Harry Potter And The Problem Of Interfaith Marriages

Despite the hostility that many Christians (including a large number of my friends and acquaintances) have toward the portrayal of magic in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, there are some points of contact between Christian belief and the portrayal of the world of wizardry. Rather than talk about magic as it is portrayed, I would like to take a look at how J.K. Rowling subtly makes her relationships follow according to a well known biblical scripture that condemns interfaith marriages.

We find this scripture in 2 Corinthians 6:14-15, which reads: “Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness? And what accord has Christ with Belial? Or what part has a believer with an unbeliever.” Now, it is very true that these scriptures speak to relationships other than marriage–they speak about the problems of business partnerships and alliances of any kind between godly people and organizations and the ungodly, because there can be no true coming to terms or alliance or fellowship or communion between those with different worldviews. That said, the type of alliances that are the most common are marriages, so that is the context in which we speak today.

There are three examples of “mixed” marriages within the world of Harry Potter. Each of these marriages is treated in a different way by the author (by virtue of the success or failure of the marriage) as well as by the characters within the novels as a determination of whether they are bigoted or not within the moral worldview of J.K. Rowling. Let us examine the portrayals of each of these three types of relationships and seek to understand some of the larger moral points that Rowling attempts to make with them concerning our world.

The first type of mixed marriage, a type of relationship that often attracts harsh comment by those who are considered bigoted within our world, is that of the “mixed-race” marriage. In our world, heads will turn, and tongues will wag in certain parts if a white and a black person walk hand in hand. Due to the small distance between the various races (however many one claims are in existence), minor differences in racial or ethnic background can make a major difference in the mindset of people in order to preserve distinctions and rank.

In the Harry Potter universe this is not the case at all. Even the most bigoted characters (like Draco Malfoy) make no hostile judgments about the racial characteristics of other wizards. To give a few examples (there are many), Fred and Angelina (who is a black young woman) go out to the Yule Ball and no one thinks to comment on their race or think it anything unexpected [1]. Likewise, when Harry Potter and Ron go out with Parvati and Padma Patil, Dean Thomas (more on him later) remarks that they are the prettiest girls in the class, showing no racism on account of their being of South Indian descent [2]. Likewise, when Ron and Harry (for different reasons) have problems with Ginny Weasley dating Dean Thomas, no one things to complain about the fact that Dean Thomas was black and Ginny was white [3].

What this would suggest is that within the Harry Potter universe, as J.K. Rowling has designed it, the distance between Muggles and wizards (in the mind of wizards at least) is so great that it obliterates the distance between different ethnicities. Likewise, the shared magic culture would be greater than the similarities between English Muggles and English wizards, or Indian Muggles and Indian witches, making the world of wizardry a coherent culture. Not only the distance between Muggles and wizards, but the difference between humans as a whole and other magical creatures and beings (centaurs, trolls, giants, elves, and goblins) would also serve to make the difference between slightly different variety of wizard completely unimportant as a matter of scale.

It is instead the second kind of marriage that serves to mark the space between bigots and more enlightened wizards within the Harry Potter universe. For example, if characters use the language of half-blood or mud-blood, they are almost certainly bigoted. For example, Draco Malfoy calls Hermonie a “Mudblood,” [4], as does Phineas Nigellus [5]. Phineas also calls Mundungus Fletcher a “mangy half-blood” [6] and the portrait of Sirius’ mother calls the people at 12 Grummand Place “Filth! Scum! By-products of dirt and vileness! Half-breeds, mutants, freaks…” [7]. Snape himself, in his worst memory, called his true love Lily Evans a “Mudblood” as well at the time when he was most heavily influenced by the Death Eaters he was around [8].

It is not coincidental that all of these people are bigots. The good characters, in the eyes of the narrator (presumably reflecting Rowling’s own belief system) are those characters like Harry, Ron (and the Weasleys as a whole), Hermoine, Dumbledore, Hagrid, Sirius, James, and Lily who show no hostility based on “blood status” and who are often driven to loudly proclaim either their hostility to such disrespect or to break the taboos. It is in the portrayal of “mixed-blood” relationships that J.K. Rowling portrays racist attitudes similar to those of our own world, since it relates to the weak point of wizarding prejudice, the relationship of magical ability to blood ancestry, in a way that “race” and ethnicity do not in that world.

