Wednesday, September 10, 2003
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Harry Potter and the Threat of Lashkar-e-Taiba
The title to this post is not the name of J.K. Rowling's sixth book in the Harry Potter series -- though it's not bad.
Lashkar-e-Taiba is an Islamic fundamentalist group based in Pakistan responsible for multiple terrorist attacks against India over the past ten years. Technically, Lashkar-e-Taiba was banned by the Pakistani government following the 9/11 attacks, so the group is now called Jama'at ud-Da'wa Pakistan. Only the name has been changed, however.
What does this have to do with Harry Potter? DanielDrezner.com's trusted South Asia expert alertly informed him of the cover of the August 2003 issue of Zerb-e-Taiba (roughly translated, clash/clang/strike), Lashkar-e-Taiba's flagship publication.
Now, if you look at the upper-left hand corner of the cover, you'll see an image of a Harry Potter book. Why? Apparently, the magazine has an article arguing that the Harry Potter series is really part of a missionary plot to spread Christianity to the Islamic parts of the world (sorry, no translation).
The irony is extremely rich, since a slice of Christian fundamentalists -- particularly some (but not all) individuals affiliated with Focus on the Family -- have been arguing for the past five years that Harry Potter must be the work of the devil because it promotes worship of the occult. Think I'm exaggerating? Click here. For a rebuttal, click here.
Now, while some in the blogosphere are less than enamored with the Harry Potter series, even these curmudgeons would allow that the series has caused a lot of children to become more voracious readers, which is all to the good. Saying that Harry Potter influences religious preferences would be like saying Frasier -- or Woody Allen, for that matter -- encourages people to enter psychoanalysis.
Why do these books cause such heart palpitations among religious fundamentalists of all stripes? Wading into some hazardous waters -- let me add here that most devout people do not fall into the trap I'm about to describe -- here's my theory:
If there's anything that scares religious orthodoxy, it's decentralized enthusiasm for something new. What devotees of Lashkar-e-Taiba or James Dobson share is an unquenched desire for order. Now, anyone who thinks of themselves as religious recognize this impulse, and one should never underestimate the power of faith to provide comfort in times of uncertainty. However, fundamentalist groups have an exaggerated fear of uncertainty, and any phenomenon beyond their control represents a threat to their world. Harry Potter may be harmless, but the books are beyond their control. They inject new and unwanted ideas into the heads of young children. God forbid that Muslim girls should read about a strong female character like Hermione Granger, or that young Christian children read stories that suggest not all authority figues are omniscient or pure of heart.
Worse than any of these specifics, of course, is the central strength of the Harry Potter series -- the sheer inventiveness of Rowling's imagination. Reading the books teaches children that fantasies are fun, that it's a worthwhile endeavor to explore one's own imagination. This is the first step down the road towards independent thought -- the bane of all religious extremists.
Turning back to Pakistan, the good news is that most Pakistanis are either ignoring or decrying this attack on Harry Potter. In fact, if this press release is any guide, Pakistani readers are far more upset about the Hollywood bastardization of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. So maybe my pessimism about the state of that country is exaggerated.
UPDATE: As Patrick Belton points out, it's not only religious fundamentalists that have a problem with magic.
I have to disagree with you in regard to Christian fundamentalists. I know many. Their fear is not a threat to authority, but to exposure to the occult. Most fundamentalists believe that dabbling in the occult can lead to demonic or Satanic influence in your life. Therefore, they oppose horoscopes, numerology, meditation, satanism, witchcraft, or anything that seems to open the door to the occult. Although the Potter books may be harmless, these folks fear that they will attract children to the occult.posted by: Larry on 09.10.03 at 10:03 AM [permalink]
Google on ["harry potter" inkling] and you'll see a very different picture ... some Christians see the series as another in the C.S. Lewis tradition.posted by: Cliff on 09.10.03 at 10:03 AM [permalink]
Difficult to corroborate your theory without knowing the premise of the Zerb-e-Taiba article, but in Christian circles at least, you should never underplay the deep distrust towards anything that even faintly smacks of 'magic' and 'the occult'. (The New Testament does contain explicit injunctions against witchcraft.)
Living in Germany during the 1980s I was castigated numerous times by co-religionist playground friends -- no doubt repeating their parents' words --for playing with Star Wars figures ("they're all demons") or even for reading C.S. Lewis' Narnia Chronicles ("it's all occult").posted by: Pliny on 09.10.03 at 10:03 AM [permalink]
As a long-time roleplayer, this all reads to me like a tired rehash of the "D&D is the devil" time in the early eighties. Like many roleplayers, I have graduated to guns and alcohol for my fun. Now which exactly is more dangerous, I wonder?posted by: Scipio on 09.10.03 at 10:03 AM [permalink]
I'm always amazed at people's attitudes toward Christian fundies. Being one myself, it often makes me chuckle that people will so inaccurately generalize us while never asking us what we actually think or why we think it. Fear of disorder--fah! Ever been to a Baptist church business meeting? Disorder magnified to new meaning.
