“According to certain adults, these stories teach witchcraft, sorcery and Satanism… Gee, where does that leave the kids?”
Megapopular Harry Potter books fuel debate over the supernatural
THE SUN HERALD
Age 1. Harry Potter survives an attack by the dark wizard Lord Voldemort, who kills Harry’s parents but leaves only a scar shaped like a lightning bolt on the infant’s forehead.
Age 10. Harry learns he’s a wizard, too.
Age 11. He’s learning to fly on broomsticks and regrow disappearing bones in a day at the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.
And he never even asked for all this attention.
Welcome to the wacky world of mainstream witchcraft, where the way-out adventures of a nerdy, skinny, spectacled 14-year-old are driving a debate on the pros, cons and inbetweens of the supernatural realms. The fourth Harry Potter book in a planned seven-part series came out last month.
“Every fairy tale I read as a child had some form of evil,” says Michelle Simpkins, a self-described evangelical Christian, wife and mother of three whose 13-year-old daughter is devouring the Harry Potter books. “I think (evil) exists, and I think that as long as my child knows that this is entertainment . . . that’s where the distinction comes. I felt like it was OK for my children to read it.”
Wunderkind Harry joins a long list of books that have blended spirituality, fantasy and adventure to spin yarns and teach moral lessons:
Stephen R. Donaldson wrote the six-part The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, The Unbeliever to tell the story of an outcast with a terminal illness who discovers a world “where gentle people work magic . . . and the very earth and air bring healing.”
- Lewis’ Carroll’s nonsensical Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There made readers consider that there’s more to life than what appears.
- J.R.R. Tolkien created a prehistoric universe, Middle Earth, that he used to tell a massive epic that echoed the biblical themes of his Catholic faith.
- C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia recast much of the story of Scripture as fantasy literature.
Each in its way tapped into interest in what may be beyond the physical universe, and so does Harry.
Like magic, his books disappear from bookshelves.
The controversy doesn’t.
“What this is saying is that it’s OK to use evil to fight evil if your intent is for self-gain,” according to a critique of the books by Family Village USA ministries, a Christian group, which cites witchcraft, reincarnation and communication with the dead as some of the Harry Potter series’ dangerous themes. “That is a cardinal doctrine of Satanism and will lead you to believe that you can control the use of evil. The truth is that Satan (in the real world) loves to deceive people into thinking that so he can pull them deeper into his world to ultimately destroy them.”
Scare tactics, wrote popular children’s author Judy Blume in a piece published last year in The New York Times.
“According to certain adults, these stories teach witchcraft, sorcery and Satanism,” Blume wrote. “But hey, if it’s not one ‘ism,’ it’s another. I mean, Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time has been targeted for censors for promoting New Ageism, and Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn for promoting racism. Gee, where does that leave the kids?”
Potter books involve spiritual concepts
The Harry Potter series revolves around several spiritual concepts that have a variety of meanings in different religious systems:
- Soul. The term generally refers to an individual’s personality or immaterial essence. The ancient Chinese and Egyptians believed in a dual soul, with one part going to the region of the dead and the other staying near the body. Early Hebrew theology made no real distinction between body and soul, but the idea developed in later Judaism and among early Christian thinkers (Augustine called the soul the “rider” of the body and the “true” person). Hindus believe individual souls, created at the start of time, either continue in an endless birth-death cycle or ultimately reach a state of perfection (nirvana). Buddhists tend to deny the existence of individual souls and emphasize the concept of collective, or world, soul. The Harry Potter philosophy: “You can exist without your soul, you know, as long as your brain and heart are still working. But you’ll have no sense of self anymore, no memory no . . . anything. There’s no chance at all of recovery. You’ll just exist. As an empty shell” (from “The Prisoner of Azkaban”).
- Afterlife. Many ancient Greeks and Hebrews had a vague concept of the afterlife, but Greek and Roman mythology held that only the gods were really immortal. Indian religions (Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism) tend to favor the concept of reincarnation. Christianity teaches a bodily resurrection as well as a spiritual one. In Wiccan ideology, human souls rest in a place of refreshment called “Summerland,” where they become young and are born again. The Harry Potter philosophy: “You think the dead we loved ever truly leave us? You think that we don’t recall them more clearly than ever in times of great trouble? . . . You know, Harry, in a way, you did see your father last night. . . . You found him inside yourself” (from “The Prisoner of Azkaban”).
- Spiritualism. Also known as spiritism, this is the idea that there is an immaterial reality beyond our physical senses, populated by good and evil spirits. Many primitive religions, such as shamanism and animism, built their belief systems around the concept that spirits were virtually everywhere, and specially trained priests, or shamans, were contact points to the spirit world. Jewish and Christian Scriptures acknowledge the presence of a spirit world but caution against active involvement with it apart from a relationship with God. The Harry Potter philosophy: “There is no good and evil, there is only power . . . and those too weak to seek it” (from “The Sorcerer’s Stone”).