Harry Potter issue among Christians fueled anew by movie's theater blitz

LOS ANGELES (BP)--Among Christians, it seems, Harry Potter has become one of the most controversial pre-teens in history. Since his entrance into pop culture in the late 1990s, Christians have often debated Harry's spiritual ramifications.

With the new "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" movie now in theaters, the dialogue has gained new steam.

Some examples:

-- Charles Colson, on his daily radio commentary Breakpoint recently, said he wouldn't recommend children watching the new Harry Potter movie. Knowing that many children will see it anyway, he urged parents to teach children to be discerning.

He said he doesn't believe the Harry Potter books and movie show witchcraft in the same way as C.S. Lewis' "Chronicles of Narnia." In C.S. Lewis' classics, Colson said, the story takes place in a clearly allegorical world where archetypes of God the Father and Jesus still show final authority, while the Harry Potter story has no reference to God.

On the Breakpoint website, Colson also gives a brief list of classic children's literature that parents can offer their children as Harry Potter alternatives.

Colson received attention in the evangelical community early in the Harry Potter phenomenon when he told his radio listeners in 1999 that the magic in Rowling's books was "purely mechanical, as opposed to occultic." In the same broadcast, he told listeners that the characters in the book show "courage, loyalty and a willingness to sacrifice for one another -- even at the risk of their own lives. Not bad lessons in a self-centered world."

Also in that broadcast, Colson did encourage listeners to contrast the "mechanical witchcraft" show in the Potter books with the witchcraft condemned by the Bible.

-- Ted Baehr and Tom Snyder, Christian movie reviewers who produce an entertainment publication called Movieguide, rated Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone as "abhorrent," the lowest possible moral acceptability rating on their movie review scale. Baehr and Snyder describe the movie as presenting a deep occult and pagan worldview. They also chastise the movie for showing a "works-based theology" where those who are more successful at doing magic are considered the best children. Another of Baehr and Snyder's complaints is the ethical system the movie represents in which gossip and disobedience are honored. At the end of their review, they give parents 17 questions to help them guide a discussion on the movie with their children.

"The bottom line," Baehr and Snyder suggest, "is that God abhors witchcraft no matter how sweet and subtle it is."

Besides their review, Baehr and Snyder also produced a parent's guide to the movie that both helps educate parents on the movie's dangers and helps them educate their children on the movie.

-- Gary Grant, owner of Britain's largest independent toy retailer, has refused to sell Potter merchandise, losing an estimated $750,000 according to a story posted on the Christianity Today website. "I have to uphold my Christian values in my private and public life," Grant told London's Daily Telegraph. "The Bible is quite clear: Avoid that which even appears evil. It doesn't say avoid only that which is evil."

Later in the Daily Telegraph article, Grant said he wasn't against the Harry Potter books, but didn't like "the concentration of sorcery in the merchandise." Grant also has stopped selling other items he feared would spread the occult since becoming a Christian 10 years ago.

In January 2000, Christianity Today wrote an editorial titled, "What We Like About Harry Potter," praising the book series. In the editorial, the magazine stated that Harry Potter books "have almost no resemblance to the I-am-God mumbo jumbo of Wiccan circles. Author J.K. Rowling has created a world with real good and evil and Harry is definitely on the side of light fighting the 'dark powers,'" the magazine said. The Christianity Today article also described the books as a "Book of Virtues with a preadolescent funny bone."

-- Focus on the Family's entertainment guide, Plugged In, cautions parents against allowing their children to watch the movie. The movie doesn't revolve around a consistent Christian worldview, Plugged In states, and the movie's witchcraft theme may subtlety raise curiosity among children about witchcraft.

-- Christian author Connie Neal doesn't try to persuade Harry Potter critics to change their mind, but she does present a Christian assessment of Harry Potter. She also shares in her book, "What's a Christian to do with Harry Potter?" how Christians can use the book to teach their children positive moral lessons, and how they can use the book to share their faith.

On her website, www.connieneal.com, she offers an evangelistic bookmark called, "So you like Harry Potter?" She also offers a Christian parent's movie guide to help parents guide a discussion on the movie with their children.

Neal's book has been featured on the Focus on the Family website.

-- Truthorfiction.com has dismissed as a hoax a common Internet story that had been circulating through e-mail about the Harry Potter phenomenon. The e-mail says that satanic temples are filling up with children from the Harry Potter phenomenon. It quotes a 9-year-old girl who claims to have converted to witchcraft from Christianity because of the Harry Potter books.

Truthorfiction.com found the story in a humor/satire site called www.theonion.com. The Onion features humorous stories based on current events and issues.

Truthorfiction.com is a website dedicated to allowing Internet users to quickly find out the validity of an Internet hoax in circulation. Rich Buhler, the site's founder, is an ordained minister.

Another unfounded Internet rumor, Scripps Howard religion columnist Terry Mattingly reported, is a widely circulated quote attributed to the author, J.K. Rowling, in a London Times interview, which actually originated as a satire by the Internet pranksters at TheOnion.com.

"I think it's absolute rubbish to protest children's books on the grounds that they are luring children to Satan," the bogus quote states. "People should be praising them for that! These books guide children to an understanding that the weak, idiotic Son Of God is a living hoax who will be humiliated when the rain of fire comes ... while we, his faithful servants, laugh and cavort in victory."


Art Toalston contributed to this article.

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