The Faith of a Muggle

Just in case you have been living on Mars for the last decade, Muggle is the term used in the … Continued

Just in case you have been living on Mars for the last decade, Muggle is the term used in the Harry Potter books to designate non-wizards and witches, i.e. human beings. Unlike the Narnia books or The Lord of the Rings where there are separate fantasy worlds portrayed, the idea of J.K. Rowling’s wildly successful series is of a clandestine and parallel wizard society alongside and sometimes intersecting with human society. The seven Potter books follow three children who grow up and go to school learning to be witches and wizards and who must confront and engage an evil presence that threatens them and their world.

The children and adolescents (Muggles!) who have grown up with the Potter series read these books avidly. My husband and I have three children, now in their 20’s, who have all grown up with Harry Potter and the tension remains high in our household about the release of the 7th book. I read Harry Potter books as well and love the movies. I know many adult Muggles who do.

Religious conservatives, on the other hand, have objected to the series, often to the point of working to get the books banned from use in schools, because they “teach witchcraft.” There has also been an outcry by the Christian Right because the young protagonists, Harry and his two friends, sometimes lie or steal in their fight with the arch villain, Voldemort and his magical minions.

This struggle, like many other skirmishes in the culture wars, reveals the deep divide in how we regard education and the role of imagination in the development of an educated human being.

But the conflict over the Potter books and movies also reveals a deep division in how we regard religion and its purpose and meaning in our lives. On one side of this divide is an understanding of religion as primarily fixed and rigid; religious education in this sense is memorizing doctrine and rules and applying them directly and without question in your (and your family’s) life. Morality in this view is fixed and clear.

On the other side of the divide stands an understanding of religion as a life lived in the struggle to understand this world and to find transcendent meaning in the midst of conflict, sorrow, loss and death as well as in achievement, joy and community. In this latter view of religion, the development of a moral sense is a deep engagement with the conflicting demands on human beings and the choices we make as we try to be accountable and responsible to a higher purpose.

J.K. Rowling herself has observed that it is “blindingly obvious” that the moral lesson of the books is the development of the sense in children, and the adults with whom they live and study, of the complex moral universe in which we live, the importance of resisting tyranny and the refusal to take the easy way out.

This is the heart of children’s religious development. Children know, from a very young age, that the world is not perfect and that goodness is not always rewarded. Evil is a real presence in the world. One of my children had a third grade teacher whom we eventually realized was not simply harsh, but deliberately cruel. Our son, who suffered with this teacher, knew far sooner than his parents that this teacher hated children. But he was also stuck for a time in the powerlessness children feel when faced with a truly corrupt adult. The Potter books help children realize that there is good and evil in this world and you should not remain passive in the face of cruelty but name it. In the age of the Internet, kids are subjected to cyberspace teasing and threats that make my son’s third grade experience pale by comparison. The teachers and parents in the Potter books are also imperfect and not always right, but the good ones are on the side of the children and the bad ones are not. This is a critical lesson about community and how values are sustained despite the machinations of the wicked.

Another striking theme of the Potter books is that of death. The villain, as I noted above, is named Voldemort, the wish for death. Good people die in the Potter books, both young and old. The wicked also die, but often are able to subvert plans to incarcerate or even kill them. No child growing up in this century is insulated from the violence of war, murder, kidnapping, and a host of other threats to life and limb, both real and fictional. Compared to an average weekday night at 7 p.m. on TV, the violence of the Potter books can seem quite tame, but all the same the books present the reality of violence because the adults in the books cannot always shield children and young adults from these threats. Neither can real adults.

Kids know magic isn’t real—but they know that there is cruelty and downright evil in their world and they often feel helpless and alone. Community, taking action in the face of wrong, facing the conflict of the need for moral discernment among competing goods, these are the themes of the Potter books and they teach lessons that are very necessary to the growth and development of a moral compass for children in a very difficult world.

And finally, the books teach about courage. If you have never defeated a dragon in your imagination you will be unlikely to do so in the real world.

“On Faith” panelist Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite is president of Chicago Theological Seminary. She has been a Professor of Theology at the seminary for 20 years and director of its graduate degree center for five years. Her area of expertise is contextual theologies of liberation, specializing in issues of violence and violation.

  • James Buchanan

    All this tells me is that if Christians can’t beat them, they’ll visciously revise them.Your tone here is nothing more or less than the ridiculous revision of position that occurred with the old school kneebreakers of God couldn’t undermine the popularity of Yule so they revamped it into Christmas with a stroke of a pen.

  • Gary Jackson

    I fully recognize the value of religion in our lives as a teaching mechanism for human values. But, as the Harry Potter series of books demonstrates–and countless other fantasy books and movies of the genre–religion is not the only means of promoting human values.The problem with religious conservatives of all stripes is the rigid adherence to dogma. Once a human mind surrenders itself to this absolutist way of thinking and believing, it becomes less a mechanism for teaching values and more a force for blocking enlightenment.Isn’t it interesting to note that one of the major findings of the 9-11 Commission was a failure of imagination on the part of those responsible for our national security. Maybe these people would have done better if they had more exposure to Harry Potter like fantasies and less religious indoctrination in their youth.

  • ZenMan

    Fundamentalists dislike the Potter books because they believe our world, and the whole universe, operate by magical forces created by God. To believe the Bible is literally true is to accept the ancient magical world view of the people who wrote the Bible. Most of us relegate Harry and his magical world to the realm of make believe and understand that the universe operates by natural law, not magic, so we aren’t troubled by the Potter books and think they’re fun. For fundamentalists, Rowling is offering up a competing magical world view that replaces the magical world of the Bible with a seductive vision of a world that operates by witchcraft and sorcery. Rowling is thus a heretic, and a dangerous one! If you want to see a modern Christian fundamentalist woman who believes in magic at work, rent the DVD of Jesus Camp and watch the lady pray over her electronic sound equipment to rid it of demons that might try to interfere with her proclaiming God’s message to her campers.

  • Mr. G

    J.B: so I take it then that you won’t be celebrating Christmas this year?G.J: Even believing in your so-called Enlightenment requires you to indoctrinate people into your way of thinking. All ideas want to achieve that, not just religion. In other words, even your ideas require a leap of faith as much beliveing in God does.As a Christian and a teacher, I’ve tried to see both sides of the story. I believe in some of the themes presented in the Potter books and have explained these to fellow Christians. Just as Jesus said in the parable of the wheat and the tares, good and evil will co-exist for a time, and then will be set apart in the end. I also believe that “doing the right thing” is not always black and white, as many people in the Bible demonstrated.

  • Ruben Alvarado

    Actually, many dislike Potter because the words used for spells throughout the books are actual Witch’s spells. Some might find this realistic; many believe it is a dabbling in the occult. Personally, I’d rather not be calling Satan, but maybe that’s just me…

  • Griffin

    It has always astounded me that Christian Fundimentalists – always so desperate to see the world as black-and-white battle between good and evil – spends so much time trying to limit children’s access to a wildly popular book that depicts the world as a battle between good and evil…

  • Griffin

    It has always astounded me that Christian Fundimentalists – always so desperate to see the world as black-and-white battle between good and evil – spends so much time trying to limit children’s access to a wildly popular book that depicts the world as a battle between good and evil…

  • Norrie Hoyt

    Susan,Judging by the portrait at the head of your essay, you’ve changed a lot. Is everything O.K.?I haven’t read the Harry Potter books (yet) but I’m sure I’d like them, and, if I were decades younger, I’d love them.Anyway, it tickles me that the Fundamentalists get so upset by them.By the way, has that gay Teletubby gotten AIDS yet? If so, it’s only well-deserved divine retribution rebalancing the universe.Best wishes to you.

