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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. Becca

    Well, you can try to justify anything by saying that all that's important is to live a "good" life. However, we can't go by our definition of "good". In Christianity one must turn away from evil, confess sins and the wrong things they've done, and daily live by God's commandments because we love God and God loves us.

    December 28, 2010 at 11:17 am |
  2. Lenny

    Funny, Harry doesn't look Christian.

    December 28, 2010 at 11:17 am |
    • Paula

      What does a Christian look like?

      December 28, 2010 at 11:27 am |
    • Becca

      A Christian is one who follows and acts like Jesus Christ. Their character is like Jesus' character. So they are loving, humble, forgiving, patient, turn away from evil and cling to good. They study the Bible and live by God's commandments.

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

      He is a pasty and white Brit. Looks like a typical Mormon.

      December 28, 2010 at 11:52 am |
    • Larry C. Lyons

      Newyorker
      He is a pasty and white Brit. Looks like a typical Mormon.
      ----------
      Pasty White Brit – Oh you mean an Anglican (Church of England), not Mormon.

      December 28, 2010 at 4:29 pm |
  3. Leo

    Good grief.

    At least the people who read Harry Potter KNOW their books are fiction... unlike the bible-thumpers.

    December 28, 2010 at 11:16 am |
    • The Jackdaw

      I am thinking about becoming a Potter Thumper, but it kind of sounds dirty. What do you think?

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

      Thank you Charlie Brown. 😉 Exactly on point.

      December 28, 2010 at 11:23 am |
  4. Amozi

    The spiritual practice that you do on a day to day basis will determine if you are a good Christian or not.

    December 28, 2010 at 11:14 am |
  5. Lenny

    I thought the story was fantasy. Maybe in this particular fantasy religion as we know/ define it does not exist.
    Fantasy does not need to cling to definitions and ruled defined by the "real" world.
    Is our society going to destroy the imagination of children over religion?

    December 28, 2010 at 11:13 am |
    • @Lenny

      A child didn't write the book, and it's doubtful a child can come up with anything similar without first being exposed to something concerning it via Adults.

      December 28, 2010 at 11:16 am |
    • Lenny

      Fanatasy stories take children to a place where their imagination is set free.
      Religious stories/ schools take them to a place where their imagination is stifeld and restricted.

      December 28, 2010 at 11:19 am |
    • Contradictory

      Potter = Entertainment | Relgious anything = disciplinary/educational.

      Not to mention, I doubt very seriously imaginations are stiffled by anything religious. I mean, have you ever tried to imagine a teenager taking out the Big Show from WWF (before it was wwe)?

      December 28, 2010 at 11:25 am |
  6. DWTT

    \m/ Down with the trinity \m/

    December 28, 2010 at 11:08 am |
  7. Ryan

    No wonder the world is in the state that it's in. People are hating eachother on a stupid blog and they don't even know the people that are commenting. Grow up!

    December 28, 2010 at 11:08 am |
  8. Aaron Moore Sacramento, CA

    Maybe I'm mistaken, but isn't the core of Christianity a faith in Christ? Goodness, treating people fairly, etc., etc., are all actions associated with the changed life one lives as a result of this faith and the personal, intimate presence of God's spirit within the believer. They do not make one a Christian any more than flying a plane into a building makes one a Muslim. Will we ever get past determining belief systems after observing two or three outward actions? And, to actually answer the question (which almost no one has bothered to do) we cannot determine whether Harry is a Christian because he never mentions Christ or any form of personal belief system. Yes, he upholds some of the values of Christ, but so do Muslims, Jews, and Satanists. Its pretty safe to say that none of these (Muslims, Jews, Satanists) would appreciate being labeled Christians, particularly based on a few similarities.

    December 28, 2010 at 11:08 am |
  9. @sjenner

    Why do you blame christianity? it's the book they hold to that says things like "if you take pleasure in another mans sin, you are just as guilty," kind of hypocritical of your worldview it would seem. Not to mention your reasoning for allowing such stories is moot, since you can find the same principles in that same book.

