|By: Berit Kjos; ©1999|
|We are not trying to ban or censor Harry Potter books. Our aim is to answer questions from concerned parents and help them understand the threats to their children’s faith from a Biblical perspective.|
Might Harry Potter seem as real as life to his young fans around the world? Do children accept Harry’s lessons in practical witchcraft as an open door to an occult reality? Many Christian leaders have denied any such danger, but author J.K. Rowling admits that this happens. In an interview withNewsweek’sMalcolm Jones, she said,
While children everywhere crave supernatural thrills, Great Britain, the birthplace of Harry Potter, has been a wonderland of options for exploring practical witchcraft. And plenty of youth have caught Harry’s vision. They want to learn his wizardly ways.
Two British reports on this phenomenon show us the obvious: popular forms of occult entertainment "have fueled a rapidly growing interest in witchcraft among children."Naturally, the island’s Pagan Federation is pleased. Though it refuses to admit new members under age 18, "it deals with an average of 100 inquiries a month from youngsters who want to become witches, and claims it has occasionally been ‘swamped’ with calls." [TV shows fuel children’s interest in witchcraft] (see my website)
"It is quite probably linked to things like Harry Potter, Sabrina The Teenage Witch and Buffy The Vampire Slayer," explains the Federation’s media officer, Andy Norfolk. "Every time an article on witchcraft or paganism appears, we have a huge surge in calls, mostly from young girls." [Potter fans turning to witchcraft] (see my website)
This trend worries John Buckeridge, editor ofYouthwork, a British Christian magazine. Unlike U.S. church-leaders who back Harry Potter, he spots danger ahead. "The growing number of books and TV shows likeHarry PotterandSabrina the Teenage Witchencourage an interest in magic as harmless fun," he warms. "However for some young people it could fuel a fascination that leads to dangerous dabbling with occult powers. So what starts out as spooks and spells can lead to psychological and spiritual damage."
But Mr. Norfolk disagrees. His reasoning makes witchcraft sound both safe and responsible. "Our youth officer will explain things like the principle ethic of witchcraft," he assures skeptics, "that you should not cause harm to anyone—and that it’s not just an easy way to get a new boyfriend!"
It’s not surprising that the timeless craving for power and magic has soared with the spread of pagan television shows and Harry Potter books. But today’s pagan revival began years earlier.
Almost a decade ago, a Wiccan student wrote a promotional article forThe Talon, her high school newspaper, about witchcraft. What happened shows both America’s cultural shift and the growing preference for paganism. The student, Leah Mowry, based her conclusions on interviews with several other student witches at Los Altos High School in California.1 In her article, she boasted that her religion:
Soon afterwards, a Christian student, also an editor forThe Talon,asked if he could write about Young Life, a Christian group active on their campus.
"No," was the response, "because witchcraft is underexposed in our society and Christianity is overexposed." In other words, witches could give public testimonies about the benefits of their religion, but Christians were no longer allowed to express their faith and testimonies.
Christianity simply doesn’t fit, and Mr. Norfolk of the Pagan Federation thinks he knows why. The Christian Church has failed to provide "the right degree of spirituality for young people," he explains. In contrast, paganism involves "direct communication with the divine."
From the Biblical perspective, he is tragically wrong. But that matters little to the masses that want spiritual power without Biblical accountability. With help from television, books, movies and other media, Christianity’s reputation has been badly smeared. Blamed for hatred, conflict, wars environmental abuse, it has inspired countless "Christian" leaders to re-imagine their faith and embrace a more "tolerant" view toward the world’s fast-growing fascination with pagan practices.
Typical of our times, a recent report inChristianity Todayseems to base its approval of Harry Potter, not on the Bible, but on popular consensus among admired Christian leaders.
"As far as I can tell," writes author Ted Olsen, "while no major Christian leader has come out to condemn J.K. Rowling’s series, many have given it the thumbs-up. If our readers know of any major Christian leader who has actually told Christians not to read the books, I’d be happy to know about it; but in my research, even those Christians known for criticizing all that is popular culture have been pretty positive about Potter."
