What We’ve Learned from Harry (Part 1)

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It’s been a weird 14 years. Way back in 1997, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (or Sorcerer’s Stone, for Americans, because Scholastic thought we were too dumb for philosophy) was released. In a few short weeks, the final film will hit the big screen. While Warner Brothers will undoubtedly attempt to keep the hype alive, and J.K. Rowling is playing her part in that, we’ve come to the end of an era. I’ve no doubt Harry Potter will live on for many years to come, both because of its fan base and the quality of the story. But as we reach the beginning of the end of the boy wizard’s pop culture hype, it’s a good time to look back at what we’ve learned from Harry – particularly what we Christians have learned from Harry.

And perhaps there’s no greater lesson at the outset than that we actually can learn from Harry. You remember the late 90s and early aughts. (I love the word “aughts.”) Christians were warned about the dangers of Harry Potter, the draw to the occult, to witchcraft, the likelihood that Satan existed in the very pages of Rowling’s novels. Some, perhaps even some reading this, still wonder whether we should be concerned about in the Potter books. I’m not intending to tread on those concerns; we should always be discerning. But at this point, reviewing the history of the debate, the content of the Potter books, and the professions of faith from their author, it’s hard to come to any other conclusion than that those of us who were once concerned about or opposed to the series were wrong. It’s edifying literature, deliberately full of Christian symbols.

Which leads to two lessons that I’ll follow up with: (1) We should probably stop believing every Christian warning spam email that comes across our inbox, and (2) We’ve lost touch with a very Christian tradition of writing and need to re-connect to it. The first one I’ll address here, the second in a later post.

I remember being a pastor of a small Baptist church in 2004 and leading the youth group. Five Harry Potter books were out. I had, without ever reading them, concluded that they must be dangerous, because I’d heard that, and because it seemed kids liked the magic a lot, and they might be drawn into witchcraft. So I read the first book. And then the second. And I barely slept as I flew through the next three. At that time, I had just enough intelligence to respond, with amazing clarity and originality of thought, “This is what people are upset about?” Profound, I know.

By the time the 6th book had come out, I’d re-read the first five and started blogging about the series. I joined John Granger in his work to demonstrate the place of Potter in the Christian fantasy tradition, where it belongs. To that, I will turn on the next post.

But to conclude this one: Let’s always be careful and responsible about the information we take in and pass around. J.K. Rowling was never a witch and did not write the books by “channeling.” These are things I was told. When we react to hype, we may just be missing out on some really great stories that point the way to Jesus.


113 Comments

  1. JJ

    Excellent. I was also a hater based on what people had told me. Until some wise friends encouraged me to just read them. I might like them they said. I had pretty much the same experience (around the exact same time). 5 books were out, and I flew through them in 5 weeks. I had barely read a book in the 10 years prior to that. Example: 1994 I can remember reading a single book (Night by Elie Wiesel for school). I didn’t read a single book again until 2004, when I read all 5 HP books. My reading didn’t really pick up in earnest until 2007 when 1) I met my future wife (we’re married with a 2 year old now) who is an avid reader, and 2) Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows came out. I read 22 books in 2007. Considering that is more than the total of the previous 15 years combined, that’s saying something.

    So I owe a lot to Harry. Those stories (along with my wife’s love of books) made me loving reading. I’m still surprised, and a little saddened, that people can still hate them having never even read them. I can’t wait to read them to my son when he’s older.

  2. Rebecca

    Hear, hear. I look forward to hearing more on this. I’m also halfway through Granger’s Harry Potter’s Bookshelf, which is really enjoyable and enlightening.

    (And I’m a new reader to The Rabbit Room, appreciating what you all have to say!)

  3. kelli

    Oh yes…the “channeling!” I had forgotten all about that, but that’s what I too was told when I working in a Christian organization and reading the tabooed Harry Potter for the first time.

    And how thankful I am that I chose to ignore those comments!

    These books are brilliant, and I’m looking forward to hearing more of your thoughts, Travis!

  4. Nick and Susan

    I’ve not read the books (One day I’m sure I will, Kelli 😀 maybe we could even read them together!!).

    But I had a similar experience with Lord of the Rings. When I was a little girl my Dad was (and still is) a Tolkien ‘geek’. In our front room stood an almost hallowed bookshelf that was lined with all of Tolkien’s works, including numerous copies of The Hobbit and LOTR (the very first copies he read back in the 70’s, plus hardback, illustrated etc..), map books, encyclopedias, not to mention the various figurines that always looked ready to come to life any moment – Gandalf, Sam, Lady Galadriel – too many to name. An enormous painting of Gandalf with Frodo and Sam was proudly displayed at the top of our stairs, and of course he had the marvelous BBC dramatisations of The Hobbit and LOTR – on cassette tape no less!

    But then I became a Christian, I hate to say it in a negative way – because real Christianity is the most amazing adventure and staggering love story – I’m left speechless everyday by God’s love and grace. Perhaps it would be better to say I met certain types of Christian, then I became that type myself. Oh, how I argued with my dad that these books and characters he cherished were wrong for a Christian to have, that the magical elements were wrong, that Gandalf is a wizard (he isn’t – but I was too ignorant then to know that) how could he possibly read such things? I thought it so odd when he unashamedly told me how he cried in the cinema at the end of ROTK.

    I’d not read any of the books, however I had seen Ralph Bakshi’s animated LOTR as a child (and loved it). Then one year I read a blog post by a favourite author of mine and was startled to hear her quote Aragorn in one of her posts. I pondered for days if not weeks, how it was that she could read those books – surely real Chrisitans didn’t – or so I’d been told.

    By then though I’d left the circle of Christians who had sincerely warned me about such books, and upon seeing a 50th anniversary set of the trilogy on sale I decided to find out for myself what the fuss was about. I got half way through the FOTR and ordered the films. I watched and I cried too. My tears were mingled with sadness though, sadness for railing at my dad, for missing out on so many years of fellowship with him, and also for being taken in by Christians who didn’t know what they were talking about. I’ve learned my lesson now.

    Susan

  5. Fellow Traveler

    I find it puzzling that people on both sides insist on grouping Harry Potter and Tolkien together.

  6. Stephen Clark

    Just recently I read through all 7 books for the first time. I read them so I could be aware of what was in them as I have two children who will some year soon want to tear through them as I did. I can’t wait to watch them enjoy them as I did, though due to the darkness of the later books and increasing age and trials of the characters, I will probably delay their reading of them a few more years than I would have.

    Discernment has always been important in this discussion, because not all things, though available to me, are profitable to me, spiritually speaking. (sorry for the poor translation of Scripture). The two pitfalls I see with discernment though are: 1. Many people import another’s discernment into their own life with little understanding of where the originator’s conclusion (faulty or not) originated. 2. Many people exercise discernment rooted in either a secular, or a weak Biblically supported worldview.

    As far as those “haters” who have judge without understanding fully are concerned, let us as Christians try to understand them, as opposed to hating back and labeling them as legalistic or bad Christians. I am not saying anyone here has done that, just that we are all being sanctified, and for most all of us a lifetime isn’t long enough.

  7. Andrew Peterson

    @andrew

    Thanks for this series of posts. I’m really looking forward to them. I’ve talked a bit about Harry Potter in various book talks and classes I’ve taught over the last few years, and am happy to say that the stigma is finally fading as far as I can tell. It’s true that folks sometimes seem surprised that I’m recommending the books, but they’re seldom offended anymore. You’re right; realizing that we just might learn something from a story like the Harry Potter saga is significant step. As for me and my house, we love these books and I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that through them we’ve been stirred by the beauty of God’s truth. (Also, they’re a blast to read.)

  8. Linda Hartzell

    Reading your posts has given me such a desire to plow through the series once again! We read the first three books out loud to our older children as they became available. After that when each book was released, I would read it first to make sure that it was suitable for them, until they were old enough to discern for themselves, and then I declared first dibs as the purchaser of the book, which I would read straight through so it could then be claimed by the next in line! There have been naysayers around us, and we have respected them, but also have been saddened by their missing out on this grand adventure full of heroes and villains, triumph and loss, beauty and ugliness, laughter, tears, and friendships both faithful and betrayed. One strategy for sharing this series with children who are still young follows: Our promise to our youngest was that he would receive the first book on his eleventh birthday, to go along with Harry’s. We determined that whatever age Harry is in the books is the youngest age appropriate for the reader. For four years now, each birthday, he has continued to receive the next book in the series, and he, too, reads them from cover to cover. In the following months, as I am working in the kitchen or folding laundry, he reads them out loud to me, we are able to soak in the wonder together, to mine the depths of the characters, their choices, and the twists and turns of the story. This shared experience has given us great joy as a family, and we continue to reap its benefits. Thank you for giving me a forum for posting what has been on my heart concerning this literature, which in so many ways reflects the image and the heart of our Creator.

  9. Drew

    In 2009, I briefly worked for a Christian ministry that ran a second-hand store, which included a couple aisles of used books. The admonition was that any Harry Potter books that were donated must immediately be thrown away. While I could honor that decision, even as I disagreed with it, it seemed like they weren’t as discerning about the other books, videos, DVDs, or music that was donated. So material with all sorts of heretical philosophies might end up on the shelf because the people who ran the ministry weren’t as familiar with them. But they knew that Harry Potter was bad, so out it went.

    This is probably an example of “straining at gnats, swallowing camels.”

    (How briefly did I work there? Four days. There were other issues I could not deal with.)

  10. livingoakheart

    Once, towards the time the fourth book came out, my family had been bringing a girl to church with us. She came from a non-christian home, and was not familiar with church culture. She had a bag of some sort with a Harry Potter logo on it.
    When we brought her to church, various people complained/were scandalized by her bag. Not her clothes, or her language, but a little bag. I was shocked/scandalized that people that I respected were so offended by a book that they were willing to ostracize a lonely, searching girl over her choice of reading material.
    It saddened me.

  11. miles365

    I also discovered HP after the fifth book had been released. I’d avoided the books until then because of a mixture of family/church concerns about the books’ “anti-Christian content” and because they were so popular (intellectual snobbery, I’m ashamed to admit). I read the first five books in quick succession, then saw a book by John Granger in a Christian bookstore. (Quick cure for intellectual snobbery: I suddenly realized that I wasn’t all that smart after all.) Granger’s website led me to Travis’, then here. So aside from the stories themselves and all the great discussion I’ve gotten to hear/read, I think I owe Harry a lot.

    Looking forward to the next post, Travis.

  12. Travis Prinzi

    @travis

    All, thanks for the comments so far! I’ll try to reply at length to some of this later today.

    I wanted to quickly respond to Fellow Traveler with a recommendation of Amy H. Sturgis’s essay “When Harry Met Faerie” in Hog’s Head Conversations. Formerly published as “Harry Potter is a Hobbit” in 2004, the essay (now including all 7 books) explains well how Rowling’s stories meet Tolkien’s definition of a Fairy Story.

    I’m in full agreement that Hogwarts and Middle-earth are really quite different (and that’s one of the things that makes Harry so great … its being so good while not being a typical attempted Tolkien derivative), they belong to the same stream of literature, and that’s why they end up getting put side by side by both Rowling and Tolkien fans.

  13. Ginger

    I’m humbly asking here, because I was brought up being taught the evils of Harry Potter. I understand the need for discernment, not legalism, but I’m also concerned that we accept things, only because they’ve become socially acceptable, rather than there has been any change in the word of God.

    I’m struggling with this in that I would LOVE to read these. It seems like everyone has, and I love a good story. Still, I can’t seem to get around that the Bible clearly says to stay away from witchcraft.

    Particularly from Deuteronomy 18:10 – 14:
    There shall not be found among you anyone … who practices witchcraft, or one who interprets omens, or a sorcerer… For those nations, which you shall dispossess, listen to those who practice witchcraft and to diviners, but as for you, the LORD your God has not allowed you to do so.

