“Judging Harry Potter” by Fr. Alfonso Aguilar, LC

The National Catholic Register has published an article about Harry Potter by a priest in the Legionary of Christ who teaches philosophy at Regina Apostolorum University in Rome. “Judging Harry Potter” by Fr. Alfonso Aguilar, LC, takes a position much like Michael O’Brien’s with respect to Ms. Rowling’s novels; he believes they are essentially godless, beyond a pale pantheism, and that they foster a gnostic perspective on the world. He applauds certain values that can be found in the books but finds their worldview disturbing enough to say they would be dangerous for those not having a strong spiritual formation.

I do not doubt that Fr. Alfonso is a thoughtful, pious man. His recommendations show a great desire, even a zeal, to recommend the prudential course and to avoid the possibility that any potential harm be overlooked. His training as a scholastic philosopher is evident in the organization and flavor of his arguments.

He gives cause to wonder about the depth or quality of his thinking, even of his ability to discern the values and meaning of arguments, however, when he writes (after noting that the President of the International Association of Exorcists does not like the books):

Many good Christian thinkers share similar opinions. Among them we find Michael O’Brien, Susan Moore, Berit Kjos, Vivian Dudro, Gabriele Kuby, and Richard Abanes, author of Harry Potter and the Bible: The Menace Behind the Magick.

Either Fr. Alfonso has not read Kuby, Abanes, or Kjos and he is simply demonstrating that two sides have been argued in this matter, or he has read them and we cannot value his opinion as a careful reader. Unfortunately, Fr. Alfonso gives us sufficient reason in the rest of his opinion piece to believe he has indeed read the writers he describes as “good Christian thinkers.” It seems he isn’t to be taken seriously as a reader of books, except, perhaps, as a gatekeeper for those under his immediate spiritual supervision.

I will point to three ideas in “Judging Harry Potter” which I think reflect errors in Fr. Alfonso’s understanding of Ms. Rowling’s works and literature in general.

Gnosticism: Fr. Alfonso argues that the Harry Potter books are essentially gnostic, that is, they are based on the idea that there is a secret knowledge that divides the adepts from the plebians. He writes:

Consider now the concept of man implicit in J.K. Rowling’s narrative. Humans, called “muggles,” are divided into three categories: ordinary “muggles” with no magical power who disdain the magic world (the despicable Dursley family); “muggles” who fancy the magic world but cannot reach it (Hermione Granger’s parents); and the witches and wizards.

This is not the division of the magical world; Hermione’s parents don’t pine for the magical life and Squibs are Ms. Rowling’s “middle piece.” Back to his point:

The ideal is, no doubt, to become a good witch or wizard. What’s the way? Train yourself to look into yourself to find the magical powers within you.

Good training requires masters who help make you aware of the magical (“divine”) forces in your spirit. These are the professors at the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Albus Dumbledore, the school headmaster, is the main spiritual guide.

“Train yourself”? Hogwarts Professors training students to realize the “divine forces in their spirits”? The aloof Albus Dumbledore as the chief adept and spiritual guide? Fr. Alfonso is forcing the pieces of his argument with such disregard for the texts that I wonder if he has read the books as claimed or if he has only seen the movies.

Year after year, through training and exercise, Harry Potter becomes ever more aware of his inner powers and can, thus, use more sophisticated spells and jinxes.

In the fourth installment, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, we read: “Harry had soon mastered the Impediment Curse, a spell to slow down and obstruct attackers; the Reductor Curse, which would enable him to blast solid objects out of his way; and the Four-Point Spell, a useful discovery of Hermione’s that would make his wand point due north, therefore enabling him to check whether he was going in the right direction within the maze.”

Harry, of course, is something of a dullard among wizards, especially compared with Hermione and Ravenclaw students. If Harry becomes more aware of his “inner powers” to master “more sophisticated spells and jinxes,” it isn’t betrayed in the books, least of all this passage from Goblet. Harry is only able to master Occlumency, for example, when he is transformed by grief, which is to say, by love. This isn’t an occult epistemology a la Herman Hesse, as Fr. Alfonso wants to argue; it is an existential epistemology in which character or purity of soul determines what one can and cannot know. Fr. Alfonso in his rush to force Ms. Rowling into culture war categories born of 19th Century historians of heresy has this critical point almost exactly backwards.

He continues with a parallel argument against the Star Wars movies:

The Star Wars films follow a similar pattern.

There are humans and creatures who do not enjoy the use of “the force.” Only the Jedi, such as Luke Skywalker, who was trained by masters Obi-Wan Kenobi and Yoda, obtain a full control over “the force.”

In both cases, the role of the human body is downplayed, as if it were not an essential part of one’s own personhood. The spirit, where the realm of the magic or of “the force” dwells, is the inner true self. This view of man sounds Gnostic to me.

If he were using the word “gnostic” as St. Paul, St. Clement, and St. Simeon use it, he would be correct. But Fr. Alfonso is using the word “gnostic” to mean something like “New Age” or “occult.” Would that the Legionnaires of Christ would read French Catholic theologian Jean Borella or the Palamite fathers in their years of study to understand the kinship of gnosis and theosis, of gnostic and saint.

We come, finally, to the concept of the world. Harry Potter’s physical universe is not explicitly viewed as a prison for mankind created by evil demons, as it appears in classical Gnostic ideologies.

Yet it is portrayed as less “real” than the wizard world — the fantastic realm of powers whose gate can only be opened by the key of esoteric knowledge. Doesn’t the reader feel more “at home” at Hogwarts than in the boring material world of muggles?

To me, the fact that only witches and wizards are able to see the Platform Nine and Three-Quarters at King’s Cross station is meaningful. Those whose spirits are in the magic world can see “more” than ordinary people or muggles. They live in a spiritual (magical) dimension that frees them from the laws of the material world.

Again, have Fr. Alfonso and I read different Harry Potter novels? While there are objects in the world that Muggles cannot see, this is because of magic performed on these objects rather than a contrary “spiritual dimension.” Witches and wizards are not “freed from the laws of the material world” or Fred Weasley would not have been crushed by a wall. This is projection onto a text or an experience from a movie rather than legitimate criticism. It’s flat-out error and misrepresentation to raise conservative Catholic touchstones.

That Ms. Rowling divides creatures on planet earth into magical and non-magical creatures, that she leaves the Muggles well off screen for almost all the books, and that she gives all the “magical brethren” different powers and a hierarchical relationship born of metanarrative rather than these powers does not give us a “gnostic” view of man. It gives us a parallel universe in which we are meant to see a fantastic image of how men and women stand with respect to other men and women in the “real world.” The image, though fantasy, because it acts as a Swiftian or, better, Cruikshankian mirror, has a sharp satiric edge.

All of which art is lost on the Legionnaire, who will find the “gnostic gnail” on which to wield his “gnostic ghammer,” however inappropriate, uncharitable, and just plain wrong.

Values vs. philosophy: Fr. Alfonso believes he makes one original contribution to the discussion of the books:

Let me propose a crucial distinction that I never find in the Potter debate — a distinction between values and philosophy in fiction. [my emphasis]

By values, we may understand the virtues and moral teachings presented in a story.

Great values shine throughout the Potter saga and reach their climax in the seventh installment, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.


Values are not to be confused with philosophy. By philosophy we mean the concept of God, man and the universe underlying a story plot fully developed as a worldview.

Children’s stories, such as Cinderella and Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, do not presume to portray ideas about our world and the realm of transcendence. They are short and simple stories with moral lessons. Harry Potter, instead, encompasses an implicit but integrated philosophical view of reality.

Let’s take a brief look at it.

In Potter’s world, the divine is, in my opinion, pantheistic. The only transcendent reality that exists is (white) magic. A fictional story, of course, does not have to present the Christian truths nor the Christian God. The question is whether or not there is room for a Christian God in the story. In Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, God does not show up, yet he may fit in the background as the one who gave Gandalf certain powers and a new life. Gandalf did not get them by himself.

