Christian Today: End of Potter Panic?

Simonepetra AthosMartin Saunders, a Contributing Editor at Christian Today, a popular blog originating in the UK, has written a piece titled, ‘Harry Potter and the Christian concern: seven things we no longer seem worried about.’ Two friends have sent me the link with notes celebrating it as good news; they read it as Saunders’ implicit acknowledgment that the Potter Panic was a waste of time and effort on the part of those Christians who used the Hogwarts Saga as a litmus strip for orthodox faith over the better part of a decade.

Please read it. If you’re like me, you’ll come away with the thought that it really isn’t about Harry Potter. It seems instead to be a carefully framed warning to Christians around the world about how best to respond to a recent Supreme Court decision in the United States.

Here are my three thoughts:

(1) Christian Today, as noted, is not Christianity Today a magazine founded by Billy Graham. If you, like me, confused the two, you were likely shaking your head about Saunders’ editorial observations. Christianity Today is not the journal that has reason to be apologizing for fanning the flames of Harry Hatred in the pews. If anything, Christianity Today was the lone sober voice among widely read Christian periodicals — and CT has the largest circulation and most important reach in that market — and suffered significant back-lash because of their refusing to take a harsh and strict anti-Potter line. They published an excerpt from an early edition of How Harry Cast His Spell, for goodness sake.

But Christian Today? Like their assonant fellow Christian publication, it seems, as Graham said about CT at its founding during the segregation controversies of the 1950’s, “theologically conservative and liberal on social issues.” I appreciate Martin Saunders’ noting that he was in error years ago Christian Today but wonder at his timing.

So what is this published reflection about? Why now with this apology?

(2) Harry Potter is the lede item in Saunders’ list of seven things that “conservative” Christians seem to have come to accept because of the weight of popular culture’s embracing them (and Christendom’s not wanting to be left out or seem a “peculiar people,” as St Peter says we must be). As Saunders says, Harry Potter is just “the clearest” of many “bogeymen” that turned out to be things we could live with. All of these items, I think, are pointers to Saunders’ concluding paragraph, which is hard to read except in the context of the US Supreme Court’s recent ruling in ‘Obergefell v. Hodges.’

So what does all this mean? Are we becoming more moderate because that’s what it means to be ‘wise as serpents, innocent as doves’ (Matthew 10:16), or are we just slowly compromising ourselves into a state of total lukewarmness? (If so, worry about Revelation 3:16.) Perhaps it’s a mix of both, and if so, the best approach might be two-edged. On the one hand, we should probably be a little less eager to decry or campaign against those elements of our culture which seem to conflict with our faith before we’ve properly understood them. On the other, it’s a good idea to continually assess whether we’re really living lives that honour God and reflect his holiness, or turning the radical Christian faith into living what Katie Dowds calls “the PG version of what the world is living.”

“Don’t cry wolf on silly subjects like modest dress and D&D lest you have lost your authority on important matters like the meaning of marriage,” or even “Y’know, in a few years we may have embraced the unthinkable the way we have on these seven subjects.” Saunders is playing with Evangelical explosives on both counts here, he knows it, and is writing obliquely for ‘those with ears to hear’ lest he start a fire storm. But his message is certainly “we should probably be a little less eager to decry or campaign against those elements of our culture which seem to conflict with our faith.”

It’s no accident that Martin Saunders has also recently written at Christian Today that it’s time for Christians “to lose the fish car sticker” because:

We’re already seen as something of a cultural irrelevance, and putting odd-shaped stickers on our cars does little to help. Instead of appearing like the sort of people you could be friends with and welcomed among, the trappings of a sub-culture make us seem separate and strange.

Get it? He repents in humility from his Harry Hating of yore to show an example of how Christians should and should not be responding to the current events of the last month. Lest Christians become even more “culturally irrelevant.” Ouch.

(3) Saunders apologizes flat out for suggesting years ago that “Harry Potter is a large doorway to the occult, and if we lead children to it, there is a possibility that they may nudge it open.” He goes so far in his repentance as to say, “I can only apologise, but the shame will never fully leave me.” He acknowledges that “with it’s redemptive and ultimately Christ-imitating finale now revealed, many Christian parents are happy for their children to read all seven of JK Rowling’s world-conquering novels” and that he was wrong as “an earnest young journalist” to have been among the “chief scaremongers.”

Again, let’s be clear. Saunders was never a Richard Abanes or Michael O’Brien so this apology may be a little over-wrought (not to mention more than a day late), but he is good to share his acquired sobriety on the subject, even if it’s only as cover to deliver a message on another topic.

And then he slips and falls with “fifteen years on from the first book’s release, I’m still yet to hear the story of an actual witch or wizard who took their first steps into magic through Harry Potter’s ‘occult doorway’.”

Wow. He needs to get out more or just do an internet search. Berit Kjos, for one, is out there to let him know, forever and ever, amen, how wrong he is on this count (if anything she says is suspect, sadly). Because the recruiters for occult groups are supposed to have used the Hogwarts Saga aggressively as a recruiting tool, trolling online chatrooms for possible converts, I think it safe to say that it is probable that Harry’s adventures, inadvertently and contrary to their spirit, served as a gateway for some to occult beliefs. It is possible to use any text, to include the Bible of course, for perverse ends but suggesting it doesn’t happen instead of simply noting that it didn’t happen in the tsunami culture-changing fashion predicted is to invite the few cases of misuse and abuse to be offered once again as evidence of Harry’s evil.

Someday I should publish the many notes I have received through the years from readers of my books who have written that reading Harry Potter and my explanations fostered their faith or founded their conversion.

Thank you to the friends who sent me links to this article. It’s almost certainly only about Harry Potter because the writer wanted the most ‘hits’ from the article title, but it is a pointer to how much things have changed.

Thanks, too, to Luke for pointing out a gaffe that required my pulling this post’s first draft.

Your comments and correction are coveted as always.


  1. Melissa Aaron (Moonyprof) says

    “Harry Potter is the lede item in Saunders’ list of seven things that “conservative” Christians seem to have come to accept because of the weight of popular culture’s embracing them (and Christendom’s not wanting to be left out or seem a “peculiar people,” as St Peter says we must be).”

    This seems like an extraordinary statement. I’ve always thought that the primary reason many conservative Christians changed their minds about Harry Potter was because they found that they were quite wrong about its contents. Once the seventh book was published, there was no other reason to fear that a sudden brick would fall. In other words, they came to see many of the same things you and other Christian Harry apologists did. It’s got nothing to do with beliefs about dress, conduct, choices of activity, or fish car stickers. It proved itself to be harmless and possibly beneficial.

    As for temptation into the occult . . . maybe? The same has been said of Lord of the Rings, and Tolkein was a staunch Catholic. Generally, though, I’ve found that people who change their religious views begin with dissatisfaction with the ones they began with.

    I can’t speak to bumper stickers, but all sorts of people have all sorts of bumper stickers. My car has a AAA sticker and a small one from the International Wolf Foundation with the cryptic message “in honor of Wolf 06.” I don’t see what’s wrong with a fish bumper sticker. My main feeling about bumper stickers is that a car with lots of them makes the driver look slightly unhinged.

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