    The word of God talks extensively about witchcraft, and I would love some direction from this thinking blog, and many whom I deeply respect, to give explaination for what we do with this in concerns with the witches in Harry Potter. On the one hand, I get that reading something isn’t practicing it. And I certainly am not for censorship. But on the other hand, as believers, should we get as close to the fire as possible, or stay far away? No doubt Harry Potter takes a glamourous view of magic and witches and warlocks. Everything is permissible; not everything is profitable.

    (In the interest of full disclosure, I did read the first book in the series, as I was a former teacher, and felt it my responsibility to at least be current about the phenomenon to some degree. While I agree, the story is fantastic, I was a little disappointed in the writing. There are millions of great stories out there, and many with good story AND great writing. I wondered at the time what the special appeal if these particular stories are, when we have so many to choose from.)

  14. Travis Prinzi

    @travis

    Ginger, great questions, and thanks for raising them! I want to start by saying I’d never be dismissive of genuine concerns, and yes, the Bible has things to say about witchcraft. My answer to this question certainly isn’t, “Let’s just not pay attention to Scripture on that point.” There are several points to bring up in response. I’ll try to be brief here.

    1. The witchcraft in Harry Potter is so radically different from real witchcraft that, well, I’ll just quote an article by a friend of mine from a few years back:

    …these books no more lure kids into real witchcraft than the Star Wars movies lure kids into careers as astronauts. If a kid wants to be an astronaut, he’s going to become one regardless of George Lucas’s films; and if he goes into the field thinking he’s going to be Luke Skywalker, he’s soon going to lose interest, because reality is very different. Apply the same analogy to Harry Potter’s “witchcraft.”

    For a more detailed analysis of this, see John Granger’s book, How Harry Cast His Spell, which explains the difference between incantational and invocational magic – how one works as a literary device in Harry Potter, and the other is what we know as witchcraft in real life.

    2. Witchcraft has been used as a literary device by Christian writers for a long time, and not just as the “bad guys.” The difference is usually that Tolkien, Lewis, MacDonald, etc. have never called the good guys “witches” (though “wizards” are allowed to be good). I think the thing that jars most people is the actual word “witch.” But see point #1 again – a “witch” in Harry Potter is not the same “witch” that is described in Scripture.

    3. Not only did these writers allow for “good guy” magic, but Lewis goes further in putting pagan gods on the side of Christ instead of against him (Pomona, Bacchus). I’m always amazed that this is glazed over by many Christian CSL fans, but Harry Potter’s “witchcraft” is a huge concern.

    Ultimately, I don’t think either JKR’s witchcraft or CSL’s use of pagan gods and goddesses are a concern for the Christian reader, because they are being used as story symbols, ciphers for deeper meaning about the world, and not as apologies for the real things.

    In some ways, Rowling’s magic is a fantasy fiction version of the same thing as the Cylons in Battlestar Galactica or technology in The Matrix, while simultaneously standing as a reminder that the world is much more magical than we think it is.

    As for the writing, keep reading. And then check out John Granger’s work, particularly Harry Potter’s Bookshelf and The Deathly Hallows Lectures to get an idea of how good it really is.

  15. Travis Prinzi

    @travis

    For the record, there is absolutely zero “you can do it too” mentality in Harry Potter. You’re either born with it or you’re not. It’s more like a genetic mutation than anything else. The school is only there to help people who can already do magic do it properly.

    I’d note that Lewis, on the other hand, allows for the actual teaching of magic in his fiction (Cornelius in PC, though the prince himself is not supposed to learn).

  16. caleb

    Fellow Traveler pretty much nails the heart of the issue here. I will say that I have not read the stories or seen the films, but if it’s true that it’s all based on “real” spells, etc., the issues that fact alone raises are huge. Titanic, in fact.

    I’ve watched this HP thing unfold over the years and find it amazing. The thing went from being “of the devil” in most Christian circles to now being billed as Christian fiction by many. It cannot be both ways. Somebody is wrong.

    Furthermore, didn’t JKR come out and say one of her main charcaters in the story is a homosexual? What could that possibly have to do with writing a good story and presenting it to younger readers?

    I will admit that it saddens me a bit to see HP recommended here at the RR.

  17. Travis Prinzi

    @travis

    Caleb, you haven’t read them, so how do you know? Fellow Traveler, have you read them?

    I really don’t want to get into the Dumbledore debate here, and I think it’s been discussed at Rabbit Room before. But for the present, I’ll just say this: No one in the text is gay or lesbian – not one. Not a single marriage, relationship, or hint at one. No one who was unaware of J.K. Rowling’s very brief and unplanned comment on the issue would ever come up with that idea from the books unless they were trying to read it in.

    I’ll say that is “saddens me a bit” to see an entire series, written by a person who is incredibly familiar with Christian symbolism and tradition, being dismissed because of hearsay.

  18. Jess

    Ginger, I read the first book, too, actually pretty recently, and was reluctant to finish the series because I wasn’t impressed with the writing. BUT, I have been talking with people, and those who have read the books say that they definitely get better (writing-wise and story-wise) as the series goes on. So maybe we both should try reading some of the other books? I am planning on doing so at some point.

    Also, to give another point of view to the discussion, I’m fairly young (15), and I had no sudden urge to practice witchcraft after reading the first book. The same with all of my friends (many of whom are younger than I am). I’m not saying that means no kid reading the books wouldn’t want to try it out or at least ACT it out; in fact, when I take my siblings to the playground there are often kids there playing Harry Potter, saying “spells” and scratching six-pointed stars and snake-symbols in the dirt. But certainly not everyone who reads Harry Potter is going to become a witch. It really depends on who you are and what your background is. Like Mr. Prinzi’s friend said, if you want to be a witch, you will probably try to be a witch with or without the help of Harry Potter; if not, Harry Potter will probably not affect you.

  19. Jen

    Jess & Ginger: They do get better. I didn’t even realize how rough the first books were until I read them a second time after all the books were out. Same goes for the movies. I’m watching them all again this week and wow… bad dialogue and awkward acting! (Except Alan Rickman. He IS Professor Snape.)

    What I love about her writing isn’t so much the style, but the way she builds an intricate world and cast of characters, then simply tells a good story with surprising depth. It’s fun to read the series again and see how even the simple plots of the early books tie into a greater story. I also really like how she ages the stories with the characters. (Linda, I love your idea of allowing your son to read the book whenever he’s Harry’s age. Smart. :))

    So… yes, I’m a Potter Nerd. I love the books. The last one made me cry. I understand the concerns and respect discernment, but I admit I feel a little sad when they get dismissed without a fair chance. Maybe Scholastic should’ve left the first book’s title alone…

    (One more thought about JKR’s writing: it’s better than another Fiction-Phenomenon-That-Shall-Not-Be-Named. ;))

  20. Travis Prinzi

    @travis

    Jen, great point about the first book’s title! Yes, “Sorcerer” instead of “Philosopher” definitely fueled the fire. Especially since the “Philosopher’s Stone,” which is the end product of alchemy (soul purification) and produces the elixir of life, is a Christ symbol.

  21. shostagirl

    Growing up in my family Harry Potter was required reading.
    I think they are great stories but my Dad’s lesson sticks more thoroughly- he wanted to make sure his children would not jump on any bandwagon without reading, thinking, and forming their own ideas and interacting with their own mind and theology.
    The most captivating part of the series for me is the relationships and dialogue between the characters in their struggle between right and wrong.

  22. Andrew

    I’m sure this has been covered in the past, but I’ve always been curious to find out – is JK Rowling a Christian? If so, she’s kept her secret well, and if not, why do her books more effectively reflect Christian concepts than any other author who writes in the Tolkien tradition?

  23. emily

    I’m fascinated by this discussion! Thank you for talking about something most Christians I know are afraid to deal with. However, I’m not satisfied with the answer you gave Ginger. We can’t justify things forbidden in the Bible by saying that other Christians do it and get away with it………

  24. Ashley

    Someone in a college Bible study I lead made a great point in regards to the series last night. As we discussed the new movie someone pointed out that no one seems to condemn super hero movies like they do magical ones. We aren’t terribly stirred up when evolution of genetic mutations give our heros their powers. Along the same lines we aren’t even terribly vexed by other issues in movies, music and other media that are clearly in juxtaposition to our Chrisitan beliefs. How often do we (myself included) watch movies full of violence, foul language and sex? Not that we should justify these things, but we should be fully aware of a contradiction here. I’m not exactly sure what the answer is other than to say if the Holy Spirit lives in you, and there is no question that He does live in each believer, allow him to convict you through prayer and Scripture.

    Saying all that, I personally love the series and found a fantastic bond with some unbelieving teenagers through it. The husband and I will be donning our Gryffindor ties and wielding our wands at the midnight showing this Thursday night!

  25. Caleb

    Travis: I think you are missing the point regarding the “spells.” Even if I had read the books I would not know if the spells are based on real witchcraft, since I also do not read literature written by people practicing actual witchcraft. But is that not how deception works? Does it not veil itself in order to get into our lives (e.g. devil as an angel of light.)? Is this not Christianity 101?

    My main point was IF the issue Fellow Traveler raised is true, then that fact alone matters. And anyone not only reading the books but recommending them to others should settle that before moving forward, because the issue has been raised. If you have settled it without a doubt, then please say so. Because I would honestly like to know.

    Regarding the Dumbledore debate, I can understand not wanting to get into it, but it is on the table and the author put it there, which makes it a legitimate issue. Writers don’t just make up random points about their stories and characters, but are rather always saying something about their version of reality and their view of the world with them. JKR knew that comment was going to have influence, as is every comment from every writer to fans. To think otherwise, in my view, is naive. If these stories are for younger readers, the subject matter is entirely out of place, seeing as how controversial a matter it is.

  26. carrie luke

    I think what people misunderstand about this series from a distance is that it appears to be a story about the lesser of two evils(or worse evil overcoming evil) when in fact Harry Potter is a powerful narrative about good over coming evil. “Magic” is merely the vehicle that moves that theme along, which is incidentally the same word Lewis used when Aslan explained how his sacrifice foiled the White Witch’s plan.

    “It means,” said Aslan, “that though the Witch knew the Deep Magic, there is a magic deeper still which she did not know. ”

    I would not foolishly try and convince anyone that there is not darkness in Harry Potter. But the material point that is lost at a brief glance is that is not all it is. Harry Potter radiates light, courage, love, friendship, community, and sacrifice in the midst of an overpowering darkness. It should be added to the list of great fantasy that illuminates “deeper magic” and a hope that can not be extinguished even when it appears that all hope is lost.

    There are people with certain sensitivities towards the occult and witchcraft based on real life experiences who would be understandably opposed to such a series. Having such a friend who vehemently dislikes even the mention of Harry Potter though having never read it, I do not judge her personal decision.

    But, if ever asked my opinion, I would say that this is unequivocally NOT a zillion paged instructional “how to” manual into such practices or lifestyle. It is an amazing and powerful story about a young boy who was written(without choice or consult) into a story bigger than himself, very much like the Hobbits of the Shire or the four Pevensies.

    JK’s character and plot development over the 7 books are dynamic, inspiring, and moving as a motley crew of people gather around to support Harry at great cost to themselves. The themes of love and courage in the face of great danger, fear, and hardship permeate through this series and fills the discouraged heart with hope to go out into this world and “Lumos.”(the spell that creates light in the dark.)

    As for JK’s religious views or preferences, I do not know where she stands. But, I approach her creative work as I would gaining the privilege to stand before a real Monet or reading Victor Hugo’s Les Mis for the first time which moved me to indescribable tears. Neither of the greats were believers and yet both created visions that gave me a larger view of God’s love, power, beauty, and greatness.

