What Would Jesus Do With Harry Potter?
By Connie Neal
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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
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
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
- 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
- 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
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?
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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