And in my case it's not as though I'm invisible or hard to reach--I run a blog that averages over 1000 hits a day, which has a comments section and even an email address. If you want to know what one fundie thinks about Harry, why not just ask?
Since you didn't, I'll answer anyway. I'm not wild about Harry. Not for the occult stuff--Rowling has managed to use the witchcraft to make the series less scary than it would be without it. I read all five books in succession this year, and while I found them to be decent stories well told, overall I just didn't find the hype was worth it. They're good books, but not great books. Whether they are ultimately following in the footsteps of C.S. Lewis (which is a distinct possibility) depends on where Rowling takes the story and how she ends it. It's too soon to say whether she's an Inkling or not, though I'm inclined at this point to think that she is.
So this fundie has been a Baptist too long to fear chaos, and isn't wild about Harry but thinks the witchery within actually makes it less frightening than the series would otherwise be.
Any other misconceptions you'd like cleared up?posted by: Bryan on 09.10.03 at 10:03 AM [permalink]
Narnia was occult? That one always seemed to be a biblical parable to me. Aslan sacrificing himself, rising from the dead, et al.posted by: Jim on 09.10.03 at 10:03 AM [permalink]
[ ... Why do these books cause such heart palpitations among religious fundamentalists of all stripes? Wading into some hazardous waters -- let me add here that most devout people do not fall into the trap I'm about to describe -- here's my theory:
If there's anything that scares religious orthodoxy, it's decentralized enthusiasm for something new. What devotees of Lashkar-e-Taiba or James Dobson share is an unquenched desire for order. ... ]
I don't see ultra-Orthodox Jews mentioned here. Are ultra-Orthodox Jews not religious fundamentalists? Or are we bashing only Muslims and Christians, Mr. Drezner?
[ ... Now, anyone who thinks of themselves as religious recognize this impulse, and one should never underestimate the power of faith to provide comfort in times of uncertainty. However, fundamentalist groups have an exaggerated fear of uncertainty, and any phenomenon beyond their control represents a threat to their world. Harry Potter may be harmless, but the books are beyond their control. They inject new and unwanted ideas into the heads of young children. God forbid that Muslim girls should read about a strong female character like Hermione Granger, or that young Christian children read stories that suggest not all authority figues are omniscient or pure of heart. ... ]
Since when did Christianity, especially the Protestant version of Christianity, suggest that all authority figures are pure of heart?
Eagerly anticipating Mel Gisbson's new movie, "The Passion," aren't you, Mr. Drezner? After all, the theme of the "The Passion" is rather anti-authority, isn't it?posted by: David Davenport on 09.10.03 at 10:03 AM [permalink]
I agree with Bryan that there's a general misunderstanding of the historical and religious roots of Christian fundamentalism. The Baptist-like denominations in the movement stem from anti-authoritarian religious tendencies in the 16th and 17th centuries, and in fact the Baptists are notably un-credal in their outlook -- a little bit to the right of the Quakers.
In fact, while some nominally devout Christian people -- perhaps those whose understanding of the Christian message is not fully formed -- may appear to prefer order, the religion was founded and thrived during many parts of its history during periods of extreme social disorder. If its adherents somehow preferred order, one might expect them to abandon it during such periods and migrate to other philosophies that would give temporary solace. The opposite is usually the case.posted by: John Bruce on 09.10.03 at 10:03 AM [permalink]
Having grown up in a fundamentalist Baptist community, let me suggest another alternative. Some anal-retentive authority types gravitate toward some fundamentalist type belief systems (Marxism, anyone?) and subsequently attract followers who bootstrap the stated values, maxims, whatever of the belief system into a power grab.
I think this would cover just about all your cases, plus Pol Pot, Jim Jones, Khomenei, Hitler, you name it.posted by: JorgXMcKie on 09.10.03 at 10:03 AM [permalink]
John and Bryan,
I take your points on the varieties of Christian fundamentalism -- an area where I'm certainly not an expert.
And I agree that most Christian denominations have anti-authoritarian roots. However, pointing out that, say, the origins of the Catholic Church were anti-establishment does not mean that that religion's present-day institutions are equally anti-uthoritarian.posted by: Dan on 09.10.03 at 10:03 AM [permalink]
[ ... What devotees of Lashkar-e-Taiba or James Dobson share is an unquenched desire for order. ...]
Yes, let's lump Dobson's Focus on the Family together with Muslim terrorists. After all, some members of both groups are kind of rural.
Could you please clarify that thought? That and the previous sentence conflates faith-based "comfort" with unsavory authoritarian impulses and an "an unquenched desire for order."
I'm not sure one follows from the other. Please explain.
Is the word "order" meant to be to be code for "New Order?"
