Michael O’Loughlin noted here last week that the devil will be making an appearance on television in the fall: "The Exorcist Files will recreate stories of real-life hauntings and demonic possession, based on cases investigated by the Catholic Church." Meanwhile in England Jonathan Tulloch updates us (sorry, Tablet subscribers only) on the sales and influence of Harry Potter's adventures, a series with supernatural delights and evilness embedded. Some fear Harry's adventures are a plot to steal the souls of the world's children. Tulloch writes:
In his journey to the heart of our culture, Harry and his friends (and enemies) have fallen in with some strange companions. Fundamentalist Christians, taking exception to the central role of magic in the books, have objected, and in at least one publicised event, copies were burned. Persistent rumors from the White House asserted that J.K. Rowling was turned down by the George W. Bush era because of the unease felt by many of his administration at the anti-Christian nature of the books. In 2003, when he was Prefect of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was quoted in L'Osservatore Romano as warning that Harry Potter created an inverted and confused spirituality in the way it "subtly seduces young readers and distorts Christianity in the soul before it can develop.
My rather unscientific observations in bookstores--where, in many, New Age books outnumber books on Christianity, Judaism, or Islam--suggest that Christians should be concerned about the glorification of magic in our midst. The Catechism gives us appropriate caution (2116):
All forms of divination are to be rejected: recourse to Satan or demons, conjuring up the dead or other practices falsely supposed to 'unveil' the future. Consulting horoscopes, astrology, palm reading, interpretation of omens and lots, the phenomena of clairvoyance, and recourse to mediums all conceal a desire for power over time, and in the last analysis, other human beings, as well as a wish to conciliate hidden powers. They contradict the honor, respect, and loving fear that we owe to God alone.
Now, does this caution apply to millions of children responding with delight to Harry Potter, and by extension, to other material in the genre including Grimm's Fairy Tales, The Hobbit, The Chronicles of Narnia and The Lord of the Rings? I think not! Psychologists who work with children use the work of Jean Piaget to understand why children are fascinated by such tales. This Swiss psychologist once observed his young son watch the moon in the sky at night. As the moon moved across the sky, Piaget's son believed that he himself was moving the moon by his own feelings. This led Piaget to theorize that many children in the 3-6 age group believe that their own internal feelings cause many events in their environment. Piaget called these "The Magic Years." Children are naturally delighted and open to explanations of the world that emphasize creative sources of causation. It's not the devil, it's just their way of learning to differentiate between themselves and the outside world. In our book Crisis Counseling with Children and Adolescents, John Mordock and I suggest how this same phenomena makes children blame themselves when events such as death, divorce, or destruction occur in the world around them.
Tulloch tells us in the Tablet about a new voice in the Harry Potter debate, a Benedictine monk, Father Luke Bell of Quarr Abbey on the Isle of Wight, who has written Baptising Harry Potter: A Christian reading of J.K. Rowling. In this book, Father Luke highlights the Christian values that can be discovered in JK Rowling's books:
While accepting that the novels were not written with a specific spiritual agenda, 'Baptising Harry Potter' moves effortlessly through J.K. Rowling's themes, identifying their Christian essence. He argues cogently for the doctrine of free will being expounded in Dumbledore's belief that 'it's our choices...that show what we really are', as opposed to the evil Voldemort's belief in 'accident and chance.' On the grand scale, he finds Harry Potter's resonances with Christianity most pronounced: the ancient resolution of good overpowering evil not by force of arms. His study pinpoints recurring images of the Resurrection, such as the dawn in the great hall when Voldemort is defeated.
I've recently re-read The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis, a book about, well....the Devil and how he may be recruiting and educating more devils-in-training. You may be reading more about it here. I was gratified by the response to the online book discussion we had here on Mortimer Adler a few months ago, and if you'd pick up a copy of The Screwtape Letters (it is short, easier reading), I'd like to invite you to discuss this great book with me in March. It's good Lenten reading, too.
William Van Ornum