Not so with Harry Potter.

Once the magic reigns as the ultimate level of reality, a personal God cannot fit in. Magical powers form the highest aspiration.

A certain monistic dualism, characteristic of Gnostic thought, looms over the plot, too.

Lord Voldemort’s and Death Eaters’ dark arts derive from the corruption of white magic, very much as the “dark side of the force” came from the bad use of “the force” in the Star Wars series.

I find myself tempted to once again walk through these paragraphs and point out each mistake as it appears, a la He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named. I think I will leave such a dissection of Fr. Alfonso’s mistakes to others better qualified than myself for this kind of work. I would only note that:

(1) The “only transcendent reality” in Potterdom is not magic per se but the Word-founded creation that incantational magic requires in order to work. Fr. Alfonso no doubt recognizes in Narnia and LOTR a cosmology that resonates or echoes Christian cosmology but he fails to see the same backdrop in Ms. Rowling’s books. This is either his ignorance of this topos of traditional fantasy literature or a blindspot consequent to forcing categories from discursive argument onto works of art. Or both.

(2) Fr. Alfonso gives Tolkien a pass on his magical creation despite the corruption of wizards in his stories because there is “room for a personal god” in LOTR while there is only a gnostic “monistic dualism” in Potterdom. This is another “gnostic gnail” conjured out of darkness. The “Dark magic” in Harry Potter is not “White magic” gone bad any more than a thief running from a police officer is good bi-pedalism corrupted; “dark wizards” in Harry Potter misuse an inborn or congenital gift because of poor character. This is no more evidence of a Manichean sub-creation than a bicameral legislature. On the contrary, the evil in Harry Potter is the absence of the good, a Thomistic truism that Fr. Alfonso must know.

Fr. Alfonso has not made a contribution to Potter studies by rolling out the distinction of values and philosophy (the latter term misused to mean something like “worldview” or cosmology”). To see this distinction used in anything but a mechanical and wooden manner to force a pre-determined conclusion of prudence and obedience, see David Baggett’s Harry Potter and Philosophy. Everyone who contributed chapters to that tome has read the Potter novels and read them with sympathy for the conventions and traditions of genre and English literature in general.

Missing Pieces: Fr. Alfonso quotes me in this article which suggests he has read one of my books. I am confident he has not. He offers a line from my book Looking for God in Harry Potter frequently quoted in reviews as the thesis of that book. His neglect of the symbolism, themes, and meaning of the stories, however, except a nod to the good values on display tell me has not read Looking for God or Unlocking Harry Potter. As Sandra Miesel wrote me this afternoon:

Notice that he doesn’t address alchemy as a structure of the books, with its meaning of spiritual transformation nor note the Christian references in #7.

Fr. Alfonso mentions the “great values” in the books that “refresh the soul in the current suffocating environment of anti-values.” He mentions “some of them:”

Harry’s mother’s love for her son and self-sacrifice saved the future hero from being killed by Lord Voldemort. In a like manner, Harry would later give himself up to save his friends. His heroic generosity plays the key role in the victory of good over evil.

Harry, Hermione and Ron are characterized by their perseverance in the fulfillment of their mission in the midst of overwhelming difficulties. They are also concerned about the lives of their enemies with no desire for revenge. Remorse is presented as a way of self-redemption. The unsound quest to master death is discouraged. High ideals are encouraged. Good family life is appealing.

The theme of love’s victory over death? The importance of purity of soul over idolatry and self-love? The place of right choice in spiritual life? The possibility of transformation from a soul of lead to one of gold? The life of the righteous after death?

Values are not a static category apart from “philosophy.” The world or sub-creation Ms. Rowling has given us radiates not only “goodness” but “virtue.” “Virtue” or “human excellence” is a shadow of a divine quality according to the Fathers, a shadow or, better, an intrusion, call it a “manifestation.” Separating these themes, meaning, and heroic qualities apart from Ms. Rowling’s worldview or cosmology (her “philosophy”) is separating light, object, and shadow.

Fr. Alfonso, again, is no doubt a thoughtful and pious man. His opinion of the Harry Potter novels, however, born as they are in misapplication of scholastic categories and a misunderstanding of the alchemy of literature (not to mention neglecting literary alchemy altogether) are as valuable as the President of the International Association of Exorcists he tells us to “take into consideration” only out of prudence.

Before I beg your comments and correction, I close with two possibilities for your consideration. First, it may be true that I disagree with Fr. Alfonso more because of my personal failings than because of failures in his arguments. My darkened heart and pride are obstacles to my thinking and writing with discernment at least as much as any other man’s. That Fr. Alfonso dismisses what I have written with that of other Potter critics and supporters is certainly something that makes a short man feisty.

Second, the argument from prudence is the argument of a gatekeeper or road guard. The Harry Potter books, according to Fr. Alfonso, are good for those who are well-formed spiritually and bad for those who are not. It is my understanding that this is an invitation to the readers of National Catholic Register to ask themselves, not only if they are spiritually well-formed, but if their neighbor and her children are. Fr. Alfonso is a Latter Day Savanarola whose readers will once again divide parishes using Harry Potter and other Vanities unfit except for the elect as litmus strips of anyone’s Catholic faith and spiritual formation.

The gatekeeper’s first priority is authority. When reading his advice, I hope your red flag went up as mine did at his attempts to project fairness, balance, and prudence before, during, and after his misrepresentation of Ms. Rowling’s work. Caveat Lector. Fr. Alfonso is putting himself in a position above the fray of this discussion for purposes other than shining light on the subject at hand.

Your comments and corrections, please.


  1. Travis Prinzi says

    How anyone can read HP and say “Gnostic” is beyond me. A few examples:
    ~ The bringing back of Cedric’s body
    ~ The search for Moody’s body
    ~ The burial of Moody’s eye
    ~ The burial of Dobby
    ~ The details of Harry’s healed body in King’s Cross after his “death”

    All of these reveal a very sacred, Christian view of the body. Hardly anything that can be called “Gnostic.”

    There are a thousand more things I want to say in response, but a pint of Sam Adams Octoberfest and Tolkien’s “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight” is calling me.

  2. Before I address the main points of the article, I thought to point out that perhaps the “many good Christian thinkers” was a courtesy to the lesser of those thinkers. If I were, as Fr. Alfonso seems to be, trying to be a peacemaker between the Christian pro- and anti-Potter groups, I would also make as few distinctions as possible within the groups, even if it was unfair to some and undeserved for other.

    “References to the occult and the Satanic do not necessarily imply an attempt to lure people into the forbidden world, because the texts can be interpreted in different ways.”

    Fr. Alfonso is correct that interpretations of a work should not overinfluence evaluation of such work. I could wax eloquent regarding the presence of elements that are on their own objectionable, but I already did at great length in the O’Brien topic (I think). However, I do wish Fr. Alfonso had followed his own advice a bit better– he seems to be drawing conclusions that the magic in HP is occultic and Satanic, when I think it’s pretty clearly not (again, see other post for comparison to Paolini’s Inheritance trilogy). (I also think that if he’d read your work more thoroughly, John, he’d have come to the same conclusion.)

    Values vs. Philosophy

    Fr. Alfonso is correct that having the right values doesn’t mean that the underlying beliefs are correct, but on the other hand, they are generally a pretty good indication. For example, Hitler and his cronies spoke of racial inferiority of some groups– I think it’s fair to say that we can infer a philosophy of hate. Likewise, Mother Teresa spoke of the dignity of the poor– we can also rather safely assume hers was a philosophy of love.

    I have to say, until the release of DH, it was entirely possible that his idea of God in the stories was true– rather, it was as possible as all the interpretations were. Even my mom, wary of HP, used a fancy term to say that basically the 7th novel provides the interpretation (whaddaya want from a woman with an MA in ministry who works in faith formation?.. hehe). It would be foolish of me to restate all the wonderful insights into Christian content in the books, but even if the Bible verses didn’t wack your average Christian reader over the head, the parallels to Lewis’ “deep magic” are blindingly obvious.

