Is Harry Potter Really Necessary? - by Dr. C. Matthew McMahonArticles on the Christian Walk, Systematic Theology and Practical Theology
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What would the Puritans think about Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, or the other six movies released over the last decade about a male witch and his friends fighting other witches and their friends? This is a more intricate and complex question than many hard core “Puritan-heads” may care to admit. I would imagine that most Puritan-heads of the 21st century would quickly manipulate the 17th century puritan mindset to cast Harry Potter into the very depths of hell itself. I suppose we could imagine that if J. K. Rowling ever lived in 17th century puritan England, or early Colonial America, and wrote such books in those times, she would be thoroughly scourged, placed in the stock or jailed, fined an enormous amount of pounds, and her Harry Potter books would have been burned in the public square. Even after such a statement I can hear the puritan crowds cheering me on, right? However, we don’t do such things today. Instead, because these ideas are exciting to the depraved, we give such people billions of dollars to keep us entertained.
Over the past decade the popularity of the Harry Potter books have escalated as the top money-grossing children’s books of all time. Parents and children alike have both scuttled off to the neighborhood bookstore to buy the latest version of Harry Potter when it arrives. Harry Potter is the likable young “wizard to be” of J. K. Rowling’s children’s books. However, I am always leery to accept anything the American populous, much less the whole world in general, finds trendy. Harry Potter is definitely trendy. When secular society finds something equally entertaining and acceptable “en mass” the Christian eyebrow should rise up as high as Mr. Spock’s. I have known little about Harry Potter since he arrived on the scene of children’s literature, and so, in desiring to speak intelligibly about the controversy behind the stories, I viewed the movies based on these books. My intentions were study based, and I desired to gain some knowledge of the current controversy by obtaining my information straight from the horse’s mouth without having to wade through 7 children’s books.
First, allow me to critique the movies by their material standards. In not so many words, the movies are certainly entertaining, very well made from beginning to end, casted perfectly in its characters, and the special effects will knock your socks off. Is that a plea for the movie? Not really. Some of the worst movies imaginable have all been down those lanes before. However, overall as a movie, I can certainly see why the masses are attracted to these Hollywood blockbusters. Yet, we must keep in mind, that the secular world is always attracted most to those concepts and ideas which are utterly secular – things devoid of the holiness of Christ.
My desire is to take on this subject through Puritan eyes (I equate most of what the Puritans believed to be thoroughly biblical theologically, so I believe I stand on good ground in asking the question in this manner.). In what ways would the puritans have approached critiquing this movie? If the puritans were alive today (Love, Perkins, Owen, Watson, Henry, etc) would they have bothered to see Harry Potter? I think they would have, as much as they would have read Darwin’s “The Origins of Species…” Why? Is it because I did and I desire to justify my actions? That is not the reason at all. I personally would never listen to anyone’s opinion about anything that they have no idea about. And it is not enough to have biblical principles when the knowledge to apply them is simply the sterile environment of the mind instead of the active matrix of the world we live in. To know what the Bible says in contrast to the principles that the Harry Potter series propagates is not enough to engage the mother at work, or the child in the classroom. As a matter of fact, just this past week I listened to a Jewish mother confront a professing Christian on this topic. She wondered whether he would take his children to see Harry Potter as she had done. The Christian immediately answered with “I try to stay away from things that are occultic or dark.” Really? He had no problem bringing his children out on Halloween. Suffice it to say, the Jewish mother won the conversation, nicely, but tactfully. This does not mean we should view pornography to know that pornography is wrong. That is a given. Why then is Harry Potter not a given? Because it’s subject matter is not new. This we will see in a moment.
