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My Take: Why we’re drawn to Harry Potter’s theology
July 13th, 2011
11:29 AM ET

My Take: Why we’re drawn to Harry Potter’s theology

Editor's Note: Danielle Elizabeth Tumminio is an ordained Episcopal Church priest and is author of "God and Harry at Yale: Faith and Fiction in the Classroom."

By Danielle Elizabeth Tumminio, Special to CNN

It’s been 13 years since the first Harry Potter book landed on store shelves and provoked some Christian conservatives to begin voicing opposition to J.K. Rowling’s world of wizardry.

“Let me say something about Harry Potter. Warlocks are enemies of God,” said Becky Fischer, a Pentecostal pastor featured in a documentary called Jesus Camp. “And I don’t care what kind of hero they are, they’re an enemy of God."

“Had it been in the Old Testament,” Fischer continued, “Harry Potter would have been put to death. You don’t make heroes out of warlocks.”

First reviews of 'Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2'

I was a graduate student at Yale when I first heard words like these, and it made me want to delve deeper into the nexus of Harry and Christianity, to see whether the books really were heretical.

So I decided to pitch a class on the subject to Yale, where I continue to teach on the intersection between Christian Theology and Harry Potter.

One of the questions I get asked most frequently about the class is what makes the Harry Potter series so spiritually rich. My sense is that, unlike some other famously theologically driven books, like "The Chronicles of Narnia" or "The Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter" is less interested in teaching doctrine than in asking questions of ultimate meaning:

How can a person—wizard or Muggle (Rowling’s term for non-wizards)—respond to evil?

Is it possible to maintain relationships with those beyond the grave, just like Harry sought to have a relationship with his deceased parents?

Is it worth believing in God or, for those in Harry’s world, love, without evidence of its transformative power?

These are the questions to which Harry seeks answers throughout the series, most explicitly in "The Deathly Hallows," part 2 of which opens in movie theaters on Friday. (I tell my students that not for nothing does Harry play Seeker on Gryffindor’s Quidditch team, Quidditch being the wizarding world’s sport of choice.)

J.K. Rowling: 'Never say never' to more 'Potter'

Yet these are also the questions that motivated Rowling — who was struggling with her mother’s recent death — to write the series in the first place. Indeed, they’re the questions asked by all who seek a deeper understanding of our world.

In other words, the reason the Harry Potter series resonates with so many is that Harry’s journey is our journey; what he seeks, we seek.

But is what we find heretical, as some Christians have claimed?

The first winter I taught at Yale, I was a true seeker. I had moved out of my cozy attic apartment and into my parents’ home after doctors diagnosed my father with a rare neurological disease called Primary Lateral Sclerosis (PLS).

PLS is similar to Lou Gehrig’s Disease and Multiple Sclerosis, the illness from which J.K. Rowlings’ mother suffered. Like those diseases, PLS is progressive and incurable, immobilizing the muscles without affecting the mind.

Driving home from class one day, alone in my car, I found myself overwhelmed by my father’s illness, by the pained look in his eyes as he struggled to cut food with a knife, by the anxiety that plagued my mother.

And then I thought of Harry Potter.

Each week, I’d been asking my Yale students to look at Harry’s journey and to determine the significance of that journey for them. In that moment, I wondered about the significance the books held for me. Could they offer consolation, and would that consolation be antithetical to Christian faith?

In the car that day, I remembered the end of "The Deathly Hallows," when Harry, walking towards his nemesis Voldemort in the Forbidden Forest, finds himself surrounded by those who died but who loved Harry well: his mentors, Sirius and Lupin, and his parents, James and Lily.

Lily speaks first: “You’ve been so brave.”

“You’ll stay with me?” Harry asks.

“Until the very end,” responds James.

In other words, it is community and love that see us through even the greatest losses. That’s the same for Rowling and for Christians, for whom God is love. It is friendship and faith that help us walk—or drive, as I was doing at that moment—bravely to our destiny.

In that, I found consolation.

In the new Potter film – reportedly the last in the Potter franchise – we’ll see Harry as a different kind of seeker, one who struggles with his faith. His mentor, Dumbledore, is absent in a time of evil, as the wizarding world is subjected to a Hitler-like campaign to abolish anyone not of pure wizarding descent. Meanwhile, the equivalent of a tabloid journalist has published a book smearing Dumbledore’s previously unadulterated reputation.

Though Dumbledore taught Harry that the only way to defeat Voldemort is through the power of love, that force has been seriously called into question. With subjugation and violence all around and with Dumbledore’s image smeared, love doesn’t seem much worth trusting.

As Harry wanders through the wizarding world, he must seek for himself what is worth trusting and what is not. And, without giving too much away, let me say that when his faith in love finally takes root, transformative things begin to happen.

As movie theatres reel the final film, and as we reflect on the years we shared with members of Dumbledore’s Army, perhaps this is the takeaway: Seek.

Seek with all your heart and all your soul and with your closest friends by your side.

If you do, you may find yourself on an unpredictable path to places you never knew existed. You may meet people so unlike you that they could be properly called a centaur and you a house elf. You may walk into a dark and forbidden forest. You may battle your greatest enemy.

Through all of that, you may very well find love. And at the end, you may conclude, as J.K. Rowling did, that “All was well.” Kind of sounds like Christianity, doesn't it?

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Christianity • Movies • Opinion

soundoff (703 Responses)
  1. Chris

    "That's the point of their station, you must listen to them because if you follow your own brand of religion, then technically your not a christian." Ah-ha! This is where I have an issue. Anyone who would say that, I absolutely disagree with and THAT, my friend, is where trouble begins. That statement right there is where the idea of false prophets comes in. I'm not certain which denomination you are speaking of, but anyone who tells you that "You can only be a Christian if you do what I say" is dangerous and should be avoided. Once again, this is sad that you and more than likely, a great many others, have heard that that mentality is what Christianity is about. I don't blame you. I'd run like heck myself from that!

    When I go to Sunday service, I listen to my pastor. But I check what he says to see if it lines up with the Bible. I don't take anyone's word what the Bible says; I go look it up myself. I've been told, "You ask too many questions." But that doesn't deter me. I want to know, because how can I call it "my faith" or "my beliefs" if someone has told me what to believe?

