Books, Covers, and Taking the Culture War Too Far

Dumbledore_and_Elder_WandLest we forget, in some circles, the Harry Potter series remains “controversial,” owing to a troublesome passage in the Bible. Firefly fans will recognize it: Excodus 22:18, “Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.”

Aside from presenting real questions about the continued relevance of a literal reading of the Bible — because, really? — this passage apparently interferes with some Christians’ ability to enjoy compelling young adult literature, and the attendant cultural phenomenon, because the dust jacket of The Sorceror’s Stone plainly indicates a world where Exodus 22:18 is blissfully ignored. Like the Dursleys, fundamentalist Christians would prefer the orphaned Potter to stay in his closet where he belongs, thank you very much — and Dumbledore along with him.

To his enduring credit, one Benedictine monk is pushing back on that opinion from a Christian perspective, by, through apparently exegetical research, grounding Harry Potter‘s moral lessons in Christian values. That’s not just fair, it’s overdue. The fundamental lessons of the Potter series center around acceptance, the importance of virtue, and the real, physical manifestations of love, all values that Christian theology espouses — even when some Christians do not.

This is objectively good for modern Christianity, and civil society: religions built around shutting the world out have a way of dying, but tend to drag parts of the secular world down with them. Still, accepting Harry Potter for its confluence with Christianity only would be a bad way of doing things — the literary equivalent of Huck Finn’s “I knowed [Jim] was white inside” — if it weren’t accompanied by this rejection of religiously-motivated isolationism:

I do not think there is any intelligent view out there that says these books are evil. They are the sort of objections that come from people who have not read them. What are they suggesting we do, ban everyone who turns up at a children’s party to do a few tricks?

I’ve said it once, and I’ll say it again: Christian fundamentalism isn’t just out of step with modernity. It’s out of step with its own roots.

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6 comments

  1. Concerning the message or morals of Harry Potter, you might be interested in reading these (sometimes rather strongly worded) reviews which I recently found on the ‘net:

    http://www.ferretbrain.com/articles/article-161
    http://www.ferretbrain.com/articles/article-156
    http://www.ferretbrain.com/articles/article-247

    Especially the first one got me reflecting on some issues that I did not think about when I first read the books. What I want to say is that while it is obviously silly to say “HP promotes witchcraft and evil”, it is probably also a bit simplistic to say “HP promotes good values” (or even “Christian values”, which not everybody would consider to be the same, but that is another matter entirely).

  2. It’s particularly out-of-step with its own roots since their opposition is based on an interpretation of Exodus 22:18 that’s of a “Living Bible”, rather than Originalist, intepretation. Back when my long-ago paternal ancestors were getting kicked around the Fertile Crescent and surrounding sand, and you know, wrote Exodus, the word they used created the phrase “Suffer not a practitioner of black magic to live”. It wasn’t until Christians expropriated the Israelite cultural history – and specifically, a cabal of superstitious Englishmen did some translating – that that it got substituted for a word that creates the phrase “Suffer not any practitioner of magic to live.” See, for the Ancient Hebrews, “Are you a good magic-doer or a bad magic-doer?” was a real question. The Medieval Christians decided to translate it as “Are you a good witch or a bad witch?” and then got rid of the question altogether by declaring “Every witch is a bad witch”.

    1. And really, magic and witches (of the fantasy variety) do not exist, so the whole question should be moot.

    2. That was actually more like the Early Modern than the Medieval Christians. Generally speaking, belief in witchcraft is not found to any significant extent until around the early 15th century.

      1. The distinction between Early Modern and Medieval isn’t one I bothered remembering enough 9th Grade History to be able to make.

        1. No, most people don’t, regrettably.

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