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What's a Christian to do with Harry Potter?
By Connie Neal
 
CULTURE

What Would Jesus Do With Harry Potter?

By Connie Neal

CBN.com - Decide for yourself.

What would Jesus do? This question, posed in the Christian classic In His Steps by Charles Sheldon, has become so familiar as to be reduced to WWJD? But how do we determine what Jesus would do, particularly in the kind of divisive debate where well-versed Christians disagree as they do over Harry Potter? Actually, it is precisely this kind of situation in which the WWJD? Question proves most useful. (To take the examination a step further, perhaps you’ll consider the more pertinent question What would Jesus have me do? As you read on.)

In the fictional story In His Steps, a pastor challenges members of his church to take a pledge. For one year they agree to ask What would Jesus do? Before making any personal decision. They agree to consider what the Bible has to say on the matter, pray about it, ask God for wisdom, seek godly counsel if necessary, then come to their own conclusion on what they believe Jesus would do.

The church members necessarily rely on dictates of conscience, because the question put to them is to be a matter of personal reflection before the Lord. They are not to poll their friends to see what they think Jesus would do. Nor are they to pry into their friends’ business and volunteer their own opinion on anther’s circumstance. Once an individual gains a conscientious conviction in answer to the personal question What would Jesus do? He or she pledges to do it regardless of the consequences.

At one point in the story, a man who owns an establishment that sells hard liquor, wine, and beer asks the question. After prayerful consideration of many passages in the Bible that mention wine, he gains a personal conviction that Jesus would not sell hard liquor used primarily to get people drunk. He decides to discontinue the sale of hard liquor but has no such conviction over selling beer and wine.

At a meeting of people who took the pledge, he is questioned about his decision by a recovering alcoholic. To the alcoholic, beer and wine represent drunkenness, because whenever he takes even one drink he cannot stop himself until he is drunk. The store owner reminds his friend that he has followed the pledge: He prayerfully considered Scripture and came to a personal and conscientious conviction. In this case, as in many of this nature, the personal history of each individual and what the matter means to that person makes a difference in each one’s answer.

It follows that each person’s answer would seem the obvious one – in his or her own mind! Considerable adjustments are required to broaden one’s perspective and see that another Christian might not make the same associations and would therefore come to a different decision. It would also take some maturity to see – as is most important for Christian unity – that both decisions, while different in terms of personal boundaries and conduct, could be right before God.

This analogy has significant relevance to the debate about whether Christians should read or allow their children to read or see the Harry Potter stories. You may recall from chapter 3 that whether a person takes a pro or con position depends upon the mental associations that person makes. These positions often reflect the personal experience of the individual. One man even appealed to this as part of his argument, saying, “I know from personal experience that it is not okay.” Who can effectively argue with that?

So it is not surprising that Alan Jacobs, a professor of English at a Christian college, associates Harry Potter primarily with classic literature (see p. 21). For him, the issues are defined by his study of the history of magic and science in literature. Alison Lentini, a writer with the Spiritual Counterfeits Project who has degrees in Romance languages and literatures from Princeton University, also looked at the Harry Potter books from a literary perspectives (see p. 24). However, before coming to Christ, she was involved in Wicca and neopaganism. She has personal experience with occult practices that correspond to some of the subjects taught at Hogwarts. For her, the issues are defined by her knowledge of occult practices in our world today. Both referred to and compared the Harry Potter books to the Chronicles of Narnia (although I didn’t include those remarks in the excerpts); however, their interpretations of Narnia are also contrary. These two Christian scolars came to entirely different conclusions about Harry Potter. What’s more, both wrote convincing arguments to support their cases for and against the books. Furthermore, I believe both of their conclusions are right – for them!

It’s one thing to see how two people can look at the same work of literature and see two different things. But how can two Christians use the same Bible and come to opposing positions about what is right and still both be right with God. There is a biblical explanation for this covered under the heading of disputable matters (found in Romans 14-15 and 1 Corinthians 8-10, which I will address momentarily). In such cases, where cultural, personal, and spiritual issues overlap, individual Christians must finally agree to disagree. Sincere, Bible-believing Christians, who seek the Lord with all their hearts, can be led by the same Holy Spirit to opposing conclusions. This is not relativism nor situational ethics. This is not compromising our commitment to godly conduct under mere social or political pressure. Instead, this is a personal decision about the appropriateness of disputable conduct. Yes, the Bible does allow for such cases.

As we saw in chapter 1, the issues raised over Harry Potter don’t lead to a single “Christian position.” Reading Harry Potter is a disputable matter because we are not debating whether it is okay for Christians to practice witchcraft or cast spells. The Christian position on that is clear. We agree that we should never participate in or practice anything listed in Deuteronomy 18:9-14 (see chapter 7). But reading Harry Potter is not the same as practicing witchcraft or even – as some assert – promoting it. However, some can take it to mean just that. Therein lies the disputable part of these issues that Christians debate in earnest.

Asking What would Jesus do with Harry Potter can be helpful. But it is only useful in dictating personal choice about personal conduct. It loses its usefulness when we turn it into a rhetorical question to tell someone else what Jesus would have them do. The letter to Christianity Today from the twelve-year-old boy that I referred to in chapter 1 (see p. 29) revealed that he had seriously considered the issues in light of God’s Word and came to a definite conclusion that it would be wrong for him to read Harry Potter. He clearly associated reading the books with involving himself in witchcraft, which the Bible forbids. Therefore, it would be sinful for him to do so.

He took his argument a step further, however, when he wrote: “I can’t picture Jesus recommending the Harry Potter series as good reading … It’s so obvious that these books are bad.”

