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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. Michael

    I think everyone including the author of the article is missing the point. J. K. Rowling is a practicing Anglican, ie a Christian. And she herself has said that there are moral themes in the book; given she's a Christian, it's not surprising that her moral themes express Christian values and Christian imagery even if subtle. That's all folks. The rest of this debate is silly beyond words. If Evangelicals reject Harry Potter, they don't exactly embrace the basic tenets of Anglican (and Episcopalian) theology – Scripture, REASON, and tradition – anyway. Yes, Virginia, Episcopalians believe in dinosaurs...and evolution.

    December 31, 2010 at 2:11 am |
  2. olorinstaff

    I hate to break it to you, but there are no Witches. No Wizards either.

    December 31, 2010 at 12:25 am |
  3. John Pattison

    I just wrote about this at the blog home of the book "Besides the Bible: 100 Books that Have, Should, or Will Create Christian Culture."

    http://besidesthebible.com/2010/12/what-were-reading-now-harry-potter-and-the-sorcerers-stone/

    December 30, 2010 at 2:51 pm |
  4. recreative

    This post was mentioned in my own blog series at http://ubuntuspirit.wordpress.com/2010/12/30/and-the-award-goes-to-ubuntu-religion-awards-2010/

    December 30, 2010 at 2:38 pm |
  5. Maybe we should listen to the author of the books

    Does anyone even care what Rowling has said about all of this (i.e., Christian themes in her books)? Maybe reading this article will settle a few of these issues:

    http://www.mtv.com/news/articles/1572107/20071017/story.jhtml

    December 30, 2010 at 2:08 pm |
  6. What God Says

    Please read from your Bible: Ephesians 4:1-6

    December 30, 2010 at 1:08 pm |
  7. Bill

    Possessing some of the attributes of a Christian does not make one a Christian. Christ defines what a Christian is in the Bible. It is absolutely absurd to declare someone is a Christian without knowing if they have accepted Christ as their Savior. Jesus Christ will have the final say-so – not some professor.

    December 29, 2010 at 11:06 pm |
  8. triceATL21

    They are all idiots for looking into the book way more than needed. It doesn't what faith any of the characters are but guess what? IT'S BOOK!!!! It was not meant to be looked at as if it were real! Are there dragons above us? Centaurs in the woods? Voldemort lurking in the shadows?!?!?! NO!!! Get a life and study a book based on real life like something to do with slavery, why our children are pumping out babies at such an alarming rate, why divorce rates are so high.....study that!

    December 29, 2010 at 5:47 pm |
  9. RichardSRussell

    Alas, replies are not being posted beneath the comments that they are replying to, which renders many of them head-scratchers.

    December 29, 2010 at 4:50 pm |
  10. norma

    Come on, folks, give it a rest - Harry Potter is a fairy tale–pure fiction. Why burden this fun and imaginative series of books with a theological subtext? (Is Tom Sawyer an atheist? Is Snow White a good Christian? Is Ali Baba a good Moslem? Were Hansel and Gretel pagans?) This article is the height of absurdity and poses a real non-question. The Harry Potter series is what it is - a well-written children's fiction with no hammeringly negative messages. What more need it be?

    December 29, 2010 at 3:22 pm |
  11. CaliforniaBum

    Dear AlexQW, yes if you watch Harry Potter or Star Wars for that matter you come away with the idea that God and the Devil (Good & Evil or The Force) are equals on either side of a dualistic order. In Christianity, God is supreme over the Devil, it is not a dualistic order and the Devil only exists because God gives us the choice to choose between Good and Evil. From there it is your choice and your are not alone in todays Existentialist, Secular, and Relativistic society to believe there is no purpose to life and that Good and Evil are equally valid choices with little difference. The choice is yours, the difference is that you believe that the choice does not matter as we all turn to ashes and dust when we die and the lights go out for ever and Christians believe that the choices you make on earth have everything to do with the spiritual existence you will have after death. If you don't believe that exists than you can join Nietzche and live it up, at least for now.

    December 29, 2010 at 3:09 pm |
  12. Texas Mom

    You live by the bible in its entirety. Some things that are in the old testiment were redone after Jesus came to this earth, in the New testiment.For instance sacrifice of animals ended due to the fact that Jesus is the only sacrifice that we need to worship God. I am not going to say anymore about this subject. Again Thank you for listening and May God Bless you!

    December 29, 2010 at 2:33 pm |
  13. Colette

    Great article! I applaud the professor,

    December 29, 2010 at 12:50 pm |
  14. S. Studenberg

    This person has a big problem. Too much time on her hands. She will probably get her Ph. D. with this drivel

    December 29, 2010 at 12:03 pm |
  15. ab

    I didn't realize that the character was supposed to be Christian.

    December 29, 2010 at 11:23 am |
  16. Texas Mom

    Here is the catch. Yes Harry Potter is a fiction character in fiction books. The problem is when you read and see these movies you are exposing yourself do the demonic spirits lurking through the wichcraft and wizary itself. For those of you who are christians and say that there is nothing wrong with reading or seeing this there is. The spirits are always around in battle and when you feed into this you are allowing those spirits to fill your life and your house. Be aware this has nothing to do with if he is a christian or not but what it all stands for in the end. I am not some raged religion freak. I love Jesus and I know his teachings are true and I am just trying to share with you the truth. Thank you for listening and GOd Bless.

    December 29, 2010 at 11:23 am |
    • RichardSRussell

      TM, if you've been plagued by these "spirits" for any length of time, you will be pleased to learn that there's an entire branch of medicine devoted to helping people like you. Just mention the word "schizophrenia" to your family doctor and ask for a reference to a, um, better say "shrink".

      December 29, 2010 at 4:17 pm |
  17. alexQW

    I think Voldemort is YAHWE, they have extremely similar characters.

    December 29, 2010 at 11:17 am |
  18. BigJ

    Really, who cares?

    December 29, 2010 at 11:16 am |
  19. JohnQuest

    salmos8318, One question, if that hypothetical teacher were to kill all of the students grand and great-grand children for the mistakes the original students made, wouldn't you consider that genocide at best and sadistic at worst, you would at least remove that teacher from the classroom?

    December 29, 2010 at 11:14 am |
  20. TheRationale

    Why would you ruin Harry Potter by trying to put someone's religion into it?

    Next headline: "Harry Potter held democrat values yet was fiscally conservative." How do people get paid for this junk?

    December 29, 2010 at 11:08 am |
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About this blog

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.