26 October 2005

There was a very thought provoking post on Amy Beth's blog. She was asking for a respectful conversation - not debate about the difference between the witches and such in the Chronicles of Narnia - stories such as The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe versus other types of fantasy wherein witchcraft is present and evil is a thematic element. I would like to continue that discussion here - and hear comments from anybody interested in participating in what I hope would be a continuation of the conversation that was started on Amy Beth's blog.

First of all, when the Harry Potter series first came out my children were much younger than they are now, and my thoughts on the Christian controversy were that there were so many other good books to read, they had no need of getting involved in something that clearly contained witchcraft. The Bible warns against participation in witchcraft as a practice, and also that we are to abstain from even the very appearance of evil. But as I took my stand the controversy brewed on. During that time, I saw an increase in books related to the occult, witchcraft, spells, etc. appearing on the shelves and highlighted in special displays in our library. Here is where my concern began. It is one thing to read fantasy, but it is another all together to benignly expose yourself or your children to things which allow an opened door for evil into your life.

However, I read a book three summers ago, just prior to a long trip to the South Carolina coast called Honey for a Teens Heart by Gladys Hunt. Having trusted her recommendations for years in Honey for a Child's Heart, I was stunned to discover in the fantasy section of this book full of reading recommendations for teens - the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling. I will share some of her synopsis here: J.K. Rowling, who has authored the most astonishing series in the history of children's publishing, causing many former non-readers to take up her Harry Potter books, has said that she has been deeply influenced by C.S. Lewis. That's one reason there will eventually be seven books in the Harry Potter series, just like the Narnia Chronicles. They are so wildly popular because they work well on several levels - as laugh-aloud books with word-plays, jokes and spoofs of British boarding school life, and as an introduction to a thoroughly real set of true-to-life characters who have their own quirks, foibles and endearing charms paralleling our own. Except for the Dursleys, there are no cardboard, predictable characters. These include elves, giants, ghosts, animals and oddball teachers of all sorts. Most importantly, Hogwarts is a complete world unto itself, a believable sub-creation in which the characters take chances, grow, fail, are forgiven, and learn discernment as they join the fight for the life-giving good against the life-destroying evil Though Rowling is not a Christian believer, we can see the C.S. Lewis influence on her work in how she has created a "Moral world that is consistent with biblical revelation of the nature of good and evil" (Connie Neal 176). Our recommendation if you hesitate to to let your children read Harry Potter because of the many claims that the books promote witchcraft as a positive lifestyle, is to read them yourselves first. Then explore the well balanced, in-depth discussion in Connie Neal's What's a Christian to do With Harry Potter? You must be fully convinced in your own mind, but exercise that mind prayerfully and with all the facts. You may become convinced, as we are, that not only are the books excellent fantasy, but that God can use them for redemptive conversations within your family and with the larger culture.

I immediately went to the library and checked out Connie Neal's book and read it in a day. She presents the arguments, assertions, and conflict between Christians on this subject, and I felt like I had an intelligent opinion afterwards - not just a random fear. As believers we read about witchcraft, demons, dragons, murder, prostitution, etc. all in God's word. It is the practice that is forbidden, not reading about it. C.S. Lewis himself states in The Screwtape Letters that there are two equal and opposite errors one can make about demons - the first is to be convinced that they do not exist - the second is to have a preoccupation with them. (my paraphrase). I believe we can see the same dynamic in this realm. We either behave as if witchcraft does not exist, or have an unhealthy fascination with it. That needn't be so. Christ has set us free. We can read fantasy without condemnation, and with grounded convictions avoid the fear of being sucked into a practice the Bible forbids. During our trip to the beach that year, I read the entire first book in the HP series.

I do not believe these books are for young children, and yet after reading the first book in the Harry Potter series, and handing it over to my daughter to read - I was able to have one of the best discussions I've ever had with her. I have found this "read it first" or "read it with" practice to be an incredible relationship builder with all of my children. In the very first book, Harry is an orphan because his father was killed, and his mother died saving his life. This is an easy way to communicate the gospel to unbelieving teens who are familiar with this story - because rarely in real life do we have examples of this sacrificial kind of love.

Something I found extremely enlightening in Ms. Neal's book is that Christians often accept other stories widely - that have ghosts, witches, and the like. A Christmas Carol and it's musical counterpart Scrooge for example have the "ghosts" of Past-Present-and-Future, as well as a apparition of Ebenezer Scrooge's dead partner Marley coming back from the dead. Scrooge himself participates in a ritual called astral projection - in which his spirit leaves his body to travel around London in order to see and yet not be seen. Most Disney movies have a villan, often a witch, demon or other evil influence, and yet we watch these fantasy stories with our children benignly without a second thought.

Here's my advice - don't jump to conclusions and be afraid. Read books with your kids or to them as a family read-aloud and discuss the things in them that you find are contrary to the word of God. Raise your kids to be thinkers, not those who shrink back in fear of the unknown, so submerged in their own little world that they cannot engage the culture around them. Help them be challenged in what they believe by reading things that they or you may disagree with. And, assert your opinions and convictions with respect to those around you! So if you would like to post a comment - please do so - even if you disagree - as long as you are considerate of others.

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