Tuesday, July 5, 2016

What's A Christian to do with Harry Potter?

Connie Neal, What's a Christian to do with Harry Potter? Waterbrook Press, 2001. 210 pages. ISBN 1578564719

I hate to write a review of a book that discusses the Harry Potter controversy because of how the issue divides evangelical Christians, but I do have a reason to review the book. I am doing research on the evangelical college library and intellectual freedom in preparation for my Ph.D course in the Fall semester. Some of the possible topics that will be discussed in my paper are bad language, nudity, atheism, non-orthodox views, evolution, Harry Potter, and homosexuality. As you can see, I will have to choose some topics and let go of others. I am interested in this topic because I am a librarian and intellectual freedom is important to librarians, but that is a topic for my future paper. Concerning Harry Potter, I am a big fan. I am reading through it for either the fourth or fifth time. I assume I know a lot about the series. Second, I am an orthodox Christian, so why would I defend the book. This brings us to Connie Neal's book, What's a Christian to Do with Harry Potter? Connie Neal has written extensively on Harry Potter and she claims in the book that she tried to read everything Christians have published on Harry Potter. In addition, she is an orthodox Christian and was a youth pastor for ten years.

What's a Christian to Do with Harry Potter contains eleven chapters: Chapter 1--Controversy in the Christian Community; Chapter 2--What are the Stories about Anyway?; Chapter 3--Classic Fantasy or Blatant Witchcraft; Chapter 4--Why Kids and Kids at Heart Love Harry; Chapter 5--What Would Jesus Do with Harry Potter?; Chapter 6--Beware of the Dangers of Debate; Chapter 7--Protecting Kids from Real-World Occult; Chapter 8--Be in the World but Not of the World; Chapter 9--Harry Potter and the Judeo-Christian Ethic; Chapter 10--Using Harry Potter to Grow in Goodness; Chapter 11--Using Harry Potter to Preach the Gospel.

The author states her purpose: ""In the following chapters, I will help you sort out facts from fiction, reality from rumors, and provide trustworthy information to make you knowledgeable about the Harry Potter stories and the related debate. I will aim to help you become clearheaded, calm, confident, and peaceful with regard to the issues being raised about Harry Potter, whatever your personal convictions may be now or after you finish the book" (1). Neal's basic purpose is to inform and educate about the Harry Potter controversy, so the reader can make their own judgement about Harry. Her intended audience is both pro-Harry Potter people, anti-Harry Potter people, and maybe, those sitting on the fence. I believe she is writing mainly for evangelical Christians. After reading this book, the reader should be well informed about the controversy and some of the myths popular among certain people.

In chapter one the author include excerpts of both pro-Potter and anti-Potter publications. Chuck Colson speaks for the series: "It may relieve you to know the magic in these books is purely mechanical, as opposed to occultic. That is, Harry and his friends cast spells, read crystal balls, and turn themselves into animals--but they don't make contact with the supernatural world" (15). Speaking of Harry and his friends, Colson asserts, "They develop courage, loyalty, and a willingness to sacrifice for one another--even at the risk of their lives. Not bad lessons in a self-centered world" (15). One excerpt comes from selected letters sent to Christianity Today after it wrote a positive review of the Potter series. One letter respondent asserted, "It amazes me very time I read an article that blatantly ignores God's word on the subject and would make decisions based on so-called gray areas of the influence around us" (27). There are others excerpts from the opposing positions.

Chapter two gives a basic summary of the Harry Potter books for those who had not read them. She does make the following point: "Hogwarts is presented as a place clearly in a fantasy world that is set apart from our own. Hogwarts is a school that does not practice or teach the Dark Arts, but instead has classes that teach Defense Against the Dark Arts" (33). Chapter three was one of my favorite chapters. It asked the question is Harry Potter classic fantasy or "blatant witchcraft" (37). The author describes the essential parts of fantasy children's literature, mythology, legends, folklore and fables, and fairy tales. I learned some things I did not know before reading this chapter. For example, a fairy tale are fantasy stories from an unknown source. The story begins in a "dismal setting" with the main character suffering from injustice. The main character is led, invited, or some other way transported to this magical world. In this world, the main character "feels hopeful but may struggle with self-doubt" (44). The main character usually goes on some type of quest and usually has special gifts or powers. The main character will be tested by trials and difficulties and he must prove himself. In the process of testing, the main character grows in character or virtue. The contest between good and evil is another element of a fairy tale. The main character will need the help of others to defeat evil and the last part is a happy ending. The Harry Potter books includes all the essential elements of a classic fairy tales. In addition, it contains elements of myths, folklore, legends, and fables.

Two other of my favorite chapters were how Christians can resolve disagreements on disputed matters. The author does a detailed study of Romans 14 & 15 and chapters from First Corinthians. The principles the author discusses in this chapter would apply to other disputed matters among Christians. The other chapter I liked was on how the Harry Potter stories can help kids grow in moral development or virtue. Neal describes the stories underlying features:

  1. Each tale is set in the context of students belonging to a house or household
  2. Where moral and educational development take place...
  3. Where students have been chosen or belong
  4. We see through Harry that students exercise free will
  5. and where individual gifts, strengths, and abilities are needed by others
  6. In context of respect for leaders who teach them
  7. And who offer reproof, correction, and training in right living
  8. Leading to a climax where the heroes have to combat the forces of evil.
If you want to know more read the book. In addition she includes a chapter on the dangers of real world-occult.

What's a Christian to Do with Harry Potter is a good summary of the Harry Potter controversy among evangelical Christians. She does a good job in fairly representing both sides. She does believe in a real-world occult and discusses the dangers of it. She shows how merchandising paraphernalia of the Harry Potter sometimes contain material that might encourage the occult. She believes parents should teach their kids the difference between real-world occult and the fictional world of Harry Potter. Neal also believes that Christians who study the pros and cons and believe it is wrong to read Harry Potter should not read them. One of the weaknesses of the book is that it was written before the series was finished. My least favorite chapter was the last on using Harry Potter to preach the gospel. There is a danger forgetting these are stories and not illustrations of the Gospels. I have found that evangelicals are too-literal minded. Personally, I like to let the stories speak for themselves, but that is a personal thing and might not bother other readers.  

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