Selected Readers’ Comments in Response to the NYTimes Article of 9/23/2019 “Harry Potter and the Poorly-Read Exorcists”

I have chosen not to comment publicly about the controversy in Tennessee about a priest who pulled the Harry Potter novels from the library of his parish’s school. David Martin, though, long time friend of this blog, put together something of interest, I think, that is of ‘Shared Text’ interest, namely, the responses to the priest’s decision in the letters page of the New York Times, America’s ‘paper of record.’ Enjoy!

On September 23rd, the New York Times published an opinion piece entitled “Harry Potter and the Poorly-Read Exorcists.” (The piece can be seen here: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/09/23/opinion/banned-books-harry-potter.html ) This piece noted that it was then Banned Books Week (see https://bannedbooksweek.org/ ) and expended a fair amount of ink criticizing the Catholic priest Fr Reehil in Nashville who in August banned the Harry Potter books from a Catholic school where he worked. (Sigh. To quote a Sunday school lesson of my youth, “Not all the servants of the great King are as wise as the great King Himself.)

The coverage given to this unusual bit of censorship – and the failure to note that such censorship of Harry Potter is unusual (now) – gave the article an anti-Catholic tone. Or perhaps even an anti-religion in general tone. Those of us who find faith both in the Bible and in Harry Potter can be glad that some of the comments by the readers have a different orientation. What follows is a selection of readers’ comments on the original New York Times article. These comments represent an admittedly minority view among the comments, but let us be glad that the other side of the issue is being expressed.

(To see all the comments on the original article, go to https://www.nytimes.com/2019/09/23/opinion/banned-books-harry-potter.html#commentsContainer and then, when the comments column appears on the right side of the screen, click on the word “All” at the beginning of the comments.)

Peace,
David Martin of Hufflepuff

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From: Andrew Parker
In: Houston

I am an Episcopal priest and a huge Harry Potter fan. I read the books to my children and have three times led a vacation Bible School based on the books (Wizard and Wonders by leaderresources.org) I also recommend “God and Harry Potter at Yale” by the Rev. Danielle Elizabeth Tumminio. To quote an old Episcopal ad “Jesus died to take away your sins, not your mind.”

More after the jump!

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From: Elizabeth
In: Ann Arbor, MI

When I was doing my clinical pastoral education (with a whole bunch of other future pastors and priests), Book 7 came out. I waited in line at midnight, read several chapters, and got up the next morning to go do rounds at the hospital. At lunch, we were all quiet- all my colleagues had packed their lunches and were reading feverishly. Maybe the next day, I got to the part where Harry is killed- and lunch was over. I put my book down and my supervisor, a kindly, older Anglican priest, said, “what’s wrong?” I replied, “Harry just died.” He responded: “It’ll be ok. You’ll see.” He had already read the whole thing.

The urge to ban these books is not about a supposed religious conflict. It’s because certain people don’t like hearing that sometimes, authority must be challenged. Sometimes, even beloved mentors will mess up – even when they’re trying their best. And that it takes a great deal of courage to stand up and demand a better future and an end to fear.

I, a Lutheran pastor, am excited for the day when I can share these wonderful books with my creative, inquisitive children.

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From: Bob
In: Smithtown

I am a practicing Catholic, educated through law school in Catholic institutions. My parents and grandparents were university graduates. In that environment, neither my brother nor I (Baby Boomers) were forbidden in school or at home from reading anything so long as it was close to age appropriate. But I don’t criticize anyone with a contrary opinion as parents have to make their own best judgments when their children are young. As for my wife and I, our daughters read this series and we all enjoyed the movies. But they also read The Chronicles of Narnia and other more classic literature. And to the librarian who scoffed at classics for kids today because they don’t like those books: the lessons therein are timeless. Failure to show that to youth shortchanges them.

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From: Sue Ann Dobson
In: Erie, PA

C. S. Lewis, a famed Christian apologist, wrote The Chronicles of Narnia–a re-telling of the Christ narrative presented as a fantasy that also incorporated pre-Christian myths as well as magic. A young Jewish man I know loved the books, and when I asked him how he related to the expressed Christian aspects of the story, he asked “What Christian aspects are in there? ” He was enthralled with the general tale of adventure, self-growth, noble endeavor and sacrifice to a greater cause, as we’ll as the created fantasy world itself. My young daughter, an agnostic, checked a wardrobe in our house on many rainy days hoping it might open to Narnia at last. And Harry Potter for this generation!

Magic indeed, of the very best kind!

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From: CaliMama
In: Seattle

Tempting as it is to bash the Catholic Church over this (and I’ve been known to tack a few good whacks), Fr Reehil is not representative of the entire clergy. Just after all this absurdity happened our parish priest used Harry, Hermione, Ron and the rest in his back-to-school mass as a shining example of truly excellent human values: friendship, love, education, and justice. They never give up on each other or their families. They fight against evil even when the cost is too high to bear (Lupin! Fred! Or was it George? Dumbledore!) Those characters are so powerful because their humanity is what truly shines, not their magic.

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From: Misty Martin
In: Beckley, WV

My two boys enjoyed all of the Harry Potter books. We also viewed the films and fell in love with them. I say this with some reservation now, because I am a follower of Jesus, and I do believe that there is an unseen world that we humans cannot see. I believe that Satan is real, and his followers, fallen angels or demons, who were abolished from Heaven when he and they tried to usurp Jehovah God’s authority, do exist in this unseen spiritual world that humans cannot see.

