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Thursday, July 26, 2007

Encouragement from Harry Potter

Well, friends, I just finished HP #7 and then read a short article from Christianity Today about what Jonathan Edwards would think about Harry Potter. The author of the article claimed that the draw of the Potter series was transcendence and the lure of the afterlife. It stated that death was at the core of the Harry Potter books and that, as Christians, we needed to counter the Potter view of death and the afterlife.

My brother-in-law wanted my thoughts on the article. This is what I told him . . . and what I thought you might be interested in as well. And if you keep reading here, you’ll see what I found encouraging, for all of us. (Note: I’m not meaning to address occult issues, witches, wizards, or any of that below as I have nothing new to add that hasn’t already been said. What you’ll find below, I think, is a different perspective – not about whether HP is good or bad, but rather what encouragement we, as Christians, may gain from the HP phenomenon, and how we might speak to the heart of our culture about the wonder of Christ.) So, here goes:

I'd say the author of the CT piece fails to understand the true draw of Harry Potter. The author says, "it does mean that if the world's imagination is captured by Potter-esque versions of the afterlife and the transcendent—a less-than-Christian way of looking at the world—we have work to do." But I would say that the world's imagination was not captured by the versions of the afterlife or the transcendent in Harry Potter (nor even with the idea of witchcraft and wizardry!), but with the triumph of good over evil and the power of self-sacrifice. What fascinates people, I think, (besides all the interesting details of Rowling’s wizarding world) is the fleshing out of John 15:13 “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends." (NIV) That's the underlying theme that Harry Potter is built on.

The author of the CT piece misses the point when he says that death is at the core of the books’ meaning. Harry Potter is not about death, it's about how to live - it's about becoming selfless. And there's something in people that wants good to triumph, that understands the nobility of sacrifice for others, that still deplores self-seeking. What's truly at the core, then, is friendship, loyalty, putting others' needs before one's own. That's what attracts people, that's what has them cheering for Harry and the other good guys in HP.

What this should tell us about our culture is less that it's interested in the transcendent and more that the heart of the gospel will still resonate with the people of our generation. It tells us that people want what Christ is. They are, as always, drawn to the things that make Christianity unique - laying down one's life, sacrifice for others, selflessness. So, I think the message to take from the HP phenomenon is not "we have to write better than HP to draw imaginations away" but rather "we who know Christ can share with freedom, because the heart of Christianity still captures the hearts of the world."

I firmly believe that God plants metaphors of the gospel in every culture - things that can help Christians to open the gospel in meaningful ways to people who don't understand Christ. Countless missionaries to before-unreached civilizations can attest to this fact. So perhaps Harry Potter can be a metaphor for our generation, a starting place to expand on the wonder of our vivid God, to help people grasp, with breath-taking awe, what Christ has done for us. Just as Paul used the monument to the unknown god in Acts, so too we may use the underlying themes in Harry Potter to expose the wonder of Christ.

So, there's my take on the whole Harry Potter craze. As to what Jonathan Edwards would say, I don't know. Hopefully, he would use Harry Potter to talk about the amazing thing that Christ did for us on the cross, and how we, in turn, can be more like Christ by putting others first, by sacrificing for them, by emulating true love. And hopefully, we too, will take encouragement from the Harry Potter phenomenon to share the heart of Christ’s work on the cross, and to capture our generation with the wonder of self-sacrificing love, love that laid down its life that we might be freed from the evil one.


Marla Taviano said...

Just stopping by from Angie Hunt's blog. Love the look of your site!

Trying to decide if/when to read the HP books to my 6- and 5-year-old daughters.

I read the first three then stopped, decided to read them all again, couldn't carve out enough time... Anyway.

Great thoughts. I'll definitely refer back to them.

Marlo said...

As to reading them to kids, I've decided not to read any to mine (oldest, now 7). If they want to read them on their own later, then so be it. But, I'm going to take that chance to talk to them about what they found that was like Jesus. We'll probably talk about witchcraft and evil, but I want to show them that the things of Christ are the things that we actually love in a good story.

Diane Pate said...

I couldn't agree more about your comments on Harry Potter - my thoughts exactly!

Deena said...

My son is now 13, and is finally able to handle reading Harry (the size of the books alone was enough to put him off!).

We discuss the positive elements of the stories in light of Scripture, and he often points out things I've missed. We enjoy Harry not for the magic, but for the magical world of invention and such.

Parents need to be cautious, but not panicked or overreacting to any "popular" thing in today's culture...