I read the first of the Harry Potter
series because my grandson was reading it. I wanted to avoid
that grandfatherly ignorance I seem to show all too often.
I read the rest of the series for myself.
I know that there are Christians who recoil from Harry
in horror, convinced that these books and movies will
do grave spiritual damage to all who blunder into the
fictional world of wizardry that J.K. Rowling has created.
I am not one of them.
So when I arrived in June as the lead pastor of St. Mark's
United Methodist Church in Iowa City, I was delighted
to discover that Sally Hoelscher, one of our Sunday school
teachers, had written a curriculum using characters and
situations from Harry Potter. Using the material she wrote,
fourth-, fifth- and sixth-grade students ex-plored themes
in the series that are also central to the Bible.
Of course, the magic in Rowling's world puts some people
off. They are afraid that people, especially children,
will imitate Harry's reliance on magic to solve his problems.
But there are at least two reasons why that fear is unfounded.
First, the technological reason: wands and other magic
paraphernalia are notoriously hard to come by. Where does
one get the feather of a phoenix, for example? Go ahead
and try, if you'd like, you can't get to Diagon Alley
from here. Even with a running start.
Secondly, using magic doesn't really solve any of Harry's
problems. Magic doesn't tell him how to use his power
responsibly. It doesn't tell him how to overcome his reluctance
to trust other people. It doesn't teach him how to tell
good from evil. It doesn't give him the moral courage
to do the right thing even when it's costly. He has to
learn these things himself, sometimes in spite of his
magical abilities. All in all, I suspect, magic causes
Harry more problems than it solves.
The Harry Potter series is a work of imagination. That
devout Christian J.R.R. Tolkien, author of "The Lord of
the Rings," called the worlds that we fashion with our
imaginations "sub-creations." In creating these imaginary
worlds, he arg-ued, we imitate God and participate with
God in the joy (and responsibility) of creation.
Rowling's imaginative world (like Tolkien's) does not
mention Christianity. But it (again like Tolkien's) is
deeply Christian. Harry and his friends make bad moral
decisions, and there are consequences. That idea is certainly
Faithfulness is a central theme of the series. Some characters
are faithful and other faithless. Some can be trusted
and others cannot. And, as Harry knows, it's not easy
to tell which is which. In spite of this, he must learn
to trust others (even adults!) for help. He can't go it
alone. These, too, are biblical ideas.
When Harry was an in-fant, an evil wizard killed his
parents. They gave up their lives to preserve his. The
power of their love protected Harry and killed the evil
wizard. Sacrificial love has an amazing power against
the forces of evil. That's no surprise to anyone familiar
with the Bible.
Of course, Christianity has no monopoly on these themes,
but at St. Mark's, we consider them to be an integral
part of our Christian faith tradition.
Perhaps the deeper issue for those who reject Harry is
how to deal with our contemporary culture. Human beings
are certainly deeply flawed and so are the things that
we create. That in-cludes our works of culture - our fiction,
our poetry, our music and our movies. But there is also
goodness in us, a gift from God. That goodness shows up
in what we create.
As Christians, we have a responsibility to see and celebrate
that goodness whenever and wherever it can be seen. There
is something of the goodness of God in ev-erything in
the world. Ev-erything has something to teach us. At St.
Mark's, we think that includes Harry Potter. That's why
Harry is welcome at our Sunday school.
Reach the Rev. John Caldwell, lead pastor at St. Mark's
United Methodist Church in Iowa City, at firstname.lastname@example.org.