    July 13, 2011 at 3:18 pm |
    • Laughing

      I'm going to as.sume that's for me being that you quoted me. I think you're still sort of missing it. You keep using personal anecdotes that are all well and good and like JW, you seem to have faith but don't wish to make everyone agree with your point of view. When me (and most atheists on this board) discuss christianity, more often than not you are the exception to the rule rather than part of the problem.

      Who exactly is a false prophet then? Preachers? Priests? Anyone that spouts their own beliefs? If all christians did as you did, listened to their pastors but really only followed their own beliefs regardless of what their pastors said then you would be apart of nothing more than a gigantic book club that meets every sunday. Christianity is rigid whether you like it or not, that's almost the definition of religion in general, so it doesn't apply just to christianity. It is a "my way or the highway" sort of deal and if you don't adhere to dogma, ritual et all, your are not doing it right. Good for you for taking your beliefs into your own hands, and I'm happy you've found a whole congregation that accepts you for it, but by and large, that's your own brand of christianity, which is frowned upon by just about everyone else.

      That is why I have run like heck away from religion in general.

      July 13, 2011 at 3:31 pm |
    • DangerWillRobinson

      The problem is if you read the text literally and act on that literal interpretation. We have seen many Christians posting here that take the bible so literally that it has created hatred in their hearts. It helps when reading if you share your thoughts and check the history books to make sure you are comprehending what was written in the context. The proof is in the interpretation changes that have happened regarding minorities and women in the past.

      July 13, 2011 at 3:51 pm |
    • Laughing

      @DangerWillRobinson

      So now I'm just supposed to take the bible with a grain of salt, not take it literally? Then why not just go to a self-help section in Barnes & Nobel, at least that will be more relevant to the problems that a person living in 2011 would have without confusing me on what I can and can not do because a person told me not to 2,000 years ago.

      July 13, 2011 at 3:57 pm |
    • Chris

      @Laughing,

      First off, let me say, I really appreciate you engaging in a dialogue with me and not resorting to the whole shtick of "fairy tales and unicorns." I will say, I respect that you have your own beliefs and I am in no way expecting you to change those based purely on what I say.

      Second, let's say you want to meet me. You talk to my wife about me. She'll give you one perspective. You talk to my boss, you'll get another. You talk to my best friend, you'll get another. And when you talk to my enemy, you'll get another. Then you form an opinion based on all of those perspectives and decide not to meet me because you say, "Chris must be like this because of what these people said." That's what I believe religion is. A bunch of people with a bunch of different perspectives. Some of them may be right, some of them may be wrong. But it's important for the individual to take in those perspectives, and go meet God for themselves. Just my two cents.

      July 13, 2011 at 4:22 pm |
    • JW

      I agree with Chris. I understand why people are atheist. I can see why science and logic would lead one to believe there was no God. I just look at it in a different way. Personally I never really understood why Christians cause such an uproar over the big bang theory. From a scientific standpoint what bothers me more is the origin of life, because at some point living things would have had to be produced from non-living things. The explanation I have seen is that a series of amino acids came together to form simple organisms, but I am not sure if that has been reproduced. There may be a scientific explanation for this, and this is not necessarily why I am a Christian, I am just giving one argument from that perspective.

      July 13, 2011 at 4:39 pm |
    • Laughing

      Aha, but you see you analogy is only sort of correct. If there were multiple versions of the bible that all told the same story, a few issues here, a few issues there but overall there were say, 5 different, verfiably different books that all told of the life and death of jesus christ and his acts, then your analogy would be about right. However, it goes more like, your wife is the the bible, she's is the only one who really knows you, she is the authority when it comes to anything and everything about you. Right there, there's bias, but I look past it because I want to get to know you. Then I talk to other people who have talked to your wife about you and for the most part all of them get the same idea, the general knowledge about you, but after I talk with them and they talk to each other, we've all formed our own opinions on who you are exactly.
      Then I decide I really want to meet you, face to face and get my own opinion. but you're not there. I ask your friends and some think they know the answer, others give a shrug, but basically I searched for you and you never showed yourself, all I had to go on was what a bunch of other people told me about you with nothing to verify it except people telling me that I should trust them they truely know you.

      I can assure you I have done a fair amount of soul searching and wondered for the longest time why god would not answer. Some have told me He already has but my eyes weren't open to it, but what does that mean? Back then when I asked I truely expected a response (I can't say as much now because the idea of prayer and expecting a legitimate answer is a ridiculous notion to me) so what was I supposed to do? Open my eyes wider? god never answered and even when I turned away god still didn't answer. At first I tried to test him, see if I didn't follow any of the rules I might get that response I was looking for, maybe I would have an enlightening experience, maybe something would happen that would reaffirm my lost faith, heck, maybe he'd actually come and talk to me directly. None of that happened.

      I've seen countless believers on this blog tell the atheist to open his eyes to god and he'll respond. They say this, but they don't believe it, they know any atheist worth his salt on here is not going to prayer to god anytime soon and actually mean it. They are secure in the fact that they did all they could do and since they believe, god talks with them and won't tlak to the atheist because he's willfully denying god in his heart. How do you prove to a believer that an atheists heart is completely open and yet still receives nothing from god?

      July 13, 2011 at 4:45 pm |
    • Laughing

      @JW

      I Think I might be making this up, but I'm pretty sure a scientist has already synthetically produced the same environment as the so-called "primodeal ooze" and actually produced a single-celled organism. I remember reading about it in Bill Bryson's a History of Nearly Everything (great read by the way for believers and atheists alike) so I can't remember the scientist name off-hand.

      Thought I'd share

      July 13, 2011 at 4:54 pm |
    • JW

      Thanks for the information Laughing. I am curious so I will do more reading. Sources I have seen said that they were able to produce chemical properties that make up living cells, but the reproduction of these things producing living organisms has not been achieved. I will look at more sources on that. As to what you said about prayer that is hard for me to explain because I do not know your situation. I know I basically turned away from God at one point and seemed to be pulled back in. I pray all the time to be honest and I feel that God listens. Honestly, prayer makes me very relaxed because I feel that whatever problems I have that God will help me. One of the most famous passages in the Bible, Psalm 23, basically tells us not to worry because God will take care of you. Since you are an atheist that probably sounds like I am crazy, but I feel that this is true for me personally.

