CNN: ‘Was Harry Potter a Good Christian?’

The Rev. Danielle Tumminio, author of God and Harry Potter at Yale, was interviewed by CNN Religion blog reporter Eric Marrapodi for an article published today with the provocative title ‘Was Harry Potter a Good Christian?‘ The article contrasts the Rev. Tumminio’s perspective with Lauvre Steenhaussen at Georgetown who argues that Harry’s leading a moral life and “seeking” does not make him a Christian. Most interesting to me has been the volume and intensity of the response: almost a hundred comments before noon on a holiday recovery Tuesday. Folks are still wound up about Harry’s religious content — especially when reading articles headed by a picture of Daniel Radcliffe with a nimbus (halo) like the 2009 piece at your left.

See the HogPro interview with Rev. Tumminio here for for more on her class at Yale, how it came about, and what her students learned from and taught her about Harry and Christian faith. H/T to Eric in Houston!

Comments

  1. GrahamLBadger says

    It is a fascinating article and one worthy of a lot of discussion, whether or not you need to be Christian to be moral, or if being morals are exclusively Christian, or if being moral can qualify you as Christian. A lot of really fun and exciting discussion here (I would point you to http://tinyurl.com/manorrabbit personally).

    Unfortunately the discussion on the article itself appears to have been bogged down by lowbrow, broad-brush attacks against Christianity and Christians themselves (with a fair share of retaliation to be honest). At least I know discussions can be held here in a civilized manner without personal attacks ๐Ÿ™‚

  2. Really want to set them on fire? Try Snape was a Christian with a devotion to the Blessed Lily that led him to total self-sacrifice in the service of her son. That should do it?

    Which, by the way, Professor, has anyone to your knowledge ever pursued?

  3. Not to my knowledge, Inked, but I’m guessing in the annals of fan fiction and Snape scholarship (especially the several books by LogosPilgrim) it almost certainly has been explored and at length.

  4. Well, I have to admit that putting Harry’s head on a Pantocrator icon is going too far, even as one who takes great enjoyment from the Christian symbolism in Rowling, Lewis, et al.

    Given that the author [painter] was likely not an Orthodox Christian, I am willing to give them the benefit of the doubt that they didn’t realize what they were doing.

  5. We Christians, bieng moral is part of our religion, I know that in every religion have moral acts, it is just clarify that bieng moral corresponds to all Christianity. Also as a comment, put Harry Potter in the place of my Lord, is idolatry to put a man, a wizard in the place of God. I think we should have a critical attitude in those images.

  6. wow, I just checked out the article and the accompanying comments! wow talk about incendiary comments! I too am glad that this page is a safe place to share your views and expect a respectful response from those who disagree with you. Most comments on there saddened me with their hateful tones.

    My opinion on the whole topic: I lean more towards viewing Harry as a Christian symbol/ Christ-figure in DH; I also agree that he can be considered a type/symbol of a “Christian everyman.” I would not consider Harry an actual Christian in the biblical sense, because that would mean he would have to come to believe/receive Jesus as Savior as the Bible teaches and of course that’s not in the canon. ๐Ÿ™‚

    I would also agree that Harry is very moral.

  7. I think that Harry Potter falls firmly within the same tradition as Lord of the Rings. Lord of the Rings had no mention of religion within the trilogy. However, I have read many stories of people starting their journey toward converting to Christianity from reading Lord of the Rings. People read the series on a surface level and miss that the entire universe of the series is designed around Christianity.

    None of the characters in Harry Potter are religious or engage in any Chrisitian worship. However, the series is still clearly based on Christianity.

  8. I completely agree with you, Sbark. ๐Ÿ™‚

  9. I really ought, I suppose, to visit the original site, but couldn’t help but chime in with my response to the original question – one I’ve already stated more than once.

    No, Harry is by no means a Christian. He occasionally rises to the level of a virtuous pagan, but never goes higher than that. Often – in the horrible torture scene, for example – he goes far, far lower.

