On August 1, 2011

Open Theologies (or My Apologies to Harry Potter)

When I was a kid my mom read a book on Hollywood and the Occult. That might sound like an interesting read, but If I could change one thing about my childhood it would be to rid that book from the pages of history. The author, whoever they were, had painstakingly gone through every single possible allusion to anything remotely associated with paganism and had given in detail why it was Satanic.

Almost overnight, I went from having a relatively normal childhood, to being cut off to anything on television that wasn’t the Buttercream gang. The Smurfs were forbidden because the author had seen a pentagram somewhere hidden in the background. The cartoonist Jon Davis was rumored to have some kind of weird opinions on religion.

Suddenly, to watch Garfield was to be in league with the Prince of Darkness.

Mom eventually got past that stage. But it kind of affected the way I thought for a while. If something was questionable, it was better to be safe than sorry. After all, no one wants to open themselves up to dark spiritual powers (and to be honest, I’m kind of glad I don’t’ have hours of Smurfs bouncing around in my memory banks).

But, this has been the default Christian social position for quite a long time now. And it has most recently and profoundly been expressed by our 13 year long feud with J.K. Rowling and her story about a boy named Potter.

When the Harry Potter franchise first started to come out, I was cautious. It was after all how I had been raised. And I wasn’t the only one, people in the Jesus movement as high up as the Pope had condemned the series. It was polarizing and everyone had an opinion. But then I started to watch the movies. I didn’t see anything Satanic in there, the theater didn’t make me pledge my allegiance to the underworld upon leaving, and so I kept watching them.

I just didn’t tell anyone. Leslie and I kept our dirty little secret to ourselves. 

But then J.K. Rowling started to talk. This entire time she had been extremely quiet about what she believed. All that we knew is that she admitted these books had been deeply shaped by C.S. Lewis and Tolkien. But after the release of her final book, she started to say more. And it turns out that Rowling has a faith of her own. She has been deeply shaped by the Christian faith, and the reason according to her, that she didn’t speak out sooner is that she didn’t want to give away how the series would end.

If you haven’t read the books or seen the movies I’d stop now.

Because the story ends with Harry Potter reading the epitaph of his parents tombstone of 1 Corinthians 15:26, “Death is the last enemy to be destroyed.”  Here’s what Rowling says about this,”They’re very British books, so on a very practical note Harry was going to find biblical quotations on tombstones …[but] I think those two particular quotations he finds on the tombstones at Godric’s Hollow, they sum up – they almost epitomise the whole series.”

You might want to read that again.

J.K. Rowling, this person who has been badgered by Christian religious people for more than the last decade for writing a story that they demonic, was actually writing a story that was a parable about the Resurrection. She goes to church, she has faith in Jesus (that she wrestles with), and the reason she didn’t want to talk about her faith, is because she didn’t want people to know how the story was going to turn out.

In his book, Velvet Elvis, Rob Bell says,

“Often the person with spiritual convictions is seen as closed-minded. What is fascinate to me is that the center of the Christian faith is the assumption that this life isn’t all there is. That there is more to life than the material. That existence is not limited to what we can see, touch, measure, taste, hear and observe. One of the central assertions of the Christian worldview is that there is “more.” Those who oppose this insist that this is all there is, that only what we can measure and observe and see with our eyes is real. There is nothing else. Which perspective is more ‘closed-minded’? Which perspective is more ‘open’?”

I love this way of talking about what it means to have faith. There is more out there than we can perceive with our senses. It takes away the need we seem to have for certainty, or to try to fit everything in categories.

The truth is that most cultural engagement that happens in our Christian sub-cultures these days come from a perspective of fear or anxiety. And this actually isn’t new. Both “The Lord or the Rings” and “Chronicles of Narnia” were criticized and even condemned by some Jesus followers when they first came out. Today both series are widely heralded as parables about the Kingdom of God.

Now I get being cautious from time to time, but when our initial posture toward a story is defensive, I think it says way more about us than it does about the story. I heard people saying that they didn’t want their kids reading stories that had things like witches and warlocks in it, but if that is true than you just wrote off the entire Bible. 

Rowling’s books have outsold anything in printed history that wasn’t written by God. And it’s just getting bigger and bigger. Because people in their bones are hungry for a good story. In the words of Stephen King, “Harry Potter is all about confronting fears, finding inner strength, and doing what is right in the face of adversity. Twilight is about how important it is to have a boyfriend.”

In other words, there are plenty of stories out there that aren’t big enough for us to celebrate. There are plenty of stories that aren’t worth our time or life. Christians can and should stay away from those. But Harry Potter was never one of them, and it’s time to say we’re sorry.

So thanks Mrs. Rowling, thanks for carving out time in your very busy life as a single mom to carve out a story that would shape a billion people. Thanks for telling us about Harry and what is good and right in the world.

We wish we could have told you that sooner.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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  • Keith Brenton

    Amen from me.

  • http://www.facebook.com/chris.alan.crawford Chris Crawford

    Amen, Jonathan. I have loved the Potter series covertly on my Kindle for years, and perhaps when the crowds thin out in a few weeks I’ll don my trench coat, hat and sunglasses and sneak into the final movie.

  • Kssullie

    Very good.

  • Wade Hodges

    Great post. I’m all for a theology that allows the gospel to get bigger and bigger rather increasingly small.

  • http://douglasryoung.net Douglas Young

    Thanks for this Jonathan!

  • http://www.facebook.com/KFAN316 Kyle Fanning

    Was the buttercream gang about the one kid who moved to the city and then came back to the small town as a hoodlum?   
    Great post

  • http://stormented.com Jonathan Storment

    Haha! Yes it was! I watched that movie so many times. It was, after all, really one of just a few options for me. :)

  • http://stormented.com Jonathan Storment

    Thanks!

  • http://stormented.com Jonathan Storment

    Thanks Wade! Well said, it’s not everyday I get a comment from a Jesus Creed blogger. :)

  • http://stormented.com Jonathan Storment

    Thanks Ko!

  • http://stormented.com Jonathan Storment

    Haha, just go to the midnight showing. It’s really good!

  • http://stormented.com Jonathan Storment

    Thanks Bro. Keith!

  • Erin Renfro

    Jonathan you are a talented man of God and we miss you at The Hills. Maybe you’ll come back one day. I’ve never kept up much with Harry Potter because although interesting, it was a little too much after 3 movies. I think I’ll be checking Netflix for them now.  

  • http://www.facebook.com/KFAN316 Kyle Fanning

    Lol, yea I saw that one a few times too. Don’t think I’ll see the buttercream gang on Gangland anytime soon…

  • Matthew Sackett

    This is great, Jonathan! Thanks for sharing! I love the HP series!