Potter magic under religious scrutiny

Despite claims by some religious organizations that the Harry Potter stories are evil because it includes sorcery, Malibu clergy look upon the tale with less judgment.

By Sylvie Belmond/Staff Writer

In the Middle Ages, Europeans took singular Bible verses literally. As the Book of Exodus states, “Do not allow evil to live,” they applied it stringently. When a woman was thought to be a witch, she was simply burnt to death.

Today, religion is still practiced in the same way in some countries, but American religious organizations do not apply the word as literally as some did in the past.

Recently, the Trinity Broadcasting Network, a Christian television network, was fervently praying to neutralize the movie “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.” The network considers the story evil because it incorporates sorcery.

But local clergy view the story differently and disagree with that particular response to the movie.

“I’m sorry, I don’t have any time for those sour pusses,” said Our Lady of Malibu Rev. Bill Kerse. “God meant us to be on this planet to have fun and enjoy life.”

Other Malibu religious leaders echoed that sentiment.

Malibu United Methodist Church Rev. Larry Peacock, who saw the film and read the books, determined that the Harry Potter stories exemplify good battling evil, which reflects many stories in the Bible.

“Rowling has a fertile imagination, and though it may not be the medium I would choose, the school of wizards is wonderfully engaging,” said Peacock.

However, Van Nuys Church On The Way’s senior pastor, Dr. Scott Bauer, did not think the story harmless.

“I think it feeds a rebellious attitude toward parents, and that’s unacceptable to me as a father and pastor,” said Bauer.

Bauer explained that what was a rather pedestrian fantasy story in the first Potter book becomes a hostile world in the third book. Furthermore, he said, Potter’s magic powers grow and he begins to punish the people who do not agree with him. “He becomes vindictive,” said Bauer.

“The bad guys are all authority figures like parents and teachers,” he emphasized. “And harm can come from feeding that type of point of view to children.”

Potter becomes selfish and self-centered, like a little kid throwing a tantrum to control his world, continued Bauer. “That’s a frightening thing.”

On the spiritual side, Bauer said the world believes wizards, witches and warlocks are fantasy, but the Bible says they do exist and are evil.

But the details of a story are not always important, said Chabad of Malibu Rabbi Levy Cunin.

“By getting lost in the details, we lose the juice of what is going on,” he said.

The Hassidic approach is that every story told can have benefits and a great effect on people.

“If the message can have a good effect on people, then it’s good,” said Cunin.

“When people become religious, sometimes they forget what brought them there,” Cunin said. “And we as human beings can get lost in the dogmatic rhythm of things.”

The Potter story brings up familiar issues for children.

“They can relate to difficulties with classmates and there is plenty of that in both the movie and the book,” said Peacock.

The story also highlights the importance of friends and their various skills. In the movie, the final challenge is mastered with the help of Potter’s friends: Hermione’s wisdom and Ron’s gamesmanship and sacrifice, and finally, by Harry’s heart, which is the strongest magic of all.

Movies are vehicles that should encourage discussion about faith and how one is to live, said Peacock.

Moreover, Potter is developing character and the Christian life is about developing character as well, said the reverend.

But Bauer was still concerned that the story endorses witches and wizards as they become role models for the children in the story.

“The Bible teaches against those things,” he said. In fact, the Bible teaches that when Saul consults a medium, in Book One of Samuel, a death penalty is handed out to him because of it.

Moreover, when Potter’s power matures, Bauer said, he uses it for his personal gain against people who offended him. “Christianity teaches forgiveness, grace and love for your enemies,” said Bauer. “Potter teaches revenge.”

But even those of the same faith see with a different pair of eyes.

“I don’t have an image of Harry being vindictive,” said Peacock. However, he suggested that parent participation is important.

If children are reading the books, parents should also read them to be able to respond to questions their children might have, Peacock recommends.

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The Malibu Times is the first newspaper in Malibu, serving the community since 1946.

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