Thursday, October 28, 2010

More Thoughts on the Morality of the Harry Potter Series

http://readingharry.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/08/harry-potter-azkaban-preview1.jpg

A good friend of ours wrote to me, asking my opinion of leading Harry Potter critic Michael D. O'Brien's article, "Harry Potter and the Paganization of Children's Culture." Her oldest son and our oldest son (both 19) are best friends, and attend a youth group where there has been some teaching against Harry Potter as of late. They may end up disagreeing on the matter. This was my response:

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My position on this has remained the same for years now: Harry Potter is not, I think, essentially different from Lord of the Rings and the Chronicles of Narnia or, for that matter, classic fairy tales: all of which have magic and sorcery of some sort. If one has to go: so do all of them, in my view. It's a sort of reductio ad absurdum: "you wanna be against Harry Potter? Okay, fine, but just be consistent and also throw out Lord of the Rings and the Chronicles of Narnia and Snow White, etc."

O'Brien (knowing of this objection) tries to make a distinction between the different fantasies and makes an eloquent, detailed case for his position (probably the best to be found for that viewpoint and most worthy of serious consideration), but I don't ultimately agree with it.

I have also thought for years now that the key is to go far beyond and deeper than the books and movies and to emphasize the education of children in Christian values: this is the "safe" framework within which they can (and should) read fantasy and watch those types of movies. Without the Christian grounding I actually agree with O'Brien (in this qualified sense): that it could quite possibly be spiritually dangerous for some kids with troubled backgrounds and lack of education in Christianity.

I did this myself (so I know, firsthand): without anywhere near proper knowledge of Christianity up to age 18, or commitment to Christ, I became involved in the occult and various questionable practices (telepathy, Ouija board, etc.). I had the spiritual imagination and curiosity and yearning, but because of lack of knowledge, it went in a wrong direction. Eventually, thank God, and by His grace, I channeled it towards the God of the Bible.

Since my kids do have that grounding, I have no worries whatever about Harry Potter or any of the other fantasies they watch (or now write about). I feel almost exactly the same about public schools. If parents teach their children Christianity and discipleship, then I'm not worried much at all about kids being in the schools (as in your own family's case). They can be witnesses there: a light to others. [my wife Judy has home-schooled all four of our children]

But if they don't teach them that, then the kids will probably come out with this society's values, and be good secularized liberal clones who parrot the party line (as I was, growing up). The bottom line is spiritual education, which is ultimately the parents' responsibility. So it's all in our knowledge going into something like Harry Potter.

[My son] at first was ready to give up reading Harry Potter and watching the movies completely because of the priest's talk. I simply encouraged him to not be impulsive and legalistic about it, and to read both sides, and make up his own mind: using his critical faculties. And so I directed him to my collection of articles: pro, con, and neutral about Harry Potter: at the end of my Romantic and Imaginative Theology: Inklings of the World Beyond web page. He is not now opposed to it, far as I can tell.

We can't force our kids to like something if they don't. [Name] and [Name] are both legal adults now. They have to think for themselves. I just wanted [my son] to read both sides and make up his own mind. Then there is the factor of being tolerant of other views. If [my friend's son] decides to be against Harry Potter then he will have to figure out how to relate to his friends who think differently. Then it will be a question of honestly held differences among Christians (even two Catholics). That could be yet another lesson in life for our kids, I reckon!

11 comments:

Teresa said...

Great post! Harry Potter is dark but so is both LOTR and Chronicles of Narnia. There is a struggle between good and evil. In reflection, don't you think that the Bible, which has struggles between good and evil, is kinda dark at times also? Good Friday in particular? In the end Jesus gave his own life for our sins and he was raised from the dead to bring new life to us.

Dave Armstrong said...

Now that would be an interesting argument: to bring the Bible into it!

Nick said...

I would object to your comment on public schools (and consider it ironic you said those things while making a point to note your kids are home-schooled).

Not all public school systems are bad, but many are, even in "conservative" areas of town which most parents wouldn't suspect. Children are not capable of fending off all attacks or evils they will be exposed to, regardless of how well you train them at home. "Classes" like (mandatory) sex education can be utterly poisonous with no home antidote to cure what the child has been exposed to (e.g. learning how to put on a condom, watching how sex is done, etc). And in terms of environment, a person can only be bomarded with evils so long before they get weak, and pagan peer pressure can lead to a whole host of things the child ordinarily wouldn't do. It's not "safe" by any means of the term.

And now for a factor that's the real key at play in all this: the great majority of children (and parents) are no where near trained to deal with and address these issues, and at that age it's all more or less 'indoctrination'. Given that, even if 0.01% of children are "well equipped" to watch Harry Potter and such, the sad fact is the 99.99% watching will likely be affected negatively, and the damage done is not easy to undo.

And the idea that the priest was willing to talk about this and play it safe by telling kids "no" was quite a heroic stance which I think was tarnished by your suggestion that your son 'question' his priest and if he doesn't agree, ignore him (which scandalizes me personally and him, since it demonstrates a contempt for divine leadership).

Dave Armstrong said...

Where to begin?!

You give very little credit to the power of God and of prayer for protection of our children. The kids of our Christian friends who go to public school are doing fine. They learned what they needed to at home and in church. Our choice was home-schooling. But I'm not gonna sit here and condemn everyone who chose public schools for their children. As long as they teach them Christian values, they are doing their responsibility.

Also, kids in the same situation who read or watch Harry {Potter are doing fine, too. I'll stack my own kids (19, 17, 14, 9) up against anyone's. They don't smoke, drink, do drugs, swear, are not sexually active, are polite, and very active in outreach activities like missions, etc.