To prove his point, Mr. Olsen quotes seven Christian leaders and publications:
1. Chuck Colson, in hisBreakpoint(11-2-1999) radio broadcast, commended Harry and his friends for their "courage, loyalty, and a willingness to sacrifice for one another—even at the risk of their lives." Colson dismissed the pagan practices as:
2.WorldMagazine (5-29-1999) praisedHarry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stoneas
3. World’ssecond article toned down the enthusiasm. "A reader drawn in would find that the real world of witchcraft is not Harry Potter’s world. Neither attractive nor harmless, it is powerful and evil." (October 30, 1999)
4. The BritishChristianitymagazine praised the series. In an issue, Mark Greene, Director of the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity, wrote a note of regret for not giving it to his god-daughter earlier:
5. AChristian Century(12-1-99) editorial, "Wizards and Muggles," states,
6. Focus on the Family gave a mixed review. According to Ted Olsen, the advice offered by Focus’s critic, Lindy Beam was simply, "Apart from the benefit of wise adult guidance in reading these books, it is best to leaveHarry Potteron the shelf."
7. Wheaton College professor Alan Jacobs concludes that Harry Potter stories promote "a kind of spiritual warfare…. A struggle between good and evil…. There is in books like this the possibility for serious moral reflection…[and] the question of what to do with magic powers is explored in an appropriate and morally serious way." (September/October Mars Hill Audio Journal)
Is it really? Take a look at the other side of this issue.
The mass media’s promotion of contrary values have prompted even Christians to replace or distort the pursuit of God with the pursuit of pleasure. So God’s standards would hardly win a popularity contest today.Popular versions of Christianity have wisely rejected some of the stiff legalism of the past, but it has also tossed out God’s much-needed guidelines and warnings. The result is license to do almost anything that feels good. Christians who refuse to compromise are often demeaned as old-fashioned kill-joys who bring reproof and embarrassment to those who fear offending the world with the whole truth of the gospel. That’s why Jesus warned us long ago,
God gave us His Word that we might know Him. The Bible reveals His heart, will and ways. It alone can show us what is truth or error in those seven public responses to the Harry Potter phenomenon.
1. Chuck Colson praised Harry and his friends for their "courage, loyalty, and a willingness to sacrifice... for one another—even at the risk of their lives." Those qualities can be found in almost any culture. But, according to the Bible, a brave person is no more free to pursue paganism than a coward. Harry’s occult skills—witchcraft, sorcery, casting spells, spiritism, interpreting omens and "calling up the dead" fit into a category God tells us not even to discuss. "For all who do these things are an abomination to the Lord...." (Eph. 5:10-12, Deut. 18:9-12)
Colson’s dismissal of the dangers of delighting in such evils as "purely mechanical," makes no sense from a Biblical perspective. He says that "Harry and his friends cast spells, read crystal balls, and turn themselves into animals—but they don’t make contact with a supernatural world…." Where then does their power come from? Natural rather than supernatural forces?
Of course not. Rowling doesn’t acknowledge the source, but anyone who has researched witchcraft and talked with contemporary pagans will see the alarming parallels between contemporary occultism and Rowling’s seductive message to children.(If you find this hard to believe, please read chapters 4 and 8 of my bookA Twist of Faith)
2.World Magazine (5-29-1999) made the same error. Calling Harry Potter’s world "a delight... safe, inoffensive, and non-occult," is misleading assurance. True, "magic must have rules," but the primary rule of the occult is that Satan doesn’t offer free and easy favors for long. He may indulge seekers in a free ride for a while, but as soon as his victims have been captivated by his lures—all of which are counterfeits of what God offers those who follow Him—he begins to demand his payoff. Suddenly the bright side of evil turns dark indeed. Attempts to resist or turn back usually lead to spiritual terrors and oppression.
