The Devil in Harry Potter

The Devil in Harry Potter

Since all popular culture is an instrument of the devil, it should come as no surprise to anyone that there’s a number of unhappy parents out there who think Harry Potter is a minion of Satan himself. That the immensely popular books by J.K. Rowling are just recruiting material for helpless children who will be seduced into serving the Dark One and denying Jesus Christ another prize.

If you hate Harry Potter because of the attendant hype and noise, I can’t find much argument with you. If you moan inwardly each time a new 600+ page tome is released to the tune of $30, and you’ve got three kids who want their own copy, I can definitely sympathize. But if you loathe Harry Potter to the point where spittle begins to collect on your lip, your blood boils and you’re just about to speed-dial your local preacher because you’re convinced beyond anything that the books promote witchcraft, Wicca or other assorted magick, then let me put your hatred into a little thing we call context:

Why don’t you hate “Iliad” just as much?

Think about it for a moment. Harry Potter is accused of fomenting a love of the dark arts and encourages sorcery (so claim the detractors) and worst of all, deny God by way of omission. Parents want the books removed from the school library, and some have written detailed examinations of the novels and the movies. But ask these people if “Iliad” should be removed as well and you’d get a blank stare, or an exasperated sigh that “it’s different.”

Let’s see how different it is. “Iliad” makes no mention of God, Jesus, or that other member of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit. In fact, there’s an entire pantheon of divine beings in the story who make no appearances whatsoever in the Hebrew Bible or the New Testament. There are elaborate depictions of sacrifices to the gods, praise to almighty Zeus (remember, he’s the Father of the Gods) or dreadful Apollo. These supreme beings engage is all sorts of shameful behavior, like instigating wars, conspiring to deceive one another and literally seducing one another and furthering their own plans like spoiled, omnipotent children. Sure, the causes of justice and mercy are mentioned in Homer’s elegant poetry, but there’s no Holy Temple, no mention of Jerusalem, no denial that pagan gods are bogus, nothing that would comfort the enraged soul of a Christian fundamentalist who finds Satan lurking in the pages of Harry Potter and the Hogwarts school.

But the depiction of the divine isn’t the only thing going on in “Iliad.” There’s war and plenty of it, the kind of violence that surpasses what’s routinely aired on television. Men die in “Iliad” and they die horribly: wailing, crying out while “hateful darkness” envelopes them. Homer describes in sparse yet graphic detail the disembowelment of several warriors, or the effect of weaponry on human flesh. It may not be as exciting as the 200 foreskins that David cut off the Philistines as proof of his valor (1 Sam 18.27), but it’s violence all the same.

Moreover, when men die, breathing their last gasp, there’s no promise of an afterlife. No one recites the Our Father, or dies with the name of the Blessed Virgin on their lips. In fact, a youngster reading this classic might be induced to think that you don’t need to believe in the Father or the Son, because none of the Greeks did and we still remember their names and recount their exploits with admiration and awe.

At this point, the weak argument that “Iliad” is literature and Harry Potter is not, is advanced. I call it weak because none of the religious hatred against the young wizard is couched in terms of literary merit or quality. I certainly do believe that one can argue if Harry Potter is literature or just popular fiction, but the anti-Potterites out there are framing their anger in religious terms, not literary ones. Sidestepping the critique that “Iliad” also promotes non-belief on the basis that it’s a classic of Western literature is nonsense . And just because the story predates Christianity and should be considered harmless is equally absurd: after all, anti-Potter forces are concerned with the influence of the books on their helpless (and apparently dumb) children. By this reckoning, if a young pre-teen reads Harry Potter and thinks he too, can practice magic, then it stands to reason that reading “Iliad” will induce him to sacrifice an animal to Apollo, or will invoke Zeus before taking a test. Pure, uneducated hogwash.

It’s amazing to me that no one else has pointed this out, or started a petition at a local middle school to remove “Iliad,” “Odyssey,” “The Aeneid,” by Virgil, or for that matter, the removal of any Greek tragedy from the bookshelves, lest some impressionable young mind think it’s okay to murder your father and marry your mother. If Harry Potter’s influence is purely malevolent and fits the bill for promoting sorcery, then any pre-Christian story is up for grabs because it doesn’t recognize the sovereignty of the One, True God. (It remains to be explained why the kids at Hogwarts school get Easter and Christmas off if they’re such budding evildoers, by the way.) But as far as that is concerned, I find it slightly unnerving that most of the people advancing their ignorance are the types of people who believe that if you’ve never heard “Thou shalt not murder,” you would think it’s okay to kill someone.

The anti-Potterites may be entitled to their opinion, but it’s disturbing that so many people who claim to know the Truth are so easily scared. They apparently live in a world populated with superstition and fear, but somehow can’t admit that to themselves. They confess belief in one, all-powerful God but voluntarily display how superficial that faith is with belief in demons and withcraft and magick, things they scorn as man-made but simultaneously consider supernatural and real. Still, they won’t extend their self-righteousness to its logical conclusion and ban all books that were written before the start of the Christian era, or for that matter, books not written by Christians.

These people frighten me more than Lord Voldemort ever could.