The Trouble with Harry
|By: Dr. Ted Baehr; ©2002|
|With a new Harry Potter movie due out soon, Dr. Baehr takes this time to remind us of why Christian parents need to educate their children to be “intelligent consumers” when it comes to the messages in many of today’s movies.|
Stories matter deeply. They make a profound difference in our lives. They bring us laughter, tears and joy. They stimulate our minds and stir our imaginations. They help us to escape our daily lives for a while and visit different times, places and people. They can arouse our compassion or empathy, spur us toward truth and love, or sometimes even incite us toward hatred or violence.
Different kinds of stories satisfy different needs. A comedy evokes a different response from us than a tragedy. A hard news story on page one affects us differently than a human interest story in the magazine section or a celebrity profile next to the movie or television listings. While different kinds of stories satisfy different needs, many stories share common themes, settings, character types, situations, and other recurrent, archetypal patterns. They may even possess a timeless, universal quality. By looking at the differences among stories, we can examine the motifs, meanings, values, and principles that each story evokes. By looking at their common patterns, we can gain insights into truth, reality, human nature, and the spirit of the imagination. Every story also has a worldview, a way of viewing reality, truth, the universe, the human condition, and the supernatural world. By examining their worldviews, we can determine their the cultural ideals and the messages they convey, as well as determine the emotions they evoke.
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone is a very popular pop culture phenomenon because it captures children’s imaginations with an exciting, funny fantasy/adventure about an abused, but talented, boy who finds a new magical world full of fantastic possibilities opening up to him. It is a unique story that, nevertheless, touches upon universal themes of growing up, friendship and good versus evil. Furthermore, the movie version of the book has obviously been crafted very carefully, using the best tools that Hollywood has at its disposal.
That’s just what makes Harry Potter dangerous, however, because, as it tries to break box-office and publishing records, it also has a subtle occult, New Age worldview that encourages children to dabble in witchcraft, sorcery, divination, and talking with dead people and other “spirits.” The Word of God clearly condemns (in Deuteronomy 18:10-11 and elsewhere), these beliefs and practices, which are ultimately demonic or satanic in origin. In addition to worshipping the earth and opposing Christianity and the Bible, some witches advocate sexual immorality, including homosexuality, and also believe in abortion as a sacred act.
While the Harry Potter books and movie do not expressly advocate homosexuality or abortion, these are philosophical beliefs deeply embedded in witchcraft. Without proper parental supervision, your child may succumb to these anti-Christian, anti-biblical beliefs and drift toward a hedonistic, satanic lifestyle. Harry Potter, and the advertising and hype surrounding the series, also may seduce your child into investigating the many pagan, witchcraft websites on the Internet that attempt to use the Harry Potter phenomenon to inculcate young minds with tales of other “gods” and “goddesses,” sorcery, sexual hedonism, and even worse.
Rather than just forbid your children to go see the movie, however, it is perhaps wiser to offer an explanation to them of THE TROUBLE WITH HARRY, why it is bad for them and what kinds of entertainment you think they should consume instead. The following material is designed to help you do just that. By following our suggestions, you can teach your children to KNOW BEFORE THEY GO and choose the good.
Thousands of scientific studies and case studies have shown the powerful influence that the entertainment media has on people’s cognitive development and behavior, especially children, teenagers and young people, who represent the biggest audience. In fact, by the time they are 17-years-old, children will have spent at least 40,000 hours watching movies, videos and TV programs, playing video games, listening to music, and reading popular books and news stories, but only 11,000 hours in school, 2,000 hours with their parents, and 800 hours in church if they regularly attend! That’s about 2,353 hours of media consumption per year for the average child. Of those 2,353 hours each year, our current figures indicate that up to 20 percent of them, or about 471 hours, will feature a solid, strong or very strong moral worldview, and up to 7 percent, or about 165 hours, will feature a solid, strong or very strong redemptive or Christian worldview.
The Solution-Media Wisdom
In light of all this conclusive evidence of the effect of the entertainment media, it seems ever abundantly clear, therefore, that parents need to teach their children and teenagers how to be media-wise, intelligent consumers rather than just passive couch potatoes.
There are four pillars of media wisdom:
- Understand the influence of the entertainment media;
- Understand your child’s cognitive development;
- Understand the grammar of the entertainment media; and,
- Understand your moral, spiritual values and teach them to your children.
The first one, understanding the influence of the media, may be titled, “Breaking the Bonds of Denial.” As Dale Kunkel, professor at the university of California, Santa Barbara, points out, after thousands of intensive studies in this area, only one significant researcher still denies the influence of the media, and that researcher last did real research in this area in the mid-1980s. In the wake of the Columbine High School massacre, CBS President Leslie Moonves put it quite bluntly, “Anyone who thinks the media has nothing to do with this is an idiot” (Associated Press, 05/19/99). Thus, the American Psychological Association’s report on media violence concludes, “There is absolutely no doubt that those who are heavy viewers of violence demonstrate increased acceptance of aggressive attitudes and increased aggressive behavior.”
