November 17, 2001
Remember when kids’ stories were just stories? Remember when they weren’t causes celebre for everyone who wanted to make a point? Remember when book burning was something done by Nazis and their ilk, instead of so-called Christians in America? Remember the Brothers Grimm? How about Mother Goose?
I’ve been keeping vague track of the religious right’s objection to the Harry Potter books ever since I was hooked on the first one myself. I can’t help but wonder what they’d have done to display their piety to the world if Ms. Rowling had chosen to write about cross-stitch or something. I mean, give me a break!
The religious fundamentalists get all worried about witches. Somewhere, buried in the Old Testament, someone allegedly commented that “Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.” Quite apart from the fact that it’s been shown that a more accurate translation from the Hebrew doesn’t even MENTION witches, what does that have to do with reality anyway?
Scholars of any repute at all agree that the tragedies associated with the Inquisition and so-called witches of the Middle Ages were actually about economics and the rights of women to hold property, exacerbated by ergot poisoning, not about pacts with the Devil. People with good sense don’t believe in witches and wizards at all, in the supernatural sense.
The Old Testament — what a great place to find direction! Check out some of those books, and we find that the way to keep God happy is to kill all your neighbors and rape their women. In fact, He commanded it, according to the scriptures. Now THAT little bit of wisdom has justified a few evil plots over the centuries, and is likely to do so for some time to come.
My guess is that Harry Potter is pretty unlikely to be used as an excuse for anything except (a.) entertainment, and (b.) religious posturing by folks who think they have the right to mind other people’s business.
There is no question about the presence of Evil in the world. Whether we attribute it to as-yet-untamed aspects of the human spirit or to some faceless focus of all that’s unholy, most of us agree that it exists — and most of us pretty-much know it when we see it or hear about it. Witch-burnings, for example. Thumb screws. Iron maidens. Crusades. Destruction of entire civilizations in the name of saving the poor folks’ souls. Economics as religion. Justification of spousal abuse through the scriptures. Now THERE’s some Evil for you. Harry Potter… ?
If anyone has gotten the idea that I’m anti-religious, they need to learn to read — to read, perchance to THINK. (Aye, there’s the rub!) A well-known religious figure is reputed to have said, “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.” My religious convictions involve trying to perfect my own spirit to the extent possible, and leaving others alone to learn life’s lessons and work on their own spiritual growth. My OPINION is that people who find this too difficult spend their time pointing out what they imagine to be other folks’ spiritual inferiority in the hope that it will make them look good. I may be wrong about this, but a half-century of people-watching hasn’t convinced me otherwise.
The Harry Potter books are about the triumph of Good over Evil. A kid (who has been mistreated for most of his life) finds he has the ability to be both successful and a boon to his fellow-wizards. The little guy and his friends triumph over the big, Evil guy, and all is well in the end. The Earth is saved for all, Muggles included. In the process, kids get to enjoy a literate, well-thought-out lesson in basic morality, fantasize a bit about the things that all kids fantasize about anyway, and buy a tee-shirt or two — maybe even a library card.
Kids who have library cards don’t often grow up to be book burners. For that gift alone, we owe Ms. Rowling our thanks.
“I think you are a very bad man,” said Dorothy.
“Oh no, my dear; I’m really a very good man,
but I’m a very bad Wizard.”
– Frank L. Baum, “The Wizard of Oz”