    I think also the good Father is making the same error I pointed out in an earlier post– magic isn’t a source of moral *anything* in HP. It is simply a tool– how it is used has moral import. For instance, take explosives. If I’m using them to kill people, that’s clearly bad. But what if I’m blasting rocks to build a home? That’s pretty neutral. And how about controlled explosions to stop forest fires by inhabited areas? That’s fulfilling a moral obligation.

    You’re also right, John, that he’s got a total misunderstanding of magical vs. muggles, and that one does make me doubt how well he read them, particularly DH, since it could very well be considered preachy about love for everyone– not just those of great ability, or similar backgrounds, etc.

    And I think there’s plenty of room for God in HP– again, the bible verses and ‘King’s Cross.’

    I don’t think I can add much more that you haven’t already addressed well– suffice it to say, I appreciate his desire to encourage spiritual examination and peace between the Potter camps… I can’t really justify being a sore loser because he’s not on our side, although I’d rather he were. Oh well.. hopefully he will continue to be more open-minded than some others in the non-Potters and may learn more about why we recognise the Christian content (and what’s blocking others from seeing it).

    Caveat lector- haha. With all these articles going around, I’d say “Caveat scriptor” would be more needed advice, if I remember my Latin. 😀


  3. Many red flags! Thank you, John. A couple of things which occurred to me:

    “References to the occult and the Satanic do not necessarily imply an attempt to lure people into the forbidden world, ” Very charitable. But where is the demonstration that “magic” in HP actually shares any characteristics with the occult and satanic in the real world? We’re back to the fact that there is no invocation of any kind of spiritual powers, principalities, etc., connected with magic at Hogwarts.

    “The ideal is, no doubt, to become a good witch or wizard. What’s the way? Train yourself to look into yourself to find the magical powers within you.

    Good training requires masters who help make you aware of the magical (“divine”) forces in your spirit.” No, it isn’t. You don’t BECOME a good, meaning powerful, witch or wizard. You’re apparently born that way, like being born intelligent or beautiful or fleetfooted. The training has nothing spiritual about it at all… if you get the pronunciation right and flick your wand correctly, the spell works. About the closest HP magic ever gets to the spiritual is a few spells, like Patronus, that have an emotional component. You become a good, meaning not-evil, witch or wizard in the same way a Muggle becomes good: by making the proper moral choices. There is NO suggestion in HP that being a magical person means being a divine person, or having something divine within you. It’s treated like a natural faculty, heritable like hair or eye color. That surely is the point of the Department of Mysteries: that’s where things like Love and Death are studied… and they’re mysteries because they aren’t penetrable by magic.

    I’ve mentioned it in other threads, but there is plenty of room in HP for a transcendent reality that transcends magic. In Tolkien’s work, Eru, the One God, is almost completely offstage. In HP, Hogwarts takes time off from classes for Christmas and Easter, wizards sing Christmas carols and probably at least some of the magical folk in Godric’s Hollow attend Christmas Eve church. God is thanked for the safety of one’s relatives, and the hope is cherished of immortality and reunion with one’s beloved dead, and that hope finds expression in Bible verses on tombstones. No room for a personal God? Really, some people are very hard to please.

  4. Arabella Figg says

    Pardon me if I’m nonplussed–there’s an International Association of Exorcists?

    John, you make excellent arguments and this is all a bit over my head, so I’ll merely say that if HP/your critics had the grace toward opposition that you show, it would be a kinder world.

    In the meantime, we all need keep pins off our persons lest we bring on Doomsday should we run into such critics.

    The kitties keep me on pins and needles…

  5. I’ll only make a couple of comments. Not knowing that much about the Roman Catholic Church teachings, I just find many of his comments confusing–probably because he’s speaking from a point of view that I don’t understand.

    However, I just looked up the word ‘pilosophy’ in my dictionary, and there is not any mention of it meaning what he says it does. In fact, there is no mention that it means the concept of God. The definition is long, so I’ll try to condense a bit:

    1. originally, love of wisdom or knowledge
    2. a study of the processes governing thought and conduct; theory or investigation of the principles or laws that regulate the universe and underlie all knowledge and reality: included in the study are aesthetics, ethics, logic, metaphysics, etc.
    3. general principles or laws of a field of knowledge, activity, etc. . . . . .
    4. a) a particular system of principles for the conduct of life
    b) a treatise covering such a system
    5. a study of human morals, character, and behavior; hence
    6. the mental balance believed to result from this; calmness, composure.

    Now, maybe I’m just reading it the wrong way, but it seems to me that the definition of philosophy lines up pretty well with values and morals.

    Even more interesting is the definition of philosopher. I won’t put the first part, as it’s the self-explanator meaning, but the last one, listed as “obscure” is:

    4. an alchemist, magician, etc.

    And the next entry, of course, is “philosopher’s stone”. I think he should spend a little time with a dictionary before inventing his own definitions for words, or before using them in such a narrow context.

    I think he has talked himself into a corner with his choice of saying

    “Let me propose a crucial distinction that I never find in the Potter debate — a distinction between values and philosophy in fiction. [my emphasis]

    By values, we may understand the virtues and moral teachings presented in a story.

    Values are the importance we place on something or someone, it’s worth, be it monetary or emotional (the value of friendship, for instance). However, Fr. Alfonso seems to mix up all these words to mean the same thing. Virtues and morals, while they speak to the best conduct of people, are not intrinsically tied to God, which is what he seems intent on doing.

    As for his references to Star Wars, I found that particularly interesting. I get articles from “Movie Ministry”, and there was quite a long article on the Star Wars movies, and whether or not they are Christian. According to this article, no they are not–they espouse the ideas of pagan asceticism. And when the man who wrote the article walks through the movies, that point of view makes a lot more sense. I would post the link, but it seems the article is no longer available on line, and I unfortunately didn’t save it. I think I did print it out, if I find it, I’ll send you some of the comments.

    I think, John, you may be right, that he either hasn’t really read all the books, or at least not carefully, or is basing some of his comments on the movies. At the very least, he seems to intentionally misrepresent what is actually in the books, and it’s unclear what his purpose is. Either it’s as you said, that he intends to draw a line between those who are wothy to read the books and those who aren’t, or he’s trying to walk a fine line between saying they are OK to please those who like Harry Potter and saying they are dangerous to please those who don’t. I think he really needs to pick one side, and write from that perspective, and maybe it will at least make more sense.

    Pat, now in need of sleep at 12:30 am, so my apologies if this is as disjointed as Fr. Alfonso’s article.

  6. I could just as well describe the world as divided up into non-athletes who have no interest in sports, non-athletes who desperately wish they could compete, and (genuflect, people) ATHLETES–those gods of coordination, endurance, and skill.

    Most athletes don’t start out as regular people who then become sports prodigies by divining athletic skills from the spiritual realm. They have a natural ability, and then they work at it–practice, practice, practice. Anyone who has read the Potter books with even a smidgen of attention would know that Hogwarts students learn magic by practicing it mechanically, over and over and over–just like any other skill set or knowledge base that real-life kids learn in school every single day. This spiritualistic gnostic division idea is utterly ridiculous. It’s so far off base it’s not even a respectable disagreement.

  7. It’s ironic that some of these critics are finding themselves in the same boats as many atheists. I have read some atheistic critiques of HP7, and some want to posit that despite the Christian symbolism and references throughout the book, the lack of explicit mention of faith in God is telling. That is, they claim it means that JK Rowling was trying to show that people could have strong morals and values apart from God.

    I find that interesting. Certainly some of the values in HP are universal – friendship, love, and courage, for instance – and you don’t need faith in God to treasure or display them. But others – such as self-sacrifice and hope for life after death – don’t make much sense outside of a theistic context. Why would JK Rowling then promote them, if she is saying the world has no God?

