Saturday, July 21, 2007

In Line for Harry Potter (slightly revised)

While waiting in the long and rowdy line for the new Harry Potter book, I was reading my Bible. It troubled me. I read of having nothing to do with the occult, of separating from the world, and of seeking first the Kingdom. The Potter books glorify witchcraft and the occult. I talked to some Christian kids (and adults) in line about it. (There was a great feeling of fellowship, until the doors opened when it became every Potterite for himself.)

Me: Do you think the philosophy of the Potter books fits with Christianity? Don't you think it might actually introduce occult ideas into our thinking?

Potterite #1: Chill out, dude. It's like: This is like the coolest story ever. And I'm like reading, not watching TV. These books are getting us reading!

Me: Reading is superior to watching TV...

Potterite #2: I wouldn't go that far.

Me:...As I was saying, but that doesn't make all reading good. Nazis read Hitler's autobiography, you know.

Potterite #1: Hey, Harry Pooter is fiction, a story! What's the big deal?

Me: Paul said to take every thought captive to obey Christ.

Potterite #2: Paul who?

Me: The Apostle Paul, that's who.

Potterite #1: Was he on like "American Idol"?

Me: Do you know what an Apostle is?

Potterite #1: Well, it isn't a character in the Potter books. I know that. I have read all of them twice and have memorized a lot, too. It's like totally cool.

Me: How much of the Bible have you read?

Potterite #1: Some...

Me: There are 66 books in the Bible.

Potterite #1: I thought it was one book.

Me: The Bible is made up of sixty-six different books.

Potterite #2: Dude!

Me: Dude, indeed. But do you think it matters what goes into your mind?

Potterite #2: It's my choice. I have Jesus in my heart and that protects me. He wants me to like have fun.

Me: Where is that in the Bible?

Potterite #2: Huh?

Me: Exactly. Do you know what the occult is?

Potterite #1 and #2 (in unision): Huh?

Me: Do you know the meaning of the word "occult"?

Potterite #1: Oh yeah. I mean, my aunt was in like a cult, I think.

Me: No: Occult, not a cult. Do you know what it means?

Potterite #1: Nope. No clue. Whatever...

Me: It is the use of hidden or secret means to exercise power in the spiritual world apart from what the God of the Bible says. The Potter characters do this all the time.

Potterite #1 and #2 (in unison): Huh!

Me. The Bible tells us to avoid all such practices. See Deuteronomy 18:9-14, for example.

Potterite #2: Duderectomy what?

Me: Lord help me...It is a book in the Old Testament. Deut-er-on-omy.

Potterite #1: I don't remember hearing about this in church. Are you sure it is in the Bible?

Me: Positive. But what do you hear in your church?

Potterite #1: My pastor quoted a book that said Harry Potter books were cool and that they teach a lot of good spiritual things. He even showed a video clip from a Potter movie. He is sooo cool!

Me: What was the pastor's main point?

Potterite #1: I forgot, but the clip was awesome.

Me: Well, I need to blow my cover. I am not really waiting for a Harry Potter book. I'm here to challenge your thinking. It is obvious you haven't thought any of this through. Neither have your parents. If you want to get serious read Richard Abanes's book, Harry Potter and the Bible or his newer book, Harry Potter, Narnia, and Lord of the Rings.

Potterite #2: Are either one best-sellers?

Me: No.

Potterite #2: Then why buy them?

Me: It is time for me to leave--and pray.

[If you didn't get it by now, this story is fictional, but it still relates truths. Call it a parable.]

25 comments:

Dave said...

Well, Jesus did say He wants us to have abundant life...I'm sure that includes some fun (John 10:10).

While I in large have always disagreed with your overly restrictive view of our faith, I do find myself agreeing with you here. Artistically, the Potter books are beautifully crafted, but there is something about them that disturbs my spirit in a way I cannot fully explain. I've come to trust that instinct as being divine in nature.

I've been asked frequently how Potter differs from Lord of the Rings, where wizardry and magic are used as metaphors for the spiritual, and why I support Tolkien's creations and not the Potter series, and honestly, I can't nail down why...other than the spiritual angst I feel in relation to Potter. Discernment is not my spiritual gift, and yet it is there. I rarely experience this (the last time was when I saw the Da Vinci Code), but when I do, it is unmistakable.

On another topic, your recounted interview paints a disturbingly accurate portrait of the illiterate generation our culture has produced.

Tom said...

Um, what's wrong with fantasy fiction as a genre? I've never been a fan but I wouldn't see it as a betrayal of my Christian commitment.

Douglas Groothuis said...

