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Harry Potter and the Bible
Author: Richard Abanes
Genre: Religious Nonfiction

Harry Potter and the Bible

Description from publisher's website (Christian Publications Inc.):

Catalogs the various forms of occultism in the first four Harry Potter books and warns against spiritual dangers.

Webmaster's Review: Abanes raises some good points in his book. Unfortunately they lose a lot of impact due in great part to poor organization of ideas. Even so, he manages to almost come across as a reasonable voice of caution on the Harry Potter series...almost.

At least he did his research: One thing you can say for Abanes is that he for the most part limits his criticism to things that actually appear in (or directly link to) the Harry Potter books. He admits that the books don't expressly teach a Wiccan belief system or "real spells", and it's unlikely that J.K. Rowling is actively trying to recruit anyone into the occult. It's clear that he at least took the trouble to read the material before criticizing it.

Abanes is concerned, and not without reason, by defenders of Harry Potter who claim that every magical element emerged solely from Rowling's imagination. This is inaccurate, and Abanes shows several examples of how Rowling borrows from various folklores and witchcraft/sorcery traditions throughout history, some of which are still in use in modern witchcraft. He worries that Harry Potter might spur young minds to research the real life counterparts to Numerology, Divination, Magic (I refuse to use the misspellings of "magick" or "magyck", the Bible makes no distinction between sorcery and slight of hand...and for good reason, so neither shall I.), Spells, Charm, etc.

But the Occult? Abanes uses the term occult to describe an extremely over broad set of practices, ideas, and beliefs. The dictionary defines occult as "things relating to supernatural", "beyond ordinary understanding", or (most accurate to the root word) "hidden". He includes everything from witchcraft to paganism to aliens under this umbrella term.

The trouble is the Bible never forbids the entirety of what Abanes is calling "occult" knowledge. It does forbid a list of specific practices like witchcraft, communion with spirits, and divination, but if it forbid all knowledge "hidden" from mankind at the time the law of Moses was given, we would have to include electricity and much of modern science under this restriction...surely some from the B.C. era would view automatic doors as "Magic". Abanes even admits this, however he only does it in passing and does little to clear up the confusion.

The occult is not a unified set of beliefs and practices. While witchcraft fits more neatly with Pagan values, witchcraft can be committed by a monotheist. ESP is not necessarily a spiritual discipline, nor is the belief in the possibility of extra-terrestrial life. Abanes is probably well aware of the first two points, though he and I may simply disagree on the matter of ESP. I will concede that ESP and E.T.s may be integrated into some belief systems like Scientology, but even L. Ron Hubbard didn't take Scientology seriously.

Taking it Seriously: What J.K. Rowling might be recognizing and Abanes fails to is that 90% of "occult" beliefs were (like Scientology) simply "made up" by someone. Now there is a 10% that is quite real and quite serious. I believe Rowling knows where to draw the line between the "made up" and the truly dangerous, and from his suggestions on how to approach Harry Potter, I think Abanes recognizes this too.

Rowling on the other hand may have made the mistake of thinking that the average person or average child is intelligent enough to see where this line falls. Abanes isn't so certain, and frankly neither am I.

Not for six-year-olds: Now Abanes is correct that the moral lessons of Harry Potter are not prepackaged and easily digestible. This is not literary baby food. He asks repeatedly if Harry Potter is appropriate for ages six and up, and I can agree that no, it's probably not. Harry Potter is a coming of age story, most appropriate to pre-teens and up. Viewed in this light, the moral complexity is more fitting, but then I believe a sixth grader might need something meatier than a six year old.

It is true that J.K. Rowling herself does not seem to believe in censoring books from children, and on this point, I believe she is incorrect. Young children are not stupid, but they are inexperienced. It is more difficult for them to separate fiction from reality and make subtle distinctions. However it is important to slowly introduce increasingly complex material so that children can learn this skill.

