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HARRY POTTER AND THe CHRISTIAN

August 2nd, 2009 No comments

Some Christians think that Halloween and the Harry Potter
books are bad, as encouraging witchcraft. I will not talk about
Halloween here, but I will talk about the Harry Potter books. I’ve
had occasion to praise them recently, because while my son and
daughter were in the hospital we read one of them out loud, and
it was useful for them and for me. It distracted from their
physical pain and from all of our pain from recent loss of loved
ones, allowing switches back and forth from mourning to
imagination. Harry Potter’s world worked this magic because it is
a mixture of the mundane and the wondrous, because it has
many novel contrivances, and because it is full of suspense. A
few other books can do this too— the Oz series, for example, or
Tolkien, or Narnia— but the hospital happened to have Harry
Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone at hand.

On the other hand, what of this passage from Deuteronomy 18?

Deuteronomy. 18:10-12. There shall not be found among you
any one that maketh his son or his daughter to pass through the
fire, or that useth divination, or an observer of times, or an
enchanter, or a witch. Or a charmer, or a consulter with familiar
spirits, or a wizard, or a necromancer. For all that do these things
are an abomination unto the LORD: and because of these
abominations the LORD thy God doth drive them out from
before thee.

At first sight, this passage seems to condemn not just Harry
Potter, but Tolkien and Oz. (Narnia is exempt, I think– I don’t
recall good magic in it.)

But wait. We must ask what the words in Deuteronomy mean.
Some Christians use the Ten Commandments to condemn not
just murder but the death penalty, war, and resistance to crime.
Indeed, one could use it to advocate vegetarianism— does
“Thou shalt not kill” have an exemption for animals? Actually,
what about killing plants? So we must pay attention to
translation and meaning.

In the case of Deuteronomy, what do
enchanter, witch, charmer, wizard, and necromancer mean? I
don’t have time now to go to the Hebrew, though that is clearly
relevant. Note first, though, that here we seem to have five
distinct kinds of magic, besides the other kinds in the passage
which don’t apply to Harry Potter’s kind of magic at all.
(I know there’s divination in the novels, but it’s peripheral and
Harry and his friends don’t do real divination and consider the
subject “pseudo-magic”.)

Whatever they mean, I don’t think it can apply to what Harry
Potter and friends are doing. What they are doing is not really
magic, but science. Harry, Ron, and Hermione do not reach into
a supernatural world to engage the power of spirits. There are a
few ghosts in the book, but notice how no spells make use of
them, and how little different the ghosts are from people except
in their immortality and nonphysicality. Rather, what the
Hogwarts kids do is learn how to use wands to manipulate
things, and what kind of magical creatures and plants lurk in the
world unobserved by ordinary people. Most people– Muggles–
can’t use wands, just as most people can’t do calculus (and never
could, because they’re not smart enough). Those who can have
to go to school and learn it just like biology or trombone. It’s
called “magic”, but how is it different from “chemistry”?

I’ll have to continue later. But I’ll make a second point here. Look
at the context of Deuteronomy 18:10-12. What’s in front and
behind it?

18:9 When thou art come into the land which the LORD thy
God giveth thee, thou shalt not learn to do after the
abominations of those nations….

18:13 Thou shalt be perfect with the LORD thy God.

18:14 For these nations, which thou shalt possess, hearkened
unto observers of times, and unto diviners: but as for thee, the
LORD thy God hath not suffered thee so to do.

It’s “the abominations of those nations” that is condemned.
The Canaanites are condemned in the Bible to a degree beyond
any other people. Thus, it may be just their forms of magic that
are being condemned here. Or, it may just be their evil use of it.

A couple of references (which do not make the points I make
above, I think):

“Are all witches equal?
Six types of Witchcraft”
(note: I suspect this site is not to
be trusted farther than you can test their arguments yourself–but
that is usefully far).

“Religious debates over the Harry
Potter series,”
not to be considered as unbiased as most
Wikipedia articles, but moderate in tone, fair, and with lots of
citations
so you can check up on it.

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