    The other interesting thing I have considered is that very few of Jesus’ parables explicitly mention anything about God or faith. Yet no one would doubt that each and every one of his parables is designed to teach us something about God and about faith. Moreover, in the few that do mention God or faith – the Pharisee and the tax collector; the sheep and the goats; the Good Samaritan; and the rich man and Lazarus – the “good, religious” people are often the bad guys, or at least the hypocrites. So is Jesus saying that those who don’t have faith are the ones who have it on straight? Or is he calling those of us who have faith to reflect it in our humility, service and love?

  8. As yes, and one more thing I recently noticed in HP7: during the scene in which Harry, Ron and Hermione, while hiding in the forest, overhear a conversation between fugitives Ted Tonks, Dean Thomas, another man and a few goblins, Ted Tonks says, “God bless ’em” in response to a story about how Neville, Luna and Ginny attempted to steal the sword of Gryffindor.

  9. pritchettHogProfan says

    When it’s all said and done, what I find are books that touch my heart and I really enjoy reading. As a family, we have enjoyed the books and the discussions. HP: HBP was our companion by CD while on family vacation this summer. They kept everyone engaged. We are Christians with conservative values. We feel our values are reflected in the books. All the critics can say what they will. My heart says differently.

  10. I thought Fr. Alfonso could have been hung up on Gnosticism (salvation through knowledge) at Dobby’s burial when terrible and fascinating ideas were coming to Harry and afterwards while thinking of Dumbledore more thoughts: “Am I meant to know, but not to seek? Is that why you made it this difficult? So I’d have time to work that out?” (p. 483)

    Harry stood quite still, eyes glazed, watching the place where a bright gold rim of dazzling sun was rising over the horizon. Then he looked down at his clean hands and was momentarily surprised to see the cloth he was holding in them.

    Individuals with differing religious backgrounds might differ on how to interpret this. If one is a Calvinist, one might think of Harry being elect of God, accepting to believe, and certainly working out his salvation with fear and trembling. You have to watch the symbolism here with the sun (son)light and note the clean hands.

    I think Harry had quite enough of seeing through the “Inner Eye” in Professor Trelawney’s class. To me the fact that there is a God in the H-P series is a given.

  11. Perelandra says

    I think that at least a master’s thesis could be generated by studying “reader reception theory” as demonstrated by pro and anti HP critics.

    Fr. Aguilar does appear to be trying to appease both extremes although it’s impossible to know how deeply he read either Rowling or her critics. I suspect his investigation was probably superficial, else he’d have noticed that the hostile critics routinely mis-state Rowling’s contact. ( The most important thing I learned in a graduate Com Lit class was that all interpretation must start with mastery of what the text actually says.) And as we’ve long observed, the Harry-haters routinely read things into the text that aren’t there.

    He likewise avoids deciding where the presence of magic renders a book unfit for Christian consumption or whether the Harry-haters’ contention that Rowling’s magic is “just like” Wicca or any historic form of witchcraft. Neither does he address the actual arguments of Nancy Brown or Our John about Christian symbolism, an alchemical structure etc. The explicit Christian references in #7 aren’t mentioned nor the instances of mercy among Harry’s virtues.

    How one can derive gnosticism or pantheism from HP is a feat beyond my modest knowledge of philosophy.

    And as for possible New Age influences, the way Rowling set up the Patronus charm, it cannot be equated with “spirit guides” or the like. Her magic is about as gnostic/Satanic/or Pagan as that sinister spell, “Bippity-boppity-boo”.

  12. If you want to read more about this subject, I recommend the Catholic blogosphere, in which haunts the good father is being berated for his mistakes and celebrated for his balance.

    My favorite spots have been:




    Is it a Catholic thing I’m not supposed to get or do these comments strike you as bizarre?

    Still, his concessions to neutrality and his reminder about Vatican non-involvement are certainly appreciated.

    Even more fawning:

    I also think the writer of the article made a great effort to be fair and most of all to give respect to people on all ‘sides’ of Harry Potter.

    I disagreed with his comments on the “Philosophy” of Harry Potter, so much so that I wondered if we read the same book. But I do applaud the respect with which he treats everyone debating HP.

    I agreed with his overall conclusions about reading the book(each family ought to discern what is appropriate for them… gosh, I’ve heard that somewhere else!:)) and I’m very glad he pointed out that the Vatican has taken NO stand on HP at all.

    But is this last point true? Certainly we don’t have an ex cathedra pronouncement on the value of the series, but “NO stand”? That’s a stretch. The Vatican has taken a stand on the Harry Potter books, a very clear one. People who know what they’re talking about should address this issue. When Fr. Peter Fleetwood spoke in favor of the books, there was no correction of his remarks from his superiors. Cardinal Ratzinger, in fact, asked Ms. Kuby to send her book to Fr. Peter Fleetwood for a reason; Fr. Peter is a literate Englishman who understands both how to read and the intersection of faith and culture. Ms. Kuby wrote him but disregarded his response, namely, four pages of correction to her mistakes about the books she has condemned. The Star Chamber critics of Potter are Cafeteria Catholics when it comes to seeing there has been a common sense response to the Potter books from the Vatican; “heed those who read well.” You may not like the reference Cardinal Ratzinger made to Fr. Peter, but there’s no denying he made it.

    Fr. Alfonso has his own reasons for saying there is no established authority on this subject. I don’t think his motivation is especially obscure — but it certainly isn’t to be fair, balanced, and charitable in this discussion.

    I have very little regard for Potter critics in both the Catholic and Protestant camps that make “prudence” the hallmark of their approach to these books. It’s a safe place to rest, certainly, but it has the consequence of not being cold or warm on a subject where there are right and wrong answers. Readers of Fr. Alfonso’s “balanced” and “fair” coverage of these books who applaud his sobriety and charity have missed the mark by a considerable margin. Contrast Fr. Alfonso’s understanding with Catholics like Sean Dailey, Regina Doman, Stratford Caldecott, Sandra Miesel, and Mark Shea, not to mention Fr. Peter, who have not taken either the prudential course or the gnostic ghammer path.

  13. Speaking as someone bearing the brunt of your criticism here even as you approve of my response to Fr. Aguilar’s opinions, I guess some response is in order.

    The main reason that those of us who have been mentioning Fr. Aguilar’s seemingly neutral conclusion (though his opinions, of course, are far from being such) have been doing so with such frequency is that it marks a departure from the usual tactics of the anti-Potter crowd, most notably those in league with LifeSiteNews, who have placed undue emphasis on the Ratzinger-Kuby correspondence as though it were some sort of functionally official pronouncement while ignoring the results of Kuby’s later correspondence with Msgr. Fleetwood, which is clearly disigenuous. You’re quite right that there has been no ex cathedra statement on the issue; God willing, there never will be. His Holiness has more important matters to attend to, I would hope.

    The trouble is, though, that for Catholics, the mere fact of a Church representative going uncorrected when he has said something is not enough for us to say “the Vatican agrees with this position.” The longstanding, continuing and essentially uncorrected infamies of the likes of Roger Cardinal Mahoney or Sr. Joan Chittister should be evidence enough of this.

    I would personally be delighted if Msgr. Fleetwood’s opinions reflected those of the Curia and the Pope, but that they have not vocally opposed those opinions can not, I regret, be taken to mean that they necessarily support them.

    With regard to the rest, I can only say that I would rather err on the side of charity than of suspicion. If Fr. Aguilar says that he’s attempting to be fair about these things, and if his conclusions reflect this, even imperfectly, I’m going to take him at his word. His opinions, of course, are another story altogether, and I oppose them entirely, but calling a priest a liar about his motivations just because I think his opinions are wrong is something I am not, as yet, willing to do.

  14. I think Nick is right and I stand corrected. Thank you for the kindness with which you did that, Nick. This is largely a Catholic matter and I am showing my ignorance more than I like in writing about it.

    I am not closing this thread but I am taking the pledge to stop posting in reaction to other people’s thoughts on the books. Two or three in a row makes John the dull, uncharitable boy (can you say “crank”?) and it’s time for me to get back to writing up the Five Keys that unlock Deathly Hallows.

