Al wrote this piece for Credo Magazine in 2000. We’re sharing it today to add to our conversation during Open Line.
Credo tries to report honestly. Fair and accurate was a phrase we’ve used before there was an multinational news organization made it it’s motto. Sometimes this means that we will upset some of our friends. Certainly this has been true in the Harry Potter case.
We didn’t choose to turn a children’s book phenomenon into a dividing line between the faithful and the unfaithful. From the beginning we have reported the concerns many Christian parents have with the Harry Potter. Nevertheless, we didn’t create the environment in which Christian children and parents who have enjoyed the Potter series and thought it harmless or even edifying are said to be in league with the devil, doing Satan’s work, leading people to hell, etc. Our job is to tell the truth even id some of our friends disagree. After hours of interviewing, reading the books, watching the movie, I’ve determined that this is much ado about nothing. The brothers and sisters who have decided to make Potter a cause celebre are imprudently alarming the family of God and making rash judgments that are better left to parents. They have created an environment in which children and parents who have enjoyed the Potter books and movie are harmless or even edifying are called………
Indeed Harry Potter may be a bad influence on children just like Star Wars or Star Trek. In both sci fi films George Lucas and Gene Roddenberry explicitly say they were trying to create a worldview. Lucas, influenced by Joseph Campbell, wanted to create a new quasi religious mythology. Roddenberry wanted to create a secular humanist universe in which religious expression was simply one of humanity’s noble but ultimately tragic aspirations. J. K. Rowling makes no such lofty or self important claims for her work. She doesn’t believe in magic, claims to be a churchgoing Christian although of a none too expressive variety.
What of warnings against tampering with the devil: The magic of Harry Potter is no more about the occult than the weaponry of Star Wars is about laser technology. Both are equally fantasy driven. Potter imagines a universe that can be unbelievably manipulated by word or thought. Star Wars imagine a universe manipulated by unbelievable technology. Both are equally fantasy driven. The magic of Harry Potter takes place in a world of centaurs, dragons and unicorns, a mythic world. There is no appeal to supernatural forces or beings. Even Potter critic Michael O’Brien calls it “materialist magic”. You can’t have it both ways. The magic of Harry Potter is either supernatural or natural.
In Lewis we have the deep magic that only Aslan knows.
They have escalated a literary disagreement into a judgement dividing the sheep and the goats. This is a violation of charity as well as prudence.
Would that it was more truly like Lewis and Tolkien who take magic more seriously. But it doesn’t.
The Potter bashers are entitled to their analysis and to keep their children free from baneful influences. What they are not entitled to do is spread their misinformation without expecting criticism from equally informed and spiritually discerning Catholics who disagree profoundly with their alarmist words. These are matters upon which Christians should be able to disagree without demonizing one another. This is an argument about a literary judgement: Is Harry Potter’s universe “fantastic” or “occultic”? If one answers “fantastic” then Potter is a harmless even edifying yarn. If occultic then one has an obligation to protect the innocent and to warn others. However, don’t be surprised when others disagree and don’t demonize one another.