Harry Potter and the Incensed Zealots

21:44 Tue 24 Jul 2007. Updated: 11:05 25 Jul 2007
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I’m not a Harry Potter fan, and so haven’t been caught up in the hype surrounding the movie or the release of the final book. I read the first one, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, in 2000 and didn’t enjoy it. I felt it was lacking something, possibly depth. Yes, it was aimed at children, but so was the His Dark Materials trilogy, which displayed no such lack. That being said, I don’t have anything against the books per se, apart from occasional irritation at the hype (and the copyright-law heavy-handedness from the publishers). Apparently a significant number of groups feel rather differently.

I refer of course to a minority of religious nuts, who contend that the books “promote Satanism” and “encourage witchcraft”. The post “Why the Christian Right hates Harry Potter” contains an analysis of this phenomenon. There’s this excerpt from the movie Jesus Camp showing one fundamentalist’s reaction. Wikipedia has good information on a variety of incidents, and notes that the series has been the subject of at least three book burnings. That’s incredible to me. My surprise is tempered by sad recognition of how backward so much of this country is, but even so, book burnings? I find that very sad.

Why do they hate the books so much? There’s a surface-level answer, which is that they genuinely believe in witchcraft and the efficacy of occult magick. Given that this is the case, it’s not a stretch for them to believe that books about those subjects refer to real-world practices, practices that lead to Satan.

I think that they also simply dislike competition, in the sense that they don’t think that people, especially children, should be spending their time on anything but overtly Christian books (following their definition of “Christian”, of course).

Fantasy books also tend to have a theme of tolerance of difference. This hardly fits in with American right-wing Christianity, which is really all about fear and rejection of difference, of the Other, and about trying to lock down not merely a worldview but a world in which there are absolutely clear answers to everything, and where there are no grey areas.

Following on from this, I agree with an article I read recently (can’t remember the source, sadly) which discussed right-wing Christian opposition to science fiction, because science fiction posited an alternative future history, one in which (usually) humanity reaches the stars. Christian leaders understand that their narrative, which is increasingly built on ideas of imminent apocalypse, is incompatible with such a science-fiction future. The more extreme religious groups get, the more convinced they become that the End Times are just around the corner. If science fiction promotes the idea that there’s a long future instead, it is an enemy narrative. Fantasy sometimes shares this, and often has entire alternate worlds, again opening up the idea of multiple paths. Monolithic religiouns want one story, one mode of thinking, and so anything that promotes alternatives—especially to children—is a threat (and, by extension, an abomination).

That being said, I hope the nuts shout louder in their opposition to Harry Potter. I hope they keep going with their attempts to ban it because it leads children to Satanism, their claims that it promots witchcraft, their cries that it corrupts the children of the world. Because, in so doing, they expose their inanity very clearly to the rest of the population, which seems like a good thing.

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7 Responses to “Harry Potter and the Incensed Zealots”

  1. garret Says:

    Don’t worry we have a hero who will save the day.

  2. Frank Says:

    Insightful thoughts, Tadhg. I thought I’d add, as one who’s known many of those people who would burn Harry Potter books, that your “surface-level answer” of a true belief in witchcraft and the occult accounts for more of this behavior than you might think. I believe the rest of your theory is spot on, but in a subconscious way that they won’t even admit to themselves.

    Many of them really, truly believe that, at worst, demons can possess you through exposure to Harry Potter books (and D&D, MTG, etc), and at best, it’s just a subtle tool for Satan to work his influence in the world. Scary stuff.

  3. Tadhg Says:

    Garret: don’t you mean “a hero who’s coming to save the day”?

    Frank: I think you’re right, and I wasn’t clear enough about which sections of the movements in question believe what. The majority do appear to believe in the power of demons to possess, and the influence of Satan working through popular culture. Their fear of alternative narratives probably isn’t conscious—but the leaders of these groups, who are often quite aware of how their attempts at social control operate, do explicitly recognize that threat that other stories present.

  4. garret Says:

    Satan is in all of us dwelling in our lower intestinal tract but if we drink lots of stupid yogurt beverages we can contain him.
    Help to end the sick impisonment of Chris De Burghs eye brows and release them back into the wild, where they belong. All boring people go to heaven and if you go to hell you get a free cod piece and studied fingerless gloves ohhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh.
    Do ever think that satan is just really misunderstood and that god could actually be the real trouble maker?

    Hey, Frank, are you Satan? I mean have you noticed anything strange of late like a choir following you around singing in deep and then suddenly high voices. A tail, doesn’t have to be red or even long and are you able to emotionally manipulate crows into doing your bidding. Do you like chilli sauce and find reclining in a lazy boy a mode of exercise?

  5. Frank Says:

    Garret: Well, I can’t say I have a tail or can do the crow thing. But the sauce and lazy boy thing are true. Maybe I could be Satan. Also the choir. I was wondering what they were doing.

    But I had another thought about this. Growing up in a somewhat fundamentalist environment (I was allowed to read fantasy books but not to play D&D, for example), I never could understand what the harm was in pretending. After all, that what “fantasy” means. I was perfectly capable of separating what was real from what wasn’t.

    But maybe that’s what they’re truly afraid of. Perhaps too much exposure to fantastic fiction gives children the ability to discern imaginative stories from the truth. And too many people with that skill would be devastating to their religion.

  6. Tadhg Says:

    Garret: The concept of erudite fingerless gloves is indeed chilling. As for God being the real troublemaker, such an alternative narrative is precisely the kind of thing these groups want to suppress…

    Frank: Good point, I hadn’t really considered the aspect that fantastic fiction might aid critical thinking in the realm of differentiating between the real and the imaginary—you’re completely correct, that skill is the last thing they’d want to spread.

  7. garret Says:

    Maybe just maybe in the wonderful land of maybe ( not the one where the weapons of mass destruction live which is off the map of maybe) there is a chance that we are all just pretending. Some of us, without namimg names, ( all the religous nut jobs in the known world including the christian far right, lets face it satanists are at least entertaining and have neat clothes) want to have a monopoly on reality and what it should or shouldn’t be. Put another way if you gave Billy Graham an enema you could place his remains into a match box.

    Frank don’t mean to bother you or anything but I was wondering if you could do the whole locust thing on my neighbour, with the choir would be really great.


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