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Harry Potter and the satanic panic

By Kerrick Chavarria, November 2 2023—

“Before the eyes of God, this conversation is over” my dad yelled, as he stormed away from yet another theological discourse we engaged in. 

The context? Whether or not Halloween should be celebrated. I remember being flustered a few years ago because no one was listening. Not one person could ever consider my argument or even think about the fact that they could be wrong. That’s what staunch fundamentalism does to someone. It disregards logic and critical thinking because a misquoted citation of Colossians 2:8 in the King James Version is a sufficient proof text: “Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit…”

Halloween is right around the corner and a topic that is often correlated is whether or not fantasy books should be read. As a Christian, this topic is not something to be taken lightly. You don’t dabble in elements that are strictly prohibited, especially for something imaginative, mystical, and elemental. However, you do have to ask whether or not said texts really do violate your ethics as a believer.

One of the earliest memories I have is watching a video in the family room warning against witchcraft and wizardry being promoted in literature. Many share similar stories of old training videos and manuals by cults and fundamentalist organizations such as the Institute of Basic Life Principles (IBLP) spearheaded by Bill Gothard — that warned of demonic activity roaming eerily when you read the notorious Harry Potter series published by J.K. Rowling. It was a scandal because it burned like gossip. In an attempt to do something good for their kids, it became detrimental. For many, it forced friendships to end, gossip to foster in the lips of everyone and superiority to course through the family’s veins because they “were not of the world”. The Christian’s posture is never that of pride, yet this was ultimately the outcome. 

The other effect was the fear that ran through our veins. Those spells and unknown forces were after us and with all our might, we needed to pray against them. That even being around other people will bring a demonic influence and that we need to stay away. The Latin that was written in those texts really did work and you don’t ever want to recite such words because then you grow to believe those things. That’s how the Devil gets you.

However, you can make any text say what you want if you take it out of context (that’s called proof-texting and I would hope all readers would be cautious of this when making an argument).

I will grant that we Christians are cautious because of our ethics and rightly so. However, fear tactics and illogical conclusions force many people who have a strained relationship with religion to view their cultish upbringing as the true and total essence of Christianity. I can’t blame those people because they have been hurt for too long and in such egregious ways. For that, the church must extend grace and compassion to many hurt souls.

I grew up with that fearful mindset and was made to reject numerous forms of media: anything related to Greek mythology, wizards, magical powers — you name it. 

It wasn’t until the COVID-19 pandemic fully rolled out in 2020 that I really contemplated taking up reading as a hobby. I desperately pondered what text I might indulge myself in until I remembered that a high school friend of mine was a huge fan of the Rowling franchise. 

To my surprise, Rowling’s first book in the series brought me so much joy I wish I could’ve experienced growing up with literature. Stepping into Hogwarts, a world that is completely foreign to your usual self, was what I needed to stimulate my mind. 

No longer did I find myself worrying about demons. Instead, I found myself contemplating childhood neglect. Instead of being scared of Satan disguising himself as “an angel of light”, I found myself contemplating on how people express ethics and how believers can do better to investigate and articulate things simply.

As for those spells that were called evil, they were really just Latin phrases like nox (night) and expelliarmus (draw away) that had no effect on a soul.

What I find interesting now, growing into the world of my faith, is recognizing that many will grant the usage of magic to C.S. Lewis or J.R.R. Tolkien simply because they are champions of the faith. Is it possible that many of us have adopted a wrong view of literature? Have we overlooked the need to read other authors and explore their framework of the good, noble, and just? If Christians profess that God has created people with an intelligent mind, can we not grant fantasy as a way of enhancing an understanding of the world? Can we not argue that it can be both a mechanism to humour the soul and cause it to ponder on life’s mysteries?

If anything, J.K Rowling’s The Sorcerer’s Stone was the book that pushed me to read my Bible more and to grow in my faith. Had it not been for Rowling, and God’s providence of course, I don’t think I would be where I am today. Where am I now? I’m a Reformed Baptist who loves philosophy and critical thinking. I also have a greater appreciation for how fantasy can be used to explore philosophical discourse subconsciously.

I want to fully encourage believers, and really anyone of any faith system, to ask difficult questions. If you can’t ask at home, there are people on campus who really would love to sit and talk with you and get to know you. I highly recommend the Faith and Spirituality Centre as a primary resource for you to have difficult discussions. 

If it were up to me, I would walk with every person struggling with this and tell you that you are seen and heard. Your concerns, quarrels and moments of weakness are welcome and held safe and are valued. It’s easy to lose hope and quite scary to look for help. However, there are many people such as myself who would love to talk, grow and help you remember your worth and show you how much you matter.

This article is a part of our Voices section and does not necessarily reflect the views of the Gauntlet editorial board.

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