Deathly Hallows Discussion Point #23: “Smuggling the Gospel” Fallout

I hope you’ll overlook the unavoidable smugness of this post, which, I’m concerned, borders on the quality of an “I-Told-You-So” put-down. I could, after all, be providing space here for concentrated discussion of the debate between James and Severus hallowers and detractors…

When I finished Deathly Hallows and had put my three youngest children to bed last Sunday, I thought of Don Holmes. My septuagenarian buddy in Bellingham, WA, is a loving giant, well over 6 feet tall and not an unpleasant cell in his body. He graduated from Wheaton College ages ago, has the faith of an elder who has studied and practiced the Gospel message for as long, and reads everything he can get his hands on, especially since his retirement from a career as a Christian book distributor. Don even corresponded briefly with C. S. Lewis when he was a college student. Wonderful man and a better friend.

I thought of Don because of his first two responses to reading Hidden Key to Harry Potter in 2003. First, he called me on the phone (Bellingham is close to the Olympic Peninsula where I was living back then) to congratulate me on “getting it right.” He then wrote Richard Abanes, whose book, Harry Potter and the Bible: The Menace behind the Magick, Don had also read. Don asked, nigh on demanded, in light of my book’s demonstration of Ms. Rowling’s faith and the Christian message of Harry Potter, that Mr. Abanes offer a public apology to Ms. Rowling and to the Christian community at large for his mistake and calumny.

Mr. Abanes response was pretty unpleasant. When Don shared the exchange with me, I begged him to drop it. What surprised me was not the response he received, but Don’s surety that I was right. Ms. Rowling, in his mind, after reading the arguments that became Looking for God in Harry Potter, had to be a Christian artist. Even I thought there was a chance I was wrong. Nobody else, after all, was saying what I was saying. Christian defense of the books before Hidden Key had been restricted to saying they were “acceptable” reading for children (with strong reservations) or that they could be read as being Christian stories, if the reader chose to read them wearing that set of tinted glasses rather than another or without eye-wear (see Connie Neal’s The Gospel According to Harry Potter for this sort of reading relativism: “it’s all in how you look at it”).

After finishing Deathly Hallows, then, I thought of Don Holmes and the readers who wrote me to say “thank you” and others who emailed to say they had been won over from the Harry Hating camps by my literary arguments. The Gospel messages and allusions in the series finale were so transparent and edifying, surely, I thought, the Harry Haters must be having second thoughts, if not regrets about things they have said with such conviction the past ten years in print and from pulpit.

I haven’t seen any sign of this. Have you? Richard Abanes wrote me a note during P-Week about his new novel, Homeland Insecurity, but he hasn’t written anything I’ve seen since Deathly Hallows was published. He certainly hasn’t written Don Holmes to apologize for the unkind comments he made about Don’s intelligence and reading ability in 2003. And Brjit Kios? Lev Grossman? Where are the Harry is poison or secular fantasy proponents post Deathly Hallows? And, if they’re not admitting they were wrong, why aren’t they?

Again, please overlook the self-importance of this question. I hope if Deathly Hallows had turned out to be a really nasty piece of work that I would have eaten crow, publicly, in sack cloth and ashes. I’m not asking the same from the many people who have questioned my sanity or suggested I was projecting my beliefs shamelessly into the text. I’m just wondering if any of these people are reconsidering their position in light of Deathly Hallows and, if not, why not?

Comments

  1. All that I know is what I heard come from the mouth of JKR. She said that her books definitly had a religious meaning and her faith was an influence on the books. That is all I need to know to be sure she is a Christian, and her books are also.

  2. aussieseeker71 says:

    “aussieseeker71, no – I was quoting his own way of describing his belief that he’s accurately and thoroughly read the relevant J.K. Rowling interviews and quotes”.

    Travis, thanks for clearing that up. I would have been very surprised if he had spoken to her personally.

    “aussieseeker71,
    Your point about contextualizing you faith is extremely important. I’m reminded of Paul’s address to the Areopagus in Acts17:16 onwards. He doesn’t say “Men of Athens! You worship many false gods and you’re condemned for that.” He makes a point of explaining who their “unknown god” was.