Again, I ask if there are no such Jewish fundamentalist groups. Is the Jewish faith exempt from fundamentalism?posted by: David Davenport on 09.10.03 at 10:03 AM [permalink]
To Mr. Davenport:
Whether or not ultra-Orthodox Jews can be considered fundamentalist is, in many ways, a matter of opinion. (Even a definition of "ultra-Orthodox Jew" depends very much upon whom you ask.)
I, personally, would not deny that fundamentalist strains exist in Judaism. I do wonder, however, at your insistence in including them. Is it important to you that fundamentalist Jews be tarred with the same brush, simply for completeness' sake? Or is there some other point you'd like to make here?
My take on the original post is this: there was no particular need for a Jewish example to make the desired point, and so none was offered. I don't have a problem with that; if an argument stands well enough alone, there's no need to add tailfins to it. Does that square with what you had in mind, Mr. Drezner?
best wishes to all,
Of course there are Jewish fundamentalist groups, but to the best of my knowledge, none of them has had anything to say about Harry Potter, which would explain why they are not mentioned (as opposed to Dobson's group and Lashkar-e-Taiba).
Why do these movies cause such heart palpitations among religious fundamentalists of ... stripes? Wading into some hazardous waters -- let me add here that most devout people do not fall into the trap I'm about to describe -- here's my theory:
If there's anything that scares religious orthodoxy, it's decentralized enthusiasm for something new. What devotees of Lashkar-e-Taiba or ... share is an unquenched desire for order. Now, anyone who thinks of themselves as religious recognize this impulse, and one should never underestimate the power of faith to provide comfort in times of uncertainty. However, fundamentalist groups have an exaggerated fear of uncertainty, and any phenomenon beyond their control represents a threat to their world.
Mel Gibson's movie "The Passion" may be harmless, but the movie is beyond their control. They inject new and unwanted ideas into the heads of young children. God forbid that Muslim girls should read about a strong female character like Mary Magdalne, or that young ... children read stories that suggest not all ... authority figues are omniscient or pure of heart.
God forbid that Muslim girls should read about a strong female character like Hermione Granger
Which is ironic, since many feminists don't like the Harry Potter books for being sexist.
I would also be considered by most to be a bit on the "fundie" side of Christianity, and have to agree with several other posters that you are painting many things (some of which you obviously don't know much about) with a VERY large brush.posted by: Deoxy on 09.10.03 at 10:03 AM [permalink]
As a "fundamentalist" myself, I think that it's silly to say that the misguided attempts to deny children the pleasures of Harry Potter have anything to do with "a desire for order." It has everything to do with the assaults that pop culture has continually been making on traditional Christianity and morality.
Most Christians are completely repulsed by the filth that pours into most homes via TV, radio, and -- yes -- books and magazines. They have therefore conditioned themselves to reject pop culture phenomena. When a few dupes say that the Potter books promote the occult, fundamentalists are ready to believe this to be true.
It's hard for me to blame them, but I do feel sorry for the kids I teach each week in Sunday School who aren't allowed to mention Harry Potter in their Baptist school.posted by: Ryan Booth on 09.10.03 at 10:03 AM [permalink]
Spelling correction: it's "Magdalene."
Why am I so angry about this? I think it is an outrage for Mr. Drezner to lump James Dobson's Focus On the Family people in together with a Muslim terrorist group. I think Mr. Drzner ought to apologize for this slur.
Next point: if books that tell young children that magic and sorcery, as opposed to mundane science, are real, then what's bad about anti-Darwinian tracts which preach that humans were created by supernatural means instead of evolution?
Isn't freedom from the tyrannical orthodoxy of pro-Darwinist authority figures liberating? I mean, we live in a multicultural world with many diverse points of view, don't we?
Darwinist orthodoxy is just another point of view, as is disbelief in the pre-Christian pagan cults -- so-called witchcraft amd sorcery -- of old England.
Don't trust Modernist authority figures who deny the old rites and rituals! The meak and weak turn-the-other-cheek rebbe Jesus has had his day. The day of the Druids and their fiery sacrifices is coming again!posted by: David Davenport on 09.10.03 at 10:03 AM [permalink]
By the way, the fundamentalist flight from pop culture is also behind the amazing growth in Christian music and Christian fiction (e.g. the "Left Behind" series).posted by: Ryan Booth on 09.10.03 at 10:03 AM [permalink]
To the best of my knowledge no one has yet claimed that the sorcery and witchcraft presented in the Harry Potter series is real (ie that there is actually a school called Hogwarts somewhere in Britain that teaches magic to schoolchildren). Harry Potter is a fantasy book. Reading it is not unlike reading just-so-stories, or any other fable, such as creationist theory.posted by: Kim on 09.10.03 at 10:03 AM [permalink]
[Why am I so angry about this? I think it is an outrage for Mr. Drezner to lump James Dobson's Focus On the Family people in together with a Muslim terrorist group. I think Mr. Drzner ought to apologize for this slur.]