We need to put on our thinking caps, ready our “Ramean logic,” and keep our Bibles open as Puritan-heads. Let me begin by stating and explaining what I am not going to talk about. The proposition at hand is not about whether Harry Potter and its occultic influences are bad for Christians. The Bible is filled with occultic influences, witches, dragons, Satan and the like. Their presence in the Bible does not prompt us to throw the Bible away. Harry Potter is filled with occultic imagery, but that should not, in and of itself, cause us to throw away the movie. In censorship, Christians often have a habit of censoring what they do not like rather than censoring things logically and biblically based. Christians simply do not go as far as they should. Should they ever support movie theaters that would play such things? Should they ever contribute to Hollywood in any sense and watch TV, buy videos or DVDs, etc? At this point a better question may be “How hypocritical will Christians really be in condemning Harry Potter at the outset because of the elements it contains?” It is one thing to appeal to your own conscience, quite another to set a standard for all Christians. If you do not like Harry Potter, and believe it is sin to view the movie or read the books, then by all means do not do either. But have a reason why this is so. For instance, most Christians have little problem justifying their viewing pleasure before some movies like the Star Wars series and its Buddhist principles, Cast Away and its thoroughly atheistic philosophy, Disney’s Beauty and the Beast with its magic and sorcery, not to mention Aladdin with its thieving main character, Hercules and it pagan mythology, and the Wizard of Oz and its “good” witch and magic slippers. What shall we say of the Chronicles of Narnia with its magic wardrobe, white witch, griffins, werewolves, satyrs, demons, spirit trees, goblins, trolls, talking animals, or any of Grimm’s Fairy Tales, and the like? “All of that is different,” says the Christian. I say “why?” There are some “hard core” fundamental Christians who simply throw out the window all of “Hollywood,” as well as the Narnia books, because they mix up the idea of content and message. I can say that because very early in my own Christian walk I said the same thing; we should not read the Chronicles of Narnia because it contains witches, demons and the like. But if I am going to throw it all out, then I really need to take another look at the Scriptures themselves. The Bible chronicles the activities of witches, demons, spirits, dragons, beasts with multiple heads, scorpion-like creatures which torment men, cannibalism, horrible and cruel deaths by hanging, sword, boiling in oil, tearing apart by lions and a host of other atrocious thoughts and actions. It details the work of the devil graphically, and records warfare of all shapes and sizes, including spiritual warfare. It speaks to every human and demonic calamity in striking, and sometimes, grotesque detail (be reminded of young David chopping off the head of the evil giant Goliath.) It often leaves nothing to the imagination. “Wait one minute,” says the reader, “in no way can you compare the Bible with Harry Potter. You must be mad in making such assertions! The message of the Bible is much different than Harry Potter! Its God’s word to us! It is in a class all its own!” My response to that would be, “I thought we were talking first about content, not message?” Harry Potter contains elements of the occult: witches, wizards, potions, dragons, unicorns, flying broomsticks, and the like. Well, so does the Bible in many instances, but no one would ever think about throwing it out simply because of content. In the KJV of the Bible, in Numbers 23:22, 24:8, Deuteronomy 33:17, Job 39:9-10, Psalm 29:6, Psalm 92:10, and Isa 34:7, we find references to unicorns. In Exodus 22:18, Deut. 18:10, 1 Samuel 15:23, 2 Kings 9:22, 2 Chr. 33:6, Micah 5:12, Nah. 3:4, and Gal. 5:20 we find references to witchcraft and witches. In Acts 13 we find sorcerers. In Ezekiel 13:6-7, 21:21-22 and Acts 16 we find divination. In Psalm 91:13, Isa. 27:1, 51:9, Jer. 51:34, and through the book of Revelation, we find dragons galore. Shall I go on? Does content itself dictate what we shall keep and throw away? Certainly not.
Take a breather, step back, and think about it. If content alone, without the primacy of the message, is the rule and guide for our viewing or reading pleasure, then the Revelation of John (the last book in the New Testament) is just as offensive as the Harry Potter movie. Talk about a book with imagery! Remember, we are speaking about imagery and content in this instance, not the message of the book. But, we should be thinking about the message and meaning behind the content, and the use of the content as our key. I understand that certain limits on this should be set. No Christian should be reading the pornographic romance novels, or watching the lewd and outwardly offensive soap operas. In the same way, young children should not be exposed to reading the cannibalistic aspects of the Bible, or possibly some of the suicide passages (Ahithophel, Judas, etc.). Parents should be discerning when and how they introduce difficult, or disturbing themes to their children, even when they come from the Scriptures. (Rabbi’s still keep their children from reading the Song of Solomon because of its graphic sexuality until they are old enough to handle such information maturely.) The Bible is full of difficult and disturbing themes. Content wise, this is equally true of the Harry Potter movie. But we must look to the message, and not just the content/imagery.
