Reading Harry Potter in the South

As many people in the South would say, I am a Northern transplant to the South. I’ve lived all over the world, Indiana, Brazil, the Netherlands, the wonderful state of Georgia, Ohio and Washington, D.C. but when I moved to Georgia with my family in 2003 I brought the Harry Potter series with me. As a child growing up abroad and constantly moving Harry Potter was a consistent friend I could count on. Where ever I went the series or a book was bound to be with me and I wall ways eagerly awaited for the next book to come out.

My love affair with Harry Potter started on a family trip to the Amazon where the grandparents came with us. After spending over a week in the northern Brazilian wilderness the family was at the Manaus airport awaiting our flight back to Curitiba in southern Brazil. Low and behold my grandmother found a bookstore in the airport that sold English language literature. My grandmother walked out of the bookstore with a Harry Potter book, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (U.S.: Sorcerer’s Stone). Right then and there I started reading the book. I finished the book a few months later and some time after that my family moved to the Netherlands. One day I was at school and my teacher, from England, opened a cupboard door and sitting on the top shelf were the first three books of the Harry Potter series. My teacher allowed me to take them home with me where my mother, at the end of the day, would read a chapter or two of the book to my younger sister and I. Soon we were buying the new Harry Potter releases as the cam out. My love affair with Harry Potter was well on its way.

At the end of 2003 my family moved back to the U.S., but this time to Atlanta, GA in the heart land of the Bible Belt. As Bible Belt suggests, there is a Christian fever among conservative Protestant Christians, mostly Fundamentalists, Evangelicals, Born Again Christians and other sects of the like. These Christians believe in following the Bible literally and to the letter. As one can imagine Harry Potter poses a little bit of a religious problem amongst the South’s vocal conservative Protestant Christian communities. As far back as I can remember I can recall local news broad casts where certain church groups were calling for the removal of the Harry Potter series from public and private schools and public libraries.

In 2006 a Gwinnett county mother, Laura Mallory, from Loganville, GA challenged the county’s board of education to have the Harry Potter series removed from Gwinnett county schools. She claimed that the books promoted witchcraft and the Wiccan system of belief to children. Mallory also claimed that the books encouraged the acceptance of witchcraft among young children (NBC). Mallory also believed that children would not be able to differentiate between the good and evil forces presented in the books and that children would be better off telling the difference between good and evil if they read the Bible. (Daily Mail). Clearly Laura Mallory is a Christian and views the Harry Potter series as going against her religious beliefs and sees the county school system as promoting one belief system over another. Some would see this as a violation to freedom of religious practice.

What is it about Harry Potter that makes the series offensive to conservative Christians? Is it the presence of witchcraft in a story that teaches moral values like friendship, love, trust and courage when faced with adversity, the same teachings that can be found in the Bible? Or is it because religious conservatives are uncomfortable with the notion that Harry Potter is a Christ like figure without experiencing divine guidance while living in a very materialistic world? Or could it be both?

I believe it is a combination of both. Harry Potter is presented as being a Christ-like figure who’s birth and defeat of Lord Voldemort are prophesied, is the chosen one to defeat Voldemort, conquers death when killed by Voldemort and Harry triumphs over Voldemort in an act of good triumphing over evil. Being the wizarding world, these acts and feats are not the result of divine guidance by a monotheistic god but the result of magic that is created by humans. The combination of a character that has Christ-like qualities put into a materialistic world of wizardry that is devoid of a god is what conservatives see as offensive to their Christian belief.

If a person has spent any amount of time in the South, it becomes evident that conservative Christians don’t believe in superstitious activity, don’t want to associate with any activities that are associated with witchcraft, the superstitious or evil. Think of Halloween. This line of thought has a basis in the largley quoted verses in Deuteronomy 18:10-12:

“Let no one be found among you who sacrifices their son or daughter in the fire, who practices divination or sorcery, interprets omens, engages in witchcraft, or casts spells, or who is a medium or spiritist or who consults the dead. Anyone who does these things is detestable to the LORD; because of these same detestable practices the LORD your God will drive out those nations before you.”

Deuteronomy 18:10-12, like in many passages in the Bible, tells believers what activities they should not engage in as the chosen people of God. Here Deuteronomy makes it quite clear what actions are prohibited and most of them, quite frankly, are found in the Harry Potter series like divination, sorcery, omen reading, spells and witchcraft. Six verses in Deuteronomy (9-14) deal with witchcraft but in a way that is meant to separate the Israelites from other peoples living in the same land. Presumably these other peoples, the Levites, were known for practicing witchcraft, reading omens and communicating with the dead. What Deuteronomy doesn’t say is that witchcraft is associated with the devil. Deuteronomy 18:9 and 18:14 states:

“When you enter the land the LORD you God is giving you, do not learn to imitate the detestable ways of the nations there.”

