Friday, July 15, 2005
A Few Thoughts on the Harry Potter Debate  

Disclaimer: I have not read any of the Harry Potter books. Neither have I seen any movies based on the books.

My concerns about the Harry Potter book series is based on my observations of people debating whether the books are good or bad. I have the following points which I present simply for the purpose of consideration. Please note that my points are simply points to generate some thought. I am not attempting to build some strong argument.

1. Because the books are popular, people should be wary. I am not so naive to equate popular equaling bad, but anything popular, and I mean really popular, should probably raise a red flag. Perhaps I am cynical in stating this, but when is the last time that something which was really popular was really good. The Passion of the Christ was indeed popular, but I would daresay that it was primarily popular among those who already have some Christian faith. My conception of the Harry Potter books is that they are popular across a wide spectrum of social, political, racial, and economic categories.

2. We live in a very media-intensive culture which seems to have us numbed to the dangers inherent in the media. I will be the first to propose that if you are going to take in something, it would be better to read it than say, go watch the movie. Reading allows you to pause and reflect whereas movies and television force you to keep processing the images and sounds. All of this is said because there is a tendency among Christians, especially, I have found Catholic Christians who fancy themselves as cultured to accept all kinds of cultural material without question. Indeed they will actively defend it for a variety of reasons. I have a Catholic friend who watches what I would consider completely debauched movies. I am not much of a moviegoer for a number of reasons, but I am very disturbed by the movies he watches. In my opinion, he is simply naive and somewhat unduly influenced by the culture. He considers it important to go to these movies, and, the part I do not understand, he enjoys them. For instance, he wants to be sure that he has seen every movie nominated for an Oscar for best picture. Given the context of his Christian faith, I have a hard time believing that this is really the best use of his time, especially given the content of some of these movies.

Another aspect of the media nature of our culture is that we have media experts. In my opinion, for most of the media in this country, you really do not need to be an expert. In fact, regardless of whether one fancies oneself and expert or not in some area, you are called to be discerning. I am not going to be held accountable for not being expert enough in some particular area. I am going to be accountable for failing to prayerfully discern. In addition, one of the byproducts of the discussion about these books has been pride. All of the sudden, I have heard people begin to whip out their credentials for why they are qualified to promote or denounce the books. It is like self-proclaimed intellectuals. I am very wary of them, and I do not think that it is good fruit.

3. Judge the fruit. What is the fruit of these books? On the one hand people point out that children who might not otherwise read are reading the Harry Potter books and they are excited about reading. Of course, this begs the question of the content of what they are reading which gets at the whole debate about these books. The other fruit does seem to be an increased awareness in magic, and yes, the occult. This should raise red flags for proponents and detractors of the books. Naturally, books that use magic to carry the story along will spur interest in magic. If the books used the hero's affinity for animals, you would expect children who read the books to want to learn more about the natural world. The question is whether this is a good curiosity to raise in the minds of children. I am not one who thinks that every child who picks up a book such as the Harry Potter books will become obsessed with magic or even fantasy in general. However, the duty, in so far as it is possible, is for parents to help determine what their children absorb. If the fruit of a child's exposure to something is aberrant behavior, this needs to be addressed.

The real concern for most seems to be the seeds that are being planted. Are these books breaking down the moral barriers which will make it easier, perhaps much later, for a child to get involved in the occult or simply lie more often or rebel against legitimate authority? This is fruit that is very hard to discern now. Through anecdotes, there seems to be credence to this concern. The problem is that it is not straightforward reaction or influence. Given our current cultural climate, I understand why parents would be wary of possibly opening up their children's minds to dangerous areas of thought and practice.

The other fruit is that of the adults who involved in this debate. I have already mentioned pride which I have seen in quite a bit of the discussion. In one specific case, I have seen one person become such an ardent defender of these books that it really seems to have taken away from his apostolate. Frankly, when it comes to these books, he seems to be obsessed with defending them, and he has acted quite unlike himself in this role. I really have to question the time and energy that is being spent on defending these books when it seems to be quite distracting at best, and perhaps a grand waste of time. After all these are fictional works for children.

