaches us to be actively vigilant against the activity and attacks of the enemy. I believe that not only direct participation, but also passive acquiescence in regard to the realm of the occult, can open up a door that may ultimately give the enemy a foothold in our lives.

There is more I could say, but I will leave it at that for now.

(NOTE: David’s comment did not have the highlights.  I did that.)

David’s Second Comment:  (July 25, 3:10 PM)

One more reason I would add here that I left off because I ran out of time before is:

5. As you look around, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that Satan has a general strategy to infiltrate the media with an intent to seduce people into spiritual bondage. You could include here sexual content, ranging from innuendo on prime-time TV to hard-core porn. You could include materialism and a host of other things as well. But it seems particularly evident to me that Satan has a strategy to inundate popular media with allusions to the occult. People naturally have a fascination with the occult. Just look at the movies, programs, and books that sell the most, and it is hard to avoid this conclusion. I would also add that Satan’s strategy of infiltrating the media with occult allusions is particularly aimed at children and young people. Just compare cartoons from the 60s to cartoons today (though, admittedly, even Casper the Friendly Ghost, and Scoobie-Doo, go way back as well). If we are honest, I believe it is hard to avoid the conclusion that there is an intentional and strategic attempt (whether on a strictly human level or on a spiritual level) to infiltrate and seduce the minds and hearts of young people and make them more open to involvement with demonic activity. And I don’t want to be responsible for making these attempts any more successful than they already are.

Conclusion

I am greatly entertained by the Harry Potter movies and books.  But the fact that they are well-written and entertaining does not make them healthy or spiritually acceptable.

What do you think?

1 Jared Moore July 30, 2011 at 3:45 pm

Dave, I agree with you. Your approach is similar to my approach concerning how to watch a scary movie unto the glory of God. Do you have any quarrels with what I suggested in that article?

2 Dave Miller July 30, 2011 at 4:17 pm

I didn’t really read the whole article, though I did see some of the comments.

No big fan of horror films and have trouble seeing how those few I have watched would be “to the glory of God.”

3 Jared Moore July 30, 2011 at 4:24 pm

Dave, I made virtually the same argument you did; I just applied it to the horror genre. You dissect Harry Potter above, redeeming what can be redeemed, and discarding what is untrue. Thus, I assume that you seek to read and watch Harry Potter “unto the glory of God.”

4 Dave Miller July 30, 2011 at 4:43 pm

I read Harry Potter for entertainment.

5 Dave Miller July 30, 2011 at 4:44 pm

The question is whether the occult themes (which appear also in a lot of horror movies) are inherently contrary to Christian behavior.

6 Jared Moore July 30, 2011 at 5:15 pm

Dave, we should be entertained unto the glory of God. Whether we eat or drink or whatever we do, we must do it unto the glory of God (1 Cor. 10:31). All the things that you mention above that draw you to the Harry Potter Series are examples of God’s common grace. Since you and all humanity were created for God’s glory, God’s common grace that is still present in His creation, draws us to various forms of creativity by His image-bearers. Even the non-Christians that are drawn to the Harry Potter series, are often drawn there by God’s common grace that are present in the writings. Thus, when they praise the creativity, literary greatness, etc. of Rowling, they indirectly admit that they live in our God’s world. He has gifted her; and apart from His gifting, His fingerprints, Him image in her, she could create nothing. Thus, it is really God who draws us to the works of His image-bearers. In light of man’s sinful condition, Christ’s creating power, and Christ’s redeeming work, we can enjoy God’s image that is still present in fallen humanity.

7 Christiane July 30, 2011 at 4:55 pm

In the novels (and the subsequent films based on the novels), Rowling, Tolkien, and Lewis have given our young people (and their parents) an engaging portrayal of ‘good’ versus ‘evil’, and a reinforcement of the Christian value of self-sacrifice for the sake of others.

Worried about ‘witches’ and ‘wizards’ ?
I know, I know, . . . very scary stuff, that.
But in the novels of Rowling, the wizard-boy ‘Harry, just Harry’ whose bedroom is a closet under the stairs, and who should be ‘horribly evil’ according to some Christian standards,
turns out to be wonderfully good.
And some of the people in his family that are conventionally ‘normal’ turn out to be very wicked indeed.

We adults can rely too much on ‘appearances’ and ‘codes’ to accept and reject others. It’s ‘easier’ to do this, but we get it wrong a lot, don’t we ?
Shallowness makes us blind to the goodness in those who are ‘different’ and keeps us from seeing the ‘evil’ sometimes harbored in those who on the surface appear to be ‘our own sort’.
Does Rowling remind us adults of this weakness ? Yes.

Strangely, the children already knew.
They adored the Rowling books. They could see through the unfairness of judging based on appearances alone. . . .
but that lesson has already shown up in another book, almost 2000 years ago.

8 Dave Miller July 30, 2011 at 5:05 pm

Did you read David’s comments? Here’s the problem. If Satan were trying to deceive people and make them comfortable with evil, it would not be with some kind of “Buffy and the Vampire” hell-mouth with monsters and such. It would be with seemingly harmless fare such as this.

