I wrote the following over a year ago for another blog, I’ve reposted it here because this blog is a more appropriate home, given the subject matter. There are a couple of very minor edits to the original text.
Recently I heard a church pastor proclaim from the pulpit that Harry Potter was evil and should be avoided. The more I thought about this blanket statement that Christians should avoid Harry Potter the more it concerned me. It is after all a fantasy adventure, what could be so dangerous?
The controversy of Harry Potter in Christian circles is not new and I have known for some time that there is division over it, with some saying it is harmless and others taking the stance of the aforementioned pastor.
Having read some of the books and seen some of the films, I firmly belong to the camp that says its an exciting adventure, with some dark themes of good vs evil that is not dangerous to read. I will happily acknowledge that not everyone will like or want to read the books. If someone chooses to avoid the books because they are uncomfortable with the subject matter, that’s fine, I will not force my opinion on them.
What bothers me though, is why do some Christians feel so passionately about them that they think they are bad news to read? It seems that the subject matter of magic is central to the argument, along with secondary claims of the books promoting rebellion, disrespect of adults and other non-desirable attributes. The following blog posting gives a good overall view of why Harry Potter should be avoided:
The first thing that occurs to me, as someone who did many years of youth work and is now a parent, is that kids and teens do not need any encouragement, they pretty much all rebel at some point and to differing degrees. To claim that a specific story should be avoided because it features teen and pre-teen characters rebelling is ludicrous. Should I stop my daughter watching Horton Hears a Who? After all that features rebellion as one of its key themes.
Apparently there is unpunished or un-rebuked rebellion, which is a very bad thing and sets a bad example for young minds reading the books. Firstly there is punishment given for misbehaviour. Now it is possible that there are punishable actions which escape punishment, how that translates to encouraging children to misbehave and rebel is a leap of logic that escapes me. I am once again drawn to Horton Hears a Who as that also features unpunished rebellion and I have yet to see evidence of that affecting my daughter.
My biggest concern on this one is that for a parent or guardian to worry that these books will encourage their child into rebellion is that there is obviously a weakness in their relationship with their child. One thing that is pretty much a given with children is that if you ban them from something, they will find a way of doing it. Ban them from reading the books or watching the films and they will eventually find a way of doing just that. It won’t be the books promoting that rebellion, it will be you and your prohibitionist attitude. Far better to read the books with the children and then discuss any issues with them. This is what I did as a youth worker and it was very worthwhile, it promotes openness between you and the child concerned and actively discourages rebellion.
Promotes witchcraft and wizardry
Arguably the biggest complaint about the books and probably the biggest single issue with those concerned about the books. Some people don’t draw any distinction between contains and promotes, so the fact that the books contain magic as a key part of the subject matter is enough. If only these people will take a closer look at the context and the story and see that there is a bigger picture there.
If someone doesn’t like the idea of a story about magic then fair enough, not everyone has to like the books, but to make a blanket statement that no Christian should read the books because you don’t agree with or like certain aspects of the books is rather presumptuous.
The biggest concern for me is people who make comments along the lines of ‘reading these books will compromise your Christianity’ or ‘I have seen and had to help deal with the consequences of reading these books’. The basic premise behind these types of comments is that if a Christian reads Harry Potter their Christian beliefs are compromised and they are no longer able to think straight. A book can do that? Wow!
This type of comment is extremely dangerous and potentially confusing, especially for new Christians, as it gives very mixed signals. In order for someone to make a comment like that, they have to believe that the person they are addressing, who has already made a conscious decision to accept Christianity and life the associated life, is incapable of reading these stories without becoming trapped by them into living a conflicted life.
Its as though the Christians who make these comments fear that the magic in the books is real enough to overcome the free will of the reader. Is their Christianity so weak that they doubt the existence of an all powerful Holy Spirit? Is their Christianity so weak that they fear the fictitious incantations of fictitious magic? Do they actually believe that there is such a thing as magic and that its so powerful that simply reading about it is tantamount to inviting the devil into your life? If that’s so, how come their more powerful God can’t overcome that by them simply reading the Bible?
The logic displayed by Christians who denounce Harry Potter and claim it should be avoided is deeply flawed and their claims are potentially far more damaging to young people than the books ever could be. The best thing a parent or guardian can do with a child who wants to read a book about which they have concerns is to read the books with the child and discuss any issues that arise. This action will promote a positive parent-child relationship in a way that banning things can never do. Who knows, the child may even decide they don’t like the books anyway, at least then it will be their decision and you won’t be the big bad parent who bans everything that’s fun or exciting.