The Harry Potter Books
Are you wild about Harry?
It was one of those awkward moments that could not be avoided. My wife and I were attending that annual American ritual known as "open house" where parents get to meet their children's new teachers and ask them that classic question, "How's he doing?" We were discussing our youngest son's progress when the teacher got around to sharing a few means by which we could encourage our son to read at home.
Her intentions were excellent, I have no doubt, but the method she chose was one I could not be silent about. She told us that the Harry Potter books were wonderful for motivating children to read on their own. When I informed her we could in no way allow our son to read such occult material, there was an awkward pause, and then the usual defense and protestations about Harry Potter being a well written fantasy and so on.
I suppose I made a rather poor impression upon this teacher that night. I'm sure she thought of me as being one of those humorless, right wing fundamentalists whose only joy in life is to rant and rave against innocent pleasures.
Joanne Rowling, the author of the Harry Potter books, was asked in an Internet interview about the controversy stirred up by her novels. She replied, "Are we talking about the religious right again? If so, I'd say 'hogwash' is a pretty good description!"
Ms. Rowling has done numerous interviews about her books and has often been asked about the so-called fundamentalist Christians who dare to oppose her. Besides her "hogwash" comment, she has one major justification that she uses again and again. In fact this argument has been picked up by many professing Christians to justify a book series where the main character is attending a school to learn to be a proficient wizard. (By the way, in case the word wizard throws you, a wizard is simply the male form of a witch. Girls become witches, boys become wizards.)
Rowling's argument is that these books are highly moral books. They present a definite picture of a universe where love is better than hate, and nice is superior to nasty. Children who read these books will learn to be good little boys and girls, because Harry is a good boy.
Is Morality a Justification?
Edgar Cayce (1877-1945) was a man who seemed to do people a lot of good. While still a young man, Cayce had the gift to be able to lie down, go into a sort of trance, and tell people what was wrong with their physical bodies. Because he lived in a day when things were a lot looser in the medical community, he also could prescribe remedies for their ailments. Some of them were medicines that could be found on a shelf, and some were various herbs and natural remedies. Lo and behold, the people got better. Many testified to near miraculous cures.
Cayce would give these readings, as he called them, and advise people not only of their physical problems, but would also counsel them in more spiritual matters. He always took a highly moral tone. Cruelty to others, greed, lust, and various sins of the flesh were always strongly rebuked and warned against. These things were harmful to the human spirit and contributed to the weakness of the body.
Yes, if you went to Cayce for one of his readings, you could always be sure to get a great big dose of morality thrown in. Love was the best way; treating others as you would have them treat you was the pathway to health and success.
And yet after a while Cayce went deeper still. He began to not only tell people of their physical and moral conditions, he also started telling them of how their past lives had contributed to their present situations. Yes, Cayce soon established himself as a full fledged promoter of reincarnation. Of course, he never counseled anyone to come to Christ and be born again. After all, if you had an almost never-ending number of lives to get things right, the whole idea of the new birth would be meaningless.
You see, the devil does not really mind if you're a bit moral, as long as you keep your distance from Jesus Christ. When God's plan of redemption is completed, hell will be filled with moral people — good, solid pillars of their communities who paid their taxes, kept their lawns neatly trimmed, attended their children's PTA meetings faithfully, and perhaps even served on many committees at their churches. They just never got around to being born again by asking Christ for the forgiveness of their sins.
To say that the Harry Potter books are OK because they insert morality here and there, while promoting witchcraft and wizardry, is to show a spiritual naiveté of the highest order.
Witchcraft is Not Fantasy
Just why are we Evangelicals (at least many of us) so bothered by these fantasy books? After all, no one really takes them seriously. The problem lies with the nature of evil. If there was no such thing as evil, if witchcraft and sorcery, curses and spells, demons and Satan were merely inventions from the fertile mind of a creative children's writer, we could easily write the whole thing off. It's all just pretend.
The truth is that these things are not fantasy. Harry Potter may be invented, and the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft may be fictional, but witchcraft is most decidedly real. God had some definite things to say about witchcraft to Israel, when he established His people in the promised land of Canaan: "When you come into the land which the Lord your God is giving you, you shall not learn to follow the abominations of those nations. There shall not be found among you anyone who makes his son or his daughter pass through the fire, or one who practices witchcraft, or a soothsayer, or one who interprets omens, or a sorcerer, or one who conjures spells, or a medium, or a spiritist, or one who calls up the dead. For all who do these things are an abomination to the Lord, and because of these abominations the Lord your God drives them out from before you" (Deuteronomy 18:9-12).