Again, biblical Christians do not simply ask what is entertaining and fun, but that which is pleasing to the Lord. We live under the Lordship of Christ, not just for our own enjoyment.

And the book of Proverbs, which I am preaching through now, makes it clear that young people are not innocent, but simple and that folly is bound up in their hearts.

It is ridiculous folly to say that just because children are drawn to it, it must be innocent and harmless. The opposite is true. Children born in sin are drawn to those things that are sinful and foolish. That is why they need to be taught, guided and disciplined by parents.

9 Lydia July 30, 2011 at 6:16 pm

“It is ridiculous folly to say that just because children are drawn to it, it must be innocent and harmless. The opposite is true. Children born in sin are drawn to those things that are sinful and foolish. That is why they need to be taught, guided and disciplined by parents”

Dave, your entire comment was right on. This last part is what concerns me on this issue.

Harry Potter is fine for adults but I am concerned about it for children. Let us not do anything to desensitize them to occultic images or thinking.

10 Jared Moore July 30, 2011 at 5:17 pm

I think Harry Potter is age-appropriate material, just as any media is. Children should be exposed to media based on their discerning ability. If they are not discerning, then they should be protected; however, parents should do all that they can to make sure that their children are ready to practice discernment in an evil world by the time they turn 18 and leave their homes.

11 Randy July 30, 2011 at 5:22 pm

A couple of points on this issue.

I’m not so concerned with young (or adult for that matter) Christians being drawn into the occult by Harry Potter. I am more concerned that these people know more about Harry Potter than they do about the Lord Jesus Christ. If given the choice, with a Bible on one side and a Harry Potter novel on the other, they’d go for Harry Potter. We as parents, friends and pastors need to encourage and lead in Bible study and reading.

Secondly, in my days as an atheist I was an avid player of Dungeons & Dragons and many other roleplaying games. In my 20+ years of playing such games, I never met one person who was any sort satanic, demon summoning, occult loving individual. Mostly, we were just a group of geeks who’d rather enjoy an intellectual pursuit instead of hitting up a club on Friday and Saturday night.

Dungeons & Dragons, Harry Potter and other such fantasy items have the danger of becoming a distraction more than anything. Again, I’m not so worried about the Harry Potter fan trying to summon elemental spirits in his basement. I’m worried his Bible is languising under inches of dust while he is enthralled by the adventures of his favorite sorcerous hero.

12 Stan McCullars July 30, 2011 at 5:49 pm

My position is this: If you want to waste your time watching Harry Potter movies that is your business.

I think your time would be better spent watching The Man With No Name Trilogy or the Star Trek movies with one or two exceptions. Watching Band of Brothers would definitely be time well spent.

But Harry Potter?

13 Smuschany July 30, 2011 at 8:52 pm

You say “Star Trek Movies”, but did you know (and I say this as a semi-major Trekkie) that Gene Roddenberry was a STRONG atheist. Go back and watch some ST:TNG or DS9 episodes and you will see a heavy dose of secular humanism and the downplaying of alien cultures “religious” beliefs. Maybe to make your point, you should choose a different example.

14 Stan McCullars July 30, 2011 at 10:33 pm

Can atheists not make good movies?

There is no better example than Star Trek as they are the best EVER!

You do realize the “religious” beliefs of the aliens were part of the fiction of science fiction? ;)

15 Dave Miller July 30, 2011 at 10:41 pm

Does your old Klingon outfit still fit you?

16 Stan McCullars July 30, 2011 at 10:55 pm

For the record, I only watched the movies. I never dressed up like a character.

However, had I dressed up it would have been as a Klingon… Lt. Worf in particular.

17 Smuschany July 30, 2011 at 11:45 pm

Let me say that I respect and to some points agree with your original argument. But if one is to argue that other sources of fiction are superior to Harry Potter (I am not saying that you are saying this, but it is an argument that is used), at least in part because of the world view that is apart of the Harry Potter universe, that is its “promotion” of witchcraft and sorcery; then I merely am pointing out that pointing to a series (movie or TV) and universe created by and infused with the morals and beliefs of a devout atheist is a bit, shall we say, problematic.

18 Stan McCullars July 31, 2011 at 9:56 pm

Are you declaring entertainment not developed by Christians and not with significant Christian undertones to be problematic?

How about musical instruments created by non-Christians? Sports? Clothing? Frozen food? Chocolate?

19 David Rogers July 30, 2011 at 6:04 pm

I am interested to hear from those of you who see no problem with Harry Potter if you also see no problem with more “hard-core” occult-oriented media. I would give a specific example, but I am not up on them, I just know they exist. But think of the most “hard-core” example you know of–not necessarily “hard-core” due to sexual content, but due to occult content. If you think there is a problem with Christians participating in this type of media, how do we decide where to draw the line? If you see no problem with the “hard-core” occult-oriented media, do you believe in the reality of satanic power and seduction, and do you believe the occult is related to this?