I believe the 17th century puritan would equally agree that the logic should go something like this: I need to understand the message behind Harry Potter and not just the content of Harry Potter, as much as I need to know the message behind John’s Apocalypse. I should know what the book of Revelation conveys in its message and scope, why it was written, who stands behind its authority; not just the facts concerning the presence of the devil, the false prophet, beasts with multiple heads, beasts covered with eyes, flying dragons, four horsemen who come to ravage the earth and its people, etc. etc. Would John’s apocalypse be thrown out for its content based on content alone? As a matter of fact, for the very reason of those elements just mentioned, the book of Revelation was one of the very last books to be accepted into the canon. I am thankful that God wisely and providentially helped those men to see passed the mere content and look to the message of the book. I think it is more vivid and fantastic than Harry Potter by a long shot in content/imagery. But because of the message, and the authority behind the message, I will never part with it, much less the entirety of the Bible no matter how graphic or disturbing the Bible may be.
Now that we have lain to rest what may have confused us, let us move to what does matter: the message of Harry Potter. On this point, in certain respects, the puritans would have a field day with Potter’s confusing message. I can tell you that the message of Harry Potter and his movies is far different than I thought it would be before the movie began. I had been ready to cast Harry and his friends into the pit of hell, as any good 21st century Puritan-head would have liked to do. But after the movie was over, my opinion changed somewhat (and I say somewhat). A bold-faced message was almost non-existent; at least in the first movie. On this point alone it ought to be withheld from children altogether. Children’s stories, even when moral, should be blatantly obvious (Like Grimm’s Fairy Tales, but be discerning here.) Harry Potter’s message was not obvious in the least. It was more of an amalgamation of moral ideas combined together under the setting of this young wizard, his two friends, and the school of witchcraft and wizardry. The movie taught bravery, self-sacrifice, courage, friendship, respect, loyalty, and other virtues. However, it also taught children to rely on lying, cheating, killing, revenge, hypocrisy, and the power of witchcraft (which is really a Greek term for “manipulation”); some very sinful practices. Harry and his friends not only learned to be kind and friendly, but they used whatever means they could, including wizardry and witchcraft, to attain their goals. It was a blatant display of relativistic ideology and situational ethics; the old “means justifies the end” scenario. But mainly, and forthrightly, the movie taught that people should decide whether they want to be good or evil. How one comes to define this is another thing altogether. The evil wizard in the movie said that there was no good or evil, only power. (Buddhist? New Age?) Is this what Harry believes? Is it true? The movie never tells us whether this is right or wrong. It leaves us to decide. It leaves children to decide. In Harry’s world it seems that this is the norm.
The movie also has an element that points the finger and shakes the fist at anyone who would oppose the means of magic and witchcraft. (Convenient?) Harry is told that people who dislike these things are called “muggle.” If this theme is carried into the books, I believe it is a very harmful, intolerant way of setting the books overt opinions of those who may think the books, or the movie, to be unacceptable for children. Please do not misunderstand me – I am of the utmost opinion that Harry Potter is not for children in any way, shape or form. (More on that later.) But the wide acceptance of this character and his blatant opposition to mugglers is an important note to keep in mind when Christians consciously reject the books and movie, and are labeled mugglers by those children who are reading them. (What is this message?)
