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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. Liz the First

    "Bob Exodus 22:18 Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live."
    hey, bob, the original text was thou shalt not suffer a THIEF to live. the witch part was added by men who couldn't stand the thought of knowledgable, powerful women, which is what witches were and still are. I object strongly to the Christian idea that you cannot be a good, moral person unless you're a Christian. this is simply not true. Harry Potter demonstrates that Christianity doesn't have a lock on goodness and morality.

    December 28, 2010 at 10:45 am |
    • Lex

      That is a 'fundamentalist Christian view" not the view of the majority of Christians.

      December 28, 2010 at 11:00 am |
    • RichardSRussell

      "No, really, it means 'Thou shalt not suffer a THIEF to live.'" I wonder how well that line worked when women tried to use it on Torquemada.

      December 28, 2010 at 12:38 pm |
  2. common sense

    "SHOUT AT THE DEVIL" – MOTLEY CRUE

    December 28, 2010 at 10:44 am |
  3. Chen

    Really people- He is a fictional person~ what does it matter? If you are a good Christian then good-quit trying to convince everybody. It sounds to me like you are the ones that need to be convinced because good people live their live and do good. Do gooders cannot stop telling everyone.how much of a Christin they are-and exactly what is a good Christian? Shut the He** up!

    December 28, 2010 at 10:44 am |
  4. Snape

    I bet Harry could turn water into wine too.

    December 28, 2010 at 10:43 am |
  5. common sense

    Christianity: The belief that a cosmic Jewish Zombie who was his own father can make you live forever if you symbolically eat his flesh and telepathically tell him you accept him as your master, so he can remove an evil force from your soul that is present in humanity because a rib-woman was convinced by a talking snake to eat from a magical tree.

    SOUNDS LIKE ONE HELL OF A FAIRY TALE

    December 28, 2010 at 10:42 am |
    • me

      likes this 😉

      December 28, 2010 at 10:48 am |
    • Lex

      Thousands or years ago, all 'history' was orally transmitted (only written much later) in story and symbol to help 'teach' life values to those who 'heard' them – study and research and you will find some keys to this (particularly Joseph Campbell)

      December 28, 2010 at 10:58 am |
    • boocat

      I like your version of the story...it would make a great comedy!!!

      December 28, 2010 at 11:46 am |
    • RichardSRussell

      "God: A comedian whose audience is afraid to laugh." - H. L. Mencken

      December 28, 2010 at 12:36 pm |
    • Paladin

      I love it! I don't know where, but I'm going to quote you. I too believe this is a silly discussion. I once had a professor of Psychiatry who continually reminded me that you cannot reason with an irrational person. If someone wants to believe in anything without proof, that's their problem. When they try to make the rest of us follow their tenets, it becomes mine.

      For anyone who is interested, Science is beginning to probe many of the mysteries of the Universe (including the creation of life, extending life indefinitely, and the true nature of the universe (or multiverse, per Super string theory); perhaps real fundamentalists (of every religion) should learn some science before condemning its techniques. Try the basic scientific method on any religion. You form an hypothesis, design an experiment to examine if it is true, and if it appears to be, use those results to predict future outcomes. If a "theory" fails any of these tests, it must be discarded and replaced by another. By the way, for the uninitiated, a theory can NEVER become anything more no matter how much evidence there is for its veracity because we acknowledge there is always more to learn.

      Whether or not I believe in a god, or what its nature may be, I am willing to admit the possibility of its existence. Are fundamentalists willing to admit that, since they have no actual evidence for the existence of their particular god, that he/she/it may not exist? When you're ready to do that, I'll listen to your other arguments.

      December 28, 2010 at 1:32 pm |
    • Peace2All

      @common sense

      Now THAT was fcking funny...LOL...!!! 🙂

      Peace...

      December 29, 2010 at 3:00 am |
  6. Ryker

    I think it is interesting that Harry Potter gets slammed, while the very same people slamming Potter claim that the Chronicles of Narnia are clearly and overwhelmingly Christian.

    December 28, 2010 at 10:41 am |
    • steven harnack

      The only difference is that they have been told so. When you cede the ability to think it has to be that way.

      December 28, 2010 at 11:27 am |
  7. JustSoYaKnow

    I don't find any harm in people trying to reframe characters into the cultures or labels they identify themselves with, as long as they don't try to define the character by the new interpretation. Afterall, as has been noted, one of the great things about Harry Potter not being a declared Christian is that his actions can be interpreted to mean many things. That he is a good person in general, as Christians ought to be, rather than he is Christian, there for he tries to be a good person. It's more open for the general masses to identify good characteristics that their personal cultures should stive to achieve. The way I'm understanding it, that's the point of the book; not to say HP is Christian, but that he's a good example of what Christians should be like. It's not a bad thing. Not until they try to make it defining. And if nothing else, it's a good jab at fundamentalists who are unwilling to open up a little and stop the book burning.

