Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Response

British author J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series has been a runaway bestseller since its release. The last four installments set records as the fastest-selling books in history and the film franchise is one of the highest grossing of all time. The highly-anticipated final movie, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2, is scheduled to bring this epic series to a close on July 15, 2011.

The series, which follows the titular adolescent as he grows up to become a wizard endowed with magical powers, has sparked controversy among Christians. When a teacher from my church asked for my personal opinion about the books, I took it as an opportunity to help parents think through the influence of literature on the minds of children.

Most believers consider occult practices and powers to be real and damaging to a person’s mind and soul (Deuteronomy 18:10–12; 2 Thessalonians 2:9–10). Consequently, some Christians feel that Harry Potter instills these dangerous concepts among young readers. I encourage parents to ask four questions in determining whether to allow their children to read (or watch) Harry Potter and similar works.

How can Christian parents test their decisions in terms of Scripture, conscience, and reason (Philippians 4:8; 1 Thessalonians 5:21; 1 John 4:1)?
These God-given authorities can guide believers when making tough decisions. Confidence comes from aligning one’s life according to God’s Word and the faculties of reason and logic. The following questions flesh out this guiding principle.

Is it appropriate to use dark and occult images in fantasy fiction and film to convey imaginative narrative?
Christian authors C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien certainly thought so. Many fairy tales use similar imagery. I ask parents to consider whether they agree or disagree with Lewis and Tolkien and why.

Does the book use these images as literary devices simply to propel the broader story, or rather to promote occult involvement?
Parents need to progressively instruct their children on the differences between fiction and reality. This helps kids appreciate the basic elements of literature as well as distinguish actual spiritual deceptions and counterfeits.

What is the overarching worldview reflected in the books and how does it compare and/or contrast with the historic Christian worldview?
In other words, how do the books handle such ultimate issues as God, the cosmos, truth, goodness, values, and humanity? Teaching young people the skill of thinking “worldviewishly” is critically important in their ongoing intellectual and spiritual development.

Ultimately it’s up to parents to decide whether Harry Potter is suitable for their children. Asking thoughtful questions puts believers in a position to discover what is good, right, and profitable before God.

For more advice on Harry Potter, check out episode 37 of my podcast, Straight Thinking. This article originally appeared in the May/June 2009 Reasons newsletter. To sign up to receive Reasons for free, call (800) 482-7836.

  One thought on “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Response

  1. July 13, 2011 at 9:24 am

    Would you want YOUR children to engage in it?

    • March 14, 2016 at 11:17 am

      Rich:

      I seemed to have missed your comment all those years ago.

      I’ve taught my children to think critically and if they wanted to read Harry Potter I wouldn’t have a problem with it. But it is a parents choice and I can respect people who disagree with me (Romans 14).

      Ken Samples

  2. July 15, 2011 at 8:33 am

    Great post, Ken. I saw (and enjoyed) the film last night. It was no more scary than LOTRs and showed the ultimate triumph of good over evil. My son, who has read all the books and seen all the films, certainly knows the difference between the magical world of Harry Potter and the magic we, as Christians, are called to stay away from.

  3. Dana
    July 15, 2011 at 11:01 am

    I love the Harry Potter books. They are good fiction.

  4. Dan
    July 16, 2011 at 8:45 pm

    Haven’t seen the final installment yet but I will soon. I think that magical themes in movies answers to a deeply felt need for something transcendent, something more. We all know what it is to feel that life was not supposed to be this drab. That’s why we like fantasy. It is a momentary escape from the mundane. As a child, I literally devoured C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia. I was shocked later in life when Christians told me that his books were evil because of the witches in them. I believe there were at least three over the series. They couldn’t seem to see the true magic in the stories because they obsessed over the occult elements. For example, when I first heard Mr. Beaver explaining Aslan to the Pevensie children, I was thunderstruck. Intuitively, I knew he was really talking about Jesus. What I learned about God’s nature from that little encounter I had never heard in Sunday School. The same was true when they talked about the White Witch. I just knew that here was a true portrayal of evil unlike any I had ever heard before. In Sunday School we had been told that Satan was evil but O man! Lewis’ stories made you really believe in evil. Rowling may lack Lewis’ Christianized imagery but she does a great job portraying good and evil. Think about it! If you were looking for someone to watch your back wouldn’t you like Harry Potter behind you. And why? Because he’s a wizard? No! Because there’s a kid who has real character. He’s someone you can count on. Seems to me that’s a pretty positive role model.

  5. Jim Peppler
    March 16, 2016 at 1:18 pm

    No. Occultic influences are real. If the hero in the story is an influence that represents witchcraft in any way, then that child will naturally be drawn to occultic influences, such as the weegie board. Occultic practices only work if you first believe it to be real and some entertainment can be seen as planting that seed, which might lead to a natural curiosity to things like the weegie board which is usually where it starts. The greater influence is specified on what the hero’s image is.

    • March 16, 2016 at 5:12 pm

      Hello, Jim.

      Thanks for your comments.

      The occult is real but fictional literary figures are not. I see no reason to think that reading about fictional dark images in literature, especially Christian literature, has a direct connection to the spirit world or occultism. With all due respect, to think this way strikes me as granting far too much power to evil spiritual realities. I think genuine involvement in occultism takes a lot more intent and desire on the pursuer’s part than just reading about dark images.

      I respect your opinion and I think you should follow your Christian conscience if so convicted. But I think you are expressing an opinion that runs counter to the experiences on millions of Christians even Christian authorities on the occult. Untold millions of Christians have read Christian authors (Lewis and Tolkien to name just two) who use dark images in their writing as literary symbols but have not led people into occultism. Rather the stories have encouraged people in the Christian faith. Even my former boss Walter Martin, a specialist on cults and the occult, didn’t think dark images in literature led to occult practices.

      By the way, J.K. Rowling now says she is a Christian.

      I appreciate your comments and respect your convictions even if we see things differently.

      Best regards in Christ my friend.

      Ken Samples

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