  27. MargaretW

    Travis – Applause to you for taking on this topic and defending it with dignity and respect. Having met you at Hutchmoot 2010, I know you to be a sincere kind of guy. I too was told all the hype about HP and my pastor’s wife was the one recommending them to me. I still refused to read them. I was dumb. When I did finally pick them up, I had the same response you had. Now I still run across people who refuse to read HP on theological issues and I say very plainly, “That’s too bad. You’re missing out on a great story.” Because people are only going to believe what they want to believe. But I’m glad you’re out there writing and defending them. They are truly the best stories I have ever read. JK Rowling almost makes me want to give up writing, her stories are so good. Almost.

  28. Travis Prinzi

    Emily, very important comment! I need to clarify my position, because I’m not arguing that if one person gets away with something, others should be allowed to as well.

    I’m arguing that there are legitimate literary reasons that both the use of pagan gods and of the term “witch” can be used as story symbols in literature and not be against Christianity. I’ll try to write more on this later.

  29. Jason Wiedel

    It is interesting to recount the things that many in the church have expected would be dragging our young people into the world of occult and devil worship. In my short lifetime we have sounded the warning bell over heavy metal music, Dungeons and Dragons, Thundercats, He-Man, the Smurfs, Captain Planet, Goosebumps, Disney, Mortal Combat, rap music, Will & Grace, The daVinci Code, Harry Potter, and vampire books. Looking back, it seems that none of these “dangers” warranted the hysteria they produced. Why don’t we learn that there are bigger problems that we should be concerned about?

  30. Ashley Elizabeth

    I seem to remember a conversation (perhaps on fb?) with Rabbit Roomers about this issue and a wonderful point was made of the difference between incantations and incarnations as it relates to Harry Potter? That one was simply words while the other was inviting the other side to dwell within you? The the sacred scriptures forbid the inviting of darkness into your soul, but not the words of darkness?

    I too refused to read Harry Potter. Then my mom, a saintly 2nd grade teacher, asked me to see the 1st movie with her while I was home on break. After the movie, I ate up the first 3 books and waited at midnight each time a new year was released. I’ve found much excitement on both sides of this issue, and most of it out of emotion. The greatest truth came from Walt Wangrin last year at the ‘Moot when he made the point that children do not meet dragons in literature, they meet them in their imaginations.

  31. Shane

    Caleb, have you done any research on the issue of the spells being based on “real” witchcraft or not? I agree that if they were it would bring another facet of the whole debate. I haven’t done extensive research, but I have done a little bit. What I’ve found is that the spells, in general, are either made up, or they are taken from Latin, Greek, or another ancient language. I haven’t found any proof that they were taken from “actual” witch spell-books or anything like that. I know that was a big thing going around the anti-HP crowd, but I’ve never seen any real proof. Wikipedia has a list of spells found in the books and movies and there origins – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_spells_in_Harry_Potter Take it for what it’s worth.

    On a personal note, I grew up an avid D&D player and went through the uproar on how evil it was. My parents, who were not Christians, were affected by it and almost made me stop playing. (Anybody remember that made for TV movie with Tom Hanks where he went crazy from a RPG and got lost in the sewer?) I knew the reality of it so I have been able to not be swayed without proof, even when people I respect come out against something. I’ve learned I have to find out for myself.

    I too read the first one and didn’t see the big deal. My sister-in-law insisted that I read more, so I did to stop the pestering. I’m sure glad I did. I re-read the series again in anticipation for the last movie and just finished Deathly Hallows last week. Every time I finish that book it’s like saying goodbye to friends. If you are into audio books, Jim Dale’s reading of the series is the coolest.

  32. Bob

    This is a wonderful discussion! I love to think through things like this. I have not read the series, but I’ve read parts of it, enough to be captivated by the writing style and the story. I may yet get around to reading all the books, but haven’t done so yet.

    This whole thing has gotten me thinking about the way that we as Christians need to be discerning. Too often we’re strongly either for or against something, as several have pointed out here. When we’re against something like HP, we love to say “if you do X, it’ll lead you to do Y”. Perhaps it’s a mistake to try to blame one thing as the cause for another. By the same token, though, it’s also a mistake to say that because the dreaded result didn’t happen, then we shouldn’t have been opposed to it in the first place. For example, someone could say “I was warned not to smoke, or I’d get cancer. Well, I’ve smoked all my life and now I’m 85 and still going strong.” The fact that some are able to smoke and not be negatively affected does not mean that we should start endorsing smoking. I was one of those teenagers who listened to music that I probably shouldn’t have, based on the lyrical content. I didn’t end up as a delinquent, but when I go back and listen to some of that music now, I cringe that I allowed it to fill my mind.

    What am I getting at? Just this issue of discernment. The ends don’t justify the means, either positively or negatively. The “means”, in this case the Harry Potter series, should be judged on its own merits. To be discerning is to evaluate the message and moral content of the series, not whether it’s fun to read. As for me, I’m still working through the questions. As an adult, I’m not worried about being influenced to dabble in the occult, but I do want to be fully convinced so that if I introduce my children to it, I can do so with enthusiasm.

  33. Heather E. Carrillo

    To start: I’ve read them. All of them. This was my overall impression: meh…

    I’m not particularly emotionally invested. @Shostagirl directed my attention toward this post, so I thought I’d check it out.

    Mr. Prinzi, something I’ve been interested in is the fact that when someone brings up a valid argument against these books, the argument used to counter it is, “But C.S. Lewis/Tolkien did it too!!” Last time I checked the hypocrasy of the one making the argument in no way affects the argument itself. So, what about calling wizards good? (Isaiah 5:20). I think it’s a problem. So, maybe it’s also a problem with Lewis and Tolkien, but no one has sufficiently cleared this problem up for me yet.

    Also, on the homosexuality of Dumbledore: (and really if you are going to tout this as “Christian Literature” you can’t just ignore it…authorial intent and whatnot) You said no one reading the books without Ms. Rowling’s offhand comment would know the homosexuality of Dumbledore. Oddly enough I was talking to my sister and a few of her friends. She is 17 and her friends range from 15-18. Turns out, not a one of them were shocked by Ms. Rowling’s announcement. They all knew he was a homosexual. Turns out we live in a different world. Younger people see more homosexuals around them and are used to it. So, when they come across a character in a book who has a (let’s face it) odd-ish encounter with an “old school fellow.” They all assume he is just a homosexual and move on. So, no, there was no “real homosexuality” just like there was no “real sorcery,” but can we ignore either one?

    Re-reading this I sound totally anti-Potter. I assure you I’m not. I thought they were ok children’s books. I was neither blown away nor outraged. But, since it’s caused so much furor on both sides, I of course was interested.

  34. Travis Prinzi

    @travis

    Heather, again, my point is that it is not a valid argument in the first place. Rowling, Tolkien, and Lewis are all writing magical worlds in a very Christian tradition, including the use of pagan elements for literary and theological purposes. These “wizards” and “witches” are literary characters/devices, not the same thing that the Bible talked about.

  35. Caleb

    Shane: No, I’ve not done any formal research on the matter; and I won’t. The story itself has never interested me, but the hype has. Bottom line for me: it seems like if the witchcraft allegations were not true and all nonsense, it would be pretty easy to point and click to a place where JKR herself says so. Instead there are just theories all over the place. But of course, that sells lots of books and movie tickets. . .

    I’ll say this and then I’ll bow out of the entire thing (I can see that this kind of interchange is not what the RR is looking for).

    To be clear, I am not necessarily anti-HP. I initially wanted to defend HP because it all sounded like typical evangelical knee-jerking that was at the core of the debates. And some probably is. But there has always remained some doubt, and the debates remain unsolved (even here). Just because youngsters don’t go out and start practicing witchcraft means nothing. Genuine evil is more subtle than that and would not work itself like that (though it probably would in most Christian novels). But if a set of books could change an entire generation’s way of thinking on the matter, now that would be a feat indeed. And if it could go from “of the devil” to “Christian allegory,” even more of a feat.

    But most of all, I think some honesty is in order. From what I’ve seen (even here), if people like the books, then that fact alone makes the books okay; everything questionable goes out the window, and all arguments are dismissed based on the emotional experience had with the books. I not only find that incredible in Christian circles, but I find it dangerous.

  36. Pete Peterson

    @pete

    Caleb said: ‘But most of all, I think some honesty is in order. From what I’ve seen (even here), if people like the books, then that fact alone makes the books okay; everything questionable goes out the window, and all arguments are dismissed based on the emotional experience had with the books. I not only find that incredible in Christian circles, but I find it dangerous.’

    I was a Potter skeptic for years. I didn’t want to like the books. I never intended to like them. I started reading them primarily so that I would know what I was talking about when I leveled criticism at them. But what I (along with lots of other people–especially around here) found is that there is much more to Harry Potter than meets the eye. There’s nothing emotional about it. I simply had to admit that I was wrong. That doesn’t mean everything questionable went out the window. It means exactly the opposite.

  37. Heather E. Carrillo

    @Mr. Prinzi, I remain a bit skeptical of that argument. I mean, Ms. Rowling calls them witches and wizards, except, these are the “good witches” and wizards. I mean, why not fairies? Yes, they do magic too, but they are TOTALLY outside the realm of possibility. It’s not impossible for a child to begin investigating wicca in order to become a wizard himself. It would be impossible for a child…to become a fairy.

    @Fellow Traveler, I know right!? The house curmudgeon reporting for duty! I swear, I’m a nice person. 😉

  38. Fellow Traveler

    I know how you feel Heather, I really do. The road of the curmudgeon is a lonely one, but someone must tread it! Onward!

  39. Ron Block

    @ronblock

    I’ve not read the entire series – I’ve read three of them, and liked them. But I’ve got one comment on all this.

    These books seem to me to be primarily about using one’s innate power (they are born magical) to overcome evil and help others, no matter what it costs personally, and how some (relatively few, really, in the books) use this power to gain control and dominate others for selfish purposes. There are also those who seem neutral or unaware of the battle.

    In Christ we have been born into a power family. God made Jesus a little lower than the angels so that he could lift us up above them. We are now named with the name above every name; we are in his family. That power lives in us.

    The thing is, each one of us is meant to be a Harry Potter. We are all infinitely more powerful than we believe; Christ is filled full of God, and in Christ we are filled full of God (If we read Colossians and take it seriously as Fact, we already know this). We are all meant to lay down our lives for others (including, and especially, those with whom we disagree or who are against us). That’s the real test of maturity.

    I used to go to movies looking for anti-Christian bias, or bad theology. It can be a sort of feeding frenzy, but the food wasn’t so good for me. Focusing on the negative rarely is. I’m not saying there isn’t need for discernment, but for Christian parents, isn’t this more about teaching our children to discern via reading things like Harry Potter? A smaller example would be when I read Tom Sawyer to my 11 yr old boy a couple of years ago. The “N” word is quite prevalent. I didn’t skip it or hide it. It was opportunity to talk about issues of race.

    Now I go to movies looking for the good. Quite often I find it. I usually notice any anti-Christian bias or bad theology (the Gnostic elements of The Matrix, for instance), but those things are small potatoes compared with the gift of being able to talk to young people about the elements of truth in a film.

    A fear-based life is one which is not fully effective. We can be like the dwarfs in The Last Battle, shooting arrows at both good and evil, chanting, “The dwarfs are for the dwarfs,” (“Christians are for Christians”), sitting in a dark stable, shutting our eyes and ears to anything which could deceive us. But we’ll miss out on the God who works all things together for good to them that love him, who works all things after the counsel of his own will. To fear I or my children will be deceived is to not trust the God who lives inside us; to act based on fear is to act from the idea that I am independent from God and must “keep myself,” and so set aside the power and love of the One who is the Keeper inside of me.

    I could shut my children off from all input which might possibly lead them to wrong choices. But God didn’t do that in the Garden with Adam and Eve. The real problem wasn’t the wrong Tree or the Serpent; it was that Eve and Adam didn’t immediately run to God with all the input and get it sorted.

  40. Ginger

    I’ve been wrestling with this issue for years, and these healthy discussion has certainly helped me to see that there are believers on both sides of the argument.

