Some don't find 'Potter' bewitching
Certain religious leaders think the sorcery in J.K. Rowling's
tale is in conflict with the Bible.
By Kristin E. Holmes
INQUIRER STAFF WRITER
In a debate over the influence of a fictional boy warlock,
Bible-school professors Tom Allen and Patricia Rahn come down on
different sides of the broomstick.
Harry Potter and his classmates at the Hogwarts School of
Witchcraft and Wizardry make sorcery appear attractive and
enticing - when the Bible clearly says it's evil, says Allen, an
assistant professor at Philadelphia Biblical University in
For pro-Potter colleague Rahn, author J.K. Rowling's
best-selling books and the hit movie Harry Potter and the
Sorcerer's Stone are fantasies that teach valuable lessons.
"The main characters show love, courage, loyalty and
sacrifice," said Rahn, who teaches children's literature at
the Bible college. "The only thing I would recommend is
that parents read the books with their children."
Earlier this year, Allen and Rahn sat on a panel discussing
the phenomenon that has spawned four best-sellers and a movie
that is setting box-office records.
Though Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone has
delighted millions of children, some conservative Christian
leaders aren't sold on it. They insist that the mysticism of
Harry's world, in which magical people predict the future,
change shapes and communicate with ghosts, sends an
"There's a real religious concern," says Jana Riess
of Publishers Weekly, who moderated a Potter debate at a July
convention of Christian retailers. "Evangelical Christians
believe that witchcraft is real."
"Although the story is fictional, Harry Potter has
real-world occult parallels," said Richard Abanes, author
of Harry Potter and the Bible: The Menace Behind the Magick.
"The books present astrology, numerology mediumship,
crystal-gazing," he said. "Kids are enthralled with
it. And kids like to copy."
"I'm so tired of people saying he's evil," says
Connie Neal, a Christian author who has investigated the Potter
claims. "They're choosing to interpret the books in a very
selective way." Neal - a mother of three and author of What's
a Christian to Do With Harry Potter? - characterized herself
as a "discreet fan."
Scottish author Rowling calls the accusations about her work
"absurd," saying Harry Potter's world is entirely
"I have met thousands of children now, and not even one
time has a child come up to me and said, 'Ms. Rowling, I'm so
glad I've read these books because now I want to be a witch,'
" the author has said.
Though the religious critics are clamoring, it's not clear
how many families are heeding them.
Catholic News Service movie reviewer Anne Navarro wrote that
the movie is "innocuous fantasy" and no threat to
Christians should remember that Harry Potter is make-believe,
said William T. Devlin of the Urban Family Council, an
evangelical Christian group.
Instead of debating a fantasy, Devlin urges Christians to use
their energy to confront evil in the real world.
"Stop drawing your sword against novelized, imagined and
fantasized evil," Devlin said. "Share the love of
Jesus Christ at an occult bookstore or meet with a Wiccan.
They're in the phone book."
But fantasy still has the power to change beliefs and values,
said the Rev. J.R. Damiani, senior pastor of the Family Worship
Center in Lansdale.
"A lot of this stuff smacks of Satanism," he said.
"Even though it appears kind of innocent, there is evil at
the root of it."
The Rev. Charles Dear of Crescentville Baptist Church in
Northeast Philadelphia preached a sermon about Potter several
months ago hoping to "inoculate" his congregation
before the movie opened. The pastor says Pottermania is not
"It deals with things of the unseen world that can be
played with and that puts both adults and children at
risk," Mr. Dear said. "The Bible says that Satan is
alive. He is a real being, and both he and his agents that are
demons use people to advance his cause, and these things we are
not to fool with."
Some have called for the books to be banned from public
school libraries and have staged book burnings. The Potter books
top the banned book listing for 2000, compiled by the American
But others in the religious world say that if Potter is to be
condemned, so must the works of other authors who create
fantasies in which otherworldly things occur.
"For me to discount Harry Potter, you have to discount
J.R.R. Tolkein and C.S. Lewis because of the worlds they
create," said John Oliff, an instructor at Philadelphia
Biblical University, citing the authors of The Lord of the
Rings trilogy and Chronicles of Narnia. "And I
don't discount either of them."
The Rev. Rich Craven, a senior pastor at Church of the
Saviour in Wayne, says the novel must be judged by the manner in
which the evil is portrayed in the book. Are evil powers used
for selfish gain, he asks.
"You can't just look at the book and say it has a wizard
and therefore discount it right away to think the book will
somehow serve evil ends or purposes," Mr. Craven said.
For Rabbi Linda Potemken, Harry Potter is a force for good.
Earlier this year, Rabbi Potemken of Beth Israel Congregation
in Media led a discussion called "the Torah of Harry
Potter." She discussed the ethical wisdom in the books and
playfully paralleled them to Torah lessons.
"These books clearly delivered moral lessons that would
be attractive to people of many different faith
communities," the rabbi said. "They speak of the power
of love, right and wrong, and the power of our choices to
determine who we are. They exalt human virtue."
Kristin E. Holmes' e-mail address is
The Associated Press contributed to this report.