(Photo: Reuters/Lucas Jackson)
The Christian community is still divided over the question of whether or not the Harry Potter movie series will cast an evil spirit over children.
Themes of evil, salvation, sin, sacrifice, witchcraft, and the occult run through every storyline. But some Christian leaders say there are other positive messages for young audiences.
It goes without saying too much that thousands of dissertations, worship services, and Sunday school curriculum have fueled the debate over time about the evils and good moral lessons portrayed in the Harry Potter books and movies.
On one side of the debate, some Christians leaders agree that the Harry Potter series is “just fantasy” and generally acceptable for the Christian reader, including Chuck Colson of Breakpoint, the editors of World Magazine, and Connie Neal, the author of What’s A Christian To Do With Harry Potter?
However, occult experts, Marcia Montenegro of Christian Answers for the New Age, and Caryl Matrisciana, author of Gods of the New Age, disagree with their Christian peers. Both have personal experience in the occult before becoming Christians.
They warn that the cult is serious business and impressionable minds grasp on to ideas like those presented in the world of Harry Potter.
Not all conservatives find fault with Harry Potter.
A bespectacled teenaged wizard with a lightning-shaped scar on his forehead might not look like an image of Christ to most people, but evangelical pop-culture observer Greg Garrett sees similarities he says are definite.
“Harry Potter is one of the most clearly identifiable examples of a Christ figure in contemporary fiction,” said Garrett, English professor at Baylor University and a Christian author.
Like many Christians, Garrett says he sees the viral e-mails labeling the Harry Potter series as a gateway into the occult, designed to lead young readers into a fascination with witchcraft and sorcery.
But, to his delight, he said he discovered something altogether surprising.
“As I started reading the books and watching the movies, I began to notice a lot of affinity to the Christian faith,” said Garrett, who previously has written explorations of spirituality and Christian themed novels.
His suspicions became confirmed when author J.K. Rowling wrapped up the final book in the seven-volume series, and finally spoke openly in several interviews about her Christian faith.
She went so far as to say she had hesitated to talk about her faith previously because it would have made the series’ conclusion too obvious to discerning readers.
“If she says she is a Christian, and I see no reason not to take her at her word, we can take it seriously when Christian themes appear in her writing,” Garrett said.
He said the series does not impose thoughts of evil and witchcraft throughout. They also deal with issues of free will, moral choice and the transformational power of self-sacrifice.
“While some Christian themes may be subtle, as the series develops – leading to an apocalyptic ending in the final installment, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – they become more explicitly Christian,” he said.
Amy Butler, senior pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Washington, presents an alternative solution to the ongoing debate.
She says the Harry Potter movies contain life lessons like facing fears.
Butler left the last Harry Potter movie recently wondering what would happen if we could just stop running, turn around and face what scares us. Would the fear lose its power?
“After seeing Harry Potter I was struck by how very crippling fear can be in our lives. I mean, Harry and friends spent eight whole movies trying to run away from Voldemort, the bad guy,” Butler writes for the Baptist Press.
She continues to say that fear can chip away at joy. It can suck the air out of a room. It can tie our hands and feet and keep us from moving forward. Fear won’t let us envision a future that’s any different from the present.
Potter fans say that the world of Harry Potter is just make-believe and has no bearing on the real world.
Most Christians recognize the good vs. evil element as being clearly delineated. Evil is evil, and good is good, and good is promoted while evil is not in most movies today.
Children are understandably fascinated with the kind of power that Harry and others in his world possess.
Some Christian leaders stand firm saying certainly power is appealing, especially “white witchcraft like this that is made to look so innocent.
For example, promotional literature for a Christian-oriented video, "Harry Potter: Witchcraft Repackaged," warns, "Because many don't recognize occult symbolism or understand witchcraft, thousands of young readers by inference are led to accept them as whimsical and harmless, aided by Rowling's repackaging of witchcraft in probably its most dangerous form – children's fantasy literature."
So, what is a Christian to do?
The answer may be found in differing worldviews, said Cliff Vaughn, associate director of the Baptist Center for Ethics in Nashville, Tenn.
"Worldviews are like lenses," he explained. "They affect the way we see the world. In broad terms, people speak of two worldviews. One is objective, whereas the other is interpretive."
"In the case of Harry Potter, one worldview sees an evil. No bones about it. It must be eradicated. The other worldview says not necessarily. The world isn't that tidy, and the book's malevolence isn't a foregone conclusion," he said.
Finding one's way between these two opposing positions may not be easy, but it may be possible, he insisted. Vaughn says it's certainly worth a try, because the basic issues involved in the Potter debate won't dissipate.
"Years ago, the Smurfs were public enemy No. 1. Then it was He-Man. Now it's Harry Potter. This wave of concern demonstrates yet again there's nothing new under the sun," Vaughn says.
And as for the movie, "If you're concerned about it, go to it by yourself before you take your children."