Sunday, June 19, 2011

Harry Potter for Christians: Plausible? or Just really Wrong?

I have to admit, part of this topic I feel strongly about, while the other, I’m a little conflicted.

In regard to the Harry Potter series of films and the novels they are based on, I do admit, not ever reading any of the books themselves (Yeah an avid reader myself, never taking the time to reading this series oh the irony!). However I will also admit to have seen just about every Harry Potter film that has been made so far, and I have to admit, what I’ve seen is quite good. I have at times heard from various people (usually from old school Christians), that looking at movies both in general and wizardry/magic based fantasy films are not only taboo, but are a steps into witchcraft and devil worship. Yes, for most of them, those are the exact words I’ve been told when mentioning I’m going to check out *blank* movie in the theatre. (Just ask a few of the other posters here, I’m sure they’ve heard just as bad if not worse). 

Clearly this type of thinking about films has been going around for many Christians for some time now. Just look at my “Film Limitations or Limiting Imagination” article about that.

But back to this topic, does the Harry Potter franchise have anything within it to cause concern to Christians? On its own it has been very successful both on film and in its written form. It’s been able to encourage something in young kids and adolescents that have not happened in over a decade. It's encouraged them to read, and not just a PC, or a tablet, or laptop or smart phone texts. Instead with a good old-fashioned book, which these days are very rare, and as an advocate of books and old school reading, I’m greatly impressed with this. As for the series itself, I have noticed it does tackle a lot of social matter for adolescents and young adults face that many other novels (Christian ones in particular) tend not to dwell on too deeply or not address at all. Issues such as social acceptance, self-esteem, bullying, peer pressure, the sudden loss of family members or close friends, the consequences and benefits from venturing out of your comfort zone, facing your fears, and to a certain extent both xenophobia and racism (though not in the traditional sense). All of this does take place in one form or another in the film adaptations, and (according to some of my friends that have read them) even more so with the novels.

So should Christians still be wary of this franchise? I for one can’t say for sure if there is a danger of reading or seeing any of the films. Granted I have seem most of the films in one form or another, but since I have not read any of the novels, I can’t give a full fair opinion on it per say. As a movie buff and critic, I can say is, I have enjoyed the Harry Potter series quite a bit. At first I thought it might be a rather iffish rehashed modern take of the LOFTR series (and there’s already alot of friction with that fan base against the Harry Potter one but that’s another story), but it did grow on me. Sure there are some questionable elements to the series with the magic themes and all. But compared to many other films, there are FAR worse out there with similar (and yet still questionable) content. Come to think of it, the same can be said about many other forms of current social media, (i.e. the internet, TV, news, magazines, etc). Don’t get me wrong; I’m not trivializing the concept of watching what we expose ourselves to. Of course we need to be aware of our surroundings and what we watch and listen to, as well as accountable for any actions or consequences that come with it. That being said, I also don’t think we should paint ourselves in a corner, and isolate ourselves from the rest of the world. We’re supposed to be the salt of the earth, not the "salty Christians" who eventually get frustrated when we cannot relate to others when trying to witness. Or worse, we end up keeping to ourselves in our own group while being critical to others who don’t measure up to a certain ideology. And in some cases even to other Christians in our own church! Sad...

No, this isn’t me preaching, and no, I’m not painting everyone with a broad brush. (I know there are many that aren’t like that, yet I'm pretty sure I'm stepping on alot of toes so to speak while bringing it up...heh). It’s just that I’ve noticed at times we can be so focused on the word, that they forget the meaning. I think I was someone (Lancer I believe) that mentioned in one of my previous posts (The Avatar Review: Part 3: "Spiritual-Religious Insightful or Mislead Manipulation) where “we should try to distance ourselves from such snobbishness.” Heh, love that quote btw.

Perhaps I’m just rambling on but at times I think we spend a lot of time passing judgment on many things (movies and movie watching included) without taking the time to examine what it is we look at, let alone research it. It seems it’s easier to make that judgment call based on what we hear rather than what we know or try to aquire to know for ourselves, which is something we also need to distance ourselves from.

At any rate, I’m curious to know what you all think of all of this.



  1. Your article raises a good question, and made me chuckle to myself, for I have neither taken my kids to see any of these Harry Potter movies, nor have I seen any of them myself.

    Prompted by your article, I started thinking about it - what's the material difference between Harry Potter and the average kids movie these days (Disney or otherwise)? All are likely to include some form of fantasy, magic, spells, and such, what makes the Harry Potter flavour so distasteful as opposed to any of the others?

    I'm not sure, now.

    Further, it can't be that I should find the backdrop of a world of fantasy any more disturbing than was the case in Lord of the Rings (I've seen all of them. I didn't read the books and am pretty sure the story could have effectively been told in plenty south of 9hrs...but I digress...)

