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The Harry Potter Opportunity

The American Prospect published an article entitled "Fantasia: The Gospel According to C.S. Lewis" February 25th, 2002. It discusses the Christian message in C.S.Lewis, Tolkien, and J.K.Rowling. Consider this widely quoted extract:

... Rowling initially was afraid that if people were aware of her Christian faith, she would give away too much of what's coming in the series. "If I talk too freely about that," she told a Canadian reporter, "I think the intelligent reader -- whether ten [years old] or sixty -- will be able to guess what is coming in the books."

The article goes on to show one example of this from the first book.

It is important to recognize that Christians and Christian leaders are split on the appropriateness of Harry Potter for children. After all - on the negative - characters use magic and talk to ghosts, and concerns have been expressed that this could lead a child to explore more sinister subjects. On the positive - messages are Judeo-Christian, characters benefit or suffer from their own choices, and the 'magic' in Harry Potter is an alternative reality neutral power, far removed from the Satan controlled Spiritualism the Bible forbids Christians to explore.

To be clear - I have no intention of joining this debate or persuade anyone one way or another about whether reading Harry Potter is right or wrong. Very real concerns have been expressed and Christian leaders have taken both sides here for and against, so who am I to get involved?

Objections
Counter Objections
  1. All the main characters in Harry Potter series practice teachings that are forbidden in the Bible, and therefore should be avoided:

    • When you enter the land the LORD your God is giving you, do not learn to imitate the detestable ways of the nations there. Let no one be found among you who sacrifices his son or daughter in the fire, who practices divination or sorcery, interprets omens, engages in witchcraft, or casts spells, or who is a medium or spiritist or who consults the dead. Anyone who does these things is detestable to the LORD, and because of these detestable practices the LORD your God will drive out those nations before you. You must be blameless before the LORD your God. Deuteronomy 18:9-13.

    • The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God. Galatians 5:19-21.

  2. The books include descriptions of shapechanging, meditation, human sacrifice, spells, charms, curses, communicating with ghosts, broomsticks, divination, reading tea leaves, looking at crystal balls, potion making, sorcery, teaching dark arts. These books are nothing more that an attractive door inviting the young to explore the occult.

  3. This series - along with other TV shows, films, and books - continues to desensitize children to the occult, as well as other forms of violence. It encourages disobedience to authority, and there is no 'higher power' to answer to.
  1. These stories are fantasy. The 'magic' in Harry Potter has nothing to do with the teachings forbidden in the Bible. The 'magic' in Harry Potter is a neutral power - a resource that can be used by good and bad alike.

  2. If you have a problem with fantasy 'magic' in stories, then you really need to be honest with yourself, and also give up the C.S.Lewis Narnia Stories, J.R.R.Tolkien and the Hobbit, Lord of the Rings, the Star Wars films (the 'force' is another type of magical neutral power), and even Arabian Knights, the Wizard of Oz, Peter Pan, Cinderella, Snow White, and Mickey Mouse (think Fantasia, the sorcerer's apprentice). All these stories contain magic.

  3. There is much material out there worse than Harry Potter for children to get desensitized to. Kids are going to be exposed one way or another, sooner or later, to non-Christian and evil practices. Inappropriate censorship for some age groups can make things worse later on. Parents need to talk to their pre-teen and teenage children about such matters (smoking, drugs, sex, even more so than the occult) so they learn to make the right decisions for themselves. Teaching discernment should be the priority here.

  4. This is an opportunity to talk to children who have read the books to discuss the difference between make-believe fantasy and real world reality. In the real world, the practices the Bible forbids are those that get someone closer to Satan and Satan worship. The 'father of lies' is a master, and such practices only deceive, bring false hope, and ultimately lead to destruction.

This is a personal decision everyone needs to make for themselves. I myself started reading these books several years ago, and while not sure at first - as the stories progressed - it became clearer and clearer to me that the concerns that I had about these books could be managed. Now after reading book 7 it is very clear to me that there is a great opportunity to use the stories in the Harry Potter series to reach to children and to use them to talk about Jesus and the Gospel message.

In other words, if you have worries about any ill effects of Harry Potter, read on. You can do something about it.

To be clear, I don't condone, nor condemn these books. But I am always interested in opportunities in sharing the gospel, and for those children who have already read the Harry Potter books, this is one of them. And it starts with a statement that shocked me when I first saw it: Harry Potter is an allegory of Jesus Christ, and within the Harry Potter series you can find parallels to the life of Jesus.

Look at this table that summarizes the evidence for this. What do you think? Right or wrong (and for sure Harry isn't perfect), it does provide ample material to turn any discussion on Harry Potter to that of Jesus.

