I was eager to get to Hogwarts first because I like what they learned there and I want to be a witch.-Gioia, age 10 1
I like the third book because here [Harry] meets his godfather and Professor Lupin, a really cool guy [This really "cool guy" is a shape-shifter who turns into a werewolf]...
- Harry, age 7 2
The Harry Potter novels have created a new idol for millions of children around the world. To some of them the fictional Harry seems almost real. But concern is growing among some Christian segments that the Potter series, replete with lessons in practical witchcraft, is opening a door to an occult reality for the world's children. Other Christian leaders deny such danger, but J.K. Rowling, the author who created Harry Potter, admits it is actually happening.
In a Newsweek interview she said, "I get letters from children addressed to Professor Dumbledore [headmaster at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry in the books], and it's not a joke, begging to be let into Hogwarts, and some of them are really sad. Because they want it to be true so badly they've convinced themselves it's true."
Children everywhere love supernatural thrills, mystical stories, fairy tales and legends; e.g., Lord of the Rings, Chronicles of Narnia, Grimm's Fairy Tales, etc. But Harry Potter's birthplace, Great Britain, is a wonderland of options for exploring practical witchcraft, and plenty of youth are catching Harry's occult vision. Two British reports on this phenomenon reveal that popular forms of occult entertainment "have fueled a rapidly growing interest in witchcraft among children."
Great Britain's Pagan Federation is pleased. Although it refuses to admit members under age 18, "it deals with an average of 100 inquiries a month from youngsters who want to become witches, and claims it has occasionally been 'swamped' with calls." Pagan Federation media officer, Andy Norfolk, explains, "Every time an article on witchcraft or paganism appears, we have a huge surge in calls, mostly from young girls."3
John Buckeridge, editor of the British Christian magazine Youthwork, is worried. Unlike many U.S. church leaders, who give Potter novels the thumbs up, he foresees serious danger ahead. "The growing number of books and TV shows like Harry Potter and Sabrina the Teenage Witch encourage an interest in magic as harmless fun... However, for some young people it could fuel a fascination that leads to dangerous dabbling with occult powers. So what starts out as spooks and spells can lead to psychological and spiritual damage."4
A More "Noble" Religion?
It's not surprising that the timeless craving for power and control through magic has soared with the decline of Christian influence and the spread of pagan television shows and books.
The trend has been increasing ever since the 1960s initiated a rejection of traditional values and an interest in eastern religions. This was followed a decade or so later with the flowering of the New Age movement. These transitions actually indicated society's discontent with a spiritually vacant Secular Humanism and its need for a more "religious" paradigm, but definitely without the "old" Christian worldview and restraints.
Almost a decade ago, a Wiccan student wrote an article about witchcraft for The Talon, her high school newspaper. Leah Mowery based her report on interviews with several student witches at Los Altos High School in California.5 Her article boasted that Wicca was more tolerant than traditional beliefs and taught people to take better care of the environment and helped people to empower themselves. It used only "good" magic.
Soon afterwards, a Christian student, also an editor for The Talon, asked if he could write about Young Life, a Christian group active on their campus. "No," was the response, "because witchcraft is underexposed in our society and Christianity is overexposed." Translation: Witches could give public testimonies about the benefits of their religion, but Christians were no longer allowed to express their faith and testimonies. 6
With assistance from television, books, and movies, Christianity's reputation has been badly tarnished. The faith has been blamed for hatred, conflict, wars and environmental abuse, and the criticism has inspired countless "Christian" leaders to "re-imagine" their faith in order to embrace a more tolerant view toward the world's fast-growing fascination with pagan practices.
According to proponents of the new pagan revival, Christianity simply doesn't fit any more. The Christian Church has failed to provide "the right degree of spirituality for young people." In contrast, paganism involves "direct communication with the divine."7
From the Biblical perspective, this viewpoint is tragically wrong, but it matters little to the masses seeking spiritual power without Biblical accountability.
Strange Counsel from Christian Leaders
Typical of our times, a recent report in Christianity Today seems to base its approval of Harry Potter not on the Bible, but on popular consensus among Christian leaders. "As far as I can tell," writes author Ted Olsen, "while no major Christian leader has come out to condemn J.K. Rowling's series, many have given it the 'thumbs up.' If our readers know of any major Christian leader who has actually told Christians not to read the books, I'd be happy to know about it; but in my research, even those Christians known for criticizing popular culture have been pretty positive about Potter."8
To prove his point, Mr. Olsen quotes seven Christian leaders or publications:
- On the Breakpoint radio broadcast of November 2, 1999, Chuck Colson commended Harry and his friends for their "courage, loyalty, and a willingness to sacrifice for one another... even at the risk of their lives." Colson dismissed the pagan practices as "purely mechanical, as opposed to occultic. That is, Harry and his friends cast spells, read crystal balls, and turn themselves into animals... but they don't make contact with a supernatural world. [It's not] the kind of real-life witchcraft the Bible condemns."9
- World Magazine's May 29, 1999 issue praised Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone as "a delight...with a surprising bit of depth." Author Roy Maynard assured World readers that "Rowling...keeps it safe, inoffensive, and non-occult. This is the realm of Gandalf and the Wizard of Id, not witchcraft. There is a fairy-tale order to it all in which, as Chesterton and Tolkien pointed out, magic must have rules, and good does not-cannot-mix with bad."
- A second World article, however, toned down the enthusiasm. "A reader drawn in would find that the real world of witchcraft is not Harry Potter's world. Neither attractive nor harmless, it is powerful and evil." (October 30, 1999)10
- British Christianity magazine praised the series. Mark Greene, Director of the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity, wrote a note of regret for not giving it to his goddaughter earlier.
