Back when I was a child, the thing that was causing a ruckus was the Harry Potter series. You might be surprised, but you have to keep in mind that I grew up in a church where we had serious conversations about whether or not it was okay to use pepper in our food, go to the movies, or go out to eat on Saturdays. So naturally, everyone and their mother had something to say about the best-selling children’s series of all time. I remember watching a conversation between J.K. Rowling and Daniel Radcliffe, where he asked her about the reaction that she had received from some religious nutters. We were those nutters. When I went to church, people would ask me why I was reading “that”, the word spat from between their teeth with ill-concealed contempt. Their mothers were kinder, and would just hand me books with titles like “Hidden Dangers in Harry Potter”. Here are some of the reviews it got on Barnes and Noble… This is the backdrop of my childhood. It didn’t really bother me that much because my parents let me read the books anyway, and that was all I really cared about, not anyone’s approval of them. As I got older and more books came out, though, the sillier the things religious people said about them became. It also became clear to me that they hadn’t read even half of one book. They talked, bizarrely, about how we couldn’t justify reading a book with witches and wizards in it, typically because of the story of Saul and the witch of Endor in Samuel 28 (in which Samuel comes back from the dead to lay down some Obi-Wan Kenobi-type old man wisdom, telling Saul that he and his sons would die because Saul had not committed genocide against the Amalekites.)
‘I solemnly swear that I am up to no good.’ – God
For some of the people floating around my circles, though, the problem wasn’t even necessarily the content of the Harry Potter books, abhorrent as it might be. The problem was that they were not true. Fiction was indeed the enemy, a thought that has its grounding in Paul’s admonition in Philippians 4:8 to keep our minds on things that are pure, noble, and true. My English professor has the most amazing story about how his teacher once objected to a book on the basis that it was fiction. My professor then self-righteously grabbed fiction from the shelves of his school’s small library and asked if they should burn them. His teacher agreed, and so they did.
Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things. (Philippians 4:8)
This is how religion thwarts its own goals. One of the things that spoils the Bible most is that we don’t admit that it is fiction. Reading requires careful selection of what to believe and what not to, and many of the lessons we would otherwise glean from the thin pages of the Good Book are diluted by the processes that go into justifying them in the real world. Make no mistake about it, fiction, and indeed Harry Potter, has real things to teach us about the world, and contains truths that we can actually use in our daily lives. But that is only possible when we embrace the notion that it is a fiction wrought directly from the mind of J.K. Rowling.
Imagine reading a passage of Harry Potter and saying, “That was an amazing story! I loved when Harry was in the Triwizard Tournament and he outsmarted the dragon and he almost got burned, it was so cool!” and then having someone say, “Well, you know that really happened, right?” This story that you might otherwise have been able to wring great lessons and enjoyment from is now clouded by the “fact” that it is true. “Well,” you reply, “I guess you could do that with a broom, if you thought about gravity differently, and I mean, we haven’t seen dragons, but they could be real, and….” You might even take a class or two in Dragonetics, so as to be able to better defend your faith. Religion saps the creativity and majesty of the story, because it hijacks the processes by which you are supposed to be analyzing and sorting out truth in it and diverts those same energies into justifying what is clearly not justifiable in reality.
It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live, remember that. – Albus Dumbledore
Honestly, I love fiction to death. So perhaps Christians would do better to admit that a book with a sea parting, donkey talking, and a dead dude giving harrowing proclamations is probably full of a whole bunch of other shit that never really happened. More later in Part 2! Feel free to comment, like, share, and follow below! If you appreciated this blog, please consider becoming my Patron! Follow me on Twitter: @Ame0baRepublic