20 Jared Moore July 30, 2011 at 7:25 pm

David, I do think there is something wrong with Harry Potter. Dave mentions it in his article. I think there is something wrong with virtually all forms of media, whether they’re moral, cultic, immoral, etc. However, just because they contain evil things does not mean that the good in them is corrupted as well. Christians must practice discernment.

I do believe in the reality of Satan, his power and seduction, but I believe he is just as seducing through getting us to think we are better Christians if we don’t watch Harry Potter (1 Cor. 8:8). If you are saying “That’s not true” concerning all the occult material you see, why can’t you watch it or even the “hard-core” occult media?

21 David Rogers July 30, 2011 at 11:34 pm

Jared,

Thanks for answering my questions. I agree about the mixture of good and bad in practically all media, and the need to use discernment. Also, I don’t think you were implying this, but I hope you don’t think I believe I am a better Christian because I don’t watch Harry Potter. I don’t quite follow what you are trying to say in your last sentence. Would you mind explaining it to me a little more?

22 Jared Moore July 30, 2011 at 11:56 pm

David, no, I didn’t mean to imply that you think you’re a better Christian because you don’t read or watch Harry Potter.

In my last sentence, I just meant that if we’re dissecting these cultic movies, separating what is true from what is false, why shouldn’t Christians watch them?

23 David Rogers July 31, 2011 at 12:14 am

Jared,

Thanks again for your answers.

So, are you saying you don’t see any problem with Christians watching, for entertainment purposes, movies which consist almost entirely of portraying overt Satanistic practices and rituals in a positive way?

24 Jared Moore July 31, 2011 at 12:27 am

David, there would have to be something redeemable in the movie/tv show/book if the purpose is entertainment. Evil things should not be entertaining to Christians. Thus, an entire movie that has nothing redeemable about it, cannot by definition be entertaining to a Christian. So, what’s the point of watching it?

If a Christian is examining a movie/book/tv show for apologetic purposes, the entire movie/book/tv show can be evil. It’s possible to read the book of Mormon unto the glory of God, but you have to deny everything that isn’t true.

I’m with Jeremy, it’s what we think and how we react about what we see and hear, not necessarily what we see and hear.

25 Lydia July 30, 2011 at 7:59 pm

“I do believe in the reality of Satan, his power and seduction, but I believe he is just as seducing through getting us to think we are better Christians if we don’t watch Harry Potter (1 Cor. 8:8). If you are saying “That’s not true” concerning all the occult material you see, why can’t you watch it or even the “hard-core” occult media?”

This is something I would love to expand on but have a hard time articulating it in this medium. In fact, I think pretty much the opposite of you when it comes to things that are occultic in nature.

A commenter above mentioned how as an athiest, playing occultic games did not affect him. I believe that. But I also believe he was no challenge for Satan at the time. I think it is different for those of us who claim the Name of Christ seriously. I think we do have to be on guard not to desensitize ourselves to certain things like the occult. And we are all different in that respect so there is no one size fits all.

I do not read horoscopes for fun because I find myself thinking about them. It does not make me more pious. In fact, it only proves that I probably have a long way to go. Or maybe it was just ingrained that those were things of the occult and not to go near them. Another reason is that I knew of a girl growing up who got involved with the occult. She was found dead and they never proved who killed her but they knew it was the occult because of how she was murdered. It was my first introduction to the seriousness of it. It rocked the entire city.

But it can be everywhere. Years ago, I attended an extravagent wedding in the Castle Hill Mansion of a colleague in Ipswitch which was performed by a shaman and a “white witch”. He did not inform us his fiance was in the occult. The irony was that her large Catholic family and his smaller Jewish family were all aghast.

As far as Harry Potter is concerned, adults can differentiate. Kids often cannot and it introduces occult concepts that were not previously there as normal and even fun. There is a big difference in a 7 year old and a 15 year old in dealing with such things. If you try and keep a 15 year old from such things, you only make them more attractive.

26 Randy July 30, 2011 at 9:15 pm

Let me try to put it into perspective. Should we lock out Harry Potter but continue to enjoy movies and television shows with intense violent action? Should we continue to watch comedies and dramas that portray sexual relationships outside the realm of marriage? Should we continue to listen to music that glorifies fame, fortune, sex and drugs? Should we be deeply concerned about our young people becoming witches and warlocks or more concerned about them pilfering pain killers from the medicine cabinet, having sex, drinking and partying, and emulating their favorite troubled pop star or Hollywood actor or sports figure?

Honestly folks, Harry Potter is the least of our worries.

27 Jeff Meyer July 30, 2011 at 9:44 pm

Nice post Dave.

One of the things I find very obnoxious is when Christians immediately condemn Harry Potter for things like magic but then praise movies like Narnia and Lord of the Rings. My first question is “what’s the difference?” If they can articulate it, awesome, but 9 times out of 10, they can’t.

I absolutely agree about the discernment issue. And that issue actually swings both ways – if you are gonna rail against something, at least know why! As a father of four kids (ages 13 to 4), I am constantly addressing the “age appropriate” issue, especially during family movie night. The 10 year old and the 13 year old are actually very good at discerning right and wrong in movies and TV shows. The 7 and 4 year old – not so much… :)

BTW, I like the Harry Potter shows also (haven’t read the books), and honestly, I think my older kids would like them too, but I haven’t let them watch those movies yet.