    I started the alchemy and traditional Christian symbolism keys and I probably shouldn’t put much more of that up until I have revised the book. God willing, in the coming week I’ll get the other three keys started here. Thank you for your patience with me in this effort and with my cranky posts last month.

  15. Oh, think nothing of it. I’m not exactly authoritative, and could very well be wrong myself. In any event I took your advice about the thing and fleshed it out a bit (though not TOO much, given some of the submission guidelines). Maybe it will work out. Further bulletins, of course, as necessary.

  16. One can only imagine the good Padre’s reaction to Virgil and Homer, then! Especially in the screen versions….

    Clearly this person is not a Jesuit on the historical lines and he doesn’t seem to be much of a reader in the HP series. He is clearly uninformed by any reading of our genial host’s works, it he has in fact read them. I seriously wonder he has read any Potter novel in its entirety.

    However, charitably, one must note that neither a collar nor sainthood prevents error. Ordination emphatically does not confer inerrancy upon the recipients.

  17. LC means Congregation of the Legionaries of Christ. Jesuit is denoted by SJ. While Jesuits would probably offer some of the best literary criticism, I mean them no disrespect when I say that they are not always the best source for orthodoxy. So, with Fr. Aguilar, it’s a trade-off– I’m less inclined to trust his literary understanding, but more inclined to believe his religious understanding (all the while disagreeing with his conclusions).

    Does anyone else think, though, that despite the feeling that he hasn’t read them as thoroughly, he is someone we could ‘do business with’? That is, I think he would be open to further discussion on why HP fits with Church’s worldview, and perhaps how the devil is using the commotion about HP and the occult to slide in truly dangerous books.


  18. Arabella Figg says

    John, I think you’re right. Continually taking on non- or partially-informed criticism isn’t really profitable. Now, were these critics cogently arguing their points from canon, etc., then there would be real meat to chew on. But since they’re not, yeah, let’s move on.

    However, I believe you’ve been right to post disagreement here, so we may see how others perceive, reason and analyze the books. I wonder how many Harry Critics, though, post thoughtful Harry Fan views on their websites/blogs, showing the same courtesy as you and exposing their cadre to well-reasoned and supported oppositional viewpoints. Much better for dialogue.

    I confess I dislike the term “Harry-haters.” It seems kind of loaded and hostile, lumping too many streams of critical thought as one; perhaps it’s a bit smug with hints of perceived grievance as well. I’d prefer to call those negative and positive to Harry as Harry Critics and Harry Fans, or something like that.

    Flako is a great fan of spiders…

  19. Arabella Figg says

    Re my above post on Harry opinon terms. I’m not a fan of the term “fan” either. Smacks too much of uncritical enthusiasm. How about Harry Appreciators or Harry Defenders.

    Luscious Badboy is defending his silver foam ball from that minx, Fullatricks…

  20. I wrote this a while ago, and it seems to kind of fit. I have not read Fr. Alfonso’s work, so I will not comment on it directly.

    “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and decay destroy, and thieves break in and steal.
    But store up treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor decay destroys, nor thieves break in and steal.
    For where your treasure is, there also will your heart be.” Matthew 6:19-21

    Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is the culmination of the entire Harry Potter series. Every story in the series has led to this point at which Harry must decide which path to follow. He still struggles with whether or not to trust in the information given him by his now deceased mentor, Dumbledore. He realizes how little he truly knew about Dumbledore, and how each conversation with Dumbledore had been about him. He realizes that he had never troubled himself with asking about Dumbledore. He feels remorse for his selfishness.

    When he arrives at the home of the Tonks, he feels remorse for having no information to give them, and for having put their daughter in danger. When he argues with Lupin at Number 12 Grimmauld Place, he feels “a sickening surge of remorse.” Harry learns that he must have remorse for things he has done that cause hurt.

    Harry also learns, finally, to close his mind to Voldemort. He realizes that the strength of his feelings of loss and grief help him to close his mind.

    “And shortly afterward he had set to work, alone, digging the grave in the place that Bill had shown him at the end of the garden, between bushes. He dug with a kind of fury, relishing the manual work, glorying in the non-magic of it, for every drop of his sweat and every blister felt like a gift to the elf who had saved their lives.
    His scar burned, but he was master of the pain; he felt it, yet was apart from it. He had learned control at last, leaned to shut his mind to Voldemort, the very thing Dumbledore had wanted him to learn from Snape. Just as Voldemort had not been able to possess him Harry while Harry was consumed with grief for Sirius, so his thoughts could not penetrate Harry now, while he mourned Dobby. Grief, it seemed drove Voldemort out…though Dumbledore, of course, would have said it was love….” (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, J. K. Rowling, Arthur A. Levine Books, an Imprint of Scholastic Inc., 2007, Chapter 24, “The Wandmaker” page 478)

    “The lamp of the body is the eye. If your eye is sound, your whole body will be filled with light;
    but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be in darkness. And if the light in you is
    darkness, how great will the darkness be.” Matthew 6:22-23

    Harry has learned to close out the darkness, to deny access to his mind by the darkness. While it is possible for Harry to see and understand the thoughts and fears of Voldemort, Voldemort can no longer see within Harry.

    Beyond the above, I have been thinking that the HP series as a whole seems to represent (in my mind) the constant spiritual battle that surrounds us (Ephesians 6:12 “For our struggle is not with flesh and blood but with principalities, with the powers, with the world rulers of the present darkness, with the evil spirits in the heavens.”)

    As many of us are unaware of said battle, so too the “Muggles” of the HP world are unaware of the battle between good and evil that is surrounding them. There are those who are aware of the “magical” world and have chosen whether to join themselves to the battle on either side(squibs, werewolves, goblins), and those who would deny the very existence of the battle depite the raging going on in front of them (Dursleys) and those who know the truth but refuse to become involved (centaurs).

    I am sorry that this is not a motre thorough evaluation. Life interrupts the pleasure of thought, I’m afraid.

    Respectfully submitted for your perusal.


  21. I’d like to chime in agreeing with Nick’s original intervention. Fr. Alfonso isn’t claiming to be a Harry Potter expert, he’s ever-so-gently asking the anti-Potters to open their minds. Speaking of careful reading, he tells us this himself in the opening lines. His column is in response to the following letter to the editor. I think his main concern is to prevent Catholics from pronouncing mutual anathemas on each other, as if this were a matter of Magisterium and not a matter for fruitful literary discussion and parental judgment. It’s almost a catechetical column, not a work of literary criticism, and his citation of other authors is, as Nick says, charitable. His reading strikes me as that of a pastor who read quickly to see what the fuss was about, not a close reading, but even within the column he doesn’t insist on it (“let’s say I am right”).

    Here’s the letter to which he’s responding:

    “I was an avid reader of the Register, until I read “A Passive Protagonist No More” written by Steven Greydanus concerning Harry Potter. I have since canceled my subscription, which I had paid for through 2008. My concerns are as follows:

    In the article, he clearly implies in the first couple of paragraphs that the Pope and the Vatican officials have not come down upon the witchcraft and occult themes in the books and films by Rowling. He has not done his homework on this, but has believed what the journalists want people to believe, that witchcraft is not so bad.

    The chief exorcist in Rome, appointed by the Vatican, Father Gabriele Amorth, has exorcized 30,000 persons who have been victims of Satan’s influence, possession or oppression. He is also president of the International Association of Exorcists.

    Father Amorth has declared in a public interview, “Behind Harry Potter hides the signature of the king of darkness, the devil.” In the same interview Father Amorth warned that Rowling’s books contain innumerable positive references to magic, “the satanic art.” He also noted that there is no distinction in her books between black and white magic, “because magic is always a turn to the devil.” The Catechism of the Catholic Church clearly states this.