      July 13, 2011 at 5:21 pm |
  2. bob

    Chris, I'm not talking about the actual content of the book. This book is targeted to teenagers whom will emulate the MAIN CHARACTOR and want to do magic. What do you think the first thing comes up when you google magic? Thats right those evil devil pagan sites.

    July 13, 2011 at 3:18 pm |
    • Spiffy

      When I Googled magic I got some sort of online video game.

      July 13, 2011 at 3:24 pm |
    • Chris

      So your argument is that young people will pick up the book and read it and want to do magic? Does that apply to all literature and/or media that has magic involved? For instance, the Chronicles of Narnia, Bedknobs and Broomsticks or Mary Poppins? Those are all geared towards younger people. Do they encourage children to "emulate the MAIN CHARACTOR (sic) and want to do magic"? Or is it just Harry Potter?

      July 13, 2011 at 3:25 pm |
    • bob

      First of all your examples don't directly state that their using magic. Second of all none have captured a generation of kids like harry potter. You points are invalid. Harry potter is making the witch a good force when witches are just plain evil

      July 13, 2011 at 3:32 pm |
    • Bucky Ball

      Was listening to a wonderful call-in program on Canadian broadcasting recently, and kids were calling in to discuss Harry Potter. It was amazingly encouraging. These kids not only read a LOT, but when the 11 year olds were asked if Harry Potter made them believe in magic they burst out laughing. Kids are not THAT stupid.

      July 13, 2011 at 3:32 pm |
    • GOD TALKS TO ME THRUW SKWIRRILS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

      @Chris, MERRY POPANS CAUSED HIPPY COUNTERCULTURE DRUG-CRAZED LONG HAIR JESUS-HATIN HOMOLIBERALISM!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

      July 13, 2011 at 3:32 pm |
    • Chris

      "First of all your examples don't directly state that their using magic."

      I'm sorry, but what? The first book of the Chronicles of Narnia is "The Sorceror's Apprentice." The second book has a magical wardrobe that children walk through that has a magical lion and his friends fighting against an evil witch. Marry Poppins flies on an umbrella and has a magic bag. And Bedknobs and Broomsticks has a magical bed that the characters fly around on. And these are all classic literature and/or media.

      "Second of all none have captured a generation of kids like harry potter. "

      Your argument is that something's popularity makes it more or less evil? So if Harry Potter had just been a series of children's books, without its global appeal, its level of "evil" would have diminished?

      July 13, 2011 at 3:45 pm |
    • Scott

      Bob: You do realize that the view point of “witches are just plain evil” caused thousands and perhaps tens of thousands of innocent people to be burned at the stake in the middle ages?

      July 14, 2011 at 9:52 pm |
  3. Frogist

    Let me get this out of the way. I would really like to have compassion for the Becky Fischers of the world. But they are simply zealots who want to spread their fear-mongering and disinformation till everyone thinks the same as them. And I suspect should they succeed, even that would not be enough. They will always manufacture something for them to bitterly oppose no matter how beneficial, moral or downright good it is just so that they have someone to marginalize. And like others here, I believe she probably never bothered to read the books. If she did she might have taken a lesson from Sirius: "...the world isn't split into good people and Death Eaters."
    I agree with the author. The story is so powerful because it focuses on the things that truly matter: love, truth, trust. And they are all brought into question. But what Rowlings hammers home in every book is choice. Everyone has a choice. And every choice you make has real life consequences. And you are always responsible for your choices. You can't push that off to anything outside yourself. So you must choose wisely with thought and logic and care. And help from your friends.
    And of course the best part, which is no matter how small or unimportant you or others think you are, you always have a part to play.
    I will miss Harry when the movies are over. Just like I missed him when I read the last book.

    July 13, 2011 at 2:58 pm |
    • Chris

      Have you read the books? It's not a "How To" guide on magic. It's a children's story, the same as the Sword in the Stone, or Cinderella. All have magic, so why is only Harry Potter the path to Satan?

      July 13, 2011 at 3:03 pm |
    • Chris

      Sorry, Frogist, that wasn't meant for you. It was meant for the comment below yours. 🙂

      July 13, 2011 at 3:03 pm |
    • David Johnson

      @Frogist

      Yes!

      July 13, 2011 at 3:06 pm |
  4. bob

    Harry Potter was made to push the atheists agenda. Magic is evil and works only by satan.

    July 13, 2011 at 2:52 pm |
    • Chris

      ...it was? I've read the whole series cover to cover and I've never heard mention of any god or lack thereof. Can you please elaborate how it was used to push the athiest agenda?

      July 13, 2011 at 2:56 pm |
    • bob

      This book inspires little children to look into magic. Who do you think controls magic Chris. Thats right the devil. This book doesn't directly talks about satan, but it definitely leads them to the wrong path.

      July 13, 2011 at 3:00 pm |
    • W247

      Bob – then let's ban Cinderella too... and Beauty and the Beast.... and Aladdin.... and heck, down with Disney all together!

      July 13, 2011 at 3:02 pm |
    • Chris

      Have you read the books? It's not a "How To" guide on magic. It's a children's story, the same as the Sword in the Stone, or Cinderella. All have magic, so why is only Harry Potter the path to Satan?

      As a note, I'm not being aggressive, I'm asking for clarification of your point.

      July 13, 2011 at 3:05 pm |
    • Bible Bob, Knight of Infallibibillillibabity

      Well bob, Jesus used magic a lot, like resurrecting some dead people and turning water into wine. If the devil controls magic, then Jesus was the devil.

      July 13, 2011 at 3:07 pm |
    • David Johnson

      There is no devil. No demons of any sort. Nothing under your beds. If there were, I would tell you.

      Satan was invented by men, because they felt "funny" worshipping a god that had just devastated a village of good people via a flood. They didn't want their god to be the one who did evil. So, Beelzebub was born.

