It’s been over twenty years since J.K. Rowling published the first volume of her best selling book series, Harry Potter. Unlike many other teen book series that come and go, the Harry Potter books have endured, and their popularity continues to grow as new readers are being introduced to the wizarding world every year. With the holiday season approaching, many enthusiasts are beginning their Harry Potter movie marathons.
But not everyone appreciates Harry Potter. Indeed, the books have caused no small stir of controversy among Christians. Some Christians fear that the books are (unintentionally or intentionally) teaching witchcraft to children, some even saying that J.K. Rowling herself is a witch. While some Christians find no problem with the series, others are in doubt. Doesn’t the Bible condemn sorcery? If so, it seems a pretty clear case that we shouldn’t be reading these books, right?
However, the idea that the Harry Potter books are teaching children witchcraft is severely misguided. And to claim that someone is a witch is a very serious and slanderous charge, especially considering the fact that J.K. Rowling has denied being interested in real witchcraft. The magic that Rowling uses in her world is different from what we find being condemned in Scripture.
Author and Pastor Glenn Packiam makes a helpful distinction. He argues that we need to distinguish between “invocational magic” and “incarnational magic.” Invocational magic is “Magic that is summoned from beyond the world, invoked from a supernatural beyond.” Incarnational magic is “Magic that is already present; the world of these sorts of stories is already enchanted.”¹ The Harry Potter books use incarnational magic. In other words, a magical universe is simply the setting for the stories. There is no attempt to teach people about real, invocational witchcraft.
Not everyone will find this convincing, and this is only one argument in favor of the books. In the additional resources section, we have listed several other resources which make a case for the series. Ultimately though, the best apologetic for Harry Potter is to simply read the books. The books have much that is helpful to say about good and evil, love, courage, friendship, desire, and power. Let’s look at just a few of these themes.
Towards the end of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, Harry and his friends have uncovered a plot to steal the Sorcerer’s Stone, a magical stone that will give its possessor immortality and unlimited wealth. (Spoilers ahead.) Fearing that Professor Snape is in the service of the evil Lord Voldemort, who, if he acquires the stone will return to power, Harry and his friends determine to stop Snape from getting the Stone.
After getting through a series of magical safeguards, Harry finally confronts, not Snape, but Professor Quirrel, a timid teacher who has sold his soul to Voldemort. Quirrell seeks the Stone so that he can bring Voldemort back to life. In the climactic scene, Quirrell (and through him, Voldemort) attempts to win Harry to his side.
“There is no good or evil, there is only power, and those too weak to seek it,” says Voldemort. This belief is spot on for our culture. When good and evil are erased or confused, there is really nothing left besides power. If there is no idea of good to which we must conform and nothing is out-of-bounds, life really becomes a series of power struggles, so that whoever has the power gets to decide what good and evil are.
The statement is shockingly relevant for our day as we think about correcting injustices. Are we most concerned about justice or about power? For many, correcting the evils of the past is not about understanding or forgiveness, but about taking power to pay people back for their injustices. As Christians, we must reject this way, embracing instead the mandate of our Savior to love our neighbors and seek their good, even when they have hurt us.
The truth is that there is good and evil, and that using worldly power to achieve our own selfish ends is itself evil. In Harry Potter, it is actually Professor Quirrell who is weak, who could not say no to Voldemort, who could not resist the temptation of power. Harry, by contrast, is strong, and courageously refuses to side with evil power, even to accomplish his own ends. Ultimately, as Dumbledore later tells Harry, Harry was able to acquire the Stone because he only wanted to find it, not to use it.
On Courage and Friendship
Harry’s act is remarkably courageous and it leads to the temporary defeat and banishment of Voldemort. Sadly, Voldemort has not been totally defeated, however. He still roams the world in search of others who will surrender to the temptation of power and bring him back to life. But Dumbledore comforts Harry with these words:
“While you may have only delayed his return to power, it will merely take someone else who is prepared to fight what seems a losing battle next time — and if he is delayed again, and again, why, he may never return to power.”²
This is an important lesson for our own day. As long as we live in this fallen world, evil will continue to rear its ugly head. For every advance we make against evil, it will always pop up somewhere else. So it must be until Christ comes and restores the Kingdom of God. This is why in every age, we need people who will have the courage to stand up and fight against evil and injustice, even when the cause seems hopeless. But where can we find that courage?
We find it first and foremost in relationship with Christ. In this we follow Jesus’s example, who regularly went off alone to pray to the Father. It is in times of prayer and communion with God that we find the courage to face the evils of our time.
We also find courage in company with other believers. We all admire the heroic person who stands alone against the world; and certainly, there have been great men and women who have stood alone against evil in their times. But few people can be courageous alone. In Scripture, we know that Daniel had three friends who supported him, Esther had Mordecai, David had Jonathan, Paul had Barnabus, and on and on the list could go. The point is this, God made us dependent, communal beings, and we need friends who will strengthen us on the journey.
In Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, Harry is only able to triumph over Voldemort by relying on his friends, Ron and Hermione, both of whom courageously use their gifts and talents to help Harry get past the enchantments so that he can confront Voldemort. This friendship continues throughout all seven books as the characters band together and commit to resisting and fighting against evil. In the end, Harry has the strength to resist the temptation of Voldemort because of his love for his friends. He draws on their strength in the hour of temptation.
We are left then with pertinent questions: Will we have the courage to stand up to evil, to say no to the temptation to use power for our own selfish ends? And who is in my life that I can rely on to help me stand? What Harry Potter teaches us is that it is possible to say no to temptation, but in order to do so, we need to be formed by the power of God’s love and draw strength from our brothers and sisters in Christ.
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