I am not as interested in defending Harry Potter as three blog posts might lead you to believe. But I am interested in critiquing the rampant fundamentalist anti-intellectualism that Mark Noll critiqued so adeptly in The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind. And I am really interested in exposing the pharisaical underbelly of fundamentalist Christianity which spreads vile gossip through the anonymity of the blogosphere thereby shaming the name of Christ. For that reason I carried the conversation rather longer than I probably should have.
Be that as it may, like that last peering glance at the ambulance lights as you slowly roll by, I just couldn’t leave well enough alone. When one hostile reader of my pro-Harry Potter defense over at the Christianpost (and they’re almost all hostile over there) responded to me in four longish posts which were then lauded by the other angry religious conservatives, I decided to respond. As you will see below, it is a revealing exercise when you see the ugliness that emerges.
The anonymous commenter calls him/herself “AFriend”.
AFriend’s first comment with commentary
RD, Please allow me to list my credentials, since it appears “ignorant” people are not worthy of debating with you. I have a liberal arts education. I majored in English. I have read the much C.S. Lewis, Tolkien, and several of the H.P. books, as well
as viewed the films. I have studied other religions, and have a solid understanding of Wicca beliefs and practices. As a literary-lover, I could not put Rowling next to Lewis or Tolkien or R.L. Stevenson for that matter. The language in the HP books is not challenging, and while I give her credit for cleverness and drama, the moral aspects of the books are sorely lacking. Surely you are aware that the H.P. characters (the good guys) frequently lie, steal, cheat, disobey teachers and parents, use foul language, and seek revenge unrepentantly.
Note the combative way that AFriend begins. (It makes it quite clear that whoever AFriend is a friend to, it ain’t me.) I never said “’ignorant’ people are not worthy” to debate me. I simply pointed out that when people are ignorant on a given topic (i.e. the nature and purpose of fantasy literature) it isn’t fruitful to engage with them on it. I would have thought that a rather obvious,
non-controversial point. Ask an ENT specialist whether he thinks it worthwhile to debate with parents over the diagnosis of their child’s infection after they read a Wikipedia article.
AFriend then goes on to list his/her “credentials” … sort of. Since the matter was raised by AFriend I’ll point out that credentials are actually formally recognized evidences of special authority, status or privileges. For example, it would be much more helpful if, rather than courting vagueness, AFriend had simply said “I have a BA in English from Bob Jones University.” On the other hand, there probably isn’t much point: Since AFriend has chosen to post anonymously I would have no idea if what he/she said was true.
Next, AFriend claims that “the moral aspects of the [Potter] books are sorely lacking.” The evidence? “[T]he H.P. characters (the good guys) frequently lie, steal, cheat, disobey teachers and parents, use foul language, and seek revenge unrepentantly.” I am, to say the least, surprised that AFriend, a person who allegedly majored in English literature, thinks this is evidence that the books are morally lacking. Is AFriend familiar with the exploits of, say, King David? But never mind the Bible, how about the drunken priest in Graham Greene’s The Power and the Glory? Not exactly the Christ-figure we would have chosen. And yet Greene’s book is a profound and deeply moral novel by a committed Catholic author (though Greene would have preferred to be called an author who is Catholic). So it is in the HP books. Harry, Hermione, Ron and the others are morally complex characters. They are, in other words, human beings, not the cardboard cutouts of moralistic “Christian fiction”. It is, to say the least, surprising that anybody who claims to have majored in English could have rendered such facile commentary about morally complex protagonists.
AFriend’s second comments with commentary:
While I understand the nature of fantasy literature, it is unfortunate to me that Rowling chose to include many, many real occult practices (defining and describing them), in her works. Magic rings are one thing, but describing in explicit detail actual occult practices and traditions is unsettling and inappropriate for children’s literature http://christiananswersforthenewage.org/Articles_HarryPotterSorceryAndFantasy.html). It is a fact that while not all, some children have pursued witchcraft as a direct result of being inspired by these works (http://www.babylonforsaken.com/twilight.html). While it is a great thing kids are enjoying reading, what they are reading is also of utmost importance. Has reading H.P. (since there has been so much of it) caused an increase in writing or reading skills? Has it contributed to an increase in vocabulary? Has it helped education in any way? Of course, no study has been done to answer these questions, but in America test scores are abysmal, while TV watching, texting, and gaming has continued to rise. I’m not saying H.P. is to blame, but for all its praise in “getting young people to read”, where/what are the results?
