Samuel Thambusamy’s interests are in Popular Culture, Theology and Politics. He has a Master of Theology (M.Th) degree from the Senate of Serampore University. He has served in a wide range of ministries such as children, youth, church and development ministries. He is now involved with Wisdomtree and reaches out to young people through cultural apologetics. He lives with his wife Lanusenla and daughter Vandana Yujasola in Chennai, IndiaView all articles by Samuel Thambusamy
You just can’t ignore Harry Potter. He has become a household name, courtesy the powerful engines of Globalization. Harry Potter books and its product spin-offs are found everywhere. Even if you don’t want to read the book/s (watch the films), you still cannot manage to stay insulated. Hogwarts’ magic is slowly but steadily invading our living room through everyday conversations. Trust me, it is extremely difficult to be indifferent about Harry Potter and Hogwarts. Few books/films, like the Harry Potter series have evoked such ‘equal’ and ‘opposite’ reactions, all at the same time.
Pottermania: The arguments for and against
Ardent Potter fans find nothing wrong in the imaginative story that seeks to feed the human hunger for enchantment. While others hold author J.K. Rowling guilty of introducing magick to younger children. They allege that although the book/s unfold the proverbial ‘good-versus-evil’ theme, witchcraft and occultism form the subtext of its plotline. The worst fear is that the book/s (and films) would de-sensitize children to the dark shades of spirituality, now resurgent in the West.
Living the question: In the midst of a culture war
Would it be wrong for a Christian to read a compelling novel, which is creative, insightful and funny? How do we respond to the Harry Potter Phenomenon from a Christian faith perspective? What’s wrong about Harry Potter anyway? Can I allow my kids to watch Harry Potter movies? Answers aren’t easy to these questions. Troubled parents are living these questions. The return of Harry Potter through the sixth book in the series: Harry Potter and the Half-blood prince (2005) and the movie version of Harry Potter and the order of the Pheonix (2007) have only re-opened the debate, re-drawn the battle lines and kicked off the latest culture war.
Do not be squeezed into the (cultural) mould of the world
Living out the Christian faith in the contemporaneous world is a counter trend. Christian lifestyle is opposed to self-interests, self-gratification and self-sufficiency, which are at the heart of our culture. Apostle Paul had warned us, “ Don’t let the world squeeze you into its own mould”. It doesn’t come easy. It takes a lot to be able to face the contemporary challenges. The challenges to our faith come in different colors, shapes and sizes and contemporary Christians must skillfully relate their creedal affirmations to the emerging contextual challenges. Unfortunately, most Christians I meet, are unwilling to think through issues ‘Christianly’. The temptation is to settle for either ‘restatements’ or ‘readymade answers’. Some how, I sense a lack of enthusiasm to study God’s Word, stretch the mind and discover biblical principles for everyday life issues.
Thinking ‘Christianly’ is only possible if we construct a Christian worldview. What is a worldview? A worldview is “ simply the sum total of our beliefs about the world, the big picture that directs our daily decisions and actions”. A worldview helps us to make sense of the world we live in and also helps us order our lives accordingly. It provides clarity, consistency and coherence to the answers for questions concerning origin, meaning, purpose and destiny. Genuine Christianity is all about accepting the Christian worldview as a framework for the totality of life. Charles Colson contends
“ Genuine Christianity is more than a relationship with Jesus as expressed in personal piety, church attendance, Bible Study, and works of charity. It is more than discipleship, more than believing a system of doctrines about God. Genuine Christianity is a way of seeing and comprehending all reality. It is worldview”.
Apostle Paul, in his letter to the church at Rome, points to the need to be transformed by a constant renewal of the mind
“ …As an intelligent act of worship, give him your bodies as a living sacrifice, consecrated to him and acceptable by him. Don’t let the world squeeze you into its mould, but let God re-make you so that your whole attitude of mind is changed.”
Faith seeking application
Today, we live in the market place of ideas that compete for our attention and loyalty. The challenge, then, for a Christian is to expose counter claims and defend Christian truth in the everydayness of life. Theology, then, is not an exercise removed from everyday life but it is “ faith seeking application”. Commitment to the Christian worldview requires us to evaluate every truth-claim. Anything we accept as ‘true’, ‘good’ and ‘right’ must be compatible with our Christian worldview. This would mean that any and every idea must pass through the Christian grid, which would either validate a claim or expose its inadequacies.
The challenge ahead
Is the Harry Potter phenomenon a challenge to the Christian faith? I don’t think so. The Harry Potter phenomenon is not a challenge to the Christian faith as a belief system. Nevertheless, it poses new challenges to the Christian readers of the book. The book/s (and film/s) promote a neo-pagan worldview contrary to the biblical understanding of life and hence, the book/s (and films) require us to duly approach it with ‘Christian’ caution. Any compelling novel/movie presents its own challenges to the Christian. There is a tendency to look at life through the eyes of its lead characters, particularly when we are emotionally absorbed into the story. Like any other idea or a cultural product, the Harry Potter books must be evaluated through a Christian grid. It is at this point that Christians need tools to raise and resolve worldview questions.
We fear what we don’t understand
Many parents have been living the question: How do we encounter the Harry Potter from a Christian faith perspective? Would it be wrong if children read it purely for entertainment? Should it be ignored, avoided or at least read with caution? The debate rages endlessly. Ravi Zacharias has rightly reminded us “it is far better to debate a question before settling it than to settle a question before debating it”. I guess, the issue needs to be understood through an informed debate, intense scrutiny and diligence and more importantly drawing principles from the Bible to bear upon the debate. It is said, “we fear what we don’t understand” and often times our responses have only been knee-jerk reactions rather than ‘reasoned’ answers. Children are greatly in need of a framework – a Christian grid - through which all of life is understood and interpreted. An informed discussion would help children acquire skills to address this issue and every other issue in the contemporary world.
Challenging cultures; Changing Individuals
As Christians, we also bear the responsibility of transforming the culture around us. This means, we must detect the socio-cultural underpinnings in the cultural landmarks of our time. This would help us ‘correlate’ the gospel to the questions raised within our context and setting. A study of the Harry Potter phenomenon will help us understand the issues of identity (who am I?), the longing for a new myth (What gives meaning, purpose and destiny for our times?) and the socio-cultural and religious mood (How do we now understand reality?) embedded in the collective consciousness of our children. This would help us to evangelize and nurture our children within our churches and beyond.
Can my kids watch Harry Potter films? Well… you be the judge. Remember, we’ve got to help our kids live out real faith in the real world. Engaging with the films which a christian filter is perphaps the best way forward.
by Samuel Thambusamy
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