November 16, 2015

Bricks in the Wall: Reading Harry Potter

By now, I'm sure most progressive Christians and atheists who have internet access have seen Kevin Swanson talking about Harry Potter last week. If not, here's a snippet of his remarks:

America, repent of your rebellion against God! America, repent of stumbling the little ones! America, repent of Harry Potter! America, repent of How to Train Your Dragon!
America, repent that Dumbledore emerged as a homosexual mentor for Harry Potter, that Hiccup’s mentor in How to Train Your Dragon emerged as a homosexual himself in order that history might repeat itself one more time, in order that little six- and seven- and eight-year-olds might stumble, in order that tens of millions of parents, it would be better for them that a millstone be hanged around their neck[s] and they be drowned at the bottom of the sea than that there would be so many people stumbling so many children in public schools, in movie theaters, in homes, in which children are raised to be stumbled by the Dumbledores and by the mentors of Hiccup in How to Train Your Dragon. My friends, America needs to repent… of our culture!

You can take a look at the video at this Friendly Atheist link.

When I read the piece there, I couldn't resist commenting:

Because it's true! I grew up in one of those churches that argued that Harry Potter introduced kids to witchcraft. Kids I went to school and church with weren't allowed to read the books because their parents bought into that, hook, line and sinker.

What I had going for me--in this and in many respects--was my mother's background and career in early education and her obsession with encouraging literacy.

Indeed, it was my independent fundamentalist mother who brought home Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone from a Scholastic Book Fair. The horror!

There are several aspects of the series that I consider key to my own humanist leanings today. The first was that even seemingly minor characters often had deep and moving stories. Consider Neville. Who would have thought that the boy who lost his toad in the first book would turn out to have suffered the loss of his parents in such a horrifying way? Ron dealt with the struggle of coming from a large family without much money or prestige. Hermione dealt with thinly veiled racism within the wizarding culture. Luna dealt with losing her mom, also, and her father being...eccentric.

So often in novels, you have this main central line. You get to understand that character's struggle--and that's great for building empathy--but Harry Potter was like....empathy-building on steroids. There were all of these different characters who I came to know and love who were all struggling with something, and it dawned on me that maybe, just maybe, that was true in real life too. Maybe outside of my novels, that person that I was interacting with also had a story, one that I should respect even if I wasn't privy to it.

In Harry Potter, there's a clear delineation of good and evil but it has very little to do with belief. In my life to that point, there was two categories: Christian and not-Christian. In Harry Potter, there was this entire wealth of categories, but they were all unite behind a simple idea--respecting people's right to exist or not. For me, that was profound.

And lest I overlook it, having an intelligent female protagonist right in the forefront was great too. Hermione didn't dumb herself down. She was proud of who she was and what she'd worked hard to learn.

I learned that authority shouldn't always be trusted out of hand. After all, if the Ministry can overlook the return of He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named...?

So in some ways, I think Kevin Swanson is right. Not that kids would be better off being drowned than reading Harry Potter...but in understanding that Harry Potter is one of those series that can have a profound impact on young readers.

That's one of the things I love about it!

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