I've seen this sentiment expressed a couple of times in the comments here, and I really think some respondents might have misunderstood Drezner's point. To me, it's very clear that Drzner's not saying that James Dobson is a terrorist. I think he's saying that the two groups, because they're both fundamentalist in orientation, refuse to accept even the possibility that their point of view isn't the only "true" one.
On the issue of "order," I think that concept is at the heart of all Christian denominations. That's what the Catholic Church, a highly "ordered," highly structured hierarchy, got so bent out of shape about with Galileo and his followers. Galileo challenged the Ptolemaic cosmology, with its celestial spheres, that supposedly mirrored the Great Chain of Being. If you remember, the Great Chain of Being started at the throne of God, and every link in the chain represented some "order" on earth. The lion, for example, was King of the Beasts because the link of the chain that represented the lion was the first link in the "beast order." If you take out a link of that chain, as Macbeth did when he killed Duncan, the only possible result is chaos--the opposite of order. Evil, in other words. We don't use these metaphors explicitly anymore, but they're still at the philosophical heart of Christian theology. When Gene Robinson was approved as a bishop a few weeks ago, that was a direct affront to the "order" of the Anglican community. What's going to happen as a result of that? Chaos. What else?
Harry Potter and the other kids all represent an inherent breakdown in the order of the way things are supposed to be. I mean, kids can't fly around on broomsticks. That's absurd, and it's totally out of order.
This is my first contribution to anything like this. I hope it doesn't come across as being too ignorant.posted by: Ed Deluzain on 09.10.03 at 10:03 AM [permalink]
Of course you are correct, Kim, that Harry Potter is a fantasy -- something that seems to have escaped some of those who fear that children will be lured to the occult from the books.
I usually ask those who object to the books whether they want to ban the Wizard of Oz (contains a "good witch") and Cinderella ("Fairy Godmother" uses a magic wand).posted by: Ryan Booth on 09.10.03 at 10:03 AM [permalink]
It's always fun to elevate people's motivations to a sociological sphere. But, it seems to me, it is usually in error.
As an atheist myself married to a strong Christian believer, the reason that some Christians oppose the Harry Potter books is obvious and simple. Unlike rationalist atheists like me, many strong Christians believe not only in God, but also in Satan (C S Lewis in The Screwtape Letters suggests that Satan's strongest tactic was to convince Christians he doesn't exist).
If you hold a worldview in which there is a real Satan as well as a God, and all supernatural stuff which is not in God's ambit is done by Satan, then it is quite reasonable to believe that witchcraft is Satanic. Consequently you do not want your kids reading about a school of witchcraft. Simple, huh? And nothing to do with opposing authority.
By contrast, I can accept, for the length of the movie, the existence of Potter's world as nothing more than an interesting device.
Incidentally, someone pointed out that there were no actual real-world adherents of what we might Potterism (ie. a religion based on the 'reality' of Potter-style magic). But there were cults in the 60s and 70s that adopted the Michael-Valentine-Smithism of Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land, so perhaps it's just a matter of time. The intention of the author does not ever enter into it.posted by: Stephen Dawson on 09.10.03 at 10:03 AM [permalink]
it's funny Dr. Drezner's description of Christian and Muslim fundis does match the recent Berkeley study on conservatism so closely.posted by: markus on 09.10.03 at 10:03 AM [permalink]
Truly fascinating thread. I'm an atheist, who tries sooo hard to be a good agnostic (atheist dogma is too similar in tone to fundamentalist dogma). I'm also married to a born-again christian fundamentalist, so these discussions can be commonplace in my household.
The lesson here seems to be the potential for error in broad generalization. Lots of folks call themselves fundamentalists, but differ on many fine points within their own factions. Furthermore, there are many I might brand "fundamentalist" who don't consider themselves so.
The fundamentalists who react so negatively to pop culture tend to represent the fringes of their factions, not the baseline. The problem is, they tend to be the loudest--therefore the most easily heard. So, rationally-minded agnostics, atheists, christians, jews, muslims, buddhists, hindus, mormons, jehovah's witnesses, seventh-day adventists, and even scientologists (I mean no slight in missing any--brain doesn't always fire on all 6 cylinders before lunchtime) may feel overpowered by the coverage and volume of the fringes.
Having said all that, I find it truly sad that said "fringes" can have such a negative influence on the youth. I mean, it is truly wonderful that the Potter books have introduced so many new young readers to an enriching pasttime. Kids should be exposed to different creative viewpoints, without such negative parental, or religious, controls.posted by: Jerry C on 09.10.03 at 10:03 AM [permalink]
I don't think that the Harry Potter books "tell young children that magic and sorcery, as opposed to mundane science, are real." They use magic and sorcery as a plot device.
I'm a fairly strong "pro-Darwinian" but I don't condemn the "Land Before Time" movies--even though they mix together dinosaurs from wildly different times, make them act in ways those dinosaurs never would, and even have them talking.
They are (literally) a cartoon.
