Does Harry Potter’s use of “evil” sorcery to defeat evil make him good? Or evil? Even the Vatican can’t decide.
As I mentioned last week, the Vatican has had a change of heart regarding the occult overtones in the Harry Potter multimedia franchise. After years of claiming that the young wizard’s tale would lead impressionable readers to practice witchcraft and sorcery, someone in Italy must have noticed that that wasn’t really happening.
In a review of the final film in the series, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows 2, the Vatican newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, reported, “evil is never presented as fascinating or attractive in the saga, but the values of friendship and of sacrifice are highlighted.” Another critic noted, “the saga champion[s] values that Christians and non-Christians share and provide[s] opportunities for Christian parents to talk to their children about how those values are presented in a special way in the Bible.”
The Catholic Register also has positive words for the film, though the critic is uncomfortable with some of the language surrounding resurrection.
However, it’s unclear whether this positive spin on the Harry Potter world trumps such statements as then-Cardinal Ratzinger’s 2005 letters discussing how the wizard’s saga contains “subtle seductions, which act unnoticed and by this deeply distort Christianity in the soul, before it can grow properly.”
There’s also the statement from the Vatican’s chief exorcist, Rev. Gabriele Amorth, who said, “You start off with Harry Potter, who comes across as a likeable wizard, but you end up with the Devil … By reading Harry Potter a young child will be drawn into magic and from there it is a simple step to Satanism and the Devil.” Again, this is a statement from a half-decade ago; has Amorth changed his mind?
Michael D. O’Brien, author of Harry Potter and the Paganization of Culture, argues:
To believe that the Potter message is about fighting evil is superficial. On practically every page of the series, and in its spin-off films, evil is presented as ‘bad’, and yet the evil means by which the evil is resisted are presented as good.
Admittedly, I am on the other side of the aisle from O’Brien. Not only do I not believe magic is evil, I don’t even agree that the magic depicted in Harry Potter is intended to represent literal sorcery. Was Jesus’ resurrection of Lazarus sorcery? After all, he says some magic words and Lazarus comes back to life after four days in a tomb:
41 So they took away the stone from the place where the dead man was lying.
Jesus lifted up his eyes, and said,
“Father, I thank you that you listened to me.
42 I know that you always listen to me,
but because of the multitude that stands around I said this,
that they may believe that you sent me.”
Lazarus, come out!
43 When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!”
44 He who was dead came out, bound hand and foot with wrappings,
and his face was wrapped around with a cloth.
Jesus said to them, “Free him, and let him go.”
I may get in trouble with Christian readers for saying this, but honestly, the only reason this isn’t considered evil sorcery is that it’s presented as a miracle — in the same collection of stories that says sorcery is evil. Yes, the Bible is full of contradictions; arguably this is one of them.
So, here’s the question: is O’Brien right? Is the good vs. evil message in Harry Potter “superficial”? Is the use of “evil” to fight evil the real message of the saga? What do you think?