Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Harry Potter and Spirituality

I just finished reading the 7th Harry Potter book. I know I'm a little late on the scene, but what an amazing piece of literature. Good writing makes you feel like you're there, and the Harry Potter series definitely succeeds at that. I started reading because I was watching too much tv, and I wanted something more productive for relaxation. I actually feel really good after reading the series, kind of encouraged in my spiritual walk. Maybe that sounds strange, but I think just about anything can bring you closer to God if you approach it right.

I guess there's been a lot of religious debate over the series, since it uses words like "magic" and "witchcraft." However, if you've read the books you know that the kind of witchcraft presented is not near the kind the Bible is against. It's not about some kind of religion, but fantasy. In that way it's no different from Chronicles of Narnia or The Lord of the Rings, both authors being professed Christians. Rowling, the author of the Harry Potter series, also claims to be a practicing Christian, and some Christian themes come out especially in the last book.

I got several things out of the series. First, I love the picture of Dumbledore in the books. He is the representation of wisdom and good, who eventually dies on purpose in order to help extinguish evil (sound familiar?). Like the lion Aslan from the Chronicles of Narnia, the fictional character has two characteristics that paint, in some ways, a representation of God's nature. First he is strong and wise, his power demanding respect from everyone he encounters, even from the most vile characters in the book. But he is also a loving character, well-liked. He takes special interest in Harry, later on showing much trust in him and being open with his affections. God also carries these two qualities seamlessly: love and power. He demands respect by His power, creating worlds by mere words. But we also see Him hugging lepers, and letting people beat, mock, and belittle Him in order to save mankind. I love this about God, that He is supreme and approachable both.

I also love that in the book, the main characters are some of the most unlikely to do great things. Harry is an orphan who was treated badly by his aunt and uncle, and he doesn't show particular talent in most areas. He seems to be an unassuming teenager struggling with identity and relationships and other things that most people can relate to. But this concept (the unassuming becoming heroes and saving people) was not thought up by Rowling first. God has always worked that way. The Old Testament is full of such stories. I think immediately of Gideon, very young and from an obscure family. He goes on to lead Israel in victorious battles. I think of Amos, a seemingly random farmer and shepherd from the country, whom God uses to confront a nation. "But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things that are mighty." Most people love the idea of weak people doing great things, but I believe that's because God wrote it into us to love it, because that's how He works.

And finally, I love the idea of another world, an enchanting and magical world. This alone, I think, has made the world of Harry Potter so alluring and interesting to millions of readers. People love the idea of other worlds, whether it be the idea of aliens and other planets or from pure fiction. The Lord of the Rings and many other fantasy stories are enchanting, because they appeal to a part of our soul that God made to feel wonder and be curious about something beyond what we are experiencing. C.S. Lewis said, "If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world." And, of course, we were. This world is not meant to be the end. Mankind was made to be with God, to live on in eternity. God built in us that desire, which excites us even on a fictional level. If authors can think up such interesting and engaging worlds by their own imagination, imagine what the real world will be like thought up by the God who created imagination itself?