    I guess my main “issue” with the books is that the characters are, in fact, called “witches.”

    In the end, it doesn’t really matter what C. S. Lewis did, or whether J. K. Rowling is a believer or not. Our standard is the word of God. The crux of the question here is: Does it matter to God whether it’s real witchcraft, or symbolism or not?

    I don’t know. I’m ready to contend that it’s probably not real spells in the book. They aren’t explaining to our children how to be a witch. But on the other hand, from what I understand about romance novels (never read one… but gathered the gist of them) they don’t EXPLAIN how to do sex. But lust is forbidden, and dangerous. Should we allow our children to read those? Or for that matter, adult movies — they aren’t actually practicing the real act, but we should still stay far away. Much like Harry Potter isn’t practicing real witchcraft. Holiness isn’t about legalism, but it also isn’t about seeing how close we can get to God’s line.

    I do hear the argument here that there is good in them. I can understand that. But when there are billions of books out there, many with great stories, redemptive themes, and don’t include witchcraft, I’m just not sure it’s necessary to read Harry Potter.

    In the end, we don’t have to convince each other. That’s prideful, and the Holy Spirit is more than capable of doing his job.

    I think the bottom line is that few will say it’s WRONG to read anything. Personal liberty is biblical, and in the end, as long as each is prepared to answer to God, his or her actions are, we can agree to disagree. Personal conviction, experiences and struggles, relationship with God, and where each individual is within his Christian walk varies in each heart God indwells. I do so appreciate those who have taken time to answer questions thoughtfully and respectfully. This is what true community is about.

  41. Ron Block

    @ronblock

    Ginger, yes, in certain respects what is wrong for one person isn’t wrong for another. It depends on the level of one’s faith. Paul says that the weaker brother has a sense of condemnation if he eats meat sacrificed to idols, while the stronger in faith can do so. Let not the stronger despise the weaker, or the weaker judge the stronger. Someone who is recovering from alcohol addiction should probably stay away from parties. One who struggles with overeating should probably take care what foods they bring into the house. But those who aren’t addicted to alcohol shouldn’t have to stay away from parties; those who can eat one Oreo and stop shouldn’t feel judged for having them in the house.

    As I get older I have seen that living the Gospel is more about trusting the Abider (Christ) in me to cause me to abide, rather than worrying about stepping over lines or seeing how close I can get to them. Jesus lived without a sin-consciousness, trusting the Father in him in every situation, knowing that of his own human self he could do nothing, modeling how we are supposed to live. I live (more and more) from his internal directives, trusting his life in me. Sometimes that means I’m going to do things which cause the weaker brother to judge, just as those who were concerned with rules in Jesus’ time were judging him; for an extreme example in the life of Jesus, imagine a prominent Bible teacher having dinner at your home with your pastor, the elders, and musicians, and a prostitute walks in, weeps as tears fall on his feet, uses her long hair to wipe off the tears, then does a foot rub with foot cream. Imagine the Bible teacher saying and doing nothing, letting her do that as the pastor, elders, musicians look on in horrified astonishment, judgment roiling in their hearts. Imagine how they keep expecting him to rebuke her – and turns around and rebukes them instead.

    All that to say, things aren’t always as they seem. The Gospel should upset our ideas of who God is like Jesus flipping over tables filled with coins, cages, papers.

  42. Jen

    FT & Heather: I’m glad you’re here. We need curmudgeons like Harry and Ron need Hermione. As long as you’re friendly curmudgeons anyway… ; )

    Ron: This said something I’ve been thinking but couldn’t figure out how to put into words: “To fear I or my children will be deceived is to not trust the God who lives inside us; to act based on fear is to act from the idea that I am independent from God and must “keep myself,” and so set aside the power and love of the One who is the Keeper inside of me.”

    Because I wonder… if God is with us and for us and guiding us, why are we so worried about being deceived all the time? It’s an interesting thought. Thanks, as always, for your insight.

  43. Bob

    Yes, I agree that we should not base our lives on fear. If I am afraid that my faith cannot stand up to a challenge, then perhaps I need to fear that my faith is not very strong in the first place. Being challenged can be the catalyst that drives us back to the Scriptures to find the truth, and that’s a good thing.

    We do need to be careful, however, not to be presumptuous. I think someone here mentioned that, for a former alcoholic, it is not wise to hang out where alcohol is being served. Does that exhibit a lack of trust in God? No, it shows that we cannot trust ourselves. As we grow in faith and maturity, we should be able to handle stiff challenges to the things we believe, but exercising wisdom also means that we don’t place ourselves in harm’s way unnecessarily.

    The Bible tells us that “whatever is not of faith is sin”, so each of us must make choices of which we are “fully convinced”. For some, that will mean that they can read something like HP and fully enjoy it in the freedom that Christ gives us. For others, they will choose not to do that, perhaps thinking that there are better alternatives. Both choices may be right, just not for the same person. Every day, each of makes decisions about our stewardship of time, money and everything else that God has given to us. May we all seek to use those resources in whatever way brings the most glory to God and brings us into closer fellowship with Him.

  44. Fellow Traveler

    Wow. I can’t believe somebody’s actually glad I’m here. That’s really nice to know, actually. Thank you, Jen!

  45. ravenclaw

    It seems to me that the issue here is not “should I read Harry Potter?” or even, “should I allow my kids to read Harry Potter?” because the Bible is pretty ambiguous on what sorts of contemporary young adult fiction novels we should be reading and so we have to rely on the Holy Spirit for guidance on whether or not to read it.

    I think the real issue here is “should Christians read Harry Potter?” That’s what we’re really arguing, isn’t it? I mean, most people have already decided which side of the argument we fall on, and now we’re stuck trying to convince the rest of the church to join us on the “right side.”

    Fortunately, the Church can be unified without being homogeneous. Should Christians read Harry Potter? Yes, some of them definitely should! And some shouldn’t. And I have no idea who’s who. And I wish I could leave the answer as “however the Spirit leads you,” but I can’t.

    Because there’s a trend in American churches to place entirely too much emphasis on participating in “Christian Culture” as if it will save you, or at least make you a better Christian. Our churches are known for what they forbid – drinking, dancing, Disney, R-rated movies, smoking, miniskirts, birth control, dating, public schools, evolutionism, global warming, Democrats, feminism, secular music, illegal immigrants, the mall, calvinsism or armenianism, sex toys, women’s pants, daycare, Muslims, environmentalism, Pokemon, yoga ….the list just keeps going. There are good reasons for certain Christians to avoid some of these things (the point about the alcoholic in a bar keeps coming up) but defining a church culture based on what must be avoided will result in very few people feeling welcomed. Like that poor little girl in church with her Harry Potter bag…

    Really, the church should be known for what we do, how we’re reflecting Christ to our community – not what we abstain from. And sometimes Harry Potter can encourage that more than a judgmental church. Check out the Harry Potter Alliance to see what sorts of activities these “evil” books have inspired: http://thehpalliance.org/.

    (I’ve read through all the comments on this page and I found it very refreshing to see such a civil and nonjudgmental conversation about this issue. However, I’m sad to say that this is the only place I’ve found it. Too much of the dialogue around Harry Potter has been filled with the “us against them” mentality that is rampant in fundamentalist churches, and I think that entire philosophy is wrong. The Harry Potter debate is merely one small symptom of a much bigger issue.)

  46. Ron Block

    @ronblock

    Ravenclaw – yes. Hiding in the Christian subculture, more “against” than “for.”

    One of the biggest problems in the church is living in an Old Covenant idea of God – “If I do good and keep his Laws, I am blessed. If I do wrong, God is angry with me.” Acceptance with God is performance-based in this Tree-of-the-Knowledge-of-Good-and-Evil paradigm. We are accepted eternally on an entirely different basis, and now we are to be and do from who we are – new creations – rather than trying to become something through doing.

  47. Tiffany Perry

    Just a question/comment regarding the “do wrong, God is angry with me” idea–what exactly is unbiblical about that? It’s not just OT that gives instruction, the NT is chock full of it. So much so that I tremble at times before my God, because the Spirit points out that I am not fully surrendered. (Especially Romans 8, shudder!) All scripture is? 2 Tim 3:16? given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness. I don’t think we should keep touting our “freedom” from the Law. Christ came to fulfill it, not do away with it. And I am not a weak believer because I obey God’s Word. I fear the Lord. That’s what salt and light looks like. Reverence and deference to our God. If we don’t look different, people will begin to think Christianity doesn’t require a change, a “turning-away-from”, or come with a cost. There is a cost to following Christ. We belong to Him now. We were bought with a price, praise God! Yes, I am a new creation, because He has shown me what is edifying and what is not. I will not condemn these books, or movies, because that will turn people away. Besides I don’t need to fear anything like that. But beware, American culture and leisure drags us down spiritually. All you have to do is visit China, watch the persecution of a house church fellowship, and the spiritual stamina of these believers and you will remember what Christianity is supposed to be and then we won’t waste anymore time discussing what we can and can’t read. Because we won’t give time to such pursuits anymore, anyway, due to being immersed in Kingdom work. His work takes precedence. 🙂
    Sincerely passionate,

    [Moderator’s note: Over 20 exclamation points and 16 ellipses deleted from this comment. Please exclaim moderately, folks.]

  48. Ron Block

    @ronblock

    Tiffany, that is an excellent question. What is wrong with the “do wrong, God is angry with me” idea? Well, let’s take the life of Jesus, the Man who was God – the brightness of God’s glory, and the exact expression of God’s being (Heb 1:3). When I see the life of Jesus Christ as shown in the Gospels, with whom does he get angry? The woman in John 8, taken in the very act of adultery? Zaccheus, the ripoff artist who was stealing money from innocent people? Or maybe He was angry with the drunk people at the wedding, where, after the guests were “well drunk,” He turned water into more wine, and not just common wine – the best of the best. Maybe He was angry with the woman at the well, who had had many husbands and was living with a man who was not her husband?

    Well, of course the answer is no. Jesus Christ became incensed with a couple of groups of people. There was one group who was very fastidious in doing everything they could do to keep all of God’s Laws. They paid tithes, they didn’t steal, didn’t have affairs on their wives; in fact, they did everything humanly possible to perform everything God had commanded. They were putting God first, as far as they could see.

    This was the group, this hard-working, Law-keeping bunch, for which Jesus saved His most virulent discourses. These very good people avoided going near tombs because they were afraid of breaking God’s Laws. For all that hard work avoiding tombs, Jesus said that they themselves were the tombs, and whitewashed, to boot. He said they were vipers from Hell; He called them children of the devil, and said that all the good works they were doing were actually the devil’s works.

    See, there is a problem with performing our own righteousness by our own human effort. These seemingly righteous people were very aware of all the things they were doing for God, and also very aware of the things other people weren’t doing for God. They felt like they had superior status with God, that somehow God owed them something for keeping all those Laws, for working so hard doing God’s work. They looked down on those who weren’t doing enough. In fact, they felt they had “run up a very favorable balance” in their credit with God. So you can imagine when this Man came along who was claiming to be the Son of God, who said, “If you have seen Me you have seen the Father,” how angry they would get at this complete trashing of their godliness.

    The other people group who irked Jesus enough to make Him do angry actions were the moneychangers. Imagine this God-Man going into the Temple of His Father and flipping over tables, birds flying everywhere, people jumping out of the way. He actually took time to make a whip. That kind of anger is the white-hot kind as well.

    Now, Paul in His epistles gets angry, too. What does He get angry at? Well, a couple of things. One is when God’s people become infected by religion by thinking that going back to a rule-based system rather than relying on the indwelling Holy Spirit is better. The Galatian letter dispenses with all the normal courtesies Paul uses. Instead, he goes right to, “Are you people nuts? You’re going back to self-effort, keeping a bunch of rules and laws, after knowing Christ as your indwelling life? Who has bewitched you?” So here we can see that the bewitched ones are the ones who think we are on a point system with God, that God’s love and acceptance of us are dependent upon our performance rather than on the life, death, resurrection, and ascended life of Christ that now indwells His people. Faith in that indwelling Person, in that Way, Truth, and Life, is our only hope of glory.

    There are in fact commands in the New Testament. Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the Church. Wives, submit to your husbands, Let everything be done in love. Inasmuch as it depends on you, live in peace with all men. And so on. If we see a command and look at the context, look backward at what has been said in the preceding chapters, it is likely we’ll find some sort of statement of who Christ is, what He has done, and our security and identity in Him. Such as, “Don’t you know you are the Temple of God? Flee fornication” (porneia). In other words, rely on God within you. You are His temple. He is your indwelling God. If we truly see that, recognize Him, trust Him, He lives through us.

    But Christ living through us doesn’t always look right to religious people, who are still living in the Old Covenant, still eating the fruit the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, a self thinking it is separate from God, having to please Him by choosing good, gaining acceptance through it’s own effort.

    We can be sincerely passionate, but misled. We can be doing all sorts of good things for God that we think He is pleased with, but in the end will be burned up. They may look good, they may help others, etc., but if they are done in fleshly effort and self-will that is trying to be good, they will be burned as wood, hay, and stubble. Some will say, “Lord, didn’t we do all sorts of things in your name, didn’t we cast out demons and do all kinds of amazing works for you?” And He will say, “Depart, I never knew you.” Another group says, “Lord, we don’t remember feeding you, or visiting you in prison. When did we do that?” They aren’t aware of “doing good works.” They were just following their deepest desires in Christ – to love others, to follow the Spirit, to walk in joy and not self-willed righteousness.

    Now, Tiffany, of course I’m not saying you’re in the camp of those folks. I can see your sincerity – just saying that in the Kingdom of God, things aren’t always as they seem. Christ is the life of the Christian; reliance on His indwelling life is what turns on the power. And when we do that, we become mercy people rather than sacrifice people. In fact, when the Power is on, what other people call “sacrifice” is our joy, just as it is said of Jesus, “But for the joy set before Him endured the Cross, despising the shame.” It was joy that drove Jesus, the joy of seeing lives changed by mercy. We never see Jesus in the Gospels talking about all the hard work He’s doing for God. He just says things like, “I”m just doing what I see my Father doing” and “I can do nothing of Myself” and “The Father in Me does the works.”

    Lives are not changed, in any eternal sense, by self-effort and rule keeping, though such fleshly activity may cause others to look up to us (as they did the Pharisees). Lives are truly, eternally changed by close contact with the explosive, dynamite power of Christ.

    It is so easy to be deceived if we are relying on ourselves, on our own ways, our own thinking, to keep ourselves from being deceived; it is impossible to be deceived if we are actively faithing in the One who is the Truth. That Person lives inside you and me.

  49. Tiffany Perry

    All true, Ron. Very true…And I can’t deny my struggles with sin, since it is pertinent here. Have you ever felt the heavy hand of the Lord upon you? I have. I used to think it was my own desire for perfection, or maybe just my lack of faith that He really DOES love me! But I have prayed and meditated on the scriptures. And the Lord has led me to a place (but still traveling, not there yet!) where I know that OT has not been made redundant. The 10 commandments have not expired! This is the way He has told me to walk, and I will walk in it. Not that my works earn me my salvation. But that i have been saved, and I will walk in the good works He has prepared for me. I believe those good works no longer include leisure reading, amongst other things. But Kingdom tasks. Reaching out to the community in love with His mercy and grace. Fighting the boredom and culture that so easily beset me. Seeing with His eyes and not the worlds. Like I said, condemning this series would be pointless. Encouraging others to keep their eyes on Jesus….now there’s an undertaking 🙂 I love what I have read here these past few days! What a wonderful bunch! Would be wonderful if we united and prayed, or gave to a particular need, or started writing to encourage believers in hostile countries! My biggest point was let’s be about His business so we are ready when He returns!! hopefully we won’t have our noses buried in a fantastic HP book when He does!

  50. Travis Prinzi

    @travis

    Tiffany, I appreciate your excitement about doing kingdom work. Would that more of us were so excited!

    I want to suggest, however, that your position on reading is not exactly a Christian one. I think you’re taking a rather modern definition of reading (books are to “escape”) and making conclusions about reading based on that. Reading is edifying, encouraging, restorative. In my next post on this subject, which hopefully will be done later today, I’m writing about how fairy tales provide “new embodiments of old truth,” and that as new creations and subcreators, we do God’s work by using our God-given creativity to embody his truth in story, song, and art. It is all to be created and enjoyed for his glory. These are “kingdom tasks.”

    But I’d even take it a step further and say that there is most definitely nothing wrong with reading just for relaxing, just for “leisure”, either. One of those 10 commandments is to rest. Giving leisure and rest and relaxation its proper place is a commandment from God. Now, I don’t want to get into a debate about the Sabbath, so please, let’s not go there. But I think we can agree that at the heart of that commandment, along with setting aside deliberate time to worship God, is God’s understanding our need for peaceful relaxation in order to be re-energized for work in the world. For many, the enjoyment of beauty in books is a huge part of that.

  51. Ron Block

    @ronblock

    Tiffany, yes – I have felt the hand of the Lord on me my entire life. I have never been able to escape Him. I recently told a friend that it started as a thread, turned into a string, became a rope, then a steel cable, and now it is a tractor beam (geeky Star Wars reference) that pulls at me relentlessly. Norman Grubb once wrote a book with the title, “Once Caught, No Escape.”

    But what I have had to escape is the erroneous idea that I am an independent self, separate from God, who has to please Him by what I do or don’t do. I no longer look at the Ten Commandments as commands to Ron Block, who has to exert his human effort to perform them. In the Cross, it was not only Christ crucified, dead, buried, and resurrected; I was crucified, dead, and buried. I had to learn that. The Eph 2:2 spirit went out of me, and a new me in Christ was created, re-gened, resurrected.

    This God who now indwells me has said, “…I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them…” The Holy Spirit is the causing agent of righteousness, not my own human effort. In fact, my human effort only gets in the way of God. It causes the Romans 7 experience, where we do what we hate and don’t do what we love. Our sin struggles come from thinking that we can be righteous if we just exert more effort; this attitude brings all that self-condemnation when we fail and self-commendation when we think we’re doing well.

    When we are walking in Romans 8 and 9, rather than living in Romans 7, we no longer take credit when we do good; we know (I mean we know deeply, not just in our heads) it is the Spirit causing us. Conversely, we don’t condemn ourselves when we fail – we thank God for His forgiveness in Christ, faithe in the precious Blood, and know that if we don’t rely on Christ within all we can do is sin. Because unbelief is the devil’s foothold; self-belief is really unbelief – it is faith turned in the wrong direction. Self-belief (“I can be like God, knowing good and evil,” implying an ability to choose good) is the lie of the Serpent. It gives the Serpent an opportunity to use us.

    The truth is we were never created to be goodness-generators. “Why do you call Me good? Only God is good.” “I can do nothing of Myself.” “The Father in Me, He does the works.” “I and my Father are one.” “If you have seen Me you have seen the Father.” “I no longer live, but Christ lives in me, and the life I now live I live by the faith OF the Son of God.” It is no longer even Paul’s faith in Christ; it is Christ’s faith within Paul.

    What we actually do in the Christian life, when we are finally beginning to live it instead of our own religious, sin-conscious, self-effort life, is flip a switch. We have to do this over and over again. We switch the power to “On.” The devil continually flicks it to “Off.” This little faith-switch is the only real “work” we do. When we throw it to “On,” the power comes on, Christ’s faith is operative, the fruit of the Spirit begins to form. “Christ lives in me, through me. I am trusting you, Lord Jesus, to cause me to walk in your ways today.”

    The trouble is, most of us don’t know that it is really that simple. In this New Covenant way of living, as we see all things through the Cross, the Gospel isn’t merely about forgiveness and then my efforts to be holy. As we see we’ve died and risen in Christ, as we see Him as our Life, our inner Source, our ceaseless Generator of goodness, righteousness, joy, peace, etc., the commandments become promises to us. I won’t have any other gods before me if I rely on Christ to keep me. I won’t hate in my heart, or covet what others have, if I know and faithe in Christ as my Source of all.

    On reading – C.S. Lewis said, “In reading I become a thousand men and yet remain myself.” In reading, we can get into the minds and lives of others; we can see the choices they make, and how those choices affect their lives, how consequences follow them, good or bad. We can see what they trust in, how it betrays them, how they are broken, and how they are brought to a deeper understanding of what life is about. In reading I see how the devil works; for instance, I am currently reading Bram Stoker’s Dracula; it reminds me that the devil is a blood-sucking leech, a parasite who can only live by draining the lives of others. George MacDonald’s “Lilith” gives me the same reminder. “Lilith” and his similar novel “Phantastes” also remind me that God is working all things after the counsel of His own will. Narnia reminds me that Aslan is real, that He wants us to trust Him, that after our Last Battle is over there will be beauty and bliss beyond our wildest dreams. MacDonald’s “Donal Grant” shows me what a man looks like when he is continually throwing the switch to “On.” It is faith and goodness coming through Donal no matter what it costs him, for the benefit of others, and it is his joy, not a burden. “Jane Eyre” is a similar character, one who chooses to love, to forgive, though Jane is a little more dour and brooding at times than Donal.

    Reading goes beyond mere leisure for me. Lewis said that in reading “Phantastes” for the first time he touched goodness; the real quality of what he met there he later called holiness. That was what the Narnia books were for me as an 8 yr old. I couldn’t get them out of my mind. They led me to the other works of Lewis, and eventually to MacDonald’s books. These golden threads of truth and goodness allowed me to recognize the ring of truth in Norman Grubb, A.W. Tozer, A.B. Simpson, and other great men of the faith who write in a more overtly concrete and practical sense.

  52. Fellow Traveler

    My impression has always been that the sinners Ron is referring to were somewhat unsettled by Jesus because they knew he could see right through them. Think about the woman at the well. I imagine she was absolutely freaked out when Jesus began telling her about her sin. She runs and tells her friends, “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did.” Ditto for Zacchaeus—he’s thinking, “Yikes! I gotta do an about-face here.” And what did Jesus say to the woman caught in adultery? People seem to forget the part where he says, “Go and sin no more.”

  53. Fellow Traveler

    Also, let’s look at Jesus’ perspective on “rules and regulations” from the perspective of the gospels’ Jewish context. On the one hand, yes, Jesus was telling the Pharisees to back off to an extent, to be less rigid and to balance rule-keeping with grace. However, remember that Jesus was still a practicing Jew. Presumably he still kept kosher and still observed the Sabbath. Yes, he did heal on the Sabbath, providing the setting for one of his run-ins with the Pharisees, but he wasn’t just yukking it up on the Sabbath either. Jesus was hardly a “rules, schmules” kind of guy. If we want to draw a modern parallel, we could look at the people who refuse to let their daughters wear pants, or insist on interpreting”whatsoever is true” to mean that we should be wary of anything fictional. I know this type, and they are true Pharisees. But this is not the case for everyone who has standards of behavior for themselves and for their children.

    Finally, consider this verse: “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices–mint, dill and cummin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law–justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, __without neglecting the former__.”

    Jesus isn’t telling them that giving a tenth of their spices is unimportant. He’s saying they should do both—keep track of tithing AND practice mercy.