  • Paganplace

    ” Ruben Alvarado:Actually, many dislike Potter because the words used for spells throughout the books are actual Witch’s spells. Some might find this realistic; many believe it is a dabbling in the occult. Personally, I’d rather not be calling Satan, but maybe that’s just me…”What a ludicrous statement. I happen to know a few things about a number of occult traditions, and you can wave a conductor’s baton and say a Latin phrase till you’re blue in the face, and it’s not going to resemble even ‘witch-hunters” fictions about what ‘real witches’ spells’ are like.There are references to folklore in the stories, but I assure you there’s nothing Satanic in there, and any bits that resemble things in the Wiccan religion (Yet another thing entirly, btw) are simply because there’s some shared roots in the European mythic and storytelling tradition that appear in all manner of literature. JK Rowling is a Christian. The witches and wizards celebrate Christmas, without commercializing it, even. πŸ™‚ The simple fact is, you can be sure there’s a million kids out there who ‘play Harry Potter’ and have been imitating the people in the books. If it were real, then it’d be all over the news. :)Bet they know how to distinguish ‘let’s pretend’ a lot better than some of these adults who panic over it.

  • Norrie Hoyt

    Susan,P.S.: Your essay is wonderful and wise.It’s also motivated me to start reading the Harry Potter books.Thanks!

  • ColdEyes

    Oh we’ll celebrate Christmas for sure! Just as people have been for thousands of years before Vatican gave it a completely inappropriate name. Inappropriate, for even many Christian scholars hundreds of years ago realized that the birth scene as described in the bible could not have taken place in December in the ancient Middle East.It’s truly scary for you to claim to be a teacher, given your complete ignorance of what is Enlightenment (“so called”?) or possibly any other pillars of modernity — I surely wouldn’t want my children anywhere near the likes of you. Hopefully you are and remain a teacher in some church school.

  • Paganplace

    Umm, Coldeyes. I don’t know if you’re addressing me, or what you’re addressing. The Christian tradition, whatever you may think of it, *is in fact to celebrate Christmas in December.* Whether this is ‘factually correct’ or even internally consistent with the Biblical account really has no bearing on whether or not Harry Potter books are an occult conspiracy of some kind. It’s just how they do Christmas.

  • Gaby

    I thought it was a good essay. Christian fundamentalists scare the heck out of me. I can’t believe that in todays world people still believe in witches (as in the evil witch who wants to overpower your mind, give you some terribly bad luck, etc).Ruben,I remember a couple of great movies called “Bedknobs and Broomsticks” and “Mary Poppins”. Did those also conjur up satanic images for you?Jacob,Eclations do not denigrate other people’s faith. We try to teach them the truth, but not by maligning them. Where have your manners gone?

  • Hypatia

    Actually, many dislike Potter because the words used for spells throughout the books are actual Witch’s spells.No, that’s mangled Latin while flourishing a stick.You frighten easily.

  • frogstar

    Good points all. These books are a classic tale of good vs. evil. The only way a person concerned with good and evil to object to them is due to a slavish following of a misguided religious dogma.

  • frogstar

    Good points all. These books are a classic tale of good vs. evil. The only way a person concerned with good and evil to object to them is due to a slavish following of a misguided religious dogma.

  • Paganplace

    I did like the essay, though: Certainly, this is yet another story cycle that maybe overstates the idea of existential evil in the first place, at least in some commentators’ defenses: but certainly, the matter is dealt with in a complex manner that grows and develops as the stories go on, …but also starts with Harry’s abusive Muggle foster parents… convinced that they know what ‘Evil’ is and therefore perpetrate some: keeping him locked under the stairs precisely because, for instance, they believe magic is real, yet terribly, terribly, …evil. Sometimes I wonder if Fundamentalists object to the books cause the resemblance is a bit too striking. Heck, that’s essentially what the Fundies want to do, isn’t it? Declare themselves justified in ‘locking kids under the stairs,’ metaphorically at least, (the abuse conservative Christians get up to is all too often all too real when they’re convinced there’s something magical, thus, ‘Satanic’ going on with their kids…) I think particularly the recent movie does a great job of emphasizing that it’s often the people who most fear ‘evil’ and, in fact, gain power (or a sense of power) from this fear, that may most often be its de facto supporters, if not perpetrators.This may be one of the things that actually most upsets some of those anti-Potter zealots, …at least those seeming few that have actually read the books they’re trying to ban.

  • ErrinF

    Harry Potter is symbolic of mass conformity and fairy tales, whereas a religion is symbolic of… the exact same thing.

  • J Miller

    Voldemort means “wish from death” or “fly from death,” “wish for death” would be “Volpromort”

  • J Miller

    Voldemort means “wish from death” or “fly from death,” “wish for death” would be “Volpromort”

  • J Miller

    Voldemort means “wish from death” or “fly from death,” “wish for death” would be “Volpromort”

  • J Miller

    Voldemort means “wish from death” or “fly from death,” “wish for death” would be “Volpromort”

  • J Miller

    Voldemort means “wish from death” or “fly from death,” “wish for death” would be “Volpromort”

  • John N. Russo MD

    Thank you for your fine commentary. As a child and adolescent psychiatrist, I agree that the Potter Books will help foster a child’s faith in the goodness of the human community rather than detract from it. Thanks again.John N. Russo MD

  • Anonymous

    We really don’t need to worry about kids getting into Wicca because of books such as Harry Potter. After all, the kids quit the whole Wicca thing as soon as they figure out that none of the spells really work!

  • Batocchio

    The main purpose of your piece seems to be to ally fears among Christian fundamentalists about Harry Potter. Essentially, you’re arguing that any story that teaches kids more about life, death and the world is a good thing, a point which *is* “blindingly obvious.” However, religious instructon is not necessarily moral, nor does it necessarily teach about life and death (although it certainly can). You’re essentially asking dogmatists to realize that truth and wisdom exists outside of their own tradition and buzz words. That’s a worthy goal, but non-dogmatists already know it, and dogmatists have never been eager to learn it.

  • Paganplace

    Voldemort comes from Romance language, (Norman French, I believe?) but not Latin directly. De, in Latin, would be ‘down from,’ …in French it’s ‘of.’

  • J Miller

    Voldemort means “wish from death” or “fly from death,” “wish for death” would be “Volpromort”

  • lingua franca

    “de” in French means “of” in English.Flight of death, as in bringer of death.

  • Hannah

    It’s a book, for crying out loud. It’s fiction. No one has been forced to read it on pain of death. The best thing you could do is tell someone “No, you can’t read it,” to make them want to.

  • Hannah

    It’s a book, for crying out loud. It’s fiction. No one has been forced to read it on pain of death. The best thing you could do is tell someone “No, you can’t read it,” to make them want to.

  • Athena

    “We really don’t need to worry about kids getting into Wicca because of books such as Harry Potter. After all, the kids quit the whole Wicca thing as soon as they figure out that none of the spells really work!”That’s absolutely correct. I can’t wave a wand, say “alohomora” and open a door. I certainly can’t apparate, or ride a flying broomstick. If I could, I would. It would certainly save on gas! πŸ˜€ A lot of the potions material apparently comes from either traditional herbal remedies, or is simply made up. Oh, and if witches and wizards can really do stuff like in the Rowlingverse, where the heck are my house elves?? In fact, I’d just settle for one. Legolas. πŸ˜€

  • Diane Tomlinson

    For all the conservatives who do not like that Harry and friends lie, I invite them to consult their Bibles in which Abraham lies to the Pharaoh about Sarah being his sister and not his wife in order to save his own life and thus making her a woman held against her will.

  • Paganplace

    Now now, now, Athena, you’re supposed to be unswayed by that kind of concern. πŸ˜‰ But, yes, it’s silly. It’s with some irony I observe that it’s always been wigged-out Christians who have more ‘supernatural’ beliefs about us than we do. πŸ™‚

  • Prabhu Prakash Khalsa

    Thank you, Thank you for your article! As a very spiritual but non-Christian person myself, I have watched in alarm over the past 10 yrs. as some of those who call themselves Christians denigrate the Harry Potter books. I came to realize that many of those who were the most negative about the books had never actually read them. They were probably too afraid they would be corrupted by them. I find it very sad that many of these people actually believe that knowledge is dangerous!And your comments about these books teaching our kids how to cope with life is VERY valid. My daughter was in 6th grade when 9-11 happened. Old enough to understand what had happened, but in no way emotionally mature enough to process it. There is no way to describe what a profound impact it had on her psyche. Stories throughout history have always been a way for us to teach lessons about courage, strength, kindness, loyalty, community and faith. They illustrate how we can cope and manage to maintain ourselves and our humanity in the face of evil and death. These books are no different, but have been adapted to appeal to the minds of this very different generation of kids…this overly aware and sensitive generation. I’m extremely grateful to J.K. Rowling for her insight and courage in writing these kinds of lessons into books that are both entertaining and deeply moral.