    So, instead of condemning other beliefs we should seek to present the gospel in a way that other’s beliefs assist with out explanation. That’s pretty difficult but surely must be the best way”.

    Yes, Paul’s address to the Athens is a good example of contextualizing our faith, and not simply condemning other people’s faith. In fact I think it’s good to learn about other people’s faith, so that we don’t come to them with certain ignorances about their religion.

    And speaking of contextualizing the faith, I remember in the book “What’s a Christian to Do With Harry Potter?”, how Connie Neal spoke about using the Harry Potter series to share the gospel with a friend. She then went on to explain how her friend couldn’t stop thinking about Jesus, as he was reading the series.

    Now you would think that most Christians would be excited about someone coming to know Christ. But oh no, not the Harry Haters out there. All they’re concerned about is the fact that a book like Harry Potter was used to contextualize the gospel. If memory serves me, I think Abanes was one of those Harry Haters who react to Neal’s testimony in such a way.

    I mean really, are these people so bent on finding “evil” in Harry Potter, that they can’t even celebrate the fact that someone has come to know Christ?

  3. meredith says:

    What bugs me about this thread is not that people are commenting on the Christian elements of HP, which as I stated earlier, are clearly and undeniably there. But some commenters seem to be saying “thank goodness HP is a Christian book, thank goodness Jo is Christian because now we can be sure that HP is a “good” book.” I feel like it shouldn’t mattter one iota what Jo’s religous background is — you will either love HP and it will resonate with you on an emoitonal and even spiritiual level or it will not. The themes of love, forgiveness, triumph over evil, doing what is right instead of what is easy, etc. etc. should be just as meaningful and resonant whether the author is Christian, Muslim or even atheist.

    Again, I’m not trying to claim that Jo didn’t intentionally include Christian symbols and themes. She has said so explicitly. I get it.

    But these values are transcendant and universal. I believe in all of things very profoundly and I am not a Christian. And HP is never going to make me believe in your god, no matter how much I love the books, and respect Jo as an author, and no matter how many tears I shed at the death/resurrection of Harry.

    I just feel a tinge of anti-Christian bigotry to some of these posts. Specifically:

    1) people who claim that some books are the “work of the devil.” This position is equally absurd whether you believe HP is in this category or not. If you don’t like Pullman because he’s an atheist fine, don’t read him. But please stop quantifying the value of literature according to whether it matches with your own personal religous beleifs or not. Again, I just think its laughable that given the HP hate from certain religious circles, that anyone would say HP is okay, but those other books, those are straight fom hell.

    2) this notion that people are “relieved” that DH was so explicitly Christian, otherwise there would have been a problem. Really, why? Why isn’t it enough that the values of HP are so positive and life-affirming? (and btw, John, I don’t mean your “academic relief” at having been proven correct.).

    3) the arrogance of assuming that HP is somehow going to change someone else’s deeply held spiritual and religous beleifs. Gah, that rankles. Imagine if someone told you that if you just read a fantasy series based on Jewish tradition that this would somehow change your belief in Christianity. I’m guessing you find this notion somewhat offensive because your religous and spiritual beliefs run a bit deeper than fantasy literature (mine too).

    In fact, isn’t suggesting that HP will make someone turn to Christianity just as patently absurd as claiming it will make someone turn to witchcraft?

  4. cassiane says:

    Yes! I’m usually reluctant to put my “two cents’ worth” in online or anywhere else, but when I find myself in the midst of a significant religious and cultural moment, I can’t resist.

    I am an Orthodox traditionalist and a rather tough customer, so anyone who discounts the Seven Councils or plays fast and loose with the doctrines of our faith had better watch out! Actually, all I can do is speak against unbelief, and I hope I truly am such a warrior for our faith.

    First I want to say that it is completely unfair, completely out of bounds to attack anyone else’s alleged sins of adultery, fornication, this or that. Only a true friend or spiritual father can make certain suggestions out of love. The rest of us ought to keep our mouths shut about other people and clean up our own dirt–of which we all have plenty.

    Indeed, Rowling’s heroic characters–Harry, the Weasleys, and Dumbledore are hardly perfect, but they can confess their own faults. And many great Christian writers such as C.S. Lewis and the great F.M. Dostoyevsky had their own “dirt” to deal with and tried to do their best. And writers tend to put their best selves into their works.