  54. Ron Block

    @ronblock

    Traveler: Zacchaeus, the adulterous woman, the woman at the well, and the rest of the “Worst Sort of People” crowd Jesus hung out with – they were thinking more along the lines of, “Wow. This man is so good, and beautiful, and wise, and he sees right through me, knows everything I ever did, and yet his love for me is so obvious that it is radiating into me.” They loved him because he first loved them. Zaccheus was thrilled that the Son of God loved him enough to have dinner at his house, even after all he’d done. They didn’t change their lives because they thought, “Oh man, the jig is up, game over. I’ve got to clean up my act now because Jesus sees right through me and I’m afraid of him.” That is, once again, the Old Covenant view, and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil view of God. Rather, they loved much, because they had been forgiven much. Unsettled? No. Forever changed? Yes. The Pharisees were unsettled, because they had put themselves on a point system with God, and they found out through Jesus that God didn’t work on a point system. God let prostitutes, drunks, thieves, liars, and the dregs of society go in ahead of the self-righteous. No matter how they looked, if their righteousness did not originate from Christ within them, it was filthy, bloody rags, utterly useless to God and in fact odious to him.

    That’s what legalistic folk like the Pharisees don’t get. They think God owes them for all their hard work. They think that because they keep a few rules, God is pleased with them. They think they can set up a point system, look at others, and put them down, thereby feeling “better than other men, sinners.”

    But what pleases God is faith – faith in his love, faith in his sovereignty, and ultimately faith in his indwelling power to radiate through us outward to others. That is why the prostitutes and extortioners were going into Heaven ahead of the Pharisees.

    Until we are broken of our self-willed holiness, until we reach a crash point whereby we see our total weakness and inability to live the Christian life by our own effort, we cannot enter into the Kingdom of God. We can give lip service to humility and say “We can do nothing” and yet be the most self-righteous people on the planet, fooling ourselves. Not until God allows circumstances to show our false idea of independent self-effort doesn’t work do we begin to find the real Answer.

  55. Fellow Traveler

    All I’m trying to say is that the Bible gives us a picture of Jesus as a very powerful person. He commanded awe, and yes, fear. All he had to do was look at you or speak a few words. I think we forget that pure, holy love is at once the most beautiful and terrible thing that we can imagine.

    You really don’t think the woman at the well was just a little bit unsettled by Jesus? Try to imagine how you would feel if this stranger quietly began telling you your life story, uncensored. Jesus loved people, yes, but he made them uncomfortable. That’s what holiness does.

  56. Ron Block

    @ronblock

    Traveler said, “On the one hand, yes, Jesus was telling the Pharisees to back off to an extent, to be less rigid and to balance rule-keeping with grace.”

    The “rule-keeping plus grace” position is the very thing the Apostle Paul was getting so upset about in Galatians, and likewise, the Hebrews writer. It was the addition of “The sacrifice of Jesus plus your own human effort.” The Hebrews writer keeps on saying, “Jesus is better, better, better.” Paul is more to the point, and says, “You guys are out of your minds! Galatian idiots!”

    Jesus’ point to the Pharisees was this: “Go and learn what this means: I desire mercy, not sacrifice.”

    The point of Jesus, and Paul, was that rule-keeping is utterly inferior to love.

    Both knew that it is impossible for a human being to truly and unconditionally love enemies apart from being a partaker of the divine nature. “I can do nothing of Myself,” said Jesus. “The Father in Me does the works.” And Paul: “I no longer live, but Christ lives in me, and the life I now live, I’m living by His faith inside me.” Also, Paul said that he agonized like an Olympic athlete according to the energy of Christ in him which energized him with dynamite power.

    Love transcends rules. If I love my neighbor, I won’t steal from him. I don’t have to think about how not to steal from him. It just won’t enter my mind as a viable option. If I love my wife, I will not commit adultery, even in my mind, not because I am striving to push it out of my mind or not think about it (the kid-and-cookie-jar principle whenever we set up a Rule), but because of love. If I love God, I will have no other gods before me – nothing will be an even close second to God’s viewpoint, God’s heart. He will be my Definer, my Identity-giver, my All in all.

    But, alas, there is no way to love with agape love by our human self effort. Thus, we are reduced to rule-keeping. But in this do-it-yourself religion, sin is actually stirred up by all those rules, because we’ve sawn ourselves off from abiding in the Tree of Life.

    Paul was incensed at the Galatians for mixing Law and Grace, rules plus the sacrifice of Jesus. Thus, we strive and try to keep the rules, and then get forgiveness when we fail. This is a perversion of the Gospel, the Good News that Christ now not only forgives all our sins, but comes to indwell us, to save us not merely from the penalty due our sins, but from being a sin-kind-of-people.

    Yes, holiness stirs people up, and can make them uncomfortable. But so does legalism. I think everything hangs on what we think holiness is. Is it primarily being against things, against this, against that? Or is it a positive love for God and people that is willing to lay down our life? I think if people were afraid of the holiness of Jesus, it was because there was legalism in their own minds, the idea that they were to keep rules and try to be good to please God.

    In Jesus they finally met someone who loved, truly, and so that Love transcended rule-keeping. When I say transcended, I mean he kept the commands, but he did so much more than that. He went infinitely beyond the commands, and truly loved.

    I can refrain from stealing solely for selfish motives; I don’t want to get caught. It’s too dangerous to my own skin. I don’t want jail time. I can give tithes for selfish reasons. I can do all these things and others may think I am “good.” But that is a relative standard. The Pharisees in the Gospels show rule-keeping to be vastly inferior to what Jesus Christ brought to humanity. He brought an entirely reborn life to us, a love from Heaven that now lives in us – a Person.

    There is a standard that is light-years higher than rule-keeping. Unless our righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the rule-keeping, scrupulous Pharisees, we cannot see the Kingdom of God. It is invisible to us until we give up on all our own resources, our own effort, our own striving, failing attempts to keep the Law. When we finally see, in experience, our total weakness and ability, that’s when the best and most eternally useful part of the Way begins. I think it would come faster if we would pray, “Lord, work your will in my life, no matter what the cost.” I think the revelation of our utter inability to be good like God would then be revealed at a much quicker pace.

  57. Travis Prinzi

    We’ve definitely drifted a long way from Harry Potter!

    People seem to forget the part where he says, “Go and sin no more.”

    Curious … how you doing with that?

  58. Ron Block

    @ronblock

    Travis! Sorry! (extra exclamation marks deleted). I forget myself. Get me on this topic and the words come tumbling out. Now, Harry Potter, he bent and broke the rules in order to love. (Reminds me of Rahab and Corrie Ten Boom telling lies and it being counted as righteousness). That Harry Potter, uh…ahem…cough. I’d better go now.

  59. Tiffany Perry

    What a privilege and what an honor, that I get to give something up (fantasy/fiction) for my Savior who gave up everything. Infact, how can i even compare choosing not to read HP, with His sacrifice? I cannot. Nevertheless, i gladly turn away from all that He asks me to leave behind. Because of His great love!

  60. JWitmer

    Ginger,

    Thank you for being honest and direct about what troubles you in Harry Potter. It takes more humility than does throwing up a smoke screen. You said: “I guess my main ‘issue’ with the books is that the characters are, in fact, called ‘witches.'”

    And that’s a valid point, especially for someone who has not read the books. Its very simplicity makes it strong and real. But reading the books shows an equally simple and strong answer: What are called “witches” and “witchcraft” in Harry Potter are not the same as the activities the Bible refers to by those words.

    Biblical witchcraft is, essentially, paganism. It involves the worship or interaction with spirits most certainly not Divine.

    Rawling’s witchcraft is, I think, best understood if you imagine yourself sitting down to write the story. Imagine that you start where many, many stories start – the question “What if?”

    “What if God created some people with the ability to directly manipulate the world around us in ways that are completely disconnected from the laws of physics as we know them?”

    Wouldn’t that look like magic?

    And all the other “What ifs” (What if all the fairy tales about ‘witches’ and ‘magic wands’ were based on truth according to that first “What if?”) follow naturally into a story about a hypothetical world where some words don’t mean what we non-magical folk always thought they meant.

    In the end, it’s make-believe – A fairy tale, with no more relation between Hermione and the witch of Endor than between Tokien’s Gladriel and Santa’s workshop. And that’s a good thing. =)

  61. JWitmer

    Tiffany,

    Your statement: “My biggest point was let’s be about His business so we are ready when He returns!! hopefully we won’t have our noses buried in a fantastic HP book when He does!”

    Reminds me of these thoughts in C.S. Lewis’ excellent sermon: On Learning In War Time

    “How it is right, or even psychologically possible,for creatures who are every moment advancing either to heaven or to hell, to spend any fraction of the little time allowed them in this world on such comparative trivialities as literature or art, mathematics or biology. …’How can you be so frivolous and selfish as to think about anything but the salvation of human souls?’ ”

    You may find Lewis’ thoughts challenging, but I hope only in the sense that increases your love for Jesus.

    http://www.ncgv.net/live/video_popup.php/Learning_in_War.pdf?filename=dl_file&showcase=true&id=14&download=1&start_dl=1

  62. Tony Heringer

    J,

    Thanks for the Lewis essay. I look forward to reading it. I browsed through and it looks really good. Since Lewis fought in WWI he is not speaking theory but using a very visceral analogy which ties back to Paul’s same picture in Ephesians 6.

  63. Ron Block

    @ronblock

    Tiffany: If we think something is a sin, then it is a sin for us to do it. For you to read for pleasure is thus a sin – for you. “Happy is he that condemneth not himself in that thing which he alloweth. And he that doubteth​ is damned if he eat, because he eateth not of faith: for whatsoever is not of faith is sin.”

    Reading for pleasure, and even reading Harry Potter, is not a sin for me, or for many others – but it is for you. By all means follow your convictions. Does this attitude toward any leisure time also means no movies or listening to music other than strictly Gospel with pristine theology? Does it extend to even enjoying three days of relaxation at the beach? For of course it follows that that is time which could be better spent serving God.

  64. Heather E. Carrillo

    @JWitmer: Ginger’s point is not only valid for those who haven’t read it (which I still don’t think you have to experience everything before you think it’s a bad idea) but it’s a valid point for those (myself) who HAVE read it. I don’t see much difference between the witchcraft practiced in HP and Wicca. I think saying “it’s different” is pretty weak, at best, misleading at worst. How about Proff Trelawney (I hope that’s correct)? How about the communing with the dead (all the spirits about Hogwarts)? I mean, I’m still making up my mind myself regarding “if it’s bad for me” or not, but I don’t think we can get away from the fact that there are real witches/wizards in real life and I’m pretty sure that kind of thing is wrong, and there are witches/wizards in HP and I can’t tell the difference….so, how do we expect children and teenagers to know?

    @Tiffany: I was with you for a time. I do think we shouldn’t sit there with a giant “freedom in Christ” flag and do whatever we want without thinking and anytime anyone suggests we think about our actions we should not just wave said flag in their face. I think we should accept every challenge to our leisure activities and check out what we are doing. However, please keep in mind that God is the ultimate artist. Look at the world around us? Look at the beauty of the Psalms? Hear the joyful sounds of birds and frogs? He’s the great artist, writer, and musician. What other artists, writers, and musician produce (assuming they work at and master their craft to the best of their abilities) should be celebrated as part of the gifts God has graciously lent us. We shouldn’t despise it because it isn’t sacred. Please recall, the Christ himself referred to the Pseudepigrapha, and Jude quotes from it as well. If the literature of the day could be included in the scriptures, I’m sure reading the literature of our day is acceptible. Especially if it taps into the wonder of transcending the work a day world and lifts our hearts and minds to something greater than ourselves (God).

    Note: I am NOT speaking of Harry Potter when I say these things. I am speaking in general defense of “secular” literature. Like Ron Block says above, if you think it is wrong for you to read “secular” literature, than it is. You should follow your own conscience, but I fear you are limiting yourself, and not celebrating God’s common grace in others. Not to mention, boy are you missing out on some GREAT stuff! One name, Dostoyevsky. 🙂

  65. JWitmer

    Heather,

    I am not ignorant of the Wiccan worldview, and I see enormous, fundamental contradictions between Wiccan beliefs and the world constructed by Rawling. The Christian-friendly themes in HP would not just be irrelevant in Wiccan world – they would render the story irreparably nonsensical.