- A Christian Century editorial (December 1, 1999), "Wizards and Muggles," states, "Rowling is not the first fantasy writer to be attacked by conservative Christians. Even the explicitly Christian writer Madeleine L'Engle has taken heat for the 'magic' elements in A Wrinkle in Time. Such critics are right in thinking that fantasy writing is powerful and needs to be taken seriously. But we strongly doubt that it fosters an attachment to evil powers. Harry's world, in any case, is a moral one."11
- Wheaton College professor Alan Jacobs concludes that the Harry Potter stories promote "a kind of spiritual warfare...a struggle between good and evil...There is in books like this the possibility for serious moral reflection [and] the question of what to do with magic powers is explored in an appropriate and morally serious way."12
Another Side to the Issue?
Obviously, Christians have the right to debate such an issue as Harry Potter. But at the same time, it should be pointed out that much of the church is in the midst of a headlong rush to adapt itself to the new oncoming global religious belief system, generally by compromising Christian beliefs. The mass media's promotion of alternative religion and morality has prompted even Christians to replace or blur the pursuit of God with the pursuit of pleasure and other forms of morality. God's standards would hardly win a popularity contest today.
Popular versions of Christianity wisely rejected the stiff legalism of the past but simultaneously tossed out God's guidelines and warnings. The result has become license to be self-centered, to do almost anything that feels good and to have God sanction it. Rather than being God-centered it is oftentimes self-centered. Christians who refuse to compromise are often demeaned as old-fashioned killjoys, bringing reproof and embarrassment to those who fear offending the world with the whole truth of the gospel.
God gave us His Word that we might know Him. The Bible reveals His heart, will and ways. It alone can show us what is truth or error; not current opinion. Compromise is a gradual process, so slow that it isn't obvious at first that belief is drifting toward non-Biblical doctrines. Eventually, the two become so intertwined, it becomes impossible to distinguish genuine belief from the new substitutes.
Harry Potter and friends are praised for their courage, loyalty, and a willingness to sacrifice for one another, even at the risk of their lives. But those qualities can be found in almost any culture. The Bible says, however, that a brave person is no more free to pursue paganism than a coward.
Harry's occult skills of witchcraft, sorcery, casting spells, spiritism, interpreting omens and "calling up the dead" fit into a category God tells us not even to discuss. "For all who do these things are an abomination to the Lord..." (Eph 5:10-12, Deut 18:9-12)
Calling Harry Potter's world "a delight...safe, inoffensive, and non-occult," is misleading assurance. True, "magic must have rules," but the primary rule of the occult is that Satan doesn't offer free and easy favors for long. He may indulge seekers in a free ride for a while, but as soon as his victims become captivated by his lures - all of which are counterfeits of what God offers those who follow Him - he begins to demand his payback. Suddenly the bright side of evil turns dark, indeed. Attempts to resist or turn back usually lead to spiritual terrors and oppression.13
Today's pagan movement is attractive to anyone disillusioned by unfriendly churches and bad experiences with Christianity. It entices seekers by showing the "light" side of occultism. Contemporary witches - both men and women- that I have met are sincere, often compassionate, usually well-educated and frustrated with today's rampant materialism. Few look evil. That's not surprising when Satan himself transforms himself into an angel of light.
The younger generation of pagans shows another side. Many dabble in black magic and the other "dark arts" that are so seductively taught at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Apart from the fantasy setting and dramatic demonstrations of magic, there is little difference between Harry's skills and the real world of the occult.
Focus on the Family's critic, Lindy Beam, comes closest to the truth when she wrote, "Apart from the benefit of wise adult guidance in reading these books, it is best to leave Harry Potter on the shelf." 14
It might be good to remember God's definition of wisdom: "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding." The fear of the Lord involves a sober awareness of what He loves, of what He despises, and of the consequences of disobedience and rebellion against Him. Among the obvious evils in the Potter series are the practices listed in Deuteronomy 18:9-12: witchcraft, sorcery, spellcasting, divination, calling up the dead, etc.
One thing is certain. As the new religious belief systems expand and are accepted by more and more Christians, the lines between genuine Christian belief and the new values will increasingly blur. Opposing it will not be a popular move. There will be social and other pressures to conform to the new transformation of the Church.
It's time for serious Christians to "count the cost" and be ready to stand uncompromisingly strong in the Truth God has given us.
Jesus warned long ago, "If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you... If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also...for they do not know the One who sent me." (John 15:18-21)
* * *
[For background information, see "Bewitched by Harry Potter," "Harry Potter and Dungeons & Dragons," as well as comments by visitors at Berit's website, http://www.crossroad.to/.]
- "What Readers Think About Goblet?" San Francisco Chronicle, 7/26/00.
- "Harry's Biggest Fans," San Francisco Chronicle, 7/26/00.
- "Potter fans turning to witchcraft," This Is London, 8/4/99, http://www.thisislondon.co.uk/top_story.html?in_review_id=306029&in_review_text_id=250010.
- Mowery, Leah, "Mystical Misconceptions Haunt Students," The Talon, 6/7/91.
- Based on the above-mentioned Wiccan article and on personal interviews with the Christian student.
- Op. Cit., Norfolk.
- Olsen, Ted, "Opinion Roundup: Positive About Potter," Christianity Today, http://www.christianityonline.com/9c13b.html.
- Breakpoint can be heard at www2.oneplace.com
- Maynard, Roy, "Books: Kiddy Lit-Potter series is a delight, but beware of children's books by celebrities," World magazine archives from May 29, 1999, Vol. 14, Number 21.
- Mars Hill Audio Journal, Sept./Oct. 2000.
- See the books, A Twist of Faith, and Under the Spell of Mother Earth, by the author.
- Op. Cit. "Potter fans turning..."
RELATED ARTICLES FROM KOINONIA HOUSE
Dr. Stan Monteith, M.D