    I became interested in the Potter books when the first and perhaps the second came out here in the States. From the reviews I read, I concluded that they continued a classic tradition in both children’s books and fantasy literature, and I picked up hardcover copies of the first two. I assumed I’d read them and eventually give them to my mostly adult children or grandchildren–I had one at the time.

    When I read the Sorcerer’s–or Philosopher’s–stone, I was reminded of the writings of St. Dionysius the Areopagite: evil is non-existent, has no genuine being of its own, but only a parasitic existence. Thus Voldemort, once he had been dealt the blow of Lily’s sacrifice or selfless love, has no being in the world but must seek a parasitic existence. The universe exists only in the Good, and even the evil believe they are doing good when they pursue their own ends. Evil has no valid existence of its own but can only mock the good, as occurs in a later book, in the horrible mock baptism of Voldemort. I may write more about this someday, if I can contribute something worthwhile.

    I realize that JKR has had a superb education, especially by American standards, but at the time I read the first book, I thought it was probably a long shot that she had actually read St. Dionysius. Probably only weirdos like myself do. Yet she may well have read Boethius’ Consolation of Philosophy: all long for and seek the Good, even if their quest is misdirected.

    In any case, I was fascinated by DH and thought it did a great job of smuggling the Gospel. When I accompanied the kids to the churchyard and read the inscriptions on the tombstones, I practically cheered out loud.

    Now I feel free to go back to the beginning of the book and cast a critical eye–indeed re-read the whole oeuvre. But that the books are a monumental work, a landmark cultural event is quite certain.

  5. This is from the recent web interview at bloomsbury:

    Katie B: Why was kings cross the place harry went to when he died
    J.K. Rowling: For many reasons. The name works rather well, and it has been established in the books as the gateway between two worlds, and Harry would associate it with moving on between two worlds (don’t forget that it is Harry’s image we see, not necessarily what is really there.

    Does Rowling continue to smuggle her meaning very carefully? Does this mean she’s not going to get more explicit? What do you all think of what she does say?

  6. meredith says:

    “The themes of love, forgiveness, triumph over evil, doing what is right instead of what is easy, etc. etc. should be just as meaningful and resonant whether the author is Christian, Muslim or even atheist.

    “But these values are transcendant and universal. I believe in all of things very profoundly and I am not a Christian.

    “But please stop quantifying the value of literature according to whether it matches with your own personal religous beleifs or not.

    “I’m guessing you find this notion somewhat offensive because your religous and spiritual beliefs run a bit deeper than fantasy literature (mine too).”

    meredith, if you believe in love, forgiveness, triumph over evil, and doing what is right instead of what is easy, and you read a book that devalues and denounces such things, will you consider it valuable? If not, how are you any different from those you disagree with? If so, isn’t that a statement that your beliefs aren’t so deeply held at all? If your beliefs run deeper than fantasy literature, isn’t it the literature that has to conform to your beliefs or be discarded?

    casieane says: First I want to say that it is completely unfair, completely out of bounds to attack anyone else’s alleged sins of adultery, fornication, this or that. Only a true friend or spiritual father can make certain suggestions out of love. The rest of us ought to keep our mouths shut about other people and clean up our own dirt–of which we all have plenty.

    casieane, I completely agree.

    miroperegrinos, I for one do believe that JKR is going to continue to smuggle her meaning. That smuggling is her accomplishment; it would make no sense (to me, at least) to undo it now. I don’t expect any kind of explicit “Now that the series is over, I can scream my faith from the housetops” announcements from JKR. I feel that those who share her faith, and many that don’t, don’t need any more clues. Nor do they need details that might cause them to decide she’s not a Christian after all because she happens not to share their particular denominational positions or traditions. And people who would be dismayed to connect HP with any kind of agenda or overt preaching might well be turned off, and how counterproductive, not to mention silly and cheapening to the series, would that be? Frankly, if questioners now feel they have free rein to grill her about the Christian significance of every little thing in the series, to satisfy themselves that she has the right doctrinal slant, to make her say “I am a Christian” in a thousand different ways, and pore over each word she speaks for reassurance or doubt, I hope she continues to give oblique answers. I’m not saying that the person asked a “bad question,” not at all. But I can see where this type of thing could turn into giving JKR the third degree, and that’s unwise and unnecessary.

