Feeble Knees

Friday, July 22, 2005

Something Wicked This Way Comes?

Outside of my old church, I think I'm the only person I know who has never so much as laid a fingertip on any of the Harry Potter books. Haven't seen the movie(s?) either. With the release of each new title I find myself wondering again:

  • Do I avoid them because I believe they are evil?
  • Do I avoid them because my old church believed they were evil?
  • Do I avoid them because I really just don't care to read them?

I'm quite aware of the controversy surrounding the books. The first one came out while I was still attending a very strict Pentecostal church. As a Sunday School teacher, I was warned not to let kids bring the books in, or talk about them to the other kids during class. My pastors preached vehemently against the books from the pulpit, saying that any parent who allowed their kids to read them was essentially purchasing them a one-way ticket to demonic influence & damnation. In the privacy of my own thoughts I felt this was a bit extreme, and probably only succeeded in making the prohibited books all the more desirable to the kids, like forbidden fruit

I'd grown up reading terribly scary, freakish and gory stories like Grimm's Fairy Tales and Irish folklore and legends (I doubt anything in Harry Potter is as disturbing as some of those Irish stories - talking severed heads that give battle advice, etc. Lovely stuff.) I read everything I could get my hands on, and that included stories about gory battles, witches, wizards, spells, enchantments, great evil and great good. Some scared me witless and caused more than a few nightmares and sleepless nights when I begged my sister to leave our closet light on for safety's sake. Others made me fantasize about having magic powers and being able to get people to do things I wanted them to do.

But none of them thwarted or prevented my eventual decision to surrender my own will, follow Christ and endeavor to love Him with my whole heart. And this is what I have to wonder:

When we attempt to ban these kinds of books and stories, is it because we're afraid that they hold a power to deceive or corrupt that is more powerful than Jesus' power to redeem? What does that say about our esteem for the power and ability of our Almighty God?

Now granted, I know all the scriptures about "I will set no evil thing before my eyes", etc. They recited that ad infinitum at my old church, and I do think there is some value in that. For example, I tend to think it's rather detrimental to one's mental health to repeatedly subject yourself to repeated viewings of "Faces of Death" or other brutal and depraved depictions of murder, torture, etc. It just can't be good for a person on any level to willfully subject yourself to having those kinds of images in your head. (And boy do they stay in your head). Ditto pornography.

But is anything I would end up reading in a Harry Potter book any worse than half the real-life stories relayed in articles found in my daily paper? Because I read a tragic story about a woman who jumped to her death from a high-rise building with her nine-month old baby, am I now more likely to commit suicide myself?

Books have power. The pen is mightier than the sword. Writers do have the ability to influence people through entertainment and exposition. I don't deny that one iota. But there is no written word going on the planet that has more power to change men's lives than the Bible itself. A person could read all the Harry Potter books in the world, and I grant you that none will have even close to the same level of impact that reading the New Testament cover to cover would have.

The Harry Potter books give flight to the imagination, yes. Might some kids (or adults) become interested in the occult or witchcraft as a result of reading them? Let's not kid ourselves. It would be silly to say "no, that would never happen." Maybe it would, and maybe some do pursue those things after reading the books. But perhaps the same people would have been so inclined and pursued them anyway, even if J.K. Rowling had never picked up pen and paper in that coffee shop in England several years ago. You cannot pin the total blame on the books. I'd rather blame the individuals themselves for making foolish choices.

So if I were to go up the street to Borders next hour and buy a copy of a Harry Potter book, and read it through by tomorrow, I don't think I'd be sinning, despite what my church preached. My conscience would be clear, right? So why don't I? Why won't I watch the movie(s? is there more than one? I'm not even sure). Perhaps I should, just to confirm my stated opinion that they really aren't so much of a threat to the spiritual welfare of Christendom. That would be the intellectually responsible thing to do, I suppose. Curious himself about all the buzz, Mr. F downloaded an audiobooks version of the first book from iTunes and I think he got a chapter or so into it, but hasn't picked it up again, that I know of.

But maybe that's just it - I'm just not all that interested, when it comes right down to it. I don't have kids (yet) that are of the age that would be reading this stuff. Perhaps when that time comes I'll be much more inclined to read these things first for myself to determine whether or not they're suitable for little guy to read. Maybe it's because I already have so many books piled up around me that it just isn't foremost on my to-do list.

But I suspect there's at least one other reason: my non-conformist streak has kicked in, and I refuse to even show the merest hint of interest until all the insanity and popular public opinion dies off. In other words: It's too popular, ergo I'm choosing to be an ignorant snob.

So there.

But I'd rather that than discover that I'm still bound by legalistic fears and guilt. Now there's a power I fear more than any silly spells or enchantments. Legalism is by far the more formidable curse, as I know nothing else so stubborn and unyielding, even in the face of all the powers of heaven itself!
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