But why does Abanes use age six? Even the publisher Scholastic, who would have an interest in selling Potter to as wide an age range as possible, starts their "age range" for Harry Potter as third graders (or eight year olds) and up. The age of six, only comes up in a single interview with J.K. Rowling where she makes a comment about how you can't keep the material out of the hands of six year olds...which is debatable, but an obscure point of reference to argue age appropriateness.

Deceptive Tactics: I find it curious and disappointing that as much as Abanes harps upon lies made by characters in the Harry Potter series that he indulges so frequently in deceptive tactics in his writing. Oh, you'd be hard pressed to find many flat out lies, but there are a lot of gaping holes in the narrative, half-truths, excessive repetitions, and lazy conclusions. Even the Publisher Preface calls Abanes' book an "unusual text".

The most obvious of these blunders is Abanes' failure to follow his own formatting. He starts by taking a look at each of the first four Harry Potter books in turn. First summarizing them (otherwise his readers might be forced to read the books themselves and would see all that he left out) and then claiming that he will point out the flaws of each in turn. The blunder starts getting truly obvious in his analysis of the third book, which repeats incidents from the first two books as though they were fresh material. Now, a careful reader might find this out in the footnotes (and it will be overtly obvious to those who have read the Potter books). However, anyone using Abanes book as an introduction into Potterworld will be lead to think that these incidents are far more frequent than they actually are. Apparently Abanes found very little to criticize in the fourth Potter book as he spends most of the chapter on it talking about incidents from the first three books (most of which he had already mentioned in previous chapters), and unofficial material like roleplaying games and fanfiction.

Abanes dismissively mentions the "good moments" in Harry Potter in a few sentences. He conveniently forgets all the times that Harry is punished and that there are consequences to his actions, or perhaps he simply is not familiar with the concepts of delayed consequences and missed everything that wasn't immediate.

He even flatly misrepresents relationships. For instance Abanes completely misses Harry's willingness to sacrifice himself for others. In the fourth book "Goblet of Fire", Harry and the other three competitors in the Triwizard tournament are each given a hostage to rescue from the lake. Harry is first to arrive and frees his friend Ron, but he becomes concerned when the other champions do not appear. There is a time limit for the task, and Harry believes that unrescued hostages will be lost forever. The Merpeople guarding the hostages will not allow Harry to free them so he waits. To his relief, two of the other competitors come, freeing Harry's friend Hermione and his crush Cho. The fourth hostage however, a little girl that Harry doesn't know, seems to have no rescuer. Harry refuses to leave this stranger. He manages at last to free her from her bonds and escape the Merpeople. The magic that allows Harry to breath underwater begins to fade. If he is unable to reach surface in time, he risks drowning himself. Still, he does not drop his friend or the stranger but struggles until they are all safe and above surface.

Abanes claims this is simply a "natural response", implies that Harry wouldn't risk his life for someone who had "no particular value" to him, and does not understand why this act should be applauded as showing "moral fiber". ....I suppose Abanes is entitled to his opinion, but I do wonder what "particular value" he thinks Harry sees in this stranger.

How is this relevant? In Chapter 10 we are treated to ten pages of the sad yet optimistic story of Sean Sellers, an abused boy who turned to Satanism, murdered his parents, but found God and spoke words of hope and peace before his execution. It's a good story, a true story, but I'm afraid I fail to see how it in anyway relates to Harry Potter.

Sean played Dungeons & Dragons, true. Abanes talent for making slight distortions of truth comes to play with this detail. Abanes writes, "He excelled at the game and soon became Dungeonmaster." Anyone who has ever played D&D is undoubtedly rolling their eyes at this point. One, D&D is a roleplaying game. There are no winners or losers in roleplaying games only players. Now some players are more enthusiatic than others, more intelligent, or better story tellers, but what counts as "excelling" in D&D is very subjective. Two, "Dungeonmaster" is not an earned rank. The "Dungeonmaster" in D&D (called a Game Master is other RPGs) is simply a fancy title for the person hosting the game. The Dungeonmaster sets up problems or conflicts for the other players to work through. To become a Dungeonmaster all one needs to do is find other people willing to play with them. Now, there is some effort that goes into doing this well. It's a creative exercise. However, it does not require research outside the D&D manual.