    Another exorcist, Father Francisco Bamonte, an Italian exorcism expert and author of Diabolical Possessions and Exorcisms, said the Harry Potter books and films are a clear attempt to induce adolescents to an esoteric mentality of magic, the Mexican daily newspaper Milenio reported.

    You can see the truth in this by typing in Harry Potter on Google and see how many occult links pop up. I believe our children are in danger and are tempted to enter into the occult after reading and seeing this series.

    I do not understand why Catholic laypeople and some clergy would believe the secular press about the moral effects of these books, but would ignore what Vatican experts who deal daily with the results of playing around with the occult.

    These exorcists are clear when they say to stand clear of anything having to do with magic and the occult.

    Kathleen Donovan

    Ocala, Florida”

  22. I wrote some thoughts on Harry Potter and Gnosticism over at my blog. It was an answer to Michal O’Brien’s claim. I pointed out three problems with his criticism.

    O’Brien claims that “Rowling’s Potter-world is fundamentally Gnostic” and that magic “is presented as an inherent faculty of human nature that only needs awakening and formation through the pursuit of esoteric knowledge and power.” He goes on saying that “It is true that a majority of the early sects were dualist, that is, they despised material creation and exalted the spiritual—definitely an anti-incarnational cosmology.” And later adds that, “Common to all [the Gnostics,] pantheist and dualist alike, was the belief that obtaining secret gnosis or knowledge was salvation.”

    So, he claims that;
    (1) The books presents magic as an “inherent faculty of human nature that only needs awakening and formation through the pursuit of esoteric knowledge and power.”
    (2) The books focus on “the pursuit of esoteric knowledge and power.” This knowledge is of course secret.
    (3) Some Gnostics were dualists, while this is not exactly the case in the “Potter-world.”

    1. This is just bogus. One could say that the magic is an “inherent faculty,” but not in humans, but in wizards. It is no more “occult” than the powers of superman or Spider-man or the characters in X-Men. One of the mains points with this books are in fact to point to the value of teaching everyone.

    2. That the books are elitist and focus on “secret knowledge,” what the Gnostics call gnosis (gk. “knowledge”) is just plainly dumb. The fact is that the real elitists of the books are Voldemort and his Death Eaters. They want to keep some (the “mudbloods”) from receiving the “secret knowledge.” In contrast people like Albus Dumbledore, Godric Gryffindor and (most especially) Helga Hufflepuff want to teach everyone with the proper talent. If the wizarding world is something like a “mirror” of our world, we could say that Dumledore and the like wants to teach everyone, while Voldemort and the like just wants to train “those select few who possess the predisposition.”

    3. O’Brien touches on dualism, but doesn’t say much about it. I guess he has read the books carefully enough to have to agree that they are not that dualist (even though I think Rowling is more dualist than me.) The interesting thing is that the real dualists of the books are yet again Voldemort and his Death Eaters. But there is one major difference between those and the ancient Gnostics; while the ancient ones held that the soul was the only valuable thing, the new ones hold that the body (and thus survival) is the only valuable thing. And these days the problem is not so much spiritualism, but materialism and naturalism.

  23. I am amazed at Fr. Aguilar’s either lack of understanding of Gnosticism or
    he just skimmed through the volumes from HP1 through HP7 without truly
    reading the text. Travis touched on some of the examples in his reply to this topic of how JKR’s Harry Potter series of books show a clear picture of life
    after death clearly not Gnostic in any way. Lets take a further example. In
    chapter 34 Harry’s observation of his parents, Sirius and Lupin in connection
    with the Resurrection stone states that they were neither ghosts nor truly
    flesh. They were in what Christian terms would be described as Resurrected
    bodies (the re-uniting of body, soul and spirit at the second coming of Christ).
    This is the great story of hope that Jo Rowling is presenting not only for Harry
    at such a desperate hour, but for her readers as well. Gnosticism rejects a
    renewed “body-soul-spirit” resurrection in its theology. Gnosticism teaches
    that the body is evil and that only the spirit (ghost) lives on into eternity.

    To Daughter; I have this thought. Yes, those who HAVE faith must walk in
    humility, service and love……so that……those who do not have faith may SEE your works of faith and come to follow the creator (Jesus Christ) and
    share in His Resurrection.

    ) of your faith and share in His Resurrection.

  24. Here’s an article that shows that HP critics can still find a way to discount the Christian elements of the story: http://www.spcm.org/Journal/spip.php?breve883

  25. Another thought: there seem to be two issues with many of the Christian HP critics. One is the concern for the possibility of the series promoting witchcraft and the occult. The second, however, seems to be the failure of storytelling and imagination. That is, unless a story explicitly mentions God or the gospel, it certainly can’t be Christian or informed by a Christian worldview. At best, the Christian elements that appear in the story don’t reflect its true philosophy, as Fr. Aguilar says. At worst, they are a product of a confused, post-Christian syncretism (see the article I posted above), or a deliberate attempt by the author to deceive gullible Christians about the true occult nature of her books.

    These attitudes are a large part the reasons why most Christian fiction being written today is so appallingly shallow, poorly written, and unlikely to make an impact in our culture.

  26. “Does anyone else think, though, that despite the feeling that he hasn’t read them as thoroughly, he is someone we could ‘do business with’? That is, I think he would be open to further discussion on why HP fits with Church’s worldview”

    I quite agree with this. I found his article charitable and I think he was making an attempt to be balanced. I think he’s quite wrong on the gnostic angle, but I believe he was trying to build a bridge here.

    We ought to extend a welcoming hand, and invite discussion.


  27. I agree that Fr. Aguilar does not use the term “gnostic” in the way it is generally defined. Typically it means obtaining salvation through acquisition of secret knowledge and usually includes a strong differentiation between physical and spiritual matters. A number of contributors have already cited the many ways JKR affirms the value of the physical.

    Another problem is the tenuous link implied between “occult” and “satanic.” The root assumption seems to be that if magic is involved then the occult is automatically in view. Although Fr. Aguilar stops short of saying occult material will lead directly to satan, he clearly sees some danger, at least for those who are not well formed in faith. The magic described in the HP book in no way resembles anything that modern Wiccans or occultists would attempt (not to mention the whole “witchcraft is inherently satanic” link is rather suspect to begin with). The magic in HP is no more inherently evil than the magic that is in view in LotR or Narnia. In both of these fantasies, which are widely accepted by Christians, magic may be used for good or for ill and examples of each abound. Any attempt to make HP somehow different from these works is strained at best (and more often, logically tortured).

    Amazing how these supposedly theologically astute critics continue to miss one of the finest portraits of original sin in fiction: Lord Voldemort – the self completely devoted to himself alone and the preservation of his own life. He aspires to control of life and death (which is essentially wanting to be God). His soul fragments, on both occasions when we see one, are described as a childlike form of hideously raw flesh that is crouched and curled … truly a self curved in upon the self.

    Presented in opposition to this is the power of love, particularly in the form of sacrifice – the self surrendered for the sake of (an)other(s).

    And then to claim there really isn’t anything Christian in these books … sigh!

  28. Daughter–

    I just finished reading the article you referenced, “Don’t Be Fooled–The Final Harry Potter Book Still Teaches Witchcraft.” The authors do acknowledge Rowling’s Christianity and Christian symbolism in the books. But I find it incredibly ironic that they roundly condemn her use of spells, non-explicit references to God, etc. while rationalizing Tolkein’s use of the same.

    He says that Tolkein’s world was a “pre-Christ” world and as such the characters have a monotheistic-anticipation-of-a-messiah outlook. Really? Not to sidetrack this into a discussion of Tolkein’s work, but I’d always had the impression that Middle Earth was a completely different world from ours. The geography and creatures are somewhat similar, but only in a vague manner.

    Gandalf, Aragorn and the Elves all use magic to some extent or other. Yes, in the background works we’re told of Eru, but after creation and the establishment of the Elves’ role in Middle Earth, He is largely ignored and not even referred to in the LotR. But NONE of that diminishes the Christian echos throughout the main body of Tolkein’s works.

