Saturday, May 01, 2010

"Mind & Spirit" -> Is Harry The AntiChrist?

My son and my daughter recently came to me to ask me about what I thought about the use of magic in fictional novels where there are Christians involved.  They had been debating this for a number of days.  After all, the Bible expressly forbids any dabbling in the dark arts.

Now the Bible is straightforward on this. Witness Exodus 22:18, and I'll include the following verse for context.

18 "Do not allow a sorceress to live.

19 "Anyone who has sexual relations with an animal must be put to death.

So, if you want to find the section on sorcery in the Bible, just go to the verse on bestiality, then back up one. Obviously, not a good neighborhood to be hanging out in.  Some in Christian circles will draw a line that says Harry Potter does sorcery.  Sorcery is of the devil.  Harry Potter is of the Devil and the antiChrist.

Therefore, Christians should not read Harry Potter.

Wikipedia, which never ceases to amaze me with the breath of insight that it can provide, has a whole section on religion and Harry Potter. (Which can be seen here.)

As they point out in their article, some in Christian circles advocate book burnings. Jacqui Komschlies, in an opinion piece, wrote in Chrisitanity Today that Harry Potter in the house is essentially the same as having a drink for children that is a mixture of orange soda and rat poison. To her, the Harry Potter books look good on the outside, but once they are taken into our children, they corrupt them.

My daughter has been thinking about this in some great extent, and she is becoming more like here father every day.  If you wish to see her thoughts, please visit her rather extraordinarily named blog. While I won't spoil her viewpoints in my own blog, I would like to think that her Dad has brought some sanity to her world.

The one thing that I have tried to write in my blog over and over again is that the Bible is designed to make you think. It is not designed to become a rule book.

To understand my viewpoint on Harry Potter, you need to read Mark 9:38-41

38 "Teacher," said John, "we saw a man driving out demons in your name and we told him to stop, because he was not one of us."

39 "Do not stop him," Jesus said. "No one who does a miracle in my name can in the next moment say anything bad about me, 40 for whoever is not against us is for us. 41 I tell you the truth, anyone who gives you a cup of water in my name because you belong to Christ will certainly not lose his reward.

Now, think on this verse for a second. Do you see the principle at work here? Or do you think, "Now, what is the guy off about? What does this verse have to do with Harry Potter?"

There is a very simple principle at work in the Bible, which is "what is of God and what is not of God?"  The disciples came to Jesus, and they thought they saw something that was out of the ordinary.  Somebody wasn't "doing Jesus" correctly.  To do the Jesus thing, they thought that you needed to follow Jesus in a particular way with a particular daily habit.  Now, the disciples hung out with Jesus.  They thought they always knew what Jesus would say.  In this case, they were so sure that they did the right thing, they told the guy to stop, and then they went back to Jesus to brag about their good deeds.  They were telling Jesus that they were keeping the faith pure.

In this context, Jesus told them that they needed to understand that the lines are not firm in the sand.  At the end of the day, if somebody does anything good in Jesus's name, then they will not lose their reward.  "Well, this is not as if JK Rowling says she is a Christian," you might think.  "I know that JK did her novels to undercut the whole of Christianity and place seeds of destruction in our youth."

The shocking thing, JK Rowling said the following, when asked if she was a Christian by the Vancouver Sun newspaper.

"Yes, I am," she says. "Which seems to offend the religious right far worse than if I said I thought there was no God. Every time I've been asked if I believe in God, I've said yes, because I do, but no one ever really has gone any more deeply into it than that, and I have to say that does suit me, because if I talk too freely about that I think the intelligent reader, whether 10 or 60, will be able to guess what's coming in the books."

Now, some will simply say that this cannot be possible. After all, she has witchcraft in her books. She even said that one of the main characters was homosexual in a lecture. Some will simply state that she is taking on the mantle of Christianity, which she does not deserve.

Now, I love Chick publications.  I don't mean that I love everything that he says, and unfortunately I do think that Jack Chick has done some extreme disservice to the church by coming up with angles on things that simply aren't true.  I don't agree with everything that he says, but I truly believe that Jack Chick has saved many a lives.  However, the wonderful thing about his publications is that it often nicely summarizes what fundamentalist Christians believe, and Chick is not shy about his view point on Harry Potter.  The following is the classic scene from one of his tracts.  

This tract summarizes perfectly the viewpoint of some in the Christian church.  Unfortunately, it is very, very wrong.

I will be first to admit that JK has issues, and some day when we all stand before the throne, she may not make it to the other side.  I would much prefer a woman that had all the flaws, but all of the strength of CS Lewis, who would argue for mainstream Christianity.  JK is a bit too quiet for my tastes.  However, I can also see the good in what she does.  She argues for the downtrodden in her own life.  She contributes to charities to feed the poor.  She cares.  Her desire to help her neighbor shows the gospel message.  And those people that say her novels are corrupting are reacting and not thinking.

