Christ and Culture: Harry Potter, part II

It is officially over. The last of the Harry Potter movies has been released (I thought it was great, by the way). But, I believe that conversation about Harry Potter is far from over. Last time, I looked at the way HP echoes the Gospel. These novels speak to more than just wands and magic. They are about love, death, sacrifice and evil.

In our confused culture, “evil” is a loose word. Commonly it is used to mean anything that prevents another person from doing what they want. The talking heads misuse this word with unrestrained rhetoric that inflames more than it informs. Yet, by God’s common grace, humanity understands that there is evil in this world. Everything is not all that it should be.

In the world of Harry Potter Voldemort is the archetype murderous tyrant. He shares the qualities of Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot and Mao. They are murderous, determined and filled with hate. In haste we declare their policies and worldview to be evil and wicked – rightfully so. But, then we place cultural outposts in order to keep watch on every sector intent on locating and destroying such manifest evil should it appear. Yet, we have lost the forest for the trees. Obsessed with symptoms, we’ve failed to identify the source.

The evil of a character like Voldemort or a tyrant like Hitler is that they believe they are agents of good. The evil of evil is that is masquerades as good. The heart of evil is that it blurs the lines of morality. As a result, ambiguity reigns and humanity is lost. A one-eyed man may be king among the blind, but that does not mean the one-eyed man sees clearly. The symptom is not the source. Confusion reigns in our world.

Stories like Harry Potter are powerful because they allow us to explore ideas in a different way. Didactic exploration makes concepts clear. Narrative makes them compelling. In using the character of Harry, Rowling has created a space for demonstration. Rather than merely talking about evil and its nature, she shows it. Evil is destructive; love restores. Evil brings despair; love brings about hope. Evil subjugates people; love sets free. The psalmist says “the way of the wicked leads to destruction” (1:6). Wickedness and evil and inherently destructive and lead to death. We see that in the way the story of Harry Potter plays out in the course of its seven novels.

There is a scene in the last novel that places a verse on the tombstone of Harry’s parents. It reads “the last enemy that shall be destroyed is death”. That comes from 1 Corinthians 15:26. That verse comes in the middle of a chapter where Paul describes the truth of Christ’s resurrection and its power. In the death and resurrection of Christ, evil has been undone. He ends that chapter by saying “Death has been swallowed up in victory. Death, where is your victory? Death, where is your sting?” (15:54-55). Death, evil and sin terrorize our entire world. Many attempt to explain it away or pretend it does not exist. Yet, its presence is felt and, at times, makes itself known.

In the end the hero has come. He has stared evil in the face and destroyed it. Death no longer reigns. Evil will not have the last word. It has been swallowed up in the victory of Christ.

Posted in Culture, Theology

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