Searching for Truth in Harry Potter (Sep-Dec 2007)

By Matt Dabbs

by Patty Slack
September – December, 2007

Do you remember where you were when you first heard the name Harry Potter? I first saw his picture on the cover of September 20, 1999 issue of Time Magazine. At the time, I was living in West Africa, the birthplace of Voodoo. The idea that a story about wizards and sorcery entranced American children so much that they were painting scars on their foreheads, concerned me.

I knew from my studies in animism that more Americans at that time were introduced to the occult through Ouija boards and role playing games than through any other avenue. (Van Rheenan) (hyperlink: http://www.amazon.com/Communicating-Christ-Animistic-Contexts-Rheenen/dp/0878087710/ref=sr_1_1/102-5706502-2063339?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1187563565&sr=8-1) Surely the Harry Potter phenomenon would have the same effect and suck a generation of children into Satan worship.

“It’s making the children read!” was the cry of parents and teachers alike. But, I reasoned, literacy is not worth the high price we might pay.

Even at the time, I knew I was being inconsistent. How could I consider Harry Potter’s influence dangerous yet plop my preschoolers in front of Disney cartoons, all of which contain elements of witchcraft, sorcery, and magic? I considered destroying our Cinderella cartoon, burning our fairy tale books, and banning The Wizard of Oz from our house.

The Key To Harry Potter - John GrangerThen I met John Granger (no relation to Hermione, as far as I know). John, a Latin teacher in the first town I lived in after my return to America, encouraged me to read Harry Potter for myself. He gave me a copy of C.S. Lewis’s Perelandra trilogy and challenged me to read it without finding a Christian message. Lewis, he explained, was already a believer when he wrote those books, but he had not yet made his faith public. People at the time read them as straight science fiction but, in hindsight, were able to see Christian allegory in them, as strong as that in The Chronicles of Narnia. John’s suggestion, which I took, was to read Harry Potter while considering that J.K. Rowling also intended to convey a Christian message. He later wrote down some of his theories about Christianity and Harry Potter in his book The Hidden Key to Harry Potter and subsequent books.

After the first Potter book, I’ll admit I was hooked. It wasn’t just Harry who left me waiting for more of his story. Rowling had taken a memorable boy and placed him in an entire fictional world, full of other colorful characters, bits of humor, and, of course, magic. The magic at Hogwarts, though, is not the dangerous stuff I encountered in Africa. There, voodoo practitioners seek out the most powerful spirits they can find, then set out to manipulate them. Harry, Ron, and Hermione are bound by the rules of their world. They neither sought their magical qualities nor tried to use them to manipulate spirits. In fact, the very handling of magic as part of the natural world rather than as a mystical journey into the unseen may be what kept me reading these books.

Granted, I may be splitting hairs. After all, God was pretty explicit in Exodus 22:18 when he said, “Do not allow a sorceress to live,” and in Deuteronomy 18:9-13 when he lists witchcraft, spell casting, sorcery, and consulting the dead among the practices he detests. “You must be blameless before the Lord your God.” (Deut. 18:13 NIV)

Does being blameless mean not reading Harry Potter? Or watching The Little Mermaid? Or Medium, The Ghost Whisperer, or Sabrina, the Teenage Witch? Are we giving in to the pressures of our culture and lessening our impact on the world by embracing these books, shows and movies?

For some, the answer is simple. One circle of my friends would cry out a resounding, “YES!” We must, they argue, keep ourselves pure and unstained. We must not allow our minds or the minds of our children to be tainted by the obvious evil influence of these movies and books. Yet in the next breath, they praise the Lord of the Rings trilogy as if it were the modern day gospel.

If you can find Christian themes in Lord of the Rings, surely you can find just as many in Harry Potter. First is the obvious battle of good versus evil and the ongoing proof that good must always triumph. Second, we see that as Harry and his friends mature, they are faced with heavier temptations which carry greater consequences. Is it just a commentary on life, or is Rowling giving us a picture of what following Christ is like?

