One Pastor’s Response to Harry Potter

[1] I’ve just returned from seeing Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone and for the first time I understand what all the fuss is about. Well, maybe not ALL of it.

[2] I understand the best seller sales. I understand how people of all ages have been captivated by the story. I understand why the publisher was able to translate and market it in 30 different countries.

[3] What I do not understand is the vilification that this story has received by people who call themselves “Christian.”

[4] Perhaps it is the wands and the word “witches” that trip the wires? Indeed, the most excoriating criticism has come from some Christians fixated on the literal meaning of things. However, it requires more than literalism to get from Harry Potter’s watered-down version of whimsical witchcraft and wizardry to serious Satanism. In fact, as I reflect on it now, the assertion that this story is either blatantly or cryptically Satanic seems downright absurd. Quite to the contrary, the plot, themes and symbols in the movie I just saw (I – like a handful of American adults – have still not read the book!) militate against the very evil forces that Christian traditionally and doctrinally attribute to both sin and Satan.

[5] This is precisely why I think every devout Christian should see and relish Harry Potter.

[6] The plot of Harry Potter tells how a boy courageously, albeit unwittingly, employs a deeper, truer magic to defeat a wicked wizard and win a battle over the forces of evil. In this way, the story is very similar to C.S. Lewis’ novel, The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe in which the Christ-like lion, Aslan, defeats the villainous White Witch by allowing himself to be sacrificed, thereby appealing to a more ancient magic that frees Narnia from her icy, punitive grasp. (I wonder what was said of Lewis’ work when it was published?) To Christians, both of these stories should sound comfortably familiar. Hearing them should not undermine, but instead strengthen our grasp and appreciation of our own Christian narrative because they appeal to our understanding of redemption by a deeper, greater power.

[7] Likewise, the themes in Harry Potter are not insidiously wicked, but blatantly moral: Loyalty. Courage. Perseverance. The power of love. The danger in failing to discern good from evil. The certainty that vanity and selfish want will lead to futile and disastrous ends. The movie is almost preachy on these accounts. Granted, the Hogwart’s academy is still more prep school than Sunday School; but the morals it promotes are surely “Christian” morals, too.

[8] Finally, and most striking, is the use of symbolism in Harry Potter. For example, the Sorcerer’s Stone is a bright red, palm sized rock. It looks not unlike an apple and is strongly suggestive of the fruit of the forbidden tree in the Garden of Eden. (Of course, the forbidden tree in Genesis is the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, not the tree of life.) Also, Harry Potter himself is identified by a mark he received as a child when he alone was left to live after his parents were killed, his mother in sacrifice for him. Indeed, one is not far from understanding baptism when one understands that on our foreheads we bear the invisible mark of a parent’s love (child of God!) and of life given in sacrifice for us. This sign of the cross made on our foreheads in baptism marks us forever, protects us and set us apart to all who encounter us. The symbols don’t match exactly, of course, but they are similar enough to make us consider and appreciate anew the rituals and symbols and realities of Christian practice.

[9] I have read apologies for “Potter” that excuse it as harmless since it is “just a story” or “fanciful tale.” These trivializations miss the mark as much as claims that “Potter” is Satanic. If Christians have any complaint at all with Harry Potter it is the degree to which its author, J.K. Rowling, “samples” from the Christian narrative and tradition without giving it credit. “Harry Potter” is a success the world over because it speaks to a real battle between good and evil, a real encounter with mystery, and a real longing for love that is at the heart of humanity, the center of the cosmos and the base of the Christian faith.

[10] A description of some of the differing views on Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone can be found on