    Harry Potter “magic” is almost incidental. It’s more…a vehicle to tell the story, as opposed to being what the story is actually about. The story has to have a setting, and in a story about teenage wizards, a school is the most logical place to put them. And of course at school, you, oh, I don’t know, LEARN. So of course we see scenes where the kids are learning to perform various types of magic. And because it’s a normal school setting, you have kids who dislike each other trying to curse each other, etc. These things make us believe the place really exists outside of Rowling’s imagination.

    Besides…where do the Harry-skeptics-but-Tolkein-and-Lewis-loving people think Gandalf and Dr. Cornelius learned magic? To paraphrase Gimili from LotR, (movie version) do they think they just sprung up from the ground fully formed as magicians? Gandalf, perhaps, but not Dr. Cornelius or the Centaurs in Narnia. They had to learn somewhere. Even in LotR there are different levels and degress of both learning and ability within that wizarding world–some wizards only attain the “brown” level and are able to talk to animals and such; others proceed forward to the highest level.

    Sorry to digress into Tolkein on a Rowling discussion board. And I may be wrong about Middle Earth being a different place from our Earth, or that may be open to the reader’s interpretation. The Don’t Be Fooled article just rankled me a bit. 🙂

  29. Tolkien intended Middle-earth as a vastly older stage of our own world. Originally, he wanted to represent direct correlations with England but settled for a vague resemblence to NW Europe. One of the sillier rationalizations for Tolkien & Lewis v. HP is that the former present places long ago and far away but Harry lives in modern England so he might “confuse” children.

    Sad to say, there are bizarre websites that attack the Tolkien & Lewis as purveyors of Satanic evil, chums of Aleister Crowley! But then the same Vigilants view LITTLE WOMEN with alarm. (No, that’s not ironic.)

  30. I find it very frustrating that a lot of HP bashers miss the in-your-face fact that ‘everyday’ humans (muggles) CANNOT learn magic, however much they might want to.

    If they cannot learn it they cannot practice it! End of discussion.

  31. I’m feeling a little flayed at present on the subject of Christian critics of HP. I had the unpleasant experience over the weekend of sitting through a sermon (not my church, not a denomination I’ve ever attended before) in which the pastor made every effort to convince us that a whole lot of us sitting there who thought we were Christians and headed for Heaven were wrong (his basic thesis was “you’re not making enough effort to lead a godly life”). The mention of HP as a Scripturally-condemned occultic pathway to the maw of hell was just a sidelight. But I thought, “why should I pay any attention to his criticism of HP when his exegesis of 1 John is so bad? If he can’t even read Scripture in context…?”

    Bad exegesis really explains a lot. For example, it explains how none of the Harry-Potter-teaches-occult-practices critics have tackled the hilarious scene in the Battle of Hogwarts when Sibyll Trelawney puts her crystal balls to their highest and best use– as projectile weapons. Talk about casting down “the occult!”

  32. Helen,

    I would imagine that the HP-bashing sermonizer you heard over the weekend has never bothered to read the books. *rolling eyes and shaking head* As I said in a recent open letter to Laura Mallory (shudder at the name): Pick up a wand and say “wingardeum leviosa” and if a feather floats, I’ll quit reading the books, for they are, indeed, teaching witchcraft.

    So, where’s the mention of the occult in the books? Honestly, Rowling seems to scoff at most attempts at Divination (witness both Dumbledore’s and McGonagall’s attitudes toward it). I don’t remember mention of a Ouiji board ever, and the only person to use Tarot cards is Trelawney; and her use is seen in a derisive light. It appears to my reading that Rowling discounts the occult and only uses the terms we associate somewhat with it in creating her fantasy world.

    None of these critics seems to have noticed that Muggles can’t just decide to become wizards. One either is or is not a wizard and wishing to be so can’t make one.

  33. Professor (JG):
    Thanks for the great, indepth essay. From your comments on Fr. Alonso’s writing and quotations from it (I have not read him and frankly don’t think that would be worth the time), he seems to be doing what has been called “thinking in a box”. As a “gatekeeper” he has to stay in his “box.” (I think there are some important lessons here!) Due to his position he must be careful to be theologically “politically correct,” that is, always correctly speaking “the party line.” And the next logical step is that he must be diligent to encourage those under his spiritual authority to do the same. With such motivation, then, it is easy to read with the intent to disprove rather than to understand in depth. And, disapproval takes a lot less effort and time-commitment.
    But on a side note, isn’t it great the Ms. Rowling’s works are being spoken of in the same breath with LOTR and C. S. Lewis’s? That’s no minor achievement.
    On a second side note, just got your book (“Unlocking”) today from Amazon. I am eager to read the chapter on Alchemy in particular, very rich in content!

  34. John,

    I just wrote a letter to the editor of the National Catholic Register, which I thought I’d share with you since I included a reference to you and your work. I did this not because I’m joining your “shameless promotion” department, but simply because your books have been so helpful to me, and I sincerely believe that Catholics who are interested in Harry Potter would grow a great deal in their undertanding and appreciation of Rowling’s work by reading yours.

    I’m not a subscriber to the National Catholic Register, but I do read it regularly; my sister passes her copies on to me when she’s done with them. There’s so much that needs to be said on the subject of the Harry Potter series and its Christian worldview, but I restricted my comments here to the issue of Snape killing Dumbledore, which was a bit of a moral stumbling block for me, especially some of the arguments Dumbledore used to persuade Snape that it wouldn’t be such a bad thing to do. This subject was just raised in the National Catholic Register by a reader who had no problems with Harry Potter except for the Snape-killing-Dumbledore issue.

    I have to thank you for linking to Mark Shea’s blog; it was his article on “Harry Potter and the Christian Critics” that informed my point of view on this subject.

    I don’t know if this letter will be published, in full or at all, but here is what I submitted:

    Sept. 27, 2007

    Dear Editor,

    I have been very intrigued by the recent discussion in your paper of Harry Potter. I’m a Catholic who has really enjoyed reading the Potter books and discussing them with my children. Contrary to the sincerely held views of many, I find these books to be filled with Christian symbolism and themes, as well as a philosophically Christian worldview. Orthodox Christian writer John Granger analyzes and explains these elements very clearly in two of his books, “Looking for God in Harry Potter” and “Unlocking Harry Potter: Five Keys for the Serious Reader.” I would recommend these books to anyone who, like myself, has had trouble connecting all the “Christian dots” on their own. The Christian nature of the seventh book, however, “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows,” is so obvious that it’s nearly impossible to miss. After all, JK Rowling has said she is a Christian, and that the seventh book would clearly illustrate this fact.

    A recent letter to the editor raised the issue of the one moral question which caused difficulty for me in “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.” That issue is Snape’s killing of Dumbledore on Dumbledore’s orders. My initial inclination was to try to justify this act on the grounds that it was part of an elaborate war-time plot designed to prevent the unbeatable “Elder Wand” from falling into the wrong hands. After all, we don’t have such things as Elder Wands to complicate moral decision-making in our world.

    However, Mark Shea of Catholic Exchange, in an article entitled “Harry Potter and the Christian Critics,” posted Sept. 13 at http://www.firstthings.com addressed this issue so perfectly that I was left scratching my head wondering why I hadn’t seen things his way in the first place. Mark Shea explains that the reader is not being asked to approve of Dumbledore’s decision. In fact, JK Rowling goes out of her way to illustrate in “Deathly Hallows” that Dumbledore is a man with some rather serious moral failings. The belief he once held during his youth, that it was possible to do evil “for the greater good,” led to his downfall, and to great personal tragedy, earlier in his life. In “Deathly Hallows,” this mistaken belief re-emerges when Dumbledore devises the plot for Snape to kill him. The sins of Dumbledore’s youth mark his death as well, and also lead to Snape’s untimely death. To top it all off, the plot to give Snape control of the Elder Wand doesn’t work! Harry is left to deal with Voldemort himself, not by killing, but through self-sacrifice.

