Christian Living

Spiritual Life

What's the Harm in Harry Potter?

Q: What is the basic premise of the Harry Potter books?

A: Harry Potter is the main character of a best-selling children’s fantasy book series (and hit movie series) written by British author J. K. Rowling. The books tell the story of an orphaned boy who discovers he’s a wizard with magic powers. After being raised for 11 years by mean-spirited relatives, Harry is “rescued” by an invitation to attend the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. The school opens up a world where Harry finally finds respect and friendship. However, he learns from adult witches and wizards such skills as casting spells, riding broomsticks, making potions, and other tricks of the trade. Much of the conflict centers on “good” magic (which Harry, his parents and friends represent) versus “evil” magic.

Q: Why are the stories so popular?

A: The stories create an imaginary world that is compelling for children. Harry is a likable boy whose poignant story is reminiscent of Oliver Twist or Cinderella. His character speaks especially to children who feel like they don’t “fit in,” whether because of a broken home, or because they are very creative, intelligent, sensitive, or nonathletic.

The stories also give kids a sense of a supernatural world that’s bigger than themselves – one that allows them to access power that will change their lives. And the magic and gadgetry portrayed in the stories seem fun and fascinating – with magic mirrors, wands, flying broomsticks, and hidden passageways. Those who champion the series point to the fact that these books are getting children to enjoy reading and using their imaginations. They consider it a harmless “make-believe” world where good triumphs over evil.

Q: Why are so many Christians concerned about Harry Potter?

A: The major concern of Christians is that the books trivialize the biblical admonitions against witchcraft and sorcery. Even though the spells and magic in the books are not actual incantations, many feel that the stories legitimize the idea of practicing witchcraft – especially in targeting young children who lack solid, biblical teaching about the dangers of these things. The Potter stories make it “cool” for kids to study the occult without acknowledging its satanic origins. They also make it seem like the only way to combat evil is through “good” magic, rather than by the power of God. Plus, the books themselves are published and promoted to schools by Scholastic books, a brand name that lends further “legitimacy” to the series.

Q: Are these stories any worse than The Wizard of Oz or other popular fantasy?

A: Let’s face it: media has been pushing the envelope toward wider acceptance of the occult for years. And Oz does feature a good witch pitted against a bad witch. However, the character we are made to identify with is Dorothy, a human who lands in a dream world. The characters there are all imaginary, including talking trees, munchkins, and flying monkeys. One never feels that Dorothy could be trained to become either a good witch or a bad witch. She just wants to go home to Kansas. Harry Potter, on the other hand, introduces us to a modern-day boy who is easy to relate to, who is being trained to become a wizard. We identify with his fascination as he enters a magical world of witchcraft and the occult. If there were no such thing today as witchcraft backed by real demonic power, we could just accept these stories as harmless make-believe.

But because Wicca, New Age, and the occult have infiltrated mainstream culture in recent years, it is easy for unsuspecting children who want to learn more about Harry’s world to find occult books, Web sites, and chatrooms. Christians are concerned that children will find the attractiveness of Harry Potter an easy entrance ramp to researching witchcraft without realizing the demonic reality behind it.

Q: What does the Bible actually say about witchcraft and the occult?

A: One of the clearest admonitions is found in Deuteronomy 18:10-12. It says, “Let no one be found among you who sacrifices his son or daughter in the fire, who practices divination or sorcery, interprets omens, engages in witchcraft, or casts spells, or who is a medium or spiritist or who consults the dead. Anyone who does these things is detestable to the Lord…” (NIV) There are also instances where kings or nations are specifically condemned by God for these practices. In Isaiah 47:9-15, the people are doomed to calamity because they have trusted in magic spells, sorceries, and astrology “since childhood.” In 2 Chronicles 33, Manasseh the king makes the Lord angry because he “practiced sorcery, divination and witchcraft, and consulted mediums and spiritists.”

Q: Are there other concerns about the Harry Potter stories?

A: Another concern revolves around the situational ethics found in the plots. There are instances where the kids break the school’s rules – but because their actions ultimately save the day, they are rewarded rather than punished for their disobedience. In fact, Harry befriends a girl, who he had previously found annoyingly legalistic about obeying the rules, only after she lies to protect Harry and his friend. The story goes on to say that she became “a bit more relaxed about breaking rules… and she was much nicer for it.”

Also, the stories encourage elitism in painting a very derogatory view of anyone who does not practice magic. Non-magic folks are called “Muggles.” They are looked down on as being clueless at best, and mean-spirited and narrow-minded at worst. Harry is not shown how to forgive his mean Muggle relatives – instead, he imagines revenge on them, and sees himself and his friends as better than they are.

Q: Why are so many kids fascinated by the occult these days?

A: Many kids are fascinated by the occult because they have a deep spiritual hunger that is longing to be satisfied. Some are desperate for a life-changing encounter with the supernatural. They are looking for power and protection, especially if they feel victimized or wounded by their circumstances.

Q: How can the church reach out to these kids?

A: Instead of condemning kids for latching onto these occult media crazes, we need to offer them a more real alternative through our churches and youth groups. They need to see that while the fellowship and empowerment that Harry Potter found in a school of witchcraft is counterfeit, there is real power and true fellowship to be found in God. Make sure that your child or teen is involved in a church that offers a vibrant, biblically sound youth program. And offer your support to help the existing programs and Sunday school classes in your church. Also, familiarize yourself with better media alternatives by Christian writers that you can offer to kids. For example, C. S. Lewis’ Narnia Chronicles are quality fantasy books that are biblically based.

Q: How should parents respond to the Harry Potter craze?

A: Parents need to get familiar with the media being targeted at their children so they can make informed decisions. Whether it’s Harry Potter, Pokemon, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, or whatever the next media craze is, you need to be actively involved in knowing what’s out there. Even if your children are not part of a current fad, chances are they will have friends who are. It is good to be able to talk intelligently with your children or their friends about those things that are capturing their imaginations. Kids are more likely to respect your opinion if you can show them you “get” why they are excited about something, while also showing them logically and biblically why there may be a dark side to it.

Parents need to get familiar with Scriptures dealing with the occult and show kids exactly what the Bible says. A Bible concordance is a great help for finding verses with key words – you can find one at Christian bookstores, or even on Bible Internet sites. Teach your children how to use these tools. They need to see that these are God’s rules, and not just Mom’s rules.

And parents need to set guidelines appropriate to the age and temperament of their children. If your child is young or very impressionable, it is wise to try and protect them from media that will have an unhealthy influence on them. If your child is older, mature, biblically well-grounded, and curious about what his or her friends are involved in, you may want to use certain media to teach your child critical thinking. Research it yourself first, and if you think your child can handle it, read the book with your child or take your child to see the movies. Then discuss the pros and cons afterward.

With so many influences in the media today, you will not be able to shelter kids from every negative influence. But you can teach them how to recognize the attractively packaged deceptions of Hollywood. And you can use these things to help your children learn how to make wise choices, and to articulate their faith intelligently to a culture desperate for the truth.

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