Friday, December 11, 2009

Harry Potter and the Gospel

For the last week I have been given orders by the doc to take a week off. I crashed last Saturday, had stomach problems, was rather emotional (unusual for me), and was utterly knackered. Doc said, you are showing signs of stress, take a week completely off. So I have. And I feel a lot better for it.

Anywho, one of the perks of such an arrangement is that you have to fill your time. My kids have hassled me for years to finish reading Harry Potter, having got to the first part of Book 4 years ago. So, over the last four days I have raced through books four to seven.

It has inspired me to blog…

The first thing to say is that it is GOOD! It is, to put it mildly, brilliant! I can see why kids and many adults love it. For me in my youth it was the Narnia series by C.S. Lewis. I loved those books and still love them! Great as those books are, begrudgingly I admit that Potter is even better. Narnia is a bit piecemeal, with the Magician’s Nephew great, the Lion the Witch the Wardrobe stunning (surely one of the greatest books ever written), and the Last Battle fantastic. The Horse and His Boy in its own way too, was very good. The others are great in their own right. However, as a flowing saga, the Potter series is superb. Based on 7 calendar and school years, while every book is self-contained, they link perfectly, the narrative continually building; it is phenomenal. I rate it as the best piece of tweenage – teenage writing I have ever read.

Of course, this is related to the genre, classic good vs. evil fantasy with all its components, goodies, horrendous badies, power struggles, death, heroism, failure, mystery, double agents, and a glorious climax in which the baddie is defeated and the goodies reign supreme. There are keys though. Firstly, unlike say Lord of the Rings which is completely “otherworldly” and Narnia which is set in another world with only distant links to our own, it is intertwined in our own world. This means that all readers can feel a part of it and imagine it at every turn. This must be strongest for the British where it is set; however, all western young readers can relate to it. One can easily imagine that there are wizards and witches, that one is not a mere muggle (normal human), and that there are schools of witchcraft in one’s own country. One can imagine that there is wizardry around us as we speak.

Secondly, for a kid’s book, it is dangerous stuff. There is death, even among the best characters. This puts some off, and for good reason. However, this makes it exciting and compelling.

Thirdly, it is set in a school with all the normal school stuff like poor or nasty teachers, homework, exams, detentions and more. It has kids’ testing and beating the system. Kids love this stuff.

Thirdly, in Quidditch it has a sporting twist with heroes, a world cup, with Harry as a star, with injuries.

Fourthly, it has kids in among adults beating them and being the heroes. It makes kids feel special.

Fifthly, there is romance. There is Cho and the developing relationship of Hermione and Ron, after it seeming earlier that Harry and Hermione hook up. There is young Ginny who eventually becomes the object of Harry’s interest. Then, running through it all is magic. It has mystery, intrigue, powers that can be wielded and kids can do it.

The second thing is looking at it from a Christian point of view. Some Christians, concerned about the occult (as we should be), see all the magic and world view of HP as negative. They tell kids not to read it, concerned that they might be influenced into an interest in the occult. I think there is a danger for some kids that this could occur.

However, I think that at another level HP has positive possibilities for Christianity. I believe that, as a book that has been and will be read by almost an entire generation, it will shape minds in the direction of an openness to spirituality. Sure, it is not Christianity, but often the first step to recognition of God is the opening of mind and heart to possibilities.

In my childhood, modernistic thinking rationalized everything, and the possibility of God and spirituality was poo-pooed by many. HP represents the next generation which is skeptical of modernism and its claims to authority. HP imagines a world full of unseen forces for good and evil, spirituality, possibilities of cosmic forces guiding history, that there is more out their than our apparent reality. HP I believe will serve to open people to the possibilities of God, Jesus, Spirit and a Christian worldview. God is in the business of using all at his disposal to make himself known. I think that HP is worse news for atheism than for Christianity.