  • Anne Flyzik

    The Potter books teach “the development of the sense….of the complex moral universe in which we live, the importance of resisting tyranny and the refusal to take the easy way out.”ANY good literature does these things, not just the Potter books. J.R.R. Tolkien’s entire body of work is exactly this. Read Madeleine L’Engle, Anthony Trollope, Charles Williams, and dozens more.As for the “Christian Right” objecting to the Hogwarts children’s perceived need for “lying and stealing,” I guess the CR objects to The Sound of Music as well. One of it’s loveliest moments in the film is when the nuns disabled the Nazi car by stealing some wires, thus allowing the von Trapp family to escape.I agree that besides being great fun, the Potter books enduring message is that of hope, that even in the face of enormous loss (Harry’s parents), being unloved and uncared for (the Dursleys), and so many more examples, you don’t let those evils affect your own sense of worth, but instead you persevere and find your place, your home, where you belong are are loved.

  • Paganplace

    I mean, hey, one good lesson I think, though, is lost on those with preconceptions about what ‘magic’ is supposed to be, …Ever notice how *little* Harry uses magic to solve his problems? When he does, it’s rarely really *about* the magic, anyway. Or is that the real magic. That’s one of those literary points Wicca can’t take any credit for, but our teachers can surely approve of. ;)The fuss about these books, well, this is about trivia and projection of fear.

  • Pat Luppens

    Thanks for putting into words so eloquently things that I felt. I am in my 60s now; my grandchildren and I have experienced the HP saga together book by book. Discussing the issues and watching them as they learned has been great.

  • Michael D. Houst

    It’s been my observation that religious conservatives are the happiest when everyone around them is equally miserable. When everything that might be fun has been banned, then the temptation to sin is gone. Truely, those who yearn to ban books, for whatever reason, are the very forces of intolerance that we as Americans should be opposing. As for the Christian Right, seems to me our illustrious leaders are doing a far worse job of setting the example than Harry, Ron, or Hermione when it comes to lying or stealing.

  • eddie satterfield

    I could not agree more with susan. The Bible in a sense tells us that we should meet people where they are in there journey in life. With the Potter series, although it’s about witches and wizards, it teaches alot about commaraderie and team work and how to pull together when the going gets rough. It often amazes me how our so called religious groups are so quick to point out negatives and cease to find the positive in negative situations. The Bible tells us that the wealth of the wicked is stored up for the wise. Wealth does not always mean money. Wealth of knowledge, understanding, information,directions and so many others. I think that as a real Christian our focus should be on how we can love the Creator’s creation into a fullness of life.

  • Anonymous

    Good post but one mistake: Voldemort doesn’t mean “wish for death” but Flight From Death (VOl-De-Mort) in French.

  • Paganplace

    ” Michael D. Houst:”It’s been my observation that religious conservatives are the happiest when everyone around them is equally miserable. When everything that might be fun has been banned, then the temptation to sin is gone.”Frankly, I find that’s an insane idea. You go teaching people that ‘Fun is Evil,’ they’ll of course get the idea that ‘Evil Is Fun.’ (sorry about any double post or uncorrected last lines)

  • davidm.

    I grew up in a fundamentalist Christian church and home. I am still a practicing Christian at age 28 though I’ve long abandoned the fundamentalist sect. I love the Harry Potter books. And I intend to introduce my children to them. I grew up with the following beliefs. 1. If you play “Stairway to Heaven” backwards, a voice would repeat Satanic lines. 2. Abortion is the number one issue Christians should care about. 3. The rapture will happen in 2000.So now, the new “assault on Christianity”/mania is Potterphobia where the vast majority of the believers HAVE NOT read the books, but rely on the opinions of their leadership who want to keep their followers good and scared with an open wallet in hand. As if Jesus cares about a made-up children’s story .

  • Farm girl

    I’ve read some of the Potter books and also went to baptist reunions where we were instructed about the Christian faith.I must admitt I much prefer the baptist version of supernatural activities, because I really want to become a born-again Christian like our president in order to be able to go to heaven later.I have a question though I would like to ask the religious experts, which I am certainly not: There is a story we were told about Christ chasing an evil spirit out of somebody and into a large herd of pigs, who then according to this story were destroyed, drowned or something. Do I really have to believe this as true? My problem is, as a southern farm girl, we have cattle and also raise pigs, it even is an important part of our income. Now there is some woman in our neighborhood whom people think she is a little strange, there was even talk of her being a witch or exercism or something.My problem is: If our pastor would decide that this women should be exercised (sp?), could it be possible that we would lose all our pigs? Because in that case, I would have to think about my belief a little more. Or is exercism done only by catholics? Or can I become born again and still not believe this particular pig herd story? Is believing in the bible a question of all or nothing? There are so many questions on faith, and I can not answer them by myself…

  • Steve Lloyd

    A few years ago some very conservative Christian relatives of mine sent me an email. It was all about how kids were getting into witchcraft and devil worship because of Harry Potter. It also had some nasty quotes from Rowling about the devil and such things. At the end of the email was the source of the article. Can you guess what reputable news source it came from? Yes, The Onion. We had a good laugh, and then I politely replied that The Onion is a satirical news paper and nothing in it is true. I don’t think they were too happy about that. Despite being quite funny, it is also pretty sad that they were spreading this email around as if it were fact.

  • Paganplace

    “Good post but one mistake: Voldemort doesn’t mean “wish for death” but Flight From Death (VOl-De-Mort) in French.”Not an uncommon theme in literature: people perpetrating horrors because they fear personal death so much that they defy the natural cycle of death and regeneration. Everywhere from ancient vampire myths to the fall of Anakin Skywalker to the Dark Side. Flight From Death. I think it’s a pretty potent image right about now in history, actually.

  • Farm Boy

    I’m going to assume Farm Girl’s comment was a satire on how silly religious faith is. Although, the fact that I’m not sure makes it all the more comical. Bravo… Bravo…

  • Big Daddy Steve

    You know what scares me?People who are absolutely sure they are right, but are afraid to let their beliefs be tested… by a children’s book, no less.My God is not afraid of Harry Potter, Karl Marx, Joseph Smith, Jr. or even Osama bin Laden. And neither am I. It’s okay to be afraid sometimes. It’s not okay to let your fear rule you and keep you small.Really! I’m not lying!

  • Gaby

    Really good one, Farm Girl!!! Hahahahahha!!!!I almost believed it, and then I thought with your naivite you’ld never get on an evil computer and write to the Washington Post of all places!

  • PriveR

    I’m surprised that even now there is still so much fear of witches- did those people who want to ban HP ever consider banning Shakespeare? I know folks went after the Wizard of Oz when it first appeared. Or any of those other wonderful stories that have a magical or fantastical element to them? Where does it end? I especially never understood why some people are so bent on protesting a book or a movie that they’ve never read or seen.There is so much that can be taken away from the HP books about life and death. Harry is told that people are going to have to choose between what is right and what is easy. Breaking the rules? Name one positive change to society that has come about in the past 50 years that happened as a result of NOT breaking the rules or NOT challenging the establishment.It’s her clever use of words and language that demonstrate the magical system used by the witches and wizards in the books. That some people think it’s got anything to do with Wicca or spellwork is actually a gigantic compliment to her for using the language in the ways that she does. Even the characters have interesting names that can often say a lot about who they are as individuals, before they say or do anything. She loves language and plays with etymology in such a way that makes the audience wish or sometimes think it’s real. There’s joy and such life in her writing, and that’s why HP has inspired such fervor.It seems to me that kids these days are really woefully unprepared to go out into the world these days. There is so much emphasis on keeping kids successful, safe, etc that many kids fall apart when things don’t turn out like they were told. We try to shield them from death or disappointment, but the world doesn’t work that way. Harry and those in his world know this, too. It’s how they overcome those difficulties that the real magic is made.That’s what makes Harry so compelling. Harry teaches all of us that you can take a stand for what you believe in, that you’re not powerless. I think it’s a much needed lesson in this day and age.

