When Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone first came out, someone lent it to my family, and my mother read the first chapter aloud to us. That was all it took- my four siblings and I were hooked. There was something very charming and witty about her writing style, especially to a 12 or 13 year old. We were super excited about each new book coming out.
Somewhere around the fifth book, I became an avid Catholic forum reader, and came across a a lot of Christians who were vehemently against the Harry Potter series. I was fairly impressionable, and was convinced that because the books were about witchcraft and some kids who read them started experimenting with black magic, they were dangerous and should be shunned. At that time in my life, I was one of those bossy, judgy, lay down the law and make other people follow it kinda people (my siblings are nodding vigorously as they read this), so I managed to convince my parents that as good Christians they shouldn't be allowing Harry Potter into our house.
Can you even imagine how furious my siblings were with me? I'm still not sure if they've forgiven me for that. Of course, such a law (like most book-banning), invites law-breaking, and all of them managed to smuggle in and read the succeeding books without my parents finding out (including one who read the fifth one while sitting inside a cupboard), so really I was the only one who lost out.
Over the years, I began to read more balanced Catholic blogs, with more thoughtful and nuanced perspectives. As Catholics, we DO believe in black and white, but also that there are also a great deal of matters which are not so clear, which the Church has NOT clearly condemned or approved, and which need prudence, and wisdom, and healthy discussions in order to choose how to approach.
The tendency is either to be overly fearful (everything that is not explicitly Christian is evil!) or to be overly lax (no censorship at any cost, children have to learn to deal with anything that is out there), or even naive (how much will it really influence them?)
Anyway, after reflection and growth, and the passage of years, here are some thoughts on Harry Potter now:
As a Christian, I DO believe in the existence of evil spiritual powers, and that all forms of the occult are dangerous and to be taken seriously. That's why non-Christians are laughing in disbelief at anyone having a problem with Harry Potter. If witchcraft is merely a fun imaginative fictional invention, then there really is no problem. But I have heard and seen enough to know that the Church isn't kidding about this stuff.
Here is just one of many many stories: Resident Evil: How I Made Friends With the Devil. Part 1 of a 3 Part Series
This is what the Catechism of the Catholic Church says:
2116 All forms of divination are to be rejected: recourse to Satan or demons, conjuring up the dead or other practices falsely supposed to "unveil" the future.Consulting horoscopes, astrology, palm reading, interpretation of omens and lots, the phenomena of clairvoyance, and recourse to mediums all conceal a desire for power over time, history, and, in the last analysis, other human beings, as well as a wish to conciliate hidden powers. They contradict the honor, respect, and loving fear that we owe to God alone.
2117 All practices of magic or sorcery, by which one attempts to tame occult powers, so as to place them at one's service and have a supernatural power over others - even if this were for the sake of restoring their health - are gravely contrary to the virtue of religion. These practices are even more to be condemned when accompanied by the intention of harming someone, or when they have recourse to the intervention of demons. Wearing charms is also reprehensible. Spiritism often implies divination or magical practices; the Church for her part warns the faithful against it. Recourse to so-called traditional cures does not justify either the invocation of evil powers or the exploitation of another's credulity.But there is a difference between the magic of fairytales, or pure fiction, and the magic that the Church condemns. 'Sorcery in these books is not the sort of witchcraft forbidden in Holy Scripture. The wizards in Harry Potter do not invoke evil spirits or dark forces in order to change the physical world. Rather, they possess a genetic capability, like a superpower.'* Likewise, fictional magic is used in The Chronicles of Narnia (deep magic) and The Lord of the Rings, and many other childhood favourites that have nothing to do with the kind of magic the Church condemns. In HP in particular, it is more like a superpower, or like the X-men's genetic mutation- an inborn gift or ability given rather than a power or knowledge achieved by connecting with spiritual forces.
Still, a lot of the words used in real life Satanism and witchcraft (two different things) are used in Harry Potter: Like divination, spells, curses, etc. I think it is a legitimate concern that unsupervised and unguided reading of Harry Potter can lead to an unhealthy interest in dabbling with occult powers, especially because witchcraft and Satanism are becoming more and more popular and normalized in today's world. Think about the TV show Charmed for instance- three fashionable and attractive sisters are witches... who actually do practice real life witchcraft. Yeah, I used to watch it.. until the Lord gave me a kick and told me to stop.
