As an author that is a Christian, I have followed the discussion about Harry Potter’s relationship to Christianity with interest but have generally stayed out of it. I have long believed that there were Christian themes percolating in the books, a belief that led me to accurately predict the fates of Snape and Malfoy (apparently unredeemable characters in the books). How intentional and deliberate Rowling was when exploring these themes I won’t speculate upon because that is something that she herself is in the best position to answer. However, her explicit inclusion of two Scriptures “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” and “The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death” (#7, pgs 326 and 328, Matt. 6:21 and 1 Cor 15:26) suggests to me that anti-Harry Potter Christians would do well to re-consider their opposition and re-think their position.
The numerous nods to Christian themes in Rowling’s books are explored by many others so I won’t dig into them here beyond what I’ve already said, but I want to make clear that I am not trying to minimize our duty as Christians to abhor genuine ‘sorcery.’ On that front, my response is simple: The Harry Potter books, whatever they are, aren’t genuine sorcery. No, my aim is to tackle a handful of related issues that are raised by all of the fuss about the series.
In the first place, let us consider what a ‘muggle’ is in the Harry Potter series. A muggle is a person who not only does not have magical abilities, but is clueless that there is any ‘magic’ at all, and frankly likes it that way. In what sense do I include Christians in this definition? A Christian muggle does not perceive the true nature of the power of epic narratives and when confronted with its effects fears its implications. It is my contention that attitudes like this contribute to the defeat that Christianity is slowly enduring in the United States.
The objecting Christian fears that the young reader will read Harry Potter, be enchanted, be drawn towards paganism, and ultimately into witchcraft. Despite the fact that values that Christians would otherwise applaud permeate the series, like self-sacrifice, faith, loyalty, courage, etc, the references to ‘witches’ and ‘magic’ nullify what we’d otherwise consider laudable. As I recall, C.S. Lewis was once asked if he feared that Britain was turning to Paganism and responded “If only she were.” I might say the same about America.
You see, ‘pagans’ actually believe in something beyond the materialistic world, but it is philosophical naturalism winning today, not paganism. If paganism were the threat du jour, that would actually be an improvement.
But we have to ask ourselves “Just how bad are the church’s educational methods” if we really have to fear hordes of Christian youth flocking towards witchcraft just by reading and enjoying Harry Potter. I personally won’t join in the insult to their intelligence implied in that, though I do agree that our educational program is generally lacking. Young people are pliable, that is true, but apart from isolating them until they die from competing worldviews, we’ll have to content ourselves with equipping them so they can apply principles of discernment on their own. In other words, as in all things, we should be standing by our young people and helping them to navigate these treacherous seas, because a time will come when they’ll have to navigate them on their own. I am here speaking of Christian young people. What about non-Christian young people?
Well, in the case of non-Christians, we have in the Harry Potter series an opportunity. As I already mentioned, within Harry Potter there are a lot of values that we can really approve of. If young non-Christians find themselves attracted to the world of Harry Potter, that is a good indication that all is not lost: young people will resonate with heroic tales where good takes on evil, and despite the terror that evil is, good wins out. In a land practically drowning in pornographic smut, it is hard to imagine that just because the backdrop of these noble themes is ‘magical’ that some Christians cannot find away to lead young people enchanted by Harry Potter to the true source of their enchantment and would rather have absolutely nothing to do with it.
This attitude harms the Christian cause. It gives people the impression that Christianity cannot stand up against its competitors except by ignoring them. Also, as Christianity is supposed to be the best account for all of reality, we also ought to offer the best account for the power of narrative rather than shunning it.
People also begin to get the impression that what we care about as Christians is some idealized notion about a ‘holy nation,’ as though if no one drank alcohol, no one murdered, no one read Harry Potter, etc, we’d really have a nation that was closer to God. We wouldn’t. We’d have the most legalistic society that ever existed, and a hoard of people that positively loathed their Christian oppressors, but Grace would still be far off.
We need to be wise as serpents and as innocent as doves. The Christian church in America is fighting a losing battle. This is the very worst time to be shooting potential allies in the head just because they don’t speak perfect Christianese. If people reading Harry Potter wish that they can go to Hogwarts, let us realize that what they want is adventure, passion, loyalty, fidelity- they want to be on the side of good in the classic clash between good and evil. That is a good sign for our times. They know that Hogwarts is a myth, but they wish it weren’t. They cannot have Hogwarts, but they can have Heaven. We know the Way.