(A Bit Less) Positive About Potter
"Harry Potter books and films have been attacked in the past by evangelicals for allegedly glamorizing the occult," say the papers. But Christians "are now eschewing condemnation for praise, embracing Ms. Rowling's tales as powerful religious fables for our time."
It's a narrative as fictional as the Potter books themselves. In late 1999, I noted that, contrary to media reports, no major Christian leader had spoken against the Harry Potter series, and several had actually supported the books. Some readers were upset with my summary, but the most prominent critic they could come up with at that time was Texas pastor John Hagee. Four books and five films later, it's time for an update to that piece.
One of the most prominent evangelical supporters of the series in 1999 was Charles Colson. "The magic in these books is purely mechanical, as opposed to occultic," he said in his BreakPoint broadcast. "That is, Harry and his friends cast spells, read crystal balls, and turn themselves into animalsbut they don't make contact with a supernatural world. The plots reinforce the theme that evil is real, and must be courageously opposed. [Harry and his friends] develop courage, loyalty, and a willingness to sacrifice for one anothereven at the risk of their lives. Not bad lessons in a self-centered world."
Now, eight years later, Colson tells his listeners, "Personally, I don't recommend the Potter books. I'd rather Christian kids not read them. Dare [Christian kids] to have Daniel as their role model, not Harry Potter."
But four days after Colson's BreakPoint commentary, Prison Fellowship president Mark Earley had his own BreakPoint commentary recommending the books. "They are a good read," he said. "People have found something in the Harry Potter stories that is far more profound and inspiring than just a desire to be a part of the literary in-crowd. A good fantasy author can remind us of the necessity of sacrifice and the redemption that can come from even the most brutal and senseless acts. They can help restore our faith in goodnessand, yes, sometimes even in God. Great stories are even more closely related to the gospel than we realize. No wonder that great stories are so enticing."
Posts on Prison Fellowship's The Point blog, written largely by Prison Fellowship staffers, effusively praise the series, including the final book.
Meanwhile, Focus on the Family wants to make it clear that The Washington Post was wrong when it reported, "Christian parenting guru James Dobson has praised the Potter books." The Focus on the Family website issued a response, which it promoted on its daily radio program, that explains:
This is the exact opposite of Dr. Dobson's opinion in fact, he said a few years ago on his daily radio broadcast that "we have spoken out strongly against all of the Harry Potter products." His rationale for that statement: Magical characters witches, wizards, ghosts, goblins, werewolves, poltergeists, and so on fill the Harry Potter stories, and given the trend toward witchcraft and New Age ideology in the larger culture, it's difficult to ignore the effects such stories (albeit imaginary) might have on young, impressionable minds.
That may be true of Dobson himself, but earlier Focus on the Family treatments of the Hogwarts series specifically denied his charge. "The spiritual fault of Harry Potter is not so much that Rowling is playing to dark supernatural powers, but that she doesn't acknowledge any supernatural powers at all," Lindy Beam (now Lindy Keffer) wrote for Focus on the Family's entertainment guide, Plugged In. "These stories are not fueled by witchcraft, but by secularism."