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?
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.
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)
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.
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?