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Christians Owe JK Rowling an Apology (No Spoilers)

John on August 2, 2007 at 9:02 am

I just finished the 7th and final Harry Potter book two days ago. It was a good story well told, as all of them have been. I’ve been at odds with some people I know and with large swaths of evangelical Christianity over this for years.

I’ve been telling people since at least book 3 that the Harry Potter series was a Christian fantasy, very much like Narnia or Lord of the Rings. Of course you never really know until the end so I’ve been holding my breath hoping it plays out as I expect. Well, the end has arrived and without giving anything away let me say again even more plainly: This is one of the greatest products of a Christian imagination ever published. All I can say is thank you Ms. Rowling for baptizing the imagination of millions of children.

Over at Townhall Jerry Bowyer does a nice job saying much the same thing. Note that his article does contain some significant spoilers of the final book. Don’t click over there if you don’t want to know. Anyway, Jerry — who used to be a Potter basher until he saw the light — does a nice job pointing out some of the Christian imagery in the series (but again, spoiler alert!). He concludes his piece with this call for repentance (no spoilers here):

Since this book has been published I have not seen a single apology to JK Rowling from any of the various fundamentalist bashers. She’d been accused of atheism (she’s an Anglican) and of being a witch (she knows nothing at all about the occult or Wicca).

Why no apologies to the lady? First, it’s always tough to say you’re sorry. But deeper than that, I think the problem is that so much of the religious right failed to see the Christianity in the Potter novels because it knows so little Christianity itself. Yes, there are a few ‘memory verses’ from Saint Paul, and various evangelical habits like the ‘sinner’s prayer’ and the alter call. However the gospel stories themselves, the various metaphors and figures of the Law and the Prophets, and their echoes down through the past two millennia of Christian literature and art are largely unknown to vast swaths of American Christendom, including its leaders.

Part of being a leader is knowing when you’ve been wrong and correcting course. People who’ve come out against the books need to reevaluate and then they need to apologize for making wrong assumptions.

Frankly it’s things like this that really irritate me. I can understand being cautions about messages sent to young people, but Harry Potter is quite literally the most powerful positive influence many young people in the English speaking world will have encountered. But instead of discerning that and fostering the themes and messages it contains in our churches — instead of taking that seed and watering it — we’ve turned our backs on it and castigated the author as a villain. It’s truly pathetic.

The thing is, I know the church can do better. I’ve seen it happen. We did pretty well with our response to The Passion. We did pretty well with our response to The DaVinci Code. There were silly responses of course but there were a lot of thoughtful, serious ones as well. Not so with Harry Potter. For some reason these books cause people to behave like illiterate knot heads. On the cultural front, this hasn’t been our finest hour.

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