Monday, July 23, 2007

I'm a Muggle

I promise that this review has no spoilers for the last Harry Potter book, but if you choose not to read further, having been burned in the past by reviews and comments that purport to be "spoiler-free," yet nonetheless give clues about what's going to happen, I understand completely. I heard one on NPR just this morning. Nothing major, but I found myself glad that I've already finished the book, myself!

I admit it. I'm a Muggle.

If that phrase means anything to you at all, you'd know I'm talking about the world of Harry Potter even if you didn't read that "meta" text up at the top. And if you read this blog regularly, the odds are that you're connected enough to the outside world and certain "religious" aspects of it (either pro or con) to know that not all Christians think Harry Potter is a "good thing." You probably also know me well enough to know that I do not have any such problems with the Potter books, myself.

I confess that I'm a bit mystified (if you'll pardon the pun) as to why some Christians think that Harry Potter is dangerous (usually citing Biblical injunctions against magic), but don't tend to have problems with the works of J.R.R. Tolkein or C.S. Lewis, both of whom use magic rather heavily in their most famous works. Is it because they are known Christians? For what it's worth, Rowling herself claims to be a Christian, as well (Here's a link to an article from October 2000, just after book 4 came out). Perhaps she doesn't believe in the "right kind" of Christianity? I wouldn't know. I don't pretend to know the ins and outs of Rowlings personal beliefs. I also believe that it's not my place to judge. She affirms the Christian God, and that's enough for me.

Quite a few defenses of the Harry Potter books focus on the messages of friendship, loyalty and self-sacrifice which are all undeniably present in the stories. I also appreciate that the heroes of these stories are still flawed human beings. Remember Harry's outbursts in Book 5 (presumably also depicted in the movie that's just come out)? Harry's had a rough year, and his credibility has been called into question. His life hasn't exactly been a bowl of cherries. It's understandable that he should be upset. Yet, I'm not sure we're supposed to be sympathetic when Harry takes out his anger on his best friends. We're not being given the message that "it's okay to take things out on people who aren't even the source of your problems." Harry does have to apologize to the people he's wronged in the course of the story. I think that it's important that our "heroes" have these kinds of human failings. It teaches us that, while we're human and have these failings, too, we need to take responsibility for our actions. After all, Harry Potter did, didn't he?

I also think that Christians need to reminded of the words of the Apostle Paul:

So then, about eating food sacrificed to idols: We know that "An idol is nothing at all in the world" and that "There is no God but one." For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as indeed there are many "gods" and many "lords"), yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live. (I Corinthians 8:4-6, TNIV)

Many Christians had a huge problem with the practice of eating meat sacrificed to idols, believing that to eat such meat was to pay homage to false Gods, something clearly forbidden for Christians to do. Paul asserts that, since there is only one God, and that an idol is nothing more than a figment of human imagination, that one can safely eat meat without worry about revering such non-existent Gods. Likewise, Christians who know that the world of magic (such as appears in the Harry Potter books, at least) is imaginary should have nothing to fear by allowing their kids to read them.

That's not to give the books a total pass, though. We read on in Paul:

But not everyone possesses this knowledge. Some people are still so accustomed to idols that when they eat sacrificial food they think of it as having been sacrificed to a god, and since their conscience is weak, it is defiled. But food does not bring us near to God; we are no worse if we do not eat, and no better if we do.

Be careful, however, that the exercise of your rights does not become a stumbling block to the weak. For if anyone with a weak conscience sees you, with all your knowledge, eating in an idol's temple, won't they be emboldened to eat what is sacrificed to idols? So this weak brother or sister, for whom Christ died, is destroyed by your knowledge. When you sin against them in this way and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother or sister to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause them to fall. (I Corinthians 8:7-13, TNIV. See also Romans 14:13-15)

Those of us who find Harry Potter "safe" do need to be aware of the impact of our beliefs upon those who do not believe as we do. Suppose a person, not understanding the difference between the magic of Potter's world and real occultic practices decides that it's safe to explore such practices, since we've told them that Harry Potter is "okay." Clearly this would be an abuse of our freedom, and we will be inadvertently responsible for another's failure to understand. But just as Paul didn't actually become a vegetarian (despite the way that this passage ends), I do not think that all Christians are enjoined to avoid reading books like the Harry Potter series for fear of how "weaker" Christians may respond.

I can't pretend to know how everyone should act. But here's my stand. I'm a Muggle. I can't do magic. I'm not going to pursue doing magic, because my God tells me to trust in God alone. I'm fine with that. I'm also fine with reading a truly entertaining story that happens to use "magic" as one of its plot devices, but which also talks about the human condition in ways that are applicable to people everywhere.

1 comment:

  1. I appreciate this view on the Harry Potter series. Frankly, I find that certain Christian groups have gotten all upset over many irrelevant things simply because they're super-popular. (quick idea: jealousy? maybe?) The same thing happened with Pokemon, although that was ten times more ridiculous.

    And I must say that my viewpoint and ideas on magic were greatly changed and influenced by CS Lewis's writings in the space trilogy, especially in the third volume.

    And I haven't finished (or started) book 7 yet, so thanks for no spoilers. =)

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