      Consider: You believe god is all knowing. Yes?

      You believe god is all powerful. Yes?

      You believe everything written in the bible is true. Yes?

      You believe Satan is at least as intelligent as your average human. Yes?

      You believe Satan can read? Yes?

      Do you think Satan ever read the part, in the King James, where he loses the battle against god? What would be the point in continuing the battle, if the goal (victory?) ABSOLUTELY was not obtainable? I think this would be disheartening to any army. Even a band of fallen angels.

      Who, more than a fallen angel, would believe/know god was omniscient? Not to mention omnipotent. That would have been a stumbling block to any coup attempt. Right?

      So, rebellion would have been dumb of Satan and his band of angels. God would have said, "You will lose and you will lose your health insurance." End of rebellion, I think.

      These stories are fiction. Do you see that? What ent ity would rebel against an all powerful, all knowing god? You couldn't even sneak up on Him. Sheesh! Use your brain, just a little.

      What's funny, is that Christians bestow upon their god, the attributes of being omnibenevolent, omnipotent, and omniscient.
      Never mind that it is impossible for a god to be all those things at the same time.

      But, Christians never stop to think how these attributes affect their fairy tales. They never consider the ramifications resulting from these superlative qualities that they give to their god.

      Some have told me, that Satan knows he will be defeated. His goal is to take as many humans to hell with him as possible.

      But, Christians also say, their god is all knowing. If god can see the future, if the future can be known, He would know exactly how many souls will be lost and how many saved. He would know this, from the beginning.

      If god can know the future, Satan would be locked into his part. Like Judas and Peter, he would have no choice.

      If the predictions of the bible concerning Satan and the end times are true, then all the events and actions leading up to the fulfillment of these predictions, are predetermined. Predictions, cannot depend on chance.

      “For me, it is far better to grasp the universe as it really is than to persist in delusion, however satisfying and reassuring.”
      – Carl Sagan

      Cheers!

      July 13, 2011 at 3:10 pm |
    • Artist

      Bob you believe magic is real...get help bro
      .
      Schizophrenia is a mental disorder that makes it difficult to tell the difference between real and unreal experiences, to think logically, to have normal emotional responses, and to behave normally in social situations.
      As the illness continues, psychotic symptoms develop:
      • False beliefs or thoughts that are not based in reality (delusions)
      • Hearing, seeing, or feeling things that are not there (hallucinations)

      July 13, 2011 at 4:12 pm |
    • Frogist

      @Artist: Wait... Magic's not real?! Damn you, Chriss Angel!

      July 13, 2011 at 5:08 pm |
    • Ze Pewp

      Only I am Infallibibillillibabe.

      July 13, 2011 at 8:46 pm |
  5. Reality

    Harry Potter, the book, pure fiction about a moral wizard, brilliantly written.

    Christianity, semi-fiction, about an embellished, sometimes "mythicized" magic man..

    To wit:

    As per the NT, Jesus was a bit "touched". After all he thought he spoke to Satan, thought he changed water into wine, thought he raised Lazarus from the dead etc. In today's world, said Jesus would be declared legally insane.

    Or did P, M, M, L and J simply make him into a first century magic-man via their epistles and gospels of semi-fiction? Most contemporary NT experts after thorough analyses of all the scriptures go with the latter magic-man conclusion with J's gospels being mostly fiction.

    Obviously, today's followers of Paul et al's "magic-man" are also a bit on the odd side believing in all the Christian mumbo jumbo about bodies resurrecting, and exorcisms, and miracles, and "magic-man" atonement, and infallible, old, European, white men, and 24/7 body/blood sacrifices followed by consumption of said sacrifices.

    July 13, 2011 at 2:37 pm |
  6. Colin

    Yale has a divinity school. Can you imagine the nonsense they teach there!! A course on Harry Potter, or even The Three Little Pigs, comes as no surprise.

    I have often wondered how any person with even a modic.um of academic integrity can teach in a seminary or divinity school. I mean, how do they answer penetrating questions from their students as to the legitimacy of what they teach?

    July 13, 2011 at 2:34 pm |
    • David Johnson

      @Colin

      You said: "I have often wondered how any person with even a modic.um of academic integrity can teach in a seminary or divinity school. I mean, how do they answer penetrating questions from their students as to the legitimacy of what they teach?"

      What I think is sadder, would be for my kid to tell me they wanted to GO to a seminary school. What a waste of money!

      Cheers!

      July 13, 2011 at 3:14 pm |
    • Colin

      Indeed DJ, as an atheist, hearing that would be like a rocket scientist from NASA finding out that their child wanted to write the astrology column for the National Enquirer.

      July 13, 2011 at 9:16 pm |
  7. AvdBerg

    The word Theology does not exist in the Bible. Harry Potter’s Theology is after the wisdom of man and this world and not after God (1 Cor. 2:4-16). For a better understanding of the wisdom and mystery of God we invite you to read all the pages and articles of the website http://www.aworlddeceived.ca

    July 13, 2011 at 2:29 pm |
    • Scott

      For a better understanding of god read the first 5 books of the bible. If that dosen't turn your stomach nothing will.

      July 14, 2011 at 9:57 pm |
  8. James

    To start off, I am a Christian. I also happen to be a pretty big sci-fy and fantasy fan, including the Harry Potter series. I tend to find the magic in the world of Harry Potter something more akin to having superpowers...this isn't devil worship we are talking about. As a character, Harry Potter has many exemplary characteristics...selfless love of others, befriending the outcasts, a humble nature about his talents/skills, and loyalty. I chose to believe that there is value in that being taught to children, both Christian and otherwise. I also believe that Jesus Christ came to this world, not as a literary character but as a real man and God, to save us.

    July 13, 2011 at 2:28 pm |
    • David Johnson

      @James

      You said: "I also believe that Jesus Christ came to this world, not as a literary character but as a real man and God, to save us."

      WOW! You must have faith! There is no evidence, outside the New Testament, that an actual Jesus ever existed. You really do have a good imagination!

      Cheers!

