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Harry Potter is evil!!!

March 1, 2012

I grew up in a home that listened almost exclusively to Christian radio. Mostly the local CCM (Contemporary Christian Music, aka Christian pop music) station but also some preaching, and almost always Focus on the Family with Dr. James Dobson, as well as their show, Adventures in Odyssey.

Dr. Dobson and his organization, Focus on the Family, are one of the largest promoters and popularizers of moral outcry that I know of. He strongly opposes homosexuality and same-sex marriage, sex education, and abortion (among other things). He promotes religious schools and home schooling (as well as tax money going towards religious education), corporal punishment, and the idea that homosexuality can be “cured”.

He also loves to attack whatever item in current popular culture can be labeled as “evil”. When I was a child in the 80s the big things were Dungeons & Dragons and other role-playing games (RPGs), Ouija boards, and cartoons like the Smurfs (because they promoted a Socialist philosophy). As the years have gone by he has opposed other popular fiction including Harry Potter and Spongebob Squarepants. If Dr. Dobson said it was evil then my parents would promptly forbid us from watching, reading, or partaking in it. They have since let up on that a little bit and my mother, in particular, loves the Harry Potter films.

In general, conservative Christianity fears the fantasy genre (with the exception of Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia and often Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings series, though there are extreme conservative Christians who fear these, as well) and fiction in general. I have long wondered about this. Why would the use of magic in a fictional world cause me to attempt using magic (explicitly prohibited in the Old Testament) in the real world? Are there really ideas in these games and books and cartoons that are dangerous to Christianity? In fact, often they portray a struggle between good and evil, just as much of Christianity does, so why are these stories not embraced? (In fact, this is often the reason that Tolkien’s books are embraced by some Christians, they see them as an allegorical story like Lewis’ Narnia books are, even though Tolkien hated the idea of allegory and specifically said that his books were not allegorical.)

I was listening to the most recent episode of The Thinking Atheist as I was driving around town today and one caller mentioned the way Christians view their own fiction, from Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress to the aforementioned Lewis books, to Frank Peretti, as being real. He called them “Dungeons & Dragons for Christians”. Peretti, especially, is interesting to look at. Most of his books deal with the idea of spiritual warfare between invisible angels and demons, effecting the human world.

His books also support the idea that all it takes is for someone to read a book about magic, or being interested in transcendental meditation or some other new age idea to open their mind and spirit to demon possession. He also works in the evils of abortion, secular education, and evolution. He does this all in a captivating world of mystery, darkness, and the supernatural. Certainly not the best of literature, but it can be a fun read.

In fact, his books have many similarities to the world in the World of Darkness role playing games that I’ve gotten involved with recently. The struggle between good and evil, the idea of the evils and good of the natural world being influenced by and influencing the spiritual world, things like that. The only difference is that Piretti’s fiction deals with these things in a distinctly Christian worldview.

Here is the big difference, though: Many Christians, the conservative fundamentalists especially, read these works of fiction and see them as being real. They read about the battles between angels and demons, the demon possession, the way that things like abortion and “new ageism” give the forces of evil a foothold in our world and they think it is 100% truth! They read everything as if it were allegory or based on a true story. So when they see a game where you call on magic to battle monsters, or even call on demonic creatures to aid your fight, they think it is real! When they see a book with kids who go to a school to learn how to use magic they think there is an element of truth to it, that kids will seek out the occult to do the things that Harry and his friends can do.

Back to Focus on the Family, they have a radio drama for children called Adventures in Odyssey. The show relates some moral lesson through the events experienced by a group of children living in the fictional town of Odyssey, usually brought home by the wise old John Avery Whittaker, proprietor of Whit’s End (which was a sort of soda shop/clubhouse for all the kids in town, I think).

I remember, in particular, an episode dealing with RPGs. One of the children had made friends with the new kid in town and the new kid introduced him to a game called Castles & Cauldrons. The two boys get caught up in the game and some truly evil stuff happens (including a girl’s doll being ripped apart by a cat, supposedly possessed of an evil spirit invoked by the gaming boys) and Mr. Whittaker puts a stop to it by destroying the game. (A synopsis of this episode can be found here, written by a gamer. Also just noticed that PZ did a short write-up about this episode just yesterday, it’s linked below.)

I thought it was a load of crap when I heard it in the early 90s and I know it is a load of crap now. I read lots of fiction, Piretti and Lewis alongside the likes of Timothy Zahn and Arthur C. Clark, and I never once believed any of it was real. I saw movies where characters used magic and never once thought that maybe what they were doing was actually possible. But I know that for most Christians it is different, at least on some level. No, they don’t assume the characters in movies are using real magic, or that the magic in books is actually possible, but they do think that the idea of it all is possible.

