It’s the age-old question, or at least a question that’s been around since 1997: should Christians read Harry Potter?
We thought we had put the argument behind us when the 7th and final volume of the series released in 2007, but now an 8th book(ish) feature is coming on July 31 (which happens to be character Harry’s birthday).
Some Christians enjoy the series and see it as classic good vs evil. Magic and witchcraft in a biblical sense are associated with the occult, but magic in Harry’s world is not. In the frame of the series there are both good and bad wizards. Themes of friendship, loyalty, bravery, and self-sacrifice are packaged in a fun fantasy world.
Other Christians feel that the mention of wizards, witches, or magic preclude Christians from consorting with the books. They believe that in fantasy true power must point to God and His authority in whatever form it takes, such as a lion named Aslan. Metaphor must be direct and overt so that readers, especially young ones, will not be misled.
In actuality, this is an age old argument stemming from biblical times. In the past, the debate was over circumcision, or meat sacrifice to idols, or… So let’s look at Scripture, and for clarity let’s exchange eat for read and books for food.
Romans 14 (NLT)
Accept other believers who are weak in faith, and don’t argue with them about what they think is right or wrong. 2 For instance, one person believes it’s all right to
eat[read] anything. But another believer with a sensitive conscience will eat[read] only vegetables[CS Lewis]. 3 Those who feel free to eat[read] anything must not look down on those who don’t. And those who don’t eat[read] certain foods[books] must not condemn those who do, for God has accepted them. 4 Who are you to condemn someone else’s servants? Their own master will judge whether they stand or fall. And with the Lord’s help, they will stand and receive his approval.
…I know and am convinced on the authority of the Lord Jesus that no
food[book], in and of itself, is wrong to eat[read]. But if someone believes it is wrong, then for that person it is wrong. 15 And if another believer is distressed by what you eat[read], you are not acting in love if you eat[read] it. Don’t let your eating [reading] ruin someone for whom Christ died. 16 Then you will not be criticized for doing something you believe is good.17 For the Kingdom of God is not a matter of what we eat[read] or drink[watch], but of living a life of goodness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. 18 If you serve Christ with this attitude, you will please God, and others will approve of you, too. 19 So then, let us aim for harmony in the church and try to build each other up.
…Don’t tear apart the work of God over what you
eat[read]. Remember, all foods[books] are acceptable, but it is wrong to eat[read] something if it makes another person stumble.21 It is better not to eat meat[read Harry Potter] or drink wine[read 50 Shades of Grey] or do anything else if it might cause another believer to stumble. 22 You may believe there’s nothing wrong with what you are doing, but keep it between yourself and God. Blessed are those who don’t feel guilty for doing something they have decided is right. 23 But if you have doubts about whether or not you should eat[read] something, you are sinning if you go ahead and do it. For you are not following your convictions. If you do anything you believe is not right, you are sinning.
And another passage:
1 Corinthians 10 (ESV)
23 “All things are lawful,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful,” but not all things build up. 24 Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor. 25
Eat[Read] whatever is sold in the meat market[on Amazon] without raising any question on the ground of conscience. 26 For “the earth is the Lord’s, and the fullness thereof.” 27 If one of the unbelievers invites you to dinner[a book club] and you are disposed to go, eat[read] whatever is set before you without raising any question on the ground of conscience. 28 But if someone says to you, “This has been offered in sacrifice[penned under Satanic influence],” then do not eat[read] it, for the sake of the one who informed you, and for the sake of conscience— 29 I do not mean your conscience, but his. For why should my liberty be determined by someone else’s conscience? 30 If I partake with thankfulness, why am I denounced because of that for which I give thanks?
31 So, whether you
eat or drink[read or watch], or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.32 Give no offense to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God, 33 just as I try to please everyone in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, that they may be saved.
Personally, I have no problem with Harry Potter, but I could not in good conscience read 50 Shades of Gray. You may disagree with me on either side of that issue, and I respect that. The important thing here is to follow your own conscience (i.e. the Holy Spirit within you) because ultimately it is between you and God.
The key here, I believe, is two-fold:
- Don’t read/watch anything that prickles your conscience.
- Don’t encourage others to read/watch something against THEIR conscience.
NOW YOU: DO YOU AGREE/DISAGREE? WHERE DO YOU DRAW YOUR PERSONAL LINE WITH READING OR WATCHING MOVIES/TV?
I had to point out to someone lately that the idea of Ultimate Good and Ultimate Evil are truly Christian ideals. This can be seen by the role of the trickster which is common in most all other myths. The trickster is sometimes clown, sometimes trouble maker, sometimes teaching device, but it is never evil in the Christian sense.
Another Christian ideal is the concept of ultimate truth as opposed to relative truth. Truth with a capital T as opposed to truth with a lower case t. This idea of ultimate truth as a philosophy was put forth by the philosopher Aristotle, but the words were co-opted in the writings of the Apostle Paul and given more specific meaning then Aristotle intended. The Bible is very much into ultimate truth (with a capital T). Though no one will go out on a limb and right the truth down, the idea that there is some ultimate, knowable truth pervades Western culture.