    I maintain that the similarities are all superficial. Prof. Trelaney, whose (as you say) activities most nearly resemble anything Wiccan, is actively shown to be ridiculous in her pursuits. And to equate the ghosts who inhabit Hogwarts to the kind of communing with the dead we see in 1 Samuel 28… that seems to me to be “weak at best.”

    If you can’t tell the difference, then yes, do abstain. But many people – including children and teens – can. We will just have to agree to disagree in love.

  66. Heather E. Carrillo

    @JWitmer: Think what you like, but as the burden of proof does not rest on the negative debator, rather on that of the affirmative side, I don’t really feel like I have to back up what I said. I still say just saying “Oh I know about Wicca, and believe me…this isn’t Wicca.” They are called witches and wizards. Why didn’t Rowling call them something else if she didn’t want to conjure up that image for everyone. I am aware of the way Prof Trelawney was treated; however, she also played a rather large part in a prophecy that did end up coming true if I recall.

    The author of this much discussed post has suggested that it could be shelved with Christian literature. THIS Is what I take issue with. I don’t (yet) take issue with people reading HP just for fun. However, I feel that the fact that an evil thing (sorcery) is called good in this book, is a pretty solid argument that I can’t quite get over myself.

  67. Ron Block

    @ronblock

    I saw the HP movie last night and loved it. The best part of the third Matrix movie, which was long, tiresome, and overdone, is where Neo takes on the nature of Agent Smith to save the world – he lets Smith enter him, just as Jesus became sin for us and didn’t merely die for our sins.

    HP carries the same theme of someone taking on the nature of evil, and being a sacrifice to kill the evil thing. It was a perfect moment driving home to talk to my son about the Gospel, about how Jesus is the prototype for HP, how Harry loved his friends, and even those he thought his enemies, like Snape, so much that he gave himself for them. We talked about how this world is a battle ground, that although Jesus destroyed the power and kingdom of this world’s Voldemort, and put it under his feet, we do not yet see it under his feet. He is waiting for us, his indwelt people, to faithe in his love, power, authority in us and sweep away the last remaining horcrux of the devil, his only remaining point of power – the Serpentine deception of Eden, that we are independent selves who can be like God by our self-effort and striving, and produce good. Jesus wants his people to rely on him, living within us, as our magical power to overcome with love.

  68. Heather E. Carrillo

    Mr. Block, with all due respect, can’t you do this with everything. I mean, I could find some type of morality in Jarhead but I wouldn’t take a kid to see it. “Christ-figures” are everywhere, and with good reason, since they ARE inspiring. But you could see a lot of things that maybe “are lawful, but not…helpful” if you know what I mean, just by saying there is a Christ-figure in it.

  69. Ron Block

    @ronblock

    Heather: No, one couldn’t do this with everything. There is no point in viewing certain types of movies. But my point is the line of demarcation for each person is different. An alcoholic who is going to AA meetings should probably stay out of pubs and restaurants that serve alcohol until he’s stronger, or maybe for the rest of his life. But I don’t have to. People who have convictions about Harry Potter and refuse to read the books are perfectly fine in my book. My problem is when they begin to take their own convictions and do a “greater-than/less-than” equation with other Christians, when they begin to take their own Rules and lay them on others as “Christianity.”

    HP has been a great vehicle for discussing Christ, Satan, the occult, and the story of redemption with my son (who is sitting here with me as I write). I am glad I didn’t pass up the chance. My son knows, as a story-writer, that every story begins with a “what-if?” What if there were a world peopled with creatures from pagan myths and legends, Bacchus, Silenus, fauns, satyrs, centaurs, nymphs, river-gods, witches, and a great Lion who created the world gives himself as a sacrifice to save a traitor? Narnia was the result of this “What if?”

    He and I have talked about the occult, why we don’t mess with real spells and such – because, unlike the HP series, where it is an inborn, innate power (much like, interestingly enough, how a reborn Christ-indwelt person now has an inborn, innate power); to engage in the occult, whether witchcraft, astral travel, drug use (which is really what “sorcery” means in the NT, “pharmakeia”) and the like, is really to be used and deceived by demonic spirits, thinking these spirits are under our control or at our disposal.

  70. Jen

    J: Interesting point about the “What if” nature of the story. Really enjoyed the Lewis essay too. Thanks for sharing that!

    Re: Prof. Trelawny. I always thought it was interesting that of all the characters, her profession most resembled what we would call “real witchcraft/divination,” and she failed all the time and was the joke of the school. But when she made an actual prophecy that came true, her personal efforts had nothing to do with it. (I’m not bringing this up to argue or force some spiritual point or whatever… just thinking out loud and wondering if anyone else noticed this.)

    Heather: I hear what you’re saying about looking for “Christ-figures” to justify anything. I don’t think we should try to wring a Christian message out of everything, because then you end up with Twilight Bible studies and all kinds of weirdness. But then I wonder… is it necessarily a bad thing to look for him, or at least symbols and glimpses, in unexpected places? It seems to me engaging a story on that level is the difference between edifying literature and fluff.

    Again, not an argument. Just a thought. 🙂

  71. Heather E. Carrillo

    Jen: Yes, I agree with you. Seemingly inconsistantly with what I said above, I actually DO do this. I actually bring up the “Christ-figures are everywhere” comment, because I usually see the Christ-figures everywhere. It’s the, what you call “wringing a Christian message out of everything” that I was concerned about.

  72. Ugly Biscuit

    I think alot of it comes down to what, eyes and what, souls are watching HP (Or anything for that matter) I love Jesus with all my heart. I am humbled daily at His awesomeness and my nothingness! (I could go on.)

    In a movie theatre, I see, and look for, creativity, something to inspire me as an artist, something visual that curls my toe nails, A message from God, a truth, Jesus! Those are the things i carry with me into a book or movie. Guess what? Those are the things i find! And i cry and i praise God! The awesome artist!

    The more time i spend with Him the more creative i get. I think that blows me away. And guess what? I cry and i praise God!

    I think it also comes down to how much you care and talk about something. If you spend 7 hours a day talking about HP……….might be too much, could be that something’s out of whack on the priority scale.
    Me personally, back when i first had the scales removed from my eyes and the flame put in my heart, God also took away my desire to watch movies for about 16 months. (I’m fervently into movies and books and music!)
    What i didn’t know is that He was simply rearranging my priorities. God has to be first! HAS TO BE!
    In my life, when that became true, He gave everything else back to me, just in a different, less intense, way. And guess what? I cried and praised God!

  73. Ron Block

    @ronblock

    Regarding “wringing Christian messages” out of a movie – if it is there, it is there. In The Matrix, the message was there intentionally, but of course since they viewed the Christ-story as “Myth” it was mixed with other messages – Gnosticism, etc. But the point is that The Matrix has been an amazing starting point for me to talk with people who have seen it to dig into the symbolism and talk about the Gospel, to let them know that the feeling of power the movie gives, even when the symbolism isn’t consciously noticed, comes from a very real and true story that is a good news of forgiveness, redemption, and power. But of course I have friends who would not watch The Matrix because it contained cussing.

    HP is very similar in some respects. Not suggesting “HP Bible Studies” and whatnot. And you’re talking to a guy who never watches television, so I’m not using “being relevant to our culture” as an excuse to indulge in constant entertainment. For entertainment, I read. I write. I write songs. I play banjo and guitar and sing (since that is my job, as well). Occasionally I watch movies, but can’t stand wasting my time on movies with no food-payoff, no infusion of truth or beauty, or at least information.

    The point of all this is that we cannot make a set of hard-and-fast rules about what All Christians Should and Should Not Be Doing. Some things are obvious, yes – a person who is abiding in Christ will not be viewing pornography; the two things are mutually exclusive. Other things depend on the person, on their upbringing, their psyche, the strength of their relationship with Christ and other factors. No two of us are completely alike.

  74. JWitmer

    Jen, your summing of Trelawny’s story was very well said. Thanks for that.

    Heather, Wicca is a modern (early 1900s) reconstruction of pantheistic paganism. Use of the word witch goes back much, much further. It is a real stretch to think an author would want to “conjure” (awesome verb choice in this context, btw) up the image of a re-fried religion when there is the rich literary history of fairy tales to be tapped instead. Indeed, in the trappings Rawling uses (wands, broomsticks, etc) I find much greater affinity to fairy tales than to paganism.

    RE worldview:
    Wiccans believe that “The Divine” is present in nature; everything from animals and plants to trees and rocks are elements of the “sacred”. Wiccan power is thought to come from tapping into the “divine” presence in all living things, especially themselves.

    This disagrees sharply with the nature of magic in HP where as RonB says, it is an inborn, innate power. The value of the individual soul, as a created individual, is a primary virtue amongst the good characters in HP. In Harry Potter, the only attempt at a magic which imbues one’s soul into, and draws life from, other people or objects, is made by Voldmort.

    That’s right: the only HP character who approaches a Wiccan worldview is the villain. And his efforts are seen as both evil and ineffective because the HP universe doesn’t work according to Wiccan principles.

    Wiccans also tend to be dualistic, rejecting the idea of ultimate evil and affirming karma as inviolable. Harry Potter is all about a battle against clearly labeled evil, and redemption, which requires grace (the anti-karma).

    If you see no difference between fairy tales, Wicca, and Harry Potter, I doubt this will change your mind. That’s ok. But I felt I owed a brief explanation since you said my previous post was unsupported.

  75. Fellow Traveler

    Harry Potter is probably more Manichean than anything else, which isn’t really a big surprise, because when you’re creating a world without God, but you still want something religious, Manicheanism is a natural alternative. It’s all over Star Wars.

    However, the difference between Star Wars and Harry Potter is that in the world, there’s no force, no Jedis, and nowhere you can go to learn to be a Jedi. It’s futuristic space fantasy, completely disconnected from the real world.

  76. Ron Block

    @ronblock

    Biscuit: I’ve spent some time on this thread, but not because of HP. This is a freedom/grace issue vs an “All Christians Ought To Do A, B, and C Like Me” issue. This is a reliance-on-Christ issue for many. HP is the catalyst for these discussions about the underlying issues.

    There are some who may have an inordinate escapist tendency, and may use movies like a drunk uses alcohol – anesthesia, to dull the pain of life – rather than running to Christ with our hurts. Others may be using movies as food – as a truth-and-beauty manna that drives them into deeper relationship with Christ. It all hangs on our heart. When I saw The Matrix for the first time I realized I was Neo, (each of us is Neo), that we have to take up our love and power and authority in Christ, but we cannot do that without a death-resurrection experience whereby God forever teaches us our total weakness and inability.

    Some people shouldn’t watch HP. If one is terrified by dark images, by Satan-figures (Voldemort), by demonic hordes (his cronies), by death, by fear, and the like, then by all means don’t watch them. But for my own case, I have two shelves full of books on the occult, possession and exorcism, and related subjects. “Know your enemy” was a personal badge of mine for several years. The more I saw how the devil hated me, the less I became afraid; the devil hates what he fears. A Christ-indwelt person is the subject of one continual tactic: the race to keep him in the dark about his real identity.

  77. Heather E. Carrillo

    @Ron Block: Let me give you an example, since you seem to not understand how this is a problem. I had a friend who would see every foul movie coming out of Hollywood and would base it on some random moral in said movie. For example: American Pie he said somehow instructed him in the stupidity of lying (I wouldn’t know I haven’t seen it); Eyes Wide Shut (though racy…a tame term by anyone’s standards) was basically about a husband overcoming, er, obstacles, and reuniting with his wife….almost like Christ overcoming things for us; I have a few more, but I really don’t want to name them. Do you see how one could wring a Christian message out of anything?