    Thanks to all for the good discussion!

  7. Meredith:

    There are a couple of reasons for the relief we Christians feel at the conclusion of Hallows.

    First, I disagree with you that Rowling’s background doesn’t matter, and it has to do with a particular tenet of literary criticism. There is a current school of thought (quite influential these days) that claims that authorial intent ought to be minimized or disregarded when thinking about a work. These folks would say that it really doesn’t matter what Rowling put in Harry Potter–and it especially doesn’t matter she meant to put into Harry Potter–but all that matters is what a reader (or “interpreter”) takes out of it. To those of us who reject that viewpoint (which isn’t a religious one), it matters very much what Rowling’s background is because it informs our understanding of what her intent is, and what she means the text to say is important to us. So if we were to find out that she was in fact an atheist, we would feel very troubled drawing Christian connections from her work simply because we thought we were abusing her text. So we’re relieved.

    Second, I also disagree that it is “enough” that Harry Potter promotes “good values” because I think the context is too important to sweep aside. Indeed, I would claim that it is that context that defines what is “good”, “transcendent”, and “universal”. The complaint about a Pullman is that he’s either redefining those terms (from our perspective, at least) or drawing from a shared cultural and religious heritage whose fundamental precepts he explicitly denies (he’s cheating, in other words.) It’s sleight-of-hand which, in our view, is morally harmful instead of edifying. Knowing the context of Rowling’s worldview helps reassure us that such legerdemain isn’t occurring.

    Finally, I can certainly appreciate the feeling that the stories that one is exposed to is supposed to change your deepest beliefs. It does sound insulting. Problem is, it’s true, and it happens all the time. Christians get told stories all the time about how the world is: science stories like evolution (which is objectionable to me because of the philosophy of materialism it presupposes, not the empirical arguments per se), medical stories about the brain generating certain phenomena that might correspond to some near-death tales, literary stories that suggest that to believe in God is a remnant of superstition and irrationality, and so on. So many Christians fall away not through rational argumentation but rather from the constant drip-drop of cultural influence that denies the core of what we believe.

    So when we Christians see something, especially something so powerful in the culture as Harry Potter, that suggests that it can work in the other direction and serve as a pointer to what we consider the Real Story, we get excited. We don’t get many moments like those these days. And we certainly don’t expect people to think, “I like Harry Potter, so that Jesus guy must be cool too.” We’re thinking of something like what happened to C.S. Lewis who loved myth and story but was left forever (he thought) unsatisfied because they weren’t real. Tolkien told him that his longing was legitimate and that in Christ’s story, the myth he longed for was true, it really happened. That’s how we would hope the process to go once more, and we don’t think it’s absurd because we are now comforted that Rowling’s story points in that direction (whereas some of us always thought it an abuse to claim her story was pointing to witchcraft when it clearly wasn’t.)

    Hope this makes some sort of sense to you.

  8. Meredith – I think you make some good points that I would like to address. You are right – people who are not Christians can thoroughly enjoy the HP books and resonate with them to whatever degree they resonate with them. And Christians should be able to enjoy works of art that are created by people of all persuasions, and celebrate when those works of art echo the deepest realities of humanity.

    However, I must disagree with a few of your points. I would argue that stories have a great deal of power to influence what people believe. C.S. Lewis, one of my favorite thinkers and storytellers, explains that his conversion from atheism to Christianity had a lot to do with reading fantasy literature by George MacDonald. Stories also had a lot to do with my own deeply changed understanding of who Jesus Christ is. I used to be one of those rigid, ungenerous fundamentalist Christian types. But I believe God used written-down “pretend” stories, and walking around “real” stories, to help me understand He is a lot more unexpected, unchained, and delightful than I gave Him credit for. I wouldn’t put it past Him to use Harry Potter in the lives of people who always thought Jesus was as predictable, grumpy, and dull as some of His followers show themselves to be. C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and now J.K. Rowling has made me more joyful about believing in Jesus than most of the theology I’ve read or heard.