Dave:

How are my views "overly restrictive"? Perhaps my thirty years of teaching, writing, philosophizing, preaching, and evangelizing as a Christian have given me some insights into things. There is so much in Scripture about avoiding worldliness, something most Christians turn a blind eye to, sadly: 1 John 2:15-17; Luke 16:15; Romans 12:1-2, for starters.

Tom:

Read the Abanes book or visit his web page. I wrote the foreword to that book. I would post it, but I lost the electronic file.

Anonymous said...

YO!! Groothuis!! Wake up and smell the coffee. Lol. My newest book on Potter is Harry Potter, Narnia, and The Lord of the Rings This replaced the "and the Bible" book a few years ago -- totally updated, revised, expanded, yada yada yada.

Hey, BTW, you might want to check out my new/1st novel titled about racism and white supremacists in America. I hope all is well with you, bro.

peace-out,

R. Abanes

Anonymous said...

YO!! Groothuis!! Wake up and smell the coffee. Lol. My newest book on Potter is Harry Potter, Narnia, and The Lord of the Rings This replaced the "and the Bible" book a few years ago -- totally updated, revised, expanded, yada yada yada.

Hey, BTW, you might want to check out my new/1st novel titled Homeland Insecurity about racism and white supremacists in America. I hope all is well with you, bro.

peace-out,

R. Abanes

Douglas Groothuis said...

With a new Potter book out, Abanes is crawling through the web! Glad you responded and updated it, Rich.

Anonymous said...

Dear "Ask the Constructive Curmudgeon Person,"

I've been asking within my circle of friends "What is/are the difference(s) between mircles and magic?" So far I haven't received a satisfactory answer. Do I swap out for a new circle of friends or should I pose better questions? I am neither a Potterite nor an Apotterite --- but somewhat of an agnostic watching from the sidelines.

Thank you for two years of thought inducing posts.

Anon

Douglas Groothuis said...

Miracles are caused by God to effect the natural realm in a way that would not otherwise be possible. They are done for a divine and providential purpose.

Magic is the attempt to supernaturally manipulate the natural world by various spells, incantations, rituals, and so on that are not authorized by God and which do not accord with his Kingdom purposes.

That is the short version!

Jim Pemberton said...

The sad thing is that I "like totally" believed the discourse until you disclosed that it was fictional because of it's remarkable plausibility. I've had discussion like that with PARENTS.

I have Mr. Abanes' original Harry Potter and the Bible book and likewise recommend it. I look forward to seeing what is in his latest offerings.

Harry Potter is among some of the literature to which we limit our children's exposure. What exposure we do allow is, as is exposure to ALL things, analyzed in discussion according to our understanding of scriptural truth so that our kids can be properly discipled. We allow some exposure so that they can learn how to view it in light of Christ's teaching, but limit it so that it isn't normalized.

Douglas Groothuis said...

Jim:

Good for you--and your family.

MichaelGlawson said...

One of the differences between the Potter books and LOTR that I find pertinent to these sorts of discussions is that, whereas LOTR is set in Middle Earth - a totally different world/reality - the Potter books are set here in this world. That distinction is one that I think will often divide fantasy into (morally) good and bad.

I see the point that Dr. Groothuis is making, and, though I'm not as settled as he is on the Potter Books (don't the books/movies regularly advocate virtue and denounce vice?), I do think that there are possible dangers in artists creafting a world/reality, populating it with elements that don't fit into the Kingdom, and then identifying that reality with ours.

Anita Hensley said...

Michael- Morality is not the same as Christianity.

MichaelGlawson said...

Anita, I know that. Thank you. I do see your point, but I think that Christians often times need to take off their moral blinders and see that where there is virtue, praise is (in some measure) appropriate. That goes for anything. If Adolph Hitler (assuming he were capable of virtue at all) saved a child from a burning building at risk to his own life, and were motivated by virtue, he ought to be praised for it. This goes for the Potter books as well.
Perhaps they do crack the door of the culture's mind for the occult, but that doesn't dissolve any good that might be in the books. They're like almost every other film or book on the planet - there's good and bad mingled. Viewers may well walk away more open to the occult (or possibly even, more generally, more open to spirituality and supernaturalism, which could be a good thing!), but may also have been morally impressed by the virtuous actions of the characters.
Christians need to exercise wisdom in appraising art thoroughly, not just discarding every work that fails to promote a Christian worldview (though some works will be discarded by the wise - and the Potter books might deserve to be discarded, but I don't know that I think that is the case).

Billy said...

I am really hoping that "R. Abanes" is not really "R. Abanes"...

Lol, bro, peace-out,

Billy

Adam said...

