Harry Potter and the Supposed Allegiance with the Devil
During the Middle Ages, hundreds of people who suffered from fits or other seemingly inexplicable forms of behavior were immediately suspected of being in cahoots with the devil. In 1692, 20 people were executed during the Salem Witch Trials because of suspicions that they were practicing witchcraft. About 250 years later, rock ‘n’ roll was widely known as “the devil’s music,” and people blamed it for the moral downturn of America’s youth. By the 1970s, when most of the world was falling in love with the music of Led Zeppelin, there were some who were concerned that the band was spreading the word of Lucifer to the masses; after all, many of its lyrics contained satanic references and the members followed the work of well-known occultist Aleister Crowley. Around the turn of the 21st century, another Satan-scare swept the nation. This time, many believed that the devil’s agenda was promoted by a fictional, bespectacled 11-year-old boy named Harry Potter.
Anyone who saw the 2006 documentary Jesus Camp is bound to remember the
mid-sermon Harry Potter tirade by pastor Becky Fischer. While
addressing her audience of evangelical Christian children about how the
Devil preys on young people, she proclaims: “Let me say something about
Harry Potter. Warlocks are enemies of God. I don’t care what kind of
hero they are, they’re an enemy of God, and had it been in the Old
Testament, Harry Potter would’ve been put to death. You don’t make
heroes out of warlocks!”
Fischer corresponded with Paste on the subject via e-mail—an e-mail written entirely in bold, italic, red text. She said the Jesus Camp scene captured “a single spontaneous, off the cuff remark that went along with other issues we were dealing with in that particular sermon.”
“I’ve never done a thing ever on this book series or any other in my whole life,” Fischer wrote. “I don’t give any energy at all to Harry Potter.” Yet just five days earlier, she had sent us “What’s wrong with Harry Potter?,” an article she had penned. It was accompanied by an e-mail explaining, this time in narrow black text, “I believe it outlines very clearly the conservation [sic] Christian viewpoint.”
This brief, electronic back-and-forth more or less reflects the two sides of the Harry Potter religious controversy. For some people and at some times, it causes an impassioned argument. For other people or at other times, it hardly seems worth mentioning.
For many Southerners, as Potter author J.K. Rowling’s books sky-rocketed to popularity, the argument that the wand-toting boy was teaching the youth Wiccan ways was not an uncommon one. Parents and religious officials made headlines for being extremely vocal on the subject, often demanding that the children’s novels be removed from library shelves. Laura Mallory from Loganville, Ga. led two public campaigns to get the books removed from the Gwinnett County School District because, even though she admitted to never having read them, she believed they both promoted a Wiccan lifestyle and fostered the kind of evil community that allows school shootings to occur. Similarly, a man hung a sign that read “Harry Potter is of the devil” in his small Kentucky town, and defended his action by saying, “God takes that serious. Witchcraft and sorcery - he takes that very serious.” Books, movies and articles with accusatory phrases such as “making evil look innocent” and the more extreme “Satan’s little helper” in their titles popped up. Generally speaking, this crowd overshadowed those whose published works argued that the morals brought up in the novels were actually essential to a Christian upbringing.
Although news stories garnered national (and even international) attention and these reading materials are still widely available, the debate was largely regional, or contained to smaller towns. “The controversy about whether or not to include the books in school collections, or public library collections, never really reached this area of the country,” says Jeanne Lamb, the youth collections coordinator at the New York Public Library.
If Fischer's bold text is any indication of a larger trend, most people who were passionate about protecting children haven’t changed their minds, but they’ve certainly quieted down. In 2001 and 2002, Rowling’s novels topped the American Library Association’s year-end list of the top 10 most commonly challenged books. They dropped to No. 2 in 2003, and were completely absent from the list by 2004, despite the fact that the final book in the series wasn’t released until 2007. And some people—arguably, those with some of the most definitive opinions on the matter—are altering their opinions to be a little more pro-Potter. Despite previously giving the series relatively mixed reviews, L'Osservatore Romano, the newspaper of the Vatican, has plenty of favorable things to say about The Half-Blood Prince. Apparently, this installment not only draws distinct lines between good and evil, but it portrays the characters' young love appropriately.
Exactly why history of the debate is so erratic is a mystery, kind of like who opened the Chamber of Secrets or what the deal is with those Horcruxes, especially since new books were released regularly until two years ago and the film adaptations have grown progressively darker. Maybe it's just the way these things go. After all, most people look back on accusations toward Salem's "witches," the demonic beats of rock, and Jimmy Page's heroes as silly, relatively insignificant moments in history. Presumably, the same will someday be said for our favorite boy who lived.