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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. Ed

    Here we go again with that damn religion bull crap again. Who in the hell cares! Religion this religion that. Wake up people and ditch this religious crap and enjoy life and worry about important things. Start telling these religious idiots to shove it because I am a free thinker and don't need you tell mw how to live me life.

    December 28, 2010 at 12:29 pm |
    • DrFood

      "Here we go again with that damn religion bull crap again."
      What do you expect to find on CNN's "Belief Blog"? An apple pie recipie?

      "Who in the hell cares!"
      Most people writing on this message board, you included.

      "Religion this religion that."
      Again...Belief Blog

      "Wake up people and ditch this religious crap and enjoy life and worry about important things."
      Worrying about baking that perfect apple pie? My one bit of advice is to make your own crusts and use Granny Smith apples.

      "Start telling these religious idiots to shove it because I am a free thinker and don't need you tell mw how to live me life."
      Tell people to "shove it" does not have a terrific track record of getting them to respect you.

      December 28, 2010 at 12:38 pm |
    • Steve the real one

      I see that you are blasting religion on the BELIEF BLOG. Notice the irony? You didn't make your comments on the free thinker blog (does one exist)? Good think I 'm not religious (I am a christian) or otherwise i might have been offended, Ed!

      December 28, 2010 at 12:42 pm |
  2. TYRANNASAURUS

    Harry Potter was a good Christian?

    What kind of crap blank question is that?

    December 28, 2010 at 12:28 pm |
    • NL

      It's a simple question where a Christian condemning Harry has to seriously look at what they are condemning. Harry is a good person, willing to sacrifice himself for his friends. Surely these are not evil virtues? By rejecting Harry are you rejecting his example? C. S. Lewis' Narnia series is full of magic as well, but accepted as valid Christian literature. Why the difference? Believers really ought to be concerned with these questions if they are serious about their faith.

      December 28, 2010 at 1:07 pm |
    • Eric

      @NL In what meaningful sense could Harry Potter by any sort of Christian – good or bad – without accepting Jesus Christ as lord and savior? "Good person" and "good Christian" are not synonyms. Rather, I think a case could be made for their being antonymous.

      December 28, 2010 at 1:44 pm |
    • jules

      sorry to burst your bubble but the chronicles of narnia each represent a planet and the pagan myths that coincide

      December 28, 2010 at 3:57 pm |
    • NL

      Eric-
      Then Christianity isn't about morals, right?

      December 28, 2010 at 9:30 pm |
    • Eric

      @NL Perhaps. It was without a doubt one of our species' first and worst attempts at ethics. I don't doubt that you can find a few gems of moral wisdom in the Bible (Do unto others..., Blessed are the meek..., etc.) but they're buried under a mountain of scapegoating, human sacrifice, thoughtcrime, and supersti-tion – and that's just the New Testament. Taken as a whole, the evil and primitive stupidity in the New Testament far outweighs anything that could be considered a "revelation" for mankind.

      December 29, 2010 at 12:05 pm |
  3. yabbut

    The answer to the question "Was Harry Potter a Good Christian?" is "Who cares?". It's an entertaining story that also has some good messages about human behavior. I'm tired of people who feel that everything should be viewed through the lens of their own religious beliefs.

    December 28, 2010 at 12:27 pm |
  4. Pagan

    2011 years old? Try mankind on earth 250,000 years. Reset the clock, killed off entire civilizations to get a religion? A man God? I've seen what man can do. No one put my God on a cross and killed him. A regligion that sacrafices a son? Pervert pedifiles? Why not a religion set in upholding and backing their sons not sacrificing. All Harry Potter did was entertain me. Merlin lives.

    December 28, 2010 at 12:26 pm |
  5. TYRANNASAURUS

    Harry Potter was a good Christian?

    He's not real.......so does it really............. I mean really matter?

    December 28, 2010 at 12:26 pm |
  6. John Daniel

    Some Christians might find Karen Armstrong interesting.