Dr. Jerram Barrs posted an article on bethinking.org about Harry Potter and some of the objections to it. Here is the link. http://www.bethinking.org/resource.php?ID=84&TopicID=14&CategoryID=11 I agree that we do indeed need to be mindful of what we watch and read (hopefully more of the later than the former); but I do think they can be a very good way to teach our children the difference between fantasy and reality.

John Stockwell said...

DG wrote:
Miracles are caused by God to effect the natural realm in a way that would not otherwise be possible. They are done for a divine and providential purpose.

Magic is the attempt to supernaturally manipulate the natural world by various spells, incantations, rituals, and so on that are not authorized by God and which do not accord with his Kingdom purposes.


Hmm. Not quite. As I understand it the only bonafied miracles are those described in the Bible. If you are a Roman Catholic, then the Catholic Church recognizes a collection of more recent miracles, which are deemd "worthy of belief" but in which belief is not required.


It would be better to say that "magic is a correspondence principle that is assumed without evidence, and without any credible mechanism." Needless to say, contrary evidence is neither sought out by magic practicioners, nor welcome. Such evidence is ignored, and written off as "nonbelief".

Magic involves invoking such a correspondence principle to exert control over persons, animals or the environment, or for divining the future.

Classical examples are voodo dolls and other spells or charms, where the spell object "becomes" the person in question in the mind of the practicioner. (Magic by contagin, where an object is "cursed" or made a "good luck charm" is the same sort of thing.)

Divination by the I Ching, tarot cards, or randomly selecting phrases out of a sacred book, etc assumes such a correspondence principle. Augury by interpreting events such as sightings of animals, reading the lines of the palm of the hand, and the like are further examples. All of these invoke a correspondence principle, but are not specifically invocations of a particular supernatural agency.

Astrology is another example of the invocation of a correspondence principle between celestial alignments and events in a person's life. Originally, astrology was assumed to work because of the identification of the planets with dieties, but those identifications also were made by characteristics of the planet (Mars is red, red implies blood, hence Mars is identified with Ares, the God of War.) Today, it's just a hazy "the stars incline".. identification.

Modern magic examples are "biorhythms" and "phrenology", defunct scientific hypotheses. ore recently "the law of attraction", described in "The Secret" and other books.

Finally, intelligent design "theory" is another type of magic. It is invokes the claims of "irreduceable complexity" and "complex specified specified information" as a sort of "God detector". There is no credible, or intelligible mechanism, nor evidence to tell us why such a God detector should or should not work, nor is such evidence or criticism even heard by ID believers'.

John Stockwell said...

As far as Harry Potter encouraging belief in the occult, it seems more to me to be the opposite.

Taken directly, the accounts of magic that Rowling portrays tell us what magic would be like if it really worked. It is not the subtle reinterpretation of mundane events that our modern magicians (the astrologers, the law of attraction people, and the ID theoriests) portray.

Furthermore Rowling's treatment of magic is satirical. She takes well worn and hackneyed cliche's and breaths new life into them. Mail is delived by owls. There are beans that taste like everything, including vomit. There is a cricket-like game played on flying brooms... I could go on. It's humorous and light.

Pick up a book on the occult. It's all deadly serious and aimed at getting the person to reinterpret ordinary stuff in the world as being something else, largely as a way of getting them to shell out more money. (Will there every be a concluding book of the ID movement,. I think not!).

Watch out for those unlucky days in your horoscope. Be careful not to have negative thoughts, or the law of attraction will bring you negative things. Don't believe in mainstream science or you will go to hell. That sort of thing.

MichaelGlawson said...

Wow, I didn't know that the pesky voodoish ID theory had worked itself in to Christian soteriology....it really must be magic.

Or a straw man.

Douglas Groothuis said...

To Stockwell:

I'm well aware of the correspondence idea in magic: as above, so below.

But that has nothing to do with biblical miracles, which are wraught by God in history for purposes. See "In Defense of Miracles" edited by Geivett and Habermas. There is solid evidence for biblical miracles. There is no need for blind faith.

ID has nothing in common with magic. Design is detected through specified complexity, as it is detected in other areas of science such Dembki points out in "The Design Inference."

The requirement for a "mechanism" is a red herring. There is no known mechanism for the Big Bang, but many scientists--including nontheists-except it as the best explanation.

Or maybe the cry for "mechanism" just begs the question, since mechanism seems to require a material explanation, the very thing at issue, the very thing ID challenges.

One need not know why something was designed to know that it is designed. There are objects in museums dug up by archaeologists that are clearly designed, but people do not know why. Moreover, the statues on Easter Island are designed, but we don't know what they mean.

