Scripture Does not Say...

“When the Son of Man comes with all his angels, he will separate the nations as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and to the sheep on his right he will say, ‘Come into the kingdom which my Father has prepared for you from the foundation of the world, for you refused to read or see Harry Potter and bravely condemned all those who did.”

One thing I am grateful for this week is that with the launch of the last Harry Potter movie, we are, at long last, looking at the end of the era of self-appointed inquisitors informing us that enjoyment of Harry Potter signals either spiritual blindness or wilful cooperation with the Forces of Darkness.  We will no longer be treated to specious and silly comparisons of HP and The Lord of the Rings, proving that magic in the former is “real” and satanic (because, you know, when I point a stick at somebody and shout “Expelliarmus!” whatever they are holding always flies out of their hand, as I’m sure happens with you too), while magic in the latter is, well, you know, okay because Tolkien was Catholic and good Catholics like The Lord of the Rings.  No more will we have to hear Guilt by Association analyses, wherein some Wiccan dork’s enjoyment of HP “proves” that HP leads direcly to the occult, while Lord of the Rings Divination Kits prove only that a good thing can be perverted.  No more will we hear the rather sketchy and unreliable Fr. Gabriele Amorth suddenly elevated to absolute Magisterial authority on books of which he knows nothing. No more will completely misreported tales of Cdl. Ratzinger’s supposed “condemnation” of the books make the Church look ridiculous.  No more will we be perpetually told that all “good Catholics” must hate and fear these books or face the wrath of God, condemnation for leading innocent to the jaws of Hell, and possible demonic possession.  No more will Catholics who happen to enjoy HP (though not uncritically, there are some problems with the story) have to continually be informed that they are dupes (or agents) of the devil, disgraces to the Faith, and false Catholics.  For this I am truly grateful.

The bottom line is this: one’s preference (or not) for Harry Potter is an aesthetics issue (mostly), not a moral one.  Vast quantities of nonsense have been spoken about the books.  We are told the “spells” are “real”.  Rubbish.  They are Latin doggerel.  We are told that because Harry or his friends sometimes lie or cut moral corners (like, you know, real schoolchildren do) the books are primers in immorality.  Exactly the same wrong argument could be (and has been) made about the greatest novel in American literature, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.  The point of showing such faults is, of course, to show that the character is human.  Indeed, the irony is that, in their zeal to condemn, not a few Harry haters have no problem recirculating, not just lies, but stupid and documentable lies, such as the lie that J.K. Rowling is a satanist, credulously based on an Onion article.  You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor. 

In fact, Rowling is a garden variety liberal Brit who self-identifies as a Christian (Church of Scotland) and who has repeatedly said that she does not believe in magic, while making clear that, in fact, the whole Harry Potter cycle is based on the Paschal Mystery.  In each book, Harry confronts evil, is assisted by grace (in the form of something often rooted in ancient symbols of Christ such as the Phoenix or the Stag), goes underground in imitation of Christ’s death and burial, and then is raised to new life as he defeats the evil by making a courageous choice to cooperate with grace.  In the final book, Harry literally “lays down his life for his friends”.  Rowling even went so far as to say that she was a Christian but didn’t talk about it too much because she didn’t want to give away the end of the story. Are the books perfect?  No.  But even the most grievous sin by one of the story’s greatest heros is notably revealed to have had no beneficial effect.  Ultimately, what saves the day is not Dumbledore’s embrace of evil for the greater good, but Harry’s self-sacrificial love.

Now, nobody is under any obligation to enjoy HP books.  But, according to Romans 14, they are under an obligation not to pass judgment on those who do.  For despite the delusions of Harry Haters, there is no magisterial teaching about these books.  It is purely a case of “In essential things, unity; in doubtful things, liberty; in all things, charity.”  So Harry haters are under obligation not to bear false witness against Rowling or her fans by lying that they are, by virtue of association with the books, agents of Satan or devotees of the occult.  Indeed, fans of the books enjoy them because they give the pleasures of enjoyable literature, because they image Christ to the reader (not always with the reader being aware of that), and because they portray flawed people attempting virtue under very difficult circumstances.  By the same token, fans of the books need to realize that criticism of them can be principled and intelligent, as for example in this fine essay by our own Steven Greydanus.  So if they don’t float your boat, fine.  But for heaven’s sake, let the critics and the more rabid fans stop talking about them as though they are infallible markers dividing the Righteous from the Unrighteous.