    December 28, 2010 at 12:22 pm |
  7. Nikki

    someone needs to re-evaluate articles that CNN publishes. This one is completely ridiculous.

    December 28, 2010 at 12:21 pm |
  8. Atheus

    Really? Are Christians so hard up for examples of "good Christians" that they have to turn to fictional characters? I guess that makes sense because the bible is full enough of them as it is, but this is a really bad sign for Christianity – and a great sign for the rational, thinking world.

    December 28, 2010 at 12:19 pm |
    • Steve the real one

      We are not hard up for examples of good Christians! Why the generalization when this is ONE guy writing ONE story? Feel free to believe whatever you wish BUT, I will tell you the Potter character is NOT consistant with Christianity!

      December 28, 2010 at 12:35 pm |
    • Frogist

      @Steve, the real one: Not consistent with your interpretation of Christianity. Again, a minute language change that has vast implications on meaning.

      December 29, 2010 at 11:18 am |
    • Steve the real one

      Frogist,

      You're wrong! I get my interpretation of Christianity from the Bible! I will say it this way. Harry Potter is NOT consistent with Biblical Christianity!

      December 29, 2010 at 12:42 pm |
    • Frogist

      @Steve, the real one: You seem to like saying the word "wrong". Even if you get your "interpretation" (that is the word you used) from the bible, it's still just your interpretation. HP is quite consistent with other people's interpretation of what Christianity is, or what the bible says. Sorry, but unless you are god himself, I don't think you can get away with saying you have the absolutely correct and only interpretation of what Christianity is.

      December 29, 2010 at 4:37 pm |
  9. Eric

    What is this rubbish? So wizards and werewolves may or may not jibe with zombie Jesus. Who cares? Seriously, if a single person reading this comment cares the slightest about whether or not Harry Potter was a good Christian please tell me why.

    December 28, 2010 at 12:19 pm |
    • Frogist

      @Eric: I don't' really know how you define the word "care". But I certainly find deconstruction and interpretation of books an interesting topic. The HP series has been controversial because of Christian acrimony over it. I find revisiting that topic in the light of a Christian endorsement compelling as well.

      December 29, 2010 at 11:16 am |
    • Eric

      @Frogist

      Care – feel concern or interest; attach importance to something

      The assessment and critique of literature is an interesting topic indeed. But to waste the opportunity of presenting a critique of such sorts to a very large audience by pandering to Christian controversy is – it seems to me – absurd in the highest degree. Harry Potter was not a good Christian. Harry Potter was not ANY kind of Christian. He is a fictional character living in an alternate universe of which the likes of iron age fables a magic rabbi have not and presumably will not ever breach. Was Harry Potter a good person? The answer seems to be a resounding "yes." His moral judgement appears to be a prime element in the story's plot. None of this has anything to do with Christianity and it is pointless and patronizing to waste any more time comparing the two. Stop giving a voice to these buffoons.

      December 29, 2010 at 12:00 pm |
    • Frogist

      @Eric: I'm stil not quite sure why you are upset? Because the article was posted to this forum? Or because the author published a book addressing the critique of Christians on HP? Yes, Harry is a fictional character. But fictional does not make him irrelevant. Harry's moral stance does line up with a number of Christian tenets making it worthy of comparison, especially in the light of the condemnation the series has received from certain Christians. I do not consider it time wasted to engage in conversation about such topics. On the contrary, I find it quite interesting. I'm not sure to whom you refer as "buffoons" but having weeded through the majority of the thread I find that some ideas are compelling.
      I guess I just don't understand your outrage. Esp since you actually came back to reply to my post. To me that says you find the topic at least interesting enough to return. LOL! Hope to understand you better.

      December 29, 2010 at 4:32 pm |
  10. canucken

    I didn't realize that Harry Potter was supposed to be Christian. Apparently you have to be Christian to be a good person. Guess I'm not a good person. Catholic priests who molest small boys are though!

    December 28, 2010 at 12:18 pm |
  11. Mark

    Being moral or immoral doesn't require you to follow a specific religion. Whether you're christian or muslim or atheist, you just try to be the best person you can be.

