Well, I told her after I’d finished reading all seven books.
I wanted to formulate my own opinion on the subject so I could appropriately make my case.
I was afraid, you see. I was afraid that there would be an argument or I’d get grounded or disowned.
The funny thing is, I’m 20, in college, I have a job and a driver’s license, and I’m getting married in June. So really, I am allowed to do pretty much whatever I want unless it’s illegal. And my parents are very friendly, reasonable people.
So why was I so afraid to tell them that I had read Harry Potter?
Despite what you might think, I did not grow up in an extremist right-wing, legalistic religious commune where we dressed in white and sang Amazing Grace every two hours. I did, however, grow up in a conservative, Christian, homeschooling household (which, depending on who you are, might be the same thing). If you know anything about the mainstream conservative Christian sphere, you know that poor Harry is a taboo subject. He’s a point of contention, really. Some say the books encourage kids to worship the devil. Others maintain that it is no different than your Christian fantasy staples like The Lord of the Rings and The Chronicles of Narnia.
Here’s my consensus: They’re both.
Now now you uber conservatives, don’t freak out. And you, more progressive folks, don’t get your knickers in a twist. Hear me out, both of you. Here’s the back story.
The Harry Potter books first came out when I was quite young, just a bit too young to read actually, so it sort of became ingrained into my consciousness from early on that this was a touchy subject. Growing up I wasn’t allowed to read them, but I never really pursued it. I had heard the collective Christian voice tell me to stay away, to put on my gas mask and spray disinfectant into the air whenever the words “Harry” and “Potter” entered the same room.
I got older and decided to pursue writing in college. After spending a few semesters at a state school, I found this awesome Christian school where for the first time in my college career, faith and education were going hand in hand. It was a revelation for me, really. It was mind-blowing how Christianity and literature are so entwined. I was also surprised to find that some professors, who I respected as spiritually strong, would talk of the Harry Potter books in their lessons in a good way. This interested me.
Prayerfully I decided to begin reading the Harry Potter series. I decided to at least start with the first book, and then to test and discern what I thought about it. I went to the library on campus. I found it in the juvenile section, right out in the open for everyone to see (at a Christian school! The travesty!). I took the book to the counter to check it out and I felt like a brazen heathen. I hid the book under my arm as I walked to my dorm, afraid lest people point and stare and whisper behind their hands.
I took the book to my room, and I began to read.
I read the story of a little boy who learns he is a wizard. He goes to a special school to learn to use his power wisely. He makes friends and learns how to be loyal to them and to protect them. He learns that a dark wizard, who uses his power for evil, left long ago but may be coming back. And the little boy fights and beats back the dark wizard with the help of his friends and the council of his mentors.
Wow, good book. It was delightful. I had been half-expecting instructions on how to draw a circle on the floor and sacrifice a cat, but no, that wasn’t in there.
I got the second book, and then the third, and then all the way to the seventh. And the story I read was one of great loss, and great friendship, great power and the use and misuse of it. There was great love and great hatred and love vanquishing the hatred. There was great life and great death… death that was defeated by the greater life.
There was darkness, yes, and evil, absolutely, and ugliness, true, but these were seen for the perverted things that they are. Good and bad were held in their rightful boundaries. The characters weren’t perfect but the protagonists strove to be. They struggled to use their magic (really just an allegory for power) for peace and good. There were spiritual truths that, as I read, I uncovered, and they have helped me to see God and the people He loves much more clearly.
And here is what I mean when I say that Harry Potter is both a staple of Christian lit and a tool of the devil:
I mean that it can be both.
Harry Potter is just a story. You can read the story in the form of ink on a bunch of bound pages. It’s no different than any work of literature you pick up from any old place. No work of literature is inherently evil or inherently Christian. The Bible, for example, is inspired by God, but the story it records are not only claimed or used by Christians. Other religions and creeds would say that parts of it are “theirs”, and throughout history the words written in that book have been twisted and used to mean things that they never meant.
The difference is how we take in the story we read, and then in how we act upon the story. You could read the Bible, be cut to the heart, and be brought to repentance before the Lord (as most people are), or you could read the Bible, decide that it’s rubbish, and choose to follow the enemy who’s described in it (as many people do). Likewise, you could read Harry Potter looking for the darkness and ugliness and latch onto that, or your could read it, as I did, looking for the deeper truths that it contains. When you read literature like that you find gems of truth that feed your mind and soul.
So yes, I am now a Harry Potter fan. But please understand me. There are stories floating around this great wide web about men and women who grew up in conservative Christian backgrounds and were alienated, choosing to break away and swing far in the other direction. This is not one of those stories.
I am still a conservative Christian, working out my salvation before a merciful God Who has saved me. I just really like the Harry Potter books, because weird as it sounds, they have helped to bring me closer to the merciful God who saved me. This is not the same for everyone, and you know what? That’s okay. Harry Potter might be a stumbling block to you, and if it is, then please don’t read it. We are each at different places in our walk with the Lord, and you might be in a place where Harry Potter could be a slippery slope, in which case I’d say stay away!
But my main point overall is this: hey Christians, don’t judge a book by its cover (see what I did there?). Don’t label a work of literature as “Christian” or “Secular” just because of who wrote it or what it’s about (or what you might think it’s about). That’s easy to do because it’s lazy. It takes time to read, take in, and discern the deeper meanings of a book. It takes time, but in the process you find so much that you would have otherwise missed.
One of my biggest issues with the typical conservative approach to Harry Potter was the amount of assumptions made about it when most of the assum-ers had never read it. We Christians like to do that, I’m afraid. We can be prejudiced. And we can turn our prejudices into doctrine. We do that. It’s sad. We can make arbitrary rules (Gandalf the Wizard is okay. Harry Potter the Wizard is… devil worship?) that are not often grounded in truth or knowledge.
I don’t say all this to give a license to “do whatever because hey! you might find some deeper truths!”
No. That’s not what I’m saying.
I am saying to be mindful. Be prayerful. Be discerning. Be kind, and above all, be fair.
Be… a bit like Harry Potter.