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Latest "Harry Potter" film's themes of black arts, rule-breaking cause a divide among some Christians

From left, Rupert Grint, Bonnie Wright, Daniel Radcliffe and Emma Watson star in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. The film’s portrayal of magic and rule-breaking has some Christians alarmed, while some find it harmless.

Warner Bros. Pictures

From left, Rupert Grint, Bonnie Wright, Daniel Radcliffe and Emma Watson star in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. The film’s portrayal of magic and rule-breaking has some Christians alarmed, while some find it harmless.

Since its release July 15, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince has grossed more than $260 million in the United States and $753 million worldwide.

There is no denying the popularity of the film, the sixth adaptation of J.K. Rowling's fantasy novel series about a now-teenage wizard played by Daniel Radcliffe.

But what is the response of the Christian community to a film that promotes children practicing magic arts and depicts some witches and wizards as good guys, using their magic wands to evoke special powers?

While Christians largely embraced C.S. Lewis' Narnia Chronicles, in print and on screen, as acceptable fantasy entertainment for children, it is divided over Harry Potter.

Alicia Thompson, children's pastor at Calvary Church of the Nazarene in Spring Hill, said her own children see Potter as a hero because, despite his environment, he works to overturn evil.

"My children are 19, 18 and 16 and have read every book of Harry Potter, and we have gone as a family to see the movies," Thompson said. "Being raised with a Christian background and knowing the morals and standards of what is right and wrong, they saw good things out of Harry."

For younger children, Thompson said, seeing the movie would depend on where they are on their spiritual journey.

"You wouldn't give a baby a set of car keys and say, 'go drive,' " she said. "Boundaries have to be set. So I wouldn't recommend anybody to go see Harry Potter unless they have been given a good background on the difference between what is real and what is fantasy."

Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano reviewed the film in a July 29 column by Gaetano Vallini, concluding that " … the demarcation line between those who do good and those who do evil seems very clear, and the spectator or reader readily identifies with the former. In this most recent film in particular the distinction is even clearer. It conveys to viewers that it is right to do good and makes them realize that this sometimes demands both great effort and sacrifice."

Plugged In, the movie review site for Focus on the Family, disagrees.

"Magic is ever present and, sometimes, dangerously evil," reads its review. "Clearly, this isn't a straight-up good-vs.-evil tale of heroism and conquest. … Harry and Co. routinely use sorcery to defeat sorcerers."

It is the reliance on sorcery that disturbs J.F. Desmarais, who presents free Christian films to the public each month at Spring Hill Bible Church.

He notes passages in the Bible that talk of the dire consequences for those who practice "magic arts."

"After reading these passages, why would anyone want to even flirt with evil represented in the magic arts?" Desmarais asks.

In a poll conducted online by Christianity Today Movies on July 24, readers were asked to rate how harmful they believe the Potter series to be. "On a scale of 1-5 (1=very dangerous, 5=completely harmless), how would you rate the Harry Potter books and movies?" the poll asked. The majority of respondents, 34 percent, selected 4. Fifteen percent selected 1.

Comments made by readers regarding a July 29 article on the site, Harry Potter: Good or Evil, ranged from a pastor saying the series opens the door for children to become involved with the occult to a parent who said the series opened up a healthy dialogue with her children when they were hiking.

In The Gospel According to Harry Potter, author Connie Neal discusses what she sees as parallels between Potter and some biblical characters. But despite a reference to Potter in the latest film as "the chosen one," Neal suggests Potter's tendency "to lie when it serves his purposes and his penchant for rule breaking" leave him short of being a Christ figure, as some have suggested.

It is this tendency by the Potter character that concerns Brian Brijbag, youth pastor at First Baptist Church of Brooksville.

"I've read some of the first books because I wanted to be informed on what the youth were reading so I could speak with experience," Brijbag said. "If I have a concern, it would be that over and over again Harry Potter is victorious and made a hero while he continuously breaks the rules and gets rewarded for that."

For that reason, Brijbag has not encouraged his own young children to watch the movies or read the books.

"As a parent, my issue with the book was the fact that Harry and his friends continually disrespect authority and yet they become heroes for that. The message is that the right way to succeed in life is to break the rules."

Brijbag said he would not encourage teens under his ministry to see the film, but would use it as a teaching moment to have them think about decisions they make in their lives and how that affects their testimony to friends.

"I would probably take more of a discouraging tone," he said. "There's a testimony that we have with things we watch and do, and there's a lot of controversy about this movie. We need to be careful of what it appears we are condoning to the friends around us."

fast facts

To read more

Here are some Web sites giving favorable and critical reviews, as well as feedback, for Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince:

• www.usccb.org/movies/h/harry

potterhalfbloodprince.shtml

• www.pluggedinonline.com/

movies/movies/a0004650.cfm

• www.christianitytoday.com/

movies/reviews/2009/harry

potter6.html

• www.christianitytoday.com/

movies/commentaries/2009/

harrypottergoodorevil.html

Latest "Harry Potter" film's themes of black arts, rule-breaking cause a divide among some Christians 08/07/09 [Last modified: Friday, August 7, 2009 6:56pm]

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