Redeeming Harry Potter
I was recently interviewed on live radio about current movies, and when asked which I was looking forward to the most, I rattled off a few of my obvious choices—including Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, which opens this week.
"Uh oh," said the host half-jokingly, "you've just lost half our audience." I was then asked to justify how a Christian could possibly accept and endorse a series of books and films that promotes the occult. Looking back on my fumbled response, I can't help but think of that verse in 1 Peter about being prepared to give an answer to anyone who asks.
Harry Potter remains a hot potato, polarizing Christians left and right because of three words: wizards, witches, and magic. Deuteronomy 18:10-11 warns us to avoid engaging in pagan rituals and sorcery, and for sure, Christianity and witchcraft don't mix.
But in the last five years, I've noticed a gradual attitude shift toward Harry Potter among Christians. Though many still condemn the series—and anyone who approves of it—they seem to be diminishing in number even as others write in praise of it. In my interactions with other Christians from all over the U.S, I'm finding more indifference—and even enthusiasm—in recent years than condemnation, regardless of region or denomination.
I count myself among those whose minds have apparently changed. Interestingly enough, I was first exposed to Potter-mania when Goblet of Fire was published in 2000. Like many Christians, I was skeptical to the idea of enjoying a children's book about witches and wizards; it seemed too immature—and pagan—to appreciate. Then some Christians whom I trust insisted I give the books a try. I did, and now regard Harry Potter as the best fantasy series since Star Wars and Lord of the Rings.
Some would say the Potter series is subtly encouraging Christians to embrace the occult, but unlike television programs like Charmed or the animated series W.I.T.C.H., Harry Potter doesn't seem rooted in the same rituals and religion that Scripture warns us about. People seem to be changing their minds after seeing the films or reading the books, discovering that there's more to J.K. Rowling's multi-volume masterpiece than fantastic storytelling. They're finding redemptive themes that point to larger life lessons in harmony with Christian beliefs.
Let's examine some of those themes.
How Magic Is Used
The subject of magic is the ultimate source of contention when it comes to Harry Potter. Whenever magic is used in the arts, Christians should ask two simple questions: what's the source of the magic, and how is it used?
If Rowling intended Harry Potter as Wiccan propaganda, I'd be the first to jump ship. But the author is emphatic: she doesn't believe in magic. So how can she be promoting witchcraft as a religion? Instead, she uses magic as a vehicle for the plot—a literary device for the story's themes.
In explaining his beloved Chronicles of Narnia, and in reference to Merlin in his sci-fi novel That Hideous Strength, C. S. Lewis differentiates between two kinds of magic. Invocational magic is the dangerous kind that's warned about in the Bible, calling upon dark forces and ancient spirits to serve our selfish desires. Incantational magic, by contrast, is about harmonizing with the will of our creator—and that's the sort of spells we find in the works of Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkein, two of Rowling's favorite authors.
Now, Wiccans might argue they're simply seeking harmony with nature, while Buddhists seek inner harmony with the world around them, and the Jedi of Star Wars seek harmony with the Force. But to me, the magic in Harry Potter doesn't get as far as invocational vs. incantational. It's more like the mutant powers of the X-Men in that it's something that certain characters are born with—in the world of Harry Potter, you accept it and move on. There's no religion or worship involved (other than references to Halloween and Christian holidays like Christmas and Easter), and only the evil dabble with the "Dark Arts." Thus children are taught Defense Against the Dark Arts as a subject in school.