Sean, for whatever reason, chose to do additional research (probably into folklore or perhaps into magic as it is catalogued at the public Library). While doing so he stumbled onto a book on Satanism, which attributed to his spiritual decline. Unless this was a very large library, had he gone down a few shelves he would have discovered books on Christianity. They're shelved close by in the Dewey Decimal system. (I've worked a collective 5 years at libraries.) By Abanes presentation one might assume this was a common D&D practice, but it isn't, far from it. As an after though, Abanes tosses Sean's meeting with a witch who gives him a Satanic prayer, which leads Sean to have a disturbing spiritual experience. I suspect that incident coupled with his home abuse and lack of social place had more to do with his turn to Satanism than D&D.

There are many things we can learn from Sean's story. Don't neglect or abuse your children. Don't shun the "weird kid" but reach out them with love. Don't get into Satanism. Don't abuse drugs. Don't laugh and blow it off when your teen tells you that they think they're going insane. And best of all, even an abused, former druggy, murdering Satanist can be redeemed by the love of Christ.

But this still begs the question, what does this have to do with Harry Potter?

All I can think is Abanes is trying to show an example of why the occult is bad, but this is such an atypical example. Abanes even admits this is a very atypical example and never connects it back to Harry Potter. So why include it at all? Shock value?

Why is the occult bad again? Abanes does at least give a satisfactory answer to this question. Boiled down, his six points say the power and lures of occult are empty promises that often fail us and draw us away from God. On this point I can agree with Abanes most whole heartedly.

Inverted structure: Oddly enough, if you could read "Harry Potter and the Bible" backwards, it would be a much better book. The closing remarks really deserve a place at the front of the book. His last paragraph starts. "Finally, remember that God is in control." No, FIRST "remember that God is in control." Any study of the occult without this firmly in mind is a dangerous study.

Harry Potter is "temporal". Now personally, I think Harry is going to find his place in classic literature, but even in that event, the Harry Potter books hold a small place in the grand scheme of things. If Harry Potter is your greatest concern, you have a very skewed view of reality and need to step away for a while. From my experience in the Star Wars fandom, I'm pretty confident that the attention paid to the Harry Potter series will change and decrease significantly after the seventh book is out and again after the seventh film. It's unlikely to vanish entirely, but it will loose some of the spot light it currently holds in pop culture.

How to Deal with Harry Potter: If all of Harry's detractors followed Abanes prescribed method, respect for Christianty would greatly improve, so I'll list them here in brief.

1. Show respect to others.

2. Respond to J.K. Rowling supporters with thoughtful answers that are prefaced by words of kindness, which show you respect their viewpoint.

3. Know the enemy is not J.K. Rowling, the American public school system, Harry Potter fans, pro-Potter journalism, or the publishers of the Harry Potter series.

4. Christians must get their facts straight regarding J.K. Rowling and her works.

5. Remember that spiritual warfare (or in this case the war of ideas) is fought not with swords, but with truth, righteousness, the gospel of peace, faith, salvation, and the word of God.

(The first four points are verbatim, but I have reworded the last one.)

Parental Involvement: Again tacked on briefly in a few places, this is a most important point and method for keeping your kids away from all sort of harmful behaviors, witchcraft included. Abanes, recommends not trying to ban books or removing your child from class if they are assigned Harry Potter but to go through the story with them.

View it as an opportunity to discuss morals and spiritual issues with your child.

In closing, poor techniques aside, Abanes has presented a worthwhile counterpoint in the Harry Potter debate. However he is in desperate need of a good editor.

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