Looking back in my life three books helped open me up: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Lord of the Rings and the Stephen Donaldson Thomas Covenant Chronicles. They helped open my up to spirituality. The gospel was able to seed in my life and Jesus is now my Lord. I believe HP could do this for some in our world. To me it raises the possibility that, as Christianity is shunned by older generations for modernistic reasons, a new generation will rise up that will dare to stand against the status quo, and will take on the faith.

It is up to Christians to use HP to further the gospel. There is the surface level way of doing this, helping people see parallels between the HP worldview and Christian faith. We can notice how HP is a redeemer figure; we can see the differences between him and Jesus. Jesus is divine and human, HP is human. Jesus was sinless, HP is flawed. Jesus never uses force, HP does. They both have in common love, love being the ultimate power in the book. We can draw people to the depth of the love of Christ as compared to HP. Jesus was a servant and showed love to all refusing to use force, HP’s love wins through, but not with the depth and completeness of JC. HP uses magic, Jesus uses power drawn from the divine. There are powerful values to be drawn from the book like courage, justice (I love Hermione’s SPEW movement to release Elves from slavery), love (needs defining), equality (all to be treated equally whether muggles, mud-bloods, witches, giants etc), unity and more. We can notice the similarities and difference between the ultimate moment in the book and Jesus’ death and resurrection. It is similar in that death is conquered through love. In HP’s case, he doesn’t die, only appears dead. This is a Gnostic or liberal perspective of Jesus, who genuinely died, but then rises (mind you, what happened to Jesus’ soul is never discussed biblically and so the two may line up more than I suggest here). We can notice that there is no reference in HP to the power behind the whole magic of the world. The “God” of HP seems to be more like the Force in Star Wars than the biblical God. Similarly, there is no reference to demons in HP. All the wizards and witches are admixtures of power, without anything seemingly behind it. This can be used as a question raiser.

I could go on. At a deeper level, HP gives us a clue as to how to preach into the HP generation. They have been captured by a glorious good vs. evil saga. We should tell our story in the same way. My own kids have read HP up to ten times each. It is etched into them. They reject its worldview. However, they love to hear the gospel story told in similar terms, as a glorious drama/epic/saga/story about a God who created a world and how its history flows on. We need to teach them to read the bible like this, to be excited about being invited into the story. In a sense, we Christians are the “wizards and witches.” The rest of the world are the muggles. Unlike HP there is a mission in our story, to invite all humanity to join those who are invited to Hogwarts and to have the power of the divine in us to shape the world. There is “magic” in the world, and it is there for us to be a part of. It is not to be wielded for self, but for good, to see the world become as it should be. We need to carefully tell the story to point out the differences from the HP story, but, nevertheless, to tell it in that way. I believe that HP will be a powerful aid at this deeper level. It has opened the heart of a generation. We can move away from the apologetic, defensive, “proofing” approach, and tell the story. We need imagination to tell it again and again differently. We need not to tell the whole story all the time. We can draw out moments in the story, telling of heroes and heroines who have, like HP, Ron and Hermione, been flawed, but have worked for good. We should draw them primarily from our source book, the Bible, but we can draw them from the ongoing story of Christian history. We need songs, poetry, novels (like the Shack), that can excite imaginations as HP has done. We need to allow the Spirit to lead us here, he is bursting to break out through us into this open generation.

I am excited after reading HP. I realize that in front of me, when I see a person in their early 20’s or below, that almost all will have had their thinking and worldview shaped by HP. They will be excited by the gospel if I can go to that deep level and tell it in a way that calls to mind the excitement they experienced when reading the book that has shaped their mind and view. They are yearning to be a part of something that can change the world. They want to resist evil. They yearn for justice. They want love and to know how to fight through love and not power and coercive force. They are open to spirituality and have a powerful sense of imagination.

Thank you J.K. Rowling. You are brilliant and I stand in awe of your ability to tell a great great story. I have read and heard different claims to faith where you are concerned, it is not mine to judge. I believe that your book will be used of the Lord to help many find the one true God who is Father, Son and Spirit. Some may be lost into darkness through it. But others will be opened to the good news. Shalom.

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