      July 13, 2011 at 3:18 pm |
    • Chris

      David, check your sources again. There are secular testaments of Jesus, mostly by Romans. In fact, there was a court case by an atheist in Italy, where he sued the Catholic Church for lying. But he lost because the church showed evidence that Jesus was not merely Biblical, but historical.

      July 13, 2011 at 3:36 pm |
    • David Johnson

      @Chris

      You said: "Chris
      You said: "David, check your sources again. There are secular testaments of Jesus, mostly by Romans. In fact, there was a court case by an atheist in Italy, where he sued the Catholic Church for lying. But he lost because the church showed evidence that Jesus was not merely Biblical, but historical."

      Luigi Cascioli's suit was dismissed. The Catholic Church "proved" nothing. What would you expect, especially in a country that is 95% Catholic?

      There are no known secular writings about Jesus, that aren't forgeries, later insertions, or hearsay. NONE!

      Most of the supposed authors lived AFTER Jesus was dead. Can you say hearsay?

      Philo of Alexandria (20 BC – 50 AD) a contemporary Jewish historian, never wrote a word about Jesus. This is odd, since Philo wrote broadly on the politics and theologies around the Mediterranean.

      Cheers!

      July 13, 2011 at 7:55 pm |
  9. Spiffy

    Yale has a class on Harry Potter? Is that what is considered higher education? I read the Harry Potter books but I don't think that there is a need to have an entire class on the subject. As long as you are a close reader you do not need someone to teach you about the fictional world of Harry Potter.

    July 13, 2011 at 2:22 pm |
  10. batchoftruth

    Wasn't there something useful you could have done with your education?

    July 13, 2011 at 2:03 pm |
  11. John Bob

    As an HP fan (and an irreligious one at that) I partially agree with the author, but also disagree about much of the proposed intersection of HP and Christianity. While her point regarding the underlying grand question of the books – how can a person respond to evil – is a valid one, I think this has less to do with Christianity (or god) per se and more to pure love and friendship, without religious subtext.

    In the 1st book, when HP saw his parents in the Mirror of Erised, he was drawn to sit there for hours and gaze upon them, wishing they were able to actually be with him. It was not until Dumbledore spoke with him about it did HP finally stop going – realizing that while seeing the images of his parents may be comforting, it was not real nor healthy. Similarly, in Deathly Hallows, when speaking of the powers of the resurrection stone, it is clear that those summoned from 'beyond' were not meant to be in this realm. Unlike Christianity, where one aggrandizes the belief in the unknown, undetectable, and improvable; HP shows that one can call on the IDEA of love ones past to give us strength, using their memory to embolden us to do the right thing not disillusioning us into thinking that they will literally be with us forever.

    The author also seems to compare HP’s faltering belief in Dumbledore and in the power of love (Dumbledore’s long-standing pronouncement) to what I would call a religious “faith crisis.” To me, this is disingenuous. Religious faith cannot be proven empirically and is contrary to logic. It is literally a belief without reason or evidence (other than anecdotal personal [and improvable] experiences). As any devoted HP reader knows, there IS evidence of the power of love. Examples: Voldemort’s killing spell was repelled from HP originally due to Lily’s sacrifice; all of Voldemort’s spells hold no power over those defending Hogwarts because of HP’s sacrifice. In both instances, neither HP nor Lily sacrificed themselves to end up in some ethereal “better place;” they did it to save the ones they cared for. In the end, HP did the only righteous thing possible. With no hope of reward and thinking only of others, he tried to sacrifice himself. To be honest, HP (of all people) should have predicted this outcome. The fact that he didn’t and still ended up winning doesn’t mean his faith was repaid (like in religion), but that, through love, righteousness, and self-sacrifice and allowing his morality to guide him, he ended up making the right decision.

    The author is right but for the wrong reasons. You should seek a way to combat evil with all of your heart and soul. Seek truth, love, and morality. Seek out the best in yourself and others. Seek righteousness in the face of injustice. If you truly ‘seek’ as HP did, you won’t find yourself walking down the path to Christianity, but down the path to enlightenment, freethinking, and rationality. Evil is best fought through the cool use of logic, pure love, and outstanding courage. The path to Christianity however, is through religious dogma, exclusion, hatred, genocide, and closed-mindedness.

    July 13, 2011 at 1:58 pm |
    • Laughing

      Well said! You should teach that class instead of the author!

      July 13, 2011 at 2:07 pm |
    • Chris

      John Bob, you had me....up until the last paragraph. I think purposefully excluding someone from good by the virtue of their religious beliefs is, as you said, closed-minded. I won't try to debate that Christianity's history isn't littered with atrocities. We all know the history of the crusades and the inquisition, and the like. But the question is, what organization of humans hasn't lost its path at one way or another? Perfection is an ideal to Chrisitians, one that cannot be attained, but always strived for. I don't think one could refute that Mother Theresa, a woman of the SAME religion that persecuted and killed thousands and thousands of people, did a lot of good works. But what a lot of people forget is that Christians are human too. They're prone to mistakes, and those mistakes may have far reaching, even horrible consequences. But in the end, to exclude Christianity as a way to combat the evils of the world, seems to me, to be closed minded.

      July 13, 2011 at 2:24 pm |
    • Laughing

      @ Chris

      You are absolutely right, but I don't think John Bob was saying necessarily saying that christians have just proven that they can do evil, because you are absolutely right in that regard that no matter what religion (or lack thereof) that you are, there's evil from evil people. What I think John Bob was talking about was that christianity might esconce love and righteousness, but it also hates and rejects people, it calls for literal death of followers of satan, which in other passages could really just mean your next door neighbor who isn't christian. It goes deeper than what christians have only done, it's the christian dogma that is corrupt, which is why his thesis on why christianity doesn't lead down the path to good still is inherently correct. If you choose that path, you can never stray, even when it might go against your own personal morals.

      July 13, 2011 at 2:30 pm |
    • JW

      I dont personally think of myself as corrupt, close-minded, and hateful. Maybe I do need to read the Harry Potter books, and I will learn more about myself that I didnt know

      July 13, 2011 at 2:34 pm |
    • JW

      I agree with you Laughing much of the Christian Conservatives do these things. To an extent many of them are like John Bob described. Many Christians do fight against these things though. I know many of my views go against what mainstream Christianity has become today, I believe I am more enlightened than they are.

