Harry Bewitching Our Youth?
Parents and Churches Respond to the Potter Phenomenon
Harry Potter is a wizard. He attends a school dedicated to
the teaching of witchcraft and wizardry. And yet, most Christian
experts say, the books and films are full of Christian symbolism
figure. It’s not the first time that Christians have
taken the best of secular culture and turned it to spiritual
ends. It was not until the mid-fourth century that December 25
was officially declared the day of the Nativity. Most scholars
argue that Jesus probably was born in Bethlehem in the springtime,
because the shepherds would have tended their flocks in the spring.
But when the fourth-century pope announced the December birthday,
he was consciously offering a spiritual antidote to a pagan
Parties around the winter solstice were popular in ancient Rome,
and Christmas offered Christians an opportunity to party for
a better cause.
Martin Luther use the best tavern tunes for his new, Lutheran
hymns? Today, we have Harry Potter for Christians.
generation ago, we had books such as The Gospel According
to Peanuts (1979),
followed by a Tao of Pooh (1982), but today,
it’s Connie Neal's The Gospel According to Harry Potter (2004),
and much more.
Resources for parents
“We are not debating whether or not it is okay for a Christian
to practice witchcraft, or cast a spell,” explains
Neal in her other book, What’s a Christian to Do with
Harry Potter? “The Christian position on that is clear.
We agree that we should never participate in anything listed
in Deuteronomy 18:9-14, never practice any form of occult involvement.
But reading Harry Potter is not the same as practicing or even—as
some assert—promoting witchcraft. However, some can take
it to mean that.”
the Devil, and Harry Potter, Protestant minister John Killinger
explores the relationship between the mysterious birth
and infancy of Harry and the virgin birth of Jesus. After describing
the harrowing events surrounding Harry’s birth and his
parents’ deaths at the hands of the evil Lord Voldemort,
Killinger explains: “Anyone familiar with the narratives
surrounding the birth of Christ must surely feel a tingling of
the skin at this point, recalling not only the acts of sympathetic
magic in the universe when he was born but the wicked attempt
to exterminate him and the godly presence he represented.”
Christian leaders are lining up to defend Harry Potter. The
publishers of Looking for God in Harry Potter by
John Granger are the same ones who publish the Left Behind series;
they describe Granger’s book this way: “John Granger,
a devout Christian, teacher of classic literature, and father
of seven children, first read the Harry Potter books so he could
explain to his children why they weren’t allowed to read
them. After intense study, however, he became convinced that
the books are underestimated as literature--and reflect important
to Granger’s books announces “A
Parental Shift from Alarm to Approval,” and chapter three
explains “The Hero’s Christlike Journey.” Granger
explains that “Harry’s adventures take him through
life, death, and resurrection.”
Sunday school lessons
Churches around the world are even talking about Harry Potter
in Sunday school. Church Street United Methodist Church in
Knoxville, Tennessee, offers one of the best examples.
children’s ministry director Sue Isbell
writes on the church’s website: “One of my goals
is to help children learn to live as spiritual beings in a physical
world and to learn to live as Christians in a secular society.
With the popularity and then criticism of the Harry Potter stories,
I felt it was something children can enjoy, in the proper context,
without damage to their spirits. Plus, I happen to be a children's
director who loves the whole Harry Potter world—just as
I loved Narnia, Oz, and all the fairy tales from my childhood.”
find great teachings in the stories about using good to fight
evil in our world, great wisdom about
living and loving those closest to us, and great lessons about
making decisions and living as a good person in what can be an
unfriendly environment. I do not believe Harry Potter or magic
to be evil any more than I believe money or power to be evil.
It is the use of these things that make them good or bad in our
world. Harry Potter is a story, and I believe that with the help
of reasonable, imaginative and caring adults, children today
are sophisticated enough to read it as just that.”
Street curriculum is awe-inspiring for the Harry Potter fan,
even if it deals only with issues raised by the inaugural
book in the series. You can see in detail what is covered in
each of the five lessons on the church’s website: http://www.churchstreetumc.org/harry-potter.html, but here is a thumbnail sketch:
1: “Magic and the Bible.” Explores
how Harry is a magical person and compares his magic to the
Jesus in the New Testament. Asks kids the question: What is the
difference between magic and miracle? Scriptures read: John 2:2-11;
John 6:8-14; John 11:38. HP texts: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's
Stone, chapter 1.
2: “Magic or Muggle?” Deepens kids’ understanding
of what it means to have special abilities, a special identity
inside oneself. Also explores the ethical questions of how Harry,
and we, learn to use our special identities for good and not
evil. Scriptures read: Philippians 4:13. HP texts: Harry
Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, chapter 4.
3: “The Perfect Wand.” Just
as Harry has a wand as a tool to do his work in the world,
so do we have important
tools. Asks kids the question: What tools do you have that help
to deepen and strengthen your faith? Scriptures read: Ephesians
6:10-20. HP texts: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, chapter
4: “The Sorting Hat.” Each new student at
Harry’s Hogwart’s School of Witchcraft and Wizardry
is tested by the sorting hat. This actual hat is like an all-knowing
seer and determines each child’s character and destiny.
The “gifts of the Spirit” are not very different
in the body of Christ, the church. Helps kids to explore: What
are your gifts? For what do you feel you have been chosen? Scriptures
read: 1 Corinthians 12. HP texts: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's
Stone, chapter 7.
5: “The Power of Love.” Harry
finally defeats Lord Voldemort, his evil nemesis, through self-sacrificing
Similarly, evil may have won out in the Garden of Eden, or on
the Cross, but there is a larger purpose for these events and
the self-sacrificing love (and victory) of Christ overshadows
all. Scriptures read: John 3:16; John 15:13; Mark 15. HP texts:
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, chapter 17.
In a recent interview with explorefaith.org, Sue Isbell summarized
her philosophy of teaching kids about Harry Potter: “I always remind children, regardless
of what we are discussing, that if you have a knowledge of the Bible in your
head and a true love for God in your heart, then you will learn to identify
teachings of the faith in all you read, watch, and experience in life.” In
that spirit, parents and teachers now have plenty of resources to use in exploring
the spiritual values of Harry Potter with their kids.
Jon M. Sweeney is a writer and editor living
in Vermont. His most recent book is The Lure of Saints: A
Protestant Experience of Catholic Tradition.
by Jon Sweeney.