28 Jeremy Parks July 30, 2011 at 11:59 pm

After some initial resistance, I started watching the movies myself before deciding if and when my kids were ready for them. We’ve moved through them at a sedate rate, always on DVD, and always with parental commentary (during) and discussion (after). I enjoy the movies from a story-telling perspective, though I’ve never read the books; too hard to get them here.

A couple of incomplete thoughts on the subject….

Inconsistency: If we are going to toss Potter because of magic, witches, curses, and wizards, then we need to be consistent in our application. Out goes Narnia and Middle Earth.

Joining them on the trash heap: Cinderella, Snow White, Rapunzel, Jack and the Beanstalk, Pirates of the Caribbean, Shrek, Pinoccio, Peter Pan (and Tinkerbell), much of Ray Bradbury’s work, Merlin, Aladdin, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice (Mickey Mouse version as well as the Nicolas Cage flick), Santa Clause (finger by the nose, anyone?), Avatar, Monty Python and the Grail, The Green Mile, The Matrix trilogy, Indiana Jones, and The Wizard of Oz.

My point is not “I’ve accepted these other blindly, so I’ll do the same with Mr. Potter.” Instead, I would simply challenge myself to hold all these to the same standard. So far, I’ve failed to prove to myself that Hogwarts is somehow beyond the pale, perverting and twisting the natural order of things in ways that no other story has ever done. No one I’ve ever engaged on the subject can do so, either.

Perspective: This is the route I’ve taken with Harry. I talk to my kids about the themes we see. There are 1,000 pictures and images that float through these movies, morality plays and humanistic themes. We talk about what we see, and what we did not see.

We examined Harry’s struggle with the desire for revenge versus his knowledge of right. We talk about the choices that end up defining us in some ways. We debate whether Voldemort could ever become a Christian. Do Dumbledore and Potter jointly create a messianic character, salvation and sacrifice split into two parts? Was the near-death of Bellatrix Lestrange supposed to be the straw that broke Harry’s soul, similar to the role the death of Count Dooku played in turning Anakin to the Dark Side? On and on and on…

I believe firmly that oftentimes what we see is less relevant than what we think about what we see. We’ll watch TV, read books, talk to friends. We’ll hear dirty jokes, vulgar language, and anti-theistic ideas. We will eat Moon Pies and supreme pizza to excess. We’ll spot handsome guys and hot girls. What we think and how we feel about these things…that trumps the fact that we’ve seen them.

As for the occult, I agree with C.S. Lewis’ estimation that there are two fatal camps into which people fall: one group dismisses the notion of demons while the other groups dwells on the demonic without pause. In Harry Potter, I personally find the chance to talk and think about the issue in a healthy way. Not everyone will, but it works for us.

29 Dan Barnes July 31, 2011 at 11:02 am

Just an interesting side note, since the Harry Potter books were released, Wiccian has become the fastest growing religion in the United States.

30 Jeremy Parks July 31, 2011 at 11:22 am

Was it already on the rise before Harry Potter was released? Are there other simultaneous factors that are more likely causes than this particular line of books?

Not challenging you facts; just curious as to whether there is causality or simply coincidence.

31 bill July 31, 2011 at 12:59 pm

Somebody call Mike Warnke, we definitely need an expert opinion on this!

32 Jared Moore July 31, 2011 at 2:15 pm

Bill, Mike Warnke is my wife’s cousin. It’s a small world!

33 bill July 31, 2011 at 6:02 pm

Okay, then I officially retract this.

Dave, please delete this.

34 Dave Miller July 31, 2011 at 6:09 pm

I don’t think Jared was offended.

35 bill July 31, 2011 at 6:26 pm

I know, but my request still stands.

Thanks.

36 Jared Moore July 31, 2011 at 8:27 pm

Nah, I’m not offended at all.

37 Louis July 31, 2011 at 2:26 pm

We’ve seen many of the Potter movies, and my kids have read one or two of the books. These things are fantasy, and my children have been able to handle this stuff – easily.

The stuff on cable TV, style shows, tween dramas etc., are truly influential.

This Potter stuff is harmless.

38 Christiane July 31, 2011 at 2:44 pm

Hi LOUIS,

I think the ‘good’ fighting ‘evil’ in the Potter series is beneficial to a certain extent.

It is not without ‘design’ that Rowling ‘shook up’ people with the setting in which she places her hero, and I suspect that she was trying to shake people out of their complaisance about ‘labeling’ that allows evil to be considered ‘normal’ and especially the ‘labelling that condemns on sight that which is ‘different’ as ‘evil’.

I think she did this rather well.

39 Louis July 31, 2011 at 2:27 pm

Jared:

I saw Warnke when I was 17. Loved it. Now I know the true story.

It is a small world.

40 Ryan Abernathy July 31, 2011 at 5:03 pm

I read a lot of books. Fiction and non-fiction. I have been reading fantasy stories of knights and wizards and dragons since I was 10 or 11. When Harry came out, I initially read them because my wife bought me the first 3 for Christmas and I as desperate for something to read on a long road trip. Somewhere in the middle of book 2, I got hooked.

