Any that know about the ministry of Reachout Trust will be aware that we believe that apologetics and good illustrations are vital in communicating the gospel. The question I will be looking at in thisarticleis, can we use Harry Potter positively in such an illustration?
Please note this article is not about whether we should read Harry Potter or not – our views on this are shown clearly in other articles. Nor are we saying that there are demons lurking behind every book cover. We are simply seeking to discover whether this subject can be used positively in apologetics, for instance as Paul in Athens used a pagan tomb inscription and shared the message of who the true God is (Acts 17).
I would say at the outset that there does seem to me to be a line over which we should not go as far as illustrations are concerned. Paul used an inscription which was open for all to see and revealed to them what they did not know about this God. In the same way we could say Harry Potter, for all his powers, needs a Saviour and then go on to talk about the Saviour.
Unfortunately, this is not the way things happen, as two books in my possession show and they raise a number of concerns for me.
The first book is “The Gospel according to Harry Potter” by Connie Neal and, although I am not commenting directly on the contents of this book, I would just like to say something about the title. “Gospel” in the Christian sense means Good News but specifically is used of Jesus Christ and salvation – there is none of that in Harry Potter. I think this illustrates to me the problem we face with attempting to make Harry Potter a resource for sharing the gospel.
Second, a quote highlighted on the back cover of the book from Tony Campolo,
“A wonderful rebuttal for those who see something sinister in this children’s classic! Connie Neal helped me to enjoy Harry Potter all the more,”shows the lack of caution that is encouraged. Are these books not about witchcraft? Should we not at least teach our kids to read them with caution, not in a totally open-minded way without any regard for the subject matter?
This book, and the one I will mention next, both seek to bring out the ‘good points’ that we can learn from the Harry Potter books but they seem to ignore the fact that there are instances, and they seem to be getting progressively worse as the series foes on, of things we would not want our children to do. Why should we use to preach the gospel, when there are many other tools at our disposal, something which may also cause harm?
TRIUMPH OF GOODNESS
The second book is“The Triumph of Goodness” by Lisa Cherrett. This book we will look at in a little more detail and will, indeed, start that investigation with the issue of the subject matter, but first a little background.
Although this book was only released in the autumn of 2003 we heard about it several months before when one of our supporters received a letter from the author after complaining about an article she wrote in the Bible Reading Fellowship Quarterly defending Harry Potter.
Indeed, Lisa is the Project editor and Managing Editor for the Bible reading notes of the BRF. One would, therefore, hope for at least some Biblical understanding for the foundation of this issue, but in my opinion this is where the problems begin.
Let me, again, please underline that I do not want to find problems in these books that are not there, and I know we could quote passages for hours. However, I believe we do need to see if there is any danger here and whether we can give these books a clean bill of health for all Christians without some sort of health warning.
BASIS OF WORK
On p.14 of “The Triumph of Goodness” we read,
“Many Christian attacks on the Harry Potter stories hinge on the claim that the books are ‘about witchcraft’. Perhaps it is natural to assume (particularly if one has not actually read the books!) that because Harry is described as a wizard and attends ‘Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry’, the stories are based on occult belief and practice, made all the more dangerous to susceptible minds because of the highly entertaining nature of the narrative.”Well, as I have already said something to that effect, this obviously refers to me. However I have read some of the books and I did not think I was assuming anything. Let’s see how this argument develops then.
“Deuteronomy 18:10- 11 says, ‘Let no one be found among you who sacrifices his son or daughter in the fire, who practises divination or sorcery, interprets omens, engages in witchcraft, or casts spells, or who is a medium or spiritist or who consults the dead.’ This is a clear basis for Christian belief that involvement in witchcraft of any sort is forbidden by God and therefore must be dangerous to human well-being. I agree fully with this position: ‘witchcraft’ is out of bounds to followers of Christ.”
I couldn’t have put it better myself. It does leave me confused though because if witchcraft is out of bounds to Christians surely Harry Potter is out of bounds? It appears not as we then read,
“What, though, does ‘witchcraft’ actually mean? We would assume that in Deuteronomy the writer is talking about an activity that involves contact with an evil spiritual realm with the aim of controlling the natural world in a supernatural way. This is not what the word ‘witchcraft’ means when it is used in the context of the Harry Potter stories.”
Can we look at this, then, a little more clearly. Lisa says “we would assume that in Deuteronomy the writer is talking about an activity that involves contact with an evil spiritual realm” Maybe we should avoid making assumptions and should look at the meaning of the word witchcraft in the Old Testament, as well as some of the other areas which are also out of bounds to followers of Christ.
Deuteronomy 18:10-11 in the King James Bible reads
“There shall not be found among you [any one] that maketh his son or his daughter to pass through the fire, [or] that useth divination, [or] an observer of times, or an enchanter, or a witch, or a charmer, or a consulter with familiar spirits, or a wizard, or a necromancer.”
I do not want to use too much space defining all these terms, although for anyone interested it would be a worth taking the time, but I do want to make a few basic observations.
1. Firstly these verses do not, in most cases, refer to what the person does but rather it is dealing with what they are. It is not whether they make contact or not but what are they seeking to do?
2. There are many other verses that deal with these issues but the author seems to make no attempt to deal with them. We have in Acts 19 an instance where those that practised magic before they were saved confessed their past and burnt all their books.
