I absolutely love Harry Potter. I’ve read all the books, seen all the movies (multiple times), and I continue to be enamored of the stories. I read broadly, from James Joyce to John Irving, but I don’t return again and again to any other books the way I return to Harry Potter.
Which is why the harshest criticism I ever received about one of my sermons is especially memorable to me. One Sunday I talked about Harry Potter briefly in a sermon, and preached about how the books gave examples of some of the best qualities to which Christian believers can aspire: loyalty, courage, fellowship, perseverance, and love. My congregation has more than a few devoted Harry Potter fans, so it was a fitting comparison for them.
But after the sermon, as I shook hands at the door, an out-of-town visitor berated me for including something as “satanic” as Harry Potter. She informed me that JK Rowling, the author, had been educated at the “London School of Satanism” and that “we weren’t supposed to read those”. The “we” meant Christians. (I assured her that JK Rowling was, in fact, a member of the Church of Scotland, and that Presbyterians were not well-known for their devil-worshipping ways. I also questioned the existence of a London School of Satanism, though I admitted I had heard of the London School of Economics.)
Her adamant insistence that we Christians should not read books like Harry Potter series stuck with me, though. Why do some Christians fear the secular things that could draw us closer to understanding Christ? Why are books, movies, and music all suspect? I’ve never liked censorship on principle, but I especially grow frustrated with it when it comes from Christians who are trying to protect the faith.
I majored it two subjects in college: English and religion. And, ironically, I think the first major taught me more about what it means to be a Christian than the second. The same has been true for friends of mine who are film buffs, theatre-goers, and devoted music fans. If we believe that God is the God of all, then surely God can speak to us through more books than just one. Surely glimpses of Christ can be seen on the big screen. And surely God can be praised in music that doesn’t come with the stamp of a Christian record label.
This Lent I find myself returning to Harry Potter. Harry’s self-doubt as he prepared for his final stand against Voldemort is not equivalent in my mind to Christ’s time in the garden of Gethsemane, but it sure sheds a little more light on it for me. And, if that’s true, then why shouldn’t I give thanks for something that helps me draw closer to Christ? This Lent I give thanks for Harry Potter, and for all the books, and music, and films that have helped me draw closer to Christ. And I invite you to seek Christ in all the places you visit this season. (Including the inside of a good book.)