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feature: entertainment & lifestyle
July 15th, 2011

Is Harry Potter Christian?

 
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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?

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).

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.

 
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The Author : Michael L. Avery
Michael L. Avery is currently an intern at America Magazine and a recent graduate of Boston College School of Theology and Ministry. He is former editor-in-chief of the Boston College e-journal, Lumen Et Vita.
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Please note that the editorial staff reserves the right to not post comments it deems to be inappropriate and/or malicious in nature, as well as edit comments for length, clarity and fairness.
  • Evelyn

    Christmas is celebrated at Hogwarts. Case closed.

  • Phil Fox Rose

    Aluwolf, no one is deceived except perhaps you. You do realize Potter is meant to be fiction, and that the kids and others who enjoy it know it’s fiction, right?

    As the Vatican newspaper said of the series’ fans, “they certainly have understood that magic is only a narrative pretext useful in the battle against an unrealistic search for immortality.”

    Your line about others “justifying” their “sin” is offensive and nonsensical. If it is a sin to enjoy fiction that includes magical stuff then you have to include Tolkien and C.S. Lewis also as satanic? Maybe you do.

  • Aluwolf

    How can you all be so decieved. The bible clearly says thou shall not do witchcraft! The entire movies are about harry joining a school of wizardry and becoming masterful in spells. You guys are justifying your sin by highlighting the good elements, but dusting the huge problem with the series under the rug. It just supports sorcery, witchcraft. Reciting spells, talismins. There are even people dressing up as the characters and performing real witchcraft now. I

  • Julie Hagan Bloch

    People, we need to remember that this is fiction! None of it is real. Arguing about Harry Potter’s religious beliefs is like arguing whether or not Bugs Bunny is a good rabbit. It’s all make believe.

  • Jane

    How does Sirius as Harry’s godfather fit into the text then – a point I’ve never managed to fully understand. What other religion sanctions ‘godparents’?

  • E.Stanley

    I just saw the last movie,and it was great.The enduring theme for these movies was that Harry was always kind and brave.Qualities that we all need reminders of.

  • brother

    I must be living under a rock becauase I haven’t read any of the books or seen any of the movies. But Michael, you’re the greastest!

  • William Grogan

    As if Christianity has a monopoly on truth, love, friendship and humility. This whole article left me feeling queasy. I don’t understand the arrogance of comparing the Harry Potter series with just Christianity, as if all other belief systems are somehow lacking, not measuring up to the lofty ideals the series promotes. Or am I missing something in the reading of this piece? I don’t call myself Christian necessarily, but do call myself spiritual and look to various belief systems for guidance through life, Christianity included. It seems to me that the Harry Potter series does likewise.

  • Jim Beeghley

    A nice article. I would like to point out that there are numerous Christian symbols in the series and more hidden meanings than can be shared here.

    Might I suggest you listen to Secrets of Harry Potter on SQPN (http://harrypotter.sqpn.com) as we explore the deeper meanings in the series. I also suggest The Lord of the Hallows by Denise Roper and Looking for God in Harry Potter by John Granger.

    Finally, in Deathly Hallows we see verses from the Bible and Harry’s parents buried in a church cemetery. Earlier in the series we learn that Harry has a Godfather. These are just a few references to Christian themes in the series, not to mention the hidden meanings in the House mascots.

  • Carrie

    Keep drinking that kool-aid Jutina! I you think that this series of movies or books can lead to “the darkside” you need to re-evaluate. The reason people look for other venues of belief is because their current belief system is not fulfilling them. And the sorcerey in HP is no more thought to be real by pagans than it is by sane Christians. I know this because I’m not close minded and I have pagan friends. I also studied Wicca for many years after I left the Catholic church because I was upset by man-made laws the church had in place at the time. I eventually came back to the church but that is for another posting. If you had ever bothered to watch the movies or read the bookes you would know that the “spells” do not have any kind of barbarous names of evocation working in, luminous for light – play on illuminate, real evocating of demons here…LOL!!! Also, I know not one single pagan or wiccan who decided to follow that path due to Lewis or Toliien, if anything, most Wiccans I know are former Catholics due to the high level of ceremony in wicca, it tends to make ex-catholics comfortable and in general pagans are usually former christians who got tired of the intollerance of Christianity and they are looking for something more “all inclusive” If you took the time to study Wicca(witchcraft) you would actually find that it is based on respect for all things living and that you should harm none. Doesn’t sound that scary to me :)

  • Justina

    Harry Potter is not Christian. There are things in it, that might, like with C. S. Lewis or Tolkien, help pre evangelize, or prepare you for some Christian values. There is no God concept at all from what I have heard, but the whole idea of a school of sorcery, and the elite bloodline and so forth is pagan or even satanic. At most, Potter rejects the worst elements of what he is into, and clings to good as far as he can understand it. Dumbledore being gay and accepted as okay anyway, instead of this being seen as a blemish on him, is anti Christian. The techniques of sorcery, insofar as they are energy manipulation alone, might be neutral, but since it involves spells you memorize and probably have all kinds of barbarous names of evocation worked in, and symbols and talismans, fits the demonic scene more. It is like C. S. Lewis and Tolkien in the experience of some neopagans and witches of today, as much a potential conveyorbelt TO the darkside as OUT of it.

  • Lindsay

    This article needs some copy editing. “Muggle” is spelled with a capital M, “thrown” should be its homophone “throne,” and two of the FOUNDERS of Hogwarts were women, so they can’t be “fathers.”

    Those glaring errors aside, I have never thought of the “Harry Potter” series as an explicitly Christian epic, but it does seem friendly to Christian themes (love, friendship, sacrifice, the good of humanity). “Harry Potter” may not be Christian in and of itself, but it’s for Christians as much as anyone else.

  • Dian Francesca Cuccinello

    A highly researched and entertaining article, but, what difference does it make if Potter, or the series was Christian-based? My heaven is definitely here on earth, for I doubt that if there truly IS a heaven, surely it’s lacking in cable services and rental outlets. R.I.P. Harry, wherever ye may be! We love ye!

  • Margot VanEtten

    Harry Potter is great pre-evangelization! And what better way to introduce the idea of kenosis than Harry’s long walk through the forest in the last series.
    I agree with Rowling–it’s a great path for someone who might shun anything more overtly Christian, like the Narnia series.And yet it can help to “baptize” the imagination. A book doesn’t have to be overtly Christian to be immensely valuable in forming the Christian person…

  • Deacon Tom Evrard

    Of course Harry is a Christian! My enthusiasm for the whole series as well as all the other “Good vs. Evil” stories, tales or legends abounds whenever “The Good overcomes Evil” It’s just that the language and literary style of the storyteller that changes.
    That is the story of mankind whatever label one places on it! Mine is that Jesus Christ, Son of God, with human and divine attributes lives and dies for our sins. You can’t make this up! It’s real and true!! I can’t wait for my intellect to be challenged by the next morality tale!! Thanks J.K.! We are all seekers!
    (By the way, Fr. Michael Himes is also a great faith-filled storyteller!)

  • Julie Hagan Bloch

    Please try to see this in a larger context rather than attempting to squeeze this into one narrow set of doctrines/rules/conditions. Friendship, sacrifice, acceptance, kindness,love are not the sole property of Christianity. These qualities are not at all what make anybody Christian; they are what make a person a decent human being. What makes someone Christian is adhering to Christian beliefs. And that Christian person can be a real shmuck and still be a Christian. Try not to let enthusiasm for a particular belief system cloud your intellect.

  • john collins

    good job, Michael. Insightful and balanced. Thank you!

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