RPM, Volume 15, Number 42, October 13 to October 19, 2013

Why Harry Potter Isn't Christian Allegory

By John McWilliams

Through the years since the Harry Potter books and movies have come out, some Christians have gone so far as to make the claim that the Harry Potter series is actually a Christian epic and in it can be found a wonderful and purposeful allegory for The Gospel. The author J. K. Rowling has been asked if indeed it was her purpose all along in Harry Potter to write a specific and intentional Christian allegory. Even though that is a pretty simple question to answer, Rowling has consistently avoided answering it.

She has however clearly stated that her plan from the beginning was to withhold inserting any religion (specifically Christianity) into her books. However, the great exception to that rule seems to be witchcraft, commonly called Wicca. Either she doesn't consider witchcraft a religion or she's making witchcraft the one big exception to her rule about not including religion in her books. If she doesn't see witchcraft as a religion, she is totally out of sync with the millions around the world who do and who practice it on a regular basis and claim it as their religion. She's also out of sync with the governments of the U. S. and her native land of England, both of which protect Wicca or witchcraft as a religion.

Moreover, she has stated that the reason she withheld any clear insertion of religion, specifically Christianity, was because if she put it in, she felt readers might conclude there was a parallel intended, which might lead them to make specific conclusions ahead of time about how the series might end. John Bunyan in Pilgrim's Progress, and others who have written purposeful Christian allegories, never seemed to be concerned about that issue. One has to admit that for Rowling to purposefully refrain from putting in the very things of which allegories are made, because somebody might actually recognize the allegory, (which is what those who write allegories are trying to make their readers do) seems a bit odd.

Certainly one can make an argument for the themes of good and evil being present in the Harry Potter series, but one could make the same argument for Star Wars, which was never written as a Christian allegory. As they say, just because you are standing in a garage, doesn't make you a car. Just because you can find themes of good and evil and light and darkness in a work of literature doesn't mean it's a Christian allegory.

Whatever faith Rowling has, it seems to be an under developed faith at best. It's not the mature kind of faith others who have gone before her who wrote clear Christian allegories have exhibited. In fact, she has many doubts about the Christian faith and to her credit, has been honest enough to say so. She clearly has numerous doubts about Christ's Resurrection and whether it's Christ's Resurrection through which one gains eternal life. Listen to her own words.

"The truth is that, like Graham Greene, my faith is sometimes that my faith will return. It's something I struggle with a lot," she revealed. "On any given moment if you asked me [if] I believe in life after death, I think if you polled me regularly through the week, I think I would come down on the side of yes — that I do believe in life after death. [But] it's something that I wrestle with a lot. It preoccupies me a lot, and I think that's very obvious within the books."

Again to her credit, that was an honest statement and it reflects that an afterlife is something she seems to desire, but has failed to be convinced actually exists. Moreover, there are millions of people who say they do feel there is an afterlife, but they would never claim that it was through Christ that such an afterlife is made possible.

If you do some research on Graham Greene, a famous British author and playwright, you'll see that Rowling may have been very influenced by his life and writings. His work also had much in the way of good and evil and light and darkness themes. He has lots of religious overtones in his work which come from his Catholic background. His works reflected his own journeys in life that were often very difficult. Although he had converted to Catholicism, he objected strongly to being described as a Catholic writer. He preferred to be called a writer who happened to be Catholic. He just did the best he could to reflect in his writing some of the many struggles and doubts as well as his wishes concerning life and faith. Yet his life did not reflect a serious commitment to his adopted religion. On the contrary, he walked far from it. Hence the saying that Rowling quotes above, where he says that his faith is that someday his faith will return.

This seems to be something Rowling can relate to well. She was raised hearing about Christianity and is still a member of The Church of Scotland. However, being a church member, does not a mature Christian make. There are plenty of people whose names are on church roles, but whose names are not yet in The Book Of Life. I know, because I was one of those people for a lot of years.

In an interview on the Today Show in July of 2007 Rowling said the following concerning the last book in the series. "So ... yes, my belief and my struggling with religious belief and so on I think is quite apparent in this book."

Again she's being honest here and good for her. She's not claiming at all to be a mature Christian and not claiming to have written a purposeful Christian allegory. So one has to ask the question. If she's not claiming it, why do others feel they have to claim it for her?

As far as I can tell, nothing she's said or written to date, indicates that she had planned from the beginning to include in the last book, specific Biblical passages and a parallel to The Resurrection for Harry. Rather, it seems she may have chosen this ending and the Scripture passages, sort of "along the way" if you will, versus having planned it from the beginning. At some point, it seems that the age old theme of sacrificing oneself and coming back to life seemed appropriate to her to use for Harry.

Yet I seriously doubt that it was because she was intentionally trying to make an evangelical witness to the world and promote Christianity as the purpose of her books. Her use of self-sacrifice and resurrection in the concluding book is certainly clear. However, the fact that she used those images to allegorically promote Christianity and advance The Gospel is not at all clear. Given the fact that she has had ample opportunity to tell the world otherwise and correct those who say this isn't a Christian allegory, I have to conclude it's not a purposeful Christian allegory at all.

With all due respect to a woman who seems to sincerely be searching for meaningful faith, the bits and pieces of Christianity that may be sprinkled into her books and have come out of her past, seem to reflect more her unresolved life struggles and what she wishes for, rather than a clear statement of what she has found to be a living, meaningful Christian faith that she is confident should be shared with all whom she meets.

That being the case, what she has written in the series cannot be trusted to give good Christian direction to people. With all due respect to her, nothing she's ever said indicates that's what she ever set out to do. In fact there are many things in the books and movies that a mature Christian would never cast in such a positive light.