Ironically, some pro-Darwinians do object to certain depictions of pre-historic life on the grounds that they implicitly "tell" people things that aren't true, e.g., that humans and dinosaurs existed at the same time.
Again we hear about Islam and terrorism.
Although Islam rejects magic outright that magic is not what the Harry Potter books portray. The Harry Potter books contain purely fictional magic which in relaity does not exist. The true magic that does exist is totally unacceptable. however, any reliigus person should have such a will power that he or she is not dependent on fictional books to develop their character. The Lashkar-e-Taiba or any such groups should not be related to Islam. There is no such thing as Islamic fundamentalists. There is only Islamic or non-Islamic. Islam cannot contain an extremist side as it is a perfect religion of a Perfect Creator.posted by: Mohd.Omer on 09.10.03 at 10:03 AM [permalink]
In my view, religious extremist are people with very little or no faith in GOD at all. Because, they believe so much in the written text of the book (Bible or Koran) that they fail to see the living GOD. Because of this, a mere childrens book threatens their belief.posted by: Nicodemus on 09.10.03 at 10:03 AM [permalink]
Why does the media always regard Islam to extremism? I have always encountered hypocrites from our side[pakistan] who assumingly love humanity and spurn the common poor as with all the media in the west. As with Regards to Harry Potter, i being a Muslim feel no vibes of Christianity in me. "Lashkar-e-Taiba" ARE NOT MUSLIMS. NO EXTREMIST MOVEMENT IS ISLAMIC. It is the fault of those damn bastards and the media which has brought Islam in a bad light. I fully support mohd. Omer's comments, Islam is a perfect religion but with no perfect followers.posted by: Mohd. Yasir on 09.10.03 at 10:03 AM [permalink]
Are we all talking about the children's books? The ones written for children? Is that what you people are spending your time doing? Though you all have excellent points, and are handling this very prudently, I cannot help but wonder why you are not instead spending your time actually doing something worth while. Most of you are probably involved in this conversation because you think that you opinion is right, and you want everyone else to agree with you. Well, I am sorry to inform you but that will never happen, only you can change your mind. Not someone else. And seeing you spending your time doing this makes my very upset, you are obviously intelligent people, who are wasting their time on something they will later regret. And on a further note, I am disappointed in those Christians taking part in this, trying to protect the Christian name. You are not witnessing or standing up for the name of God. You are simply trying to make certain that no one looks at you the wrong way. Paul saw being persecuted as a gift from God, are we not told to turn the other cheek? Little things like that are what create a bad name for those of us who know the truth. We should not be arguing with those who don't. Alright, I'm done babbling, go on.posted by: Parcel on 09.10.03 at 10:03 AM [permalink]
Why exactly did you join this discussion if you think that it is a waste of time? Why did you read the article in the first place? Why would I regret having a discussion with people who you have stated to be "intelligent"? These questions are not meant to be rude or accusatory, I would just like some clarification on your statements.
From my point of view this conversation is not just "talking about children's books" (though I don't see what's wrong with that in and of itself). The books and people's reactions to them are being used as a basis for a discussion about religion.
I joined this conversation because I thought that it was important to point out a flaw in Mr. Davenport's logic (just as I think that it is important for people to point out flaws in my own arguments so that I can improve them and see where my biases lie), and I started reading initially because I am interested in religious attachment and the various ways that it is manifested in the world.posted by: Kim on 09.10.03 at 10:03 AM [permalink]
I understand what u mean. I am muslim. I know that fundamentalists go haywire when they feel things are changing somehow. I love JK Rowling's books, and so do my children. It is a shame that so little of a deal can drive so many people into a craze. I want both my daughter and son to be strong and believe in themselves, and I know that that will help them believe in the Almighty, whether you call him God, Allah or Yahweh. Those who feel threatened by change dont seem to realize that they are weak in spirit. I wish people could understand that all of this hatred and stupidity that seems to be growing overtime lately is the work of Satan, and not other people. Go figure. God bless and thank you.posted by: Najwa Issa on 09.10.03 at 10:03 AM [permalink]
Well, Well, well. Since when have childrens' books become a topic of controversy. Sorry, I fail to understand the intellect behind such ridiculously haywire arguments. If you haven't read them, the're about a boy who goes to a boarding school, makes friends, fights evil, does homework, and plays sports. Have you people nothing else to do? These books contain no porn, explicit words nor are they racist. Moreover, this series is being studied in thousands of university level courses, and is considered as one of the best 20th and 21st century children's literature. Get a REAL hobby people. Let your KIDS read the books.posted by: Rom on 09.10.03 at 10:03 AM [permalink]
wow, that was brilliant and so on point. cracking good read : )posted by: tlell on 09.10.03 at 10:03 AM [permalink]
