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Chip Burkitt

Harry Potter

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Should a Christian read Harry Potter? Some say Harry Potter is filled with occult and pagan influences and that Christians have no business reading such things. Others say that the Harry Potter books are entertaining stories about good and evil and that Christians have as much right to read them as anyone else.

The Harry Potter books certainly contain occult and pagan influences. Anyone who feels an unhealthy interest in the occult probably should not read them. Harry Potter is a wizard. All his friends are wizards or witches. Those who are not magical (called Muggles), are portrayed as stupid or dull. Characters use magic wands, cast spells, use hexes to cause harm, drink magic potions, and fly on broomsticks. Harry and his friends are dishonest and conniving. They disregard rules, ignore the admonitions of their teachers, and cheat when they think they can get away with it. The characters are also thoroughly secular as are most characters in most modern fiction. If they believe in God at all, he is a distant Creator who set the world in motion but no longer bothers about it. Neither Jesus nor Satan is ever mentioned, despite references to Christmas in each book.

The books are also well-written and very entertaining. The stories contain elements of adventure and mystery. Each book builds to climactic scenes in which Harry confronts evil and overcomes it. Harry is told repeatedly that what really separates him from the likes of Voldemort—the evil wizard who repeatedly tries to kill Harry—is his capacity to love. Again and again he risks his life to save his friends. Despite his flaws, Harry is a noble and self-sacrificing character. You can’t help admiring him.

The question of whether Christians ought to read Harry Potter is like the first century concern with eating food offered to idols. Some considered eating such food a disgrace to the true God. Others considered it a participation in the worship of devils. Still others saw nothing wrong with it; it was just food. Paul makes clear that the focus of our attention should not be on the food. Our proper concern is with people. If my eating causes someone weak in the faith to fall into sin, then I ought not to eat. Better that I should encourage the weak and build them up rather than fight with them and tear them down. In the same way, it seems to me, that I should not argue with those who oppose reading Harry Potter. I should instead encourage them and build them up, so that they will stand firm in their faith.

When my daughter was in fifth grade, her teacher started reading Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone to the entire class. Jane found the book disturbing. She did not like to hear about wizards and witches and magic. She asked to be excused from class during the readings. I supported her, and she went to the library while the rest of the class listened to the book. I also told her teacher that the Harry Potter books were controversial among evangelical Christians. She thanked me because she hadn’t heard anything but praise for them. Jane is now in the eighth grade and an avid reader, but she still has not read any Harry Potter books, and I will not press her to do so.

When my son, Noah, was in fifth grade, he was hardly reading at all. He had outgrown Captain Underpants, for which I was thankful, but he seemed not to enjoy reading anything. To his mind, reading was one of those boring things you had to do at school. Only a nerd or a dork would read without having to. I decided to try to interest him in reading with Harry Potter. To peak his interest, I told him that Jane did not like it and couldn’t stand to hear it read. By the time he made his way through the first book, he was hooked on reading and on Harry Potter. I know some people will censure me for putting books “inspired by Satan” into my son’s hands. However, I do not think they are inspired by Satan, and the books have actually provided many useful opportunities for Noah and me to talk about the difference between the magic in the books and the kind of magic practiced by modern pagans and Wiccans. He knows the difference between the fictional world of Harry Potter and the real world. He has not become obsessed with magic. In fact he has a heart that hungers and thirsts after righteouness. He loves the worship of God.

There are some Christians who do not know that Satan has been defeated. They seem to think that he has great power still in this world and that he can afflict Christians who try to mess with him. But Jesus showed us how to deal with Satan. He never backed down. He always made Satan crawl. He gave his followers the same authority and told them to use it. “Cast out devils,” he said. “Heal the sick. Raise the dead. Freely you have received; freely give.” The only power Satan retains is the power of deceit. Like Saruman in The Lord of the Rings he may charm the unwary with lies and do some damage through trickery and smooth talk, but he has no real power of his own. When his lies are exposed and he is confronted in the name of Jesus, he flees. So too, Harry Potter holds no terrors for those who read warily, discerning the truth.

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Robertson’s Judgment

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Somethings can be counted on. You can count on Pat Robertson to speak out when he should keep quiet. You can count on the Anti-Defamation League to call his remarks “un-Christian and a pervsersion of religion.” You can also count on Americans United for Separation of Church and State to take Robertson to task and accuse him of having a political agenda. And you can count on the media to faithfully report the potshots taken by all sides.

For a Christian, the obvious question is: Is Robertson right? Is Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s brain hemorrage a divine punishment for carving up the Promised Land? Those who are not Christians don’t need to bother about this point.