  • Matthew Buening

    I find it interesting that some think religion would stiffle the imagination. What could possibly more fun and exciting than believing in an all powerful God who created us and gives meaning and everlasting value to our every action. It is exciting to me to believe that there is something more than this physical world, and that we are all on an adventure that is at the same time more real and fantastic than anything Harry Potter can imagine. Good luck on your adventure of life, have fun and don’t let your imagination stop with dragons and witchcraft that’s nothing compared to God!

  • Former Christian

    Excellent article Susan. You touched on the themes of these fine books as well as correctly pointing out that the messages they depict are what’s important (although the stories are very interesting).I got started by reading science fiction at an early age and found it to be a wonderful stimulation of the imagination. I never expected a 3-eyed, monster to invade my bedroom, but it sure would have been nice to talk to a true “alien”.

  • TIC

    don’t let your imagination stop with dragons and witchcraft that’s nothing compared to God!The same God who reanimates the dead? I call those zombies and relegate them to the horror flick bin.

  • Paganplace

    ” Matthew Buening:I find it interesting that some think religion would stiffle the imagination.”Apparently, you’ve never been locked under the stairs. :)Actually, the ‘imagination’ in question is mostly born of the religiosity of those who believe that imagination and even ‘magic’ are external threats to a God-fear-ordered mundane universe. When they fear ‘witchcraft’ it’s that they fear they no longer have an unquestionable supernatural control over an enforced mundanity. In a lot of ways, those that insist Harry Potter books are an ‘occult threat’ are actually at once afraid that their God and dogma may *not* have ultimate control over the ‘unknown, and that something might in fact be beyond their control. It’s why they like to parrot at Pagans, ‘You fear what you don’t understand, so you worship it.’ Actually, no. I may talk to the wind, but I use Doppler radar. πŸ™‚

  • LivetoRide2112

    For the record, witches, pagans, Wiccans, whatever you want to call them do not worship Satan. A Satanist is a renegade Christian. They believe the Christian story, but choose to worship the other side.

  • anonymous

    It seems to me that the primary reason that the Religious Right dislikes the Harry Potter series is that it teaches values like racial equality and merit/substance over authority/form, that are not well regarded in the homes of many so-called “Christian” fundamentalists. That is, I think the whole “witchcraft” objection is a stand-in for bigotries-who-shall-not-be-named.Also, the idea that Right-wing “Christian” fundamentalists in the U.S. have any qualms about violence is simply laughable. These are, after all, the die-hard supporters of the current Administration and the NRA. In their political machinations of the last several years also make it very clear that they are definitely and “ends justifies the means” crowd.There are, of course, more truly principled, pacifist and equalitarian Christians (like the Sojourners crowd), but it is not from this quarter than any objections the Potter series have come. That speaks volumes.

  • prairdog

    Susan, Thank you for a good article. The Potter Books give children a pan-religious, pan-ethnic “language” of characters and deeds, with which to discuss many of the moral issues you mentioned. I will pass your essay on to the many teachers I know.

  • Piss Williams

    I’m a Christian from “the Sojourner crowd,” as a recent post puts it, and it is just fine with me that my 7-year-old daughter has recently started reading HP books. I recall the fundamentalist response to Pokemon a few years back, and remember battling with my conservative-but-not-fundamentalist parents over whether or not I should listen to the rock group the Blue Oyster Cult. I think a lot of this comes from the awareness that there is so much crap in the media and adults everywhere are trying to influence our kids’ minds to their own advantage. I agree, but these anti-HP folks are aiming at the wrong target; the real threats to children are from TV childrens-show advertisers who want to make kids discontent with what they have and who they are. I hope the concerned Christians will wake up and realize that Rowling’s message is a hell of a lot more healthy than that of the cold cereal and candy and toy companies.

  • frank collins

    harry potter provides children with good and evil about as much as star wars did.

  • Jerry Dennis

    It is so refreshing to hear a religious community leader interpret Harry Potter and his friends in such a positive manner. I have heard so much negative from other religious community leaders that it literally disturbs and disgusts me. I am almost fifty-five years old and I love the Harry Potter books, even though at present I’ve read on the first two. I find empowerment to discuss what Harry Potter and his friends are up to and how they are working toward the good and not the bad.

  • Matthew Buening

    Thanks Paganplace,

  • Chris

    A story whose strongest theme is that the greatest, most powerful magic in the world is a child’s love for their parents and friends….and that good is a path from which one should never veer.So where’s the problem?The fundamentalist ‘Christian’ issues with the Harry Potter books were created and perpetrated by tv preachers with bad hair and control-issue housewives with too much time on their hands. I think even more traditional Christians can and do enjoy the wonderful lessons in Harry Potter.And it probably hasn’t escaped them that Hogwarts, that hive of sorcery, witchcraft and agnosticism……breaks for Christmas each year. πŸ˜‰ Even in the Wizarding World, Jesus gets his props.

  • Paganplace

    Eh, well, Mr. Buening, I don’t think that’s what actually tends to happen, frankly. Particularly not around the ‘anti-fun brigades’ of the world. I’m not seeing these types as either having any kind of track record of ‘guiding us toward time-tested and true ways of peace and happiness,’ or ‘letting minds soar… I see the idea of imagination being considered a threat unless it’s used to frighten people into seeing and acting in very specific ways involving the only goodness and wonder in the world being distant and ineffable and a thing to be obeyed and feared. Frankly, in my case, the stairs and lock were quite real and physical, actually.

  • Paganplace

    I mean, when it comes to people trying to at once ban childrens’ books and defame Wiccans as ‘after the children,’ …all out of fear of Witches and devils, …that’s not ‘soaring imagination…’ …that’s born out of some *dark and constrained and thus *twisted* form of imagination* that sees shadows everywhere, and is thus blinded and often cruel.

  • Eric

    I find it interesting that in all the talk about religion, good and evil, and what not, people continually overlook the single greatest achievement of the Harry Potter books: In this modern world of the internet, video games, and over-diagnosed ADHD, Harry Potter made it “COOL” for children to READ again. Whatever the “Moral” ramifications, I’m happy to see kids (and adults for that matter) turning off the idiot box and picking up a book.

  • california condor

    If there is an animated version of the Harry Potter saga, surely a Dick Cheney figure should best play the role of Voldemort. Cheney’s got it all for this part: “wish for death”, “violence of war, murder, kidnapping and a host of other threats”, plus dark magic, foul secrecy, “machinations of the wicked”, “the face of cruelty”, and “a truly corrupt adult” (see Brooks’ essay, above).The Cheney figure could convey a moral and ethical lesson to our tiny tots and toddlers that evil is real sometimes. Unneeded wars, profiteering from war, violence by choice, extraordinary renditions, legalized torture, erasure of habeas corpus, due process and posse comitatus, widespread corruption of the Congress by Abramoff, the Dukester and other COP stalwarts, peregrinations through the bordellos of the South and paying for sex and drugs from gay escorts while trumpeting family values from the pulpits of mega-churches and political soapboxes (Vitter and Haggard, surely Voldemort’s own creatures), an apparent believe in foreign policy magic rather than diplomatic realism, and of course lying repeatedly and brazenly to Congress and the American public — surely all of these are not the work of an ordinary mortal. Cheney must be the Dark Lord Himself (or in Christian terms, possibly The AntiChrist?). IMPEACH CHENEY FIRST LEST HE BOMB IRAN AND MAKE THINGS WORSE, AND ALLOW ANOTHER 9/11 TO SCARE AMERICANS INTO SERVILITY, SUBJUGATION AND SILENCE.

  • j.s.

    What you described has nothing to do with religion- it’s normal moral development that all secular societies practice.