    December 28, 2010 at 11:01 am |
    • sjenner

      I didn't blame Christianity. I merely posed a question. I'm not encouraging anyone to sin. And neither is Tolkien nor Rowling. Merely because the Bible speaks on moral issues doesn't mean that it has a total monopoly over moral story telling, to the exclusion of all else. You can tell moral tales to illustrate a point in a way that people enjoy and respond to. I don't see Aesop or the Brothers Grimm being excluded because he had talking animals (there's witchcraft for you). I firmly believe that far too many Christians look to the wands and fable book characters in these types of work and forget that they're actually making a much more profound point.

      December 28, 2010 at 11:08 am |
    • @Sjenner

      I think we missed the boat of understanding each other.

      Things like harry potter teach a point. Sure, I'll agree to that. So does the good book.

      The difference is the issue

      Harry potter glamorizes a thing the good book considers sin – the good book portrays the same but in a negative, less acceptable manner.

      December 28, 2010 at 11:11 am |
    • @Sjenner

      Just an FYI, I play WoW :). So don't think I'm trying to be anal or unattentive to discussion.

      December 28, 2010 at 11:14 am |
    • sjenner

      Thanks for clarifying the point. I don't think imaginary mumbo jumbo is what the Bible had in mind when it condemned witch craft (and to be clear, there are certain forms divination that even the Bible approves, albeit in a highly restricted sense–see Urim and Thummim). Ultimately, these works pose no harm to good faith and moral formation. I actually think they enhance it. And the way they are written and the great stories they tell make the underlying message accessible.

      December 28, 2010 at 11:18 am |
    • sjenner

      And to be clear, I cast no stones. WoW comes right out the world of Tolkien. It's story line just isn't as good. (I know that's going to get me in trouble!)

      December 28, 2010 at 11:20 am |
    • :)

      I actually don't even follow the story line, though I've aught to just to understand why I have to do all these dumb quests.

      Well, the urim and thumim was meant only for one person, the high priest. That has been replaced by the holy spirit in the new testament.

      But is the point of HP to teach a Christian message? I'm sure a message can be drawn from any movie, Terminator, S-x in the city, Sponge Bob.

      Ultimately, with your point, a teacher must know how to draw the point out because it's inevitable that they will have folks come talk to them who relate more with HP's story than King Davids.

      December 28, 2010 at 11:49 am |
  10. Texas Mom

    Christians have turned there back on this book and movie for the simple fact that it is wizary and witchcraft which is not christian at all the bible talks about staying away from witchcraft and that is what we believe. Just because you are a good person and have good morals that does not make you a christian. And before anyone says it I am not judging I am just stating what we as christians believe. Thanks for listening May God Bless you.

    December 28, 2010 at 10:59 am |
    • sjenner

      Texas Mom, I appreciate your point. But I must object to the extent that what you say represents a conservative perspective. Not all Christians believe as you do. Nor does that make us less Christian.

      December 28, 2010 at 11:02 am |
    • The Jackdaw

      Entertaining children with a fun story is witchcraft and therefore evil? No wonder church is so brutally boring.

      December 28, 2010 at 11:03 am |
    • Texas Mom

      I am not saying less Christian but you cannot get to Heaven on good works alone. But I do understand what you are saying as well.

      December 28, 2010 at 11:04 am |
    • Texas Mom

      @the jackdaw...You may thing that it is a fictional story but you will be suprised in the end because you didn't believe as well. God Bless you.

      December 28, 2010 at 11:05 am |
    • zank

      If only improper use of punctuation was a sin.

      December 28, 2010 at 11:06 am |
    • @jackdaw

      I don't remember any requirement for church to be entertaining...they don't put the same requirement to math classes...

      December 28, 2010 at 11:07 am |
    • Lex

      I recently had an experience with a grandmother at church, talking about how her daughter would never let her children read Rowling's works. I offered my opinion of how the mother will close her children off to something that can teach mush about the human condition and how the goodness of God is present even in those who do not believe in one particular religion or another. She looked at me as if I were crazy. Any extremism is bad – we must all recognize that. But many don't want to, because then we would have to acknowledge too much in common – just as most faiths are the same, just their 'stories' are different.