    I also think you misunderstand why some of us are relieved. If any of us have that sort of “Ha Ha, she’s one of us!” attitudes, yes, that would be terrible! But here’s why I, at least, feel relieved… There are “universal” sorts of themes in the book, as you point out, and Rowling draws on them. Some of the universals are the universal goods, like love, forgiveness, redemption, and some of the universals are universal dilemmas, like evil, prejudice, guilt. However, we Christians believe that all the universal goods come from the specific person, the Son of God, Jesus Christ, and we believe all of the universal dilemmas are solved by the specific person, Jesus Christ. Rowling seemed to be pointing to Jesus as the specific source and solution all along. In fact, I think it would be very hard to understand many of the important issues of the stories while simultaneously ignoring some pretty unique Christian truths.

    To say that I was “relieved” that her pointing became all that more deliberate in number seven is an understatement. I was thrilled. Partly, but not primarily, I’m happy that Rowling stuck to her guns, despite the disappointment and confusion she might attract. But fundamentally, I hope that people who have been profoundly attracted to the Harry Potter series might come to understand that they’ve been attracted to Jesus all along.

  9. korg20000bc says:

    If ROwling came out and said “Yes, it’s all Christian and this point means so and so…” people would say “ok, that’s what it means. I’ve got it nicely wrapped up now.” If she is still hesitant to explain it all it encourages the reader to think more deeply about the novels and seek out what she’s pointing to. That’s a great thing!

    Matthew

  10. Arabella Figg says:

    The server crashed just as I was sending my thoughts, so it gives me a chance to improve upon them.

    First, about Abanes. I’m not too fussed about him. After all, I read/skimmed two of his books several years ago. Therefore I certainly don’t need to read anything he says now, since all he has to say (forever, amen) has been revealed in those books written a decade ago. This is what he’s saying about Rowling, dismissing her further work based on what he assumed and judged from reading the early books of an unfolding tale. So sorry, Mr. Abanes, you’ve just made yourself irrevelant.

    And I think it slanderous to base an assumption of adultery (or what he interprets to be adultery) based on hearsay.

    I believe anyone of any faith or none will find value in these books, enjoy and benefit from them. Yet a Christian will see things others won’t, because Rowling is writing from a Christian worldview, using Christian faith imagery, symbolism, even direct quotes from the New Testament.

    I read the first four books when GoF was released, because they got a lot of press and my attention at that time; I decided to see what the mutterings were about for myself. Imagine my surprise, as one well-versed in Biblical doctrine and theology, to see such strong Christian themes; why CoS was practically the gospel laid out. Then I discovered John’s The Hidden Key and Looking for God, which boosted my enthusiasm for what I had seen and educated me greatly in the structure of alchemical literature and Christian symbolism.

    Too many Christians today are looking for safety and leaders they believe will give it to them. This has resulted in the ascendance of people like Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, Hal Lindsay and James Dobson through whom these believers get their “truth.” In the “fundagelical” (my term) world, intellectualism, critical thinking and artistry beyond Thomas Kinkaid aren’t invited, rather they are suspect. Thus you find the us/them, black/white, yes/no fortress mentality. I’m appalled at how many Christians have trenchant beliefs but Scriptural depth and understanding the depth of a teaspoon. With shallow beliefs they can’t explain, support or validate, they are easy, ignorant prey for simple, unexamined beiiefs and strong, narrow leaders.

    Unchurched children, when they eventually (hopefully) hear the gospel, will recognze the redemption story of blood sacrifice and safety in it, protective love and, especially in DH, what a savior is. They can see in Dobby’s story salvation, Christian service, and faith and love unto death.

    John, I congratulate you on your painstaking, humble, loving work, a great and invaluable service. You’ve filled in my literary education where it was lacking. You’ve enhanced my understanding of spiritual metaphor. And you’ve helped make my HP experience profound.

    And you’ve got a blog for the intelligent reader. I so enjoy your posts and the amazing comments.