I was not even aware of the outcry in American Christiandom against Potter and JK Rowling until I got an “alert” from the American Family Association about the “Harry Potter phenomenon” and it’s influence in turning young people to the occult. The source quoted in the email alert “the Onion.” I kid you not.

Now admittedly this was 10 years ago before the Onion was a well known satire site, but it was still obvious they were kidding. When I emailed the AFA about their mistake and asked them to email out a retraction, they responded by admitting the research was faulty, but standing by their assertion that HP was leading people to the occult.

That’s when I decided to avoid articles and discussions like this one.

So why am I writing? Just to make mention of a couple of simple Harry Potter facts that for me render this debate moot.

First, JK Rowling is a believer- on record, on multiple occasions. She is a member of an Anglican Church across the pond. She has gone on record about her faith more times than necessary simply to shout down the lunatic church fringe who are determined to paint her as a witch and corrupter of children. We should be ashamed at how we have treated our sister in Christ.

Second, JK Rowling has been very specific about the Christian influences in the HP series, especially in book 7. There are verses of scripture and a clear Jesus metaphor in the same style as Aslan in Narnia.

Finally, shortly after the 8th and final film was released, Rowling makes clear that this archetype was intentional and
that her readers who were Christians could easily have guessed the ending to the books if they had known to look for them.

For these reasons, among others, I think these books are not just safe to read, but a great lesson in making the Gospel story accessible to a culture.

The only issue I would have with HP would be at what age it would be appropriate for a child to encounter the books and the screen versions. Clearly, these are not stories for 5 year olds. They were never intended to be. That is the real question. Narnia at 5 or 6? LOTR at 8 or 9? Harry at 9 or 10?

Thoughts?

41 Dave Miller July 31, 2011 at 5:08 pm

I have never read anything about Rowling being a believer, though I did notice the presence of scriptures in the last book. Can you provide any links to that? Just wondering.

I don’t know if you are referring to this comment stream or to the general debate, but I don’t think that anyone in this discussion that I have read needs to be ashamed of the debate that has gone on. It has been reasonable and biblically-based.

It is wholly appropriate for Christians to discuss whether a cultural phenomenon is biblical and acceptable.

42 Smuschany July 31, 2011 at 6:29 pm

Dave, the links to Mrs Rowling’s statements on her Christian faith are all over and span the past decade. However, wikipedia (as reliable as it is) does have a good section covering her religious stance. But yes, she is a Christian.

Secondly, I also think that while THIS discussion is and has been reasonable and biblical-based, the majority of the anti-potter rhetoric from “christian” camps over the past decade have NOT been so, and I believe that is what Bro. Ryan was referring to. I have seen and heard people declare that if you read or watch Harry Potter, you can not possibly be a Christian. Or as Ryan has already pointed out the AFA saying Potter leads kids to occult practices using a satirical article as proof and evidence. In reality there is no evidence that the Harry Potter books lead kids to the occult any more than Tom Clancy books lead people to think they are CIA agents. To argue other wise is to argue without ANY real evidence, and only blind biased assumptions. Thankfully, to my knowledge, no one on this thread has tried to make such arguments.

43 Doug Hibbard July 31, 2011 at 6:31 pm

Tom Clancy books lead people to think they are CIA agents

Wait….I’m not? :)

44 Ryan Abernathy July 31, 2011 at 8:43 pm

To be clear…

only referring to debates that have occurred outside this thread. Everything here has been reasoned and collegial.

Link to an article on JK Rowling’s faith:

http://www.mtv.com/news/articles/1572107/jk-rowling-talks-about-christian-imagery.jhtml

Dave, I’m honestly surprised based on the tone of your article that you had not heard about JK’s faith. Not being critical, just surprised you had not heard. At the height of the debate/criticism she “came out” about her faith on BBC. Really shook up a lot of the arguments being used against her. Check out the link referenced above for some cool tidbits about how her faith integrates into the HP story.

Your OP is solid BTW. Thanks for writing it.

RA

45 Jeremy Parks July 31, 2011 at 11:55 pm

I’ve never heard of her faith statements. I guess small South American countries are as far off the beaten path as where ever it is Dave lives.

46 Dave Miller August 1, 2011 at 12:27 am

We’re on the beaten path – it’s just a small path.

47 Jeremy Parks August 1, 2011 at 12:40 am

Like Iowa or Idaho or something?

48 Doug Hibbard July 31, 2011 at 6:43 pm

I think an important question to ask ourselves, be it Harry Potter, Star Trek, Star Wars, scary movies, or anything else—-

Are we starting with Scripture to determine if something is acceptable or are we starting with “I like this” and then looking for the Scriptural loophole that we can stretch to match it?

Honestly, there are a lot of things that one can stretch “We’re free in Christ” to cover, but should we do so?

I can’t speak directly to the Harry Potter series since I haven’t read them—I know some who have and are concerned and some who have that aren’t. I have plenty of other things to read, so I’m not going to dig into that.

