Harry Potter and Christians

PROLOGUE

Since this article was last updated the latest book The Half-blood Prince has been released. This has broken all previous sales records and has even brought a comment from the Pope, who is concerned about the damage it may do to the Spirituality of young people.

Apart from changes to the characters and the plot there is little new to say re the contents and so we will not be altering the article in any major way until the final book is released and the grand climax reached. Major plot changes from this book include:

The old potions book of ‘The Half-blood Prince’ is given to Harry; we discover the identity of this Prince as Severus Snape, who turns out to be a ‘baddie’ and kills… (read the book to discover that!)

The potion book enables Harry to create exotic spells – including reaping revenge by killing his enemies. This causes problems with Hermione because not only is he now better than her at potions, but she is angry that he is doing it by cheating. All the young teenagers, Ron, Harry, Hermione and Ginny are involved in various ‘love matches’ that cause the normal jealousy and teenage arguments.

Voldemort, by a supreme act of evil – committing murder – he has managed to split his soul into seven parts and placed each within a ‘Horcrux.’ The plot of the final book has been set up for a classic showdown, as Harry tries to discover each Horcrux and destroy it, thus triumphing over Voldemort.

BACKGROUND

The release of the third Harry Potter film, Prisoner of Azkaban, in May 2004, proved that ‘Pottermania’ was as strong as ever. It was the first film, ever, to take £5 million on the first day of showing, and the second best film ever (behind Spiderman) in the USA, with ticket sales of $92.7 million in the first 3 days. Although there appears to be a slight glitch to Harry’s universal acceptance with it being voted in the top half of the “100 Worst Britons” in May 2003.

This latest film shows that the series is getting darker with the warning of, “scary scenes and mild language,” placed on every advert. It may not be as ‘scary’ as some horror movies but it indicates a trend and makes it even more important to decide what, as Christians, we are to make of this phenomenon

The fifth book, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix was released in June 2003. The previous four books are entitled Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone in the USA), Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, and Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.

These books, and the films that have followed have taken the world of children’s media by storm. Best sellers often record sales of several thousand copies in a week, but the figures for the Potter books remain staggering, often exceeding weekly figures of forty thousand sales.

The fourth book released in July 2000 sold more than a third of a million copies on its first day and it became the fastest-selling book in history. This record however was smashed by The Order of the Phoenix with 1,777,541 copies being sold in the first 24 hours. To date nearly 200 million copies of Potter books have been sold worldwide

Video sales of Harry Potter and The Philosopher’s Stone broke records in the UK, America and Japan in the first month of release. Combined sales from around the world totalled £280m in the first three weeks alone. In the UK sales outstripped the previous record held by Titanic, with 1.25m copies sold.

Part of the reason for increased sales figures might be due to the books’ popularity with older readers; the books can be bought with ambiguous covers so that adults can read them whilst on the train, on their way to the stock exchange or Westminster! The books have been likened to the works of C.S.Lewis and Tolkien. The fact is, they are well written books and from the literary point of view it is difficult to criticise them.

The author J.K.Rowling has become the ambassador for the single parent, giving a half a million pounds of her own money to a single parent charity – a very commendable action.

With so much that seems good and popular, just what is it that we have problems with. Why do we have such an article as this? Let’s look deeper.

THE BOOKS

The books themselves concern the rise to fame of a very unlikely, bespectacled hero Harry Potter. Because of the events that killed his parents Harry now lives with his only surviving relatives a ‘muggle’ family. The official definition of ‘muggle’ is, “a non-magical people.” Harry’s aunt and uncle Vernon and Petunia and his spoilt cousin Dudley, hate him and seek to make his life as miserable as possible, even forcing him to sleep under the stairs.

Through Rubeus Hagrid, (half human and half giant) the caretaker of Hogwarts school of witchcraft and wizardry, Harry discovers the awful truth that he is in fact a powerful wizard and that his parents were killed by the evil Voldemort, a being so awesome that even the witches and wizards dare not utter his name, referring to him as ‘You know who’ or ‘The one who shall not be named’.

Voldemort had gone to the Potter’s home and killed James and Lily while they were attempting to protect Harry, their son. When Voldemort turned the curse that had killed so many witches and wizards on Harry, it rebounded, ripping him from his body. With his powers gone, barely alive, he fled.