Really, they have to. They assume that supernatural things are possible, real, and occurring around us all the time. If they didn’t then they would have a hard time believing in god, angels and demons, and heaven and hell. I think that, to some extent, their fear of these works of fiction isn’t just because of the horrible evil they perceive in them but because, on some level, they realize that if they can accept these stories as 100% false with no basis in reality whatsoever, then they have let in just a little bit of doubt that possibly the stories in the bible may, also, not be true.

And you know what? They’re right. I can easily look back at my childhood and see that the science fiction I read as a young boy and teen was one of the major influences in my skeptical mindset. I saw that there were so many possibilities of how things could have come to be, and how things might occur in the future. I saw, over and over, the idea that something might seem supernatural to the uninitiated, uneducated mind, but have a purely scientific and even simple explanation. Reading these stories opened my mind to the wonders of the universe and science, and gave me glimpses into other worldviews without leaving my room. I am sure that if my parents had realized what my love for reading would lead to they wouldn’t have fostered it in me.

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18 Comments leave one →
  1. March 1, 2012 9:55 am

    Im a christian, and i love fantasy. I love harry potter and everything magical. I believe God gave us the power of imagination, so why are we short changing ourselves by not having an adventure with our imaginations?

    I dont know about James Dobson. I have heard of him and I too have listened to the Adventures in Odyssey as a kid. And i think the culture back then was rather conservative. I mean, my parents didnt want me to watch HP, but now we watch it as a family. So i guess it is not the christians that jumps on fantasy or fiction, but the culture.

    Over time, people will learn to see Christianity is NOT a religion. And religiosity, which includes RULES, like no watching HP or LOTR, is not what Christianity is about. Its a relationship with God, and if your conscience with God is clear, then why the fuss?

    It all goes down to what God imprints in your heart on what you should or should not do. Thats from my point of view.

    • March 1, 2012 8:24 pm

      Unfortunately, this isn’t just a case of the culture being more conservative in the recent past, just the Christian culture your family was in then vs now. There are still plenty of Christians who believe that Harry Potter is evil (including Dr. Dobson, who is still against it). They don’t harp as much on stuff like Dungeons & Dragons anymore because it doesn’t have nearly as large a following as it did in the early 80s. Focus on the Family does, though, they still air the Castles & Cauldrons episode of Odyssey sometimes.

      And, I’m sorry, but Christianity is a religion. Religion, which is defined as a personal set or institutionalized system of religious attitudes, beliefs, and practices. By that definition the thing you think of as religion and insist “true” Christianity isn’t, is a religion (an institutionalized system of beliefs and practices) and so is what you think “true” Christianity is also fits (a personal set of beliefs and practices). I’m assuming here, of course, that you’re speaking of the idea that Christianity “isn’t a religion, it’s a relationship.”

      Your line of reasoning on what is acceptable for a Christian is nice, especially when it allows you to accept progressive ideas that Christianity has historically been opposed to (such as anti-slavery issues, women’s rights, and lgbt rights, to name a few) rather than hold firmly to tradition. But it can also be dangerous when someone who isn’t as well-intentioned or open-minded as you decides that god has imprinted on their heart that they should kill homosexuals or abortion doctors.

      The modern interpretations of religions like Christianity can be just as dangerous, if not more so, than a 100% bible-based fundamentalism. The latter offends my morality because it advocates slavery, the submission of women, a ban on homosexuality, and many little silly things like a ban on eating pork or wearing a fabric made of cotton and wool. But those little things are what keep it from being nearly as dangerous an idea as it could be, they show how silly such a belief system would be.

      The former, however, can be used to rationalize anything the believer wants to believe. If a person is totally disgusted by something someone else does (a man having sex with a man, a married couple having anal sex, someone reading fantasy books about magic, eating broccoli) and they believe in a god who controls the universe and sets the laws of it in place, they are very likely to feel that god is just as appalled by this activity as they are. “It all goes down to what God imprints in your heart on what you should or should not do.” is, indeed, from your own point of view. It is a way to make things you know to be true fit with the religion you believe to be true.

      • March 1, 2012 8:47 pm

        I would love to do the “i beg to” differ term but the conversation would go on forever.

        Its good to know you have your own POV and I have mine. I choose to believe what I believe and you yours.

        Hence the end of a possible argument. LOL.

        • March 20, 2012 11:36 am

          If you can choose to believe, Jeyna, I think I’ll just choose to believe that there’s a big truck full of money on its way to my house. And also, I think I’d choose to believe that I’ve been blessed with a special gene that makes me immortal. And eating snacks won’t make me fat – yeah, I like that one, so why not believe it?

