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Harry Potter Print E-mail

Written by Sue Bohlin

(Updated Dec. 13, 2001)

How should wise Christian parents look at the Harry Potter phenomenon? Chances are your kids or grandkids are clamoring to read these incredibly best-selling books. And since only the first of the four books (out of a planned total of seven) is out in paperback, buying these thick hardback books requires a considerable cash outlay as well.

There is a lot to be said in favor of these books:

• They are very well-written fantasy, and a pleasure to read. Even adults enjoy reading them to children--and to themselves. (In England, there is an edition produced especially for adults who are embarrassed to be seen reading a children's book!)

• Because they are written for young boys, they captivate the imagination of almost all children.

• They tap into the poignancy of the powerlessness of children, which is a painful part of being young.

• They are full of real-life situations, ranging from the embarrassing to the hurtful to the scary to the satisfying, that real-life kids experience.

• They pit good against evil, with the good guys really being the good guys.

• They are getting hundreds of thousands of kids excited about reading.

But there's one substantial difficulty with the Harry Potter series. They make sorcery and witchcraft enticing to the reader. And that is not consistent with a Christian worldview, where we are called to "take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ"{1}. God gives us very strong and clear commands about witchcraft: it is a sin,{2} it is an abomination before God,{3} and the Old Testament penalty for sorcery or witchcraft was death.{4} The proscription against the practice of magic is continued in the New Testament. {5}

When Christians and other conservative people make this complaint against the Harry Potter books, one often hears a condescending dismissal about the evils of censorship. No mention is made of the substance of the concern with witchcraft itself, which is a reasonable one.

Fantasy vs. Real-World

Many people impatiently respond, "But it's fantasy! It's only make-believe! Nobody's going to really believe that this stuff is true!" But the author J.K. Rowling revealed in Newsweek that she gets "letters from children addressed to Professor Dumbledore [headmaster at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, the books' setting], 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."{6} She answers those letters herself.

I think it's important to point out that there is an important difference between the fantasy magic of the world of Harry Potter, and the real-world magic that is condemned in the Bible. The fact that J.K. Rowling doesn't believe in witchcraft except as presented in the centuries-old British myths is important; she honestly isn't hoping to draw children into the world of the occult (from everything I have read about her). Unfortunately, that doesn't mean it won't happen. Some people are going to be more sensitive to the draw of the occult, just as some people's bodies are going to be more sensitive to alcohol. The only responsible choice for both kinds of people is complete abstinence.

Connie Neal has written a book, What's a Christian To Do with Harry Potter?. I really liked the way she explains the distinction between fantasy magic and occult (real-world) magic to kids: The magic in Harry Potter is make-believe, but the real-world magic in our world ALL falls in the category of "Dark Arts" magic, and those who play with it or pursue it are making themselves vulnerable to a very real evil spirit like Lord Voldemort. There is no such thing as everyday or good magic. Supernatural power that doesn't come from God is all evil. Kids can understand those kinds of boundaries.

Some people have likened the Harry Potter books to C.S. Lewis' The Chronicles of Narnia. While they are both fantasy literature, one is designed to create a thirst for Jesus and for heaven, and the other may create a thirst for power and manipulation. C.S. Lewis writes from a strong Christian worldview; J.K. Rowling writes from a naturalistic worldview that includes magic as a fact of life but excludes God. And by making witchcraft and wizardry so appealing, Harry Potter may be an alarmingly attractive door to the occult for some readers.

Can Harry Potter Be OK?

Is it possible to read the Harry Potter books without stumbling? If one's discernment filter is well-exercised and in place, yes. But is it wise? That depends on the individual--and it should definitely be a decision each parent makes for his or her own children. If we can watch The Wizard of Oz with our kids and not conclude that the presence of a couple of witches will send our kids into the occult, then we can practice the same discernment about Harry Potter.

Hoping the Harry Potter phenomenon will just go away is about as practical as wishing away Christmas. You know your child; for some children, trying to keep them away from the books will only tempt them to read the books on the sly. In some cases, I believe it would be wiser for a parent or teacher to intentionally use them as a teaching tool to help develop children's "discernment muscles."

