Friday, 24 June 2011

Harry Potter and the Deadly Paranoia

First of all a confession… I’ve read all seven Harry Potter books.  I quite liked the first two as children’s books and probably read them to/with my youngest kids.  I enjoyed the third book as a novel in its own right.  I disliked the fourth book, the first of the huge ‘bricks’ she then produced, and considered it self-indulgent, over-long, unfocused and lacking in plot, in fact I disliked it so much I didn’t read the fifth book until after the sixth one came out.  Eventually my daughter persuaded me to give it a go and I enjoyed it so I then quickly read number six and on its eventual release the seventh and, so far, last book.

I wouldn’t call myself a huge fan.  I can remember only bits of them, the films stick in my mind much more, and I can’t remember what bits happen in which book terribly well.  They’re reasonably well written, or they would never have been published in the first place, but they’re not in the same class as Terry Pratchett’s ‘Discworld’ series and they’re certainly not ‘literary’ novels.  They’re kids’ books that appeal to some adults who enjoy fantasy, adventure, escapism and taken in the broad sweep an epic struggle between good and evil.

So why do so many Christians hate them, loath Joanna Rowling and in extreme cases not just stop their kids from enjoying them but actually go so far as to preach against them and publically burn them?  There’s a one word answer: “witchcraft”.   This is just a word, a simple two syllable word – so what is it that people are really reacting against? I think it’s the kingdom of satan and the way that is most overtly expressed; that is ‘the occult’.  Now I’m no expert on the occult, I was brought up in a Christian home and never strayed down that road, but surely the key thing about it is that there is a personality at the centre of it all, the devil or satan, and the occult operates as a religion.  This religion, as all religions do, provides a system of practices, laws and rules that enable its practitioners to access knowledge and understanding which is derived from and leads to the personality at the centre plus the faithful gain some perceived benefit from that system.  Obviously a Christian believes people involved in the occult are in fact gaining merely fleeting benefits, if any, and ultimately it will enslave and destroy them, and I would heartily agree with such a statement. (This is why true Christianity isn’t a religion – there are no rules to keep that produce knowledge or understanding or access to the personality – Jesus did away with the law and gave us union with God through grace by his perfect sacrifice).

And this is why I think the Harry Potter novels do NOT deserve the hated that has been reserved for them in some quarters.  In these books, and similarly in C. S. Lewis’ ‘Narnia’ novels, J. R. R. Tolkien’s ‘Lord Of The Rings’ saga, Terry Pratchett’s ‘Discworld’ series and countless others, the ‘magic’ that is featured so prominently and practiced by witches, wizards, elfs, etc has NO such personality at the centre of it.  The ‘magic’ is a naturally occurring phenomenon within the reality described in the books in much the same way as magnetism, electricity, gravity or radio waves are in the real world.  The witches, wizards, elfs etc are simply the people who have the ability to manipulate that natural phenomenon via the tools of their trade, staff’s, wands, crystal balls and spells in much the same way that a radio engineer in our world could manipulate radio waves to send voices ‘magically’ across the world using circuits, a battery and an aerial!  There is virtually NO correlation between the real world occult practices of a modern medium, psychic or spiritualist and the magical practices of Harry Potter, Gandalf the Grey, Aslan or even The White Witch or Voldemort!

The magic in these books is NOT a religion.  It’s simply part of the physics of the world.  If the actual substance behind the ‘magic’ is nothing to do with the real occult, if there isn’t a person (satan) behind it, then what’s the problem?  It can’t be the words surely?  They’re just words!  It’s the meanings that are important. 

If our objection really is to the words ‘wizard’, ‘witch’ and ‘magic’ and we think the meaning inextricably linked to them then how come we can change the word ‘magic’ to ‘the force’ and have no problem with that?  What else is a Jedi but a space-age wizard?   Why is Luke Skywalker’s use of ‘the force’, which is surely just another way of describing magic but without the literary baggage associated with the fantasy genre, allowed by the Harry Potter haters?  There is NO substantive difference between Dumbledore in Harry Potter and Obi-Wan Kenobi!

If it’s the super-natural abilities that we object to then we have a problem not just with Harry Potter’s wizarding world, but with Aslan’s magic in Narnia, Gandalf’s in Lord Of The Rings and with Superman and his ability to ‘magically’ fly, to see though solid objects and be super-strong; we would end up comparing the man-of-steel with the demoniac from the Gospels who could tear his chains off and couldn’t be restrained even by many men!  Is Superman possessed?  I don’t think so!

I think the reason some Christians hate Harry Potter so much is they have a warped view of both satan and God.  They see them as almost equal and opposite, like the Greek gods Zeus and Hades, who were brothers, playing chess with the lives of mortal men.  When in fact satan's attempts to defeat God would be better compared to an amoeba attacking a supernova – it’s never going to go well for the amoeba.  We have no reason to fear satan – if we are in Christ nothing can separate us from him!

Saying that reading Harry Potter would interest children in magic and therefore the real occult is as sensible as saying that letting children watch Tom & Jerry cartoons would interest them in animal cruelty and cause them to grow up to abuse animals, or that reading The Beano makes them grow up to be teenage delinquents. It’s nonsense.

Finally in the Harry Potter books good always wins.  Evil is vanquished and what is it vanquished by?  Better magic?  Greater power?  Superior spells or witchcraft?  Military might? Nope.  Evil is vanquished by a combination of love and self-sacrifice…. now where have I read that before?