          I think that free will sounds like a marvelous thing, after all, who doesn’t like free? But do you really think you chose your “POV?” If you’d been born in Saudi Arabia, would you still be choosing the same thing?

        • March 21, 2012 7:37 am

          When i meant choose, i meant your life, when you can breathe and live, not before you are born. LOL.

      • March 1, 2012 8:54 pm

        Thanks for stopping by, and never stop looking for truth! I’m glad that you have been able to enjoy the wonders of fantasy and imagination, regardless of what you believe. It is a powerful and amazing thing. :)

  2. March 1, 2012 4:54 pm

    Interesting point. Way back when I believed, I loathed Peretti’s schlock, and although I’ve never had anything to do with the overhyped Harry Potter bandwagon, I thought anyone who regarded it as evil or immoral was completely nuts. Maybe that’s why I don’t believe any more.

    The only books I didn’t like were Pullman’s Dark Materials. I was slightly (but not excessively) bothered by the story in general, but I really didn’t like the last book. Looking back, I think it was because it felt like a factual claim, rather than the plot of a story. It would be interesting to see how I’d view it now.

    • March 1, 2012 8:01 pm

      I’ve never read the Pullman books, so I couldn’t say. I actually liked “This Present Darkness” when I first read it, and “The Oath” as well as the little kids series he wrote in the 80s, but I never thought of them as some kind of truth. (“The Oath” was more allegorical, anyway.) Soon after “The Oath” in 95, though, I decided I just didn’t care for them as literature, as well as most of the rest of the Christian fiction I had been reading alongside my Star Wars novels and Asimov books.

      I never really got why so many people around me though things like D&D and the Smurfs were evil (by the time Harry Potter came out I was in college and nearly done with my beliefs in the Christian myths).

  3. March 6, 2012 6:49 pm

    Very good post. I remember when I was kid a the uproar some Christians had over not only Harry Potter, but Pokemon (the video/trading card game where you collect creatures and train them to fight for you) as well, saying the latter promoted a master/slave mentality. Then there was also all the controversy about the Teletubbies:).

    I’ve always felt if conservative Christians should be protesting anything, it’s horror movies. Not so much for the violence and gore (that’d be the pot calling the kettle black), but for the fact in at least 90 percent of slasher flicks the hero/heroine always manages to outsmart or kill the villain by virtue of their own wits or resourcefulness. Not by praying to a god to intervene or save them. I’m surprised more of them haven’t caught on to that fact.

  4. March 24, 2012 11:11 am

    Of course, I just have to comment on this … even if it’s a bit late. I never understood why people thought Harry Potter or other fantasy/science fiction stories were evil, especially considering that some of them have themes that can be interpreted in a Christian way. You make a good point about people really believing that magic is real and then being concerned about the magic in the story. (Cenk Uygur of The Young Turks sometimes makes a similar point, about how religious people who oppose Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, Dungeon & Dragons, and even the movie Avatar see it as competition.)

    More recently, I have begun to wonder if opposition to the Harry Potter series may be partially due to the message in the books of accepting people who are different and so on, something which many Christians agree with but which many fundamentalist Christians oppose. I sometimes think that there are people who only want to read a fictional story if it overtly, and obviously, supports their religion — and their religion only — or if the author is a well-known Christian with their particular interpretation of Christianity or an interpretation that is sufficiently similar.

    On Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials: For this, it’s a little bit more understandable why some religious people may not like it, since the message of the story is actually critical of organized religion, specifically Christianity, though the story itself is fun enough and can even be enjoyed if you’re religious. (It can be interpreted, if the reader would like, as being against organized religion, against the dishonesty used to perpetuate a false religion, but not necessarily against God.) I really enjoyed the trilogy (even before I was an atheist, when I believed in God or a higher power, but not in any one religion). Related to what Recovering Agnostic wrote, the last book is a little different. I think it’s because that’s when the overall message of the story really comes to the forefront and there’s much more focus on that. It reads a bit different from the first two.

    • March 24, 2012 6:22 pm

      Ani! Glad to hear from you on this topic, knew it might be of interest to you! You may be right, about the message of acceptance, but that isn’t the reason that the most outspoken opponents, the ones who tried to get the books banned from school libraries a decade ago (and my still be trying?), give. They explicitly state that it is because the children practice magic and it will encourage the readers to try it out, and open themselves up to “dark forces”. In fact, I’d imagine most of them haven’t even read the books (some of them may have seen the films). Some of the folks who have that reaction also oppose books with explicitly Christian messages like Lewis’ Narnia books…

      The point you make is, of course, the real danger these, and many other, books pose for religion. If you make people think, and offer them other viewpoints on the world outside their own, then they are likely to come to new conclusions about things and see religion for what it is. :) Yet another great reason to encourage reading!