It’s not always easy to answer questions about God’s purposes and designs. For one thing, he doesn’t consider himself accountable to anyone else, so he has a disconcerting habit of not explaining himself. Biblical examples of God taking out a political leader come to mind. When Herod let people proclaim him a god (Acts 12:20-23), the Bible says, “Immediately, because Herod did not give praise to God, an angel of the Lord struck him down, and he was eaten by worms and died.” Moreover, there is Robertson’s passage in Joel 3 to consider, where God makes it clear that he is bringing judgment for “dividing the land.”

Herod’s sin was pride, usurping God’s glory, the oldest and most grievous sin. He was not stricken because he traded land for peace. Robertson called Sharon a “very tender-hearted man.” I doubt anyone would have so described Herod. In fact, it doesn’t look like there are any significant parallels between the account of Herod and what we know of Ariel Sharon. So although God might bring judgment on a political leader—and there are no doubt occasions when we wish he would—it doesn’t look like he has done so in this case.

But what about Robertson’s quote from Joel? The relevant passage is Joel 3, which is clearly set in an apocalyptic time of judgment. Those being judged are not the leaders of Israel but the foreign nations who have raided her and carried off her people into exile. “They cast lots for my people and traded boys for prostitutes; they sold girls for wine that they might drink.” It doesn’t say that they provided land for a nation of outcasts and gave homes to the homeless. Robertson has pulled a mere phrase out of context and used it declare God’s judgment on Ariel Sharon. I would say to him, “If you had known what these words mean, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the innocent.” (Matthew 12:7).

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Why Faith?

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Why does God insist on faith? This is a question of some importance. It would be so easy for him to persuade us completely by reason alone. All he would have to do is make regular appearances and do a few tricks for the crowds. If he would make himself observable, we skeptical humans could grasp his reality more surely. So why doesn’t he do it?

As John Piper has noted, God’s primary motivation is his glory. He has made everything for his glory, to bring honor to his name. Perhaps, then, faith brings greater glory to God than a relationship based on tangible evidence of his existence. Even in relationships between humans, faith is an essential element. We don’t usually doubt one another’s existence—although some have claimed to have such doubts—but we do doubt one another in countless other ways. Perhaps I doubt my wife’s fidelity; I might hire a private investigator to follow her and see if she’s really doing what she says. Or maybe I doubt the sincerity of my boss’s praise. His boss gives him all the credit when I do all the work. He’s just trying to stay on my good side.

These doubts all involve things we can’t easily verify. They are intangible. My wife may be outwardly faithful but inwardly drifting further and further away from me. My private investigator won’t tell me that. And how can I determine my boss’s sincerity? Would it make his praise more sincere if his own efforts went unnoticed? Or is it my own envy that makes his sweet words bitter?

Let’s go a bit further. Is it really true that God could appear in such a way as to remove all doubt about himself? It seems to me that there are two answers to this question. The first is, yes, of course, God can overpower us with his awesome might. He can inspire such love in our hearts that we can’t help but yield to him. He can do such marvelous works on our behalf that we are compelled to acknowledge him. In short, he can make us trust him against our will and even against our reason. How does that serve his glory? What honor is there in being honored by automata—if indeed, it can be called honor?

The second answer comes from a more human perspective. If we assume that God does not overpower our will or reason, then we might have to say that God already appears in such a way as to remove all doubt about his existence. We only cling to doubt as a way of justifying our own rebellious indifference. For most humans throughout history, the existence of a Creator, a being who made everything, has been self-evident. It has not needed “scientific” justification. It was considered to be indisputable fact. It is only to the modern mind, educated by so-called Enlightenment thinking, that such doubts even occur.

The (r)evolutionary notion of human progress and perfectibility has taken such hold on the modern imagination that we no longer see a need for God. We have our big-bang theory to explain the universe (though, in fact, it only describes the process by which the universe came to be as it is without at all settling how it originated or what it all might mean). We have our theory of evolution to explain our own existence (though it, too, only describes a process without giving it meaning). We have come to believe that we can save ourselves, make heaven on earth, bring peace to the world, and shape our own destiny despite massive evidence to the contrary. How do we continue to hold on to these utopian dreams? What amazing faith we have in ourselves!

Who then is the greater fool—the one who believes in a God he cannot see but who provides ample evidence of his loving care or the one who puts his faith in fallen Man whose record of broken promises continues to grow? Our modern theories have taught us that nature is rife with selfish competition and opportunism, but an older view sees nature as the bounty of a loving God who provides even for the smallest of his creatures. “If God so clothes the grass in the fields which springs up today and is cast in the flames tomorrow, how much more will he clothe you, O you of little faith.” (See Matthew 6:30).

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