My parents never encouraged my brothers and me to join Harry Potter mania. I loyally avoided the movies and dodged the books (except for a short period of clandestine disobedience in which I read the first few books under the cover of darkness). To many of you this may seem pretty silly. What is wrong with Harry Potter?
An excerpt from a very conservative Christian comic/tract warning people of the “evils” of Harry Potter
According to the American library association the series has been the most challenged book series of the 21st century! It has been the victim of at least 6 book burnings in the United States. It is banned in some countries and has received outspoken opposition from Christian and Islamic groups since the first book was published in 1997. The books have also been translated into 67 languages, sold over 500 million copies (making it the bestselling book series of all time), and spawned very successful film adaptations. The Harry Potter brand is estimated to be worth around $25 Billion!
I decided to see firsthand what all the fuss was about, and between January and March of this year I read all 7 Harry Potter books and watched all 8 movies. What a journey.
Themes of friendship, courage, mentorship and elitism challenged and inspired me as I read the stories. Despite the fact that Harry and his friends attend “Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry”, I couldn’t help but notice the Biblical themes and imagery that are peppered throughout the overarching narrative.
Early on we read that Harry’s Mother lovingly sacrifices her life to save him. This sacrifice protects him from the dark Lord Voldemort throughout his entire childhood. Later, when Harry visits his parent’s grave, he reads the words “The last enemy that will be destroyed is death.” This is a direct quote from the Bible and gives way to a central theme of the Harry Potter story! An early Christian leader named Paul wrote those words almost 2000 years ago to Christians in a city called Corinth. You can read them in 1st Corinthians 15:26.
In the last book (spoilers coming) Harry realizes that he must die in order to defeat the evil Lord Voldemort because a piece of Voldemort lives in him. Harry must die to destroy the evil that is rotting his world and destroying his friends. He must make the ultimate sacrifice out of love for others. Sound familiar? To the reader’s surprise, Harry does not remain dead! He comes back to life and conquers Voldemort. Could the Biblical imagery be any stronger? The parallels between Harry and Jesus are beautiful and evident.
But isn’t there magic in Harry Potter? Doesn’t that go directly against the teachings of the Bible and the commands of God? It is true. Harry Potter is full of magic. Spells, wands, flying broomsticks and enchanted castles make up the bulk of the story. It is also true that in numerous places the Bible condemns witchcraft (see Deuteronomy 18, Exodus 22, Leviticus 20, Galatians 5, etc.). However, I would argue that the witchcraft God condemns in the Bible and the witchcraft that goes on in the world today are very different from the fantasy magic in Harry Potter. The witches and wizards in the Harry Potter series have magical gifts that enable them to perform magic. They are trained to grow their powers through learning spells (a classic form of magic in literature called incantational magic).
I live in South Africa, a country in which the spiritual world is largely recognized and embraced. Even in our modern city of Cape Town, witch doctors have a noticeable presence here.
Contrasting Harry and his friends, these modern Satanists, Wiccans, witch doctors and witches obtain their power by channeling a connection with evil spirits and dark powers (invocational magic). Throughout the Harry Potter story this kind of magic is never embraced! In fact, throughout the stories, dark magic is never welcomed but is vehemently fought against!
But won’t reading Harry Potter encourage people to explore witchcraft? I have a friend who was involved in Satanic organizations before becoming a Christian. He also happens to be a big Harry Potter fan. This friend told me that he never met anyone in his ‘past life’ who became a Satanist or became involved in witchcraft because of Harry Potter. He also said that the “magic” in Harry Potter has little to no similarities to the practices that modern witches and wizards do today.
The late Christian leader and writer Charles Colson affirmed this when he wrote that the magic in Harry Potter is “purely mechanical, as opposed to occultic. That is, Harry and his friends cast spells, read crystal balls, and turn themselves into animals—but they don’t make contact with a supernatural world. [It’s not] the kind of real-life witchcraft the Bible condemns.” If we understand Harry Potter to be a doorway to real, evil magic then what are we to do about the Wizard of Oz and Marry Poppins? Should we not discard the Chronicles of Narnia and the Lord of the Rings for their magical elements? Where do we draw the line of what is okay and what is dangerous?
Often we Christians are the most fearful people around when it comes to movies and the world of entertainment. Indeed, Hollywood and the internet can be a dark, scary place.
This reminds me of something the early Christian leader Paul wrote to believers of Jesus in the city of Philippi in the 1st century AD: “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” (You can read the entire letter in the New Testament book of Philippians!)
As Christians we have a choice to look for evil or for the divine in our world. We can focus on wickedness, or focus on Jesus. We can focus on the immorality of our societies and entertainment choices or we can focus on the things in our society (and in Harry Potter for that matter) that are true, honourable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent and praiseworthy. You likely won’t find many Hollywood movies or stories that are completely pure, true and commendable. We can choose to be offended by this reality or ask God what he wants to teach us through the entertainment we wisely partake in. By no means should we seek out the dirtiest, most immoral entertainment possible and claim that these choices do not matter. Please do not read what I’m not writing! But it would be wise for us to remember that Jesus defeated all death and evil through his death, resurrection and ascension. God has won the victory and we have nothing to fear.
As a believer in Jesus I believe that the Holy Spirit (God himself) lives in me. As I live in daily relationship with him, he teaches me how to be truly human and live out his presence and kingdom on earth. This may happen through studying and meditating on the Bible or having intentional times with God in prayer. It also happens when I see a breathtaking sunset as I drive to the grocery store. Or as I listen to John Mayer’s new album. Or even as I read Harry Potter. My connection with God and my “Biblical worldview” do not shut off when I crack the spine of a Harry Potter book. God doesn’t leave me when my laptop starts playing a Harry Potter film.
So sure, your children may become interested in witchcraft by reading Harry Potter. They also might become obese by reading Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. They might become nuns by watching the Sound of Music. They might become violent by watching hockey games.
So should Christians read or watch Harry Potter? If you’re into fiction and fantasy, then yes! If you enjoy a quality story with exciting twists and intriguing character development, please do!
If my wife and I have kids will we allow them to read Harry Potter? When we think they can handle some of the heavy themes in the later books, definitely! And as they read about friendship, racism, the battle between good and evil and other important themes, we’ll probably ask them “what is God teaching you through the story?”