Thus, Stockwell's points all fail.

Tom Hinkle said...

Mr. Stockwell,
Why do you have to hijack every comment thread to an argument about ID when it has nothing to do with what the original post is about?

Dr. Groothuis,
Why do you allow it?

Douglas Groothuis said...

Tom:

Good point; we probably need for discipline to stay on topic. Mr. Stockwell does tend to do that.

DG

John Stockwell said...

DG wrote:
ID has nothing in common with magic. Design is detected through specified complexity, as it is detected in other areas of science such Dembki points out in "The Design Inference."

The requirement for a "mechanism" is a red herring. There is no known mechanism for the Big Bang, but many scientists--including nontheists-except it as the best explanation.

Or maybe the cry for "mechanism" just begs the question, since mechanism seems to require a material explanation, the very thing at issue, the very thing ID challenges.


First of all, I object to your term "red herring". I am *not* engaging in deception here.

Your Big Bang comments ignore the fact that the Big Bang is a model built from observations and from Einstein's equations of general relativity. The Big Bang is a conclusion derived from a theory and a collection of observations. It is not an assumed ad hoc explanation.

In comparison,
Dembski is invoking a hazy, unspecified correspondence principle between "intelligence" (which he doesn't define) and "CSI" an equally hazy quantity. Where is the copious collection of measurements showing *that* these items are connected? (Others have shown that "complex specified information", which Dembski claims is a conserved quantity, is equivalent to the Kolmogorov-Chaitin complexity, which is not conserved. Dembski's 4th law of thermodynamics is DOA.)

Dembski has not presented scientific evidence to back up his claims. His examples are all flawed in that he is comparing human manufactured items to human manufactured items. His mistake is that he does not realize that he is merely discussing and comparing different methods of manufacture, not the question of "design versus no-design". All of his examples are "designed" so to speak, but are manufactured by different methods.


One need not know why something was designed to know that it is designed. There are objects in museums dug up by archaeologists that are clearly designed, but people do not know why. Moreover, the statues on Easter Island are designed, but we don't know what they mean.


You are correct, we do not need to know *why* something was designed to know that it was manufactured. The point is just that, we recognize manufacture by modeling the manufacturing process. We know that the statues on Easter Island are manufactured because we can model their mechanism of origin. We don't have to appeal to some "rule of specified complexity". We simply have to know how to make a statute. The rest follows directly, testable because we can find partially finished statutes, and the tools that they were made with.

When anthropologists encounter items that may or may not be manufactured, they devise experiments to show possible mechanisms by which the objects originated, and conclude from those experiments whether or not the objects in question are manufactured.


Now, the real issue of this discussion is the fact that you are quoting Dembski with the same unwavering belief that you would have if you were quoting Scripture. This is the damage of ID (and creationism) thinking in general, the prevention of critical thinking.

Why is ID magic? Because the real point of all of this is to invoke God as a mechanism---in Puppet on a string fashion. Man telling God where God is, instead of God telling man, that sort of thing.

I will let you figure out why that might not fit with the Christian worldview, as that is not my department.

Scientifically, the strings of ID have been unraveling since the ideas were proposed. (Indeed, the arguments of the other Wizards of ID have unraveled in a similar fashion.)

Anonymous said...

Dear "Ask the Constructive Curmudgeon Person,"

I asked "What is/are the difference(s) between mircles and magic?" and your reply set off a fire-storm. I think I'll stick with my original circle of friends who agree that electricity is magic and finding another six-pack of ice cold ones is a miracle.

I'm glad I didn't ask how many angels could dance on the head of a pin.

But thanks to all to tried to education me re: miracles/magic.

Anon

Anonymous said...

I find your post troubling and would like to ask you three simple questions.

1. Have you read all of the Potter books before making your decision?

2. What do you think of C. S. Lewis' definition of magic? What makes you certain you're no less guilty of attempting to manipulate reality through technology than ancient Israelites troubled by extipacy, bellomancy, etc?

3. Are you basing your argument fundamentally on a simple reading of the English text? If so, a little caution is in order. Read it again. The command is "to not learn to do [those practices]" (lo tilmad la'sot), not a command to not read about them. Based upon your interpretation, reading the Bible would also be wrong because it too discusses "magic" according to your definition. Don't fear, Deut. 18:12 might mean that those people are driven away--or is this just to the Israelites? ;)

PS Tell Toby Huebner hi. He's family.

Jonathan said...

I recommend this essay on HP by the literary critic and English professor at Wheaton, Alan Jacobs, in Books & Culture.