      December 28, 2010 at 11:07 am |
    • The Jackdaw

      At least math is real. I don’t have time for boring fictions. Please join me in the age of reason. I assure you, it's not filled with evil monsters that will haunt your dreams and eat your babies.

      December 28, 2010 at 11:11 am |
    • Texas Mom

      jackdraw...Have you ever read a bible in your life? What makes you so sure that it is fiction? There is no sarcasm here I was just wondering if this was something you have been told all your life and that is why you are getting upset with everyone on here to doesn't believe the same?

      December 28, 2010 at 11:17 am |
    • Leo

      Don't let your kids read/watch the Wizard of Oz, either. Or most fairy tales. Disney. So much "evil" witchcraft.

      December 28, 2010 at 11:18 am |
    • Conversely

      ....just because you are a christian does neccessarily make you a good and moral person.

      December 28, 2010 at 11:23 am |
    • The Jackdaw

      I have read the bible. I was raised catholic, went to catholic school and took college courses in theology. And my study has brought me to the realization that all religion is fiction and that all gods reflect the inconsistencies of men, including the Christian God. Religion exists to express a moral code and to provide a sense of community. Unfortunately, while its tenants are generally positive, its messages are generally used as a cudgel to reinforce ignorance and halt progress. Refusing to read a fictional book because you think it is evil is nothing short of madness. Madness and irrationality.

      December 28, 2010 at 11:26 am |
    • Further

      What makes you so certain the bible is real?

      What happens in the end if you find that your life reading the bible was wasted and your version of god and heaven doesn't exist?

      December 28, 2010 at 11:26 am |
    • Lex

      Texas Mom – I agree with you on reading the Bible – I think many just want to complain, criticize and question, but don't want to really find out the answer – the price is too great – because then the real work starts, once we start to get a glimmer of what 'faith' means to us, we suddenly realize we have got a lot of work to do, not only on ourselves, but for our world. We are called to be a light to the nations, to make the world a better place – to sacrifice ourselves – to love those around us, even the ones who make us mad and sorrowful. Steep price for being a real part of our world, those who do not 'look' (really seek answers) are sitting on the sidelines yelling/denouncing/condemning what they do not understand. (ok – I'll get off my soapbox now)

      I love the discussions here, but not the out-and-out nastiness.

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

      Just to throw in my .02: My wife and I are Christians, and we thoroughly enjoy the HP story. We've read most of the novels and have seen all of the HP movies except for the most recent installment. In fact, all of the Christian friends and families that we associate with really like the HP story as well.

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

      Odin says according to the holy runes that since jesus did not diea warrior's death he will forever be barred from the Halls of Valhalla where the honored dead feast for eternity. Unless you change from your false god you too will be barred from the realm of Odin One-Eye the All Father

      December 28, 2010 at 11:44 am |
    • Epidi

      Texas Mom, I can assure you that the Harry Potter books glamourizes and very much so gilds the lily on magick and magickal workings. I understand that you think witchcraft is a sin because it says so in your Bible (which I have read as well as many other theological works). However, as a practicing Pagan & witch, I think my moral compass has always pointed true North though I would never say I wasn't human enough to have failings as we all do. Good works may not in and of themselves get one into heaven or on to the highest path of any enlightenment without intent of our heart, our courage, and faith (yes, faith) in what it is we are doing. I'd like to think that is what you meant? If so, we are in accord. I just find issue with book bannings and fear mongering. It's what gets people killed for reason other than ignorance. And every religion is guilty of that sin somewhere in it's history. May the Mother & Great Spirit Bless you.

      December 28, 2010 at 12:02 pm |
    • RichardSRussell

      Texas Mom, to give you Step 1 down the road to realizing why the Bible is a collection of fairy tales and braggadocio, I offer you something appropriate to the season. Go to the very 1st gospel in the New Testament, Matthew, the very 1st chapter therein, and scope out Verses 23 and 25. Now tell me: According to prophecy, what was the savior SUPPOSED to be named. (Hint: Verse 23.) And what, in "fulfillment" of that prophecy, was he ACTUALLY named. (Hint: Verse 25.)