Harry’s adventures begin when he starts to attend the school and becomes a close friend of two other young magicians, Hermione Granger and Ron Weasley. They have enemies at the school in the way of Draco Malfoy and his cronies. The books are filled with supernatural happenings, flying broomsticks and potions, but it is also claimed that the books contain other themes such as ‘good and evil’, bravery, friendship, adolescence, ambition and loyalty.

The Goblet of Fire published in 2000 concerns Harry’s fourth year at Hogwarts. The Ministry of Magic reopens an old tournament called the ‘International Triwizard Tournament’ in which three wizard champions, chosen by the Goblet of Fire compete together. The champions are from 3 schools, Hogwarts, Beauxbatons Academy of Magic, France and Durmstrang Institute situated in North Europe. However because Harry’s name is entered anonymously under the name of a fourth school, the Goblet of Fire is forced to choose Harry as a champion, thus entering 4 wizards into the tournament; namely Cedric Diggory from Hogwarts, Fleur Delacour from Beauxbatons, Viktor Krum from Durmstrang, and Harry Potter, also from Hogwarts.

The rules are that each champ must be seventeen years old, but the ‘Goblet of Fire’ chooses the fourteen-year-old Harry, and its decision is irrevocable. This places Harry’s life in danger. At the same time, Harry’s famous red scar has been troubling him; he has also been having nightmares about Voldemort, which means a further encounter with his evil foe is in the offing.

CONCERNS

As already said these books are so popular that it seems churlish to criticise them. However, we do feel there are issues here that need to be mentioned. Just like the warning on the packet of cigarettes, “Smoking Kills” we want to put up a sign that says, “in some cases these books can be dangerous”. We ask you to check out the evidence provided and make a decision for yourself. Please do not just put your head in the sand and ignore possible danger signs like “Quick Sand” right above your head.

First, however, we want to underline a few things that we do not believe. Many statements have been made that are ‘extreme’ we want to distance ourselves from these as we do not believe that there is any evidence and it takes away from the more reasonable and important arguments.

STATEMENTS NOT TRUE

1. J.K.Rowling is a witch and has written these books to deliberately draw people into witchcraft.

In all the years we have been looking at these issues we have never found any evidence to back up the above claim. It is a wild slanderous assertion that we do not want to be associated with. There is no question that Rowling, or her team have researched well into witchcraft, and understand it, but nowhere do we find any deliberate seeking to bring children into witchcraft. Rowling has found a story line and subject that many are interested in and has produced some well written books about it.

2. Most who read these books become demonised and end up in witchcraft.

Again there is no evidence whatsoever for this. I do believe it has increased the interest in magic and spells etc. It has also probably led some to look further into the subject, wanting the power that Harry has. However there is not a demon on every page and many read the books as simply another novel with an interesting plot.

The one thing I would like to add here though, is that what it might do, is stop people looking at evangelical Christianity. Not because the books teach anti-Christian themes but simply the subject matter is occult, magic and witchcraft and that is what people would be thinking about not Christianity.

3. There is no danger whatsoever with these books and all Christian parents should let their children read them without any interference.

This is a statement made by a number of well-known evangelical Christian leaders and expanded on in a number of books that want to show Biblical themes in Harry Potter. My problem here is that this is going to the ‘other extreme.’ The subject matter of Harry Potter is Witchcraft, nobody denies that. Most that read the Bible with an evangelical persuasion would see that clearly God says that Witchcraft is not of Him and that many were turned away from Him by following Witchcraft. Herein is the heart of it – if I accept these books, without any qualifications, and indeed encourage children to read them, then I am encouraging my children to read something that God says is not good or helpful in coming to know Him.

Am I saying we should not read the books? I think that is for each family to decide before God – here I simply want to show why I believe this third statement is extreme and we do not agree with it.

BACK TO THE CONCERNS

There has definitely been an increase in the amount of books and programmes that use the theme of witchcraft and magic. Probably because they are sold in such volumes, the Harry Potter books have especially caused concern among Christian teachers and parents in Britain and the States (and indeed many other countries too). One of the major issues concerns whether or not these books should be placed on school reading lists and in school libraries.

To date we are aware that these books have been challenged in at least 13 states of America. One school in Michigan has banned the reading of them aloud and requires parental permission to use them for book reports. The books have also been challenged from schools in New Zealand, Canada and England.