  • Susanne

    Thank you! When I told my kids that some parents objected to their children reading the Harry Potter books, my son was shocked. “But why?” he asked. We had a discussion about it and we were both sad for the narrow view some parents pass down to their kids. After the 5th movie I am even more convinced that these books are helpful in teaching resistance to evil and the authority figures who abuse their power as well as courage. The characters are very accessable and somehow appeal to us grown-ups that felt a little orphaned as children. Thank you for explaining this with such clarity. Susanne J.

  • pilot comes on board

    Could we get all the religionist crap out of the Washington Post, please? I mean SERIOUSLY — this is a grown up newspaper. Thanx.

  • Herb Stahlke

    Thank you, President Thistlethwaite! Finally a writer who sees beyond the superficial and recognizes what has made this series so popular among children, and adults, namely, that it deals with the deepest values we want our children to learn, courage, loyalty, perseverence, hopefulness, honesty, and discernment. Rowling doesn’t pretend that good always triumphs or that one must never lie. She recognizes that sometimes lying to protect the innocent and those you love from harm is far superior to telling a malicious, harmful truth. Her world is complex and difficult, and it contains both pain and pleasure, just like the world real children find themselves in.

  • pilot comes on board

    Could we get all the religionist crap out of the Washington Post, please? I mean SERIOUSLY — this is a grown up newspaper. Thanx.

  • Bobby

    Oh give me a break, enough of this whole Harry Potter hysteria. Whatever happened to the classic children authors, Roald Dahl for example. Now there was an author!

  • Rob

    Susan,You neglected to point out that the Harry Potter books are mediocre at best, and fed to the masses via a ubiquitous commercial hype campaign. Not to say they’re horrible – but they’re just not all that great, or original or insightful. Why ascribe them more importance than they actually have (aside from consumer hysteria)?

  • Anonymous

    Children have been enjoying magical fairy tales since before the written word.Why are some fundamentalists thinking that the Harry Potter series is any different?My analysis of the Harry Potter series is this:2) It also reflects a certain British notion of class caste. The series is suffused with notions of British nobility/aristocracy. The world of Harry Potter is the world of aristocracy, and elite private boarding schools — a priviledged society living among normals (muggles). People are born special and power comes from within their bloodline. The highest form of aristocracy in the series is being born into a pure family of wizards.So is it promoting blood sacrifice and worldwide elitism? Hardly. It’s all in the context of the story of a boy who is learning life lessons, courage, responsibility, and right from wrong.I am not a fan of the books, but fantasies, escapism, and stark life lessons could explain the otherwise unfathomable reasons for the massive popularity of the books among children. –And the movies are just yet the next entertainment of the week, and not enough to spark a religious crisis.

  • Alb

    As a UCC clergyperson, I’ve known of Susan Thistletwaite for a long time and she never fails to challenge, prod, and stretch us in our understanding of the secular and the sacred and the relationship of the same.Furthermore, I am always dumbfounded by the Christian Right people who rant and rave about the HP books. Are they great books? Maybe, maybe not. But as a former reading director at my daugher’s school once said, “Anything that gets children to read and love it, has my support.”I have found the books enjoyable and greatly look forward to the final book. BTW, I also loved the Wizard of Oz when I was young and I think I was also fairly young when I was rather sure that monkeys were not winged and could not fly. For pete’s sake everyone, it is a STORY and that is all it is. It isn’t a training manual for witchcraft or anything else.Children are a lot more perceptive about understanding story and myth than we give them credit for.It is through (though not inclusively) education that one is able to overcome ignorance.

  • Terra Gazelle

    Ruben Alvarado: I hate to dissappoint you, but Harry Potter is not full of REAL WITCHES spells…I know because I are one. lol.Goodness we speak English, that is unless you are french or German…I would take it they also speak their own language.Oh and to repeat for the 2000th time..WITCHES DO NOT BELIEVE IN SATAN! It is your’s. It’s part of your Christian Pantheon, you have it, not us. WE are not Christian. We are the other people…with the Other Gods. Hail Pan!!LOL…I bet you don’t know what wort means. It means “herb”. Hog Herb. Why does everthing have to be so dark with you folks?terra

  • Terra Gazelle

    Rob,terra

  • Anonymous

    I’m glad J.K.Rowling has done so well and the hype has helped get kids to read more, but she’s no E. Nesbit.

  • Anonymous

    What a joke.This book is not even worth debating on a serious level.I’m amazed just how stupid the world population is, and I’m awed by the way the elite few use this disability to thier favor.

  • Kris

    HP books are great. A bit of fun reading for the kiddies that, once again, through endless debate by adults, is having all th fun sucked out of it.I find it ironic that most of the rabid religious zealots probably ban HP from their lives and homes. The kids of these same people probably go to their friends houses and instead of reading ANYTHING, spend the afternoon killing zombies with their video games. It’s just a book, people. Enjoy it or not.

  • lepidopteryx

    Ruben Alvarado: “Actually, many dislike Potter because the words used for spells throughout the books are actual Witch’s spells.”If you would ask a real witch, you would find that this is not so. Spells are not simply one-word Latinesque utterings accompanied by the pointing of a wand, which shoots out colored light and then causes the laws of nature to be suspended. Witchcraft and magic in the real world are nothing like what’s in the books. “Some might find this realistic; many believe it is a dabbling in the occult. Personally, I’d rather not be calling Satan, but maybe that’s just me…”Witches don’t believe in the existence of Satan, so it’s a pretty safe bet they won’t be calling him. Satan belongs to Christianity.

  • lepidopteryx

    Athena: “Oh, and if witches and wizards can really do stuff like in the Rowlingverse, where the heck are my house elves?? In fact, I’d just settle for one. Legolas. :D”I’ll flip you for him.

  • lepidopteryx

    PriveR: “I’m surprised that even now there is still so much fear of witches- did those people who want to ban HP ever consider banning Shakespeare?”Actually, yes. Back when I was a college student, there was a display in the font of the bookstore in the student union of various books that had been banned in various places and times, and the reasons they had been banned. Among them: A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Macbeth because they “promoted belief in fairies and witchcraft.” The Awakening because it “glorified loose behavior of women.” Harriet the Spy because it promoted “lying, spying, and talking back to parents.” I kid you not.”I know folks went after the Wizard of Oz when it first appeared. Or any of those other wonderful stories that have a magical or fantastical element to them? Where does it end?”It ends with those of us who will not allow others to tell us what our kids should and shouldn’t read. Those who don’t want their kids to read the books are free to forbid it. I have a friend who owns a bookstore and sets aside books for me that he thinks I might like. “I especially never understood why some people are so bent on protesting a book or a movie that they’ve never read or seen.”I never got thatone either. When Scorsese made his film version of The Last Temptation of Christ, a fundamentalist Christian co-worker of mine handed me a flyer from Jimmy Swaggart Ministries about it. The flyer “quoted” scenes and dialogue from the movie as “proof” that it was intended to lead people into the clutches of Satanand that it claimed that Jesus accepted Satan’s offer to come down from the cross and live a normal mortal life It asked people to write nasty letters to the local cinema showing the film, to the editor of the local paper, and to Martin Scorsese, to boycott every film that Scorsese had anything to do with ever, and, of course, to make a love offering to JSM for the continuation of God’s work. I asked her if she had actually seen this film, and she looked horrified. “Of course not!” I asked her how she knew it was realy that bad if she hadn’t seen it, and she said she didn’t NEED to see it to know it was bad – just look at what the flyer said about it! I went to see it that night. I had to cross a picket line in front of the cinema to do so. It was beautiful, even though I doubt that Jesus looked much like blond, blue-eyed Willem Defoe. I crossed the picket line again the next night and saw it again, since I was pretty sure I had missed a few things – I always do with films that employ surreal elements. I liked it even more the second time. I actually saw it every night for the week that it played, and I now have it on video.