If I've come out of a graduate degree in religious/Islamic studies with one firm conviction, it's this: the term "fundamentalist" needs serious rethinking. Fundamentalist strains exist in many different sects, denominations, and entire faith-systems. But the term originally meant a "believer in the fundamentals" of the Christian faith, that is, a Bible believer. To apply it to a non-Christian denomination cannot help, therefore, but be a mismatch. Why not use -- orthodox, integrist, extremist, totalitarian, radical -- just for a few examples -- instead? (While we're at it, can we get rid of "cult" and "brainwashing"? They serve no useful purpose. Sorry, private soapbox. I'll step off it now.) Sure, as a left-wing hippie dippy Anglican, the ultra-conservative Christian right of the US makes me shudder. But to call even them "fundamentalist" is problematic, because the term has so many negative ramifications. Why not just say that they believe something very strongly and then, in order to avoid misconceptions, explain precisely what that belief is? Then you can argue with it, if you like. You can, additionally, argue that they have no right to impose those beliefs on others; and I will agree with you. Vociferously. But to dismiss that belief, without engaging it, merely by using a pejorative term like "fundamentalism" and claiming it stems from a fear of evolutionary change is -- well, problematic, to say the least. I'm not even saying it's entirely wrong; all institutional religion does rest on "order," as others have pointed out before me. Arguably, the revulsion to the occult itself arises out of the fear that such "dabblings in devilry" will upset God's moral order. Nonetheless, I do think this analysis could have been more nuanced.posted by: Bronwen on 09.10.03 at 10:03 AM [permalink]
"...most Christian denominations have anti-authoritarian roots"
How that??? What is the thing called "God" (or "Allah" or "Yahwe" or "Mumbo-Jumbo" or whateveryoulike) if not an AUTHORITY in the most radical and bitter sense of the word - a being whose laws and decisions mustn't (or even cannot, depending on your point of view) be doubted, criticized or altered; a FUEHRER like Hitler, but immortal and everlasting and thus unconquerable and infinitely worse than any human dictator ever could be.
If you want to want to call yourself "anti-authoritarian", you should AT FIRST leave behind the irrational belief in "supreme beings" who are never seen, heard or felt, but nevertheless are to be obeyed - AFAIK a common treat of ALL religions and superstitions, so neither Jews or anybody else should feel slighted or left-out. When you have set your mind straight thus far, and truly earned the name of "homo *sapiens*" by doing so, you can then start to question HUMAN authorities (government etc.) which are at least tangible entities which really exist, and are therefore worth working on.
To get this back on topic: For me, the utterly refreshing thing about the Harry Potter stories is that there is, despite all the "magic", no religion and superstition, no temples and churches, no God and no Satan, in the world Ms. Rowling describes; even Christmas is celebrated, in the best Dickensian tradition, as a purely HUMAN feast, a time to make peace with the world and do each other good. The people in the books don't NEED preaching about God and Satan and behave like good Christians nevertheless in their every-day life - I feel that is exactly what makes the books so suspicious in the mind of some church-goers, who always like to think religion is necessary to hold up public morals and to teach people right from wrong.
Who says Potter "draws children towards the occult" probably hasn't read even book one - from the very beginning it is clear that "Muggles" (non-magical people like you and I) can never "learn" magic or "become" wizards even if they tried. Occultism therefore is useless nonsense, as it constitutes the attempt of ordinary humans to *gain* magical powers, which is expressly described as IMPOSSIBLE by Ms. Rowling - Muggles will be Muggles, and if you haven't received your letter from Hogwarts, you're probably one of them, and you needn't even try to do magic! Even children recognize that, they usually know better than the average book reviewer that Potter and his fellow wizards are "a race of their own", and that they themselves are no more "wizards" than they will ever become "hobbits" no matter how much they admire Frodo Baggins.posted by: on 09.10.03 at 10:03 AM [permalink]
This whole idear about Priest's being against harry potter seams to me as a mainly amreican catholic repeonce. I have been a close member of the protistant comunity of england and sofar have heard noone in my area (the north east) talk baout the books being a sorce of evil. Infact my aunt who is a femail vicar has read all of them, and though she is not a great fan, she see's no threight in them. This oppinion seams to be mirrord by meany in the Priesthood with even the bishop of york including harry potter refrences (in particular how harry had to trust sirius black in book 3) in a sermon about how we have to trust in god even if we don't have full proof.posted by: ConfusedCat on 09.10.03 at 10:03 AM [permalink]
Ironically...my friends that practice the Wiccan religion don't read Harry Potter books because of the 'negative' portrayal of the religion...no matter what religion you are, there will always be a reason to dislike the message in these works of fiction. Personally, I read these books because they are well-written, and interesting, if you disagree with the books, then don't read them! I am fairly certain that Jk Rowling did not mean to convert young children to her evil, satan worshipping ways...this is fiction, not some occult recruiting tool! Enjoy it for the fantasy that is is!posted by: Brid on 09.10.03 at 10:03 AM [permalink]
In answer to the anonymous poster who posted at 04:21 AM on 09.12.03:
That's a fascinating view of God: "a being whose laws and decisions mustn't (or even cannot, depending on your point of view) be doubted, criticized or altered; a FUEHRER like Hitler, but immortal and everlasting and thus unconquerable and infinitely worse than any human dictator ever could be."