I’ve heard some Christians suggest that it is not the magic of Harry Potter that makes these books dangerous. Rather, it is the idea that Harry can define his own morality that jeopardizes the hearts of those who love him. From his first days at Hogwarts, he finds himself in situations that help him justify breaking the rules. From wandering the corridors at night to stealing a car to sneaking around under his invisibility cloak, Harry ignores rules and laws and follows his own code of what must be done.

But what Christian has not done the same thing? Christ came to fulfill the law so that it would no longer restrain us. We now have the freedom to make choose our actions, not because we are bound by laws, but because we are compelled by God’s grace to live up to what he expects of us.

In the last book of the series, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, I finally found justification for reading the entire story. No longer was it just a well-written tale for children. Neither was it a general story of good versus evil that could somehow be contorted into a Christian allegory of sorts. Book seven brought the Harry Potter question into focus for me.

From a death scene at King’s Cross, to the differences between those who seek love versus power, to the ever-present motifs of loyalty, purity, and faith, Rowling’s last book hints at deeper themes. Even the words on Harry’s parents’ gravestone come directly from the Bible. (“The last enemy to be destroyed is death.” I Cor. 15:26 NIV) One theme that jumped out at me is that he who wants to save his life must lose it, but he who loses his life will save it.

Even J.K Rowling, in a series of interviews over the years, has admitted to the religious undertones of the story. Consider this quote from a July 30, 2007 interview on Dateline NBC:

Young voice: Harry’s also referred to as the chosen one. So are there religious–
J.K. Rowling: Well, there– there clearly is a religious– undertone. And– it’s always been difficult to talk about that because until we reached Book Seven, views of what happens after death and so on, it would give away a lot of what was coming. So … yes, my belief and my struggling with religious belief and so on I think is quite apparent in this book.
Meredith Vieira: And what is the struggle?
J.K. Rowling: Well, my struggle really is to keep believing.
[http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/20001720]

Harry, his friends and his wizarding world have become a part of western culture. “Quidditch,” “Muggle” and “Squib” are real words now, part of our group understanding and consciousness. I pray that the scenes of book seven also sink into our collective understanding of the world.

For I believe that Harry Potter has more to offer than just a good story. I think it has the potential to take its place in literature as a parable that can describe good and evil, truth and deception, even life and death.

For more information about John Granger’s ideas, consider Looking for God in Harry Potter (hyperlink: http://www.amazon.com/Looking-Harry-Potter-John-Granger/dp/1414306342/ref=sr_1_1/102-5706502-2063339?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1187563754&sr=1-1), The Hidden Key to Harry Potter (hyperlink: http://www.amazon.com/Hidden-Key-Harry-Potter-Understanding/dp/0972322108/ref=sr_1_3/102-5706502-2063339?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1187563754&sr=1-3) and Dr. Granger’s blog. (hyperlink: http://www.hogwartsprofessor.com)

If you’d like to read a contrary viewpoint, consider Harry Potter and the Bible: The Menace Behind the Magick. (hyperlink: http://www.amazon.com/Harry-Potter-Bible-Menace-Behind/dp/0889652015/ref=pd_bbs_sr_1/002-8731957-8381660?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1191116741&sr=1-1) and Hour of the Witch: Harry Potter, Wicca Witchcraft and the Bible. (hyperlink: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/customer-reviews/0768422795/sr=1-5/qid=1191117419/ref=cm_rev_next/002-8731957-8381660?ie=UTF8&customer-reviews.sort%5Fby=-SubmissionDate&n=283155&s=books&customer-reviews.start=21&qid=1191117419&sr=1-5)

You might also be interested in Darryl Tippens’ 2002 review of the first motion picture in the New Wineskins article Who’s Afraid of Harry Potter?New Wineskins

Patty SlackPatty Slack is a graduate of Harding University. She and her family spent 7 years as part of a church planting mission in Togo, West Africa. She currently resides in the Pacific Northwest where she home schools her 3 daughters.

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Profile photo of Matt DabbsThis author published 1584 posts in this site.
Matt is the preaching minister at the Auburn Church of Christ in Auburn, Alabama. He and Missy have been married 12 years and are raising two wonderful boys, Jonah and Elijah. Matt is passionate about reaching and discipling young adults, small groups, and teaching. Matt is currently the editor and co-owner of Wineskins.org.

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