AsWorldindicated, "good does not—cannot—mix with bad" but not because "good" motives are always "good," even in a pagan context. God’s good is corrupted when adapted to a pagan setting. In fact, God doesn’t want what He considers good to be linked to the occult. He sends us out to pagans to share His love, but we cannot delight in what He calls evil. God shows us His reason in a most politically incorrect message:
"What fellowship can light have with darkness? What harmony is there between Christ and Belial? What does a believer have in common with an unbeliever?... For we are the temple of the living God.... ‘Therefore come out from them and be separate," says the Lord.’" (2 Cor. 6:14-17)
3.World’ssecond article maintained that "the real world of witchcraft is not Harry Potter’s world. Neither attractive nor harmless, it is powerful and evil."
Actually, today’s pagan movement is attractive to anyone disillusioned by unfriendly churches. It entices seekers by showing the "light" side of occultism. Contemporary witches—both men and women—that I have met are sincere, often compassionate, usually well educated and frustrated with today’s rampant materialism. Few look evil. Instead, they demonstrate God’s warning in 2 Cor. 11:14-15, "For Satan himself transforms himself into an angel of light. Thereforeit'isno great thing if his ministers also transform themselves into ministers of righteousness...."
The younger generation of pagans show another side. Many dabble in black magic and the other "dark arts" that are so seductively taught at Hogwart’s School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.Apart from the fantasy setting and dramatic demonstrations of magic, there is little difference between Harry’s skills and the real world of the occult.
4. Mark Greene’s endorsement in the BritishChristianityraises some serious questions. What does he mean by "Harry—fine lad you know.... Comes from a good stock...." Is he referring to Harry’s parents—a witch and a wizard?Is he speaking as director of London Institute forContemporary Christianity, or is this simply his personal opinion?
One thing is certain. This attitude is driving the current transformation of the Church. It’s time for serious Christians to "count the cost" and be ready to stand uncompromisingly strong in the Truth God has given us.
5. TheChristian Centurydenies that Harry Potter "fosters an attachment to evil powers." It calls Harry’s world "a moral one." It’s wrong on both points. Just review the testimony from the Pagan Federation, which reaps the fruit from the soaring interest in Witchcraft.
Second, Harry and his friends may show loyalty to each other and courage in the face of danger. But they also lie and steal. Would you call that a moral world? Kenneth McCormick adds this insight:
6. Focus on the Family critic, Lindy Beam came closest to the truth. The last part of her counsel is right: "Apart from the benefit of wise adult guidance in reading these books, it is best to leaveHarry Potteron the shelf."
As for the first half of her counsel, it might be good to remember God’s definition of wisdom: "The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding."
The fear of the Lord involves a sober awareness of what He loves, of what He despises, and of the consequences of disobedience and rebellion against Him. It leads to a sincere desire to please Him, heartfelt gratefulness for His mercy, and unending delight in His loving presence. So when we choose to "fear the Lord" we will heed Romans 12:9, "Abhor what is evil. Cling to what is good."
Among the obvious evils are the practices listed in Deuteronomy 18:9-12: witchcraft, sorcery, spellcasting, divination, calling up the dead, etc. In other words, children who delight in Harry’s occult world of spells and magic will naturally learn to enjoy evil and crave more. But they cannot "cling to what is good" while they love evil. The two are incompatible. (Visit the Kjos Ministries website,www.crossroad.toto find a comparison of Deuteronomy 18 with passages fromHarry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.) In other words, "wise adult guidance" would most likely choose to "leave Harry Potter on the shelf."
7. Wheaton College professor Alan Jacobs suggests that the Harry Potter books offer "the possibility for serious moral reflection…[and] the question of what to do with magic powers is explored in an appropriate and morally serious way."His words make no sense from a Biblical perspective.
Since white magic, like black magic, is "an abomination" to God—and since white magic is far more deceptive and seductive—neither is good. Books written from an occult perspective cannot explore magic powers in "an appropriate and morally serious way"—without redefining the word moral and rejecting the Bible. A context or setting that approves occultism will turn God’s values upside down. Praising the practices God condemns, Professor Jacobs illustrates the timeless message of Isaiah 5:20: Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; Who put darkness for light, and light for darkness; Woe tothose'who'arewise in their own eyes, And prudent in their own sight!
