If you have children at home, you may remember a growing anticipation during the first weeks of July 2007. As a public librarian, I can certainly remember the excitement in my young readers.
You probably know what happened when the clock struck midnight on Friday, July 20. That’s right—the seventh (and final) installment in the phenomenal Harry Potter series, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, was unleashed on the reading world.
Shortly after the book’s release, filming began on the sixth Harry Potter movie. And last summer, on July 15, 2009, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince was released in cinemas around the world.
The question that had many young readers sitting on the edge of their seats, anxiously waiting to read the final book in the popular series: does Harry live, or will he die?
And the question Christian parents have faced with each book or film release: should their kids be reading books and watching films about wizards, witches, and magic?
After some research, many parents find that there are simply no easy answers. As one Christian expert on Potter mania, Connie Neal, says: “It depends.”
The author of What’s a Christian to do with Harry Potter?, Neal says parents must use discernment when deciding whether or not to allow their kids to read the Harry Potter series. She has no problem with Christians reading secular novels, and she bases this on her reading of the Bible’s book of Daniel.
“He [Daniel] was not afraid to read literature that resounded in the hearts of the people with whom he lived,” writes Neal. “He used his familiarity with this pagan literature to reveal the true and living God.”
In BreakPoint commentary, Chuck Colson explains. In Babylon, “he [Daniel] was taught the language and literature of the pagan culture. He studied at a school that trained Babylon’s magicians, astrologers, and sorcerers. The actual practice of sorcery and astrology was, of course, forbidden by God. But Daniel studied it well to understand it.”
“Although the books are not Christ-centered and don’t promote Christianity, they still offer powerful lessons in compassion, courage, self-sacrifice, and doing the right thing,” says Lisa Jackson, writing for Christianity Today,
Colson agrees. “Not bad lessons in a self-centered world,” he says.
As many are quick to point out, the Harry Potter books are creative, insightful, and just plain fun. And for the Christian, they can be used as a springboard to further discussions about God, morals, and the supernatural world.
Yet there are legitimate concerns.
“The element of the supernatural has stirred up a cauldron of controversy,” writes journalist James N. Watkins. “Some Christians believe that the entire series violates both Old and New Testament commands to avoid witchcraft.”
He cites Deuteronomy 18:10-12: ”Let no one be found among you who…practices divination or sorcery, interprets omens, engages in witchcraft, or casts spells…. Anyone who does these things is detestable to the Lord….”
But is the magic in Harry Potter any different than the magic in C. S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe or J. R. R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings? Is the magic in Harry Potter and other fantasy novels the same magic that the Bible warns about?
Some Christian experts say no. Colson describes the Potter magic as “purely mechanical, as opposed to occultic,” and “not the witchcraft that the Bible condemns.”
Watkins agrees. J. K. Rowling’s world seems to be more “secular” than “occult.” Yet he concedes that the Potter series is very different from Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia, “where the White Witch is undeniably evil and Aslan, the Christ-like lion, is purely good.” In Rowling’s world, the line gets blurred.
The biggest concern among Christians is that the series—marketed to children—presents witchcraft as something attractive. While the Hogwarts witchcraft does not contain elements of Wicca or nature worship, say the experts, it does make witchcraft seem innocent and fun. Critics are fearful of the influence these books and films could have on impressionable young minds.
Neal cautions parents that kids with an unhealthy interest in the occult should probably not read the books. The fairy-tale magic at Hogwarts seems innocent, but it could be dangerous if it became a gateway to interest in Wicca or an unhealthy fascination with the supernatural world.
John Andrew Murray, writing for Focus on the Family, agrees. “By disassociating magic and supernatural evil, it becomes possible to portray occult practices as good and healthy. This, in turn, opens the door for less discerning individuals to become confused about supernatural things,” he says.
But Lisa Jackson sides with Colson, Watkins, and others who believe that the world of wizards and magic created by Rowling is not the same kind of evil practices condemned in Scripture.
And Italian theologian Massimo Intovigne says, ”Magic is the main metaphor for life in fairy tales. If one should ban Harry Potter, one should also ban Peter Pan, Cinderella, and Pinocchio.” Al Menconi Ministries agrees, adding Snow White, The Wizard of Oz, and Shrek to the list. Menconi calls the magic of Harry Potter’s world “silly stuff.” Not witchcraft, but someone’s imagination.
This is not to minimize witchcraft. The Bible clearly condemns it. 1 Thessalonians 5:22 says, “Avoid every kind of evil.” Modern witchcraft is real and scary. It’s a seductive force that Christian parents must protect their children from. Christian parents definitely need to be aware of what their children are reading, watching, and listening to.
But if families choose to read the Harry Potter books or watch the movies together, the stories can provide a starting point for talking about the evils of the world. They can give families a chance to discuss how the power Harry uses to defeat evil is much different than the power we have from God.
Christian children need to understand that the Lord condemns witchcraft. They need to know that witchcraft is very real and evil and should be avoided—but that Harry Potter is simply a book.
The question really comes down to one thing: what is best for your child? “You know your child better than anyone else and only you can predict how he’ll be affected by these books,” says Jackson.
“With more than 325 million of them in print [2007 statistics], your kids will probably see them or hear others talk about them, and they’re probably going to read them anyway,” says Colson. He suggests that Christian parents use this occasion to teach their children to be discerning, like Daniel in the Bible.
Use the opportunity to have a dialogue with your kids about God and Jesus, love and sacrifice, morals, the supernatural, and other complex issues that are a very real part of youth culture today.
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