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In Defense of Harry Potter

September 14, 2007

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I wrote an article in early July about the upcoming final Harry Potter book. I thought I’d reprint it here for those who may have missed it on other websites and may find it interesting. I know for some it’s old news – most of the world knows the fate of Harry Potter by now – but the article was intended more for those unfamiliar with or suspicious of the boy wizard. I meet people all the time who believe that the Harry Potter stories are “demonic” or at the very least fruitless. But our family has quite enjoyed them and found them worth our while. For whatever it’s worth, here’s my 2 cents:

What We’ve Learned From Harry Potter (July 3rd 2007)

While our culture braces itself for the one-two punch of not only a new Harry Potter film, but also the final book in the series about the boy wizard, I find myself thinking about what the bible has to say about magic.

Right on the heels of the movie version of “Harry Potter And The Order of The Phoenix”, the final book in J.K. Rowling’s enchanting series (pun intended), “Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows,” will hit shelves. We’ll most likely hear from the usual suspects: literary critics will say the books are lightweight. Librarians will extol the virtues of these books that have got kids reading, well, anything again. And segments of Christianity will denounce the books as endorsing the occult. (Never mind that Rowling’s books are sprinkled generously with potent Christian symbols and values – i.e. in “The Prisoner of Azkaban,” the words that Harry Potter invokes to defend himself against an onslaught of demonic tormentors are “expecto patronum,” which means quite literally, “I look for a savior”. And in case that wasn’t clear enough, it is the image of a white stag – a classic literary symbol of Christ – that comes to Harry’s rescue. Never mind, too, that real life witches denounce Harry Potter almost as much as church folks do. Harry is more resilient than we thought, having survived [thus far] not only the evil Lord Voldemort, but criticisms from almost every corner of popular culture.)

Now, don’t get me wrong – having lived with a stepfather who dabbled in the occult, witchcraft is not a topic I take lightly. While I won’t go into great detail here about that part of my history, nor offer a lengthy defense of why our family loves these books, suffice it to say that we don’t feel that enjoying the world of Harry Potter in any way compromises our faith. On the contrary, we read the books together as a family and find them rich with opportunities to discuss our faith with our boys. Take for instance the most obvious theme of magic, which is usually what stirs the ire of Harry’s more religious detractors.

Having finished reading the first book, “Harry Potter and The Sorcerer’s Stone”, Taya and I seized upon the opportunity to talk with our boys about what scripture has to say about magic and witchcraft. We explained that in books like Harry Potter – as well as many fantasy books including the Chronicles of Narnia and Lord of The Rings – the author doesn’t necessarily employ magic as an endorsement of the occult, but rather as a literary device that serves to tell a larger story, which in the cases of the stories I just named is less about wizardry than it is about valor, loyalty, and even faith. 

Then we read 1 Samuel 15:23 together:
“for rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft…”

And here we got to the heart of it. At it’s worst, magic in these stories is used to manipulate situations so that the magic user can get what he or she wants. In essence, magic used in this way is saying, “my will be done”, in contrast to Christ’s example to live our lives surrendered, praying “not my will, but Thy will be done.” 

But I suspect this is the very kind of rebellious “witchcraft” that we may be guilty of every day, and this kind of witchcraft should worry us more than the fictional variety in the world of Harry Potter. Isn’t the constant battle of wills between God and the human heart the chief concern of Christianity? Of all the sins we need to be delivered of, isn’t self will the most thorny and persistent? More distressing yet: how many of us if we are honest with ourselves are guilty of using religion and even the precious Word of God to manipulate situations and drive personal agendas? I know I’ve been guilty of it more often than I would like to admit, and I think it’s safe to say that the problems of self will and spiritual manipulation are still among the greater challenges that the church faces today.

This kind of subtle witchcraft is much more insidious than any of the hocus pocus that raises the hackles of well intentioned believers who might line up outside bookstores to protest the latest Harry Potter book. It’s this witchcraft that must certainly break the heart of God. If we are going to spend energy protesting the evils of magic and sorcery, it might be best spent by examining the rebellious, sorcerous intentions of our own hearts that daily seek to say “my will be done.”

At the time we read the first book, we had been living in a tiny farmhouse that was in pretty rough shape. It was a far cry from the kind of home my wife had hoped for, but the rent was ridiculously cheap and enabled us to stay in the ministry in the early years. Daily she prayed with our twin boys for our own home – nothing extravagant, but something that she felt was her own and that wasn’t overrun by mice (as our rental house was). 

Closing the book and sitting on the edge of the boy’s bed, we talked about how we could have tried to get a house for ourselves, trying to make it happen any number of ways, to say “our will be done.” Instead, we chose to prayerfully seek God and wait for Him to reveal His will. Within weeks of that conversation, through an extraordinary set of circumstances we were blessed to find a wonderful house that was exactly what Taya and the boys had been praying for all those years. It was a teachable moment in their lives about the virtue of waiting on the Lord and not resorting to the subtle witchcrafts of self-will – A teachable moment delivered to our doorstep by the unlikely Harry Potter. 

We’ve come to love that boy wunderkind. There is a lot of speculation about his fate in this final book. I’m hoping he survives, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he ended up laying down his life for his friends. Either way, I’m sure it will give our family another teachable moment and a context to explore the rich mystery of what Lewis’ Aslan calls the “old magic” of Christ’s sacrificial love. 

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