Teach children to know what is good
I HAVE mulled over the contents of the article “Will Harry Potter bewitch young minds?”, and am very disturbed by what Dr Chia has written.
I am not well-read enough to rebut many of his points, but, as a Christian, I cannot agree or condone the statement that “Rowling’s moral universe is more nuanced than is usually noted”. Why should Christians allow the young children be exposed to the practices which the Lord has explicitly forbidden? (A school for witches?)
Deut 18:10 says: “Let no one be found among you who sacrifices his son or daughter in the fire, who practises divination or sorcery, interprets omen, engages in witchcraft, or casts spells, or who is a medium or spiritist or who consults the dead.”
Gal 5:19, 20 says: “The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; etc.
We need to teach our children from young to know what is good. These tales in print and on screen are targeted at youngsters. Can we be sure that they know how to evaluate? Let us expose children to good things instead so that they are well grounded in truth first.
Phil 4:8 reads: “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable — if anything is admirable or praiseworthy — think about such things.”
I hope and pray that the next issue of MM will carry a disclaimer that Harry Potter is all right for kids.
NG PIAK HAH
ROLAND CHIA REPLIES: Thank you very much for your response to my article on Harry Potter. I fully agree with you that the Bible categorically condemns witchcraft and the occult, and that Christians should have no truck with such practises.
But the Harry Potter books are essentially not about witchcraft! I think that Christians must engage with literature responsibly. We must first ask the question, “What is this book about?” If we do not do this, we show ourselves to be very poor readers and listeners of culture. In my essay, I have argued that the Harry Potter books actually are much less about witchcraft and witches than a cursory reading might indicate. In fact the Harry Potter books are really not “about” witchcraft at all – they are really about certain characters placed in a counter-factual world.
The genre in which the Harry Potter stories are told is a familiar one, for they appear in the writings of Christians like C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien. Lewis in “The Chronicles of Narnia” and Tolkien in “The Lord of the Rings” make liberal use of witchcraft, sorcery, mythology and fantasy to tell their tales. But neither the “Narnia” chronicles nor Tolkien’s trilogy is about witchcraft. To find out what these books are about, one needs to look beyond the genre, to the story and the characters portrayed.
Therefore, although Tolkien’s books are full of magic, monsters, demons and mythology, his purpose is not to promote witchcraft or to “educate” readers about demons and such. His purpose is rather to present his critique of the culture of his own day. Put differently, Middle Earth is a counter-factual realm which provides powerful allegorical links with the real world. “The Lord of the Rings” addresses the problems that we face in our world through the political, economic, social and cultural allegories that it fabricates. To be sure, Rowling does not have the theological astuteness of Lewis or Tolkien, and she is not a Christian writer. But her use of this genre does not make her a witch, or a sinister promoter of the craft.
Of course a superficial, literalistic reading of the Harry Potter books can – and has – led some people to conclude that they are about witchcraft. But the same conclusions can be reached with a naïve reading of Lewis and Tolkien (and numerous others, like Philip Pullman). The problem here is not the books, but our failure to grasp what they are about. The solution therefore surely cannot be a categorical and sweeping condemnation of all the authors in this genre and their works. Rather the solution must be to cultivate a keener, more sophisticated and responsible appreciation of literary genre.
PS: You may have misapplied a statement of mine. When I wrote that Rowling’s moral universe is more nuanced, I was not referring to witchcraft at all, as your letter suggests. I was referring to Potter’s relationship with authority figures, as the context in which the statement you quoted was made will clearly show.
Needed: Guidelines for discernment
I REFER to the article “Will Harry Porter bewitch young minds?” I appreciate the comment by Dr Roland Chia that inculcating discernment is better than censorship.
He also wrote that the difference between good and evil in Rowling’s topsy-turvy moral universe is confusing for children.
I understand that the articles in Methodist Message are usually short. However, what I found lacking is guidelines for discernment. Not every person (not even an adult) knows how to discern when the difference between good and evil is not clear.
Would it be possible for Dr Chia to write another article on what aspects of the Harry Porter book/show are positive and what are negative with biblical references? That would be a great help to many.
DR LING CHERN CHERN
ROLAND CHIA REPLIES: Thank you very much for your response to my article on Harry Potter. You are right to say that with the very limited space allotted for the article, it is quite impossible to address every issue related to Rowling’s books and provide comprehensive guidelines. The purpose of my article is simply to assure readers that the Harry Potter books are not harmful to children, when read with guidance. I want to also stress that the Harry Potter books are not essentially about witchcraft.
You have misunderstood me. I did not argue in my essay that Rowling’s moral universe is confusing for children. If you care to read that sentence carefully, I was making the point that some commentators have compared Rowling with Lewis and Tolkien and concluded thus.
I am of the opinion that Rowling’s moral universe is more nuanced, as the next paragraph makes clear. I am therefore arguing that Rowling presents a realistic picture of the complex nature of moral struggle, in a world where authority figures are not necessarily always upright and honourable. Thus the charge made by some critics of anti-authoritarianism in the Harry Potter books is to my mind untenable, because it fails to do justice to the subtle ways in which good and evil are presented.
The best way for adults to guide their children is to read the stories with them and to stop at various points to ask what their children think about the portion that has been read, what they thought of the characters in the books, and so on. In this way, adults can inculcate in their children proper Christian values without causing them to bury their heads in the sand or depriving them of the wonderful world of literature.