  • lepidopteryx

    Jacob,

  • Regina Volare

    “but these anti-HP folks are aiming at the wrong target; the real threats to children are from TV childrens-show advertisers who want to make kids discontent with what they have and who they are. I hope the concerned Christians will wake up and realize that Rowling’s message is a hell of a lot more healthy than that of the cold cereal and candy and toy companies.”Piss Williams I think you have come the closest of anyone to hitting it all on the head. rock on.Will The Real Magician Please Stant Up?The most damaging messages come from Advertisers who pay thousands of dallares researching weather or not the kittens eyes should be blue or green to make sure that the most damaging messages are pouring into our subconsious’. “You’re not good enough” “your too fat, bald, old.” your clothes aren’t good enough, you’re car isn’t good enough, you stink.” “Buy more! Consumme more! you need more! You don’t have enough yet! You need More! Go get More! You have to have More! You are not HAPPPY yet! GIVE ME YOUR MONEY! I was a telemarketer for 7 months and not a very good one, but I was shocked at how easy it is to convince people to buy something they don’t need or (to be honest) really want. I can now see the pitch and the hook in everything. I see it not just in commercials but on the news,and comeing out or the mouths of poloticians(left and right) I see my friends and family falling for it all the time. They come home with stuff that I know they didn’t want and in a week or a month it gets relegated to the back of the droor, closet, garage. but we all line up like zombies to shell out our money, we fill our bags, and trunks then sleep walk home never the wiser, never catching on, and never noticing that there is no happy result, sometimes it’s even a little worse isn’t it? But aren’t those kittens cute. NOW THAT IS MAJIC. It’s real and it’s happening right now. We’ve all been a slave to it at one point or another. I advise to anyone to try telemarketing for 4 to 6 months. I hated it, the worst job I ever had, but it breaks the spell. I can see through most of now. It also made me take a close look at what happiness is to me and other ways of finding it. The thing that works the best so far is staying in the moment as much as possible (it takes practice). And it’s free. Free! Sometimes, I do find a sort of magic there. a cleaner kind of magic. I won’t define it though, it’s probrably differnt for everyone.

  • Regina Volare

    My appologies if my last post was off topic, but if we’re determined to ward off magic let’s find some real magic doing real damage and empower ourselves against it. I suppose it’s a comfort to some to think that this is a Christian country but based on results, it really is a corporate country. That’s where all the power is. I think that the fundamentals vs Harry Potter enthusiasts(or what ever everyone wants to call themselves depending on the topic of the day) is a pointless waste of time. It would be a wondereful world if both sides would point their cannans and google searches at the righ people.Before the Iraq invasion there were enough news stories (if you looked) debunking the white houses’ reasons for the invasian but it’s corprate values that buried those stories. Now that is scary magic.

  • PriveR

    Lepi:The funniest thing is about all of this is that as soon as anything is banned by someone who thinks it’s bad somehow is the surest way to ensure their success. When the song ‘Only the Good Die Young’ came out, the fundie folks tried to have it banned by the radio stations, only to have the reverse happen, and Billy Joel made a fortune off of it. So much so that he wrote those folks a very sweet thank you letter kindly asking them to please ban every other thing that he wrote afterwards. (and yes, I just dated myself, but still) You’d think people have learned by now.Even the folks who went after the Dixie Chicks a few years back (and just because they told the truth!) had to go buy their albums before running them over with a steamroller. :)Speaking of which, when Dogma came out awhile ago, someone got ahold of some news footage of a protest outside a movie theater, and the best part was that it was Kevin Smith himself, disguised as a protester, protesting his own movie. If memory serves the person doing the newscast was in on it but couldn’t tell anyone. How great is that? :)Banning something is the best marketing strategy out there! Wonder why more folks don’t pick up on this? πŸ™‚

  • lepidopteryx

    PRIVER: “Banning something is the best marketing strategy out there! Wonder why more folks don’t pick up on this? :)”You have a point there. I find it kind of funny that some of my favorite books, and movies are ones that have been banned hither, thither, and yon.I actually gained quite a bit of respect for the Dixie Chicks over that incident. Natalie Mains had every right to say what she said, and yes, people who disagreed had every right to boycott. I don’t really care a rat’s ass about the political opinions of entertainers; I figure theirs are no more authoritative than my own, whether I agree with them or not. (Although I also think Shrubya is an incompetent marionette whose strings are controlled by Cheney and others). But I admired the fact that they refused to apologize for having expressed an honest opinion, and then turned around and recorded “Not Ready to Make Nice.” Them girls got balls. I like that in a woman.As for dating yourself with the uproar over “Only the Good Die Young,” I was there too, my sister. I live in South Louisiana, which has large populations of both Catholics and Protestants (most of the Protestants are Baptist). While I don’t recall a move to actualy ban it from the airwaves here, I do recall a lot of my friends saying that their parents would not allow them to listen to it – so of course, they listened to it at the homes of friends who did have a copy, or, if they had their own spending money, bought a copy and hid it from their parents. My folks and I have some differences of opinion regarding parenting, but one thing I am thankful to them for is that, while I was not allowed to see movies with profanity, nudity, or buckets of blood, NOTHING was forbidden for me to read or listen to. My mom said that she figured if I was in my bedroom reading books she didn’t like or understand, listening to music she considered nothing but noise, at least I was home and safe, and not out getting into trouble.

  • Paganplace

    Have to admit I might have missed out on a good thing, at least for a while, without the too-predictable witch-hunt. It’s really always something: certain types seem to *need* Satanic threats to scare themselves about, people to hate, all the rest. Too often it’s just another excuse to say “Pagans are after your *children!* which is always a great way to get people freaked out against minority groups.

  • lepidopteryx

    PAGANPLACE: “Too often it’s just another excuse to say “Pagans are after your *children!* which is always a great way to get people freaked out against minority groups.”As a Pagan, I don’t worry about the Pagans being after my child. πŸ˜‰

  • Spenser Kelly

    While “Harry Potter” books and J. K. Rowling might, by design or default, “teach” some values and virtues within those stories consistent with Christian values and virtues does not make the basis, context and overall purpose and message of the series and author “Christian” or biblicall defensible. One need only read Ecclesiastes to recall that both the good and bad people in the world do good things and enjoy wealth, prosperity and the approval of others, even if their ways, means and purposes are ungodly and self-serving. And (lest we forget) even Satan uses the Word(s) of God in an effort to lure others into a fall, from the angels of heaven to Eve to Jesus during the 40 days — but even Jesus fought back by proclaiming the fulness of God’s Word: “Man shall not live by bread alone but by EVERY Word that proceeds forth from the mouth of God!” That J. K. and Harry and many a religious “leader” and “theologian” can find in “Harry Potter” and “apply” SOME truth, value or virtue found in Scripture to our modern life does not mean that it is consistent with “the full counsel of God”!Praise God that J. K. speaks SOME truth (small “t”), values and virtues — but if only she spoke and wrote “The Truth, The Whole Truth and Nothing By The Truth”!For “You shall know the truth and 5the truth shall set you free!” Not “some truth” but “the truth”!And the truth is, “Harry Potter” MIGHT be popular (and it is), MIGHT be a money mill (and it is) and MIGHT be good “Children’s Fiction” (and it is, technically, if also not good theologically and, thus, in its overall “morality”), but it is all, as the whole “bread and circuses” spectacle of it all proves time and again, “vanity of vanities and striving after wind!””The Preacher has spoken!”

