BeliefWatch: Is 'Harry Potter' a Christian Story?

Have you finished reading? What do you think? Is Harry Potter a Christian story after all? Harry has made news, ever since his arrival on the scene in 1998, for provoking the ire of some right-wing Christians who believe his magical powers and wizardly aspirations—not to mention his boarding school peopled with eccentric friends and demonic villains—promote occultism and Satan worship.

These enemies of young Potter arm themselves with this quotation from Deuteronomy: "There shall not be found among you anyone who makes his son or daughter pass through fire, or one who practices witchcraft, or a soothsayer, or one who interprets omens, or a sorcerer, or one who conjures spells, or a medium, or a spiritist, or one who calls up the dead." Conservative Christian leaders continue to make public statements against the book. James Dobson, of Focus on the Family, reiterated last week in a statement that he has "spoken out strongly against all of the Harry Potter products," and Chuck Colson, of Prison Fellowship, said in somewhat gentler terms that while most kids will probably read the books, he personally does not recommend them.

But what to do about the fact that in the last book Harry—spoiler alert here—walks willingly to his own death in order to save the world? After which, in a chapter portentously titled "King's Cross," he finds himself in a place with a "great domed glass roof [that] glittered high above him in the sunlight" talking to a father figure with "long silver hair and a beard" whose supernatural powers are accompanied by a profound message of love? And what, finally, should the reader make of the fact that after that intimate scene, Harry comes back to life and leads his friends to victory over evil?

J. K. Rowling has said that she goes to church from time to time, more than just for weddings and christenings. Surely, this does not make her a C. S. Lewis or a J.R.R. Tolkien, both serious Christian theologians. But there's no mistaking that Rowling knows what she's doing—she's steeped in the fantasy tradition and in the Christian myths of her British predecessors. Though Harry settles for human love, and though his resurrection (if that's what it is) does not guarantee resurrection for all, the Christian parallels are glaring. In the last analysis, it's hard not to agree with Rowling's own assessment—that the accusation of Satanism is "lunatic."

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