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Should Christians Watch Harry Potter?

Should Christians Watch Harry Potter?

For years, I have been asked my opinion of the Harry Potter books and films, but always politely replied that I had not seen them.  They were never really an option for my family in the first place since my oldest child was four when the first movie was released.  I was also disinclined to read the books or watch the movies because of the witchcraft contained within them.  However, with the huge build up in recent months about the last Harry Potter movie I have received more inquiries about a Christian perspective of the series.  So, I decided to “inform” myself and over the course of some very late nights watched all seven movies available on DVD.  I then watched the final movie in the theater.  Since I went to this effort, I figured it would be prudent to write a post about my perspective (not to presume that my perspective is one to be coveted!).

I understand that this post has the potential to be very controversial.  I have discovered people get emotionally intense over Harry Potter- both positively and negatively.  Some will condemn my decision to be informed by watching the movies, saying that is the same as if I said I want to be informed about pornography so I better look at some.  Of course, that is not in any way a fair comparison.  Others will also scoff that my analysis of the Harry Potter movies is not to summarily condemn them pell mell.  Many of you may be surprised and/or disappointed that I do not excoriate the series.  In my estimation, a rational and objective analysis of these movies warrants a balanced, albeit cautious approach.  I do admit, my thoughts in this post are my initial thoughts.  Perhaps upon longer and deeper reflection, my conclusion may be altered somewhat.  Also, my perspective on this issue may be hindered to some degree as I have not read any of the books.

The recent article in Relevant Magazine entitled “The Redemption of Harry Potter,” has caused something of a firestorm in the evangelical community about the Christian response to Harry Potter.  In this article, author Ryan Hamm states that Harry Potter is one of the most Christian symbols in modern pop culture.  In my opinion, I think that statement is overstated.  The effort by some to label the Harry Potter series “Christian,” is also an error.  Hamm infers that Harry Potter is a type of Jesus Christ, although is clear to state the sacrifice Harry makes for his friends is nothing to that of the sacrifice made by Jesus on the cross.  Many are uncomfortable with the comparisons Hamm makes of Harry Potter to Christianity- and rightly so.  Many times the things we read in books or see in movies that seem to be comparative to Christianity are skewed.  For example, the “heaven” scene in the last Harry Potter movie does have broad comparisons to Christianity, but the lesson portrayed is that you get to heaven based on the good deeds you do- clearly not what the Bible teaches.

And yet, we must admit that a number of the themes Hamm lists from the Harry Potter series do, in fact, reflect principle themes of the Christian faith: championing the cause of the poor and oppressed, sacrificial love, and the obvious triumph of good vs. evil.  The loyalty, courage, and strength to resist evil are all character traits of Harry Potter we would like to see in our own children.  In other words, it seems difficult to deny that there are positive elements in the series.

Despite the good things about Harry Potter, there are negative things as well.  Parents should be wary about letting small children see the movies.  In each subsequent film the scary images, intensity of violence, and “darkness” increases.  The latter movies have a rating of PG-13.  The most troubling elements about the books/movies are obviously magic and witchcraft.  To me, the greatest problem in regard to this issue with the Potter series is not necessarily what we find in the books/movies themselves (Rowling never, at least from what I can tell, states the source of the magic), but in the spin offs generated by the series.  Evidence reveals that every time a book/movie was released, there was a spike in interest in magic, witchcraft, Wicca, and the occult.  These are very dangerous and most definitely anti-Christian.  The Bible clearly condemns the practice of witchcraft (Lev. 19:26, 31; Deut. 18:10-11; 2 Chron. 33:6).  Additionally, you can peruse Amazon and discover a host of books full of spells and other topics related to witchcraft that are connected with Harry Potter in effort to increase sales.  As Christians, and especially Christian parents, we must exercise extreme caution in ensuring that we our children or ourselves never get involved in the practice of witchcraft.  My advice to families would be that if they do choose to allow their children to read the books/watch the movies, they need to do so with their children and talk with them along the way.  If a family decides to pass on the Harry Potter series simply on the potential danger of witchcraft, I think they are rightfully justified to do so.

That said, we need to be careful of falling into the trap of a double standard when it comes to Harry Potter.  I have heard some condemn the Potter series, yet laud the Lord of the Rings trilogy.  Yes, I understand the two series are not perfect comparisons, but we must be honest to the fact that the Lord of the Rings series does contain magic and witchcraft- and quite a bit of it.  Yes, the allegorical elements of the Lord of the Rings appear to be overtly Christian (although Tolkien always denied the books were Christian allegory), but that does not lessen the presence of magic/witchcraft in the series.  I was glad for my teenage son to see the Lord of the Rings because I wanted him to see the bravery, courage, loyalty, and sacrifice of the characters- not to mention good triumphing over evil.  Oddly enough, many of the characters in the Potter series share these same characteristics- as well as good winning over evil.  In addition, it seems that we could include the Star Wars series in the debate.  “The Force” certainly connotes elements resembling magic, yet people love this series for the very same reason they love the Lord of the Rings and consequently, Harry Potter.  Finally, I find it interesting that the same amount of concern and even uproar over Harry Potter is not also aimed at books/movies such as the Twilight series, the Vampire Diaries, and even Disney’s Wizards of Waverly Place- all of which are centered on elements of the occult.

