A while ago, I read two of the Harry Potter stories by J. K. Rowling. This series of books is very popular, and I was interested to see why people enjoy them so much. Rowling is a very good writer, and I found myself quite caught up in the world she has created. The characters are engaging, and the plots kept me interested to see the outcomes of the stories.
There has been some controversy over certain aspects of the books. Primarily, people are concerned that they may be taken as an endorsement of witchcraft: that witches and warlocks would be seen favorably and then embraced in our “real world” society. As I’ve thought about it, I began to see some other issues that catch my attention.
First, and briefly, I’m concerned about the way Harry and his friends constantly lie to people, even those to whom they are closest. All through the books, Harry and other characters freely lie to their mentors, parents and teachers. I don’t know why people would see this as acceptable or even desirable behavior, but Rowling presents these lies as being necessary and good, evidence of quick thinking and resourcefulness. I hope parents will talk about this with their children; in this way the books encourage children to lie. It really is bad form to encourage such behavior.
The primary drawback of these books, in my view, is that they speak from a worldview that is quite different from the way Jesus taught about the world. Harry Potter functions in a world where saying the right incantations will bring the right result. One must learn to say the right thing in the right way; paranormal, supernatural, events result from following a strict set of rules—mixing potions and casting spells being the primary examples of this. Any deviation from speaking, or doing, the correct formula will lead to a wrong result. This is a legalistic life.
The life of a follower of Jesus should be quite different. God does not call people to blindly follow a set of instructions in order to have a good and interesting life; He wants us to know Him and abide with Him. The path to true life is one of relationship with the living God, not learning a complex set of rules and applying them correctly. This is most important, because many religious leaders do not teach this distinction. Rather than merely trying to learn God’s rules, we are called to daily lay down our lives and seek the will of the Father, who loves us and lives with us. God is a God of grace and mercy, we can not manipulate His will; if we pray according to His will, miraculous things will happen, but we must seek and find His will and not our own, and this is done in relationship with Him.
We must learn the truth about how God wants us to relate to Him; we must have correct doctrine, and this true teaching will lead us to live as Jesus lived: loving and walking with our Father daily; hearing His voice and doing His will, not our own; serving when we want to be served; choosing to be the very least of all; living a life of love and self-sacrifice; calling others to do the same. The goal of true teaching is Love, coming from a sincere faith, a pure heart, and a good conscience.
As I read the Harry Potter books, I found myself wanting to be able to manipulate the world as he does: turning mice into slippers, casting spells of forgetfulness, using a wand to disarm my enemies, etc. Some of these things seem innocent enough, but all flow from a worldview that says “I can and will change reality according to my will. I am powerful when I harness the power of creation and make it bend to my will. I know what is best.” This is pure pride, even when done for “good” reasons. Jesus teaches the opposite: we surrender our power, we let go of our own will, and we allow the love and power of God to flow through us as blessing to other people—even our enemies. Harry never acts in this way; it’s foreign to him.
Let us not live by thinking we can merely say the right words in order to change the world around us, to make reality conform to our sense of what is best. The kingdom of God is very different: love is the foundation; service and humility are necessary; we should not attempt to manipulate or control the world, but rather we are to serve God and lay down our lives for Christ’s sake; the greatest shall be last and servant of all.