Ted Olsen ended his defense of Harry with a quote by J. K Rowling:
The fact is—whether Ms Rowling heard it from a fan or not—many children are pursuing the real-life versions of witchcraft because they have learned to love Harry’s world. Ten-year-old Gioia Bishop said it well, "I was eager to get to Hogwarts first because I like what they learned there and I want to be a witch."
It’s no wonder a talented story-teller such as J.K. Rowling can so effectively inspire children. She grew up loving the occult. The article,Harry Potter and the source of inspiration, (see my website for link) describes her childhood fascination and those who inspired the main characters in her books. For example, her early view of Harry was shaped by her playmate Ian Potter "whose childhood antics have startling similarities to those of the fictional schoolboy wizard." Together, they began to role-play the practices that made her books so exciting.
"We used to dress up and play witches all the time," explained Ian’s sister Vikki. "My brother would dress up as a wizard. Joanne was always reading to us.... we would make secret potions for her. She would always send us off to get twigs for the potions."
Apparently, Ms Rowling knew how to find the books that nurtured her fascination even as a child. Now she, in turn, spreads her love for the occult to children around the world. Without a firm foundation in Biblical truth, they have little resistance to her seductive call. And since most older children have been thoroughly immersed in the multicultural world view in their public schools, they are likely to prefer paganism to Christianity.
From the world’s perspective, why shouldn’t they? Why not follow the crowd and seek a new consensus in the name of peace and unity?
After all, "paganism is recognized as a valid religion," says Mr. Norfolk of the Pagan Federation. He sees no reason why parents should be alarmed by their children’s sudden interest in magic.
Nor did a spokesman from the Roman Catholic Church. "I haven’t heard anything within the Catholic religion that suggests this is anything to be concerned about," he said, following the pattern of unbiblicaltolerancetouted by his Protestant and Anglican counterparts. Apparently, the division between church leaders who support Harry and those who don’t runs through many nations and denominations.
Our local library held a Harry Potter party on August 2. About a hundred children showed up to decorate Wizard hats and paint the lightening mark of Harry Potter fans on their foreheads. They provided a captive audience for adult fans of Harry’s world view. Parents had to wait outside.
Remember, this is spiritual warfare. God’s enemy fights as hard as ever to win the hearts and loyalties of our children—and he has added all kinds of high-tech tools to his armory.
To resist his strategies, they first need to understand the Biblical world view. That’s why God told His people long ago to base all conversation—day and night—on His unchanging truth:
Everything we say must reflect the reality of God, His love and sovereignty, His promises and His warnings. To prove that our God is far greater than the pantheon of alternatives, our lives must demonstrate faith in the midst of difficulties and His triumph in the midst of turmoil. This is possible, not by our own strength, but by His power and grace. Then, seeing His greatness, children learn to trust His promises.
Likewise, the armor of God (Ephesians 6:10-18) begins and ends with the power of His Word. First, we "put on the belt of Truth," which holds all the other pieces—His righteousness, peace, faith, and salvation—in place. The last part, "the Sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God," is simply His truth and promises memorized, remembered and affirmed as we face each day’s challenge.
This two-edged sword is our main weapon in every battle. It exposes lies and uncovers deceptions while it strengthens our faith and lifts our hearts. The world can’t understand it, and many so-called Christians despise it. But to those who love God, it brings the hope, strength, joy and perseverance needed to walk with Him in peace no matter what happens.
Malcolm Jones, "The Return of Harry Potter!",Newsweek(Online), July 1, 2000, page 4. Apparently, this article which was originally posted at <www.msnbc.com/news/428200.asp> is no longer available at theNewsweekwebsite <www.msnbc.com>. I have a printed (not digitized) copy of the article, which I had downloaded before its removal.