    Thank you! And Rumbleroar sends a loud purr of approval…

  11. Leigh McLeroy has a great article on Christian echoes in Harry Potter, which is linked on Sword of Gryffindor. Here is the direct link, followed by a quote:

    http://commongroundsonline.typepad.com/common_grounds_online/2007/07/thank-god-for-h.html

    “The reduction of literary works to pious epigrams is a jolly parlor game,” said writer Annie Dillard, “little more.” In her excellent book Living by Fiction, Dillard argues that “from any work of fiction we may derive an interpretive view of the world,” but “the novel, even the unabashed novel of ideas, is not a tract.” Now, here’s the quote that will likely get me into trouble. She went on to say that, “unless we are Marxists or fundamentalists, we do not judge a literary work according to whether or not we agree with its world view.” (Or the author’s, I would add.)

    I don’t know what J.K. Rowling believes, but here’s what I believe. Harry Potter is a tremendous character, Rowling is a master storyteller, and Harry’s story is as redemptive and rich as they come. And that redemptive richness – its tensions between darkness and light, good and evil, love and jealousy, and its honestly-constructed characters who never, ever hit a false note – resonate with the Great Story, the Gospel Story. Because all the best stories do, whether they mean to, or not.”

  12. I’ve just been reading through all the comments, and for once, I really don’t have anything to add. John, and all the rest of you, have said it all so eloquently. As some of you have said, I felt relieved and thrilled with the end of the Harry Potter series. While I see the stories as very Christian, I don’t feel the need to go to my friends who loved HP and are not Christian and throw it in their faces. There’s no need for that. Nor have I felt the need to keep arguing with people like Abanes (and the ones that I know in my real life at my own church). The refusal of people to see a Christian story, whichever side they are on, is really a moot point after Deathly Hallows. And as someone else said–was it Travis?–how odd to see the atheists and the fundamentalists so united.

    Pat

  13. John,

    I just wanted to say that I’ve read Looking for God in Harry Potter (plan on getting the rest soon) and have been trying to use the HP series to reach folks for Christ for 3 years now with my website (of which I have linked your wonderful site and essays because I think you’re a brilliant analyst, if that’s alright).

    I, too, hope the Christian community of Harry Haters awake to the fact that this story is affecting billions of people all over the world and is pointing people to Jesus, whether they realize it at first or not. To dismiss HP and not Lord of the Rings or Narnia or even the old beloved film and story of The Wizard of Oz has always been perplexing to me, since they all have elements of magic and witches and wizards in them just as much as Harry’s does.

    I felt, as you did (and many others, probably) that she might make Harry a Christ-figure (I just KNEW that she wouldn’t kill him) and am glad to see that she has.
    It just reiterates to me that before you blast something, you should know what it’s about first.

    Thank you for all the work you do within the Harry Potter fandom with your books and editorials, but more importantly, for the way you point people to the Lord and help them see that Harry’s story comes from HIS story.

    – Rebecca

  14. Like so many other participants on this site, I was thrilled with the way Rowling chose to end Deathly Hallows. As a Christian, I have been delighted with the Christian symbols and meaning throughout the series.

    I would also, however, like to extend some sympathy to Meredith and affirm some of the views she expressed. Celebrating HP as a Christian series is certainly something we Christians can enjoy. That fact in itself, however, does not make the HP books “good” in either a literary sense or even necessarily a moral one (heaven knows that plenty of bad things have been done in the name of our faith).

    I have seen too often how disrespectful we Christians can be – whether intentionally or not – toward those of different beliefs. While it is right that we feel strongly about our faith, that strength of feeling can often lead to arrogance if we aren’t careful. For Christians, arrogance is a sin (see Matthew 5:22). Rowling even wrote about this issue when she created a people called “purebloods” who imagined themselves superior to all others.

    Of deepest concern to Christians should be the fact that our actions might unwittingly repel those whom Christ has called us to embrace.

    I don’t think for a minute that the participants on this website have any intention of being arrogant or believing themselves superior. I was just sad that no one else had spoken up for Meredith, so I thought I would.

  15. Arabella – I, too, came across both Richard Abanes and John Granger after I read the first 4 books at the release of GoF and decided to make Harry Potter and christianity my thesis in college.