My point in all of this is that we should look at Harry Potter with balance.  There are potentially dangerous and insidious things that can result from fascination with the Harry Potter series.  Yet, there are good things that can be drawn out as well.  Thus, it seems that Christians need to follow their conscience on the decision they make to read the books/watch the movies and whether they will allow their children to do the same.  In doing so, we need to be careful not to pass judgment on our fellow Christians in how they respond to Harry Potter.  Paul’s words to the Corinthians about food offered to idols (1 Cor. 8 ) and to the Colossians about observing festivals (Col. 2:16-23) seems to be the guideline we should follow in this debate.  These were emotionally charged topics that, in Paul’s estimation, both sides of the controversy had a place of acceptance in the Christian faith.

For example, in our church we have families that home school and families that attend public school.  We have families that observe certain traditions at Christmas that other families believe strongly against.  Yet, the biblical admonition is that we are not to judge others who disagree with us in matters of conscience.  To the Corinthians and the Colossians, Paul said we are free to embrace the beliefs dictated by our conscience so long as those dictates do not violate the truth of Scripture and holy living.   It is interesting to note in both the Corinthians and Colossians passages, Paul makes reference to being “puffed up” in our handling of such disputes.  In other words, home school families are never to think they are better, holier, or more in tune with truth than public school families.  And the reverse is true. Public school families must never disdain those who choose to home school.  This is how the body of Christ is supposed work.  It seems this is a wise approach to Harry Potter.  There will be families who enjoy the series and others who think it dangerous.  Both sides appear to have merit to their arguments.  Thus, each one must follow their conscience under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.



Hey Hollywood, Clean Movies Sell More Tickets: How Families Can Make Good Entertainment Choices

Hey Hollywood, Clean Movies Sell More Tickets: How Families Can Make Good Entertainment Choices

Recently my son asked if I would take him to a new movie about a comic book hero. It sounded like a fun father-son thing to do until I checked out the movie on the website Plugged In. The movie contains 40 uses of “sh–” and repeated crude references to body parts. Why is that even necessary? It isn’t “art” and it doesn’t sell tickets. Perhaps I would have taken my son had the makers of the film left these elements out.

I was surprised to recently read that family-friendly movies earn two to six times more at the box office than other films. That is a staggering number! Apparently, movie producers in Hollywood seem to be getting the message to some degree as the number of family friendly films is on the rise. Sadly, the television industry is lagging woefully behind. Read an interesting article on this here:

Family Friendly Films Earn More at Box Office

If directors, producers, and writers of movies/TV shows realized that parents like me, along with many others, research the content of a movie online before we go to the theater they might change their ways. The internet can be many evil things, but here is one way to use it to our advantage. Some would say, “Hollywood doesn’t care what we think.” They will if we stop buying tickets! The bottom line for the entertainment industry is money. And apparently clean movies sell. If Hollywood understood this perhaps they would be less inclined to view the inclusion of profanity and sexuality in their productions as “art.”

A very helpful online tool for families is the website Plugged In (a part of the ministry of Focus on the Family). You can access the website here.

Plugged In

Plugged In also has an App for smart phones which is handy. At a minimum, the website tells you the number and kind of profanities in the movie. It alerts the reader to the sexual and graphic violence content as well. In addition, it describes other negative content along with what is positive in the movie. And many times the reviewer will tell you if, in general, it was a good or bad movie (although you will not always agree with them on this!). Plugged In also reviews music and video games.

Parents, we need to be careful what we allow our children to watch (and we need to be careful about that ourselves!). I am often amazed at the movies to which parents are bringing young children. I recall the time my wife and I went to see the remake of King Kong. As we were leaving the show, a family was walking out with what looked to be a 4 year-old. In my opinion, the movie was way too intense for someone of that age. The little girl stopped and looked up at the movie poster for the Curious George movie that was also showing at that time. I leaned over to my wife and said, “That family took their daughter to a movie about the wrong monkey.” Parents, let’s be careful about movies, TV, music, and video games. There is some good stuff out there, but we need to make good judgments about what is age appropriate for them. Sadly, there is also a lot of stuff out there that is inappropriate for any age. Let’s try and send a message to the entertainment industry that content which is graphically violent, sexualized, and profane isn’t good for the moral fiber of our nation or their bank accounts.