“The nations you will dispossess listen to those who practice sorcery or divination. But as for you, the LORD your God has not permitted you to do so.”

These two passages come directly before and after the verses condemning witchcraft in the name of separating the Israelites from the Levites who practice witchcraft. It is possible that conservative Christians, by not reading Harry Potter, are separating themselves from other people or Christians who do read Harry Potter. It is also possible that conservative Christians view witchcraft as being associated with paganism as the monotheistic Israelites were not allowed to be involved in such practices that the Levites, who probably had a pantheon of gods and goddesses, dabbled in. The Levites were, of course,are not the only culture to practice aspects of witchcraft as many cultures in the ancient world practiced some activity associated with witchcraft or sorcery. The ancient Romans were known for reading omens in sacrificed animals that were viewed as signs from the gods. The Celts and Germanic peoples of Northern Europe also had superstitious practices that were associated with their gods and goddesses as well. But conservative Christians still associate Harry Potter with Satan.

Rober McGee, of Jeremiah Films, a Christian film  company, said, “When individuals use the power of witchcraft, they are using demonic power and opening themselves to demons. This is a crucial victory for Satan….” The Old Testament denounces witchcraft as a way to separate the Israelites from their pagan neighbors but the New Testament associates witchcraft with sin as demonstrated in Galatians 5:19-20.

“The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immortality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy, drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.”

Here witchcraft is grouped with other common sins that Christians should try to avoid: drunkenness, idolatry, jealousy, envy and so on. Sin is thought to be connect to Satan as these acts are not Godly. It is important to remember that witchcraft is not directly connected to Satan but rather implied that it is. Sin is often associated with the opposite of what God commands his people to do or actions that God looks down upon. Sin associated with Satan does back to the Temptation of Adam and Eve in Genesis where the serpent, seen as the devil, encourages Eve to eat the Forbidden Fruit. Adam and Eve were told by God not eat this fruit but they did by being tempted by Satan. In this case sin is the opposite of what God tells his followers to do. The same can be said for witchcraft. Witchcraft is denounced by God and the followers of God are not to partake in activities associated with witchcraft. Willing to partake in these activities is seen, by some, to be giving in to the will of Satan and a weakness in following God’s wishes. This is how Satan would inter into the soul of a person or by not following God’s wishes a person will be more likely to disobey God. This is the problem with Harry Potter according to conservative Christians.

The Harry Potter series is filled with witchcraft, sorcery, divination, reading of omens, spells and everything that God denounces in Deuteronomy. Some Christians would say the series is full of sin. These people would argue that by reading Harry Potter a person is being tempted by the devil and moving away from God’s will, thus, letting room in for sin to grow. This would be particularly dangerous for children as, according to some, they cannot quite tell the difference between good and evil according to God’s will. These people are afraid that their children will be tempted by the devil at an early age and leave God behind by imitating Harry Potter or by leaving their Christian faith. As for adults, they see the series as multiple books of sin and possibly a creation by Satan. They don’t want to be tempted, so they don’t read the books because if they do they are being unfaithful to God.

People are entitled to their own beliefs but the approach taken by conservative Christians towards the Harry Potter books can lead them to be judgmental of others when the are seen reading the series in public. Naturally this can make people feel uncomfortable reading Harry Potter in public and can make others hostile or ill thinking of conservative Christians. Another issue that has come up in Georgia is with certain Christian groups demanding or asking for the removal of the series from public schools and libraries. These groups that having the series in public schools and libraries is going against their right to religious freedom. If these books were taken out of public schools and libraries, then this, too, is going against the freedoms of those who want to read the series in schools or have them in their public libraries. My personal belief is that Harry Potter doesn’t allow the devil to enter into souls of children and that, when at the appropriate to read Harry Potter, children are able to distinguish between right and wrong. If parents are worried that their child will not be able to do this concerning their religion and it’s teachings, then parents should tell their children that witchcraft is not allowed while letting the child read the series. If the child questions his or her parents decision to let them read the books, then the parents should explain that while the books do have witchcraft in them, the books also have a powerful message of love, loyalty, courage and the willingness to do the right thing in the face of evil and that these messages are more important than the witchcraft found in the books.

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