Definition of an allegory: a story with two meanings, a literal meaning and a symbolic meaning. It represents an abstract or spiritual meaning through concrete or material forms; is a figurative treatment of one subject under the guise of another. An allegory is a type of extended metaphor, in which anything - object, people, actions represent something that lies outside the story. This could be something moral, social, religious, or political. Characters can be personifications of abstract ideas as charity, greed, envy. For example death was personified in Chaucers The Pardoners Tale.

Spoiler Warning: if you haven't read the books, the following table gives away parts of books 1-5. I won't touch on Books 6 or 7 yet.

Overview
Topic
The Life of Harry Potter
The Life of Jesus
Celebrated beginnings
  • After surviving a killing curse that backfired on Voldemort: Fireworks, many messages sent by owls, celebration by wizards. Also Harry was visited by Wizards (who took him to his new home.)
  • At birth: star of Bethlehem, visit of wise men with gifts, visit of shepherds, angels singing.
Humble beginnings
  • Lived under the stairs.
  • Born in a stable.
Threatened by death as a baby, and a young refugee
  • Order out for the death of the young child, resulting in his family in hiding in 'Godricks Hollow' when he was about 1.
  • Order out for the death of the young child under 2, resulting in the flight to Egypt until it was safe.
'Mother'
  • Aunt, Blood relative
  • Mother, Blood relative
Father Figure
  • Dumbledore, not the uncle he grew up with. Leader of all that is good, the greatest wizard, seems to know about everything important, rarely reveals full powers, great observer, tends to direct others rather than get involved.
    Harry sometimes complains he feels abandoned by him.
  • God the Father - not Joseph (at least we know very little on this one)
    Jesus called out on the cross 'My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?'
Good v. Evil
  • Dumbledore (and Harry) against Voldemort
  • The phoenix (also known as the resurrection bird) against the snake
  • Gryffindor against Slytherin. (In ancient times the Gryffin was a symbol of divine power and a guardian of the divine.)
  • Harry against Draco
  • God (and Jesus) against Satan
  • The cross against the serpent
  • The church against the world
  • Jesus against Pharisees/Sadducees
The Enemy
  • Lord Voldemort, a.k.a. Tom Marvelo Riddle, who can talk to snakes. Directs and organizes all that is evil.
  • Is trying to become the greatest ever Wizard and to live forever.
  • At school Tom was a model student, did very well, and became head boy.
  • Name - a riddler tries to confuse and mislead.
  • Satan, the Serpent, the Dragon, Devil, The adversary, father of all lies, god of this world, Lucifer, the tempter, the wicked one (amongst other names).
  • Ultimately wants to be like God.
  • Started out as a perfect angel, but fell from grace.
Friend of the rejected
  • Harry favored people and had friends who were not considered 'cool'.
  • Spent time with 'sinners, tax-collectors, poor, ill', etc.
  • While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew's house, many tax collectors and "sinners" came and ate with him and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, "Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and 'sinners'?" On hearing this, Jesus said, "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: 'I desire mercy, not sacrifice.' For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners." Matthew 9:10-13.
Companions
  • Several school friends
  • Disciples
Traitor
  • Peter Pettigrew.
    Something interesting also happened in book 7.
  • Then Judas Iscariot, one of the Twelve, went to the chief priests to betray Jesus to them. Mark 14:10
It's all in a name
  • Potter - We are the clay, you are the potter; Isaiah 64:8
  • Stag (Harry's protector/patronus) - a medieval symbol of Jesus
  • There are over 100 names for Jesus in the Old and New Testament. Here are 4:
    • For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Isaiah 9:6
Scars
  • Lightning bolt on forehead - a constant reminder of the act of Voldemort
  • Scars on hands, feet, side, a constant reminder of taking on the sin of the world.
Persecuted
  • Harry is rejected by the family he lives with.
  • Harry is bullied and taunted by others - mostly by characters from the rival house 'Slytherin'
  • So, because Jesus was doing these things on the Sabbath, the Jews persecuted him. John 5:16
  • Jesus said to them, "Only in his hometown, among his relatives and in his own house is a prophet without honor." Mark 6:4
Seeking the Lost
  • In a game called Quidditch, Harry has a natural talent as a 'seeker', finding a small golden ball that loses itself and needs to be found. In fact finding this ball is the most important part of the game, far more so than the goals that are scored by other players.
  • For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost. Luke 19:10.
Hidden worlds
  • The Magical word of Harry Potter is hidden to ordinary people (muggles).
  • The spiritual world is hidden to non-believers.
  • The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. 2 Corinthians 4:4
Blood Sacrifice
  • Harry's real mother sacrificed herself through her love for him, and in doing so protected Harry through 'old magic'.
  • This is a theme that develops through the series.
  • Something interesting also happened in book 7.
  • Jesus died for us on the cross. As such Christians claim protection through 'the blood of Christ'
  • How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God! Hebrews 9:14
  • Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. 1 Corinthians 13:6-7.
King's Cross Station
  • Harry departs for school at platform 9 and 3/4 which exists through a hidden gateway. Like a world between worlds.
  • Jesus - our King - died on the Cross.
  • And at the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, "Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?"—which means, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" When some of those standing near heard this, they said, "Listen, he's calling Elijah." One man ran, filled a sponge with wine vinegar, put it on a stick, and offered it to Jesus to drink. "Now leave him alone. Let's see if Elijah comes to take him down," he said. With a loud cry, Jesus breathed his last. Mark15:34-37.
  • "Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it." Matthew 7:13.
Faith
  • Power is enacted through the use of wands. Broken wands cause unfortunate things to happen.
  • There is symbolism is the wands of Harry (who is fighting evil) and Voldemort (who is ultimately trying to live forever by fighting death). Both use a core of a phoenix feather, but Harry's is made of holly (symbolizing holiness, fighting evil) and Voldemorts of Yew (symbolizing long life, as well as having a poisonous sap.)
  • Jesus said, "I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there' and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you." Matthew 17:20.
Prophecy
  • There was a prophecy about Harry, that he would have the power to defeat Voldemort, and that either he or Voldemort would die at the hands of the other.
  • There are many prophecies about Jesus in the Old Testament.
  • He said to them, "How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?" And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself. Luke 24:25-27
Righteous indignation
  • Harry openly rebelled at the authority of the Wizard government (Ministry of Magic) when they were clearly in the wrong.
  • Jesus called the Pharisees to account publicly.
  • "Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean. Matthew 23:25-26.
     