I will say this about all of these things: if we would spend, as Christians, Baptist preachers, bloggers, whatever we do, half the time preaching, teaching, affirming truth to build disciples as we spend fighting what we think is untruth, we wouldn’t have as many problems as we do. Honestly, if we preach the truth of God’s power and the importance of focusing on God—how many are going to turn to witchcraft? If we preach eternal judgment for the righteous and the unrighteous, who gets sucked into universalism? If we teach discernment and a Bible-centered mindset, the Scriptural picture of the Holy Spirit, no one is going to be tricked into confusing God for “The Force.”

Not that we shouldn’t clearly identify sin and heresy when it is abundantly clear but other wise, teach what the true pearl of great price looks like. Teach how to find the real treasure—and people who are driven by the Spirit will not discard it for plastic trinkets.

And the side benefit? We won’t drive the sales and advertising of falsehoods like we’ve done before through our “outrage.”

49 Christiane July 31, 2011 at 7:07 pm

Being ‘sent out into the world’ by Our Lord, to love and serve, we mustn’t become a part of the ‘world’, but we must not fear to encounter it. Christians who are fearful cannot ‘go forth’ in the way that the Apostles did, in those days after Pentecost, when they no longer feared and cowered in the Upper Room.

We mustn’t cower and retreat from the ‘world’, we must engage it, in the Name of Our Lord.

True, the Apostles, many of them, were martyred. And today, some Christian people will meet the same end to their existence in THIS world, but they will not ‘die’ the second death, because their life is ‘in Christ’ and no Christian need fear the ‘second death’.

Fear the world’s ‘contamination’?
Or do we have the courage to encounter the world and bring Christ to those who are ‘contaminated’ ?
Not only the courage, but the love to reach out to them,
for His Sake ?

You can see that the coming of the Holy Spirit still makes THE difference for Christian people in how they are enabled to ‘go forth to love and serve the Lord’.

50 Jeff Musgrave August 1, 2011 at 2:36 pm

Doug,
That is a great perspective and one that I can give a hearty amen. My biggest problem with the Potter stuff has been that I consider it a waste of time. I have never read them, primarily because some people, whose literary tastes I trust, regard them as subpar literature. Granted, there is no accounting for taste as the saying goes, so I will just lean on the input of those I have grown to trust by experience on that front. This doesn’t mean that I haven’t managed to waste time on other frivolous literature and movies, I just stick with stuff that actually interests me.

51 Dave Miller August 1, 2011 at 3:08 pm

I have to agree with you, Jeff. Doug knocked this one out of the park. Surprising, since his baseball-cheering skills are so messed up.

52 Dr. James Willingham July 31, 2011 at 9:57 pm

Can’t say I like fantasy too much, especially if it lends itself to a promotion of wizardy and witchcraft. I have like, however, C.S. Lewis’ writings. Never could stomach J.R. Tolkien. Have liked a few other fantsy writers, but can’t remember who at the moment. Sci/fi I love. I read C.S. sci/fi/fantasy thriller, a 3 vol set, Out of a Silent Planet, Perelandra, and That Hideous Strength, before I ws converted and many years later read it again and was flabbergasted to realize how much of the great conspiracy tht runs the world presently he revealed in those works. In fact, he actually states one of the conspirators name in That Hideous Strength, Cecil Rhodes, in a supposedly fictional work and a supposedly fictional list of conspirators. I have since wondered, if that is the reason why he lost his position as an Oxford don? His revelation is deeply appreciated in the light of Carroll Quigley’s Tragedy and Hope and his The Anglo American Establishment which provided the 6th will and testament of Rhodes. Quigley discusses Rhodes part in the conspiracy in Tragedy and Hope, and he even identifies the theology the conspirators hold and the theology they oppose. No wonder Southern Baptists along with the Church of England, the Presbyterians, the Reformed, and others were driven from their commitments to Sovereign Grace. I HAVE NO DOUBT THAT AGENT PROVOCATEURS (SP?) INFILTRATED ALL THE DENOMINATIONS IN ORDER TO PUSH THEM TO EXTREME POSITIONS AND THEREBY EXCLUDE SUCH PROFOUND THEOLOGICAL LEADERS FROM POSITIONS OF INFLUENCE. When people do not know the methodologies of propaganda, infiltration, and the like, they are setting ducks for disaster. The primitive-missionary split is a case in point. Almost every split in our denomination’s life since that first one circa 1830 has evidently been the result of intentional operations to produce such effects. The Puritans in England during the time of Cromwell found that such agents were actually being trained in a college in France to infiltrate the Puritan movement. There might well be some truth in the claims of Chic Publications along with the usual thoughtless garbage of unthinking fundamentalism. And if any one has any doubt about my commitment to Holy Scripture, let me say right up front I hold to verbal inspiration, inerrancy, and infallibility. Never in our history have we had greater need for deep reflection and adamant commitment to intellectual, historical, and scriptural investigation.

In the light of freedom I cannot say don’t read Potter, though I have not read the writings and have no desire to do so, but I do say read with skepticism and an understanding of how smooth jobs can sell a lot of guff.

