Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Harry Potter

I posted before on this topic almost a year ago now, but this morning following my bi-weekly run in with our local LSU "megaphone guys", decided to approach the topic again, as it is in their minds on the many sure tickets to eternal damnation and separation from God.
A friend once argued to me against Harry Potter on the grounds that interest in the occult arose with the popularity of the series. I can't dispute that; I have a old friend that who was at one time a Harry Potter fan, and did dabble in the dark arts a bit once he had started himself down a self-destructive path, and perhaps the wouldn't have occurred away from his familiarity with the boy-wizard(although this isn't a certainty).
But we'll return to Mr. Potter. I want to begin with a broader stroke.
What is sin? Well there are several definitions, disobedience to God being a nice, general one. Oftentimes a fine definition to 'sin' is a perversion of something. Fornication and adultery are perversions of the sexual experiences that God designed for us, for pro-creation, yes, but also for pleasure; outside of God's intended venue(marriage) is where sex becomes something sinful. Likewise covetousness is a perversion of the thrills and joys that we get from X, whatever that may be, a person, an experience, a thing, and so on. It's the attachment to the thing that leads to the inordinate desire for it that is sinful. It's outside of God's intention for it. The same could be said of drinking and drunkenness or gluttony.
What about Harry Potter? We're getting there, if you don't see it already.
Throughout history is hasn't only been actions that we have perverted into things the are against the will of God, but we have perverted things as well. Christianity is a perfect example. Christianity has been the banner of persecutors, subjugators, and murderers for almost two millenia. It has been a sign taken up by the most un-loving, and thus un-Christian, people of all times, 'justifying' everything from persecution of Jews, to witch hunts and abortion clinic bombings. Christianity is not bad. It is the perversion, the thing that these people create and label as the faith that is so terrible and opposite the movement of God's kingdom.
And this is where we bring Harry Potter and quidditch and Azkaban back into the picture. Anything can be misused to terrible ends, but considering J. K. Rowling's intent was not to convert a generation to proficiency in witchcraft, it is indeed a misuse that leads readers to such ends. Stupid decisions cannot be stopped and are to be expected to a degree from anything. If it is in the heart of a reader to distance themselves from the Lord and His church, that they would do so in this manner, then it is the heart of the reader that takes him there, not the words of the author. It is his choice.

The second arguement that I frequently is that the Potter books shine such a positive light of witchcraft and wizardry, and there are two responses to this:
1) this is actually not so true, as both the protagonists and the antagonists are witches and wizards. Lord Voldemort, who is a personification of all things selfish and evil, is a wizard. That's hardly positive. Harry Potter, who fights the darkness and actually shines of many virtues is also a wizard. There's no universal here. It's the same fallacious arguement made when people say that the New Testament shines a negative light on Judaism, apparently ignoring the fact that Jesus and all of His disciples(from Peter to Judas Iscariot) were Jews, and that Christianity at that time was founded and seen as nothing else than another form of Judaism.
2) Harry Potter doesn't have a monopoly on witches and wizards in the world of fantasy literature. Other prominent appearance of theirs include The Chronicles of Narnia and The Lord of the Rings, nominally even, and in the Star Wars mythos, simply by another name. One simply cannot throw out the Dumbledores and Weasleys yet cling to the Gandalfs and deeper magic of Narnia(which is a beautiful symbol of God's covenant with His people), or the Jedi--there's a double standard being unjustly used there. And we know that Christians love at least their Narnia, if not their Middle-Earth and Star Wars also, and well they should.

Something to chew on.
I may follow up with my thoughts(which is all that this is) on more disputed topics in the coming days and weeks.



Rev. Daniel McLain Hixon said...

Good post Nance. I argue that for consistancy, the Harry Potter-rejectors should also refrain from Disnmey movies such as Cinderella (all that [evil] magic portrayed so positively!). And actually I know a coupld of folks who actually have and disallow their children from hearing any fairy-tells whatever. I think this sad.

I think you are moving in the right direction on sin as perversion/corruption. I usually tend to talk about it in terms of rebellion against God and (consequently) idolatry (seeking to displace God as the knowers of good and evil for our own lives). Since God is the source and ground of all things, disharmony with him means disharmony with everything else, one another, creation, our own selves. Or another way to say it is seperation from God is seperation from Life Himself and from Peace Himself and precludes the possibility of true harmony/life/peace (or, Shalom) in this world or the world to come. Harmony with God/neighbor/creation/self is exactly what right relation to him and his reign always entails. This is to be ALIVE with eternal life, which may only happen under the banner of his kingdom, since a rebel is by definition NOT rightly related to his rightful King, and therefore has no part of his kingdom.

This makes my understanding of sin much more elaborate (and scary) than Wesley's idea of "breaking a known command of God." I think of it in terms of Gal. 6:8, since EVERY action/thought/attitude is spiritually significant.

Still, I think you need to address author's intent/orientation (vis-a-vis the reign of God and the commmon good of man [that which tends to his growing in virtue]). It is not enough to say "Harry Potter is neutral, it is what you DO with it that is good or bad," if in fact Harry Potter is NOT neutral (a question I am not qualified to address). You can see the absurdity if someone were to say the same thing about pornography.

Nance said...

You bring up a valid point at the end of your comment about the intent of the creation; I even considered addressing it in the original post.
First, I have to point out that I don't know J. K. Rowling's intent in writing the series. My understanding is that she's an atheist, although influenced by Lewis's writing, so perhaps not hostile towards Christians? Again, I'm uncertain.
However, I think that the original intent oftentimes is not so important in the thing's use as one may think. In Athens, Paul took advantage of one of the many pagan Greek gods--created originally I think we can assume with an intent completely contrary to the teachings of the Old Testament--and used this false god to explain the new covenant of Christ to these philosophers. What is more virulent to our Lord than a false god, yet in the hands of Paul this thing was no longer that which it was originally intended to be.
The effects of Harry Potter have been varied: the series has increased the literacy of a generation of kids(the books have been coming out since 1997), while they've also(sadly) revived an interest in witchcraft. They've provided an occasion for book-burnings as well as a theme for the next year's VBS. No one intent could advocate all of these results, I think. It's what the people have done with this thing once they received it that affects everything else for good or not.
That being, I think it's safe to say that her intent was NOT specifically to spread practice of the occult amongst the readership, but that's an assumption.

Rev. Daniel McLain Hixon said...

Well, I would say with you that of course God can use things even in SPITE of their original intent (see Gen. 50:20)and that the cross is a most significant example: the devil and the Kingdoms of this world meant to destroy Jesus and his mission, but God intended to use this very act of evil to accomplish the redemption of the world.
The passage you refer to in Acts 17 is pretty interesting. I think it is extremely interesting that Paul (a JEW!) says in v. 23 that the (pagan!) Greeks are already worshiping the one true God - but as "one unknown." So Paul goes on to declare who God is and the good news of what he has done in Christ. This little verse could have significant impact on how we approach (some?) other religions.

Rev. Daniel McLain Hixon said...

PS - I heard someplace that Rowling (?) is like a nominal Catholic or Anglican or something like that (Methodist? haha) but that might just be hear-say...