The word magic means ‘curious arts” and Adam Clarke tells us,
“(from) Greek writers, we know that it signified magical arts, sorceries, incantations, etc. Ephesus abounded with these. Dio Cassius, speaking of the Emperor Adrian, says… ‘Adrian was exceedingly addicted to curious arts, and practised divination and magic.'” – Adam Clarke Commentary on the BibleI would say that this terminology aptly describes the Potter books and so doesn’t the Scripture warn us against them?
3. I would also like to mention one word from the verses in Deuteronomy, divination
Interestingly Lisa agrees (p.21) that divination is taught in the school but it is okay because it is taught by a fraud. However, I wonder if that really is the issue. The word means the attempt to contact the supernatural realm for help and that has nothing to do with whether you believe it or not. You can, of course, also use the argument, “well if it is a load of rubbish it doesn’t matter and I can get involved.” The problem is that making fun is not enough, there is no warning of the potential danger.
Acts 16:16 also needs to be taken into account here. This girl’s fortune telling abilities were because of a demonic spirit. How do you know if the person you contact is like this girl or whether it is only a ‘bit of fun’? A warning needs to be given so that people can make a decision based on all the facts.
Lisa develops here foundation for being able to use Harry Potter further with the following comments on p.15
“Those who engage in occult, supernatural practices reach over, as it were, into a separate spiritual realm in order to gain powers that are beyond the natural world. In the fictional world of the Harry Potter stories, this is not the way things work. Harry and his friends do not derive their magic powers from a spiritual dimension outside of their natural environment. Their whole environment is governed by natural laws that are different from those in our real world: portraits and photographs move and speak; staircases lead somewhere different on Fridays; it’s possible to turn beetles into coat buttons, and hedgehogs into pincushions; there are unicorns and centaurs in the forest and merpeople in the lake. So, within the world of this story, Harry’s powers are entirely natural – unrelated to the supernatural world that we believe to exist in reality”
I do have problems with the logic of this. The world is governed by natural laws where portraits speak and staircases change their destinations one day a week. Not to mention, of course, spells of invisibility etc. Certainly in the book this is natural but it is not natural in our world, it is supernatural. If someone wants to discover these powers they look to the supernatural force.
How about within the Christian world? If someone with the powers of Harry became a regular church attendee most evangelical churches would lovingly but firmly counsel him to confess that the powers he had were not from God and that he should seek forgiveness and whatever else he might need. We cannot play games with people. We cannot preach the gospel from the Harry Potter books and appear to be in agreement with all that is going on but then, when someone starts to seek out true magic – tell them it is not from Scripture! Let’s be honest but sensible with what we say from the beginning.
Lisa Cherrett, in her book, claims that if we speak out against Harry Potter we will never encourage the readers to seek Christianity. However it would seem to me that if we use the magic of Harry Potter to preach the gospel then they are not finding true Christianity at all. Are we going to allow our churches to be full of people who cast spells, who use astrology and who are under the blanket of superstition put down by these practices without saying anything? Are we to say that we mustn’t speak out just in case they take offence and go, or just in case they do not want to seek such a God
Yes, as we always say, we must concentrate on the positive and so we need to share a positive God, who he is and what He has done, but at the same time we need to deal with what is wrong with people otherwise when will they ever repent?
Finally I want to briefly address the issue of power. We read on p.15,
“So, when the good and evil wizards all use the same magical power in their battles with each other, the equivalent conflict in the real world is not between supernatural ‘white magic’ and ‘black magic’, both of which Christians believe to be forbidden by the Bible. Rather the comparison is with the kinds of technology…”I would like to answer this by quoting some previous paragraphs I wrote on Harry Potter,
“In The Sorcerer’s Stone, Harry is told that there is no good and evil, only power. This also does not square up with evangelical Biblical truth. There we are shown that God is an absolute and has an absolute way, something is not either good or evil. This teaching that there is only one power and that it can be manipulated for good or evil (remember Star wars?) is a widely held Eastern belief and is prevalent in occult and new age religions but not in evangelical Christianity. Of course J.K.Rowling is entitled to bring this belief out in her books but it is disappointing that a children’s book should be presenting such philosophies without any alternatives being shown. Again as Christian parents we need to be aware of such teachings within the books. Like many Witches that I have asked, “where does your power come from,” these books simply state that the power is there but no source of the power is ever really discussed, and you end up wondering if the characters really know. One does wonder what conclusions readers of these books might draw from this.
“There are, indeed, instances in the book where characters must choose between doing good or evil. However I would argue that this is different to the gospel in that there is only one power that can be used for either good or evil. With this in mind we probably should not be surprised to find that the wands of the ‘good’ wizard Harry Potter and the ‘bad’ wizard Voldemort both have a feather coming from the same source, the magical phoenix called Fawkes owned by Dumbledore. One source of power that can be manipulated for good or evil, an accepted fact in much Witchcraft today.”
The problem is that, often, witches today would talk of ‘power’ and try and give it a natural source because they do not know how else to describe it. Many will admit, though, that whatever the power all magic, black or white, comes from the same source. This is not the Christian worldview and, indeed, is by very nature dangerous because you do not control the power and you do not know which way it is going.
This is the philosophy behind the books and as such I do not believe we should use them to preach the true gospel of Jesus Christ that sets men free from bondage to the magic and supernatural power.