Is Harry Potter Holy or Wholly Evil? Are the novels rubbish or really literature? If you know me at all, you already know what I think. It is nice to be able to debate the issues properly though. I was curious about the controversy surrounding the books, so I decided to read the opposing viewpoints.
First I checked out of the library a book called, “Harry Potter and the Bible” by Richard Abanes. He was on of the first to publish a book against Harry Potter back in 2001. Since it is an earlier book, it addresses only novels 1-3. I’m not sure if the dark turns and complicated twists would have changed his argument either way though.
The premise of Abanes’ argument is that witchcraft and the occult are simply wrong. The bible denounces magic, therefore anything to do with magic goes against the Christian religion.
He seems to ignore the fact that Jesus himself practiced a sort of magic. We call those acts miracles, but there really isn’t much difference between the two. Miracles are acceptable because they are supposed to be accomplished through God himself. Magic is often used to describe miracles that are performed by someone undesirable or unacceptable. (Someone not sanctioned by the church.)
Abanes alternates between attacking JK Rowling and attack the growing popularity of Wicca and Magick. Although Rowling is member of the Christian church, her interest in magic and her extensive knowledge of the occult are enough label her a heretic. She does not conform to Abanes’ conservative beliefs; therefore, she must be a bad Christian. He ignores the Christian symbolism and disregards the Christian themes because they do not adhere to the strict set of morals he lives by.
The second part of Abanes’ argument consists of attacking the ethics behind the books. Because Harry, Hermione, and Ron often break the rules, they are condemned as bad examples. Disobedience, no matter what the circumstances, is intolerable. He views the characters as poor role models for children. Not questioning authority is a very orthodox and old-fashioned view of Christianity. It is a very narrow-minded view, which promotes a congregation of followers, not leaders. It promotes a tolerance of corruption and abuse, which is far more dangerous than typical teenage rebellion.
Jesus rebelled against corruption. He broke the rules. Some would argue that he is the acceptation to the rule—that he was special. However, Jesus is supposed to be a role model. In fact, he is THE role model for Christians. Insisting on complete obedience and blind faith is harkening back to the Old Testament God of wrath. Jesus preached against prejudice and violence. He believed in creating change through peaceful ways and he believed in the power of sacrificial love. Should he have tolerated a corrupt and unsympathetic government in the name of Jewish obedience? He could not have become the messiah without causing a stir. If he is no longer physically alive does that mean no one should ever question authority? Does that mean we should accept oppression and just hope that God has mercy on us eventually? Should we believe that we are powerless to change any evil in the world? Belief not backed up by action is not very strong.
Largely, Abanes misinterprets Harry’s motives and Rowling’s points. He refers to a couple of books that define occultism and witchcraft, but he doesn’t effectively use his sources. He points to other people’s weak arguments for Harry Potter, but is not able to create a solid or strong argument against Harry Potter. He is frustratingly vague and repetitive at best.
His defense of C.S Lewis is far too flimsy and not focused near enough. Lewis wrote a fairly obvious Christian allegory and although it is fantasy, he doesn’t often refer to witches and wizards. Tolkien is acceptable because it takes place in an ancient age and is akin to the epic poetry of classic literature. Rowling is more dangerous because she places her books in the modern age alongside our world. Kids may mistake fantasy for fact he argues.
John Granger refutes Abanes’ argument in his book “Looking for God in Harry Potter.” Granger quotes C.S. Lewis in saying that the “Best books instruct while delighting.” Harry Potter examines life greatest themes, including life and death and good and evil. They are well-plotted, well-developed and backed by an extensive background in classic literature. Rowling’s examination of Good and Evil is in keeping with the Christian Canon despite Abanes’ protest otherwise. Not to mention that the books are enjoyable to read.
Rowling even adds a couple of references to The Chronicles of Narnia. Cedric Diggory is a nod to Diggory Kirke. The Red Lion on the Gryffindor Banners are a nod to Aslan. In fact, there are numerous references to Christ and Christian symbols throughout the series. In the Sorcerers Stone, there is the elixir of life in reference to Communion and Transformation. The Unicorn is also a symbol of Christ (and used in the Chronicles of Narnia.) Later on Rowling uses the Phoenix and the Stag as symbols of Christ. Harry himself could also be considered a Christ-like figure. The Christian symbols become more transparent with each addition to the series. Granger even mentions the presence of King Arthur and the Holy Grail as elements in The Chamber of Secrets and The Goblet of Fire.
Overall, Granger provides better scholarship and much more open mind where it comes to Harry Potter. Granger is Christian and even considers himself a conservative, yet he endorses the Harry Potter series as a positive thing for kids. He feels that reading about magic and the occult is harmless enough. (The bible doesn’t specifically forbid reading about the topic, just practicing it!) It shouldn’t push kids into summoning evil spirits or trying to emulate Lord Voldemort. He believes that the average reader can differentiate between fantasy and reality. Personally, I think he stretches some of his pro-Christian arguments, but most of his points are valid and obvious.
The debate will continue on I imagine. There will always be those who fear and condemn anything unorthodox and there will always be those will find a way to work other beliefs into their own. Many people and most Harry Potter fans do not even care about these issues. A book, they say, is just a book and is neither good nor evil. The person reading the book will make of it what they will. Questioning the intentions, beliefs and life of the authors has only a minimal effect in the end. The reader is the one who interprets and integrates the story into their life however they see fit.
My own experience of the Harry Potter series is that they are largely positive and very intelligent. Perhaps Rowling does not fit the current academic standard with her prose or whatever, but they are sure to remain classics no matter what. And while the series has many Christian themes and symbols, to classify the books a strictly Christian literature would be over simplifying them. Rowling is by no means Antichristian, but nor is she strictly orthodox. Her unconventional beliefs make her an outsider, (not to mention the fact she is a woman…) but that does not mean she is not deeply spiritual or completely compassionate.
I was raised Christian and have not abandoned my beliefs, yet I embrace many other paths to enlightenment. Like Rowling, I am an advocate for tolerance, peace and love above all else.