Christians have it backward. If you’re worried about your child obsessing over magic, it’s not Harry Potter you should guard against; it’s the Bible.
Author J.K. Rowling doesn’t bill her writing as anything other than fiction. Youngsters are thrilled as the courageous and incorruptible Potter overcomes seemingly insurmountable obstacles and achieves his goals. The fantastical realm of magic is merely the world Rowling devised in which to depict her ideal of good triumphing over evil, just as Melville used a high-seas setting to depict the self-destructive nature of an irrational lust for revenge. A child who reads Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (or views the record-breaking movie) is no more likely to dabble in witchcraft than one who reads Moby Dick is to dabble in whaling.
But Christians tell their kids that the Bible, which is packed with more swords and sorcery than ever sprang from Rowling’s active imagination, is not a work of fanciful fiction, but divinely inspired truth.
For instance, scene one of the Judeo-Christian Book of Magic treats readers to an omnipotent Being uttering the universe-sparking incantation, “Let there be light.” (For such an entity, “Abracadabra” or a nose-wiggle would have worked as well.)
Man He soon divined from dirt, woman from a sparerib. Then the two humans, barely acquainted, are left to prance naked in a garden, unemployed, not knowing right from wrong. This, Christians solemnly inform their children, was the state of perfection from which man fell.
One talking snake and a forbidden-fruit-munching incident later, God ejects Adam and Eve from Eden, securing it with a flaming sword to prevent them from partaking of a second magic tree able to instill immortality.
Forward a couple of pages, God’s sons pop down from heaven and find that earth girls are easy. And although the unions produce a “renown” race of giants (Genesis 6:4), they and virtually all other life forms were destroyed by a worldwide flood God sent (Genesis 6:13). All life, that is, except for lucky Noah, his kin, and a reproductive pair of every non-aquatic animal species – including, presumably, kangaroos, South American sloths, and a polar bear couple that meandered down from the North Pole – all of whom boarded a wooden ship Noah built in the Middle East.
After the ark beached and the earth was repopulated a mere two chapters later, we find the ambitious residents of Babel constructing a skyscraper. But God, in the same spirit as the terrorists of 9-11, didn’t appreciate man’s haughtiness, so He cast the most potent language-disruption spell He could, confounding the citizens and causing them to scrap the project (Genesis 11:1-9).
If the above isn’t proof enough of the Bible’s magical context, here’s a list of other Sunday School “truths” (a list that’s by no means exhaustive):
- Lot’s wife was turned into seasoning (Genesis 19:26).
- Moses’ sorcerer’s staff could transform into a snake that ate other snakes, and could make water spring from rocks.
- Jacob won a wrestling match against an angel (some say God), despite the latter employing his supernatural leg-break move! (Genesis 32:24-30).
- A talking jackass argued with its owner, Balaam (Numbers 22:27-30). (The donkey was the superior orator).
- Samson’s Herculean strength evaporated after his girlfriend gave him a haircut (Judges 16:17).
- The prophet Elijah parted the Jordan River by slapping it with his cloak (II Kings 2: 7-8).
- Elijah was spirited to heaven in a whirlwind of flaming horses (II Kings 2:11).
- The prophet Elisha got angry at a gaggle of kids who chided him for being bald. Did this “godly” man forgive them? No way, he conjured two bears that mauled 42 of the offending children (II Kings 2:23-24).
- A corpse leaped back to life after coming into contact with the dead Elisha’s bones (II Kings 13:20-21).
- The prophet Jeremiah claimed he was commanded from on high to wear an ox yoke (Jeremiah 27:2).
- The prophet Ezekiel was divinely instructed to eat only food cooked with human dung. Observing Ezekiel’s protest, God permitted a more palatable (?) cow manure substitute (Ezekiel 4:12-15).
- When a wedding reception he was attending ran out of booze, Jesus hocus-pocused a whole keg of wine out of water (John 2:1-10).
- Jesus conversed with spirits, faith-healed, commanded his followers to taste his body and slurp his blood, and – playing the psychic – made a handful of typically vague predictions.
- Upon Jesus’ death, a horde of saintly zombies burst from their graves and “appeared unto many” in Jerusalem (Matthew 27:52-53). (Curiously, only one guy, Matthew, found the event worth recording, and then only in the form of glancing reference. Ho-hum.)
Such fairy tales are nowhere near as compelling as Harry Potter stories, because most of them lack a solid theme, are devoid of anything resembling consistency, and, as is often the case, are utterly pointless. But if one glosses over sections such as where Moses enacted God’s will by ordering his troops to butcher unarmed enemy women and children, except the virgin girls, whom they enslaved (Numbers 31:1-18), certain Bible stories a kid might find entertaining.
For example, if you don’t mention the part about God drowning the bulk of humanity, a youngster may delight at the imagery of smiling animals marching two-by-two up the gangplank to Noah’s Ark (though it makes for a better coloring book than story). And such fables are relatively harmless provided they’re not presented as fact.
But confusing to children (and adults too), and crushing to their spirits, is the primary message Christians extract from the New Testament – which stems from the concept of original sin introduced in the Old: that an all-powerful God murdered His own son, or employed humans to do it, as the means He concocted for rescuing mankind from the everlasting hellfire He stoked. To claim that a belief in this ancient homicide, and in the victim’s supposed resuscitation, is the essence of virtue and the onramp to eternal life, is to make a mockery of both virtue and life.
If it’s morality you seek to instill, and a deep-rooted belief in the magical you hope to avert, then it’s not only safe but desirable that your child glean the abstract virtues Rowling promotes via the honest, brave and persevering Harry Potter, despite the fantastical setting she places him in. But steer them clear of the Bible.