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Volume 14, Issue 2: Stauron

Potter Knows Best?

Gary Hagen

Is Harry Potter lawful entertainment for Christians? Yes. And no.

Far from equivocating or trying to have it both ways, such an answer is an application of fundamental biblical wisdom. But some Christians are quick to hyperventilate over the ubiquitous sorcery, witchcraft, necromancy, divination, and spells in Rowling's books and the movie spin-off. This list of abominations is roundly condemned in Scripture and forbidden by God.1 The prohibitionists point out that the biblical sanction for these acts was the death penalty and eternal hellfire. All true, and a hearty Amen. But none of that prescribes a wooden phobia in the way many modern legalists would like to have it.
Take another sin: idolatry. Scripture minces no words on the evils of whoring after strange gods. Not only is idolatry forcefully forbidden in the Ten Commandments, but it leads the list. The pollutions of this spiritual adultery are repeatedly driven home with rather graphic, some might say obscene, language, such as that used by the prophet Ezekiel.2 The point is that idolatry is every bit as much an abomination to God as sorcery.3 And both can offer connections to the occultic realm of demons.4
Now most of us are familiar with Paul's discussion regarding meat offered to idols. But notice that those Christians were eating the sacrificed steaks right there in the idol's temple. It is worth noting that Paul did not devolve into a scolding (as we would today) about temple restaurants and how stupid Corinthians trashed their testimony, much less swam in occultic waters. Rather, Paul's caution was to take care not to stumble weaker brothers.
At first glance, temple T-bone seems about as relevant to Harry Potter as Paul's muzzled oxen5 are to pastoral W-2 forms. Exactly.
We have much to learn from Paul about Potter. A biblical response by the evangelical church is as elusive as a golden snitch. Why? Because many believers are functionally illiterate on two counts: theology and culture.
Tolkien discouraged an allegorical view of his Rings trilogy. Nonetheless, he reflected at the close of On Fairy Stories that "the distinctive joy that is the outcome of successful fantasy is `a far-off gleam or echo of evangelium in the real world' so that it may even enable us better to understand the true gospel." 6 But he warned that this reflection, this echo of the gospel, could just as easily be corrupt: "Myth and fairy story must, as all art, reflect and contain in solution elements of moral and religious truth (or error)."7
Therefore, the point about Potter is not simply one of whether to countenance fantasy literature. It's a deeper question of what that literature says and is it true? Or, as Tolkien put it, is it an erroneous reflection of the gospel. This kind of discernment is not always simple, but it is available to those willing to chew on adult food (Heb. 5:14).
As to the issue of fantasy literature, a cursory survey finds superficial parallels between Harry Potter and Christian fantasy literature such as Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings and C.S. Lewis' The Chronicles of Narnia. Wheaton College English professor Alan Jacobs has "argued for a slippery slope from Tolkien and Lewis to Rowling, suggesting that Christians who accept Tolkien and Lewis but object to Rowling are being inconsistent or hypocritical."8 But an analysis of the hedges employed by both Lewis and Tolkien to create a gulf between real-world occult practices and fantasy magic very adroitly refutes views like Jacobs'.9 But other writers have shown the clear trend of modern authors such as Rowling toward a neopagan worldview and their inversion of historical Christian symbolism in recent fantasy literature.10
It is this neopagan worldview, and not so much the surface fantasy trappings, that spells potential for trouble in Potter. Like the Pauline admonition about eating meat, viewing or reading Potter can be harmless—if the spiritual maturity level is present. Our problem is its pervasive absence in the modern church.
Many Christians are unwittingly steeped in the same Gnostic worldviews that permeate Potter. We need look no further than the best-seller reception of The Prayer of Jabez. Chasing after "hidden formulas" to successful prayer betrays a shallow Gnostic-leaning Christianity.
Man's first sin in Eden involved a desire for secret knowledge and power. Potter quests for these through the magical arts. While just an infant, aided by his mother's love, he defeated the powerful Darth Vader character, Lord Voldemort. Like Skywalker, Potter has awe-inspiring raw power. "The Force is strong with this one" almost echoes in the background. Wizards, witches, and students all alike fawn with giddiness at meeting him. But like Skywalker, Potter's innate potential must be honed with secret knowledge. Hence Hogwarts.
The Hogwarts School is portrayed as Gnostic guardian of esoteric knowledge that will save mankind from evil. Harry becomes the savior-elect and trains in the hidden arts. Later, Harry again vanquishes Voldemort, but collapses. After three days he revives. By volume four, we learn that his blood has resurrection powers.
Second-century Gnostics distorted the gospel. Gnostics "save" themselves with secret knowledge. But with Paul, we must determine "not to know anything …except Jesus Christ and Him crucified."11

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