The second step in media wisdom is understanding the susceptibility of children at each stage of development. Not only do children see the media differently at each stage of development, but also different children are susceptible to different stimuli. For instance, you might not want your younger children seeing Monsters, Inc. or Shrek, while Toy Story II is safer for them. Or, you might want your teenager to avoid a movie like The Family Man, but allow them to see something like The Princess Diaries or Return to Me. As the research of the National Institute of Mental Health showed many years ago, some children want to copy media violence, some are susceptible to other media influences, some become afraid, and many just become desensitized. Just like an alcoholic would be inordinately tempted by a beer commercial, so the propensity for susceptibility plays an important part in what kind of media will influence your child at each stage of development.
The third part of media wisdom is understanding the grammar of the media so that you can deconstruct and critique what you are watching by asking the right questions. Children spend the first 14 years of their lives learning grammar with respect to 16th Century technology—the written word. They need to be taught the grammar of the 21st Century technology. Thus, they need to know how aspects of different media work and influence them, and how to be able to ask the right questions such as, Who is the hero? What kind of role model is the hero? Who is the villain? What kind of message does his character convey? How much sex and violence is in the mass media product? What is the premise, or proposition, that drives the narrative? What worldviews and values are the movie or program teaching? How does the movie or program treat Christians, Jews, religion, and political ideologies like conservatism, liberalism, socialism, fascism, Marxism, and environmentalism? Does good triumph over evil? Would you be embarrassed to sit through this movie or television program with your parents, children, God, or Jesus Christ?
As we noted in our Introduction, there are not only different types of stories, there are also recurrent, archetypal, universal, and transcendent patterns, motifs, images, character types, themes, values, and principles within stories. Some kinds of stories are more visually-oriented while other stories are more literary or theatrical. Also, most stories embody the cultural ideals of a people and their society and give expression to deep, commonly felt, even transcendent emotions and rational or irrational ideas. Every story also has a worldview, a way of viewing reality, truth, the universe, the human condition, and the supernatural world. The theology of the storyteller or storytellers helps shape the worldview of the story. Thus, every worldview has a doctrine of God, a doctrine of man, a doctrine of salvation, a doctrine of the church, a doctrine of history and the future, a doctrine of the nature of reality (including a doctrine of Nature or Creation and a doctrine of supernatural forces), and a doctrine of knowledge (including a doctrine of truth).
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone has a selfish, occult, New Age worldview that subtly encourages children to dabble in witchcraft and sorcery. As such, it indirectly, and sometimes directly, teaches a nature-based, polytheistic religion that confuses the spiritual world of God with the natural or physical world, that has no doctrine of salvation or forgiveness for sin, that believes human nature is basically good instead of inherently sinful as the Bible and Christianity teaches, that hates the Christian church and the “muggles” or “mundane” people who make up that church, that mocks a belief in Heaven and Hell and in divine justice from a personal, rational God, and that promotes an epistemology or doctrine of knowledge that rejects rationality in favor of a belief in emotional decision-making and magical thinking.
Furthermore, although Harry Potter combines elements that modern-day witches may find offensive (e.g., flying on broomsticks), it shares other things with many of those who practice neo-pagan witchcraft. For example, in the books and the movie, characters are shown talking with ghosts, practicing divination, levitation and other psychic phenomenon, and casting spells. Many neo-pagan witches also dabble in astrology, psychic readings, astral travel, voodoo, guided visualization, meditation, reincarnation, and other occult, New Age activities. Although the Harry Potter books and movie are not specifically sexual, the New Age, occult worldview they espouse also sanctions the practice of many immoral sexual acts, including promiscuous fornication and homosexuality. As Bob and Gretchen Passantino point out in their book, When the Devil Dares Your Kids: Protecting Your Children from Satanism, Witchcraft, and the Occult, “The witchcraft worldview misunderstands the meaning of physical love and cheapens one of life’s most important acts.” The Christian, and biblical, worldview says that God limits human sexuality to expression within a permanent heterosexual marriage. Many modern-day witches may talk and write very eloquently about the topics of love and compassion, but the Apostle Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 13:6, “Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.” This is in line with what Jesus teaches in Mark 15:7, where Jesus condemns all sexual immorality or unlawful sexual practices, including homosexuality.
Finally, your children need to understand your values to be able to use those values to evaluate the answers they get from asking the right questions. If the hero wins by murdering and mutilating, your children need to apply your own values, which may or may not see the hero’s actions as heroic or commendable. Families have an easier time with number four, because they can apply their deeply held religious beliefs to evaluate the media. Even so, media literacy and values education are two of the fastest growing areas in the academic community, because educators realize that something is amiss. Therefore, I speak all around the world at national education associations and present my deeply held Christian beliefs as the yardstick that I use to evaluate the questions that need to be asked. When I speak to Christian groups, I train and equip them to immerse themselves in a biblical worldview so that they can help their children and grandchildren, and themselves, to know before they go, so that they can choose the good and reject the bad.
The bottom line, however, is that God abhors witchcraft no matter how sweet and subtle it is: “There shall not be found among you any one that maketh his son or his daughter to pass through the fire, or that useth divination, or an observer of times, or an enchanter, or a witch, or a charmer, or a consulter with familiar spirits, or a wizard, or a necromancer.” (Deuteronomy 18:10-11 KJV)
- Bob and Gretchen Passantino, When the Devil Dares Your Kids (Ann Arbor, Mich.: Servant Publications, 1991), p. 60.