Let’s begin with this claim: “describing in explicit detail actual occult practices and traditions is unsettling and inappropriate for children’s literature…” There is an interesting divergence between this comment and the other critics to my comments. Others have been of the opinion, expressed by Ososami, that Harry Potter books are evil. Here the charge is that they may not be age appropriate. That’s a very different charge.
Next, AFriend says that “some children have pursued witchcraft as a direct result of being inspired by these works”. These works have been read by tens of millions of children. Have some played with a Ouija board or dousing rod as a result? Perhaps. But what does that have to do with the moral and literary merit of the books? Some people took LSD after reading Slaughterhouse Five. That hardly means that Vonnegut’s book is evil. And dare I mention what some people have done after reading the Bible?
AFriend’s final point in this paragraph may be the most bizarre of all as AFriend complains that there has not been a discernable rise in literacy rates among American youths over the last several years that Harry Potter books have been on the market. Really? That’s a complaint? I suggest that AFriend should engage in some informal interviews with public librarians and ask them anecdotally about the impact of Harry Potter on youth literacy.
AFriend’s Third Comment with commentary:
As far as Rowling’s Christianity is concerned, if the ultimate proof for a Christian is philanthropy, then most of Hollywood counts too. The Bible also says to look at personal/Spiritual fruit (Galatians 5:22-23) of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. While I do not know Rowling and do not claim to be able to judge her fruits, I can judge her characters. After all, it is well known an author writes themselves into their stories, and what is in the heart (personal beliefs, opinions, and faith), comes through their work. As aforementioned, Rowling’s “good” characters show a remarkable lack of said Fruits of the Spirit and never reap any natural consequences for their actions. Furthermore, despite her church attendance she never admits a faith in Christ, only a belief in God (See “Religious Views” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/J._K._Rowling). Additionally Rowling has denied being Wiccan however (though I am only pointing out, not accusing), it is a fact that while all Wiccans are witches, not all witches are Wiccan.
Yet again, AFriend makes comments that certainly don’t sound like they come from somebody who majored in English literature. Consider the comment that “it is well known an author writes themselves into their stories….” This may be “well known” in Freudian depth analysis but such a blunt maxim has little to do with the mainstream of literary criticism.
Next, AFriend asserts that “Rowling’s “good” characters show a remarkable lack of said Fruits of the Spirit and never reap any natural consequences for their actions.” That strikes me as a comment that is obviously false for anybody who has read the
books. Harry shows outstanding character development through the seven books as he prepares for his role to square off against evil embodied in Voldemort. Come to think of it, Harry’s gradual acceptance of his role as redemptive figure within the providential framework of the novel is reminiscient of Owen Meany’s parallel role in John Irving’s wonderful A Prayer for Owen Meany.
Next, we turn to the point where AFriend hits absolute rock bottom. To begin with, AFriend states that Rowling “never admits a faith in Christ, only a belief in God….” Based on what is this claim made? AFriend provides a link to Wikipedia. Now I could malign AFriend’s quality of research but I needn’t bother because the Wikipedia link provided explains that Rowling attends church regularly at the Church of Scotland and identifies herself as a Christian. So why would AFriend say something so false and reprehensible? But that is not enough apparently for AFriend then goes on to drop some innuendo that while Rowling is not a Wiccan, there are other kinds of witches (wink wink, nudge nudge).
Sickening. Absolutely sickening.
When I read that bit, one image popped into my mind: Reverend Lovejoy’s wife from the Simpsons. You know who I’m talking about. The vile gossip of the church who loves nothing better than to spread rumors with disgusting innuendo. “I don’t know if Steve is cheating on Suzie, but then why else would he be so late from the office?” “I’m not sure that Mike is gay, but then he does seem to be rather limp wristed.” “I don’t know that Rowling is a witch but I have my suspicions.”
Perhaps AFriend, you could stop listening to your Bill Gaither records long enough to give Timex Social Club’s eighties hit “Rumors” a listen. You might find it instructive (though sadly, I doubt it).
AFriend’s fourth comments with commentary:
“Lastly, as a Christian why have you used such vehement words and assumptions towards your own siblings in Christ? You
kept asserting in other posts how others were ignorant or uneducated when you have no idea of their background. Besides, God often uses the foolish to shame the wise (1 Corinthians 1:19-21). Wisdom and education do not necessarily equate, but we are to be respectful and humble regardless of others’ opinions. Here is an essay you may be interested in which has some researched information on H.P. among other works: Spirituality in Gothic Literature Past and Present
Vehement words? Yes I have some vehement words for gossips like AFriend who confess the name of Christ even as they shame the body of Christ by denying J.K. Rowling’s faith on no evidence while suggesting that she is a witch. People like that are like whitewashed tombs, which look pious and churchy on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean.