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Harry Potter was a good Christian?
December 28th, 2010
06:00 AM ET

Harry Potter was a good Christian?

By Eric Marrapodi, CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

In a new book out this month, author Danielle Tumminio asserts Harry Potter is good Christian. Tumminio argues Potter lives a life that lines up with Christian values.

“I see him best as a seeker in a world where Christianity is not the vocabulary. I see him best as a seeker trying to live a life of faith in the same way a Christian seeker tries to live a life grace,” Tumminio told CNN.

Tumminio said she wrote God and Harry Potter at Yale: Teaching Faith and Fantasy Fiction in an Ivy League Classroom, to explore the contention by conservative Christians that Harry Potter is akin to heresy.

“I felt like the conversation about the Harry Potter series among Christians was really narrow,” Tumminio said.

Tumminio self-identifies as a Christian in the Episcopal tradition and has a two Masters degrees in religion from Yale University’s divinity school. The book grew out of an undergraduate course on the Potter series she taught at Yale.

When the Harry Potter series first burst on to the scene in 1998, some Christians denounced the book about a young wizard learning the ways of magic. Several small independent churches even publicly burned the books. The series ranks first in the American Library Association’s Top Banned/Challenged books from 2000-2009.

Lauve Steenhuisen, a visiting assistant professor at Georgetown University, says the criticism is understandable given the framework of faith for many conservative Christians.

“The Christian paradigm is that you implore the divine - you await the grace of the divine - God is in total control. It’s dueling kingdoms,” she said. “In conservative Christianity there’s two kingdoms: the kingdom of God and the kingdom of Satan. If (Harry’s) not on one side, he’s on the other.”

But the criticism of the books stung Tumminio on a personal level. She said that criticism “wasn’t’ just doing the books an injustice, it was doing Christianity an injustice. First of all I was astounded so many of (the critics) hadn’t read the books.”

“I think that Harry lives a life that is in line with the values Christians line up with. What he grows to be good at is loving others - the fact he gives his life for his community, the fact that over and over he makes decisions that are better for others,” Tumminio said.

But that doesn’t make Harry Potter a Christian said Steenhuisen.

Hogwarts Academy is a very moral place but that morality is an ethical code entrenched in secularity, she said.

“The faculty is very eager to say we never do the curse of the this or that. There are rules that they are learning that are morally designed. I think it’s incredibly moral. There is tons of restraints of the power they’re gaining. They’re just not Christian. To be Christian it has to be intentional about being in Christ,” she said.

Steenhuisen agrees with Tumminio that Potter is doing his best to grow morally. “He is acting like a moral man. But she is appropriating Christian language and using it metaphorically. He is not a good Christian because the faith is missing,” Steenhuisen said.

Tumminio said it’s up to the reader to bring his or her own metaphorical magic to and read between the lines to see Potter’s faith. She does not think Potter author J.K. Rowling intended the series to be a tome on faith.

“It feels to me that (Rowling) is not a Christian writer in the style of C.S. Lewis, showing them how great Christianity is, to get them to convert. I think for her it’s much more the journey of a seeker exploring and deepening a faith,” she said. The books are, “not for the purpose of creating other Christians.”

Those books have sold over 400 million copies worldwide. Tumminio hopes she has enough credibility with Potter fans to sell her own book. She said she too once stood in line at midnight waiting for the newest Potter book to release.

- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: Belief • Books • Christianity • Culture & Science • Movies

soundoff (857 Responses)
  1. Rob

    Who cares. The problem with this world is too much religion.

    December 28, 2010 at 3:35 pm |
  2. EpicurianLogic

    LOL @ religion. Come on people, it's time to grow up.

    December 28, 2010 at 3:35 pm |
  3. Kevin

    Leave it to christians to make a made up story into an issue....little do they realize their stories are just as made up

    December 28, 2010 at 3:34 pm |
  4. AKchic

    Um... what? I have read all of the books and I haven't even read about a church (other than in book seven when Harry goes to see Godric's Hollow to see his parents' grave), let alone the religious preferences of the wizarding community. The closest thing to religion could be the discussion about death between Harry and Sir Nicholas after Sirius Black dies, or perhaps when Harry sacrifices himself and he and Dumbledore are talking in the imaginary King's Cross Station. Maybe in book one, when Dumbledore briefly mentions that Nicholas Flammel considers the afterlife "another adventure".
    In the books, it's called "going on". That's it. No true mention of where, or what manifestation. The ghosts don't even know because they were too scared to find out, so they cannot tell the living about it. The Ressurection Stone (one of the Hallows) can bring a spirit back to the stone's holder, and I'm sure the spirit could explain, but Harry never asked the spirits about the afterlife, he just asked if it hurt to die.

    Harry has the virtues and ethics in him that all people should strive to have, regardless of their chosen faith. Personal loyalties, selfless love and dedication to his friends and family, honesty, a sense of justice and right and wrong, percevierance, determination, etc.

    The only "Lord" that has ever been mentioned in the books was Voldemort. He was alternatively called "Lord Voldemort" by the public, the "Dark Lord" by his followers, but he started out with a humble name, Tom Riddle. THAT group could be termed a cult. Fanatical, lead by a violent, persuasive and admittedly charming and ruthless leader with domination and racial purity in mind. Remind you of anyone?

    December 28, 2010 at 3:33 pm |
  5. Beam

    Tumminio..seriously? Jesus says we will know then by their fruits...the Harry Potter books have created a huge interest in witchcraft...this is not good fruits by any means. I am amazed how much Harry Potter is everywhere in our culture since they came out and especially in the UK. And you yourself taught classes on it? wow. As a Christians I am rather concerned over your obsession with a fictional book to the point you write a book about it? Christ tells us to above all, seek the kingdom of God. (Matthew 6:33) Image where your faith would be today if you put in that much effort in on seeking His kingdom rather then worrying about what folks are saying about some book.

    December 28, 2010 at 3:33 pm |
    • RichardSRussell

      You would evidently be amazed at all the books that have been written about OTHER works of fiction, like the works of Shakespeare, Russian novelists, the Iliad and Odyssey, the Bible, Don Quixote, the Warren Report, Canterbury Tales, the Arthurian legends, and so on. Sometimes entire college courses and departments are devoted to the study of works of fiction.

      December 29, 2010 at 3:55 pm |
  6. Charles

    @ RichP, easton, pa
    "Maybe, but while was taught ethics in college there was no course in morals. While everyone needs ethics morals are what keep you from doing wrong, the ten commandants are a pretty good base of rules, what would be their replacement and where would they be taught."

    I was taught morals from Spider-Man. I'm sure others right and wrong from Luke Skywalker, or Superman, or the Boxcar Children, or Harry Potter, or any of the countless other fictional role-models out there. To suggest that morality can only be taught by the Bible is absurd. It's like saying you can only learn to make apple pie from a single, specific cookbook.

    December 28, 2010 at 3:32 pm |
  7. Ted

    ...The End of Time...A short time ago..our Pastor's eldest son..about 30 years old and very close to his dad..was driving on the freeway..carrying out a task for his dad..he had asked Jesus to forgive his sins and accepted Christ's free gift of eternal life..years before.......The son was driving at about 60mph..in the slow lane..he looked down ..possibly to check his cell or pick up a bottle of water or tune radio...When he looked up..his car was about 2 seconds from a 50 ton paving machine..stopped in the lane......2 seconds later the son was standing before Jesus Christ in Heaven...with love and beauty beyond our imagination......... If he son had not accepted Christ...... 2 seconds later he would have been plunging through Outer Darkness...so dark it is felt ...screaming in agony and pain from the heat and knowledge that this was his new life...forever and ever ..no possible way of ever ending.........It's estimated that 100 Billion humans have lived since creation......For most of them..from conception..children..teens..young people..middle age and elderly....The End of The World has Already come..we dangle on a very thin string..with death constantly grabbing at us......Our Only Hope is Jesus Christ... with Life Forever in His Paradise that will Never end.

    December 28, 2010 at 3:31 pm |
    • RichardSRussell

      If you have video of the kid standing before Jesus, send it to CNN's iReport. I guarantee you it'll go viral in no time flat, and there may be a Pulitzer Prize in it for you.

      If not, then you are just making things up.

      December 29, 2010 at 3:51 pm |
  8. Pat

    OK, People!! It is a friggin character in a BOOK!! He is not real!!!!
    Find something real to argue about

    December 28, 2010 at 3:29 pm |
    • Aditas

      Swami,Nice!Such a face And I can't tell whether you've got a pair of decues or a full house.Gwyneth Paltrow for me if I were a bit younger Lena Horne if I was a lot older.And if I were gay Sean Connery. I remember the shot where they panned up on him as Agamemnon in Time Bandits, I was 23 and I sat there and thought You know, I think I can understand this whole gay thing

      May 19, 2012 at 8:57 am |
  9. BertieNumNums

    2 possibilities:
    a) God is real and Heaven and Hell is real
    b) God is invented and Heaven and Hell is invented
    4 outcomes to above beliefs after death:
    1) You accept a) but b) is true – Result: Nothing – you are dust
    2) You accept b) and b) is true – Result: Nothing – you are dust
    3) You accept b) but a) is true – Result: Be prepared for a BIG shock
    4) You accept a) and a) is true – Result: Be prepared for a BIG reward

    Given that we are logical creatures, and forgetting all the nonsense spouted about belief, non-belief etc. which is the BEST belief to have from the above?

    December 28, 2010 at 3:28 pm |
    • Mr. Sniffles

      @ BertieNumNums "2 possibilities:
      a) God is real and Heaven and Hell is real
      b) God is invented and Heaven and Hell is invented
      4 outcomes to above beliefs after death:
      1) You accept a) but b) is true – Result: Nothing – you are dust
      2) You accept b) and b) is true – Result: Nothing – you are dust
      3) You accept b) but a) is true – Result: Be prepared for a BIG shock
      4) You accept a) and a) is true – Result: Be prepared for a BIG reward"

      You forgot one variation: You a) is true but you picked the wrong God – Result: Be prepared for a BIG shock!"
      You also forgot the core possibility that makes religion unbearable to us analytic types: You are a good person who gives generously and helps others, but does not believe in any God. If a) is true, you go to hell – pure injustice. The Christian, Muslim and many other gods do not reward kindness and decency and goodness; they only reward obedience.

      December 28, 2010 at 3:45 pm |
    • Know What

      @BertieNumNums

      "2 possibilities:
      a) God is real and Heaven and Hell is real
      b) God is invented and Heaven and Hell is invented
      4 outcomes to above beliefs after death:
      1) You accept a) but b) is true – Result: Nothing – you are dust
      2) You accept b) and b) is true – Result: Nothing – you are dust
      3) You accept b) but a) is true – Result: Be prepared for a BIG shock
      4) You accept a) and a) is true – Result: Be prepared for a BIG reward

      Given that we are logical creatures, and forgetting all the nonsense spouted about belief, non-belief etc. which is the BEST belief to have from the above?"

      Believe it or not, you are not the first one to come up with this idea. One version dates way back to ancient Greece: at the end of the tragedy Dionysos, the god to whom Kadmos referred, appears and punishes him for thinking in this way.

      The most famous is Pascal's Wager from 17th century France. Look up: "arguments against Pascal's Wager" for some enlightenment. A couple of them are: "What if you picked the wrong god?... and "The 'real' god would abhor people who cover their behinds 'just in case'."

      December 28, 2010 at 3:52 pm |
  10. charles bowen

    Wow, what can i add to all this? The Christians Are as Looney as the muslims, as the Israeli Jews,as the mormans, etc. Religion was never ment to be an answer to all lifes many unanswered Questions its Just a good book. Just my opinion But all religion seems to have run off the track... Being a buddhist and enlightened i can recognise deviant behavior. Have a Great Day! Charles Bowen Solomon Stone

    December 28, 2010 at 3:27 pm |
  11. Carrie

    Fun games for Atheists; take a handful of bibles (and any other religious garbage) and put them in the fiction section... Preferably next to Harry Potter.

    December 28, 2010 at 3:22 pm |
  12. BOB in Indiana

    "FAITH IS THE SUBSTANCE OF THINGS HOPED FOR, THE EVIDENCE OF THINGS NOT SEEN."

    December 28, 2010 at 3:21 pm |
  13. JonPeter

    Harry Potter is a fictional character in a fictional world. What's the point of debating whether he was a 'good christian' ? There are far more important matters in thsi world. Get a life...

    December 28, 2010 at 3:19 pm |
  14. Joseph Balaich

    And behold all things have their
    likeness, and all things are created
    and made to bear record of me,
    both things which are spiritual; things
    which are in the heavens above, and
    things which are on the earth, and
    things which are in the earth,
    and things which are under the earth,
    both above and beneath all things
    bear record of me.

    Now it is clearly shown that J.K. Rowling did not fully intend her series to be Christian oriented. She made them out of pure imagination, not under the influence of the Devil. But the books have Christ-like principles from what he taught. Example Dumbledore's result to love. Here are some quotes from the book itself that I believe reflect Christ:

    "It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live."

    "Harry, I owe you an explanation," said Dumbledore. "An explanation of an old man's mistakes. For I see now that what I have done, and not done, with regard to you, bears all the hallmarks of the failings of age. Youth cannot know how age thinks and feels. But old men are guilty if they forget what it was to be young...and I seem to have forgotten lately."

    "...in the light of Voldemort's return, we are only as strong as we are united, as weak as we are divided. Lord Voldemort's gift for spreading discord and enmity is very great. We can fight it only by showing an equally strong bond of friendship and trust. Differences of habit and language are nothing at all if our aims are identical and our hearts are open."

    "You fail to recognize that it matters not what someone is born, but what they grow to be."

    "I am not worried, Harry," said Dumbledore, his voice a little stronger despite the freezing water. "I am with you."

    "Time is making fools of us again."

    “Harry must not know, not until the last moment, not until it is necessary, otherwise how could he have the strength to do what must be done?”

    "It is our choices that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities."

    "It is a curious thing, Harry, but perhaps those who are best suited to power are those who have never sought it. Those who, like you, have leadership thrust upon them, and take up the mantle because they must, and find to their own surprise that they wear it well."

    “Do not pity the dead, Harry. Pity the living, and, above all, those who live without love. By returning, you may ensure that fewer souls are maimed, fewer families are torn apart. If that seems to you a worthy goal, then we say good-bye for the present.”

    We have no need to condemn the Harry Potter books because they have not led us or had anyone the single desire to follow Satan. The movies are a different story for the enticing things they show. But J.K. Rowling showed the terms of good and evil. And we read from the Bible the terms of good and evil. This is a children series after all that makes us expand our imagination and take for what Dumbledore has said to Harry. Let us be good to one another and enjoy what we all enjoy differently, but love each other the same. If you don't desire to read the series that is okay, there are other forms of literature for you and other media. But choose wisely and for yourself, don't let anyone else follow you like your a leader. Contention is of the Devil and not of Christ.

    December 28, 2010 at 3:17 pm |
  15. Tommy TT

    Since when does living a decent life make someone Christian? One could just as easily ask, "Was Harry Potter a good Jew?" (or whatever). I'm tired of Christians who think they have a monopoly on decency. It's just smug.

    December 28, 2010 at 3:16 pm |
  16. blake

    NO. Genuine followers of Jesus are not involved with the occult.

    December 28, 2010 at 3:16 pm |
  17. nestudent

    who... the f@#% cares?! Why does everyone have to be judged according to Christianity?!

    December 28, 2010 at 3:16 pm |
  18. steve

    I HOPE NOT. I'm sorry if I offend anyone BUT Christianity has become racist, bias, and all the things that were taught to not me as a child that were bad. I hate the word sins. The church is now overly influencing state and has become big business. Harry Potter was a free soul with a heart that was pure to his friends and those he cared about. I hope he is not the Christian of today but rather a free soul that knows right from wrong and lives his life to better others. In addition, he has influenced our youth to think for themselves and be proud of who and what they are. Another thing that Christians try to stifle.

    December 28, 2010 at 3:12 pm |
  19. phearis

    I don't ever remember reading in the books or watching in the movies where Harry Potter ever said anything about his religion. For all we know, Harry Potter was Voodoo. Why do Christians have to be sooooooo egotistical that they assume that because he's white and English, he MUST be Christian. Seriously? Give me a $#@&ing break.

    December 28, 2010 at 3:09 pm |
  20. Jason

    I see 4chan is out in full force again today. And one wonders why they have filters for offensive content, lol. They should probably just close off this forum as it's largely just a cesspool of pathetic, immature atheist trolling.

    December 28, 2010 at 3:08 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.