The Harry Potter debate: When is magic evil, and when is it a miracle?

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?


6 responses to “The Harry Potter debate: When is magic evil, and when is it a miracle?

  1. My favorite quote regarding miracles is from Sir Terry Pratchett: ““Whatever happens, they say afterwards, it must have been Fate. People are always a little confused about this, as they are in the case of miracles. When someone is saved from certain death by a strange concatenation of circumstances, they say that’s a miracle. But of course if someone is killed by a freak chain of events : the oil just spilled there, the safety fence just broke there : that must also be a miracle. Just because its not nice doesn’t mean its not miraculous.””

  2. Regarding the then-Cardinal’s comments: “…subtle seductions, which act unnoticed and by this deeply distort Christianity in the soul, before it can grow properly.”

    It aggravates me to no end when anyone, religious or not, suggests that “subtle seductions” to do just about anything aren’t flying at us 1000 mph every single day. Especially if you’re impressionable or otherwise vulnerable.

    The message of good over evil, love over selfishness (Voldemort’s primary interest was to save his own skin via immortality) seems like a very traditionally Christian one to me. I suppose, ironically, so is that of immortality.

    It’s also the staple of many great stories, especially when the line between good and evil is grayed as it is throughout the HP series. I seriously (seriously) doubt the point of the story is to fight evil with evil sorcery and witchcraft. The witchcraft is incidental to things like love, loyalty, and bravery.

  3. Hans Andersen

    The more hard-line Christian voices that you quote espouse a worldview where magic is real, and magic is evil by definition because it is a non-human power that does not derive from God. Under these postulates, there’s absolutely no contradiction in saying that the Lazarus resurrection is a miracle, and thereby good, and thereby not magic. And under that worldview, seeing “good” characters use magic to fight evil is very troubling, to the point where you might feel compelled to speak out. Pointing out contradictions isn’t helpful, because the only contradiction between you and them is that you probably disagree on postulates. (magic is/isn’t real, magic is/isn’t inherently evil, magic is/isn’t sourced from God, God is/isn’t et cetera.) Once the postulates were set, the subsequent logic seems to hold up just fine.

  4. “Once the postulates were set, the subsequent logic seems to hold up just fine.” Basically, you can only argue any point and reach agreement when two parties agree to the premises to begin from. That, of course, is why religion is always contentious: faith is a premise that can only be agreed upon by those who have it. Those without faith will not be moved by the logic of an argument with faith as a core premise or starting point. Those with faith can’t imagine making any arguments without faith as an agreed upon premise. It’s a sort of lockout affect that happens in a lot of systems of knowledge or belief. You can’t get corrupted by heathens if their argument is always flawed by their lack of faith, after all.

  5. Pingback: Are “The Hunger Games” sacrifices Satanic? | Backward Messages

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