    December 28, 2010 at 10:39 am |
    • Snape

      I agree with you that Harry was a good person. However, I do not agree that the point of the book is that Harry is a good christain. I think that point is that Harry is a good person in general.

      December 28, 2010 at 10:45 am |
    • Lex

      Yes – I do not think Rowling had a religious/Christian agenda at all in her writing. But her characters are excellent and can help many understand the real things we should value in life.

      December 28, 2010 at 10:56 am |
  8. me

    So very arrogantly greedy to claim ownership of all good deeds, even fictional ones, for support of the Christian fairy-tale myth. HUMAN acts of love, bravery and kindness support healthy communities and families and that is why we earth creatures do them.

    WHY do these people have to credit some Never-Shows-Himself-Magical Sky Wizard for everything good that happens??

    December 28, 2010 at 10:38 am |
  9. Rob

    What a perfectly useless question. Harry Potter is a FICTIONAL character. Look it up.

    December 28, 2010 at 10:37 am |
  10. Andrea

    OMG (pun intended)...Harry Potter is a character in a work of FICTION! 'Nuf said (I hope and pray [again, pun intended])!

    December 28, 2010 at 10:37 am |
  11. Cop

    Who writes this junk? Who cares about this issue at all? The bible is as much fiction as Harry Potter. Fiction...right. Like...not real stuff. Total media trash.

    December 28, 2010 at 10:36 am |
    • Kate

      It was a Christian who would very much like to co-opt the fame of a best seller and claim it as somehow part of her religion. Oh and sell a few books herself. At any rate, her honesty, morality, ethics and credibility are apparently something she is quite willing to sell for 15 minutes of fame.

      December 28, 2010 at 3:43 pm |
  12. Kim

    1. ITS A BOOK....a fictional story.
    2. NOT EVERYONE IS A CHRISTIAN...
    3. IF YOU DONT LIKE THE STORY...dont read it!

    December 28, 2010 at 10:36 am |
    • Steve

      @Kim – I agree completely – you describe the bible quite well...

      December 28, 2010 at 11:21 am |
    • JudyTX

      @Kim: Let's not forget that the bible is JUST A BOOK as well.

      December 28, 2010 at 3:00 pm |
  13. Aezel

    Well, Harry Potter and Jesus certainly have one major thing in common: they are both fictional.

    December 28, 2010 at 10:35 am |
  14. Snape

    I think Frogist said it the best. Every person will look at things through a prism of their own experiences/views. I kind of look at this article as another piece written to rile up people on both ends of the belief spectrum. Personally, all that Harry Potter is to me, is a great piece of fiction that is very enjoyable to read. However, the last thing that I think about when reading these books is religion.

    December 28, 2010 at 10:34 am |
  15. MountainSoldier

    Who's 'Jesus'?

    December 28, 2010 at 10:34 am |
    • RUSH

      baseball player for some team in New Mexico

      December 28, 2010 at 11:51 am |
  16. KidCanada

    I love the halo, no it doesn't give any indication of the sun being personified!
    Either way both belong in the fiction department.

    December 28, 2010 at 10:34 am |
  17. I Killed Kenny

    o....m......F......g
    Dont compare Harry with any of that nonsense...errrr what I mean is that your opinion is valid to you, its just that hardly anyone will compare the likenesses of the 2 FICTIONAL characters since the last thing anyone is thinking when watching a HP film is anything to do with religion. Its just there to capture your imagination and clap for the good guys.
    That was my attempt to keep my cool – this is not...
    what idiot would compare the 2 (again) FICTIONAL characters...rabbit pellets for brains silly woman

    December 28, 2010 at 10:34 am |
  18. zank

    Other famous fictional christians:
    E.T.
    Yoda
    Jesus
    The shark from Jaws
    Bobby Brady
    Fred Flintstone

    December 28, 2010 at 10:33 am |
    • common sense

      I believe the shark was a morman

      December 28, 2010 at 10:37 am |
    • Bob

      Fred Flintstone is a creationist. How else do you explain living with dinosaurs? 😛

      December 28, 2010 at 11:24 am |
    • common sense

      Bob, you are a funny, funny man! That qualifies as my great laugh of the day!

      December 28, 2010 at 11:34 am |
    • Peace2All

      @Bob

      -LOL...!!! Very nice...! 🙂

      Peace...