    Now college kept me too busy studying theology, history, Hebrew, and Greek to pursue a study the structure of alchemical literature and Christian symbolism. Please, if you could point me in the right direction so I can set out on that same journey without wasting time on fruitless searching? I would appreciate it tremendously.

  16. Arabella Figg says:

    Well, Odon, simply go to Zossima Press and order John’s books, Looking for God in Harry Potter and Unlocking Harry Potter, Five Keys for the Serious Reader. John is the same one who hosts this blog.

    Blessings and a purr from Rumbleroar

  17. I’m a little late to the party, since I just came across this blog recently. I’ve been writing some essays about Harry Potter for some friends; here is a portion of one of them about this “smuggled in theology.”

    Harry Potter has that oft-confusing, postmodern eclectic blend of form and genre. Is it “occultic” or just a parody of magic? Is it secular or Christian in its themes? Is it just a “fantasy story” or an attempt to glamorize the occult? One possible answer is that Harry Potter presents traditional Christian themes in a contemporary secular context, but one that is expressed as an eclectic fantasy world not realistically. Since young people are fascinated with the fantastical worlds of medieval romances why not use that form of story telling to get the ideas across? I have no problem with that, at all. Harry Potter is not an explicitly Christian novel, but it does embody ideals that are clearly Christian. It is an entertaining story, but is also a moral tale. For those who still have a problem with the form of the writing, consider this: Would Rowling’s story have been as well received and widely read had it been yet another pedantic, didactic “Christian” novel? I doubt it. As C. S. Lewis realized, “any amount of theology can now be smuggled into people’s minds under cover of romance without their knowing it.”
    Lewis’s statement was a sarcastic response to the failure of critics to see the implied Christian themes in Out of the Silent Planet, but it turns out to be a bit of prognostication as well. We have reached a strange point in Western History. Although Christianity has been the foundation of Western Civilization for 1700 years, today Christianity is identified in the minds of many people with a certain religious observance only. If you don’t look like a Christian, then you must not be one is the attitude of far too many people. Likewise, many will not listen to a Christian teacher because they think of Christianity as a religious form and tradition only. If you strip the religiosity away they cannot recognize the doctrines as Christian. That’s what we have in the Harry Potter debate. Non-Christians think it is just a fantasy story, while conservative evangelicals think it is a wicked attempt to influence young minds towards the occult. In both cases, however, the opinions are based only on the outward appearance and not the imbedded theology of the book. It’s the same frustrating problem C. S. Lewis complained about.
    It is also the ultimate irony. Because the outward form does not appear to represent traditional religion, non-Christian readers will accept, and even embrace the Christian ideas in Harry Potter, even to the point of being upset if you point out to them that the book expresses a Christian world view. The Christian anti-Potter critics reject the clearly Christian nature of the books because the Christian ideas do not have the “proper” outward appearance.
    Religion, especially Christianity, Judaism and Islam, seen as something that demands conformity of action and appearance to a traditional norm, is considered by many to be at odds with the postmodern world view. Many people today, especially young people, accept Christianity as a one possible private religion, but do not see its doctrines as an all-encompassing explanation for life. Consequently, in public affairs, Christianity is pushed aside, often treated as the crazy old Aunt in the basement that should not be spoken of publicly, much less taken seriously (e.g. The Humanist Manifesto). In other words, a Christian world-view is no longer allowed to act as a foundation for morality or public policy. When evangelicals screech and yell and condemn all non-conformed behavior, their words are ignored as out-of-date, reactionary fundamentalism. This presents a real problem for Christian teachers. How can we get across the “fundamentals” of Christianity to a world that no longer thinks there are universal fundamentals? Answer: we smuggle it in.
    What I find most remarkable and exciting about Harry Potter is that it truly vindicates the Christian world view. Readers of all ages have accepted, even embraced, Harry Potter as a “good” book without even realizing the philosophical and theological foundation for the moral themes expressed in the books. In other words, they accept the ideal that voluntary self-sacrificing love provides protection from evil. They find that embracing death to overcome death based on the hope of a future after-life is the only solution to the paradox of life and death. They likewise recognize the character of evil as something parasitic, prideful and destructive, not a dualistic, opposite but necessary, of the good. Harry Potter may not look like traditional Christianity, but its moral themes are about as Christian as you can get. Thus the irony: when stripped of religiosity, the world-view and a priori premises of Christianity are readily accepted and embraced even by a postmodern society. And, that is vindication, not denial, of the universal, timeless nature of the Christian message.

