This month, the final Harry Potter film had the most successful opening weekend of any movie ever. Among the fans who lined up for the opening midnight showing were Christians, many of whom see striking similarities between the story of Jesus -- with its sacrificial death, burial and resurrection -- and the story of Harry Potter.
But at least one atheist has also noticed these similarities, and he’s written a book about it. In the newly-released (and blasphemously-titled) Jesus Potter Harry Christ, Derek Murphy makes the case that J. K. Rowling -- the author of the Harry Potter series -- achieved her success by tapping into some of the deepest and most ancient longings of the human heart. These same longings, Murphy argues, compelled first-century pagans to construct what he calls “the Jesus myth.”
Murphy writes, “Jesus and Harry Potter are both...fictional...characters which incorporate classical (pagan) spirituality and religious ideology...I start by using the similarities between Jesus and Harry to raise the question, ‘how can Jesus be historical if Harry is fictional?'"
Murphey points to similarities between the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ virgin birth, His passion and His return from the grave with the myths of pagan idols like Isis, Sarapis, Horus and Apollo, Murphy hopes to convince his readers that Jesus -- just like the gods of mythology -- is fiction. In fact, he believes that Jesus is just an amalgam of history’s best myths.
Well, Murphy is certainly right in recognizing a common thread through pagan religious beliefs. As C. S. Lewis writes in Mere Christianity, the heathen religions are full of “...those queer stories...about a god who dies and comes to life again and, by his death, has somehow given new life to men.”
But what Murphy misses -- and Lewis got -- is the fact that the human longings for sacrifice, resurrection and redemption are stamped on our hearts for a reason: They point us straight to the God who stepped into history to fulfill them!
In a letter to a friend, Lewis recounts a conversation he had with J. R. R. Tolkien, the author of The Lord of the Rings -- and a close colleague of Lewis.
“The story of Christ,” said Tolkien, “is simply a true myth: a myth working on us in the same way as the others, but with this tremendous difference that it really happened...The Pagan stories are God expressing Himself through the minds of poets, using such images as He found there, while Christianity is God expressing Himself through what we call ‘real things.’”
The fact is, Murphy appeals to the bad reasoning which skeptics of the church have used for years: that simply because cultures around the world tell stories which remind us of Christianity, Christianity itself must be just such a story.
But for Lewis and Tolkien, it was this universal fascination with the savior-god myth that made Christianity so convincing. To them, the historical fact of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus rouses our deepest longings in the same way as the tales of Isis, Horus -- and even Harry Potter do. But unlike these stories, Christianity is true -- the reality to which all of the best stories of history point.