  • Spenser Kelly

    “On Faith” panelist Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite is president of Chicago Theological Seminary. She has been a Professor of Theology at the seminary for 20 years and director of its graduate degree center for five years. Her area of expertise is contextual theologies of liberation, specializing in issues of violence and violation.Just as a geologist is not a rock, a meteorologist is neither a meteor nor a storm front (though some create a lot of wind that means very little), an anaesthesiologist is not a consciousness altering drug and a botanist is not a plant, Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite — a “professor of theology,” theologian and “theologist” — demonstrates that one should not “count too much” (as Kipling said) with such high placed and sheepskin bedecked folks as she.After all, just as being ebtynologist does not make a woman a bug, being a theologian does not necessarily make Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite a believer in what she reads and “professes” and propounds upon daily in the hallowed halls of Chicago Theological Institute. She may be a “distinguished professor,” but that does not mean she knows how to make proper theological and faith disctinctions consistent with the clear and full counsel of Scripture or to apply those Scriptures to real life. “The Potter books help children realize that there is good and evil in this world and you should not remain passive in the face of cruelty but name it. In the age of the Internet, kids are subjected to cyberspace teasing and threats that make my son’s third grade experience pale by comparison. The teachers and parents in the Potter books are also imperfect and not always right, but the good ones are on the side of the children and the bad ones are not. This is a critical lesson about community and how values are sustained despite the machinations of the wicked.”Perhaps it is this, but the Bible is all that, so much more and “theologically true,” Professor!”In the making of many books there is much weariness,” the Preacher proclaimed!”Another striking theme of the Potter books is that of death,” the Professor professes here. “The villain, as I noted above, is named Voldemort, the wish for death. [SATAN & the DEVIL come to mind as his biblical predecessor!] Good people die in the Potter books, both young and old. The wicked also die, but often are able to subvert plans to incarcerate or even kill them.””And the Bible tells us, “The rain falls on the just and unjust”!And Ecclesiastes tells us that “The good and wicked alike prosper, but their end is the same: alla re destined to die!””No child growing up in this century is insulated from the violence of war, murder, kidnapping, and a host of other threats to life and limb, both real and fictional,” the Professor professes. “Compared to an average weekday night at 7 p.m. on TV, the violence of the Potter books can seem quite tame, but all the same the books present the reality of violence because the adults in the books cannot always shield children and young adults from these threats. Neither can real adults.”Prehaps right again, but even Satan spoke God’s Word time and again, but it does not mean the vessel and motive were pure and right and biblical!Rhus, Professor, your proclamations are not biblical and theological justification but fleshly rationalization! You, distinguished Professor of “truths”, have failed to make proper distinctions and proclaim The Truth — the truth much of the world assumes (and, of course, wrongly so) is what they should expect from a “Professor of Theology”!”Kids know magic isn’t realβ€”but they know that there is cruelty and downright evil in their world and they often feel helpless and alone,” the Professor professes.And how do they know this? Because biblical history and the biblical record — the oldest written record of man and woman (besides cave paintings, whos einterpretation is far more dubious than many claim of God’s Word) — tells us so! And tells us what to do in the real world to correct such things! And how we can attain a real perfection, not a literary or celluloid “perfection” that ultimately gets us nothing more than the praise of men and women!”Community, taking action in the face of wrong, facing the conflict of the need for moral discernment among competing goods, these are the themes of the Potter books and they teach lessons that are very necessary to the growth and development of a moral compass for children in a very difficult world.”And as Ecclesiastes wrote: “All that has happened and been said has happened and been said before!” And that was written thousands of years ago, so J. K., as talented and “visionary” and motivating as she is in her writing, is saying nothing new, Professor. So forgive those people of faith who take seriously that of which you claim to be a “Professor” — a certain religious text they call God’s Word that instructs them that witchcraft and divination is a dark power of the devil whose exercise is in direct conflict with the stated will of the God and Creator of the universe and all therein! That, dear “Professor,” makes the point that being a student or practitioner of any thing does not make one a practitioner. And that, as well, is their “rub” with the whole Harry Potter phenomena: it propogates and encourages the practice and perpetuation of biblically (GOD) prohibited witchcraft, just as do Wicca and other “religions” that claim they are part of the “White Arts” and not the “Dark Arts” (but are none the less anti-biblical and anti-God in their rebellious and rationalized practice)!”Woe to you, [Professor], you heal the wounds of my people lightly saying ‘Peace! Peace” where there is no peace!”

  • Spenser Kelly

    “On Faith” panelist Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite is president of Chicago Theological Seminary. … Her area of expertise is contextual theologies of liberation, specializing in issues of violence and violation.A QUICK PSInteresting that someone whose biography and work is thus would do such “violence and violation” to the very written Word of two faiths — Judaism and Christianity.But such is the work of “liberation theologians” — “liberating” themselves (and, so sadly, others) from the constraints and commendments of any Scripture that proclaims they are bound to act in any right and proper way in obedience to a “Father” God who presumes them to tell them that He is “the way, the truth and the life [and that] no one comes [into heaven] except through [Him]”!Their liberation here on earth will certainly make life easier here in so many ways, but it seems — if one believes the Words the “good Professor” claims to study and teach — that “their end will be to be cast into and burned in the lake of fire.”

  • lepidopteryx

    Spencer,So you think that the only book anyone should ever read is the Bible?

  • Anonymous

    You are full of it, Thistlethwaite.How did you ever become a professor of Theology?!

  • lepidopteryx

    SPENSER:The good Reverend never claims that the books teach Biblical doctrine. She says that they teach moral and ethical values lessons (loyalty, choosing good even when it is more difficult and dangerous than evil, altruistic love to the point of being willing to sacrifice one’s life to save another, for example) that are compatible with pretty much any religious belief system, including Christianity.Your objection seems to be that she doesn’t teach these values with characters who reflect a Judeo-Christian worldview. Any literary character – from Jesus to Huckleberry Finn to Harry Potter – who encourages children to cultivate those attributes is welcome in my library. I’m not sure what you mean by the HP books crafting a world order. Rowling has created a fictional worls, as do all fantasy writers. The best ones create fictional worlds that make us believe while we’re reading that they are real, and maybe even wish after we finish the last page, that they could be.As for perpetuating beliefs and practices, it’s obvious that you know nothing of the true nature of witchcraft or magic. The witchcraft depicted in HP is Disney witchcraft, and is no more a recruiting tool than Mickey Mouse in “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” – it has nothing to do with the practices of real witches. Magic that violates the laws of nature (the sort of magic depicted in HP) is not what is practiced by real witches. Talk to a few real witches and find out what their beliefs and practices really are. You might be surprised. Yes, many of us Pagans enjoy Rowling’s work, but we recognize it as pure fiction. And anyone who tries to do magic Rowling-style is going to be sorely disppointed. You can point a stick of holly at an inanimate object and say “Wingardium leviosa” all day long and it’s NOT going to levitate. Likewise if you shout “Avada kedavra” at someone, they may look at you strangely, but they will not drop dead. The practice of real magic requires training, study, and self-discipline, and those who are looking for an easy path will soon abandon it. It isn’t for the weak of mind or spirit.

  • concerned american parent

    Harry Potter is a book of European majic. polythesim and voodoo. I is Terrible how the west puts forth this Christian image and in secret there is still the practice of majic equal to the Africans and Native American. When will hypocrisy stop in the christian world. American Christian children do know what the bible says but can quote H.P. American teens are influenced now with this literary devil worship. it’s bad enough they are cross dressing and doing crime. why would you feed your children this filth.

  • lepidopteryx

    Parent:My child knows about the Bible. She also knows about the Qu’ran, and the Bhagavad Gita, and the Goseigen, as well as the teachings of the Buddha. She has copies of all of them. She is also familiar with the writings of Starhawk, and Einstein, and Hawking. And she has found nuggets of wisdom in all of these.She has also found fictional characters who exhibit positive values that she chooses to emulate – Huckleberry Finn, Taylor Greer (from Barbara Kingsolver’s “The Bean Trees”), Batman, Jean Valjean, and yes, Harry Potter,just to name a few. And just in case you missed it the last hundred times it’s been pointed out, THERE ID NO DEVIL WORSHIP IN HARRY POTTER! THERE IS NO RELIGION OF ANY KIND IN HARRY POTTER! I have made this challenge before and had no takers. If you can find so much as one incident of devil worship in even one of the Harry Potter books, I will eat the entire series with fava beans and a nice Chianti.I don’t feed my child filth. I provide her with literture that teaches positive values.

  • Charles Laster

    What I admired about the Harry Potter series was that it took on moral seriousness without clubbing the children over the heads with unsubtle imagery. I could haggle over spoilers, but you’d have to live in a fortified bunker to not know how the series ends by now!Dobson, et al, seem to forget that Harry and compary struggle against insensate cruelty and evil, unlike the mages of the Bronze age Near East.