53 Katie July 31, 2011 at 10:20 pm

I was as surprised as Dave to hear that JK Rowling is a Christian. Does anyone else remember that a few years ago, speaking to an audience at Carnegie Hall, she revealed that Dumbledore, in her mind at least, was gay? There are churches that encourage an acceptance of that lifestyle, however I doubt that many readers here would agree.

54 Doug Hibbard July 31, 2011 at 10:30 pm

Just a minor annoyance with the whole thing:

HP is a printer brand. I see people talk about being excited about “HP7″ and think back to my old HP LaserJet II. Ah, those were the days.

Call the poor wizard kid by his name or something!
;)

55 Jeremy Parks July 31, 2011 at 11:56 pm

Confuses me, too.

56 Dave Miller August 1, 2011 at 3:09 pm

Wow. To both of you.

57 Jim Pemberton August 1, 2011 at 1:40 pm

As I see it, the problem with Harry Potter is not for discerning and healthy Christians, but with nominal Christians and non-Christians (like there’s much of a difference). What it does in the culture in general is encourage people, kids in particular, to pursue the occult for the purposes of personal empowerment as well as make the practice of witchcraft more socially acceptable. I think this is particularly true for Harry Potter and much less so for works of fantasy such as Tolkien. (The reasons why are more complex than I’d want to deal with in a comment meta.) I, for one, use such things to teach my children discernment. I’ve limited their exposure to set their minds on more godly things, but have carefully introduced such things in a controlled way so that I can work with them through understanding how such things can shape our worldview. It also gives them an idea what they may expect to see in the culture later when they are adults in their non-Christian coworkers, other people they come in contact with, and in the media in general.

58 Caron August 2, 2011 at 5:16 pm

I’ve appreciated so much of what I have read here. Here is what I am trying to understand better: Isn’t there a big difference in Christian liberty and God’s commands? In Dt. 18 God says He finds witchcraft, among other things, “detestable.” In that passage He also says toward the end, “Do not listen to them” which is shown in the first part of the passage to show that listening can lead to doing. In Proverbs we are told to guard our heart with diligence.

We live in Los Angeles. We are among strip clubs with pictures galore, etc., etc. There is so much opportunity here to live out Dt. 6 without bringing something God calls “detestable” into our homes under the guise of “entertainment.” His Word also tells us our hearts are deceitful… Ephesians 6 tells us we are fighting a spiritual battle. We are also told “friendship with the world is enmity toward God.” I just don’t’ understand why Christians defend something God clearly says He hates.

Can we find redeeming values in the media and use them to help create biblical discernment in our children? Yes. But to enjoy something God hates? That seems different to me.

I don’t think the average Christian who is watching HP is doing it just so they can create discernment with their children. From what I read and have been told, they “enjoy” it. “The devil comes as an angel of light.”

Although one person mentioned he was not affected by Dungeons and Dragons (praise God) that does not negate the scores of children who are impacted by the occult. My own dear nephew is an example.

Dt. 6 tells me to teach my child as I walk down the road, get up, lie down, etc. It doesn’t tell me to go out looking for opportunities to do this. They are there already.

I truly don’t want to sound defensive… I truly don’t. I am just so concerned about the enemy of our souls planting his seeds in our children’s hearts while we call that engagement “liberty.”

My daughter doesn’t need HP to help her understand how to engage the culture. She knows to bring the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the hurting, the lonely, the fatherless, the orphans, the prostitutes, etc. bc she sees me doing it and sharing about it with her.

I praise God that HP is of no interest to my daughter as we have discussed it. She is not shielded by an undue protections but those which I have tried to discern prayerfully.

Praying for all of us to be discerning. Not that I think I have all the right answers. I usually don’t, but it helps me to simply stand on God’s direct commands whether I understand them completely or not.

Blessings.

59 bill August 2, 2011 at 8:21 pm

How many people here discussing Harry Potter made personal exceptions for The Lords of the Rings, The Chronicles of Narnia, Percy Jackson, Star Wars, or Star Trek?

I could definitely name more popular series like The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant or Eragon but I figured I’d stick with the mainstreams.

I’m just curious.

60 David Rogers August 2, 2011 at 11:59 pm

Bill,

Your question here seems to me to reflect a common theme in several other comments.

Perhaps, my reply to Andrew Wencl’s question to me on the original post over at SBC Impact will help you to understand my perspective a little better…

First, Andrew’s question:

David,

Thanks for opening the door to more productive discussion.

I recall when Harry Potter was being burned en masse that I lost interest in the books, though our sixth grade class read through a couple of them (I know I’m dating myself but it was a long time ago).

I believe your #3 would, on the surface of it, allow for Narnia and LOTR stories but reject Harry Potter and Twilight. I think it would also require the rejection of other stories like Peter Pan and the Pirates of the Caribbean (though I’ll gladly reject the second and third movies for other reasons), as well as stories dealing with Greek and Roman mythology (like the Aeneid and the Oddessy). Would you mind expanding your thoughts on #3?

