Using the stories of Harry Potter in church settings with children has again raised some eyebrows. This is not a new phenomena, as the fundamental Christians and biblical literalists are always getting their surplices and cottas (or academic robes) in a twist when it comes to being creative with children.
A congregation in the Episcopal Diocese of Iowa recently concluded a successful Vacation Bible School with 30+ children in which they used the themes of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series using a program called Wizards & Wonders. The local Iowa City newspaper picked up on the event and shared a news story which hit the news services, and in turn, showed up on the blogosphere.
The comparisons of Harry Potter (and all the books) to themes of Christianity is not new. Even the author’s own acknowledgement says “Harry Potter” deals extensively with Christian themes. Myriads of books and curriculum have been written comparing the themes of good vs. evil, sacrificial giving, loyalty & friendship, spirituality, self-awareness, and call – to name just a few. An article in Christianity Today from November 2005 (Redeeming Harry Potter) compares this series to C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia and the Star Wars trilogy. All literary devices where good overcomes evil through the passion of faithful characters who rise above adversity.
I just finished reading The Life, Death and Resurrection of Harry Potter by John Killinger (2009: Mercer University Press) for a book review. He compares why religious conservatives dislike Harry to the Pharisees who “cleanse the outside of the cup and leave the inside untouched, or strain at gnats and end by swallowing camels.” Killinger believes they also “forget what it is like to be a child and fend for oneself in a complex world of competing loyalties, baffling hormonal development, and sometimes faithless friends.”
Killinger makes many comparisons and observations of Rowling’s storytelling (and he believes she gives an overt Christian message). A few are a bit far-fetched for me, but some examples:
- “There was a scarlet oval over his [Harry’s] heart where the locket had burned him.” A scarlet oval over Harry’s heart recalls the Sacred Heart of Jesus, one of the most revered signs in Christian history.
- Dumbledore as a God-Father figure with characteristics of loving kindness, forgiveness and inclusiveness.
- There is an eschatological moment at the death of Voldemort and the triumph of Harry Potter (the Boy Who Lived). The witnesses scream and roar in excitement, and at that moment “the fierce new sun dazzled the windows.” Could it be Easter morning at Hogwarts?
- As the three friends (Ron, Hermione, Harry) eat supper, Ron prods at the “lumps of charred gray fish on his plate” and reminisces about the way his mother can “make good food appear out of thin air.” Supper on the beach?
Back to the VBS controversy. Don’t we want children to experience the Christian message in a language and mileau they are familiar with and engaged to learn more? Didn’t Jesus use stories to explain the Kingdom of God? Wasn’t Jesus consider a “magician” in his time? Children are pretty sophisticated today; they know the world has temptations. And they are quickly losing their imaginations by the hard and unforgiving world that we live in. Why not engage their wonder with seeking God in all shapes and forms?
Kudos to Meg Wagner and her volunteers for making their church a hospitable, fun and inviting place for children this summer. They could have been home playing video games or reading comic books. Instead they learned about friendship and cooperation. And maybe they’ll come back on Sunday for worship – and bring their parents with them!
October 8, 2010: Harry Potter, Christian Hallows & C.S. Lewis – A book review for “One Fine Potion: The Literary Magic of Harry Potter” by Greg Garrett
- Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Ralph Fiennes interview – exclusive (telegraph.co.uk)
- Can Harry Potter Change the World (Religion Dispatches – November 26, 2010)