If that's your view of God, a cosmic dictator, no wonder you loathe the very idea. But you must realize that those people who do believe in God (by which I mean more than just believing that God exists; I mean wanting to follow his commands) don't see him that way. Think about it -- if I truly believed that God was a self-serving cosmic dictator, who visited punishment on his subjects for the slightest critism or doubt, then would I *want* to serve him willingly? Of course not! I would either serve him out of fear, or reject him utterly and rebel against him. (And then the lack of lightning bolts from above would probably convince me that God didn't exist after all, since if he did, he would have punished me by now).
What I'm trying to say is this: there are essentially three positions about God that one can take:
1) God (however that word is defined) doesn't exist.
This is, basically, atheism. From your comments I conclude that this is the position you hold.
2) God exists, and is essentially selfish, cruel, and all-around Not Someone You Want To Piss Off.
This seems to be the position you are talking about in your first paragraph. It has been (and is) held by some people (for example, I think that's essentially how the Greeks saw the gods. Look at Greek mythology for examples of what all-around cruel bastards some of the Greek gods could be to people). But it's not the view held by Christians.
3) God exists, and is essentially loving and good.
This position is the one that Christianity teaches.
Yes, there are some subtleties that I'm omitting in an attempt to keep this post simple, but any view of God will fall into one of these three categories much better than the other two.
Now I have understood your view of God correctly, it falls under category #2 above. Yet oddly enough, you have not been struck by lightning from a clear blue sky, nor had any other things happen to you that could indicate a Really Pissed-Off Deity. Right? Seems to me the conclusion is that #2 is incorrect, and either #1 or #3 is right. That is, either God doesn't exist, or else he does exist but isn't the kind of person who would take revenge on you for doubting him. I know what *I* think on the matter, but that's another story entirely.
P.S. Next time, could you please put a name to your posts (even if it's a made-up name)? It would make answering much easier. I could have just said, "In answer to (name)" at the start of this post. Thanks.posted by: Robin Munn on 09.10.03 at 10:03 AM [permalink]
I am a Catholic and a big Harry Potter fan. I really believe that all these fighting about, if Harry Potter is good or evil, is nonsense. I am a 13-year old reader, and I have not been tempted by the books in any way. I know that they are fantasy, and that it could never be real. That is why I love it, it is a world in which i will never belong, but that i enjoy reading about.They teach a lot of important things, like friendship, love, loyalty,good conquoring evil, equality. arent all these what religion teaches?????? I still go to church on Sundays, and go to a catholic school. I believe in God. I dont understand why parents dont let kids read.Its reading!!!! Dont be scared, if you teach kids faith then there is nothing to worry about.posted by: Natalia on 09.10.03 at 10:03 AM [permalink]
Good point Natalia. The only people who are really worried about their children reading these books, are those who do not take the time to teach their children the truth. My parents told me at a very young age, "Don't do drugs, never start smoking and go to church." Not in so few words, but you get the point. And I do see that this is a good base conversation to start a deep one about religion. But I can waist all the time I want because I am not intelligent or important.posted by: Parcel on 09.10.03 at 10:03 AM [permalink]
First off, none of u have any idea what ur talking about except for maybe
And I think it's very possible that all this religious uproar over Potter from ANY religion is being caused because it is a new, fresh, and original idea and kids are drawn to it as well as millions of adults that are obsessed.
Number one, any of u religious people, all u are doing is trying to FORCE ur religions back on people by attacking things of a different nature.
And to the other guy/girl who said that witchcraft was drummed in the new testament of the bible, well EXACTLY, why wouldn't it be in the NEW testament, as the very people who hung women and men because they were suspected of witchcraft WROTE the new testament. the old testament is actualy JUDAISM and transformed into a new name.
there are so many time gaps and so many different people wrote in it that I don't know how anyone could be daft enough to take the thing word for word...
In truth, and i know MANY people wont take this to heart because their minds are closed shut to things of truth, the bible can be compared to the Viking Sagas because that is exactly what it is, an account of many different peoples thoughts and stories over thousands of yrs time.
I know u don't want to accept it, but it's true.
Get real people.
