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August 2, 2009

‘Potter’ offers up a powerful potion

By Sister Helena Burns, FSP


The Harry Potter juggernaut continues to delight with “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.” The three friends, Harry, Hermione, and Ron, are ever endearing. We feel the screws tightening as Lord Voldemort’s attacks mount and gain strength. But friendship and young love can flower anywhere.

Some of the funniest and sweetest moments are the budding romances. (Too bad every romantic comedy doesn’t charm like this.) There are mispairings, jealousies, longings and general lovelornness. All of this while being schooled in how to be a powerful wizard without ever resorting to the dark arts. Of course, here’s “the rub” when it comes to HP.

As Christians, we know that no magic is good magic. Sorcery is real, comes from “below,” and is never to be used, even for “the good.” Thus, many Christians have shunned the HP books and movies. Other Christians maintain that lots of classic fairy tales contain witches, spells, etc., and that we just need to make sure young people know they must never dabble in it. However, because HP presents the use of magic by young people in such a compelling way, extra precautions need to be taken. If I were a parent, I would definitely accompany my child through this cultural phenomenon (allowing them to read and watch) because I would want my kids to be equipped to reach their peers with the Gospel, and that would mean engaging with the culture. Author J. K. Rowling says that she is a Christian, and she has certainly embedded Christian virtues in HP: obedience, love, kindness, truth, loyalty, heroism, sacrifice, bravery.

There is a real apprenticeship going on with Professor Dumbledore and Harry. Harry is “the chosen one,” but he is still has a lot to learn. The HP series teaches that none of us can go it alone and that love is greater than fear: Harry’s mother sacrificed her life for Harry, and he stands ready to make the same kind of sacrifice.

There is real spiritual warfare going on around us at all moments: angels, devils, sin, grace, death, eternity, heaven, hell. Do we teach young people this reality in their religious education? Do we stress it? If not, it seems to me we do them a great disservice. They’re clearly interested and up for the challenge.

Burns, who ministers in Chicago, has a philosophy/theology degree from St. John’s University, N.Y., and studied screenwriting at the University of California-Los Angeles.