Then, my answer to Andrew:

David Rogers says:

Andrew,

I am hesitant to get into comparing different books, movies, etc., if for nothing else, because I know I, in my practice, have not been totally consistent with my expressed rationale here. It does seem we are so surrounded, in the world of entertainment especially, by occult/magic-related themes, you would almost have to isolate yourself completely from the surrounding culture in order to be consistent. It also seems to me there are various levels of occult/magic depiction. While “realism,” or “believablity,” as Dave observes above, makes for good fantasy fiction, it also seems to me to bring home the reality of the spirit world in a way that is, perhaps, more insidious. Then again, the Bible tells us that Satan disguises himself as an angel of light, so in certain ways, we should probably be more leery of his subterfuge than of his frontal attacks. A possible parallel that comes to mind is the difference in dabbling in iced tea, Coca Cola, coffee, tobacco, alcohol, marijuana, cocaine, and heroin. They are all addictive substances, and I suppose we could make an argument that, if we are to avoid things that tend to addiction, we should avoid them all. But common sense tells us there is more danger with some of them than with others. Having said that, if I were to make a list of 10 movies, and go through the reasons why 5 are okay and the other 5 are not, I think I would be well along the path to a legalistic approach to life, so I want to avoid that. It is hard to come up with hard and fast rules that are universally applicable.

61 David August 2, 2011 at 10:51 pm

I cannot help thinking there would have been far less fuss about Harry Potter if Rowling had called her fictional school Hogwarts School of Wizardry; that is if she had made it an all male institution. Ursula LeGuin’s Earthsea books have caused little comment from Christians, even though the philosophy behind them is strongly non-Christian. But in Earthsea Wizards are the powerful ones while witches are on the sidelines so they are not a threat.

Lewis has powerful witches to be sure, but they are all depicted as evil and not truly human. It’s the word witchcraft that causes the problem, even though Bibllical injuctions against forbidden occult practices could be translated as witchcraft, wizardry, sorcery ect. But only witchcraft carries the idea of femaleness.

I suspect that is the unconscious reason for a great deal of the hostility from conservative Christians; they just don’t like the idea of women being depicted as powerful.

62 Dave Miller August 2, 2011 at 11:15 pm

Sorry, but I think this comment is nonsense. The question is whether the occult practices in the book are inappropriate for Christians. Honestly, you must be fixated on the issue to see that here.

63 David August 3, 2011 at 8:58 pm

I merely point out what I see as one factor is the concerns about Harry Potter.

As to the magical practices in the books, the only one i can think of that bears any relation to real world occultism is divination, a subject Rowling spares no opportunity to mercilessly lampoon.

The concerns that these books might lead people to experiment with actual witchcraft are absurd, as witches and witchcraft do not exist in the real world

64 Karen in OK August 2, 2011 at 11:24 pm

Caron,
Your comments are thoughtful.
As one who has read and enjoyed Harry Potter, I might be wrong, but I have not seen it as enjoying witchcraft.
The HP universe is a fairytale universe very like Snow White and Cinderella. Actually it is an English boarding school story merged with a fairy tale.
There are fairies, elves, trolls, giants, unicorns, and all sorts of creatures.
Those people with magical powers such as Harry Potter do not have them because they summon evil spirits but because they are simply born with them, sort of like Superman. And they hone them sort of like Batman.
It may be the case that a Christian should avoid fairy tales such as HP, and imaginary stories such as Superman, but I have not come to that conclusion.
However, it does surprise me how many people introduce their 6 and 7 year-olds to HP as light bedtime reading. I think that the story is way too intense for that age.
Each of us has our own list of what is acceptable. I let my kids watch Harry Potter but not James Bond (way too immoral) and not Indiana Jones (trivializing the Ark of the Covenant). They did watch Star Wars but had to listen to me explain that the universe was not really dualistic.

65 Job August 4, 2011 at 9:28 am

What makes Harry Potter any more acceptable than pornography?

66 bill August 4, 2011 at 12:11 pm

Really? This is patently absurd.

67 Job August 4, 2011 at 1:18 pm

What makes it patently absurd? What makes witchcraft superior to pornography? Just because mainstream culture generally accepts one and rejects the other doesn’t make it any more or less pleasing to God or conforming to the Bible. By doing so, we are letting the world set the standards for us, not God. That network TV was airing “Bewitched” in the 1960s doesn’t make Harry Potter any more acceptable to the Bible’s standard than Playboy magazine.

68 Karen in OK August 5, 2011 at 5:00 pm

I noticed you posted after I did. What did you think of my comparison to Superman and Batman for eg?

69 Karen in OK August 5, 2011 at 5:01 pm

That was actually a question to Job. The embedded comments get kind of confusing.

70 Paul August 4, 2011 at 11:00 am

I love the Harry Potter movies; each and every one of them! I will have to admit, I have never seen any of them beyond either a commerical for one, or a preview of coming attractions at the movies. I have also not read any of the books! How can I love these movies and books having never watch or read them? It is actually quite simple. It goes to motivation. You see, anytime one of thsoe movies or books comes out, it is the only time that a Trekkie like myself gets a chance to look down his nose at someone!

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