Just as we would never send children out to play in the street alone, it's a different story when we take their hands to walk them across the street, teaching them about safety in the process. In the same way, I would suggest that handing a Harry Potter book to a child to read on his own is the spiritual equivalent of sending a child out to play in the street. Or worse, sending her out into a minefield. However, it can be an invaluable experience for a parent to read the book out loud, stopping to ask questions that will help a child recognize the spiritual counterfeits that comprise witchcraft.

For example, there are several incidents of conjuring, where witches and wizards wave a magic wand and instantly produce things like food for a banquet. Conjuring is a counterfeit of the way God creates ex nihilo, out of nothing. Casting spells, such as speaking the word "Lumos!" to make one's magic wand become a light source, is a counterfeit of God's ability to speak things into existence.{7} Bewitching cars to make them fly and ceilings to twinkle like the night sky is a counterfeit of Christ's ability to do miracles like walking on water and feeding the 5,000 with five loaves and two fishes. Harry's invisibility cloak should be pointed out as make-believe, but God is always and true-ly with us even though He's invisible.

Despite the witchcraft in the Harry Potter books, there are clear moral lessons that can be discussed. Children can understand the painfulness of discrimination as they are encouraged to think through the emotions of being despised simply because one's parents are non-magical Muggles. They can identify the ugliness of arrogance and pride displayed by Harry's Muggle family and his school tormentor, Draco Malfoy. The author has done a magnificent job of portraying the evil of Harry's arch-nemesis, Lord Voldemort, and children can be encouraged to talk about what makes evil, evil. This would provide an excellent opportunity to teach them that God has a plan to put an end to evil forever, and He proved it by disarming Satan at the cross.

A Final Warning

The Harry Potter books have a lot going for them, but there is potential spiritual danger in the way they make witchcraft so appealing to some people. There is not a clear-cut answer to this question because it is a modern-day "disputable matter." (See 1 Cor. 8 and Romans 14.) Some people will have freedom to read the books and see the movie without it violating their conscience; others cannot do that. I think it's important for those with freedom not to boast about their freedom or look down their noses at those who choose not to get into Harry Potter, and it's equally important for those who have been led to avoid Harry Potter not to judge those who haven't been led that way.

Notes

1. 2 Cor. 10:5

2. 1 Sam. 15:23

3. Deut. 18:10-11

4. Exo. 22:18

5. Gal. 5:20

6. "The Return of Harry Potter!" Newsweek, July 10, 2000, p. 58.

7. Gen. 1:3

Alert Concerning Harry Potter E-mail:

Thousands of copies of an alarmist e-mail have been circulating, warning Christians about Harry Potter. It starts, "This is the most evil thing I have laid my eyes on in 10 years... and no one seems to understand its threat." It goes on to quote Satan-worshipping children, a Satanic high priest, and a blasphemous comment from the author J.K. Rawling herself.

You should know that this e-mail was lifted from the satirical internet publication The Onion, and IT WAS COMPLETELY MADE UP. There's nothing true in it, apart from the wild success of the Harry Potter books.

This e-mail is a spoof, a hoax. In fact, there is a link to the Onion article right in the e-mail. Please do not forward it to your friends, and if someone forwards it to you, please set them straight about it.


See Also Probe Answers Our Email:

"You're Overreacting About Harry Potter"
"You Should Ask God to Show You How Demonic Harry Potter Is"


© 2001 Probe Ministries


About the Author

Sue BohlinSue Bohlin is an associate speaker with Probe Ministries. She attended the University of Illinois, and has been a Bible teacher and conference speaker for over 35 years. She is a frequent speaker for MOPS (Mothers of Pre-Schoolers) and Stonecroft Ministries (Christian Women's Connections), and serves on the board and as a small group leader of Living Hope Ministries, a Christ-centered outreach to those dealing with unwanted homosexuality. Sue is on the Bible.org Women's Leadership Team and is a regular contributor to Bible.org's Tapestry Blog. She is also a professional calligrapher and the webmistress for Probe Ministries; but most importantly, she is the wife of Dr. Ray Bohlin and the mother of their two grown sons. Her personal website is suebohlin.com.

What is Probe?

Probe Ministries is a non-profit ministry whose mission is to assist the church in renewing the minds of believers with a Christian worldview and to equip the church to engage the world for Christ. Probe fulfills this mission through our Mind Games conferences for youth and adults, our 3-minute daily radio program, and our extensive Web site at www.probe.org.

Further information about Probe's materials and ministry may be obtained by contacting us at:

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