You also have an absurd view of Church authority. In your legalistic mind, apparently everything is black and white. Priests are not infallible, and we don't have to agree with absolutely everything they say. This is a cultural issue and honest people can disagree. Catholics and other Christians disagree on this issue.

MaurĂ­cio said...

Dave, you lost to Nick here, haha.

Dave, I doubt that you are unaware that the guys who control the movies and the entertainment industry, the television, cartoons in geral, videogames, etc (the mens who control and direct what the children/youngs will read/watch/play in geral), are evil guys who follow precise plans (that include attack to the church for example).

So, you are right in part that it's not fully necessary to say "don't watch this movie, it's evil", but you are way wrong/being naive to think that they don't plan on this movies certain types of evil messages to try to pass to the children/young.

Maroun said...

Mauricio said .So, you are right in part that it's not fully necessary to say "don't watch this movie, it's evil", but you are way wrong/being naive to think that they don't plan on this movies certain types of evil messages to try to pass to the children/young.
To begin with Mauricio,i am not trying to defend Dave,because he can do that himself.But i have to agree with him,because it really in the end dosent take much especialy concerning movies,to explain to our kids that many things in the movies are false and wrong and not true.
I mean,this is our duty as parents,and also not every movie is permitted for all public viewers.I mean that some movies are for kids not under 7 years old,some are for kids not ,under 11 years old,while others are for those which r not under 15 years old and so on...
So if we do train our kids and teach them as much as we can especialy concerning our faith and the christian values.Then our cchildren also will easily see the difference between good and evil,between common sens and nonsense.....
So Nick and Mauricio,if you think that your kids are not ready to read this specific thing,then by all means,tell them not to.But if you think they can and if you could also guide them,then what`s the problem?
GBU

MaurĂ­cio said...

The problem Mauron is that it is a movie done by people with evil intent, or that has some evil thing inserted on it.
What they want more is to plant "seeds" on the children/young, they certainly don't expect a imediate result, tehy deal with a percentage sucess that would help then on theyr plan to go shaping the generation of children/young.
Also they have years and years of study on how the mind of children work, and how to try to insert "seeds", as I have said.
Even if I have give to my children a excelent education (moral wise), I still would be worried that they could learn something bad from this movies, something small that could become big when they growup.

It's on the small things on this movies that lies the real danger, not on the things that are "on our face". Movies like the harry potter ones has lots of small things that are sometimes hard to notice even when searching for it, but that are things that, usualy, are there to incite premature sexuality or some desire/curiosity for ocult things (that are evil things of course).
Since you know your children, you can say that there is no problem in then to watch this (at least you hope that there will be no problem whatsoever), but is necessary to think about the children on the rest of the world, and to not decide to stay blind with relation to what this people do on movies/cartoons/hqs/games/television/shows/musics/etc.

It's the kind of world in with we live nowadays, so of course we can't really run away from it or decide to live "on a prison", but it's good (or perhaps necessary) to have some idea about what we are dealing with.

Teresa said...

I agree that the media wants to plant evil, propaganda, or pervert the true message of the story but what exactly in Harry Potter plants evil in the minds of kids? It is fantasy and other stories such as The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe are just as dark as Harry Potter but ultimately have a good message. Did you know that Harry Potter is supposed to be a representation of Jesus just using modern fantasy to do so? Aslan was a representation of Jesus also.

The media distorts the beliefs and faith of the Catholic Church but that doesn't make it true. People can distort and use Harry Potter for evil but that doesn't make the series evil either.

It doesn't seem like you are giving your kids very much credit in being able to decipher between reality and fantasy, or between evil and good. If children have a good moral grounding then I see know problem with children reading or viewing Harry Potter.

Dave Armstrong said...

Since you know your children, you can say that there is no problem in then to watch this (at least you hope that there will be no problem whatsoever), but is necessary to think about the children on the rest of the world, and to not decide to stay blind with relation to what this people do on movies/cartoons/hqs/games/television/shows/musics/etc.

I already agreed with this aspect of your critique, which is why I wrote in my paper:

"Without the Christian grounding I actually agree with O'Brien (in this qualified sense): that it could quite possibly be spiritually dangerous for some kids with troubled backgrounds and lack of education in Christianity.

"I did this myself (so I know, firsthand): without anywhere near proper knowledge of Christianity up to age 18, or commitment to Christ, I became involved in the occult and various questionable practices (telepathy, Ouija board, etc.). I had the spiritual imagination and curiosity and yearning, but because of lack of knowledge, it went in a wrong direction."

Because my kids have this proper grounding, I don't have the slightest concern about them in this regard. Other kids may be a different story, and I would agree with the dangers there. Such is life.

Anything can be used by the devil for his own ends. Few things have been more warped and perverted for evil ends than, e.g., the Bible.

Nick said...

Maybe I misspoke. Not all public schools are bad, and in fact what's holding the good ones together are (conservative) Protestants and Catholics in the faculties. But it's no secret that a great majority of them are counteracting everything the Christian parent is doing at home, except on overdrive.

As for the priests, I was not suggesting they are infallible or we believe everything they say, but a priest who says HP is not a good idea sounds like a reliable and respectable priest. It's a stark contrast to those who give the green light with no cautionary advice at all.

Dave Armstrong said...

I agree for the most part with your first paragraph (which is why we home school).

As for the second: of course, he is a great priest. I simply disagree with him on this cultural matter. It is a question of how to interact with the arts and how to not be influenced for ill, which is always a matter of discussion where good people can honestly disagree.

It doesn't follow at all that I have to think a priest is a "bad guy" just because of one disagreement. My friend Patrick Madrid and I disagree on this. Doesn't mean I have to be "against" him. I admire him as much as I do anyone in the world.

Nor do I "give the green light with no cautionary advice at all." I made that clear in my post and in quoting part of it to that effect in the combox. There is some middle ground here where we can all agree.