    Nor are the books Christian in theme or tone. As my friend Anne_Arthur on livejournal remarked, they are full of Christian symbols, but utterly devoid of Christian content. In this, they are a very great contrast to Tolkien’s works.

    Getting back to Harry for a moment, the boy becomes a thoroughly unpleasant character, at least to me. He is self-absorbed, self-righteous, passive for the most part, and not particularly loving. (I am speaking of Harry in the last two books – I liked him quite well in the first five, and had hope he might actually become a hero.) At no point in these two books does he exhibit love or concern for an enemy. At no point does he repent of his own actions. I cannot remember him ever apologizing for any harm he has done, nor thanking anyone for their help to him. A truly Christian young man would not be self-righteous and would know how to express both repentance and gratitude.

    One thing I want to emphasize: the scene where he tortures Amycus Carrow can in no way be compared to the righteous wrath we see from Jesus when he drives out the moneychangers. Righteous wrath, as we know, does not fuel the Cruciatus curse. What does? Sadism. Nor can this scene be justified as a defense of Minerva McGonagall (who, as we see slightly later, is quite capable of defending herself), nor as an appropriate weapon in war. Harry has in his arsenal many more effective hexes, jinxes and curses. He could have used Impedimenta or Stupefy, or even Sectumsempra. That last might have been a bit over the top, but it would have been easier to understand and forgive than what Harry actually did.

    Torture is always wrong, even in war. It can and should never be justified. That Rowling wrote a scene justifying torture, in a set of books ostensibly for children, simply horrifies me. So does Harry. And that, by the way, is why I haven’t been back here often. I am deeply, deeply disappointed by these books, and it hurts to discuss them. But, when I saw above that you actually seemed to be justifying the torture scene, I had to say something about it.

    Best wishes,

    Mary

  10. @Mary- I’m afraid I must respectfully disagree with what you say about Harry’s character and about the books. Although I agree that torture is always wrong and never justifiable, I don’t think Harry’s torturing of Amycus Carrow in Deathly Hallows should detract from his character or from the books. J. K. Rowling is not justifying torture in this scene, nor do I believe that as a woman who used to work for the human rights group Amnesty International she would ever condone such violence. In this scene, she is simply showing that Harry does have faults, as she explains in this online interview: “Harry is not, and never has been, a saint. Like Snape, he is flawed and mortal. Harryโ€™s faults are primarily anger and occasional arrogance. On this occasion, he is very angry and acts accordingly. He is also in an extreme situation, and attempting to defend somebody very good against a violent and murderous opponent.” (http://harrypotter.wikia.com/wiki/Bloomsbury_Live_Chat).

    You argue that Harry is self-absorbed and self-righteous, and that he has never shown concern or love for an enemy. However, I can think of several times that Harry has shown concern for and even saved the lives’ of his enemies, particularly in Deathly Hallows. When the trio, along with Malfoy, Crabbe, and Goyle, are trying to escape from the burning Room of Requirement, Harry endangers his own life and turns back in order to save Malfoy and Goyle (he is unable to rescue Crabbe). He feels “horror and shock” after watching Snape, whom one could argue Harry hated as much as he did Voldemort, murdered in the Shrieking Shack. He even names his second child after his former worst-enemy.

    As for showing gratitude and repentance – is not Harry continually apologizing to his loved ones for putting their lives in danger? He shows thankfulness throughout the books; the two recipients of his gratefulness that immediately come to mind for me are Hermione, whom he thanks for saving the day with her brainpower in several situations, and Ms. Weasley, whom he repeatedly thanks for everything she has done for him. In Deathly Hallows, he actually reprimands Hermione for not showing more gratitude towards Ron when he returns after having saved Harry’s life moments earlier.