The fundamental missing link is understanding that the magic in Harry Potter is not sorcery as defined in the Bible. There is only one story in the Bible of sorcery.  This is when Saul goes and finds a sorceress to pull up the departed spirit of Samuel.  If you read the story, you will see the root sin of Samuel is going to a sorceress to get direction.  The magic inside of Harry Potter does not have the kids sitting around trying to call up dead people to get guidance (although there are situations from people talk from beyond the grave).  The magic of Harry Potter has to do with an alternative way of getting stuff done.

Stephen D. Greydanus, a Christian writer, calls out that he believes that there are two types of magic portrayed in literature:

Invocational Magic: Where you call to a higher power
Incantational Magic: Where you you simple know how to say some words to get a unique effect

I don't particularly like his definitions. However, I will credit him with the thought of a separation. I would rather like to say that Harry Potter novel portray Arthur C. Clarke's third law.

Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

Let us do a gedanken experiment. JK Rowling decides one day that she really is promoting magic in her novels, and having a background in Christianity, she is struck by guilt.  In her desire to solve the situation, she does a google and comes to my website.  Impressed with my insight, she calls me up on the phone to ask my advice.

"Hello, is this Theologic?" she asks in a quavering voice.

"Yes, it is," I answer

"Well, I've already written you, and I feel that I'm in a big pickle.  I've decide to spend my money recalling ever Harry Potter book and burning them, unless you find a solution to my glorification of witchcraft," she sobs on the phone.

"Don't worry," I answer.  "We are going to use Arthur C Clark's third law.

We then sit down together, and we write the eighth novel in the series.  In this novel, we describe an early race of Christian beings that have created a technology that looks like magic.  This technology is later passed down to the people of the Harry Potter books.  The magic in the books is not real magic.  It is technology that looks like magic.  When the children cast a spell, what they don't realize is that their wands all have incredibly advanced microcomputers with fusion reactors that produces effects that look like magic.  The scene where they apparate (appear and disappear over great distances) is actually just a transporter like on Star Trek.

The animals and the dragons, as portrayed in the book, are real.  However, they were made via genetic engineering.  Things that are invisible were done by projection or space-time distortion.

If would be very possible to rewrite the whole book, and make all of the items science fiction elements, and not change a thing.

The reason that this works so well, is because JK Rowling has a very distinctly Christian worldview in her books.  She never has the children praying to gods.  She has no talk of "mother earth."  She doesn't encourage anybody to worship false gods.  To the opposite, she is remarkable clean of any religion.  Only religious thing mentioned is Christmas, and this is mentioned to just talk about the gifts that are given.  If you read the books, and if you substitute science devices for the spell devices, nothing in the story changes.

Now, JK does mention souls and the afterlife.  If you read the books, I believe that you will find out that the little indication that she gives about these things are remarkable similar to what most evangelical Christians would claim about the soul.  One of the central points of the story has to do with the anchoring of the soul to the body.  I find nothing offensive about her literarly device.

"So, you are overlooking a few things, and maybe I can understand that.  But why would you want to deal with her books at all?" you might asked.

This is where you must read the books to find out.  However, I find an incredible resource in her writings.  I have four children, and I want each one of them to read the stories.  I would not call JK a great literary figure.  She does not caste clever literary allusions to other pieces of literature.  She is not a great writer.  Her sentence structure has nothing of outstanding merit.  She does not invent new devices and languages in her writing.

She is, however, a masterful story teller.  She may be the giant of our decade.  The new Charles Dicken for our age.

Now, I ask friends at work if they have read the Harry Potter books.  They tell me "No, but I've seen the movies."

Let me tell you friend, the movie is the last thing that you want to see.

Read the books and have your children read the books.  Then use this as another common basis to have discussion with your children.  If you don't get hung up on the use of magic as a literary device, you will have a common framework to discuss life with your children.  You can discuss heroes that do what is right.  You can discuss children who study hard.  You will be able to discuss a story where there is no premartial sex, and couples that mate for life.  You will be able to distill thoughts of sacrifice.

And when you get to the last book, you will see why JK said "If you are a Christian, you are going to understand how the series ends."

There are so many things in the novels that flesh out what it is to be a Christian, I would be hard pressed to tell you them all of the things.  I certainly don't want to spoil the books for you.  So, I will simply offer you this, read the books.  You will be built up and not torn down.

Harry Potter is not the antiChrist, but gift from God to allow us to reach out and use this story to save others.

As a Christian, I can say that JK Rowling is not against us. And if she is not against us, she is for us.