Mr. Drezner, thank you for your insight on the Potter topic.posted by: Poltergeist on 09.10.03 at 10:03 AM [permalink]
That made me cry, it hurts so much. I want you to know that what you just said hurt me and it hurt God. Not because you had something to say against Christians, the Bible or even for trying to disprove the existence of God. But because, I know deep down that one day you will feel regret for the blasphemous words you have spoken. Either because you have excepted the truth, causing the next few moments of your life to be so filled with joy and repentance that you will be drained. Or that regret will be felt on your day of judgment when you realize that your whole life you were blinded by the false wonder of a sinful life, that you spent your whole life not knowing. I am not going to press religion on you or anyone else. I would, oh yes I would for I do not care what you think of me or any other Christian for that matter. But the Lord does not want me to force my beliefs on anyone. But know this if so much as one word I have said has planted even the tiniest seed of truth in anyone's heart, my life will have been worth living, Jesus Christ did not only die for the whole word, He died for you. And to know that you will feel such great pain one day, makes Him weep. Please do not say we are the ones who are blind and close minded. Of course I doubt God's existence every once in a while, I wonder if I am on the right path. But I never truly lose faith, and I never doubt His power. The lost are the ones who believe they are imprisoned in a cell, when the Lord took the walls away two thousand years ago. Religion does not save us, we don not even need "religion" We need only to know what He did.posted by: Parcel on 09.10.03 at 10:03 AM [permalink]
I would like to say, in Islam women are held in the highest esteem. Muslim girls grow up knowing about strong female figures like Khadija and Fatima, Prophet Muhammad's wife and daughter so Hermione Granger would not be a problem for them. It is really unfortunate that organisations like Lashkar e Taiba are tarnishing the image of Islam for there own vested interests. Being a Pakistani, I can tell you that Harry Potter is extremely popular here and no one has any problems with the magic in it. I really do not understand why people have a problem. After all legendary classic stories like the Arabian Nights etc and other children's books eg those written by Enid Blyton also have a lot of magic in them. No one has anything to say about themposted by: Cearnaigh on 09.10.03 at 10:03 AM [permalink]
I agree with much of the artical, in the way that it expresses much of how I feel on the issue. I'm not a extreamly religious person, but I do believe in God, and in Jesus, and I was raised a baptist, so I have a little insight into what the fundementalist theory is.
"If there's anything that scares religious orthodoxy, it's decentralized enthusiasm for something new."
Or just decentralization, and enthusiasm for something else. I think one needs to draw a distinction between the leaders and the followers of extremist religious groups. The leaders are in it for power and control. The followers are in it for answers, and freedom from fear. And they are all in it for community.
When the party line is not being strictly followed, the system is less likely to rigidly hold together. And it is much easier to build community when given a common enemy.
"What devotees of Lashkar-e-Taiba or James Dobson share is an unquenched desire for order ... fundamentalist groups have an exaggerated fear of uncertainty, and any phenomenon beyond their control represents a threat to their world."
Any phenomenon not under the control of those who thirst after power is problematic.
"Harry Potter may be harmless, but the books are beyond their control. They inject new and unwanted ideas into the heads of young children."
The mere popularity of these books is a problem. But I think, more importantly, it is a distraction from what the followers are told they SHOULD be paying attention to: the leaders of the group, and the agreed upon focus of the community.
"God forbid that Muslim girls should read about a strong female character like Hermione Granger, or that young Christian children read stories that suggest not all authority figues are omniscient or pure of heart."
I think that all leaders that are not the agreed upon leaders of the group are seen as not being omnicient or pure of heart, so this example is probably naive.
There certainly is a problem in the dynamics of extremist religious groups. Not being open to new ideas is one of them. But maybe more important is the need for the leaders to control the attention and interests of those they lead. Harry Potter just might divert said attention and interest. The easiest way to cast aspersions on it is to declare it to be subversive, based on the teachings of the group. Then, to read it, and discover it's true nature would be rebellious. For people who maintain an interest in remaining in community, this would be unthinkable.posted by: fuguewriter on 09.10.03 at 10:03 AM [permalink]
Parcel, please don't threaten people with fire and brimstone. It's ridiculous, and it makes me want to utterly disregard everything you've said.
I really enjoyed reading this. I personally think the Potter books are completely harmless, and I suspect that people who go about damning everybody and claiming to be perfectly right in everything are really afraid. Afraid of going to hell themselves, perhaps, so they have to convince themselves that other people are going to hell.
Just wanted to clear something up for ConfusedCat: Officially, the Catholic Church is not anti-Potter; the Pope has cleared the books. In my experience, it's the Southern Baptists (who seem to be against everything) who have been the biggest "burn harry at the stake" advocates. Having said that, of course, I admit that you can't pin this insanity on any one religious group. There are crazy people in every religion who will take it too far-- I hate to use the Muslims as an example, since they've been getting such bad press, but these terrorists are certainly people who have taken their religion so far they've forgotton what it's about.
Surely these "fundamentalist" (for lack of a more concise term) Christians can think of something more productive to do with their time than attack a harmless childrens' series.posted by: Kaykay on 09.10.03 at 10:03 AM [permalink]
U obviously didn't realy read or comprehend anything I said.
posted by: Poltergeist on 09.10.03 at 10:03 AM [permalink]
My rule of thumb is to close off comments once the number 50 has been reached. Thanks to everyone for contributing. It was an interesting and revealing discussion thread.posted by: Dan on 09.10.03 at 10:03 AM [permalink]
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