    We do not know if Harry is actually a Christian or if he has any religion at all, but the majority of his actions and his morals throughout the books are certainly Christian. He is willing to lay down his own life in order to bring an end to Voldemort’s reign of terror; he saves the lives’ of his enemies and even gives Voldemort a chance for repentance. I do not think he represents Jesus, by any means – as Ms. Rowling has said, he is flawed and human. However, I do think he represents, as John Granger has said, a “Christian everyman”. I also believe that the books themselves are full of Christian content; the themes of love, sacrifice, and love’s victory over death are an essential component of the series.

    I’m sorry that you were so disappointed by the books, but I hope that perhaps the arguments above will allow you to view them in a better light.

    Sincerely,

    Vivian T.

  11. Joseph Balaich says

    And behold all things have their
    likeness, and all things are created
    and made to bear record of me,
    both things which are spiritual; things
    which are in the heavens above, and
    things which are on the earth, and
    things which are in the earth,
    and things which are under the earth,
    both above and beneath all things
    bear record of me.

    Now it is clearly shown that J.K. Rowling did not fully intend her series to be Christian oriented. She made them out of pure imagination, not under the influence of the Devil. But the books have Christ-like principles from what he taught. Example Dumbledore’s result to love. Here are some quotes from the book itself that I believe reflect Christ:

    “It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live.”

    “Harry, I owe you an explanation,” said Dumbledore. “An explanation of an old man’s mistakes. For I see now that what I have done, and not done, with regard to you, bears all the hallmarks of the failings of age. Youth cannot know how age thinks and feels. But old men are guilty if they forget what it was to be young…and I seem to have forgotten lately.”

    “…in the light of Voldemort’s return, we are only as strong as we are united, as weak as we are divided. Lord Voldemort’s gift for spreading discord and enmity is very great. We can fight it only by showing an equally strong bond of friendship and trust. Differences of habit and language are nothing at all if our aims are identical and our hearts are open.”

    “You fail to recognize that it matters not what someone is born, but what they grow to be.”

    “I am not worried, Harry,” said Dumbledore, his voice a little stronger despite the freezing water. “I am with you.”

    “Time is making fools of us again.”

    โ€œHarry must not know, not until the last moment, not until it is necessary, otherwise how could he have the strength to do what must be done?โ€

    “It is our choices that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.”

    “It is a curious thing, Harry, but perhaps those who are best suited to power are those who have never sought it. Those who, like you, have leadership thrust upon them, and take up the mantle because they must, and find to their own surprise that they wear it well.”

    โ€œDo not pity the dead, Harry. Pity the living, and, above all, those who live without love. By returning, you may ensure that fewer souls are maimed, fewer families are torn apart. If that seems to you a worthy goal, then we say good-bye for the present.โ€

    We have no need to condemn the Harry Potter books because they have not led us or had anyone the single desire to follow Satan. The movies are a different story for the enticing things they show. But J.K. Rowling showed the terms of good and evil. And we read from the Bible the terms of good and evil. This is a children series after all that makes us expand our imagination and take for what Dumbledore has said to Harry. Let us be good to one another and enjoy what we all enjoy differently, but love each other the same. If you don’t desire to read the series that is okay, there are other forms of literature for you and other media. But choose wisely and for yourself, don’t let anyone else follow you like your a leader. Contention is of the Devil and not of Christ.

  12. “Now it is clearly shown that J.K. Rowling did not fully intend her series to be Christian oriented.”

    Actually, Ms. Rowling has said that she thought the Christian symbolism of the books was “obvious.” I think that saying the books are “clearly” Christian by design (i.e., cardboard allegories) or that they are “clearly” not intended to be “Christian oriented” are equally wrong-headed positions. We simply cannot know what the author’s intentions were/are on this point short of a good dose of Veritaserum and I’m pretty sure her recollection shouldn’t be authoritative here.

    Let the text speak. The text suggests, as all your examples and many, many more (see my books) reveal, that your opening assertion is anything but the logical ‘given’ you assume.

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