Since the Potter movies seem to be a conglomeration of good and evil ideas, emotions, thoughts and intentions, should children be exposed to it? Maybe some questions are in order. I already answered the question as to whether Harry Potter should be thrown away because the movie contains representations of occultism. I think that is non-issue once the Biblical record comes into play. No one is going to see Harry Potter in order to consult a medium or channel spirits. But the message of Harry Potter, or the occultic and evil subtleties that it propagates and teaches children is another matter entirely. We might ask, “Does Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone teach and propagate sinful actions?” Or, “Does Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone contain a sufficient amount of unbiblical immorality and wickedness to cause spiritual and moral damage to anyone watching it? The answer is “yes” to these two questions when it comes to children, and even some simple-minded Christian adults. (I mean no disrespect here.) Children are far too impressionable and teachable in the things of the flesh to add to the flesh in any way. They should be shielded from such teachings of relativism, occultism and sinful behavior. We do not have to teach children to be wicked, why should we fill their heads with more occultic ideologies which will further cause them to desire the lifestyle of Harry Potter? Would it not be “cool” to have the power of Harry? Certainly children think this way, and certainly Potter is going to leave them with an indelible impression of attempting to attain what they can in real life through this fantasy figure. Get what you want without God and by any manner of manipulation.
If we strip away all of the fantasy (the unicorns, wizards, magic wands, werewolves, flying broomsticks and the like) we must deal with the message that is left. It is a confusing message. On the one hand it is difficult to pin down what the Harry Potter movie is blatantly teaching in terms of the story. Even up and into the movie “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” one still continues to ponder the point of it all. The point, however, is ingenious. These movies ingeniously introduce occultic and demonic ideas to the populous. When we leave the theater, do the Harry Potter movies make us hate witchcraft and demonic activity, as the Bible says we should? Or does it leave us with a warm fuzzy feeling that we have enjoyed a good movie? Are we discerning enough to know that a warm fuzzy feeling is not the feeling that Christians should have after being exposed to the real life occultic ideologies of astrology, divination, necromancy and the like?
Oftentimes the subtleties for children in such fantasy movies and books results from a continual desensitizing to the ideas presented. The ideologies in Harry Potter are those which stimulate the emotions and bypass the scrutiny of a biblically based rational mind – something that children of our generation have little of in the first place. When a movie like this one is placed before the desensitized child, the fast-paced visually exciting story will easily capture his or her heart immediately – especially with the blend of the lovable characters and their relationships. This causes them to by pass the subtle messages and enjoy the adventure.
What do we do with God in Harry Potter? Who? God. God who? God, well, where is God in all of this? Actually, the only mention of God was in using the Lord’s name profanely by a groundskeeper who worked the castle yard. Other than that, God is out of the picture all together. What does this teach? It teaches that Harry and his friends can have a good time flirting with evil and calling it good, without ever knowing what the standard for good is, except by their own relativism. Nor do they think they have to worry about a judgment in the life hereafter. There definitely seems to be an afterlife in by the number of ghosts in the movies suggesting that the afterlife is not something bound to ultimate issues. There seemed to be no hell or heaven, no judgment, and no consequences for your actions (except, possibly, what happens in the here and now).
Many people see Harry Potter as a depiction of good verses evil. This is the plea usually used to say the movie is “OK.” But, is it really a movie about good and evil? No, not really. It is a movie about the struggle for power. It is a movie about an evil wizard fighting against Harry Potter – a “young” evil wizard. How is Harry evil? Well, we know from the Bible that all witchcraft is abominable to God. If this were the case how can we rightly call Harry good? Harry is a male witch! It is this kind of confusing blend of imagery that desensitizes the evilness of witchcraft and occultic ideas. Children are apt to come away with the idea that the occult is acceptable and not in blatant opposition to the character of God’s holiness.
After stating all of this, my “take” on Harry Potter stands in two arenas. First, biblically, there is no justification, at any time, to give a “Christian OK” to occultic activities. Fantasy is one thing, but glorifying real-life occultism is wholly another. In this respect the Bible has much to say in condemning all these kinds of demonic activities (Exodus 22:18; Deuteronomy 18:10; 1 Samuel 15:23; 1 Chronicles 33:6; Micah 5:12; Galatian 5:19-20). Here children should be thoroughly shielded from the influences of such occultic ideologies. They should not be exposed to Harry Potter at all. Christian Parents should be mature enough to understand that their children ought to be safeguarded from occultic ideas as much as is humanly possible (this includes Disney movies, even some of Grimm’s Fairy Tales, many Saturday morning cartoons, and other children’s stories which glorify such things. Let us not simply stop at Harry Potter, but be discerning with all children’s books and movies.)