    Our blog is all about finding the truth, even if the film packaging is presumed to be incapable of being able to convey truth (I'm very sure I won't expect a screening of Pulp Fiction at our youth group or prayer meeting any time soon).

    I was reminded about the parable of the rich man and Lazarus. It's a particularly curious parable for your garden variety Seventh-day Adventist because it fundamentally does not jive with our standard position on "the state of the dead." While nominal Christianity is cool with the notion that a conversation took place between a person in heaven and a person in hell, SDAs are stuck between a rock and a hard place - either such is the case, and evidently "the dead know" quite a bit; or, Jesus used a fictitious story, hinging on an untruth, to convey truth.

    I think it's the latter, and this co-mingles with other Biblical instances to support the use of secular "story", themes, motifs and imagery, in order to convey truth.

    Yet, notwithstanding all the aforementioned, I have not seen any of the Harry Potter films....hmm...perhaps I should see it, given that these films do have a large audience.

    Finding that there's little real take-away value won't be a waste of time as, at least, I'll be able to speak intelligently to what works or didn't.

    Finding, however, there there is/are (a) good lesson(s) should provide the opportunity to articulate it/them here.

  2. Thanks for the feedback.
    Oddly enough, I know several Christians, and their families, that have followed all or most of the Harry Potter series, just as much as the Narnia series or LoTR. And I agree that if nowadays it seems if many series such as this is still considered to some a "taboo" to look at, than why is it that some series (like Narnia) are given the green light for some, yet others (like LoTR) is still a no-no? Really does make you wonder.

    What I could suggest is looking at one of the Potter films on your own and see them for yourself. Err start with the first one, since it would be a bit confusing starting with anyone of the ones in the middle. Then if it seems ok for you, perhaps you can try one with family members. If you do please let me know your critique.

  3. There are movies that try to tell you "this is the way things are", and then there are movies that ask the question: "what would it be like if X was real?"

    Most fantasy fiction involves the later. They try to get you to resonate with the characters in their stories who co-exist with things that don't exist in the real world. It is escapism. I think that's basically what fantasy is supposed to be: not a depiction of reality. You therefore need to acknowledge that an imagined reality is not going to conform perfectly with our own.

    The other kind wants you to believe that these things are not actually fantasy, but have a kernel of reality to them. They are glorified for the purpose of entertainment, but they are trying to communicate to you how the world actually is. If this is what the author is trying to do, they probably wouldn't consider their work "fantasy fiction".

    This is basically the point: When watching a movie about Greek Gods, or magic, or the goings-on of people in a galaxy far far away, typically the only messages we get from these that are meant to apply to us are the moral ones. We are not being asked to believe that any of the events or powers are real. In my view, it is only the morality that is a potential threat to the audience, not the fantastical elements of the story.

    However, if the movie is trying to make you believe something about reality, say Dan Brown's "Da Vinci Code", that is something to be more alert about, as someone may be trying to bias your view. I'm not saying to be alarmed, but to be alert. The "Da Vinci Code" generated much talk because it purported to upset the traditional understanding of Christ, the Church, and the Bible.

    Other movies do something similar, but in a more subtle fashion. They may bias the reader to doubt the existence of God, to mistrust religious leaders, or to view religious people as sanctimonious and cruel. I think these are by far more damaging than the obvious fantasy elements presented in works of fiction like Harry Potter.

    Only when a person fails to distinguish fantasy elements from reality might fantasy fiction become a problem. For kids, it may become a part of their imaginary life and could lead to real-world interests in the occult. We should be alert to this, but not all kids will follow this path, so parents just need to be wise about when to expose their children to these things. This is true for just about anything on the subject of parenting.

  4. Thanks for putting our your opinion on this Lancer, and great to have you back!

    You're very right about what we expose ourselves to. And more importiantly what some of these movies are trying to display to you. Yes some are not asking you to believe in the story itself, but moreso with what choices one makes in life (like the concept of good and bad/light side and dark side of the force in Star Wars), something I tend to have arguements with my GF at times, whom ironicly has shown some interest in some of the films I see.
    Others I look at not so much the confict that might not be normal, (like the series the Walking Dead) but the human condition, and how character and personality changes when faces with catatrophic even that affects all around them both indivdually and with each other, much like the end times many of us hear about through the Revalations chapter of the Bible. Not I don't think its replacement for it, but I do find it interesting.
    At any rate, still need to be "alert" at what we watch, because you're right about those other films and shows that make us question our faith and beleifs directly or introduce that segment of doubt to it. And while I'm not a parent yet, I think I would keep a close eye on what I would let my children see, espcially considering today's current information age.
    That rasies one question, considering how inforation in general is so readily availible now, on television, internet at home, via smartphones and laptops and such, and where its heading in the next several years down the road, would it be much more difficult to keep to fine tune what your children (as well as ourselves) on what we see and are exposed to? Just leaving that as an open ended question..


What do you think?!