Saturday, July 09, 2005

Harry Potter and the Existential Dilemma

I wrote another article for the young adult church information thingy! Wanna read it? Here it is...

Harry Potter and the Existential Dilemma

A few years ago, I walked into my local Barnes and Noble store to pick up the latest Stephen King tome and had to wait in line behind a group of college kids dressed in capes and horn-rimmed glasses. They were discussing the particulars of something called quidditch.

I thought it was a disease or possibly some sort of viral infection. “Quidditch,” I said. “I had that once. It was horrible. I was out of school for almost a week!” The college students were quick to point out that quidditch was not a disease, but was rather a game one played while flying on a broomstick.

“You have to shoot the quaffle through the hoop,” one of them said.

“Yes, and of course you have to watch that the Bludgers don’t knock you off your broom in the process,” another said.

“Of course,” I said, completely confused.

“Then there’s the snitch,” the first student began. “That’s what Harry’s looking for.”

“Who’s that,” I asked. They looked at me like I was an idiot, and then spent the remainder of our time together telling me about a place called Hogwarts and some evil guy with a French sounding name (which, by the way, I wasn’t supposed to say). Before I knew it, they had added the first of the Harry Potter books to my collection and made me promise that I would read it from cover to cover as soon as possible.

“You’d better,” they said, “Or we’ll sick Hagrid on you.”

“Is that some kind of dog,” I asked, joking. They laughed at me even more.

Later that evening, I got home and checked online to see what other people had to say about Mr. Potter and his exploits in the wizarding world. I can be oblivious to pop culture sometimes and I wanted to investigate this new fad that I had apparently missed.

I also wanted to make sure that Ben Afleck was not involved. Because I hate Ben Afleck.

Along with the usual fan sites, I found several places dedicated to the condemnation of the entire Potter series. They said it was anti-Christian. These sites claimed that the series glorifies the occult and ensures a first class seat on a high speed train straight to Hell for anybody who gets within spitting distance of the accursed books. They had even less kind things to say about the author, J.K. Rowling.

According to several “high quality” websites, I should have taken the new book outside and burnt it. But, I figured, since I had gone to the store with the intention of purchasing a Stephen King book, any shot at piety I may have had went out the window long ago.

That’s the funny thing about Christian culture. Some people believe that certain aspects of life are completely worthless if these things are not explicitly religious. For instance, one of my friends complains that he can’t listen to a lot of secular bands, even those with a positive message, because they don’t specifically mention God. And he outright refuses to consider bands which are obviously talented but aren’t Christian. He often laments this loss, he says, because there are so many good bands out there he would love to listen to.

Another friend of mine confessed that, at one point in her life, she would only watch movies that had a Christian message. She wouldn’t even watch G-rated films unless they mentioned Jesus Christ specifically and even then there were several possibilities for a disqualifying factor.

I don’t understand this sentiment. God has called us to be more completely human and I have always believed that part of this means that we have the ability to think; to discern what is good and what is not, at least to some extent. Anybody who has read the Harry Potter series knows that it does not glorify the occult as an essential and everyday aspect of life anymore than C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia claims that the way to salvation is through a dusty closet or that Jesus is an actual, physical lion.

What the Harry Potter series does is recognize the equality of worth in all human beings, regardless of their background. It emphasizes the importance of making good choices, and how these choices can affect our lives. It even states that the difference between good and evil, on an individual level, is often a choice between doing what is right and doing what is easy.

If Christians can’t get behind that message, then we need to re-evaluate what we believe.

When I see Christians criticize predominantly secular aspects of our culture for not being Christian, I cringe. Why do they do that? Secular means non-religious, not devoid of value or even separated from God, right? One of the most common reasons for unbelief I hear is that Christianity doesn’t seem real. To many, Christianity is nothing but a bunch of rules we can’t possibly live up to.

I believe that this comes from that fact that so many Christians reject secular aspects of life to the point that they define themselves through separation. It often gets to the point where it would seem that non-believers must reach out to God rather than the other way around..

Many non-believers see Christians who claim that a particular book, cd, or movie should be flatly ignored on the basis that it doesn’t have Jesus’ name in the title and they give up on faith. They don’t understand. They see nothing but rules. To them, there is no point in faith. They don’t see the other side of it. They don’t see the joy and freedom that comes with following Christ.

The truth of the matter is that God created us with the ability to understand love and happiness and beauty and many other aesthetics. These are often the way people come to understand what it means to believe in God. The Christian philosopher, C.S. Lewis, wrote at length about the logic and philosophy of Christianity. However, what threw him over the edge, so the speak, was the joy he experienced while riding to the zoo on a motorcycle with his brother. “When we set out,” he said. “I did not believe that Jesus is the Son of God and when we reached the zoo I did.”

This learned man, this philosopher, knew the logical aspect of the truth of Christianity, but what ultimately brought him to faith was the joy he experienced while engaged in an activity that was inherently secular.

The reason for this is that humans are wired to understand Joy because God, the source of all Joy, made us that way. We were designed for the world and the world was designed for us. And if we, as Christians, can find joy and happiness and beauty in the world God has created for us, it stands to reason that non-believers can as well. If we, as Christians, can be moved to express this joy through art or literature or some other creative endeavor, it stands to reason that non-believers can too.

And here is yet another way we can reach out to non-believers. We can show that all humans understand goodness and beauty and happiness because all cultures, Christian and non-Christian alike, can express that Joy with equal vigor. We can show that this truth is something that exists separate from ourselves, and that this separate truth points us to God.

So when the next Harry Potter book is released, I will purchase it and I will read it. Because the books are well written, they have a good message, and I get great Joy from reading them. I highly suggest that, if you have the time, you do the same.

Now that Stephen King book I bought? That is a completely different story altogether.

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