4. The demonic is much more subtle than most people seem to believe. Most people, if they believe in the devil, seem to think that the devil flashes a neon sign announcing that he is around. The fact of the matter is that the devil is more clever than all of us put together. (He is also incredibly stupid because he chose wrongly. Yes, the two can go together.) Perhaps the author of this book has the absolute best of intentions. I really cannot judge what her real motivations are for how she constructs the plot or writes the story. I am not saying that this is necessarily the case, but good intentions do not mean that devil cannot come in and use the situation to his advantage. Does anyone who believes in the devil honestly think that he will not use the interest generated by these books to attempt to lure people into sin? I purposely left that question wide open. The devil can use anything to get us into sin. It might be magic, or as I have mentioned pride, materialism, or simply wasting time. We are called to be prayerfully discerning of how we should be spending our time. This goes for how our children should be spending their time.

We are also called to discern wolves in sheep's clothing. I am not looking for the devil under every rock, but neither am I naive to think that the devil will not come under the guise most likely to fool me. The whole priest scandal is based on the fact that men who might have been acting on a genuine call to the priesthood (e.g., good intentions) were either active or latent sexual abusers who used their guise of goodness to commit heinous acts of evil. That seems to be how the devil operates. (Note, I am not taking away from the abusers' personal responsibility by pointing out that the devil would certainly be encouraging them in their behavior.) I am not equating these books with the priest scandal. I am simply using this as a very obvious illustration of how the devil corrupts something good to bring about evil.

The author may simply have been attempting to write entertaining children's books with the best of intentions. Indeed, she may be consciously be using Christian symbolism to get across her story. However, that does not mean that evil cannot come in, co-opt the thing, and use it for the perpetuation of itself. Not necessarily globally, but in individual cases, based on anecdotes, this would seem to have happened.

The other tactic of the devil is distraction. He has won the day in our hearts if he gets us doing something that is not what God would have us doing. Think about the parable of the last judgment and the sheep and the goats. Clearly, the goats were distracted into doing something else rather than what they should have been doing which was feeding the poor, clothing the naked, and visiting the sick and imprisoned. If nothing else, I would suggest that this Harry Potter book debate has been a bit of distraction for us. Not that it is not important. I believe that it is. Otherwise I would not be posting on it. However, I am concerned about just how much time and energy is being taken away from perhaps something else we should be doing. Perhaps pride is motivating us to post that additional comment on the blog that really is a "winner" and will garner a response that is pleasing to me. The subtle danger of distraction is that maybe, we should be doing something else instead.

This last point is one which really has me concerned. I try to think about what God thinks about what I am doing even in the smallest details of my life. Regarding this very topic, at the end of the day, will it really have been so important to have spent so much time and energy on this debate? Personally, I am not so sure that much of this really has not been a tremendous distraction from something else I should have been doing.

Posted by David at 5:30 AM  |  Comments (2)  | 


Your comments - and the send up over at Disputations - are the two best items I've seen on this topic. I definitely think the worst fruit coming out of this discussion is the way adults on both sides are behaving. This isn't "War and Peace" or the "Brothers Karamazov" we are talking about here. Non-Christians read these blogs, and it sickens and embarrasses me for them to see supposed Christians behaving in this manner.

By Anonymous Anonymous, at July 16, 2005 11:34 PM  

Yes, one thing that I have learned about my own life is that I can be the worst advertisement for Christianity. Although at the time I almost am never grateful, I do appreciate when people point out the stark discrepancy between how am I acting or not acting and what I profess to believe. At the moment that I truly recognize the problem and I am contrite, I am beginning to actually be a real human being.

By Anonymous David, at July 17, 2005 11:53 AM  

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