Christian groups who are actively involved in these issues feel that there are major problems with the books. First, it is felt that the books are misleading. Freedom Village USA Ministries state that,

To suggest to any child…that there is a way to escape the unhappy, real life world they live in and to retreat into a mystical fantasy world to find happiness is totally irresponsible and deceitful.

In other words, there is a real concern that young people will follow-up on this message and become actively involved in the occult to find refuge and spiritual satisfaction. Probably too because of being so emotionally involved with the characters they would not stop to ask, is there another and indeed better way.

That this actually does happen and it is not just the figment of a Christian’s imagination, is clear from a remark that J.K. Rowling made in an interview with Newsweek’s Malcolm Jones,

I get letters from children addressed to Professor Dumbledore (headmaster at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, the book’s setting), and it’s not a joke, begging to be let into Hogwarts, and some of them are really sad. Because they want it to be true so badly they’ve convinced themselves it’s true. – The Return of Harry Potter!, Newsweek, July 1, 2000, page 4.

A second concern is that much of what is said in the books is really pagan philosophy and quite anti-biblical. 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. The teaching that there is only one power and that it can be manipulated for good or evil, 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.

As with the answer, that many witches have given to my question, “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.

Richard Abanes in his book Harry Potter and the Bible (p.129) quotes a few of the postings on various web sites dedicated to Potter’s young fans. These include:

“I like what they learned there [at Hogwarts] and I want to be a witch.” – Gioia Bishop, 10

“I would love to be a witch or a wizard.” – Rachel G. 14

“I think Harry Potter books are absolutely fine… I like how they can use witchcraft for fun/good purposes.” Devon, 11.

There are many similar quotes and comments that are to be found here (beware it takes a while to load) and other sites hosting feedback on the books.

DEFENCE

The Harry Potter books have been defended by groups such as Muggles for Harry Potter (remember ‘muggles’ are non-magical people). The main defence is that if we do away with Harry, we would also have to do away with Narnia, Middle Earth, Wonderland and Never Never Land.

Barry Killick writing in Direction, the magazine of the Elim Church said,

J.K. Rowling is not alone in introducing us to witches and dark creatures such as her Lord Voldemort and the Dementors from Azkaban. When J.R. Tolkien first published his books, “The Hobbit” and “Lord of the Rings”, there was a similar discussion among Christians. These books contain wizards like Gandalf, the evil Dark Riders, the Orcs and many other paranormal creatures. Some Christians even objected to C.S. Lewis’s series of books about Narnia because there was a dark witch along with other evil creatures. He says, “I won’t describe the other creatures because if I did the grown-ups would probably not let you read this book – Cruels and Hags and Incubuses, Wraiths, Horrors, Efreets… and so on.”

We actually dispute these claims for the following reasons,

1. Books such as Peter Pan and Alice do not teach about Witchcraft, but rather are fantasy stories.

2. Books by C.S.Lewis and Tolkein also are different to the Potter books, because they do deal with good overcoming evil whereas the Potter books deal with a form of ‘good’ witchcraft overcoming ‘evil’ witchcraft. However if we go back to what was shown above – these two forms come from the same power. As they teach that there is only one power, it is dangerous to get involved with it, simply because you never know which way it is going to turn out. This message is very different from what evangelical Christians believe to be true, and for many thinking people the conclusion it leads to would be the opposite of the evangelical Christian gospel message.

An example of this distinction can be seen in the Philosopher’s Stone where Quirrell says

… I was then, full of ridiculous ideas about good and evil. There is no good and evil, there is only power, and those too weak to seek it… – p.211.

It is true that Quirrell is a ‘baddy’ but this is still an instance of a different teaching to the gospel of Jesus Christ. This is the worldview of new agers; there is only a power, not a person, who is God. Beyond this, the power can be manipulated for good or for evil, depending on who is using it.

There are instances in the book where characters must choose between doing good or evil, however, I would argue that this is different to the teaching 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.

Barry Killick concludes his article mentioned above by saying that he happily helped a member of his church burn the works of Dennis Wheatley but would not do the same to Rowling’s. However, does it not glorify the same witchcraft? Does it not have the inspiration of the same Devil behind it? Can we make such a distinction? These are vital questions that we need to answer in our own hearts and minds.

It is also claimed that Harry Potter is single-handedly creating a generation of book readers. But there is evidence to show that this is simply not true. Amelia Hill, wrote in The Observer on Sunday May 5, 2002

“The Harry Potter magic was just an illusion. In spite of the success of J.K. Rowling’s best-selling books, children are reading less, according to a new survey. For the fourth year in succession, fewer books have been bought for children.