      July 13, 2011 at 2:41 pm |
    • Laughing

      @ JW

      I have met very few people who think, "Boy, I am one hateful, close-minded son of a bi.tch. I love being evil!", It's especially apparent for christians (yeah I know, pretty big blanket statement) who think that as long as they follow the bible to a T, they are actually not only good, but better than everyone else, they are a moral authority. The Christian dogma though has some pretty sick stuff in it that today is unacceptable and considered evil, and yet we allow it.

      I know you JW to be a thoughtful, pretty open-minded person who is willing to truely try and understand the other side with an open-mind and an open-heart, as people should be. The christian dogma however is not as open-minded as you are (again I know, it depends WHICH christian dogma I guess if you want to get into the nitty gritty, so I'll just stick with whats actually said in the bible and not the interpretations from it) And that's what I mean. There are a bunch of very good open-minded individuals out there who happen to be christian, and may well live out the rest of their days doing good deeds for good people, however I'll put money down that a lot of those acts actually go against one form of christianity or another and you'd be condemed to hel.l right along with us sinners for your unpiousness. John Bob simply points out that instead of letting christianity be the path you choose, let it be more like a moral sign post every so often on the path to truth and enlightenment.

      July 13, 2011 at 2:46 pm |
    • Chris

      @Laughing,

      Ah ha! I see what you're saying. Yes, the problem is, people stop seeking God and what God has to say. They start listening to priests, pastors, reverends and all sorts of other people. Then they take what these people say and run off with it as if it's the word of God without checking it against their Bible and their own knowledge of God. It's simply sad that many Christians haven't even read the majority of the Bible!

      I think where everyone can agree is that Christians are supposed to be emulating Jesus. If you notice the character of Jesus, where he ate and conversed with "sinners", the nature of Christians should not be exclusionary, but inclusionary. Then there's the parable of the lamp, where Jesus says that you don't put a light under a basket, you leave it out so everyone can see. Well that sounds pretty inclusionary as well.

      More painful than having myself lumped in to this exclusionary group, is to hear that this is honestly what those who are not Christians think of Christians.

      July 13, 2011 at 2:47 pm |
    • Laughing

      @ Chris

      Sort of the same post I said before. Yes, the bible does teach many wonderful things about love and inclusion and using the charcter of jesus as a way to live life is great, but to be a true christian you can't just do that and nothing else (I guess in the sense of what the religion christianity has become today, regardless of denomination). To be a christian you have to seek the holy men, the priests, pastors, reverends, deacons, ect... because they are supposed to be more knowledgable than you. That's the point of their station, you must listen to them because if you follow your own brand of religion, then technically your not a christian. Again, if you choose the path of christianity, it's very rigid, you can try and bend the rules as much as you want, but there are certain things that christianity won't budge on, and to stick with to the path instead of think for yourself and have true free-will without following gods word does not lead to enlightenment the way that John Bob put it.

      July 13, 2011 at 3:01 pm |
    • Chris

      "That's the point of their station, you must listen to them because if you follow your own brand of religion, then technically your not a christian." Ah-ha! This is where I have an issue. Anyone who would say that, I absolutely disagree with and THAT, my friend, is where trouble begins. That statement right there is where the idea of false prophets comes in. I'm not certain which denomination you are speaking of, but anyone who tells you that "You can only be a Christian if you do what I say" is dangerous and should be avoided. Once again, this is sad that you and more than likely, a great many others, have heard that that mentality is what Christianity is about. I don't blame you. I'd run like heck myself from that!

      When I go to Sunday service, I listen to my pastor. But I check what he says to see if it lines up with the Bible. I don't take anyone's word what the Bible says; I go look it up myself. I've been told, "You ask too many questions." But that doesn't deter me. I want to know, because how can I call it "my faith" or "my beliefs" if someone has told me what to believe?

      July 13, 2011 at 3:27 pm |
    • Wow!

      If you want to learn more about Christianity, read the Bible. This is all you need. You don't need to to seek scholars, priests, professors of theology. Man does a wonderful job of messing up what the Bible actually says. Pray for God to help you understand what he is trying to tell you in the Bible and it will happen. Many people take verses out of context. They don't know who the writer was talking to or why they are being talked to. This is important information as you will then know why things are being talked about. By the way, Jesus used the power of God to change the water into wine, not magic. Also, research what wine was 2000 years ago. It's probably not what you think.

      July 13, 2011 at 3:30 pm |
    • Wow!

      Also, you are speaking of a very "Catholic brand" of religion. The early Catholic church put in place the hierarchy that is in place now so they could control what was being taught. In my opinion, this isn't what the disciples, especially Paul, had in mind as to how the church was to exist.

      July 13, 2011 at 3:34 pm |
    • Laughing

      @Wow!

      Sorry, been there, done that. "Pray for God to help you understand what he is trying to tell you in the Bible and it will happen." So what happens when he doesn't? Of course I have to "open my mind to the possibility of god" but I've already gone through the phase of looking for something, anything that will show me that there is a greater divine power than myself as described in the torah. Nothing happened, nade, zip.

      Secondly, yes, people take quotes out of context to make their point. But if you put it into context, more often than not it will make less sense because jesus usually refers to a specific story or period that has no relevance to today, even if the quote does.

      What I'm describing isn't just cathlocism (even though that's also christianity, which is a problem right there that there that huge schism and even though you believe in jesus, they believe in jesus, you follow they same bible as them and yet your condemed to hel.l....) Christianity is still enforced by the churches, but now it's in a much more subtle way, now it's enforced through parishoners more often than not and you go along with a lot of that stuff because everyone else is. If you don't go regularly to church, there's something wrong, people will ask about you, they'll wonder why you aren't going. If it's as simple as "I can read my own bible thank you very much" That's a problem, do you disagree?