There is a third type of marriage, though, and this is both rare and inevitably tragic within the worldview of J.K. Rowling. This is the misalliance between wizards and Muggles. Here we see an attitude like that expressed by Paul in 2 Corinthians. Such marriages are considered especially problematic, so much so that not a single one of them is shown as remotely successful. In two of the marriages, that of Seamus’ father and mother [9], as well as Voldemort’s mother and father [10], the husband leaves upon finding out that his wife was a witch. In the other marriage, that of Snape’s father and mother, the husband turns abusive toward both his magical wife and son [11].

In this we see shades of the struggles faced by Timothy, whose mother was Jewish and whose father was a Gentile who apparently left his family (see Acts 16:1-5). And it is here we see the problem of interfaith marriages. As Rowling portrays it, there can be no equal partnership between muggle and witch (or wizard, but usually witch). Those people (usually women) who marry outside their culture of magic users, even if they are able to use love potions to snag an unwary man, find grief because the differences between the Muggle world and magic-using world are so wide.

This is something we need to consider as one of faith. As Rowling portrays it, the world of wizards has its own government, its own prison and legal system, it’s own education system where children are taken away from their parents from the age of 11 to engage in a lengthy period of apprenticeship as magic users to then be trained for jobs and lives that are entirely secret and separate from the ordinary world of you and I. When someone has been brought up in that world and has a loyalty to an entirely different world and legal and moral system, it is impossible for them to relate to the physical world of you and I with the same level of loyalty or interest.

And that is precisely the situation between a believer and a nonbeliever. The differences between ethnicity and race, serious as they may appear to us, are nothing in the eyes of God (and of genuine believers) compared to the gulf between believer and non-believers. After all, all believers, regardless of their background, are supposed to share a commitment to the government of God, citizenship in the New Jerusalem, and obedience to God’s laws (including the civil and economic laws). Compared with these similarities, the differences in human ancestry are as nothing, especially since God counts all believers as part of the Israel of God. However, these similarities between all believers show a wide gulf between believers and non-believers, and this makes interfaith marriages, where one or both spouses is genuinely serious about their faith, a very stressful and difficult matter. If one is a genuine believer, one does not want that kind of difficulty, where both spouses serve different masters (God and Satan), and where their children also face divided loyalties within the family as husband and wife fight over the spiritual destiny of their offspring.

And so, Rowling’s portrayal of three different types of mixed marriages, as surprising as it may seem, is able to give us insight into our own world and in the marriages we see around us. Compared to the wide gulf between the tyranny of slavery to sin and the liberty of obedience to God’s ways, the differences between our tribes and nations shrinks to insignificance. It is a tragedy that we often are cavalier about the deeply serious matter of interfaith marriage while we are sometimes ferocious in claiming a ridiculous (and almost certainly false) purity of blood, as if that made any difference. We could all stand to learn a bit about priorities concerning marriage alliances from the world of Harry Potter.

[1] J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter And The Goblet Of Fire, (London: Bloomsbury Publishing, 2000), 343.

[2] J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter And The Goblet Of Fire, (London: Bloomsbury Publishing, 2000), 358.

[3] J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter And The Half-Blood Prince, (New York: Arthur A. Levine Books, 2005), 286-290.

[4] J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter And The Chamber Of Secrets, (New York: Arthur A. Levine Books, 1998), 112.

[5] J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows, (London: Bloomsbury Publishing, 2007), 553.

[6] J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter And The Half-Blood Prince, (New York: Arthur A. Levine Books, 2005), 260.

[7] J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter And The Order Of The Phoenix, (London: Bloomsbury Publishing, 2003), 74.

[8] J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows, (London: Bloomsbury Publishing, 2007), 542.

[9] J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter And The Sorcerer’s Stone, (New York: Arthur A. Levine Books, 1997), 125.

[10] J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter And The Half-Blood Prince, (New York: Arthur A. Levine Books, 2005), 213-214.

[11] J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter And The Order Of The Phoenix, (London: Bloomsbury Publishing, 2003), 521.

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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13 Responses to Harry Potter And The Problem Of Interfaith Marriages

  1. Ellen says:

    I understand what you are saying, and there is truth in the problems that result when two people in a marriage do not share the same world view. That said, I remain grim about the Harry Potter craze.
    Sometimes understanding how the “enemy camp” operates alerts us to how we have allowed wrong modes of operation in our own – individually and in a family or congregation of any size (spiritual or not). Sometimes those outside the faith act more Christian than those in a Bible-believing type church.