Rowling’s tales of a boy wizard were the book trade phenomenon of 2001 when, boosted by a top-grossing film, the fourth book in the series, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, sold more copies in a single year than any other author ever before.

“Harry was hailed as the saviour of children’s fiction, but official research by the industry has shown that the genre could be in more trouble now than before Potter burst on to the scene.

“‘The received wisdom is that the Potter trend has done amazing things for the children’s market, but the truth is that Harry Potter did amazing things for Harry Potter only,’ said Steve Bohme of Book Marketing Ltd, whose company found that while UK spending on children’s books held steady at £425 million last year, the number of copies bought for children fell for the fourth year, from an estimated 109 million in 2000 to 104 million in 2001.

“‘Everyone looked at sales of children’s books around the release of each Potter title, saw the millions of Potter books sold and quite naturally concluded that the series must be having an enormous impact on the market as a whole,’ said Bohme.

“‘The reality is that sales of Potter books have done nothing to increase the volume of books sold to their target audience, children aged seven to 14,’ he added…

“According to the survey, while 71 per cent of Harry Potter books were bought for eight-to 14-year-olds in 1999, by 2001 this share had fallen to 36 per cent, with readers aged from 15 to 34 accounting for the rest.”

HISTORIC EVENTS

Marcia Montenegro in an article which first appeared in the autumn 2000 edition of Midwest Christian Outreach, Inc Journal, entitled Harry Potter: Sorcery or Fantasy shows that it is not just Rowling’s imagination but that she uses actual historic events that can be checked out. What this does is add more credibility to the facts concerning the sorcery and witchcraft and underscores it as being real.

“Rowling refers to Nicolas Flamel in the first Harry Potter book (103, 219) as the partner in alchemy of Albus Dumbledore, the headmaster of Hogwarts… (they) read about him as the “only known maker of the Sorcerer’s Stone” which can turn metal into gold and gives immortality through producing the “Elixir of Life” (219, 220). In Harry Potter, Flamel has achieved immortality because he is 665 years old (220).

“According to Jacques Sadoul in Alchemists and Gold (G. P. Putnams’ Sons: New York; 1970), Flamel was a “Fourteenth century French adept and Public Scrivener” (p. 243) and a key figure in the story of alchemy. An “adept” is a master of esoteric knowledge including occultism. Flamel is also mentioned several times in the well-known Witchcraft, Magic & Alchemy, (Grillot de Givry, Dover publications, 1971, pp. 216, 349, 352, 360, 367, 378, 384) and in a book by the editors of GNOSIS Magazine (Richard Smoley and Jay Kinney, Hidden Wisdom, A Guide to the Western Inner Traditions, New York: Penguin/Arkana, 1999, p. 184).”

Montenegro concludes,

“There are elements of fantasy and good story-telling in this book. At the same time, the whole story is set in an occult context with references to real occult practices and views mixed in with fantasy. The hero of the book is a wizard/witch/sorcerer whose goal is to learn how to use his powers through the occult. Much is made of the fact that the author wrote while on welfare on scraps of paper at a cafe. This makes it sound like everything is totally from her imagination. However, she did not imagine alchemy, charms, scrying, Nicolas Flamel, astrology, the Dark Side, or many of the other occult concepts and information. It is only reasonable to assume Rowling did some research… (in the) occult and magical practices.”

As the above shows it would be naive to think that the reading of these books will not generate some interest in the occult. The books are not really a representation of the new wave of paganism in the west; but they do include a great many occult themes. The books themselves can seem very ‘twee’ and even ‘snooty’, but they do not pull many punches.

CONCLUSIONS

1. We need to weigh all the evidence carefully and decide what is right for ‘me’ and ‘my family’ to do. We do believe however, as Christians, it is important to take into account the overall subject of the books. If we believe the Bible teaches that Witchcraft is wrong then this should have a clear bearing on our decision.

2. We must not overstate the case. People who read the books will not be automatically drawn into the world of the occult or Witchcraft, nor will they inevitably be ‘possessed by demons’. However, again, we would stress that due to the subject matter, doorways could be opened into the real world of the occult.

3. It is important that we do not feed on a diet of totally occult input. It is important especially for Christians that there is plenty of Christian and moral input too.

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