Book 1 - The Philosophers Stone
  • Mystery: what is hidden at the school?
  • At the climax of the story, Harry descends through a series of obstacles and temptations to prevent the 'Philosophers Stone' getting into the wrong hands. He is only able to get his hands on the stone and return to the surface because he has a selfless ambition (i.e. a test of purity). Parallels to Jesus decent to hell and resurrection due to his perfect sacrifice are clear.
    • The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. Psalm 51:17
    • Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship. Romans 12:1
    • But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him. Acts 2:24
  • The antagonist in this story is a 'possessed' teacher called Quirrel (almost like Quarrel eh?)
  • Another antagonist is a teacher called 'Severus Snape'. Not quite a snake...
 
Book 2 - The Chamber of Secrets
  • What is causing sinister happenings at the school? Is there a secret chamber under the school that has been rediscovered?
  • This story includes a type of possession by the antagonist, Tom Riddle, and can be used to warn against getting involved in things you don't really understand - the real world occult.
  • This story includes a teacher - Gilderoy Lockhart - who even though is famous for writing about his many dangerous exploits, turns out to be a bit of a fraud and a coward. This name can be broken down - Gilded (i.e. deceptively attractive) King (Roi is French for King), Locked Heart - or someone who looks attractive but is spiritually dead. A great example of a wolf in sheeps clothing, a false teacher.
    • Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. Matthew 7:15-17.
  • Side note: both the 'possession' which is through a book, and Lockhart and his false writings, can be seen as a modern fable against false teachings that abound in literature today, and how they can possess us in all sorts of wrong ways.
  • The story includes a giant snake, called a basilisk, which will kill you if you look at it. Is this not the personification of sin? If we do one thing wrong, we're no longer perfect and are cut off from God, which leads to spiritual, and ultimately, physical death.
    • Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned— Romans 5:12
  • At the climax of the story, Harry descends to a chamber, opened by speaking the language of snakes. He confronts a giant serpent and is saved through faith and loyalty to Dumbledore, rescues an innocent from an accuser, and returns in triumph. A parallel to salvation through what Jesus has done for us are very clear.
    • For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. Colossians 1
  • An interesting detail - during a battle between Harry and the basilisk, the phoenix attacks the snake and blinds it. Harry eventually kills the basilisk with a sword, but not before being injured with a bite which is poisonous. However phoenix tears heal, and this is how Harry is saved. If the basilisk is sin, the phoenix represents power over death, and the sword the 'sword of the spirit which is the word of God' then this is a very interesting way to represent how sin is defeated by what Christ did for us on the cross.
 