      December 29, 2010 at 2:56 am |
  19. Mike

    What a stupid/useless question? And you get paid to ask s*** like this?

    December 28, 2010 at 10:32 am |
  20. Lex

    C.S. Lewis, in Chronicles of Narnia does not name Christ explicitly, yet the works parallel the stories, morals, and values of the Christian Way of Life, history and theology. I believe the Harry Potter books do the same, helping youth to understand the values, to recognize the core teachings of the Christian faith, and as they grow older, will be able to better identify with their faith – with sudden faith connections. Story and narrative are incredibly important in the development of young minds, particularly in their faith development. Harry Potter, Narnia, and other books like them help young people to acclimate their faith to their world.

    December 28, 2010 at 10:32 am |
    • I Killed Kenny

      I wonder if the lion in Narnia ever ate christians...hmmm

      December 28, 2010 at 10:36 am |
    • Silver Chair

      @ I killed Kenny

      Nope, just the pagan witch.

      December 28, 2010 at 10:50 am |
    • Lex

      The lion, Aslan is his name, is representative of Jesus and created the world of Narnia (see book 1 Magician's Nephew)

      December 28, 2010 at 10:54 am |
    • Frogist

      @Lex: Exactly. The only difference is that CS Lewis is a poster child for Christians while JK Rowling never declared herself as such. Also Harry is much more popular than Narnia is. Besides the whole ridiculous anti-pagan bent of Christian antipathy towards Harry, the only difference I can really tell is that Harry is very well accepted by the secular world. That is why Christians are so threatened by his story. It's a wildly accepted and popular tale of morality that does not mention Jesus. A scary thing indeed for a conservative Christian.

      December 28, 2010 at 11:00 am |
    • Silver Chair

      @Frogist

      Christians "threatened" by HP? Really? If you think that the vast, overwhelming majority of Christians feel threatened by the HP story, then you have greatly deluded yourself. My wife and I are Christians and we absolutely love the HP novels. So do all of the Christian families we know.

      December 28, 2010 at 11:28 am |
    • Lex

      Yes – we, too, are a very active Christian family – and LOVE the HP series, and Narnia and Star Wars and Lord of the Rings...

      December 28, 2010 at 11:33 am |
    • jules

      sorry to burst your bubble but the chronicles of narnia each represent a planet and the pagan myths that coincide – i.e. the silver chair is the moon, the moons changing face, the belief it causes unnatural things during full phase, its ability to drive men and women mad....

      December 28, 2010 at 3:42 pm |
    • Frogist

      @Silver Chair and Lex: I'm glad you enjoy them, but can you explain why conservative Christians condemn HP? Saying that you enjoy them is by no means an explanation of why the books have been targeted as anti-Christian.

      December 29, 2010 at 9:51 am |
    • Lex

      @Frogist – I wish I could explain anything fundamentalist Christians do, but I think it is usually out of fear, closed/narrow – mindedness and a lifestyle of only accepting what has been 'approved' by others. Everything is 'literal' and 'factual' if it is in the bible for them. and there are certainly fundamentalists in every sect – trust me I know from all the study I have done within my Catholic faith – Many fear the unknown, many are paranoid over conspiracy theories – I think God gave us free will and our minds so we would use both – constructively and intelligently. There are places in the Bible, particularly the letters in the New Testament where the reader/believer is instructed to 'test everything' to use our senses and intellect to understand what we encounter in the world. Beware False Prophets, etc. Perhaps 'they' (any opposing opinion) should read the books before making judgment calls. There is such a thing as entertainment – and when it is good entertainment, it parallels our lives/world in such a way that the characters/storyline appeal to us even more. That is what we have in Harry Potter.

      (thanks for asking)

      December 29, 2010 at 12:06 pm |
    • Frogist

      @Lex: That was my point. It is out of fear and having someone tell them what to do rather than looking past the condemnation for themselves. Why are they afraid? My take is that any secular view of a morally good person is a threat to the idea that the only true morality must come from their one god. Throw in the popularity of HP and the refusal of JKR to state the religiosity of Harry, and the HP series becomes an easy target. I'd like to think that if the dissenters read the novels they too will be engaged and less threatened by the story. But that is not my expectation. I just consider it hypocritical to denounce a book without having some knowledge of it. Those who condemn it for being about witchcraft will always do so. They care not about his morality, but his denomination. These are the same people who will condemn non-believers, pagans and people of other religions. Why? Not for being bad people, but for being different people.
      Also thanks for replying! 🙂

      December 29, 2010 at 4:04 pm |
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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.