      Your favorite book is absolutely RIDDLED with things like that, if you only bother to look for them with the same critical eye that the subjects of this article have applied to Harry Potter, which — whatever else you may think of it — was actually pretty consistent within itself.

      December 28, 2010 at 1:12 pm |
    • Texas Mom

      Thank you all for your views on my comment. They are much appreciated. To those of you that say what happens if I find out that my God really is a myth when I die. I won't feel like my life was wasted. I put a lot of energy into something I believe with my whole heart and I will never regret that. For those of you who think it is fairytale myth I am so sorry for you and will continue to pray for you ever nigth. Again May God Bless you all. Thanks for the great discussion!

      December 28, 2010 at 3:48 pm |
  11. The Jackdaw

    Asking if Hairy Potter is a good Christian is a bit like asking is Frodo is a good Jedi. Two fictions don’t make a reality.

    December 28, 2010 at 10:57 am |
    • Leo

      Use the Force, Frodo...

      *snicker* You're awesome.

      December 28, 2010 at 11:17 am |
    • Snape

      One force to rule them all....

      December 28, 2010 at 11:20 am |
  12. sjenner

    This same 'debate' has taken place regarding Tolkien–who was a devout Catholic and who wrote the Lord of the Rings as a Catholic work, even though the text itself says nothing about God, divinity, cults or religion. The point: to explore the nobler and darker possibilities of the human character; the God-given freedom of choice playing itself out as people succeed and fail at thwarting their darker natures. And in so many ways, how much truer to life. Harry Potter, I agree with Tumminio, falls very much in this tradition. If there is no room for Harry Potter and other such fundamentally moral works in the Christian dialog, how dull and brittle has our faith become?

    December 28, 2010 at 10:53 am |
    • Chen

      ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ

      December 28, 2010 at 10:55 am |
    • sjenner

      Chen, sorry you felt that way. I actually thought you prior post made some good points.

      December 28, 2010 at 10:59 am |
    • Lex

      love your response – and I think there is plenty of room, just that the 'media' loves to focus on the fanatics and fundamentalists – not the 'average joe' Christian (or Jew, or Muslim, or Buddhist) – Life and faith are intricate and intricately woven together, just learning about it all is a quest in and of itself, but if you have no doubt or questions, it is a very boring trip indeed!

      December 28, 2010 at 11:03 am |
    • Frogist

      @sjenner: Well said.

      December 28, 2010 at 12:21 pm |
  13. John

    It's just a story. People taking it beyond that and into literal meaning need to be banished from society. Vote for me in 2012 !!!

    December 28, 2010 at 10:52 am |
  14. Superhiro

    Didn't even read the article but I can already tell you it's stupid.

    December 28, 2010 at 10:52 am |
  15. GodTookNOPart

    This is ridiculous. Are you kidding me? Stop trying to " Christianize " everything America. Harry Potter is a fictional story meant to entertain. As the bible is a fictional story meant to teach morals and values that were relevant to the time it was written. Seriously, wanna get freaked out? Read the bible in its entirety.

    December 28, 2010 at 10:52 am |
    • sjenner

      I agree not everything should be Christianized. But I also believe that if you look at works like The Lord of the Rings, there is a deeper moral message that can enrich someone's moral understanding and teach good moral lessons. As such, the fall within the ambit of the Christian debate and part of the Christian ethic–which has largely informed our moral sense.

      December 28, 2010 at 10:57 am |
  16. debbie

    who cares?

    December 28, 2010 at 10:50 am |
    • Ned Racine

      Apparently you do.

      December 28, 2010 at 11:00 am |
  17. Sid Airfoil

    The attempt to find Christianity in "Harry Potter" is implicitly offensive to all non-Christian good people. The assertion made here is that Harry has all sorts of good qualities that are CONSISTENT WITH Christianity, therefore Harry is a Christian.