      July 13, 2011 at 3:42 pm |
    • JW

      As far as taking things out of context I think that is less done with what Jesus said and done more with thing done in the story of the bible, such as slavery, war, executions, etc, although if I read back through the gospels I am sure there might be things that are that way. I think Paul's teaching are often taken out of context too, such as what he said about women in the church and 'your body is a temple.' There is a lot of history in the Bible but I dont believe that just because something was done in the Old Testament at one time that is the way it should always be done.

      July 13, 2011 at 4:11 pm |
  12. chris

    Why do all you Christian hating atheists spend so much of your time on "belief blog" bashing people of faith and making all sorts of allegations and assertions about Christians, most of which are not even true? Every day, I read on here how I am supposed to be bigot, and hateful, and a hypocrite, and ignorant. I also read that my entire values structure and faith is "make believe" or fictional and I am uneducated and reject science and reason if I do not embrace your narrowminded hateful atheist beliefs. Any truly reasonable and neutral person would clearly see all the hate and bigoted comments are coming from just one side. Yours.

    July 13, 2011 at 1:55 pm |
    • Abby Normal

      Chris,
      True. A lot of hate comes from atheists. Very true. But, as nice of a christian as you may be, more than most of the rest of christians are bigoted, hateful, and ignorant. Atheism's disgust is a result of such people...among other things.

      July 13, 2011 at 2:00 pm |
    • gozer

      because unfortunately beliefs in fictional sky fairies such as yours negatively impact laws and policy, among many other problems with your delusions..

      Get over yourself and learn some science.

      July 13, 2011 at 2:01 pm |
    • JW

      I agree with both of you. There are die hard atheists and conservative Christians who dish out insults and call each other names. We should all just get along.

      July 13, 2011 at 2:03 pm |
    • colin

      Chris, a few point from an atheist. First, it is not that we reject much of the morality of most beliefs, what we reject are the supernatural elements. Most atheists/humanists moral compass on the basics- don't steal, don't kill etc. – would be indistinguishable from mainstream Christianity.

      Second, we don't "hate" or otherwsie disdain the believer – we just, well, I just, have little respect for their opinion on this particular matter. This doesn't mean we consider theists generally stupid, we just cannot understand grown adults believing in the supernatural, based on 2,000 year old fables. Quite frankly, you cannot consider that as unreasonable.

      July 13, 2011 at 2:06 pm |
    • Rhonda

      @Chris
      Sadly, some Christians on this blog let the baiting pull them into name calling and insults as well.

      July 13, 2011 at 2:07 pm |
    • Bill

      "Most" christians are hateful and bigotted? I think you mean most people in general. People seem to have a distrust of people who are different from them. You see it on the school playground as much as you see it anywhere else in the world. Most of the religous people I know personally are quite the opposite of your characterization. There are some loudmouths out there who do fit your description, but I can find just as many from the non-religious section of society. Shoot most of the people shouting from the rooftops these days are bigotted and hateful and they may be yelling about something that has nothing to do with religion.

      July 13, 2011 at 2:08 pm |
  13. JW

    I dont have a problem with these books at all. I have not read any of these books actually, but I used to play video games with magic such as the Final Fantasy games. I do not see why they would be a threat to any sort of belief.

    July 13, 2011 at 1:55 pm |
    • Laughing

      JW

      I urge you to read the books. Sure 1,2 and 3 are written for children, but 4-7 are actually really good and make up a fantastic story. My older brother started on 4 and then read 1-3 just to get a more clear look at the world of Harry Potter so the rest of the series would have a little more filler, but really the books are really great.

      July 13, 2011 at 2:10 pm |
    • JW

      Well maybe I should read them. I think I started not reading them just out of protest just because of how popular it was. I do hear alot of good things about them. I always seem to have more books I want to read than time to read them, or I start on one book and find another book I want to read so I am reading 2-3 at once and it takes me forever to get through them it seems. Eventually I may try Harry Potter once I get done with some others.

      July 13, 2011 at 2:26 pm |
    • Laughing

      I've had some friends who were in the same boat (yeah I know, the whole "I have friends who did..." thing) and refused to read the books because they were childrens books, and I'm assuming probably because of their popularity, however after reading them I've seen some of those friends become some of the most ardent supporters. The best part about them is that they're really easy, quick reads. I do the same thing with books, usually I have 2-3 going at once and sort of leapfrog between them. Occasionally I'll slip harry potter in there though because they're so fantastic.

      It isn't everyone's cup of tea though, which is understandable, not everyone has to like the same thing I do, but I would reccomend maybe watching one or two of the movies? My roommate right now has never seen nor read any of it up until a week 1/2 ago, he was forced by a friend to watch HP 3 and now he's burned through all the movies and has a ticket for the midnight premier tomorrow night. This book is like crack, so be wary of its awesome power.

      July 13, 2011 at 2:35 pm |
    • Frogist

      @JW: I was one of those who just refused to read it because everybody was doing it. Then I had nothing else to read one day and I picked up my brother's copy of the 2nd in the series: Chamber of Secrets. I literally could not put it down thru maybe half of the book even though I was confused about some of the references. I would recommend reading them from the beginning just for the fact that the story is pretty tightly woven to sort of come full circle. But JK Rowling is a fantastic writer and as Laughing said, it is a very comfortable, easy read.
      My favorite movie is the 4th: Goblet of Fire. Lots of action and very pretty visuals... and the first time you get to see full fledged Voldemort which is pretty intimidating.

      July 13, 2011 at 5:26 pm |
    • Chris

      My favorites are the 5th and the 7th. The fifth is the first real Battle Royale between the Order and the Death Eaters. Plus, I love to hate Dolores Umbridge. And the 7th because it has a lot of combat in it.

      July 13, 2011 at 5:31 pm |
    • JW

      Yeah Frogist once I get around to it I probably will start from the beginning. I dont like to start in the middle and go back. I imaging there is probably a continuing story that you may miss or extra characters introduced. If I started with the 3rd or 4th it would be like starting one of the Final Fantasy games in the middle of the story I would imagine.

