Is Harry Potter Christian?
Today brings the final book of the Harry Potter series, Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows, to a close as the last 250 pages will come to life on the big screen. Millions will wait in never-ending lines — with much enthusiasm and outlandish costumes — to enjoy the conclusion of one of the biggest movie series ever ($6.3 billion worldwide). Early reviews have come in and the reception is highly positive (popular websites Metacritic and Rotten Tomatoes scored it in the 90 range). Looks like the film series will end on a high note.
Now that the saga has finished (for now), we can start to look at the core values stemming over the last 14 years: including seven books, eight movies, tons of merchandise and, yes, a theme park. You have to be living under a rock to not know J.K. Rowling’s magical world. The billionaire author has captured the hearts of millions and influenced a tech-obsessed generation to read. But beyond the typical thrills, are there any real truths or morals to Harry Potter? Several scholars have claimed the series to be fundamentally Christian and now universities hold seminars on Harry Potter in the religion department. But is it Christian?
Is there a Christ figure?
Harry is the obvious answer here. His legacy as the chosen one throughout the series is a direct correlation, but the one scene that best symbolizes Jesus Christ is when Harry sacrifices himself to Lord Voldemort:
“Finally, the truth. Lying with his face pressed into the dusty carpet of the office where he had once thought he was learning the secrets of victory, Harry understood at last that he was not supposed to survive. His job was to walk calmly into Death’s welcoming arms. Along the way, he was to dispose of Voldemort’s remaining links to life, so that when at last he flung himself, the end would be clean, and the job that ought to have been done in Godric’s Hollow would be finished: Neither would live, neither could survive.” (Deathly Hallows, page 691)
This act is similar to Jesus’ experience in the Garden of Gethsemane as he realizes he must die — sacrifice himself on the cross — to fulfill God’s will. But Harry is not divine nor is he dying for all humanity. Other characters, such as Albus Dumbledore and Lily Potter, also commit Christ-like actions but no character is comparable to that of Aslan in The Chronicles of Narnia. Some might see this point as negative but, on the contrary, it helps the audience resonate with a real world reality — that we are not God but are called to be like Christ in a loving, sacrificial way.
So, what about God?
Danielle Elizabeth Tumminio, author of God and Harry Potter at Yale: Teaching Faith and Fantasy Fiction in an Ivy League Classroom, evaluates this question with the traditional three theological “Os”: Omnibenevolent (all-good), Omniscient (all-knowing) and Omnipotent (all-powerful). The first choice for most is Albus Dumbledore as his powers and wisdom reveal God-like status. However, his selfish pursuit for Deathly Hallows and guilt for his sister’s death brings Dumbledore back down to mortal status. Other characters, such as Lily Potter and the four original fathers of Hogwarts, share God-like qualities but like Dumbledore, fail to meet three O requirements.
So, is there a God? According to Tumminio, Rowling’s theology is that of 1 John 4:7-8, “God is love, and all who live in love live in God and God lives in them.” Rowling’s God is not an old man on a throne but the force that saved and protected Harry and ultimately killed Lord Voldemort. Fr. Michael Himes, professor of systematic theology at Boston College, nuances this point further in his book, Doing the Truth in Love: Conversations about God, Relationships and Service:
“Please notice that the Christian tradition holds that God is agape, i.e. love in the sense of self-gift, not that God is a lover…’Love’ is not the name of a person. ‘Love’ is the name of a relationship between persons. That, I suggest to you, is the single richest insight into the mystery of God that the Christian tradition has to offer.” (page 15)
For a series that was earlier criticized for being heretical, Rowling’s theological views seem to be in good company.
Wait, so is the Harry Potter series Christian?
The question is quite difficult to answer because Rowling has expressed her religious affiliation to Christianity publically but regards the series as a book for seekers. Rowling wanted to take a different route and express more of the ambiguous and plural nature of religion immersed in a world of suffering — to probe questions of meaning rather than doctrine. For instance, one of the greatest themes of the series is tolerance (or social justice to use a Christian term). Harry’s relationship with inferior house elf, Dobby, is a good example and could be interpreted to be an allegory for immigration. Moreover, Dumbledore’s acceptance of the muggles symbolizes the difference and complexity that exist today.
In the end, the greatest theme is community (or relationality to be exact). One of the biggest misconceptions with the marketing of DH Part II is the poster of Harry Potter and Lord Voldemort battling one on one. Harry has always been indebted to his parents (who saved his life) and his Hogwarts community, which helped foster his sense of identity and vocation. More importantly, Ron and Hermione are helping every step up of the way. If anything else, the Harry Potter series can teach us about the value of friendship and the sacrificial love formed in those relationships — that which makes us human, that which makes us Christian.