Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Vacation and Harry Potter

I am home now from a week in South Bethany beach. The weather was almost all wonderful, and it was so great to relax. A week in South Bethany, with our family who generously host us, is always a week full of sand, sun, games, delicious food, and good conversation. What a blessing.

For me, it was also a week full of reading Harry Potter. I re-read the 5th and 6th books in the series in preparation for the new release. I have not typically been much of a re-reader, but I found that I really enjoyed it. Perhaps my reading habits will change a bit.

I finished the final book in the series last night. It was excellent. I was talking with a friend here in church, and she mentioned that there have been several local folks writing into the newspaper proclaiming that Rowling is going to hell, and generally decrying Harry Potter.

(Note: while I am not giving away the ending here, I am commenting on the themes, which could give you some pretty good guesses. If you have not yet read the book and plan to, you may not want to read the following paragraphs.)

I find this positively baffling. My suspicion (verified by some experience) is that many folks who "oppose" Harry Potter have not read any of the books. The series is full of Christian themes. These include serving others, sacrificing for the greater good, eschewing materialism, caring most about relationships with others, being willing to lay down your life for your friends, and battling sin and evil. In this last book, the references to the afterlife in heaven as well as sacrificial death are especially strong. Willingly dying so that others may live is at the heart of the gospel...there is no gospel without it. This theme is also at the heart of the Harry Potter book. There is no Harry Potter without it.

My befuddlement increases when I wonder why The Lord of the Rings and the Chronicles of Narnia (also chock full of Christian themes) get embraced by most Christians, while Harry Potter is shunned by so many. My fear is it is because too many of us are too easily led. If media hype and some key Christian voices give their blessing, it must be OK. If the opposite occurs, it must be bad.

At the heart of the Christian Reformation, which flowed out of the Enlightenment, was a rejection of the Church thinking for people. The Reformation championed several important ideas, two of which I find relevant now. First is reading the Scripture for oneself (sola scriptura) which says that Scripture is the foundation of Christian interpretation, and should be read and interpreted by the faithful in their native language. Second, there is the priesthood of all believers which says that we all have a direct line to the Spirit, no intermediate priest required.

If Protestants (those Christians who are not Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox) are to remain faithful to who we are, then we must take seriously our identity as people who study and discern the will of God together, believing the Holy Spirit is guiding us if we study in faith together. To be true to who we are, we must study the Scripture ourselves (together in community and alone...not just alone), and use our God given reason, experience, and our tradition, to come to conclusions. Simply taking the word of another without our own study and reflection does not bring us closer to God or into clearer understanding.

I think Christians have an opportunity to use Harry Potter as a way to study, grow, and reach out. It saddens me to think it will instead be used as an opportunity to condemn, shun, and generally turn people away from the love of Christ.


  1. I agree that there were some great themes in the Harry Potter books that some will never know--esp. in this latest book.

    Harry really matured quite well. I can't wait to use some of this stuff in a sermon.

  2. Thanks for this post Amy. I love what you said about what we can learn from the values of the Reformation. I, too, am stunned by the reaction of some Christians to the Harry Potter books, because, as you said, so many of the themes seem to resonate with the Gospel message. But as we have, and continue to see in so many ways, it's easier to sell people on fear than convince them to have open hearts and minds.