“Big deal. Who cares!” you might be saying. Then read no further. “Tsk Tsk.” I hear others of you say, “You just caved in to worldliness and compromised your Christian faith, and the developing faith of your children, due to peer pressure and the lure of secular pop culture”. Actually, not at all. Up until a few months ago, as with many other Christian families, we were a “No Harry Potter in this house” family. Years ago I had read one of those shrill, panicked Christian books that suggested Harry Potter was Satanism personified and that J.K. Rowling may well have been the anti-Christ.
And yet over the years, I had sensed that Harry Potter may have become, at least in a very minor and occasional sense, an over-blown and overly-mysterious spectre in the minds of my children, and maybe in my own mind as well. There was no escaping the Harry Potter juggernaut, either for my children or myself. “Potter Mania” surrounded us as it has the rest of contemporary culture. As it tends to in so many other situations, prohibition of such things just tends to add to the allure, mystique and attractiveness of whatever it is you are trying to ban. Over time, this can tend to make the perception of the contraband grow into something larger than life and allow it to take on more significance than it deserves.
So my decision to expose my older children to the Harry Potter series, in a controlled and supervised fashion, was a very calculated and deliberate attempt to demystify something that I sensed had taken on more significance than it warranted. It was also in line with my personal parenting philosophy as a Christian father that my job is to train up my children in the ways of the faith and to prepare them to become thoughtful young adults capable of engaging with the world in an informed, wise and well-adjusted manner.
In my humble opinion, the manner in which to most effectively raise Christian children is not to shelter them and insulate them from pop culture and worldly things, and so create “hot house flowers” that wither and die (or completely rebel) as soon as they are taken out of the protected green house environment of a carefully Christianized home life.
No, I believe the best way to raise Christian children, at least in my role as father, is to acknowledge pop culture, its secular ideas and worldly philosophies, and tackle them head on in a calm and considered fashion. In the process, we can then explore and discuss points of agreement and disagreement between contemporary secular culture and the teachings of Jesus. And by doing this in a deliberate and calculated fashion, I hope that my children will then develop the ability to critically evaluate both the values and philosophies they encounter in the world as teenagers and young adults, and also their own developing beliefs. The Christian faith is robust and transforming enough to stand up to such scrutiny.
At the risk of offending some, this is why I disagree with Christian home-schooling and the total Christianisation of everyday life, at least if it is undertaken in some misguided attempt to keep ourselves and our children pure and undefiled from outside worldly influences. If you ask me, insulating our children from outside influences, because we fear they are counter to our Christian principles and teachings, is misguided and represents a lost opportunity for our children to learn how Christians are called to live “in the world”, yet not be “of the world”.
Pro-culture when contemporary culture gets it right
Christians are called to be pro-culture when contemporary culture gets it right, yet to be prepared to be counter-cultural when we see our culture has lost its way. The best way to be an effective Christian voice in our culture is to properly understand the ways the world thinks and what the world values.
In order to understand this, Christians need to live in the world as part of the world, not separated and insulated from the world. Christian “hot house flowers” cannot be as effective in carrying out this role within contemporary culture on behalf of Christ. Nor can they develop a tried and tested Christian faith that is robust enough to withstand the inevitable challenges that the teenage and young adult years bring.
In the case of my decision to expose my children to Harry Potter, watching the final movie together gave us a fantastic opportunity to talk about what the Bible teaches about the battle between good and evil. I’m not sure how conscious it is by J.K. Rowling, but Voldemort is a rich and complex representation of Satan, his motivations and his characteristics. Harry Potter has significant (but obviously not perfect) parallels with the characteristics and actions of Christ, complete with his own Gethsemane seen (of sorts). Severus Snape is a poignant metaphor for those of us who despite good motivations, have made bad decisions in life and are in desperate need of redemption.
In an era when presenting the gospel to this age group with felt boards and Veggie Tales videos is likely to induce glazed expressions and dull yawns, the Harry Potter story, and its vibrant characters, presented me with an exciting and somewhat unexpected opportunity to breathe life into the gospel story for my children, in a language they identified with. I’m glad it wasn’t an opportunity lost due to any misguided and ill-informed decision to ban something out of fear of defiling my children.
Roger Morris is a health professional in Queensland. He has a blog called “Faith Interface” (www.faithinterface.com.au) which explores the interaction of Christianity with science, philosophy and culture.
Roger's archive of articles may be viewed at www.pressserviceinternational.org/roger-morris.html