Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Why Harry Potter is Evil

Having grown up in a small town in Georgia, I've heard almost every argument for why things such as Harry Potter are evil. It supports witchcraft, portraying it positively. It encourages kids to want to explore magic. Because of it, youth are flocking to wika cults. Some would go so far as to accuse Harry Potter as pure propaganda for Satan. I remember hearing stories about how witches would pray over certain toys (I believe they were related to the movie Beatlejuice), praying to the goddess (although the stories said it was Satan) to use the toys to influence children's lives. For the churches I grew up in, things like Harry Potter were the front line offensive of the enemy. Therefore, they required the majority of our energies to prohibit, picket, protest, etc. This was pure evil, and our children must be protected from it.

This of course has some major flaws. First and foremost, some of the greatest Christian writers saw no problem with using magic in their stories (viz. Lewis, Tolkein, etc.). One might try to argue that for them magic was always evil, but this certainly is not the case of all. So is this fear of Harry Potter entirely irrational and a result of overzealous fundamentalism?

Probably so, but as a fan of Harry Potter, I want to try and present an argument for why literature / media such as this can be bad. I think Reynolds has made a good case for why good Christian media is important. The stories (especially fiction) paint metaphors and images, and convey themes that are fundamentally Christian. One cannot help but be impressed with Lewis' genius in the Chronicles of Narnia. In an innocent story, he paints a vivid image of the battle of good versus evil, and the characteristics of evil being selfishness, greed, and so on. The characteristics of pure good are seen in Aslan himself. Aslan is a divine figure, but is never overtly described as such. Aslan is powerful, fearful, gentle, loving, and so on. Further, Aslan demonstrates a sacrificial atonement. Aslan's relationship with Narnians and with the children points to aspects of the divine-human relationship, and subtly touches on some complex theological questions such as sovereignty and responsibility in a simple, profound, and understandable way. After all, Lewis wrote for children.

The point is that Lewis did not feel (as many Christian writers) that he had to put the clear Gospel message in every chapter of his Christian fiction. He used fiction to first tell a great story. And this story dealt with metaphors that are fundamentally Christian. Redemption, Messiah, true and pure love, and so on. As Reynolds said, as a child after reading the Narnia books, he had that common emotional feeling of "if only such a world really existed". Such metaphors can strongly impact how we view the world, after all this is one of the great powers of good art. Its not in the literal interpretation, but the themes and metaphors.

This is also where works such as Harry Potter can be dangerous. It is not the presence of magic, but what magic is a metaphor for. Magic is something that the children utilize freely to control the world around them, viz. the force in Star Wars. After reading a Harry Potter book, one has the same feeling of "if only such a world existed", but although this world is a world of good and evil, it is a world where we primarily can control our own destinies by the forces of magic.

Again, it is not magic's fault. It is the metaphor. I believe this control theme strikes at something primal in humanities sinful nature. Eve's temptation was to be like God, to have the power and knowledge of God. I think it is fair to say that all human sin can be summed up in some form or another of pride: a twisted inward focus that places value on self above all else. This is fundamentally contradictory toward the biblical notion of faith.

I believe that metaphors such as the magic of Harry Potter, or the force of Star wars excite us and appeal to us because we want that kind of control. We want to be able to impact and control the forces around us that seem to dominate and master our destinies. We want that super human power. What kid has not wished he could move objects with his mind? Or manipulate people?

What is the solution? Should we shield our children from such evil? Should we hide any influences that might encourage this anti-faith attitude? The reality is nothing we can do will shield our children from it, because they are born with that attitude. And outside of living in a literal bubble, they will encounter this attitude in its plethora of forms in human society. Further, stories such as Harry Potter are good literature, and we certainly don't want to force our children to endure mediocre stories that are "safe", thus encouraging stunted growth in their God given love for art?

I think this metaphor of control is only dangerous when we are not properly developing the foundation of biblical truth, specifically the biblical notion of faith. We cannot help children by shielding them from evil, but by developing the proper world view and understanding of truth that will allow them to grow in the right way, and respond appropriately to wrong metaphors. If children are driven to cults after reading Harry Potter, something was already fundamentally wrong in their developmental processes, and Harry Potter cannot bear the blame for a larger pre-existent problem.

Instead, it seems to me that parents must first examine their own lives. Do they live the life of faith that Paul describes? Is their life a life of submission to the will of God, and to the Holy Spirit? Is their faith the biblical faith? Only when they start to "get it" can they model and develop "it" in their kids. And of course, this is only in the context of the Holy Spirit also working in their lives.

Harry Potter, Star Wars, and all of the other stories that contain mythical powers to control one's destiny should not be a reason for fear for parents. Instead, if they are good art (and this of course can be debated) then they should be celebrated, and used as an opportunity to address some of these fundamental questions and issues that they raise, both intentionally and unintentionally. Good art is hard to come by these days.

It must be noted, when I say "good art", I mean art that is not just appealing, but good, pure, and beautiful. Harry Potter has a lot of redeeming themes in it, and it is a very good, touching story. It might have its flaws, (such as the author's postscript that Dumbledore is in fact gay), but it is still a good story and can be rightly appreciated by Christian families.

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