    Thank you, Mark Shea, for shedding light on this important question, and thank you to the National Catholic Register for allowing a variety of views on this subject to be heard.


    Mary Norman
    St. Paul, Minnesota

  35. The comma on the end of it is messing it up… Try this one You might have to copy and paste it. http://www.firstthings.com

  36. Arabella Figg says

    Mary, this is great. I tried clicking the link to read the article, but couldn’t get there. I hope to read it somehow. Any other way? I really appreciate your letter; it was very thought-provoking and looked at the DD/Snape deal “diagonally.” Thanks so much!

    Kitties have lots of plots, they just don’t discuss them…

  37. Robert Trexler says

    Mary N – – – Great letter. Thanks for writing it, sending it, and for posting it here. Many of the articles from The National Catholic Register are on their website, and their letters to the editor are always posted there. So, even people who mdon’t subscribe will be able to check for it. I wrote a couple of short letters to them around 2003 which were both published, but one was edited because it was “too long.” I found it curious that what they chose to edit was a list of prominent Catholic writers who supported the Harry Potter books. But that was 4 years ago and the climate has improved and all the books have been published, etc.

    And, as I think I mentioned before, I personally know many Legionary priests and seminarians who have a positive view of the Potter books.

    The NCR website: http://ncregister.com/info/about_the_register/

  38. Mark Shea’s article at http://www.firstthings.com is no longer on the main page, but you can find it easily enough by typing “Harry Potter and the Christian Critics” into the search box, or going back through the September archives until you get to Sept. 13. It’s well worth the read!

  39. Arabella Figg says

    Mary N., I read the Shea article and it’s fantastic! Thanks so much for bringing it to our attention. He adds valuable insight into the flawed Dumbledore. Very perceptive and makes so much sense.

    Thanks, Shane, for getting me there. I’ll have to check the site out further, looked interesting.

    Thudders has jumped on the counter…out with the water squirter!

  40. SortOfSerious says

    A very late posting for this blog, but I’m new to the site.

    I read the article “Harry for Catholics” posted on the Zossima website, as well as the article by John re: Fr. Aguilar. The issues with Harry’s values that many critics address are usually “nonissue” for me, because it is so clear to me from what base Rowling is writing from, and I am so sympathetic (as in sympatico) with her base. One of the values issues that has always intrigued me–and brought forth a response–is the accusation that Ms. Domain addresses dead on in her Objection 6 (Harry is a bad role model for children because he disobeys rules and tells lies); and Father Aguilar treats rather sketchily by saying that the series offers great values but poor philsophy (I think). The issues dovetailed for me, and helped me synthesize thoughts that had been rattling around tangentially for quite a while, most specifically around the issue of lying.

    As I thought about the kinds of lies Harry tells, I wandered into the territory of why children lie to the adults in their lives. I recalled scenes that present Harry—or any of the children–lying, and it seemed to me that Rowling, along with all the other “large pictures” that she’s painting, also presents us with an unflattering portrait of how many, many adults react to children and the things they say.

    Most adults don’t respect children and their thoughts or feelings very much. How often do adults say things such as “Don’t be silly.” “You didn’t think about this very much.” “That doesn’t make any sense.” “You need to read (or look or think) more carefully.” “Don’t ask questions.” “You’re too young to understand.” “Because I say so.” Or, instead of saying anything, how often do many adults just ignore children? As well, most adults become extremely agitated or angry if a child, especially an adolescent, questions the adult’s closely held beliefs or opinions.

    The books are replete with many of the stereotypical (almost archetypal) adult responses to children’s ideas or thoughts.

    Children are very perceptive, and they know (whether consciously or unconsciously) which adults respect them, and which adults will use their own words against them. Why wouldn’t the children weigh carefully what they said to McGonagall when, in their first year, she says, “Don’t be ridiculous, Potter, the Sorceror’s Stone is very well protected.” No student in his/her right mind (except, perhaps, a Slytherin) would tell Snape anything important since to do so would only lay the teller open to his withering sarcasm. How about Molly Weasley? As good-hearted as she is, the children know that she, like McGonagall, doesn’t really think they’re capable of, or old enough for, serious insights; in addition, Molly’s ideal son for much of the series is Percy, whom the children view as a pompous prat. Sirius often can’t be trusted, either, because he pulls the old adult trick of “Do as I say, not as I do.” Lupin uses what kids would view as a guilt trip—“Your mother and father died to protect you and this is the way you repay them.” (And as for giving up the Marauder’s Map, what a laugh that Lupin thinks Harry should have turned it in when he himself was one of the creators!)
    All of the adult figures in the series are like most adults in real life—we mean well and we do the best we can at any given moment, but we often don’t accord children’s thoughts and conversations the respect that they deserve. And, in return, children often mistrust us.

    Has anybody else seen this particular thread in the books?

    Re: Father Aguilar’s comment about values being different from philsosphy: I don’t understand how such a division can be logically made. Our values are an outgrowth of our philosophy–and (or?) vice versa. Harry’s philsophy is writ very large for all to see–and Rowling hits it again and again–his choices and his actions are almost always a result of his great heart, and his ability to love. Just because Rowling doesn’t give us chapter and verse of Harry’s “religious beliefs”–or her own–doesn’t mean he (or she) doesn’t have any. Harry seems one of those who believes in the “spirit” of the law first, and the “letter” of the law second.

  41. The Necroposter says

    NOTE: Apologies for writing a slight unrelated topic here, I intend not to do it again and am sorry for breaking community guildlines.

    “Sad to say, there are bizarre websites that attack the Tolkien & Lewis as purveyors of Satanic evil, chums of Aleister Crowley! But then the same Vigilants view LITTLE WOMEN with alarm. (No, that’s not ironic.)”

    Does anyone now any sites or articles that refute these claims about Tolkien and Lewis? I came across them when looking on the relationship of fantasy fiction and Christianity, and personally the claims made in the articles are making me soil my britches. Being a tolkienist and lewisian at heart, I find it very concerning that the articles seem to go unchallanged and slam Tolkien and lewis as occultist/free-mason(or at very least hinters of satanic thought). I find it very depressing to hear that, and it makes me upset to think the books I enjoyed were “doorways” to the occult. Most forums I looked up on this issue either a. laugh it off as a conspiracy theory, b. just state that it is puritan fundamentalist nonsense, or c. it is just fiction. Now that may be all true, but I do take the claim seriously if someone says that certain books are dangerous especially when they are about a controversial issues a.k.a the use of magic in fiction and themes from pagan literature. Though I have calmed down from the initial reaction, I am still concerned that what I am reading and enjoying is condemned by the bible as sin ( that is far more my concern than than the fear of supposed demon possession, developing a desire to practice witchcraft and satan worship) and so far I have not gained any certainty. Practically, my question is enjoying fantasy fiction, pagan myths and folklore a sin condemned in the bible ( not in the sense that I accept them as truths or develop an unhealthy interest in them) ? I am very passionate about European folklore and myth, but I do not wish to continue if it is not right for me.

    Though I am pleased to see the disdain for the writers like Berit Kjos, and Eric Barger, I have yet to see any articles on refuting their arguments and evidence. Some of their claims I do find over the top ridiculous like the horror of the inklings use of alcohol and pipe smoking ( and what does that have to do with the occult) or having to slather the entire book in puritan theology. I also suspect that they overly commit the genetic fallacy, the straw man, and the quoting out of context fallacies. But their premise still concerns me, am I enjoying something that is sinful or endangering my soul? Can I quiet my conscience on this issue but without silencing or denying the danger. What is the Orthodox view on this dilemma ? ( I’m a cradle born Protestant but I’m heavily inclining towards Orthodoxy). If anyone can help me with this, that would be great !

  42. The Necroposter says

    Once again I do apologies if I have not followed the guidelines and for posting about topic not strictly Potter related.

  43. The Necroposter says

    Once again I do apologies if I have not followed the guidelines and for posting about topic not strictly Potter related. Just an issue I would like dealt with.

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