      July 13, 2011 at 6:00 pm |
    • Frogist

      @JW: If I remember right, the Final Fantasys each have their own story... well they did till X spun off. I kinda stopped paying attention after X so I don't know about the ones afterwards. Unless you meant in the middle of each game. Yeah I tried that once cuz a friend asked me to play for her... I had no idea what was what.
      @Chris: Oh yes! I love to hate Umbridge too! It's just so satisfying to see her fall. Except I also wonder what happened to her in the forest after the centaurs took her... and that makes me uncomfortable to be honest. Can't wait for the last. I don't usually but I just know I'll be crying like a baby.

      July 13, 2011 at 6:25 pm |
    • JW

      LOL yeah I did mean in the middle of the game. I know all the ones I had did have their own story, but yeah I couldnt imagine starting in the middle. So I guess I have alot of catching up to do on Harry Potter.

      July 13, 2011 at 9:04 pm |
  14. Rainer Braendlein

    Reepicheep: "When we don't have the faith, we have nothing at all!"

    July 13, 2011 at 1:53 pm |
    • Up Your Rear Admiral

      Rainer is a dork.

      July 13, 2011 at 2:07 pm |
    • Scott

      Well then I'm certainly enjoying mylife with nothing at all way more than I enjoyed my life with faith

      July 14, 2011 at 10:07 pm |
  15. Abby Normal

    Harry Potter converted me.....I now wear capes and go around my house perfecting my "swish and flick", repeating modernized latin words and then staring at fixed objects for lengths of time until finally retreating to my room bewildered and defeated( although I will try again in a couple of hours). I've spent a disgusting amount of money on airfare to orlando and tickets to universal studios theme park. I make references to the books at the office and although I get a chuckle from the mailroom clerk, others just look confused or hide there amusement. I have a trunk in my room, bought to hold books on magic, but now is a convenient storage bin for dirty laundry. I plan on staying up until 4 am tomorrow and cry the rest of the next day.... Harry Potter has converted me. I am a evil wizard. Heathen....

    July 13, 2011 at 1:52 pm |
    • Chris

      Do you have an owl as well? If so, does it act as your carrier pigeon? 🙂

      July 13, 2011 at 2:07 pm |
    • Frogist

      @Abby Normal:
      I have want a pet phoenix to name Fawkes... =(

      But seriously the theme park in Orlando is fracking frelling awesome! Butterbeer! ... oh butterbeer...

      July 13, 2011 at 5:30 pm |
  16. ATLcjl

    I enjoy the HP stories and agree with the author that it does, in many ways, sound like Christianity.

    However, the Pentecostal Minister quoted in the piece is exactly correct. Every wizarding character in the HP stories is, according to the dictates of Christianity, heretical. There is no grey area, no room for interpretation, no "ah shucks they do things for love so they are good." Christianity does not allow room for this.

    If you follow Christ, you are Christian. If you believe in or practice magic – dark arts or no – not only are you not Christian but you are not telling the Christian story. It does not matter how good your acts are, that they are done for love or the protection of the innocent. They are not done through Christ and are therefore heretical. Period. End of story.

    By extension, if you are Christian you should not be subjecting yourself to heretical stories such as LOTR and HP. By doing so you are showing a lack of faith and your own beliefs must be called into question.

    July 13, 2011 at 1:38 pm |
  17. Jason B.

    Harry Potter uses magic to convert one thing to another, that's evil. Jesus uses "powers" to change water to wine, that's OK. Some "Christian" want to explain that one? I never did understand why many so-called "Christians" had such fits with the books.

    July 13, 2011 at 1:26 pm |
    • Luis Wu

      The bible preaches ancient mythology and superst!tion, that's detrimental to society. People blindly accept ancient mythology but reject moder science, reason and logic. That's the real evil.

      July 13, 2011 at 1:27 pm |
    • Chris

      Jason, the reason that Christians will argue the difference is this. Jesus had divine powers, called on to do God's work. Harry Potter uses magic from his own will. The difference is where the power comes from.

      Frankly, I think it's a book. Since the book has no free will, it cannot be good or evil, anymore than a rock can be. In order for something to be "good" or "evil" it has to have the ability to choose one or the other.

      July 13, 2011 at 1:57 pm |
  18. GodPot

    And here in the article the author continues "to teach on the intersection between Christian Theology and Harry Potter" and movie promotion.

    "These are the questions to which Harry seeks answers throughout the series, most explicitly in "The Deathly Hallows," part 2 of which opens in movie theaters on Friday"

    Don't get me wrong, I love the Potter movies and books, but this was not much more than a religious version of a movie promo.

    July 13, 2011 at 1:24 pm |
    • Frogist

      @GodPot: LOL! I had the same reaction to that line.But I think it's more cross promotion. Promote Harry and have Harry promote CNN blogs by having an article about Harry. I'm amazed they didn't mention the Larry King special on Friday. Ooops! I guess I did that for them... XP

      July 13, 2011 at 5:36 pm |
  19. galontractor

    I just thought it was a very entertaining series. Absolutely loved the story. If those books had been around when I was 12 years old – i would probably still be in London looking for Diagon Alley. But I didn't see it as anything more than a great story.

    July 13, 2011 at 1:24 pm |
    • monica

      AHHH HA just what i was thinking!

      July 13, 2011 at 1:27 pm |
    • GodPot

      " But I didn't see it as anything more than a great story." Ahhh, but were you looking? Don't you know Christians must look into everything they read and watch just in case it's not their littlle wizard of choice behind the curtain?

      July 13, 2011 at 2:23 pm |
  20. Carol A. Strickland

    No, it doesn't sound like Christianity. Why drag religion into Harry Potter's world? It is a world of good and evil and grayness between, of making choices, and of the importance of having loving relationships and keeping faith with one's self.

    There is no Church directing people how to think (unless it is Voldemort); there is no savior who had to die horribly in order to save people who are born in sin no matter how good they are.

    You're Christian and you find comfort in Harry P; that's terrific. More power to you. But please don't try to force a square peg into a round hole where it wasn't meant to go. Please don't try to convince me that something that isn't Christian, is.

    July 13, 2011 at 1:18 pm |
    • Laughing

      Well, the ministry of magic (pre-voldemort) told people how to live, and Harry was "the chosen one" who did die and come back to life to save every one

      Just a thought....

      July 13, 2011 at 1:24 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.