I’ve been considering this post for quite some time, and what better time than now to finally set forth my thoughts?
I shall be considering mostly the books (the movies, while some are good in themselves, cannot be compared to the books often simply because of the limitations of time and the medium itself).
Back in the 90s when Rowling’s novels first became a success, there were (and still are) many Christians who opposed the series on the basis of witchcraft, which is banned in the Bible.
This is, of course, a genuine concern, and obviously the first place to start in any biblical discussion of Harry Potter.
What exactly is the witchcraft condemned in the Bible? Is it the “magic” that has by now permeated the imagination of man (and by no means from Rowling…this has always been a fascination of the human mind)? Or is it something different?
The commands concerning witchcraft in the Bible are not overly helpful here. Consider Exodus 22:18.
You shall not suffer a witch to live.
Deuteronomy 18:10, however, may provide some insight as to what this means.
There shall not be found among you anyone who makes his son or daughter pass through the fire, or that uses divination, or an observer of times, or an enchanter or a witch.
Here we see that witchcraft is associated with the occult and pagan idol worship (referred to here is the worship of Molek, which required the burning alive of a son or daughter as a human sacrifice).
What else do we know? Well, from other passages in the Bible, witchcraft is always associated with divination, and use of familiars (harnessing demonic powers). We also know that this worked: the magicians of Pharaoh were able to at least imitate many of the miracles Moses performed in the court. Also, the medium that Saul contacted to speak with Samuel managed to actually reach Samuel’s spirit in Sheol. Interestingly, it is obvious from her shock that the medium herself did not expect the process to succeed (and Samuel was not pleased at all).
Use of these divinators and enchanters is also associated with rebellion: the refusal to look to God for guidance and instead the attempt to find it by other means. This is what Saul was trying to do. So the main reason this is sinful is that it is a rebellion against God.
What does the word “enchanters” mean? The only example we have of enchantment in action is with Pharaoh’s magicians.
Now, either this was a trick (as “magic tricks” tend to be), or it was real power, drawn from demonic sources. We know that in the old world, fallen angels did in fact hold real power over men. Thus the use of familiar magic, which apparently was a viable source of demonic energy as it were. It all sounds very ancient and alien to our electronic minds of today, but it should. There is no biblical reason to believe this was not possible (and some reasons to believe it was). The occult is dark and satanic, for a reason. The fallen angels love to twist men’s minds with dreams of power.
Also of note: the word in the New Testament that is translated “witchcraft” also means “drugs” and is where we get “pharmacy,” possibly referring to the mixing of probably harmful potions.
Is this the wizardry practiced in Harry Potter? Yes and no.
First of all, there is in fact divination. There is no debate about it, this is a type of witchcraft explicitly forbidden in the Bible. This is unacceptable, but I’m not going to pull teeth about it, because in the series itself, divination is, for the most part, scoffed at as a trick show (which it is in the books). This is not an excuse, however. True prophecy derives from God, not from demons. There is no mentioned demonic activity or power behind the true prophecies in the books, but nevertheless, this is not a facet of HP that we should condone or be comfortable with.
Are there familiars? None that I am aware of. Correct me if I am wrong.
Are there mediums? Yes. Sort of. There are ghosts, who we find are just weak-willed souls who were afraid to go beyond death…and some regret their choice. However, we are told that communication that goes beyond the grave is impossible (as is resurrection). Does this deny the resurrection of the body? Not necessarily. The point here is more of communication with the dead and the reanimation of a soul by means of magic rather than the Resurrection that we Christians think of.
What about the enchantments? As I mentioned above, there is no obvious source of demonic power for this magic. Like so many other fantasies, it’s just assumed to exist without being necessarily occultism.
Also, we must consider that what looks like magic is not necessarily always so. Take an iPod, for example. If you were to travel back to the Middle Ages, an iPod would almost certainly guarantee your immediate execution for witchcraft. Sufficiently advanced technology always appears like magic to the less advanced mind. We cannot even imagine the advances civilization will have made in 500 years – it would appear like magic to us, because we do not understand it.
So there is a kind of “magic” that does not require a demonic activity: this is not what the Bible is condemning. Whether it is the kind demonstrated in HP remains slightly open to debate, but, in the absence of evidence to the contrary, I’m perfectly willing to give it the benefit of the doubt and not denounce it as satanic. After all, it is integral to the storyline.
I do not think that the magic in HP is reliant upon demonic power as the magic of Pharaoh’s enchanters was, which the witchcraft condemned in the Bible.
As we see in the story, there is a good side and a Dark side to magic. This Dark side is much more like the occult. It is portrayed as demonic and satanic and rightly so…much of the magic involves blood sacrifices and pagan rites of that sort. If any magic in the book is obviously condemned by the Bible, it’s this kind. And we’re supposed to hate it. And we do.
The dark, Unforgivable curses are all obviously evil, by biblical standards. The Killing Curse, the Pain Curse, and the Curse that controls the mind of the victim. These are punishable by imprisonment in what is essentially a place of eternal sorrow and suffering, and yet are used freely and with relish by those who practice Dark magic.
Other forms of Dark magic we see are things such as animation of dead bodies, etc,: things that have always been traditionally associated with the occult.
The other side of magic, however, we see mostly employed in the same manner as our own modern technology: enhancing the quality of life. No human sacrifice required. It’s always a mystery as to how evil wizards and witches are conquered: we are never explicitly told that the good guys shoot to kill. When we are told what spell they are using, it’s always to stun. Not to kill. Food for thought.
Rowling’s writing style and mastery of character development is a pleasure to read, however. Very few authors have the ability to make a story come alive, especially in this literately starved culture.
Although it seemed that in the last few books she seemed to cave to her aging audience of teens, the seventh book really showed what a master she was: she followed the true Story. She is in fact a Christian, a member of the Church of Scotland, and says that she believes “in God, not magic.” From the beginning, she felt that readers who knew of her faith would be able to anticipate the ending of the series.
Here is an article discussing the book’s biblical influences.
In the seventh book we learn of the Deathly Hallows, magical objects that make the possessor master of death. It is also revealed that the entire series has been about them up to this point; mostly Voldemort’s quest to conquer death and gain immortality, culminating in the search for the Hallows.
At the climax of the book, Harry realizes that the only way to defeat death (and Voldemort as the personification of Death) and gain mastery of the Deathly Hallows is to die (and rise again). We learn that those who do not want to face death are weak (remember the ghosts), and that something, in fact, lies beyond death.
To sum up, I think that the series is well written, by a masterful author. Yes, there are problems with it, especially the acceptance of divination. But nothing else directly violates the law of God, which Rowling herself adheres to. Those who denounce it without inspection are, simply put, missing out. When read with a discerning mind and a mature faith, there’s no reason to leave these on the shelf.