Thursday, February 15, 2018

Harry Potter and the Bible

 ©Warner Bros. Pictures

The Bible is not simply a religious text; it is the best-selling book of all time, and an influence on Western culture in innumerable ways. It is also the founding literature of Western Civilization, and it is not difficult to find similarities between it and a large number of works of fiction, both classic and modern. The Harry Potter series is the best-selling book series of all time, and as much as it may anger fundamentalist Christians, the similarities between the Harry Potter books/films and the Bible do not end there.

The similarities do not, however, lie in the obvious shared symbols the books contain. The fact that the symbol of Gryffindor is a lion is no more a reference to the Lion of Judah than it is to Aslan in the Narnia series. Snakes are prominent in the stories, and Lucifer took the form of the snake in the Garden of Eden. But while the Basilisk and Nagini would be considered evil, other snakes in the books have been portrayed more benignly (such as the one Harry frees from the zoo in the first book). The real parallels between the Potter books and the Bible lie in the issues of death, sacrifice, redemption, and love.

Sacrifice and redemption go hand-in-hand in both the Bible and the Harry Potter series. Especially in the Old Testament, figures such as Abraham, Moses, and Elijah fail greatly, usually early in their lives, only to overcome in the end. Moses in particular fits this model: before becoming the deliverer of the Israelites he was a murderer. In the Potter books, we see that heroes like Dumbledore and James Potter had significant character flaws early on life, but strove to overcome them and later sacrificed their lives battling evil. Snape is a perfect example of redemption as taught in the Bible, someone who turned from evil to good, though he was suspected by his comrades until the end of his life.

There is one point in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows where we are presented with an actual verse from the Bible: "And the last enemy that shall be destroyed is death." This is the inscription on Harry's parents' tomb, and it comes from 1 Corinthians. However, this is not a case of J.K. Rowling professing Christianity. It is simply a classic verse that deals with the same thing as the central issue of her books: death and how we deal with and overcome it. All of us will, as Harry did, face the death of loved ones as well as someday facing death ourselves. Both the Bible and the Potter books show that death is not the end, but simply part of an ongoing journey, although they present that journey in very different ways (Heaven vs. King's Cross Station, for example).

In the end, the most obvious parallel is the belief in both the Bible and the Harry Potter books that love will, in the end, triumph. Harry's mother sacrificed herself for him out of love, and it was the power of that love that ultimately helped defeat Voldemort. Sirius loved Lily Evans, and that love made him watch out for Harry in spite of himself. And Dumbledore taught constantly that it was love that would overcome the power of the Dark Lord. In the Bible, Jesus made love a focal point of his teaching (as did St. Paul and St. John later): love of God and love of your fellow man. And he demonstrated it by laying down his life for us.

So while the Harry Potter series would not be considered “Christian” books, they explore many of the same core values as the Bible. 20 years since the publication of "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone," those who still seek to ban the books for being satanic would do well to try to understand this. Besides, if your faith can be destroyed by an eleven-year old character in a children's novel, it was a pretty weak faith to begin with. 

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