    The First Couple was warned not to eat of the tree of double-mindedness, and later James reminded us that a double-minded man is unstable in all his ways. Daily we have choices. A reaction to a situation is may be empowered by godly or ungodly meme or habit, more than by the attentive will of the person reacting. I don’t know if it’s on an organic, soulish, emotional, or spiritual level – maybe all, but I’m pretty sure the enemy uses his minions to build wrong / sinful meme castles on our souls. The Saviour came to deliver us of these things, but too often we just can’t seem to let go, especially of the less obvious but dark sins like unforgiveness (of self and others), resentment, self-pity, bitterness, and pride, sins less noticed than murder, immorality, stealing, and lying.

    There are people who do not even believe in God who have greater success at forgiving others than many professing Christians who cling to self-righteousness and self-pity. Any Christian who thinks he did YHWH a favor by letting Him pull him to safety, just doesn’t get the pic. Anytime we think we’ve done Him a favor by giving up sin or by observing His Loving Instructions, we are totally missing the pic! The blessing is that he has empowered us to forgive and obey. The law is there and even works for those who do not know Him. It’s not the promise of going to the Catholic heaven that motivated me to seek God, but I needed Him, His Acceptance, and His peace now, rather in the by-and-by. Making up my own “vision” or creating a god in my own image would not do, though it seems at least momentarily to work for some people. It seems to be Satan’s course to destroy all roads to intimacy – between us and the Father, between husbands and wives, between children and parents, between brothers and sisters, between Believers and other Believers, and between all places where YHWH came to restore intimacy.

    As far as portraying through drama the battle of good vs. evil, it is tough to convey the struggle without dark contrasting the light or without bad guys to contrast the good. There has to be a bad guy / protagonist of some sort whether human, animal, nature, or demonic. The thing that bothers me is when evil is portrayed as neutral or okay… it muddles the truth. Imagine a serial TV show about the wise and happy home life of Hitler, Stalin, or Pol Pot.

    It’s easier to think well of a warlock playing with “harmless” enchantments rather than with a genocidal murderer, maybe because we don’t really believe enchantments and sorcery are bad, because we think the Bible doesn’t quite mean what it says in some passages concerning enchantments, divination, familiar spirits, and wizards..

    2 Kings 17:17, for example, “And they caused their sons and their daughters to pass through the fire, and used divination and enchantments, and sold themselves to do evil in the sight of YHWH, to provoke him to anger… 21:6 And he made his son pass through the fire, and observed times, and used enchantments, and dealt with familiar spirits and wizards: he wrought much wickedness in the sight of YHWH, to provoke him to anger. 2 Chronicles 33:6 And he caused his children to pass through the fire in the valley of the son of Hinnom: also he observed times, and used enchantments, and used witchcraft, and dealt with a familiar spirit, and with wizards: he wrought much evil in the sight of YHWH, to provoke him to anger. — Isaiah 47:9 But these two things shall come to thee in a moment in one day, the loss of children, and widowhood: they shall come upon thee in their perfection for the multitude of thy sorceries, and for the great abundance of thine enchantments… 12 Stand now with thine enchantments, and with the multitude of thy sorceries, wherein thou hast laboured from thy youth; if so be thou shalt be able to profit, if so be thou mayest prevail.

    The Bible shows us that Yehshua extends compassion to those who are sorry for their sin. We are told to gird up the loins of our minds and be one-minded, both individually and among ourselves. I hope and pray I will never forget that I was rescued and did God no favor in allowing that! I’ve been a Christian for quite a while, but I’m still slow on the learning curve. And I do not want to in any way be muddled about good and evil, as is inclined to happen in stories where those specifically practicing what God said not to practice, are portrayed as our teachers.

    Romans 15:6 … with one mind and one mouth glorify God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. — 2Corinthians 13:11 … be of one mind, live in peace; and the God of love and peace shall be with you. — Philippians 1:27 … let your conversation be as it becometh the gospel of Christ … stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel … 2:2 … be likeminded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind. — 1 Peter 3:8 … be ye all of one mind, having compassion one of another, love as brethren, be pitiful, be courteous.

    • Well, this post is a good and accurate reason of why I began the way I did :D. Drawing connections between the Bible and the culture of the time does not imply a full endorsement of that cultural mindset. God does not wish us to remain where we are, but we must be reached where we are.

  2. Ellen says:

    Why is it I see all my typos AFTER posting?!!!!

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