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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

fundie Christians suddenly embracing Harry Potter

I don’t get it, either:

Conservative Christian reviews of the new Harry Potter movie are surprisingly positive.

“As ‘Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince’ opens, we are once again reminded of the characteristics that make him something of a Christ figure,” Connie Neal writes for the evangelical Christianity Today.

Suggest that Christ is a Mithras figure, or an Odin figure, though, and Christians freak out.

“It is more likely that at the end of the viewing or reading, rather than the allure of magic … what remains are the scenes that evoke values such as friendship, altruism, loyalty, and the gift of self,” wrote L’Osservatore, the Vatican’s semi-official newspaper.

Because magic is, if we’re honest about it, completely antithetical to values such as friendship and loyalty, so good thing Rowling threw in some of the good stuff along with her Satanic badness.

It was James Dobson of Focus on the Family who in 2007 denounced the series, saying that “given the trend toward witchcraft and New Age ideology in the larger culture, it’s difficult to ignore the effects such stories (albeit imaginary) might have on young, impressionable minds.”

And he’d know all about the pernicious impact of imaginary stories on impressionable young minds, wouldn’t he?

And it was the American Family Association’s Donald Wildmon who described the Harry Potter series as “books that promote witchcraft and wizardry.”

Hardly. In fact, as more conservative Christians seem to be realizing, the “Harry Potter” series actually promotes Christian themes.

It’s wonderful, really, how blind these people are. Call it a “miracle,” and that’s fine. Call it “magic,” and it’s evil.

FYI: my review of ‘Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince’, which doesn’t mention religion at all



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  • My guess is that after 10 or so years, the fundiegelicals have just realized they lost that particular skirmish of their “Culture War”. If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.

    Although I never heard the Vatican speak out about them. Maybe the Pope’s just trying to hook into the HP phenomenon (again, like 15 years late) to get mentioned in the papers.

  • There have always been some fundy Christians who looked positively at the Potter stories, but I don’t think they got much press. Most Evangelicals tended to put Potter in with their “Ways-Satan-Tricks-and-Ensnares” knapsack before even reading the books. And some people really get off on demonizing popular trends in loud voices. They just have to have an enemy. It gives their life meaning.

    If Evangelicals are actually starting to change their minds, then that is a bit of a puzzle. Maybe it’s akin to when many Christians were against rock-n-roll or “devil’s music”. Then there were the pioneer “Contemporary Christian” music groups whom the church youth went crazy for; and now there are Christian groups who “rock” just as hard as anybody.
    It takes a while for them to see their “against” ploys aren’t working for them. Then they find ways to legitimize this “evil” and make it something they can use to keep people coming to their churches.
    A theory, anyway.

  • “given the trend toward witchcraft and New Age ideology in the larger culture.. (Dobson”

    really, dude?

  • There have been a lot of Evangelical Christians defending the Potter series since the beginning – they’re just not as visible and don’t get as much media attention because they’re less “crazy.” The seventh book was particularly amenable to a Christian reading, so I think once that one came out, the more anti-Potter factions had much less to go on. I’m not surprised that it opened the door for more positive reactions to the earlier stories.

  • Brian

    Christians have long been remarkably savvy about choosing what to co-opt from the cultures that surround them in order to increase and maintain their appeal. It’s this particular evolutionary trait (heh) that has allowed the religion to outlast almost all of its contemporaries.

    From Paul’s initial decision to accommodate Gentiles, to placing Jesus’ birthday near the Winter Solstice, to “Christian Rock,” Christians have always, in some form or another, donned the cloak of the dominant culture — except for a while there in Europe when they were the dominant culture. There are even postmodern ironic Christian T-shirts that say things like “Jesus Loves Pedro.” Absorbing Potter? It’s just another adaptation.

    There are always extremely reactionary factions, and most branches (some more than others) arguably push some anachronistic values, but the organism as a whole remains surprisingly adaptive. I marvel at it, in kind of the same way Ian Holm is fascinated with the adaptive superiority of the Alien.

  • Shadowen

    The miracle/magic divide isn’t so easy to dismiss, though.

    It helps if you’re a D&D player. In the system, there are two main types of magic–divine and arcane. Arcane is sort of like physics (or Harry Potter magic)–it’s just there, and it requires study, intelligence, cleverness, and a bit of natural talent doesn’t hurt. Divine is “magic” from faith, requiring less analysis and more, for lack of a better term, raw belief and unshakeable stubborness.

    And–here’s the important part–the two types of magic largely have no overlap, so one can’t simply dismiss priestly magic as another type of wizardry. (Though interestingly, prirest characters don’t have to worship gods–any concept or ideal will do, as long as they believe. This is in fact a core conept of D&D’s cosmology–in a world of magic, belief matters almost as much as reality.)

    Of course, as Christians see it, miracles come from God, occasionally worked through people (usually men), and magic is from Satan, but let’s not their silliness ruin a good metaphor.

  • Karalora

    “Call it a “miracle,” and that’s fine. Call it “magic,” and it’s evil.”

    That really is how it works with these people. The external label is everything. If the Harry Potter books were exactly the same, but all the spell incantations were replaced with Jesus-themed phrases and there was a token mention of a nativity scene among the Christmas decorations at Hogwarts, the fundies would have embraced them from the beginning.

  • bitchen frizzy

    What some other people said.

    The objections to Harry Potter came from the fringe whose statements are whacky enough to make for an interesting news story.

    MaryAnn’s engaging in some very broad stereotyping here.

  • One of the first interviews J.K. Rowling gave after the publication of the last book alluded to the Christian symbolism of the series. However, both liberal and conservative bloggers seemed to pass that story by and only paid attention to the follow-up story in which J.K. Rowling announced Dumbledore was a you-know-what.

    Yes, we all have our biases but it’s just not the fundies who tend to ignore stuff that contradicts their most cherished opinions.

    Just ask some of the most recent commentators on the MaryAnn’s various Knowing threads…

  • Paul

    A long, long, long time ago, everyone believed in gods/magic, but everyone believed that their own gods were best. Then only a long, long time ago, people started dissing other people’s gods, saying that their own preists were performing miracles but other guy’s priests were really magicians just doing magic. Then a long time ago (roughly 700 years) there were miracles from God, natural magic from God’s creation, and evil pagan magic secretly from Satan posing as Zeus or Odin.

    Then a short time ago, Christian leaders called for a boycott of Disney because they covered gay employee’s lovers in the insurance policies. It worked about as well as the attacks on Harry Potter.

  • Warlocks are enemies of God! And had it been in the Old Testament, Harry Potter would’ve been put to death!!!

  • mel

    *sigh*
    Not all fundies. A girl i went to High School with commented on a recent HP-HBP facebook status of mine with “Harry potter is evil! It promotes witchcraft and evilness to children”
    *sigh*

  • Brian

    “Harry potter is evil! It promotes witchcraft and evilness to children”

    . . . and also promotes an expanded vocabulary that might prevent them from typing things like “evilness.”

    (Seriously, evilness? I think that may even be dopier than that troll who emailed Ms. Johansen to call her a “c*nt” a few dozen times.)

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