With seven bestsellers in the series, and five blockbuster movies, like it or not, Harry Potter is here to stay.
And there are those who are not happy about that. Many Christian parents and church leaders fear that Harry’s popularity promotes witchcraft and paganism among young people.
In order to stop this pagan onslaught, strenuous efforts are being made to discourage parents from allowing their children to read the Harry Potter books or view the movies. In a few instances, there have even been efforts to ban the books from public libraries.
With all of this, Harry Potter joins a long line of characters considered dangerous to the faith. Among those who have been despised by the faithful are Tom Sawyer, Alice in Wonderland, the Wizard of Oz and the Lord of the Rings. Also, included on the list are Superman, the Smurfs, Sabrina the Teenage Witch, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and He-Man. And don’t forget Disney in general, for multiple offenses.
This disposition to ban and boycott reflects an attitude held by many in the Christian community that culture has some obligation to reflect a Christian worldview. Anything in art or music, or even politics, which runs contrary to a certain prescribed orthodoxy must be eliminated from our view.
But why is culture responsible for delivering the Christian message? Isn’t that the work of the church?
I understand that conservative Christians are evangelical. I understand that the hope and dream of the evangelical community is to see all persons become Christian. That desire is at least as old as Christianity itself.
But is trying to eliminate every other world view the best way to advance the Christian faith? Do believers think that they will win the hearts and minds of people by default? With all due respect to Christian brothers and sisters everywhere, that is a pretty lame approach to evangelism.
The need to have beliefs validated by the world around them reveals a nagging, underlying insecurity on the part of some people of faith. It seems that, unless their world view is constantly affirmed by what they see and hear in the wider culture, they feel threatened, attacked.
This insecurity is somewhat understandable. There was a time when Christendom ruled the world. The word of the church was the final word in all matters. Now, after a 500-year battle between reason and religion, the wisdom of faith is considered just one view among many. Christians sense their sphere of influence has been greatly reduced, and it frightens them.
The faithful will respond, of course, that they are not afraid. They are being bold in bearing witness to their beliefs. They are demonstrating with conviction that their truth is the most true. If you have the truth, why tolerate error.
But it looks like fear, and more. The effort to silence Harry Potter and his kin seems to be the tactic of a desperate faith seeking a reason to exist. It appears to reflect a dispirited faith, lacking imagination of its own. It hints at a fatigued faith, grieving the loss of supremacy in a pluralistic world.
No great idea has ever been advanced simply by eliminating the competition. That may work in the short run, but in the long run, bullies lose out. Besides, efforts to suppress alternative views of the world, even fantasy ones, only increases the need for them.
James L. Evans, a syndicated columnist, also serves as pastor of Auburn First Baptist Church in Auburn, Ala.