EIGHT million Harry Potter books in the market and not counting the spin-offs! Not surprisingly, many Christians are concerned about this. This Harry Potter phenomenon has generated some interesting debates amongst Christian parents, mainly over the issue of whether or not they should allow their children to read them.
From my chanced encounters with the literature of such debates, I am given the impression that they have often given out more heat than light. Not wanting to add to this pyre, I hope to take a different tack.
I am not as interested in the books themselves as the phenomenon they create and the dust they kick up. In my opinion, these books will probably lose their attraction for our children pretty soon, and another set of books will take over. What is more important for us is to think of broader issues.
The fact of the matter is that the genre of fantasy will always be with us. Fantasy creates an alternative universe into which we are invited to see how certain values are being expounded through the lives of different characters and in different settings in an exciting way. Consequently, the impact of its messages, open or subliminal, will always be felt differently.
It is true that the settings within which stories of fantasy are developed have, in the course of human history, intentionally or unintentionally promoted some undesirable beliefs and practices, but banning such books will not stop our children from reading them as they are so easily available.
In an age where information is exchanged so easily, banning can often be an exercise in futility. What is worse, banning may bring about a backlash, engendering the very situation we hope to avoid. Our children’s curiosity over them and their desire to read them might easily be intensified when the ban is applied. And they will read them without telling us. Such harried potting of bewitchment into the net of censorship may work precisely to enhance its status.
Yes, while the powers that be (be they political leaders or ecclesiastical readers) may shut the formal door to such books, the back doors and the secret windows remain open to them. Is there a better way to deal with bewitching trends or books that easily open juvenile mental doors?
As I see it, it is a matter of whether we are to be or not to be, rather than to ban or not to ban. Let me explain. In Scripture, the building up of a community of faith is emphasised again and again (see the many relevant passages in the Pauline letters). This is seen clearly in Deuteronomy 6, a chapter which contains the “creed” of Israel, otherwise known as the Shema.
In this chapter, the fundamental doctrine and praxis of the faith are sounded: there is only one God, Yahweh, and those who believe in this one God is to love Him with all that they are and have. Such a faith is to be handed on from parents to children under all circumstances and in varied ways. It becomes the topic they are to talk about and live out. In this way, a community of faith comes into being. This community of faith will be confident of its heritage and resources, and is ably poised to face the slings and arrows – and yes, the books also – the world throws at it.
Could it be that many Christians are frightened by the Harry Potter phenomenon because solid doctrines are hardly taught in churches today in their manic dispensing of only what makes Christians feel good? This rings in the funds for the Church but hardly strengthens the soul. Consequently, the ban and the cane are all that we know. What the faith really is and how it might leaven the whole world are left untaught and unexplored.
Could it also be that the continuity of the faith is seldom found inculcated in Christian homes? Parents do not know how to communicate this. If they do, they could only quote Scripture without being able faithfully and creatively to demonstrate how that faith answers the many questions and trends of our world. So our children grow up knowing only what is forbidden without knowing what the real issues are.
Being a Christian in this world is not about knowing what right buttons to push to get things done or go to heaven. He has a faith by which he understands and his worldview shaped. By word and deed, he communicates this faith to his children and testifies to it before his fellow humans on earth.
Through a community that knows its faith and is confident of it, a community that is handing it on by word and deed creatively and faithfully, bewitchment can then be potted safely in the soil of true theology and praxis.
Dr Tan Kim Huat is Dean of Postgraduate Studies at Trinity Theological College.