  • Reading Tutor

    I love children’s literature and sharing my favorites with children who have never been inspired to read because they have never had anything that captured their imaginations. I love the Harry Potter books, among many others. They’re imaginative and funny, yet at the same time, minus the magic and fight against evil, they deal with issues that are entirely familiar with kids. And while I can’t say what the long-term effect will be on my students, I know the books have prompted some interesting discussions. About death- yes, “Voldemort” does literally mean “Fly from death” but not just because people fly from him to avoid their death. Voldemort is a character, who at great cost to all his better qualities, has fled death himself. By killing others, he prolongs his own life. Children are fascinated by this. For many of them, they consider that while death makes them sad, they would never want to keep their family and friends alive by some evil so damaging to their humanity. Many consider for the first time that there are things worse than death.About judging others- Harry is no ideal character. He pronounces judgment on many fellow students, and teachers. He is often wrong, and must humbly revise his opinions and apologize for them. It is wonderful for children to read a book where the hero is not flawless. It empowers them, and enables them to recognize people’s mistakes while recognizing their overall personalities.Many other issues– friendship, equality, making difficult decisions, and taking the less popular course– all come up in the books.

  • Michael Kremer

    Lepidopteryx: “THERE ID NO DEVIL WORSHIP IN HARRY POTTER! THERE IS NO RELIGION OF ANY KIND IN HARRY POTTER!”1/2 points there. The first part is absolutely right. But the second is wrong. There is religion in Harry Potter. The religion is Christianity.See Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, chapter 16, Godric’s Hollow. It is Christmas Eve in Godric’s Hollow, the wizarding village (well, mixed wizard/muggle village) in which Harry’s parents lived. There are carols being sung in the village church as Harry and Hermione sneak through the town. Harry and Hermione recognize the carols. They find the graves of Harry’s parents and of Dumbledore’s mother and sister in the church graveyard — therefore these people were given Christian burial. On each of the tombstones is engraved a biblical verse.And indeed the last book is so shot through with Christian symbolism it is hard for any educated Christian to miss it.

  • lepidopteryx

    Michael: **And indeed the last book is so shot through with Christian symbolism it is hard for any educated Christian to miss it.**I’ll give you partial credit for Christmas, but it’s the secular aspect of Christmas that’s portrayed. Rowling doesn’t specify what carols are being sung – we have no way of knowing whether they were singing “Silent Night” or “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer.” I don’t recall any mention of creches decorating Godric’s Hollow. As for the burial in a church cemetary, I’m guessing that’s an more of a cultural thing than a religious one, since cemetaries are often abutted to churches. But I wouldn’t go so far as to imagine that we are expected to assume that James and Lily were buried by an Anglican priest reciting trinitarian prayers. There are certainly no prayers when Harry buries Dobby.

  • Michael Kremer

    Lepidopteryx:Let’s begin with the graveyard on Christmas eve. The carol singing is coming from inside “a little church whose stained-glass windows were glowing jewel-bright across the square.” I somehow doubt that the only carols being sung in the church were secular. Then the gravestones: the inscriptions read “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” and “The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death” — from Matthew and 1 Corinthians. Then the graves in the church graveyard — I believe that the custom was that only those given Christian burial could be laid to rest in such a graveyard. Not only Dumbledore’s and Harry’s families are there, but other wizarding families as well. I may be wrong about the link to burial in a church graveyard, but that doesn’t get rid of the Biblical inscriptions.It’s true that Hermione and Harry don’t recognize the biblical verses and, I think, are probably unchurched — though Hermione seems to have some idea of what the Corinthians inscription is about. They live in contemporary England, a land of carols sung at Christmas by people who are no longer Christians. But a land marked by Christianity. So, yes, Harry says no prayers when he buries Dobby. He doesn’t know any.Another feature of the last book in particular: cross symbolism. The sword of Gryffindor is described as lying at the bottom of the frozen pool like a silver cross. Dumbledore meets Harry at “King’s Cross”. The cross of the King. This is what happens immediately after Harry lays down his life for his friends. (Cf. John 15:13.) Then there is the matter of the horcruxes — hor-crosses. Voldemort uses the horcruxes to try to provide himself immortality — he kills others and dis-integrates his soul in order to save his life. This is the reverse, a perversion of the idea of the Cross (hor = horrible) — to save others by accepting death. Even the torture curse (“Crucio”) is named for the cross. It is a crucifixion curse. (And Harry’s body is made to suffer it — he is even “lifted up” — albeit after Voldemort thinks he is dead, and after he has actually been resurrected.)And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. I am not alone, or particularly original, in seeing this kind of thing in the books. Christian symbolism in earlier books has been discussed at length by John Granger in his book Looking for God in Harry Potter.

  • lepidopteryx

    Michael:You obviously read it a lot more closely than I did. But I read it strictly for entertainment, not theology. I just saw allusions to the Lady of the Lake in the retrieval of the sword. I’ve seen lots of cruciform sword hilts – protects the fingers. I never saw a sword as a crucifixion symbol. And King’s Cross is just a geographical name to me.

  • PriveR

    Michael- King’s Cross is a real station in London. I think she just used the name to link it to our world. I don’t know where the original name for the station came from, though your idea sounds like it’s probably right. I saw a special on some of the real places she mentions- King’s Cross being one of them- and they showed how for a while they had roped off the barrier between platforms 9 and 10 because people were getting hurt. Now they have a separate platform 9 3/4.What I love about books, especially epic ones like these, are that ten different people can read the same material and come to totally opposite conclusions about it. I think your take on it is especially interesting given how quick so many Christians are ready to burn or ban it without having even picked it up.

  • DavidX

    One of the interesting aspects of the Harry Potter books is that whenever Harry Potter is confronted with a situation where he has to defend himself or family or friends, he almost always makes the more compassionate choice.I wonder if this is the reason why most fundamentalists (of whatever kind) cannot abide these books; for them, there is only black and white, no shades of gray, no complexity, no room for doubt. Most people of good will however can appreciate why a more compassionate choice is made; and invariably it will further on in the story redound in Harry’s favor.

  • Tony Bellows

    A brilliant summary of the importance of the Potter books.

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  • Angela B.

    Susan,You have got to be kidding. Just because most of this world deems the “Harry Potter” movies and books as innocent they’re an abonination. It’s very clear every day that there are those that think it’s ok to send your children to see movies that teach lying and stealing, witchraft and other immoral behavior (let’s call it what is in); you can’t even watch a commercial on network television these days without some sexual or immoral display during the hours in which our children are watching network television and most movices these days are about evil spirits such as vampires, evil (even in the title). In addition, there’s been several articles regarding teenagers purchasing more and more books on witchcraft, dragons and the like(which I’m sure you’ve probably not read as it doesn’t agree with your “whatever goes” attitude. What more can we expect from the likes of people who believe God should be taken out of every aspect of the American Life and the World. May God have mercy on your soul!

  • Erica

    I am 23, married with two kids under 3. I am a active Christian and have read all seven books. I loved them. When reading them I didn’t stop and think, “Wow, God’s going to really hate that.” These books are fun and entertaining. Rowling’s took many of the morals that I want my children to learn and applied them to Harry’s life. (They get to see morals and values in action – and how great is that!) Harry had to CHOOSE to be courageous, to have loyalty and to build friendships. He had to CHOOSE to have hope when things went wrong, which they inevitably did. I think that Susan had a point when she said that the good are not always rewarded(at least not here on Earth). I want my children to realize that life isn’t always about doing what is easiest or fun but about doing what is right and that sometimes doing what is right can hurt. After reading these books, I know I’m going to encourage my children to read them when they’re ready. If they have questions I can answer them and if there are parts that I would dislike then I will discuss it with them. Oh, and attempting to ban these books is ridiculous, the Supreme Court ruled in Tinker vs. Des Moines that, “Students do not shed their constitutional rights at the schoolroom gate.” Every child has a protected freedom to read what pleases them, even if mom and dad don’t like it. Parenting is the key here, don’t supress your children’s imaginations or short change their ability to see reality from fiction. Children are often brighter than we realize. The most important thing about having the freedom to read what we want is having the right to form our own opinions. And after reading a lot of these posts I think that we need to have the decency to keep our mouths shut when we can’t contribute something constructive to a discussion. Wow, that sounded like my mom, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.” lol

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