In the book of Second Kings, here is what God says about Manasseh, considered the most wicked king in Israel's history: "Also he made his son pass through the fire, practiced soothsaying, used witchcraft, and consulted spiritists and mediums. He did much evil in the sight of the Lord, to provoke Him to anger" (2 Kings 21:6).
And why does God hate witchcraft so much? Because through witchcraft one is put into contact with the realm of demons, and the archenemy of all that is good, Satan himself.
In the Harry Potter series, you will read of spell casting, levitation, animal sacrifices, astral projection, crystal gazing, and communing with dead souls. Young, impressionable children are getting a rich exposure to the very things that are part and parcel of real witchcraft.
The headmaster at a school in Raleigh, North Carolina noted: "The throngs that lined up to meet Rowling (to autograph their books) are often teeming with children clad in wizard cloaks and sporting lightning-bolt scars tattooed — temporarily — to their foreheads." A representative for the Pagan Federation in England described a flood of new interest in witchcraft and attributed it to such cultural icons as Harry Potter, and movies like Sabrina the Teenage Witch, and Buffy The Vampire Slayer.
A San Francisco newspaper printed what children were saying about the Harry Potter series. They quoted a 9 year old girl named Catherine as saying: "I'd like to go to a wizard school, learn magic and put spells on people. I'd make up an ugly spell, and then it's payback time!" An 11-year old boy named Jeffrey said, "It would be great to be a wizard because you could control situations and things like teachers."
If Harry were a Nazi
If you still wonder why Evangelical Christians take all of this so seriously, consider this: Suppose you wrote a play, a comedy, in which the main character of the play was a lovable, funny, cute little... Nazi. The whole play dealt with how this cute, lovable little boy went to a Hitler school for youth and learned all the in's and out's of Nazi philosophy.
Further suppose that you took that play, went out and hired actors, and gave it a premier showing in Jerusalem, in the heart of the Jewish quarter of the old city. Do you suppose that it would be very popular? Would there be rave reviews throughout Israel over your wonderful little play?
You know the answer as well as I do. The play would never get through the first act. And why would such a play be so roundly detested? The answer is simple. Considering what Hitler had done to the Jewish race, considering the horrific death and destruction that this madman was responsible for, the thought of taking this gruesome character, and the insane philosophy which he spawned, and trying to make it cute and lovable would be condemned by all. This would be especially true of those older Jews who had lived through the horrors of the concentration camps. They would have a pretty difficult time trying to accept this play as escapist fantasy that does no one any harm.
That, my friends, is exactly the situation with the Harry Potter books. To try to reach into the dark side, and turn the concepts of witchcraft into something cute and lovable, is utter folly to anyone who understands the real nature of both good and evil.
Yearning for the Supernatural
One thing the Harry Potter books and movie do reveal to us is man's constant quest for the supernatural. Instinctively we all look for something which goes beyond the humdrum scope of our lives, something which is a little above and beyond normal experience.
The good news is that you don't have to look to witchcraft to find this. The devil is not the only one who can supply us with supernatural experience. God Almighty, our wonderful loving Heavenly Father, has provided a supernatural life through the Holy Spirit.
When you read the book of Acts, you find the supernatural element all over the place. It begins with Jesus promising the disciples, "You shall receive power, after the Holy Spirit has come upon you." On the day of Pentecost, the power falls. The disciples are supernaturally endowed, and the rest of the book is one supernatural event after another.
We, too, can be filled with the Spirit of God. And while God doesn't promise us a miracle a day, we can experience that wonderful blessing of being led, directed, empowered, and filled with the Holy Spirit.
For those of you who crave fantasy reading, let me encourage you to check out C. S. Lewis' books. His Chronicles of Narnia, and other fantasy books are written with a Christian emphasis, and in fact, are often parables of the great New Testament stories and teachings.
An Exhortation for Parents
And one last word to parents: Your children's greatest leverage, the magical key that opens way too many doors for them, is that time-worn phrase: "But everybody's doing it!" (or in this case reading it). Hold fast to your convictions, Mom and Dad. Let your children know that they are not everybody else; they are special. They belong to God. He has chosen them, and they cannot live like everybody else. God has a great plan for their lives, and they must live by a different standard from their unbelieving neighbors.
Let Harry go to the Hogwarts school; our children have a far greater school than that, the school of discipleship, that school whose Headmaster is the spotless Son of God, Jesus Christ. In His school we shall be equipped to be a blessing on the earth, and to enjoy eternity in the presence of God.