I believe the Bible from cover to cover, and you can search the Scriptures for yourself to verify what I have stated in the above paragraph. One has to believe by faith in the Bible being God’s Holy Word, completely true and factual, which it is.

That being said, I realize that the books were exceptionally written, and encouraged young readers to read, and improved their reading skills, as each book progressively became harder to read, thus polishing the reader’s skills, book by book, level by level. Also, one of the great Christian writers of all time, C. S. Lewis, who wrote the famous book, also made a film, “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe” also dealt with magic, although the lion in the book was a picture of Christ and His sacrifice for mankind.

Whether or not the spells in the Harry Potter books, which are in Latin, I believe, carry any danger when spoken out loud, I cannot say, but both sons are good readers, and that is not to be taken lightly. So in that respect, cudos to the author.

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From: Charlesbalpha
In: Atlanta

A minister whom I know remarked casually on Facebook that she reads HARRY POTTER to her children all the time. Father Reehil is obviously an isolated nut with too much power.

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From: dansaperstein
In: Saginaw, MI

The Harry Potter books are a parable of the gospel – arguably the best popular presentation of the Christian faith in our generation. The pervasive theme is the triumph of sacrificial love – a message J.K. Rowling has publicly confirmed was inspired by her Christian faith (https://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/books/fictionreviews/3668658/J-K-Rowling-Christianity-inspired-Harry-Potter.html). Those who only see magic and the occult in them probably wouldn’t understand Jesus’ use of parables either.

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From: Deanna Barr
In: The World

One year I had a class that consisted of 7 girls and 20 boys. The boys were an exceptionally lively and energetic group. Several of these little guys struggled academically.

But everyone in this class loved Harry Potter, and most children had their own copy. I blessed J. K Rowling regularly when silence would descend on the class during our daily silent free reading session. I would look up from my own book and see even my most reluctant readers totally absorbed as they read about Harry and his adventures.

This was in a Roman Catholic school in Canada. None of the church or academic leaders in our community ever said a word about the Potter books, either positive or negative. I imagine they were much too busy dealing with serious parish or school issues to worry about a fictional children’s series.

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From: Walter
In: Hopewell, NJ

The irony, of course, is that these wonderful books are deeply Christian texts, rooted firmly in the death and resurrection narrative of Jesus. In fact, the author herself is in fact a follower of Jesus. At my church, we embrace these books and talk to the children about the themes in them that come from the faith as well as the great virtues demonstrated by Harry and his friends. Both people of faith and detractors of faith are so poorly educated about Christianity that they fail to see the story of sacrificial love, defeat of evil and redemption in these stories. Of course, many in both groups missed the core story in “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” as well.

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From: Gregory
In: Berkeley, CA

What I find fascinating regarding conservative Christian objections to Harry Potter books and movies is that one of their “subversive” elements is that they present an allegory of the New Testament Christ, with Harry as the protagonist. There is extensive Trinitarian symbolism and allegory throughout the book. Dumbledore, McGonagall and Hagrid, to begin, Harry, Hermione, Ron to echo. And for heaven’s sake, Harry himself is martyred willingly toward the end of the series and is resurrected to lead a climactic apocalyptic war against the assembled forces of evil. To a reader who reads with discernment, the books are virtually Christian propaganda.

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From: Nancy Jo
In: Nashville, TN

The good news is that none of the other Catholic schools in Nashville have followed suit. However, the local diocese punted and chose not to chastise The Priest Who Would Ban Books.

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From: Di
In: California

If you look at the full reporting, that particular priest is a right-wing culture warrior and it’s not exactly a Catholic thing, it’s a somebody trying to make a name for himself thing.

My kids’ Catholic school had kids reading Harry Potter all over the place and assigned one of the Percy Jackson novels in middle school.

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From: Meredith
In: NJ

I used to teach English at an all girls Catholic high school serving at risk students. I assigned the first Harry Potter book as an independent read — and for many of my students, it was the first book they had ever finished on their own. I even had one student miss her subway stop because she was so engrossed. Without question, Harry Potter changed their lives for the better.

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On a slightly different topic, but wonderful:
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From: stripesrus
In: Maine

A friend of mine, the mother of a bright, blind child, had struggled for years to get her son to practice Braille. But on the day when each Harry Potter book came out, the National Braille Press simultaneously released a Braille edition, and soon after the first release the young man was staying up every night until 2:00 reading. His mom eventually had to take the books out of his room at bedtime, as making sure the lights were out was not a practical option. Now that’s magic!

Comments

  1. David James says

    John and David…Having given presentations on the “Christian” message within the HP books at many Harry Potter conferences along side both of you over the years, it’s amazing that this would still be an issue amoung clergy.
    I can remember researching the spells named in the books by JKR in the early days of the Potter book burnings, that have no connection to actual spells in the occult world of paganism or witchcraft.
    In fact some of the pagan/wiccan websites at the time got a chuckle at the news that some leaders in the Christian faith consider the spells in Potter as having anything to do with their practices.
    The important truth as revealed in the comments above that David submitted is that Harry’s path through the 7 book series mirrors the sacrificial act of a “Christlike” character to help those of us in the church reach the world with the true Gospel in a unique way to be sure. In the tradition of Tolkien and C S lewis.

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