The most serious of those would be how witchcraft is so positively lifted up and how that position is never retracted, even at the end of the series. On the other hand, there are many things left out that should be there if this is to be considered a Christian allegory. This confusion in my opinion reflects Rowling's own confusion regarding the Christian faith and this confusion isn't something I would like passed on to my children.

The hero of the series, the one who gives up his life for others and is resurrected, is also the one who practices witchcraft and who lies and who promotes self advancement over others. The message therefore to the children reading the books is that the "Christ Figure" if we're going to call this a Christian allegory, is also one who is okay with witchcraft being used for selfish reasons to control others and with lying when it's appropriate. Since these things are never retracted or deemed inappropriate in the books, they are left in tact and will definitely plant seeds of confusion in the lives of those who read these books, especially children.

If then we are left with a "Christ Figure" who practices and approves of witchcraft, lying and selfishness, we are clearly being presented with a false Christ, something a genuine Christian allegory would never do.

There is much in these books that can confuse, mislead and even cause readers, especially children, to become fascinated with and choose to dabble in witchcraft, rather than build them up in a solid Christian faith. Perhaps the Pope put it best when he said of the books that their, "subtle seductions, which act unnoticed ... deeply distort Christianity in the soul before it can grow properly." Like someone once said, a half a brick is more dangerous than a full brick because you can throw it further. Half Christianity and half something else is very dangerous and what we see in Harry Potter isn't even half Christianity and therefore it certainly isn't something we should be liberally pouring into our children's souls.

Peter Smith, The General Secretary of the British Association of Teachers and Lecturers from Rowling's own country said the following.

"The premiere of Harry Potter the movie will lead to a whole new generation of youngsters discovering witchcraft and wizardry....Increasing numbers of children are spending hours alone browsing the internet in search of Satanic websites and we are concerned that nobody is monitoring this growing fascination."

Blurring the lines between what is actually good and what is evil is something that causes great confusion to children. Genuine Christian allegories make very clear throughout the work, that good is good and evil is evil. Yet Rowling routinely veers from this norm. Listen to what occult expert Caryl Matrisciana points out on this subject.

"But in the Potter series, the line is not so clear. The "good" guys practice "white magic", while the bad guys practice the "Dark Arts". Readers become fascinated with the magic used (explained in remarkable detail). Yet God is clear in Scripture that any practice of magic is an "abomination" to him. God doesn't distinguish between "white" and "dark" magic since they both originate from the same source. . . "

One author wrote,

"While some argue that Harry and his friends model friendship and integrity, they actually model how to lie and steal and get away with it. Their examples only add to the cultural relativism embraced by most children today who are honest when it doesn't cost anything, but who lie and cheat when it serves their purpose."

Cult expert Jack Roper said,

"When such a hero uses evil as a problem solving tool, we need to be warned. . . Potter makes spiritualism and witchcraft look wonderful,"

The following Scripture from Isaiah 5:20 kind of sums this up nicely.

"Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light, and light for darkness, . . . "

In a valid Christian allegory, you shouldn't see what God calls evil, being used for so called good ends. That happens in the Harry Potter series all the time. Moreover, common people in Harry Potter who are without any magical powers are seen as a lesser class of people. That is clearly something Christ would never teach. When we pastors deal with a passage of Scripture to prepare a sermon we are supposed to engage in something called exegesis. That simply means we are to study the text fully, do the homework in the original Biblical languages and thereby do our very best to find out what the original intent of the passage is so we can prepare a sermon based on the original intent of the author.

If however, I ignore the original intent of the writer and instead read into the text something that reflects my own intentions or agenda, something that was never really there in the first place, I have engaged in something called eisegesis, pronounced ice-a-gee-sis. I suggest to you that reading into Ms. Rowling's series that she originally intended this group of books to be a clear Christian allegory, is in fact not exegesis of her work, but rather is eisegesis.

Even if one were to give Ms. Rowling the total benefit of the doubt and say that this series was planned all along as a Christian allegory, one has to wonder why she still refuses to confirm that today. I mean the series is complete. The end is written. She's already a billionaire. It seems to me that if she had intended the series to be a Christian allegory from the start, she would at least tell us that now. If in fact her goal is for her readers to see Christ in her work, what about all the people who read it and miss the allegory? Shouldn't they be clued in now so that the goal of bringing people to Christ is advanced? The fact that she isn't claiming that her work is a Christian allegory speaks volumes and should stand on its own.

What an honor it would be for her to be listed among the other great writers of Christian allegory before her. Yet, my guess is that she has enough Christian ethics in her to refuse to falsely accept such an honor and for that she should be applauded.

So at the end of the day, and with all due respect to Ms. Rowling, what we have is a series of books that she intended to be a fantasy, and to her credit, a fantasy that did try to teach that good and love do triumph over evil and hate.

However, the fact that in the end, she includes a couple of Scripture references and has Harry resurrected, in a way that resembles Christ, doesn't make the entire work a Christian allegory for The Gospel. It simply borrows a Christian image to make a point. It doesn't lift up Christ as the way, the truth and the life. It doesn't teach The Gospel in a way that is clear. It uses evil to do good and never teaches that Christianity is the best way to go in life. It sends all kinds of mixed moral messages to its readers.

So let's be very clear that what we have here may be a lot of things, but it isn't good Christian teaching or allegory. It certainly fails to teach what the Christian life is really all about and teaching what the Christian life is all about it what Christian allegory does. There are far too many mixed messages in the books and movies to consider them good Christian allegory for our children. Moreover, there are far better works out there for our children to read which will clearly and lovingly point them to Christ.

I've also written another article called "What The Harry Is Going On Here?" which you can read if you like. It looks much more deeply at the issue of witchcraft and how it is presented in the series and how that can be spiritually troublesome, especially for young readers.

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