Earlier this morning I received the following message from one of my blog’s loyal readers: “Perhaps it’s time to explain again why you read the good, bad and the ugly. For some that would not be a good idea, the impressionable, unknowledgeable, and the unstable. But you are not going to be swayed to the ways of this world, (I pray) but are actually explaining where these books have it right or wrong. I had heard someone criticize your reading because you read Harry Potter.” Perhaps unsurprisingly, no one has ever spoken to me personally in disapproval of my reading Harry Potter, although it is likely that this is because few people relish the thought of getting involved in some kind of debate with me. I have a well-earned reputation for being more than a little fierce and prickly in such circumstances and most people would rather criticize via third parties than engage in an open quarrel. Even so, despite the fact that I view such indirect criticism as ungodly and unrighteous, the question itself is a fair one. No one can deny that I read a lot of books, that they have a wide range of value, and that some of them would not be books I recommend to people who are unstable or not well grounded intellectually speaking.
I thought, therefore, that this would be a subject worth discussing at some length, seeing as it relates very well to questions of character and morality and my motives for reading. As the entire context of my reading is far too massive of a subject to examine at one time, let us confine ourselves here to a discussion of the Harry Potter series. Here is there is a great deal of evidence about my having read the books and plenty of material about the books including debates on whether Christians should read them  as well as comments on the movies and ancillary material  and even a few essays that I have written that presuppose a detailed familiarity with the series . Suffice it to say that there is a reasonably large body of writing that demonstrates my intimate familiarity with Harry Potter as a franchise, and in the circles of Christian culture where I reside that is something which requires defense. I could laugh it off and view those who were critical as being Dursleyish muggles, but that would be rather uncharitable, especially when there is at least a legitimate point in the concern.
Although I had heard about Harry Potter while young, I did not read nor see any of the series until I was in my mid-20’s. By the time I became familiar with either the books or the movies, the main part of the series was largely finished and most of the movies had even come out already. As a result, I came to the Harry Potter series not as a child fascinated by magic, but an adult of a somewhat more critical mind who looked at the series as an outsider and had a complex and nuanced role of the series and its morality. My own essays on the subject, it should be noted, have taken a critical attitude of several elements of the larger worldview, such as J.K. Rowling’s disturbing level of knowledge of and use of occult research in designing her literary universe as well as the troubling use of utilitarian morality in Dumbledore’s behavior, and even the way that Dumbledore is portrayed as being a closeted gay schoolmaster with an unwholesome interest in Harry Potter and other talented students throughout the course of his career. For those who wish to find unpleasant matters in the Harry Potter universe relating to various aspects of morality, there is much to be critical about. This is true even though I consider most of the magic of the Harry Potter world to be a commentary on our use of science and technology and our struggle for domination of the natural world in our own society and therefore at least a legitimate area of discussion. Others may not be as generous as I am on this count.
Ephesians 6:12-13 tells us: “ For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.” Dealing with the culture of our time is engaging in spiritual warfare, and each of us engages in that warfare based on the condition of our lives as well as based on our God-given talents and abilities. Some people engage in spiritual warfare through education of their children or through building strong marriages in families–such opportunities do not yet exist for me. Being an intellectual who is immensely fond of books and music and occasionally movies, I choose to engage in spiritual warfare by dealing with the intellectual and artistic culture I interact with, viewing it with a critical fashion and looking at the influence of fallen human nature on it, while also being aware of its influence on me as a thinker and writer. There are some aspects of culture that I abhor but because of my own awareness of my immense sensitivity to it–horror movies, for example–I avoid dealing with because it is too personally distressing. I may perhaps overstate my own lack of susceptibility to the demented and corrupt culture of our age, but I would hope at least that I am not unwary and uncautious and uncritical in my dealing with it.
I do not know to what extent this offers a sufficient defense of my interest in Harry Potter and other books that others may find to be somewhat troubling. To be sure, I read a great many books that I do not end up liking very much or that I read deliberately in order to critique their worldview and approach. Some may consider this an uncharitable and unprofitable use of time, to deliberately engage in what one knows one will not enjoy. This may be especially true of someone of such deep gloominess and melancholy as myself who could probably use as many encouraging and uplifting ways to spend time as possible given the heavy burdens that already exist on my heart and mind. I have rarely been very merciful to myself though in terms of the activities I have involved myself in, nor spared my feelings as often as I ought to given their sensitivity. For those who wish to express their concerns about my activities, I do not consider myself a particularly unapproachable person, for all of my prickliness. After all, someone willing to engage in culture about which I have a great deal of ambivalence and concern would hardly be less willing to engage with people whom I respect and love. Consider this, therefore, an open invitation to a conversation.
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