Book 3 - The Prisoner of Azkaban
  • Who is the Prisoner of Azkaban, and why are teachers so frightened for Harrys safety?
  • This story is darker. It introduces a teacher who is a werewolf, 'boggarts' who become your worst fear, 'dementors' who feed off happiness and can kill by feeding on your soul, as well the prisoner, an individual called Sirius Black, who escaped.
  • Regarding the teacher who is a werewolf - called 'Lupin', the teacher is otherwise a very good at his subject and is very kind towards Harry. He hides his handicap with a potion that helps him prevent turning into a werewolf each month. It also emerges that Lupin was bitten as a child, and was friends with both Harrys father and Sirius Black who both demonstrated amazing kindness and self-sacrifice towards him at school.
  • This story has loyalty and betrayal, heroism, and courage of supporting a friend with a dangerous 'handicap'.
  • At the climax of the story, Sirius Black reveals himself to Harry, and it turns out that he is not after Harry, but another individual - Peter Pettigrew - who was partially responsible for the death of Harrys parents by betraying their whereabouts. This person escapes but Harry discovers Sirius is a relative of a sort - being his God-father. However Sirius is still an escaped prisoner and has to go into hiding. (Sirius Black an interestingly ambiguous name, as Sirius is the brightest star is the sky.)
  • Ultimately this is a story about salvation. Two individuals in the story are falsely accused and are condemned to die, but Harry (with Dumbledores guidance) helps them both escape, much to the dismay of the authorities. In fact one individual is saved twice. In one incident, Harry fends of hundreds of dementors who would otherwise kill Sirius Black. He uses an interesting spell called a 'patronus charm' (in Latin patronus means protector). The 'patronus' is a bright white object that takes on the characteristics of the individual casting the spell - for Harry this is a Stag. Consider that the Stag is an old symbol for Christ, that dementors represent death, and you have another illustration of the power of Christ over death.
    • Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now he has reconciled you by Christ's physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation— Colossians 1:21-22.
 
Book 4 - The Goblet of Fire
  • Who will win the Triwizard cup? Three schools compete each with their own champion selected by the Goblet of Fire, but who entered Harry Potter and how did the Goblet select him as well?
  • This story has both adventure and mystery. The tournament requires contestants to navigate three tasks - each could be considered to have Christian parallels. In the first, Harry has to fight a fire breathing dragon to obtain a golden treasure, in the second Harry has to find a lost friend (as in fact does more than he needs to), and in the third, Harry has to navigate a dangerous maze to find the cup (and in doing so helps others along the way).
    • However, I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the gospel of God's grace. Acts 20:24
    • Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. 1 Corinthians 9:24
    • I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 2 Timothy 4:7
  • The climax of the story takes place in a graveyard. Harry, having reached the cup and touched it, he gets transported there. It was all a trap. Here Harry is bound, tormented and used to restore Voldemort back to full strength. However he receives unexpected help due to the past sins of Voldemort and escapes. But the stage is set - and Harry is certain to meet Voldemort again.
  • It turns out that a teacher at the school was working for Voldemort and set the trap, helping Harry through the tournament.
  • This is a story of betrayal - there is a parallel with Jesus' betrayal by Judus, and Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane where -alone - he wrestled with the task ahead of Him.
 
Book 5 - The Order of the Phoenix
  • Why does no-one believe that Voldemort has returned? What is hidden at the Ministry of Magic that Voldemort wants so much?
  • This story puts Harry and Dumbledore against most of the wizarding world - Voldemorts return is not believed. Harry also has to put up with an awful new teacher called Dolores Umbridge. Umbridge obtains greater and greater authority at the school, ultimately becoming headmistress (albeit temporarily). Because the defense lessons Umbridge teaches are considered dangerously weak, Harry gathers a following who he helps teach in secret. These secret lessons are discovered and lead to the removal of Dumbledore.
  • At the climax of the story, Harry and several friends are lured into a trap at the Ministry of Magic. It turns out that Voldemort is after a recording of a prophecy. Harry hears it, but the recording is destroyed during a battle, which ends in a confrontation with Dumbledore, Harry and Voldemort. After a dramatic scene - where the protective power Harry has in his blood plays a part - Voldemort escapes, but not before being seen. Voldemort is officially alive, Umbridge is fired, Dumbledore is re-instated.
  • Later Harry learns about the prophecy and what it means: that he has a power (love) Voldemort does not have nor understands, and that one of them will have to kill the other.
  • There are a number of Christian parallels in this story
    • about the world who does not believe that Satan exists.
    • about Umbridge and the Ministry of Magic who appears as a representation of the teachers of the Law in Jesus time who oppressed the Jews with the letter of the law.
      • Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the kingdom of heaven in men's faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to. Matthew 23:13.
    • about the power of love/a blood sacrifice over Satan. Voldemort represents Satan. Harry's mother died in protecting Harry as a baby. This love - a blood sacrifice as it were - protected Harry at the end of this story.
      • There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. 1 John 4:18
 
Book 6 - The Half Blood Prince
  • Coming Soon...
 
Book 7 - The Deathly Hallows
  • Coming Soon...
 

More to come - watch this space.

John Bell
July 22nd, 2007,
updated July 29th, August 11th 2007
Irvine, California, USA.

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