Children should also be protected from the blatant use of lying, cheating, stealing, and the like which Harry Potter and his friends utilize as a means to their goals in this movie. Situational ethics is already bred into the souls of children at birth. Children already know how to be bad children. They are born sinners (Psalm 51:4). Rather, instead of setting these sins in the midst of something that would make them attracted to it (like a movie), they should be taught to abhor it. This may also include The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe series of C.S. Lewis, until the children are at an age where they can responsibly and biblically discern the reality of such things in comparison to the fantasy of such things. So to sum up this first censor against the movie, children should not be exposed to any occultic activities no matter how innocent they may be portrayed (yes, that may include cartoons like the Disney movies. Remember, let us never be hypocrites about all of this!) I would opt for keeping children away from Harry Potter for those reasons mentioned, and the use of subtle occultic ideas which can make magic trendy and acceptable in this fashion.
Secondly, what do we do with adults? Can Christian adults see the movies that start the young wizard Harry Potter? Might I pose the question this way: did I sin when I saw this Harry Potter movie? I would answer with a rock-solid “No.” As a responsible and mature Christian adult I am able to discern the biblical right from the demonically wrong. I understand the subtle differences of fantasy and reality – something children cannot do. I am able to tell what is real and what is not. I know when Harry and his friends blatantly disobey their authorities; I am able to tell where they are utilizing evil means or situational ethics to obtain their goals, etc. I do not believe I sinned when I saw this movie, as much I do not believe I sinned when I watched Star Wars, or Beauty and the Beast, or The Chronicles of Narnia, or when I ate the cereal Lucky Charms. I am able to distinguish fantasy from reality. I am able to discern the message and meaning of the movie and then assess its affects on me, even from a harmless breakfast cereal like Lucky Charms or Boo Berry. In this case of viewing Harry Potter, I came out more aware of the subtleties of the occult, and how J. K. Rowling is weaving them into the lives of the American populous. J.K. Rowling’s purpose, even if she doesn’t know it, is to inbred people with the devil and his ways (but personally, I think she does know it). I was equally aware of this same tactic when a children’s show called “The Smurfs” was broadcasted some years ago (magic, trolls, wizards, etc. – more of the same.) I am able to discern these things, to eat the meat, and throw away the bones. I am able to find the moral of the story and to pitch away the offensive. However, if I used to be into occultic activities in my past, seeing Harry Potter may stir up my soul to wrong thoughts and wrong actions, attempting to awaken what Christ is mortifying in me. That would be sin. Here we exercise the liberty of conscience and say with the apostle, “All things are lawful unto me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any.” (1 Cor. 6:12) Christian adults must make up their minds as to what they will allow in their minds and why.
Can Harry Potter be a means of entertainment for the Christian adult? No. Can it also be a means to hurt undiscerning or weak-minded Christians? Yes. If there is ever any doubt one way or the other, then the Christian takes up the plea “whatever is not of faith is sin,” and they do without.
Thirdly, I believe there is a much more important point to be made. Is Harry Potter really necessary? J. K. Rowling has created a lovable and exciting character to watch. But does the world need Harry Potter to teach them the few scattered moral ideas that accompany the movie? Absolutely not. The devil has nicely taken a poor woman who came up with a depraved story and given her a billion dollars for the idea. Now she must wrestle with, “What does it profit a man if he gain [a billion dollars (the whole world) yet forfeits his soul?” Jesus said that. And He said, “It is difficult for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven.”
Forget using Harry Potter to teach a child the meaning of right and wrong. It is simply all wrong. If you need something “fantastic”, there are far better, just as exciting, considerably more fantastic, significantly more precise and practical children’s stories to teach children right from wrong. Simply from the standpoint of an appeal to the Potter movie to help children discern good from evil is a mute point. Pick up a copy of Grimm’s Fairy Tales, or watch some of those silly Veggie Tale shows. They are much quicker to the point and practically blatant when it comes to teaching children certain ideas and certain morals. Better yet, we should encourage fathers to take the time to study their bible’s, digest the material in the bible, and teach their children as the head of the home. Maybe we would have fewer trips to the movies, or to the video stores, if this were so.