Finally, there are the ideals of self-sacrifice for those we love and for those we don’t love.
Most wouldn’t identify these with Christianity, but they still would identify them as something they just believe. Does that make those that hold to these ideals Christian? No, but it does make it easier to recognize Christ when He reveals himself to them.
These elements are all apart of Christianity and a story doesn’t have to use the word Christian to embody Christian elements.
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Good thoughts, Tim.
1 Coronthians 8 is another chapter (meat sacrificed to idols/weaker brother)
That was Sunday’s sermon topic. It was about modern “idols”. I think your rules prickles my conscience or influences another believer are good rules.
As for me, I’m a Harry Potter fan and have no problem with it at all. To me it’s pure fantasy. There was a newer “Scooby Doo” episode that I found a lot more problematic. It was about the Salem Witch Trials and made Wiccans look like “good” non-witches.
To me there’s a huge difference between fantasy “witches” (female wizards) and wizards and their use of magic and witches/warlocks/shaman of the “real world”.
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I agree (though I have a hard time understanding how some Christians can be okay with some of the more extreme examples out there). It’s the same reasoning my husband & I use for our not participating in Halloween but other Christians choosing to do so.
What’s funny for me, though is, personally, I do have a much harder time if I know the author comes from a place I have major issues with. I love the Harry Potter books but if JK Rowling announced she was a wiccan priestess, I’d be unable to read her books ever again. It’s why I can’t read Philip Pullman or Madeleine L’Engle.
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Oh no! Why not Madeleine L’Engle? She has so much Scripture in A Wrinkle in Time.
I don’t know Philip Pullman.
I put the extreme examples in to make a point. I know some Christians who argue that it’s ok to watch pornography if you do it with your spouse. That’s a hard one for me to swallow but if I’m going to take my own advice…
And strangely, I have an issue with the last Narnia book because I feel it has some serious theological issues and people love those. That’s a bigger problem to me.
Pullman is the Dark Materials guy. He’s an atheist famous for extreme antichristian agendas in his books. L’Engle has some sketchy beliefs that made me uncomfortable to read her stuff despite how much I liked A Wrinkle in Time.
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I read Pullman’s Dark Materials books. I’m not a fan. He teetered into atheist preachiness.
Mulling it over, I think I decided not to read any more L’Engle not *despite* how much I liked A Wrinkle in Time but specifically *because* of how much I liked it. I didn’t want any of her sketchier beliefs infiltrating. Depending on the author and their style, some issues are easier to disregard than others – CS Lewis &/or George MacDonald I can enjoy and filter out what I disagree with. Something about L’Engle made me uncomfortable and unwilling to expose myself further. I believe that was the Holy Spirit’s leading for my personal vulnerabilities.
As for atheist/mormon/jw authors, it just depends on the book. Some books I have read and learned afterwards they were written by authors coming from those beliefs. If I feel their books are trying to influence in ways I dislike, I won’t read them. But if the content doesn’t bother me any more than the content from a beliefs-unknown author, then I might be fine with it (especially if it’s silly YA romance that’s not preaching anything).
But beliefs that tamper more blatantly with the demonic I am going to run away from regardless. I follow a Christian blog that posted an author interview the other day and the author advertised herself as using her experiences as a wiccan shaman to help with her books – um, no. And it made my eyebrows go way up about that particular blogger – did they know the author came from that background before they requested an interview or were they blindsided? And are they okay with reading and recommending the work of someone with those beliefs? ..
I’m thinking you stretched your point a little too far in the Bible passages. Unlike food, that has no sin attached to it (it can’t think, it can’t influence human thought), books are communication of ideas, and many humans communicate sinful ideas. I agree that the Harry Potter series is open to interpretation and C.S. Lewis has some troubling story lines. Therefore, allow your conscience to guide you.
Fifty Shades of Gray is written to titillate, to draw the human mind toward sin. God specifically warns us away from it. If the Christian’s conscience isn’t troubled by that kind of subject matter, his/her conscience has been seared.
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Seared. I like that way of putting it!
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I was wondering about that as well, but it still goes to judging another’s servant. In any case, it is up to the individual’s conscience. If it is seared (which in the case of my more extreme examples I would agree), it is still up to God to deal with the individual.
But, would I knowingly read a book written by a person with a differing worldview such as a JW or Mormon? Not if I knew ahead of time. That’s where it’s important to be Berean.
Thank you for your comments. I appreciate your opinions. 🙂
I have read several books by Mormons specifically Ender’s Game and the Twilight series. My favorite novel is Atlas Shrugged, which was written by Ayn Rand who was atheist/agnostic.
I’ll admit that I read probably too broadly although reading books not from a Christian viewpoint seem to tighten not weaken my faith. I have a habit of wanting to “save” fictional characters. I usually follow up by reading books by Christian authors.
I didn’t know the author of Ender’s Game was mormon. Jessica Day George is another popular mormon author. I read several of her books before I knew but I don’t feel her type books are likely to be very influential in that regard.
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I like both of those authors. I guess the difference is they aren’t claiming to write Christian fiction.
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