    December 28, 2010 at 12:14 pm |
  12. Michael

    Um, Mr. Potter's faith is irrelevant and his own business particularly since he is a fictional character.

    M. Felten, Hogwarts, Class of 1994

    December 28, 2010 at 12:12 pm |
  13. Eric

    How is this news?

    December 28, 2010 at 12:09 pm |
    • DrFood

      The Belief Blog isn't news. Why do you ask such silly questions?

      December 28, 2010 at 12:48 pm |
  14. bookshrink

    As a product of the Christian tradition (Episcopalian/Anglican) and a Harry Potter fan who drove 65 miles out of the city to stand in line at midnight for the final book, I find this whole debate both interesting and absurd. In my experience, most Christians aren't Christian, if the definition is that they follow the teachings of Jesus, especially with respect to how others (including those nasty people who don't agree with us) are to be treated. Since the whole of religion in any form serves to describe our lives as an ongoing war between good and evil, with the main arguments over what qualifies as good and what qualifies as evil, Harry Potter is certainly a Christian but he's also Muslim and Hebrew and Hindu and Buddhist. Whether she meant to or not, J.K. Rowling's character is as fine a contemporary sacrificial king as we've seen since Lewis and Tolkien.

    December 28, 2010 at 12:07 pm |
    • TedTheodoreLogan

      Excellent post bookshrink.

      December 28, 2010 at 2:29 pm |
    • jules

      the chronicles of narnia each represent a planet and the pagan myths that coincide

      December 28, 2010 at 3:59 pm |
  15. Matt

    Harry Potter is suppose to be fiction just like many other books. Why would anyone burn a book. Can I say crazy. If I remember right I believe Hitler burned books as well; those books he thought bad or books he thought polluted the minds of the people. Hitlers...I mean Christians, we are not all the same so stop fooling yourselves into believing that you can force yourselves on others and their imaginations.

    December 28, 2010 at 12:07 pm |
    • Brian Macker

      Why would anyone burn a book? To keep warm as happened in Britain lately. To get rid of old books. To destroy vile books like the Qur'an. There are plenty of reasons to burn books.

      December 28, 2010 at 1:44 pm |
    • Frogist

      I personally think the act of book-burning is vile. To me it symbolizes destroying not just knowledge but the responsibility of learning. Books have knowledge that is passed from one person to another. One chooses to be responsible for one's own knowledge through the personal act of reading. Burning a book is telling the world I choose not to learn. And furthermore, I make the choice for you not learn from this book.

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

    cheekbrown, then what you are saying is, no matter how "moral" a person is (lives) they can not get to this place you call heaven unless they believe that an all knowing being that is beyond space, time, and matter ra ped and impregnated a young bronze aged women, had a child by her and that child died to save all human kind from punishment from that very same being, which happens to be the same being that created all human kind?

    December 28, 2010 at 12:05 pm |
  17. Brian Macker

    No he is not a good Christian since he does not follow Exodus 22:18, "Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live." However, being a good Christian doesn't make you a good person.

    December 28, 2010 at 12:05 pm |
  18. redtop

    So....does the Christian right think ALL books where the characters do not profess to be Christians are evil? Obviously, they don't read very much!

    December 28, 2010 at 12:04 pm |
  19. Damiana

    Why do Christians HAVE to plant their flag on every frelling thing in the universe?

    I wonder if it's they-or their god-who has the teenie-weenie issues. @@

    December 28, 2010 at 12:00 pm |
    • Frogist

      @Damiana: "frelling"! God I loved Farscape!!! Zhaan rocks my world!

      December 29, 2010 at 11:04 am |
  20. cocmotologist to the stars

    HARRY POTTER IS EVIL AND SO ARE ALL OF HIS FANS. I know this because it has been revealed to me that LORD VOLDEMORT is really Harrys dad. I am a cosmotologist _ i know these revelations. REPENT..

    December 28, 2010 at 12:00 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.