    Well I've got some news for Christians. There are other philosophies, including atheism, that also promulgate strong ethical systems. Christianity does not have a monopoly on ethics. I could just as easily argue that Harry is a good atheist because he has all sorts of qualities espoused by my secular, atheist, humanist philosophy.

    This series of novels is simply a Rorschach test in which each person sees what they want. The trick is to remember that your interpretation is YOURS, and yours ONLY. But I think that it is pretty clear that J.K. Rowling did NOT intend for Harry to be interpreted as a good Christian, and it disrepects her work to do so.

    Sid

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

      Thank you Sid, well said!

      December 28, 2010 at 11:26 am |
    • Frogist

      @SidAirfoil:
      I don't find the author's attempts offensive at all. I think there is more than enough room for interpreting Harry according to one's personal viewpoint. She saw the backlash from Christian conservatives and decided to show them that Harry can be considered Christian too. I don't consider it an attempt to acquire Harry for Christians alone. But more like a way for Harry to be seen as welcoming to Christians as well. I do not think it's disrespectful to JKR's work.

      December 28, 2010 at 12:18 pm |
    • RichardSRussell

      There ARE a good many atheists who have adopted principles and philosophies such as secular humanism, ethical culture, or the more secular flavors of Unitarian/Universalism, but those are not intrinsically part of atheism and should not be confused with it.

      December 28, 2010 at 12:49 pm |
    • RichardSRussell

      As an atheist activist, I must differ with your characterization of atheism as a philosophy. It is not. It is an opinion, a limited opinion on 1 subject only. It is the opinion that there are no gods. That's all it is.

      December 28, 2010 at 12:51 pm |
    • RichardSRussell

      Atheism has no additional baggage, doctrine, tenets, creeds, behavior codes, vestments, sacraments, ...

      December 28, 2010 at 12:54 pm |
    • RichardSRussell

      ... holy books, sacred days, principles, rituals, clergy, ...

      December 28, 2010 at 1:00 pm |
    • RichardSRussell

      ... cannibalistic crac-kers ...

      December 28, 2010 at 1:03 pm |
    • RichardSRussell

      None of that. That's why atheists are all over the map on any subject besides atheism.

      PS: Sorry for the multiple postings. I was trying to figure out what word within my original, single post was triggering CNN's nannybot. It turned out to be the one that I hyphenated in the post just before this one.

      December 28, 2010 at 1:05 pm |
    • JackieInDallas

      Sid, well said. ALL good literature is just that...a way to view life in symbolic terms.

      December 28, 2010 at 1:06 pm |
    • Sid Airfoil

      In response to RichardSRussell:

      I should have been more clear in my characterization of atheism. I agree that atheism is limited to a single subject (the non-existence of god), and therefore, that atheists can be all over the board regarding their positive ethical philosophies. My only point was that the Harry character is CONSISTENT WITH many different but overlapping ethical/moral/religious philosophies, and so should not be appropriated by any of them as support or their cause. If Christians want to use the Potter mythology to teach their children about aspects of Christian mythology, I guess I can't stop them. But let's not put words in the author's mouth.

      Sid

      December 28, 2010 at 1:24 pm |
  18. Epidi

    Hahahahaha! I believe I've just seen history repeat itself. First the Christian far right wing squawked endlessly over how Harry Potter was teaching witchcraft and since that did nothing to keep the masses from reading the books and seeing the movies – they turn it around and claim it for thier own in some twisted fashion. Kind of how they set up thier holidays and customs around the Pagan ones. Who cares what religion Harry was supposed to be? I guess there could not be any good Hindis, Buddists, Wiccans, or Pagans so they are trying to play a pseudo Christian witch card. Oh Brother! Harry is a fictional character. If witches & wizards could clean up thier house dust & clutter with a spell, everyone would covert to Paganism. Puleeze!

    December 28, 2010 at 10:49 am |
  19. hj

    America, please grow up (if you're unfamiliar with the term; it's the opposite of being reborn)

    December 28, 2010 at 10:48 am |
  20. JohnQuest

    David, you are correct I have not read either, I have added to my list of weekend reading, Thanks.

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

      ROFLMAO

      December 28, 2010 at 10:50 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.