    Yes, I still don’t particularly see much difference. I think when you get into riding broomsticks and wand waving, you’ll probably conjure (thank you) the image of a witch to most people. And I actually KNOW this does confuse young-ish people because my siblings were actually trying to practice magic post reading HP. It was relatively harmless, but my parents did have a bit of a talk about the occult with them. It’s not something a lot of kids know about and can grasp the subtle differences, so….I kind of still think the fact that witches and wizards are called good is problematic.

  78. Ron Block

    @ronblock

    Heather: As I said, some things aren’t worth watching.

    Also, as I mentioned earlier, parental involvement with all media the children are “eating” is a must. What a terrific opportunity for your parents to talk to your siblings about the occult. If that hadn’t happened, it could have been a Ouija board at a friend’s house, with no parental knowledge of what was happening, which is far worse than kids waving wands and pretending spells. I’ve had similar discussions with my son concerning Yu-Gi-Oh and HP. Since these things weren’t banned, my son reads these things, we talk about it, and he moves on to other things. Complete bans usually create an obsession, especially if all the friends are doing it – fertile fields for a child learning the arts of deception and hypocrisy.

  79. Heather E. Carrillo

    Complete bans have actually never created an obsession for me or for my siblings, or for…really anyone I know.

    We’ve had some talks before about the occult and they probably could have occurred with or without HP. My real problem is HP being touted as Christian Literature rather than HP just…in general.

  80. Ron Block

    @ronblock

    The main difference between my view and that of others on this topic is that I’m not saying everyone should read or watch HP. I am maintaining the freedom to do so, which is between me and Christ. If others are afraid of it, or think it is wrong, or will lead them to occultic involvement, by all means abstain. I am glad, of course, that everyone posts their view – it gives great opportunity to talk about grace, Christ, Law, freedom, and the power of asking the Abider in us to cause us to abide. It also promotes true unity, which is not about exacting uniformity of doctrine, but about seeing Christ in the other person rather than judging others.

  81. Heather E. Carrillo

    In that case, I feel we are slightly on the same page, with perhaps a different translation. Or at least, in the same chapter, but a different page. Or maybe the same trilogy, but in Mandarin. 😉

  82. Ron Block

    @ronblock

    Heather: in my son, a complete ban created just that – obsession. The power of sin is the Law (1Cor 15:56). Sin derives its strength from the Law; the Law excites rebellion, because at the root of “I must keep this Law” is a lie of being able to be an originator of goodness. This “Little Engine That Could” is really at the root of a lot of sin problems. Try, sin, repent, try, sin, repent, try, sin, repent, the endless wheel of Romans 7. Until we begin to step into 8, we’re stuck with sin-obsession.

    If you struggle with sin at all, it is because there is some Law at the root of it you think you must keep for God. Not everyone’s areas of struggle are the same.

    I don’t have a problem with not considering HP Christian Literature. Names are like Genres; they’re just convenient ways of categorizing, but they don’t really define anything.

  83. Tony Heringer

    Ron/Heather,

    I’ve enjoyed the banter this afternoon. It offsets the dry testing that I’m doing here.

    However, I’ll comment, as a parent and a former child, on this statement:

    “Complete bans have actually never created an obsession for me or for my siblings, or for…really anyone I know. ”

    I’ve experienced both sides of this issue. I can tell you it does create an obsession for some — maybe not all — but some. In fact that’s how we got into this whole mess to begin with — forbidden fruit.

  84. Jen

    Heather: Cool. Then it sounds like we’re on the same page. (re:comment #81) Thanks for clarifying.

    Ron: I’m on the same page with you as well. (see, this is why I don’t debate. It’s like I can at least partially agree with everyone. =)) When I read the first few HP books, I wasn’t spotting a Christian theme; maybe I’d hear a little truth in something Dumbledore said (“Death is just the next great adventure.”) but I thought they were fun, good stories. But in the last book and movie, I couldn’t help but see it. So glad that it has led to this kind of conversation. Thank you for sharing your insights! (And I seriously haven’t seen the Matrix. That needs to be remedied soon.)

    Biscuit: That happened to me too when I was in high school and finally “got it.” Except I only wanted to listen to Christian music. Which I guess isn’t a bad thing, except most of what I listened to is stuff I’m embarrassed to admit. : )

  85. Ron Block

    @ronblock

    Jen: The first Matrix is the best. It really is a stand-alone movie. The second one is jumbled, and the third one is long and arduous, but I really liked the ending, though it was universalistic in its redemption. There are elements of Gnosticism and other thought-streams in it, but if you watch the first Matrix with the idea that you are interpreting a dream, or seeing your own life symbolized in Neo, you’ll be stirred a lot. I watched that movie many times; after seeing it for the first time, I wrote the song Searching, on my Faraway Land cd, and recorded the guitar tracks while watching the video from the movie. On the current Alison Krauss and Union Station tour we’re doing Searching in the show.

  86. Tony Heringer

    Ron – agreed on Matrix. I saw the second film with a professor friend and another guy who really loves film — esp. Sci-Fi. Our mutual friend was yelling at the screen at one point which just broke us up completely. It was horrible but they did pull out a few cool special effects. I’ve not been able to sit through all of the last one but I think I’ve seen the parts you refer to. They really needed to stop at film one.

    Great side story on the song. Look forward to giving that album a listen sometime soon.

  87. Ugly Biscuit

    Mr. Block, why did you single me out? My statement was made, or rather, i weighed in, only after reading 81 other comments. In other words, i don’t see the point. Are you agreeing with something i said?
    Disagreeing?
    Further bloviating at the tail end of where i left off?
    What?

  88. Ron Block

    @ronblock

    Biscuit: It’s simple – it’s because you were there, and because you made a statement about spending time talking about HP, which I was doing. I was in the overall gist of the last ten or fifteen posts, which were coming in real time. Such is the life of a road musician who has a couple of days off.

  89. Ron Block

    @ronblock

    Tony: I got the impression that the brothers were irked that a lot of Christians liked the first movie, so they added some orgy-like sequences and philosophical jumble to the next two movies to make up for it. If they had stuck with their original track instead of getting Cornel West onboard and diluting the original vision and strength of the first film, the sequels may have been different.

  90. Ugly Biscuit

    My bad RB. But, to your credit, you were in no danger of falling into the catagory of one who likes to sit around and chin-wag for hours on end about HP, just because you posted 7 comments or whatever.

    My point there was all about, TIME. And what we do with it. Upon further reflection, i’d meakly assert that none of us are experts in that field yet.

    RB, another movie where, using your nomenclature, you could get the “Food payoff” was the late great, Heath Ledger’s role in “A Knight’s Tale.” Positive references to our Lord were all up in that!
    You need to see it.

  91. Tony Heringer

    Ron,

    That makes sense because the story just seem to really go awry in two which led me to avoid the third. The films are on AMC a lot, so I’ve caught a few bits of three but just can sit through all of it.

    Given that we are now on another story, I’d say this thread has come to its conclusion. I’m sure Travis has enough material now for Part II. 🙂

  92. Pete Peterson

    @pete

    At the risk of continuing the derail: the Matrix 2 and 3 might be indulgent but taken as a single movie (which they are) I think they get a bum rap. 2 is worth it for the Architect dialogue alone and 3 is worth it because, well, it’s just a great movie in spite of its mis-steps. I’m sure I’ve seen the 3rd more than either of the other two, I just can’t get enough of it, especially the Smith storyline, the whole “dull cow-eyes monologue? Oh. My. Goodness. Don’t get me wrong, there are some real groaner moments, i.e. Trinity’s death, the whole “No, WE did it” thing, and “Neo, I believe!” (ugh), but holy cow, that movie paid off like no movie had since Return of the Jedi (Ewoks excepted). It satisfies.

  93. Jen

    Yeahhhhh…. I would say so. Cue the credits. 🙂

    (Thanks everyone for confirming what I’ve always heard about the last two Matrix films. I’ll watch the original and pretend those don’t exist.)

  94. Tony Heringer

    My son gave me a similar comment about a year ago. Coupled with your comments I might endure the series again at some point. I always give these dissents a fair hearing, but to U.B.’s point — TIME — ends up being the reason for missing out on a re-watch or catching some of Father T-Mac’s recommendations. So many stories, so little time.

    Thanks Pete! Now this crazy train is completely off the tracks. Just need an Aaron Roughton comment and its full steam ahead.

  95. Ron Block

    @ronblock

    Pete, I agree with you about the good moments. I do love the whole Smith character development and storyline in 2 and 3. 2 is more confused to me; I did like the payoff in 3. The indulgence in both puts me off a little, but I’ve still watched 2 and 3 many times each, not as much as 1. I’m with you on the “Neo, I believe!” which was an embarrassing moment, along with a few others.

    To get back to HP, I did see the similarity between the archetypes in Matrix and those in HP – a savior born for that purpose, who takes on the nature of the Serpent (Voldemort/Smith) in order to explode the dark kingdom from the inside through giving himself over to an execution. I thought the potential “embarrassing moments” in this last HP to be non-existent. It was actually beautiful and moving to see the friends stick together, to see Harry love his enemies (Severus, Malfoy) and see the friends after Harry’s sacrifice contribute to the final stamping out of the Serpent.

  96. Travis Prinzi

    @travis

    Wow. I’m finally catching up to this. Lots of great discussion here. The issue I want to address specifically is the one Heather raises about HP being “Christian” literature. First, I appreciate the sentiment that underlies the issue, that literature doesn’t necessarily have to be Christian for Christians to be free to read it. I love lots of books not written by Christians.

    But with HP, here’s what we have: A Christian author, who writes in a very Christian tradition (the Coleridgean British symbolist tradition) and appropriates that tradition fully; who has listed multiple Christian authors multiple times as influences (Austen, Lewis, Goudge, Tolkien); who said back in 2000 that if she talked too in-depth about her Christian faith everyone would know the ending; who quoted Scripture in the books and said that Matthew 6:21 and 1 Corinthians 15:26 “epitomize the entire series”; who said the Christian themes in her books are “obvious”; who said that a Christian commenter who called the series “the church’s biggest missed opportunity” was “reading with his eyes open”; who filled the series with traditional Christian symbolism and themes; who had her “witches” and “wizards” observe Christmas and Easter; who has admitted to being a regular church-goer and was the only member of her family growing up who voluntarily attended; who had her kids baptized; who does not believe in magic and said as plainly as possible, “new ageism leaves me completely cold”; whose favorite piece of artwork is Caravaggio’s “Supper at Emmaus” because of the way Jesus is portrayed.

    So, I really don’t think it’s out of line to say she’s writing Christian books, but I guess it comes down to what you mean by “Christian” book. Are Austen’s books “Christian”? Are Dostoevsky’s? Dickens’s? Does one have to be as explicit as Left Behind in order to get classified “Christian”? Does Lewis’s Ransom Trilogy count? If so, why? Because we now know he’s a Christian? Because when that trilogy got published almost nobody got it. Lewis noted that people entirely missed the theology of the books.

    The Christian nature of a book is wrapped up in the artistry itself, not necessarily in explicit reference to Christianity (of which there are actually plenty in HP). It’s in line with the sentiment (Lewis’s, I think, correct me if I’m wrong) that we don’t need Christian writers; we need great writers who are Christians.

  97. Sarah

    Great thoughts – I have actually pointed several friends who still question the HP books to this essay and your website.

    I didn’t get into the series until the 7th book came out and oddly enough, I was living in England. I’d heard all the Christian objections and just assumed they were true and though I didn’t have a hugely strong opinion, I just didn’t read them.

    But I was living in this Catholic boarding house and the day that “The Deathly Hallows” came out I got home from my job and walked into the living room to find every one of the resident nuns curled up on the couch with the last Harry Potter!

    There was nothing for it but to figure out what this was all about. I got the first book and was hooked. Lucky for me, the electricity at my boarding house went out for a week a few days after, so I basically spent every hour I had free sitting in the walled garden and reading. I made it through five books before I came home.

    And now, Harry Potter rates as one of my favorite series ever.

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