  18. Richard Abanes can grumble all he wants about J.K. Rowling’s statements but he is the one misrepresenting her. He dances around the Vancouver Sun article in which JKR says she’s a Christian and tries very hard to cast doubt on her faith. I find JKR to be a very honest woman when she says that she struggles with religious belief. Abanes can say all he wants about JKR not being a Christian but why should JKR’s statements regarding her church attendence enter into the discussion. We are discussing the merits of Harry Potter and anything about JKR’s religious life is between her and God. Abanes comes off as standoff-ish. Not every Christian is a “saint” (my usage of saint here meaning perfect). JKR is human but she has her religious beliefs and she struggles with them. I struggle too. Am I a Christian? Only I know. Anyone reading my words would have to believe me unless I show evidence to the contrary. Any Harry Potter supporter is not portraying JKR as a perfect, Christ-like figure but as a normal Christian whose faith is instrumental to understanding the series. Once again we are back at the Vancouver Sun interview. I mean come on, JKR told Meredith Vieira on the Today Show that there is a religious undertone in the series. Abanes wants a blatant admission and she has given it but it is not blatant for Abanes.

    As far as JKR using the “dying-rising, savior-deliverer myth motif” inherant in a lot of pre-Christian cultures, that does not matter. JKR has said that her Christian faith is the key to unlocking the ending of the series. She did not say that her belief in Mithras or Osirus is the key to what’s coming in the books. Abanes is just grasping at straws here. JKR statements are what counts. Abanes believes this but he falls into the same “twisting” of JKR’s words that he accuses the Harry Potter supporters of doing. What about JKR’s interview with Evan Solomon with CBC NewsWorld in July 2000? Solomon asks her if she believes in magic and she says that she does not believe in magic in the sense that it happens in the books. Abanes has argued in Harry Potter and the Bible that this quote potentially implies that perhaps JKR believes in magic in a different sense, namely that of the occult. This flies in the face of all the statements that JKR said that she is not a witch (Rogers, Shelagh. “INTERVIEW: J.K. Rowling,” Canadian Broadcasting Co., October 23, 2000) and that she is not a champion for Wicca (Hattenstone, Simon. “Harry, Jessica and me,” The Guardian, July 8, 2000). This is but another example of Abanes misrepresenting JKR in his arguments. Abanes did it then and is continuing to do it now (confusion over Abanes revised Potter views in his three books is a topic for another day). No wonder JKR told Solomon, “This is so frustrating. Again, there is so much I would like to say, and come back when I’ve written book seven. But then maybe you won’t need to even say it ’cause you’ll have found it out anyway. You’ll have read it.”

    Well we have read it. Abanes hasn’t. Therefore he’s in no position to comment otherwise.

  19. hambrick91 says:

    John–I wasn’t sure where to put this, but I know you moderate the panel, so feel free to delete the link if it doesn’t work or violates copyright laws or whatever. I opened my email this morning and found this article, which I thought you’d find interesting. He gets a couple of things wrong (thinking Ginny’s name is Guineverre, for instance) but on the whole has a good article about Rowling smuggling the gospel.

    http://www.townhall.com/columnists/JerryBowyer/2007/08/21/harry_potter_and_the_great_relearning

  20. john says:

    “(i.e., that we are to Ms. Rowling what he is to the author of The Purpose Driven Life, Rick Warren)”

    I found this comment quite intrigued me. I take it Mr Albanes is a lover of the work of Rick Warren? As if the daring to criticise a series without reading all of it isn’t enough!!

    Rowling has done a wonderful job of ‘smuggling the Gospel’ into a popular literary work.

    I have to say that all Mr Warren has done is ‘smuggle the Law’ into a supposedly Christian work. Seriously .. by a third of the way through it’s ALL about what WE should be doing as Christians and very little about what GOD has done for us!!

    I never finished it. My husband gamely struggling on leading a study series based on the book – however by the latter chapters the discussions was all about how wrong it all was.

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