Stephen D. Greydanus cautions: 'Is there equally no danger of any young Harry Potter fans-particularly children whose spiritual development is not being properly cultivated-developing an unhealthy infatuation with the idea of magic? Might they tend to indulge in fantasies about the idea of hidden or esoteric knowledge, about belonging to an elite, covert world of power beyond one's peers? Might these stories even be one factor, at some later date, influencing a child to respond more positively or with greater tolerance toward everyday occult phenomena? Might they be one factor influencing a child to respond one day with greater interest or tolerance to Wicca or the Kabbalah?' [Read the rest here: The Morals of Magic]
That doesn't make the books themselves dangerous: Instead, like a lot of literature and movies these days, I think the solution is not to ban them, but to read with your kids, encourage healthy discussions about what is real and what is not, what is dangerous and to be avoided, etc. Even some of the tricky moral questions could be easily talked about while reading the books- do the ends justify the means? Is turning the other cheek for wimps? Are people born good or evil, or do they choose?
Some people feel like just reading the book or watching the movies puts one in spiritual danger: However, unlike other practices the Catholic Church has explicitly condemned, there has never been an official consensus or statement on HP. Why not, you may ask. As Michelle Arnold, a Catholic Answers apologist writes: 'Sometimes Catholics think that there can be only one permitted opinion on all issues of doctrine and morals. This is a misconception. In many areas of Christian life, the Church is silent and trusts Catholics to use their own prudential judgment. The Harry Potter novels is one such issue in which Catholics are free to sort through the various opinions on the matter, read the books for themselves, and come to their own carefully-considered decision.' You would think if the books really did open a doorway to evil (like wearing charms or consulting horoscopes), the Church would officially warn us of it. But she does not, which makes me think that can't be true. If my heart and my mind belong to Christ, reading a fantasy book or watching a fantasy movie (in which characters neither invoke evil powers, nor glamorize evil) will not so easily pull me away from God. (Also, guess what? Most of the 'spells' are basically Latin words.)
Harry Potter has a lot of very Christian themes, which is not surprising when you find out that J.K. Rowling is a Christian. The whole life after death thing? The 'Chosen One' who had to sacrifice his own life in order to destroy the Enemy, and even the power of death? "The last enemy to be conquered is death." Why yes indeed, that IS from the bible, 1 Corinthians 15:26 in particular. Death not as an end, but as a doorway to a journey, taking a train to go further on- remind you of C.S. Lewis' The Last Battle? Remember when Harry's family walks with him at the end- such a powerful image of the angels and saints- 'Since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us'. We believe it! And of course, the shocking and protective power of LOVE?
J.K. Rowling said, “To me [the religious parallels have] always been obvious. But I never wanted to talk too openly about it because I thought it might show people who just wanted the story where we were going.”
When I started writing this blog post, I thought I would just write for an hour and be done. But then I started doing some research (partly spurred on by a friend who has strong concerns about the danger of Harry Potter), and boy, there are a LOT of Catholic opinions and articles about Harry Potter. Phew.
I think Regina Doman's article is my favourite though:
'I think that it’s natural for serious Catholics in these dark times to be suspicious of the books, and that people should be forgiven for assuming that wildly popular books like the Potter series must be successful only because they are about the occult. I never dreamed that the books might be so incredibly popular because they are so incredibly good.
But once I read them, I started to realize that this might indeed be the case. Perhaps the jaded and beauty-starved and morally-adrift children of the world are devouring Harry Potter because the books are full of truth, goodness, and beauty – although disguised with unfortunate terms like ‘wizard’, ‘witch,’ and ‘magic.’ If so, then Rowling has pulled the biggest literary coup in modern history, similar only to Tolkien’s success in becoming the greatest author of the twentieth century.
The main problem with the books could simply be that they are new. When I was growing up, I was encouraged by serious Christians to avoid The Lord of the Rings because the book was thought to encourage interest in the occult. After all, it had spawned the occultic Dungeons and Dragons games. But now Tolkien’s book is hailed as a Christian classic, simply because it has passed the test of time.' [read the rest]
I realize this blog post has practically become a novel itself, and has not really added anything to the (extensive) online discussion of the Catholic perspective of Harry Potter. Not to mention consuming hours of my life researching it.
So really my conclusion is- read the books. But educate yourself and your kids about the very real spiritual harm of real life witchcraft and the occult. Or don't read the books or watch the movies. But don't judge the people who do. Many orthodox and wise Catholics have, and don't seem to have suffered any harm. The end. Good night. Good grief. It's 2 am.
*These two articles made me start thinking about Harry Potter again: Why Your Kids Need to Read Harry Potter and The Mystery of Harry Potter.