Reasons to Believe

Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Response

British author J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series has been a runaway bestseller since its release. The last four installments set records as the fastest-selling books in history and the film franchise is one of the highest grossing of all time. The highly-anticipated final movie, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2, is scheduled to bring this epic series to a close on July 15, 2011.

The series, which follows the titular adolescent as he grows up to become a wizard endowed with magical powers, has sparked controversy among Christians. When a teacher from my church asked for my personal opinion about the books, I took it as an opportunity to help parents think through the influence of literature on the minds of children.

Most believers consider occult practices and powers to be real and damaging to a person’s mind and soul (Deuteronomy 18:10–12; 2 Thessalonians 2:9–10). Consequently, some Christians feel that Harry Potter instills these dangerous concepts among young readers. I encourage parents to ask four questions in determining whether to allow their children to read (or watch) Harry Potter and similar works.

How can Christian parents test their decisions in terms of Scripture, conscience, and reason (Philippians 4:8; 1 Thessalonians 5:21; 1 John 4:1)?
These God-given authorities can guide believers when making tough decisions. Confidence comes from aligning one’s life according to God’s Word and the faculties of reason and logic. The following questions flesh out this guiding principle.

Is it appropriate to use dark and occult images in fantasy fiction and film to convey imaginative narrative?
Christian authors C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien certainly thought so. Many fairy tales use similar imagery. I ask parents to consider whether they agree or disagree with Lewis and Tolkien and why.

Does the book use these images as literary devices simply to propel the broader story, or rather to promote occult involvement?
Parents need to progressively instruct their children on the differences between fiction and reality. This helps kids appreciate the basic elements of literature as well as distinguish actual spiritual deceptions and counterfeits.

What is the overarching worldview reflected in the books and how does it compare and/or contrast with the historic Christian worldview?
In other words, how do the books handle such ultimate issues as God, the cosmos, truth, goodness, values, and humanity? Teaching young people the skill of thinking “worldviewishly” is critically important in their ongoing intellectual and spiritual development.

Ultimately it’s up to parents to decide whether Harry Potter is suitable for their children. Asking thoughtful questions puts believers in a position to discover what is good, right, and profitable before God.

For more advice on Harry Potter, check out episode 37 of my podcast, Straight Thinking. This article originally appeared in the May/June 2009 Reasons newsletter. To sign up to receive Reasons for free, call (800) 482-7836.