People of the Books: What’s a Christian to Do with Harry Potter? by Connie Neal

My dear Reader, you get a day-early post this week due to the American holiday of Independence Day tomorrow, a day on which we throw on every piece of red, white, and blue we own, wave our tiny flags made in China, burn ourselves on grills and sparkler sticks, and gather family together to remember exactly why we don’t gather family together all that often.  Happy 4th, American readers.

It’s been a while since I’ve done a book review and they are stacking up, so today you get an oddball one.  Somebody bought this for me when I was in high school because I read Harry Potter and had done a stint of acting churchy for a while.  It’s funny, now, to remember the uproar, because Harry Potter has come and stayed—but if you think the idea that HP is satanic has washed out of pop culture entirely, go read some YouTube comments.  They may be foolish Internet trolls, but the fear of this magical orphan and his environs remains.

The biggest drawback to this is the one that plagues all print publications—it came out in 2001, which means this is arguing from a place of only four of the books, none of the movies, and certainly none of the theme park madness of Harry Potter.  When Neal talks about “the Harry Potter phenomenon,” she only knows the half of it.  It would be super interesting to see what this would look like now, and how (if at all) the arguments would change.

So the book isn’t terribly useful if you’re really wondering what a Christian should do with Harry Potter.  But it is terribly useful if you’re wondering how Christians should talk to each other when they disagree on stuff.

Yeah, because that’s not relevant today at all.

Just the facts, ma’am

One of the most important places to start in an argument—between anyone, but especially between brothers and sisters in Christ—is with the actual facts of the thing being contested.  If you hop to name-calling, judgment, or any other form of you-hold-this-opinion-which-makes-you-bad, the argument is lost anyway.  We must argue about things, which we can do passionately, but without demonizing people.  Neal goes to great (and, I think, necessary) lengths:

“I have endeavored to examine and present a faithful but unbiased view of the Harry Potter books…In an effort to help you judge for yourself how these books measure up with other children’s literature, I want to illustrate my assertions with examples from familiar works in the fantasy genre.”  (38)

Which she does, using literary elements and books from Lewis, Tolkien, Blyton, White, and others to make her case that the HP series is meant to be fantasy (not real).  Never once does she say “those who don’t know this is fake are stupid” or “obviously they haven’t researched enough if they don’t know Lewis did the same thing, and he’s Christian.”  She draws those parallels, sure, but in such a way that you can walk away from the argument as a human being.  Because you are.

You know what I mean?

“When two debaters take the same words to mean entirely different things, there is no point whatsoever in arguing—unless you just like to argue.  Although people are obviously using the same words, those words mean something very different to each person.”  (57)

People bring baggage to everything they touch.  We’re human, and we associate, and there are all sorts of psychological studies about it.  But the short of it is that someone bringing a real fear of magic to the discussion is, in fact, bringing a real fear.  It doesn’t necessarily matter if you point out that it’s fiction, their understanding of magic is that it is bad bad bad.  And with other arguments:  if you don’t try and understand what the other person means when s/he says talks about marriage, or divestment, or abortion, or whatever, you can’t have the conversation.  You’re talking across each other, often without really arguing about the same thing at all.

Who’s driving this train, anyway?

We tend to get super caught up when we think we’re right on how we’re “fixing” something or “saving” something from its own wrongness.  This, however, can run roughshod over the people who actually need to interact with whatever it is we find wrong; the HP books are meant for kids, and if we argue against the books on our kids’ behalf but never actually talk to our kids about whether they can handle it, we’ve failed.

“Children and youth experience deeply felt emotions:  heartaches, shame, intense fears, anger.  In real life these are often discounted, overlooked, or censured.  Not only that, but these intense emotions often spring from situations over which kids have no control” (75).

It’s a whole other soapbox of mine how we belittle children’s experiences, but if we’re arguing for the sake of our children but never actually try to understand our children, what are we arguing for?

We can agree to disagree

This is not the case in every argument, I understand.  There are some things that are deal-breakers, but not as many as we’d like to think.  Just as we are humans at the beginning, we are humans at the end, and we need to be able to say, “Look, I think you’re wrong, but I can see that you are sincere in that belief and that you’ve really taken the time to think it out.  I respect that.”

“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 a personal decision about the appropriateness of disputable conduct.  Yes, the Bible does allow for such cases.”  (87)

(She references Romans 14-15 and 1 Corinthians 8-10, if you’re curious.)

You’re speaking my language

Still frustrated with how to talk to someone about why you think they’re wrong?  Try using their arguments—not against them, but to frame your own narrative.  Neal brilliantly takes the WWJD concept and applies it to HP:

  • 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 on the multitudes reading Harry Potter as being like sheep without a shepherd, easily led astray.  He might take note of their tendencey 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.  (89)

And those are only two out of ten she lists, with possibilities of many more.  This is speaking the language of this particular person’s balking against HP, and anyone who’s ever been to a foreign country understands that the sooner you work in that country’s frame of reference, the sooner you’ll be understood.

This entry is a bit long, but I really appreciated Neal’s research, her level-headedness, and her true desire to present HP as a viable reading option for Christian families.  It’s dated, it’s a little trite, and it’s no scholarly dissertation, but it is a reminder that we as people of faith (whichever one) should come to each other as though God created us all with a bit of Himself, and that requires its own respect while we insist we have all the answers.

 

Rating:  3.5/5 stars  3-5-stars

 

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2 thoughts on “People of the Books: What’s a Christian to Do with Harry Potter? by Connie Neal

  1. […] if you’re not a Harry Potter fan, I apologize right off for how many references this post is going to have that you won’t […]

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  2. Interesting! Sounds like the book has application beyond Harry Potter. We could all use a good course on how to disagree with civility.

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