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The Harry Potter controversy

As my friends know, I love science-fiction and fantasy. I am also a fundamentalist (as in, "holding to the fundamentals") Christian. Someone once remarked to me that the controversy in Christian circles over Harry Potter (and similar works) was stupid. "It's just fiction!" they said, expecting me to wholeheartedly agree. I shocked them when I said that I understood the arguments against Harry Potter, although I did not wholly agree with them.

The point of the arguments is this: in real life, witchcraft is NOT OK. It is Satanic, and is condemned strongly in the Bible. In both the Old and New Testaments, anyone with supernatural abilities has either received them from God or else from demons; there is no middle ground. But Harry Potter is fiction, and never presents itself as anything but.

There seem to be three criteria that a work needs to meet before critics try to ban it for "promoting witchcraft":

First, magic is used for good, and not just for evil.
Secondly, such "good" (or neutral) magic is used by demonstrably human characters, not just magical or supernatural beings; this exempts classics like The Chronicles of Narnia, Lord of the Rings, and many fairy tales.
Lastly, the magic works in a world that looks and acts like our own.

The last factor may be the most important; it is somewhat rare to see fantastical works that are set in "our" world, rather than a less realistic setting.

A Christian reader of sci-fi/fantasy needs to have a very strong distinction between fiction and reality. Obviously, that's easier to do when the writer does not try to blur the lines between the two. Readers of all ages need to be careful in how they think about stories that are set in the "real world". I find these type of works especially insidious when they are in a pseudo-Christian setting, where characters mix Christian traditions and behaviors with practicing magic. It's easier for me to brush them off as unreal when there is no reference to God or Christians at all.

Christians also need to recognize that most fiction in this realm is written by people who do not have a God-centered worldview, which affects the writers' attitudes towards sex, witchcraft, "gods", and many other thoughts and behaviors which are not desirable for a Christian. A lot of futuristic science fiction, in particular, does not allow for an omniscient, all-powerful God who created and maintains everything in existence. (I find C.S. Lewis's planets trilogy to be fascinating in this aspect: his worldview, like mine, dictates that if there is life on other planets, God created it, and it will worship Him in some fashion.)

Again, I'm not saying that Harry Potter or any other works that meet the three criteria are bad; I quite enjoy them. But I think we need to be careful when reading books that blur the lines between reality and fiction, lest we let too much of the fiction influence our thoughts about the real world.
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I think we need to be careful when reading books that blur the lines between reality and fiction

etherial August 28th, 2007
I do too. But frankly, I have to laugh when someone suggests that Harry Potter and the Magic Doodad is one of them.

Re: I think we need to be careful when reading books that blur the lines between reality and fiction

anitra August 28th, 2007
Yeah, I've never had a problem with HP specifically. It never struck me as particularly realistic (except in the whininess of the teenagers).

ctriv August 28th, 2007
I have always been fascinated by the Christian objections to Harry Potter. As a Christian (though not a fundamentalist), I have to admit that I just don't understand the problem. My musing on this has lead me to a few thoughts:

Firstly, there is a long precedent in Christian culture for fearing magic and witches; about 700 years to be precise. Through those seven hundred years there has been a great deal of fear and violence, but not a lot of evidence of actual witchcraft. Christianity has always assumed the occult to be much bigger and powerful than it really is. In church a while back a woman told me of all this work she had done for children that had been victims of ritualistic satanic abuse. I didn't have the heart to tell her that such abuse is an urban myth. (The FBI wrote an excellent report on the topic in the early nineties.)

Secondly, I wonder how much of the out cry over Harry Potter is just fire for the culture wars. Think of a person who's goal is to win (not end) the culture war: a new book, insanely popular with children, about witchcraft... "jackpot!, somebody get me a press release and some bullet points!"

Finally, I suppose I've never understood how a book can be immoral or evil. Actions have those properties. Books are either well or poorly written.

One thing you said did raise my eyebrows, if you'll forgive a bit more of my rambling...

As a Christian, I have no issue with reading books that are completely outside of the Christian world view. Heck, as a Christian I have no problems with having a world view completely outside of the Christian world view. Jesus didn't hide in the temple and only talk to the clean. He went out to sinners and the tax collectors. He lived and embraced the popular culture of the day.

Books that blur the line between truth and fiction often have important truths to say. In the last fifty years popular culture has done more to explain and explore themes like pain, joy, love, and death than Christian culture has. I read Oracle Night by Paul Auster a while back. It was a wonderful exploration into the nature of free will and existence. It was a pretty big moment in my path to God, and it had completely blurred the line between reality and fiction. And it had a magic notebook. The entire point of fiction is to influence one's thoughts in the real world. Otherwise, it's just mental jumping jacks. I read a book that was everything you said a book shouldn't be, but it helped me understand that life must have a higher spiritual meaning.

To put it more succinctly: does God only work through the books that we think are "good?"

re: does God only work through the books that we think are "good?"

etherial August 28th, 2007
No. God also works through Ethan Frome.

Re: does God only work through the books that we think are "good?"

shadowravyn August 28th, 2007
I like Ethan Frome!

Re: Ethan Frome

etherial August 28th, 2007
I always knew there was something seriously wrong with you.

anitra August 28th, 2007
Hi Chris! I think you misinterpreted what I said.

First of all, although I think witchcraft is real and demonic in origin, I think there is precious little of it actually around. Most people who are claimed to be "witches" (by themselves or others) aren't. We're all flawed people, and sometimes we don't use the brains God gave us.

Secondly, I don't think a book can be evil or immoral per se. But I think certain books can encourage immoral thinking... and different people have different weaknesses in this area. Personally, I have run into problems when reading books where main characters are having extramarital sex and it is portrayed as a good, desirable, even spiritual thing. So I don't read that type of book.

Christians are commanded to be "in the world, but not of it". We're supposed to set an example and try to glorify God in all our actions. Obviously, we fall short, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't try... Jesus spent time with sinners and tax collectors and even prostitutes, but he didn't just join them and condone what they did. He usually told them to "go, and sin no more".

God can work through anything, whether it appears "good" or "bad" on the surface.

anitra August 28th, 2007
Oh, and I'm not saying Christians should only read books written with a Christian world-view... I'm just saying we should be mindful of who the authors are and what their intentions are when we read. I love most of Orson Scott Card's fiction, but I know he is a Mormon, and it's easy for me to see how that influences his writing. Same thing with atheist/agnostic writers who portray all religion/faith as stupid. Doesn't mean I don't still read them and get benefit from their books :)

etherial August 28th, 2007
Same thing with all Christian writers who portray all religion/faith as stupid.

ZING!

anitra August 28th, 2007
LOL. Well, them I tend not to read at all, because the writing is so bad... an exception was the Left Behind series, but I won't read it again. Good idea, poor implementation.

etherial August 28th, 2007
I've heard it described as pornography for people who worship violence.

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