      • March 24, 2012 8:38 pm

        I definitely agree with you on the part about many people opposing the books without reading them. In Melissa Anelli’s “Harry, A History”, she has an interview with Laura Mallory (a lady from Georgia who tried to ban the Harry Potter books) in chapter 9 and Mallory flat out said she had not read the books because told her not to, so that she would not be influenced by them. (As of February of this year, she’s still at it: http://www.mugglenet.com/app/news/show/5416)

        Similarly, but even more seriously, I think many Muslims were angry about Salman Rushdie’s “The Satanic Verses” without ever reading it. When I was reading the book a while back, I was carrying it around with me on my college campus, and a Muslim fellow student said something along the lines of, “I heard he insults our Prophet”, i.e. she had heard about the books, but wasn’t saying she disagreed with it after reading it.

        And reading has definitely influenced my beliefs, by getting me to consider different questions, etc.

  5. April 19, 2012 6:17 pm

    I am a blind follower of Christ simply for this reason. I personally believe in magic is Harry potter real no do I know anyone who practices magic no but I don’t need to see it to believe it. Of course that isn’t the point here but if I believe in a Christ I can’t see why shouldn’t I believe in other possibilities. To censor our children is a cop out I choose to use these many things my fellow Christians think is evil to expose them to the real evil which is ignorance. I allow many things music games ect…watch closely and discuss. It’s time to revise the Christian faith among the many others who believe they are the only ones worthy of heaven. My close friends and family come in every color race all beliefs welcome. I’m not here to force upon you my Christ I’m here to inspire your own search I believe Christ is responsible for revealing his reality. To the author of this post keep asking the hard questions there are many who don’t want to hear but need to hear. Bible quotes as a defense dosent work for me I love my king James but man has destroyed its truth

    • April 19, 2012 6:37 pm

      I’m having trouble making sense of your comment, there are a lot of fragments that don’t really fit together into whole thoughts very well… Are you saying that if I quote the bible to defend my position it doesn’t work since I don’t quote the King James version? If so, do you know that the scriptures existed long before that translation, and that the King James translation is a very poor translation of the scriptures they used? Of course, even if you were able to quite the “original” texts I wouldn’t place any more weight in that than I do the KJV, I believe it was not inspired nor written by any supernatural being, but by humans.

      As for my search: My search for Jesus and god ended. I have concluded, based on reason and evidence, that the god of the bible does not and cannot exist. I’ve also concluded that if there ever did exist a historical Jesus he is nothing like the Jesus that is described in the scripture nor like the Jesus that Christians believe in.

      One thing is very clear, though. You do blindly follow Jesus. You state at the beginning of your comment that you have a reason for doing so, but you never state that reason. To say that you follow something blindly means that you follow it without reason. That is the meaning of the statement “to follow blindly”. That is my issue with religion. Faith has no value, evidence based reasoning has far, far more value. The fact that I’m typing this comment on a laptop which is connected to the internet via a wireless connection, and it will be available for almost anyone on Earth and people up in orbit to see is but one illustration of the value of evidence based reasoning.

      • Wonderwoman2 permalink
        April 19, 2012 7:43 pm

        Sorry sometimes I get carried away! I’ll try and keep this short and to the point. First if I don’t want others pushing their beliefs on me I will not push mine. I respect the atheist because they don’t need a God to tell them right from wrong. My bible and why it is so important to me well I can’t really say cause I agree that to much just dose not make sense. As for my blind faith in a God I can’t see this is why it’s blind I don’t need to see. My own life path is the only proof I need. Again I’m sorry if I got off topic and I by no means want to convert you or anyone else. If others want to share in free will awesome if not that dose not mean you’re any less of a person.

  6. May 28, 2012 10:20 am

    I actually like HP, but I get alot of flak from other Christians and my wife about it

    • July 2, 2012 4:26 pm

      Yeah, there are a lot of Christians who like HP and other things like that. I’m sure you wouldn’t get any flak at all from some of the more moderate and conservative denominations, but there are definitely the fundamentalist types in the Southern Baptist Convention in which I was raised, and there are some other denominations that are even more widely fundamental than the SBC. The subset of Christians who are absurdly fundamental is small, but vocal, and seems to have grown in relation to the whole over the past two decades.

      I still considered myself a Christian when I started reading Harry Potter and never had a problem reconciling it with my beliefs. It was fiction, after all. Some fundies and even just conservatives have a hard time understanding the concept of fiction, though.

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