Another letter I read also appealed to the WWJD? question, arguing along these lines: “Do you think Jesus would be proud of a parent who gave his or her child such a book?”

Both are posited as rhetorical questions, because to the fully convinced mind, it is not feasible for any true Christian to answer, “Yes! I definitely could see Jesus recommending the Harry Potter books,” or to suggest, as Christianity Today did, that the books would make great Christmas gifts for Christian kids. As confounding as this may be, it is a fact that when Christians ask themselves What would Jesus do with Harry Potter? they come to conclusions as different as the ones found in In His Steps.

Asking What would Jesus do with Harry Potter? as an opened-ended question might elicit some surprising positive responses. Consider these:

  • Jesus might read the Harry Potter stories and use them as starting points for parables. He might use kids’ interest in the battle between good and evil to explain the ultimate battle between good and evil.
  • Jesus might ask kids what they would see if they looked into the Mirror of Erised and listen attentively as they struggled to put into words the deepest desires of their hearts.
  • Jesus might look at the multitudes who love the Harry Potter stories in the same way he looked at the multitude who came to him hungry for food. He might tell his disciples to feed them, giving them what they were hungry for on the surface of things (a great story with supernatural aspects) then offer them what they are truly hungry for – him.
  • Jesus might look on the multitudes reading Harry Potter as being like sheep without a shepherd, easily led astray. He might take note of their tendency to wander into pastures that don’t satisfy the deepest hunger of the human soul and warn them of the dangers of venturing off into witchcraft and wizardry in our world just because it might look fun in Harry’s world.
  • Just as Jesus noticed and met others’ physical needs, he might attend to the earthly needs revealed in the lives of those who identify with the characters in Harry Potter. He might get them talking about Harry Potter and listen to what they identify with pressures to fit in, desires to accomplish something in life, or the stresses of school. Then he might show them how to deal with such real parts of their lives.
  • He might talk about how Harry deeply needed love and encouragement, because the people he was left to depend on failed him. He might listen as kids told him about the times when people they depended on failed them, then offer them the love and encouragement they deeply need.
  • He might compare the trustworthy goodness of Albus Dumbeldore to the infinitely superior goodness of God the Father, stressing that we can find the same kind of reassurance in God, and godly mentors, that Harry finds in his headmaster.
  • He might talk about how Hogwarts was a reality in Harry’s world the whole time, even though Harry didn’t know about it until he accepted the invitation to attend. Then he might tell kids about how his Father’s kingdom is a parallel realm within reach in this world. He might talk about how people walk by the door that leads to the “magical realm” of Hogwarts without ever noticing it for what it is, and compare that to how people pass by the entrance to God’s kingdom (Jesus, who is the door) without knowing what they are missing. He might even show kids that he is the Way (the “magical” transport) to God’s kingdom by walking in faith, with absolute confidence in that which is unseen, just like Harry and his friends have to walk through the barrier between platforms nine and ten without getting scared or hesitating. Oh, there’s a lot Jesus might do with Harry Potter!
  • Jesus, who went to parties with tax collectors and sinners and took flak for it from the religious establishment, might be likely to read a controversial book.
  • Jesus might show love and acceptance to the kids who love Harry Potter, never looking down on those who read the books nor casting a sideways glance of disapproval at a kid who wears a Harry Potter T-shirt.

In both cases (positive and negative), WWJD? fails to work as a salvo launched against other Christians who hold a different opinion on a matter of conscience. It only works when individuals who are following Jesus us it to become fully convinced in their own minds.

Moral life in Old Testament times was governed by one rule of guidance: Follow the Law of Moses. The Law regulated every detail of community and personal life: family, diet, personal hygiene, worship, and religious ritual. Since no one could keep the law, much of their religious ritual had to do with blood sacrifices to pay for the times they fell short of keeping the law perfectly.

New Testament believers have a New Covenant, under which the blood of Jesus replaces the need for animal sacrifices. “Come, follow me,” Jesus calls throughout the Gospels. After Jesus rose from the dead, he took Peter aside to reveal what life held in store for him. He told Peter that his life would end in martyrdom and glory to God. Then Jesus said to him, “Follow me.” Peter saw John following them and asked, “Lord, what about him?” Jesus answered, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me” (see John 21). So, our lives are no longer primarily governed by trying to follow the Law, but in seeking to follow Jesus.

How do we follow Jesus today? After all, he has ascended back to the Father. Jesus didn’t leave us alone; he gave us the Holy Spirit, who leads us through daily life. Jesus promised, “But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you” (John 14:26). Later he said, “But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come” (John 16:13). Therefore, when dealing with disputable matters, we follow the leading of the Holy Spirit, aligning ourselves with the Word of God and our own conscience.

This does not mean that we ever disregard or disobey God’s direct commands, such as the clear dictates that we are not to practice witchcraft, divination, sorcery, and the like (which are referred to in the Harry Potter books). It does mean that in subjective matters, including whether it’s okay to read a story with such references, we must employ personal discernment. As much as people on all sides of this debate banter about verses of Scripture, there is no specific passage that says reading about these things in a fantasy story is wrong. It remains a matter of personal discretion.


From What’s A Christian To Do With Harry Potter?  Copyright © 2001 by Connie Neal. Used by permission of WaterBrook Press, Colorado Springs, CO. All rights reserved.

Order your copy of What's a Christian to do with Harry Potter?

Connie Neal is an inspirational speaker and author. She has written numerous books and magazine articles. If you would like to read other books by Connie Neal --including "Dancing in the Arms of God", the "Kids' devotion Bible," and more -- go to Zondervan.com or Amazon.com for more information. To read more from Connie Neal check out her website at www.connieneal.com/.

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