Thursday, May 24, 2007

My beef with Harry

It seems like every month or so I have the following exchange (or some variation of it):

Them: “Do your kids like the Harry Potter books?”
Me: “They haven’t read them.”
Them: “What? Why not?”
Me: “Because they’re not allowed to.”
Them: “You won’t let them read Harry Potter?!?! Would you let them read the Lord of the Rings Trilogy or Narnia?”
Me: “Yes, if they wanted.”
Them: “Well what’s the difference between Harry Potter and these books?”

I do think this is a subject where people of good will can disagree, but for the record my kids are not allowed to read Harry Potter books. I do have a lot of good Catholic friends who see nothing wrong with letting their kids read the books. I see them as great parents, and their kids as great kids, but let me explain my thinking on the subject.

I think it’s fair to make the claim that Harry Potter is a story that involves as a large part of its storyline witchcraft. It portrays the Wiccan religion in a positive, though largely inaccurate manner.

Books, fiction or non-fiction, influence the way people think. Period. Parents and teachers choose books for children to read in hopes that the book’s subject matter will have an effect, on the child’s thinking. For example, why do you give children books on the saint’s lives? Isn’t it our hope that by the children reading the books that they will be affected positively in some way? The fact is that books have an effect on the reader that extends beyond the last page.

Recently, a new comic book series “99” has arrived on the scene. The series’ 99 characters live in all areas of the world and are found in many different scenarios. The heroes fight everything from crime to giant monsters. Each X-Men-like character embodies a virtue like strength, honesty, courage, industriousness, etc. Sounds great right? Just the thing our kids should be reading at a time when society seems to be glorifying the opposite. Oh yeah, I forgot to tell you that the “99” virtues embodied by the Islamic characters are the 99 qualities embodied by Allah, and that the stories are told through an Islamic worldview.

Would we let our kids read these comic books even if they are "just fantasy"? What if you had "trouble getting them to read anything but these books", would it be OK then? Has our outlook changed now that Islam has replaced Wicca in the storyline? What would your reasoning be if someone who was shocked that you wouldn’t let your kids read these “fantasy” books asked?

There isn’t any Christianity found explicitly in Narnia or the Lord of the Rings trilogy, so then why do I let my kids read them? One reason is that these two were written specifically to pass on Christian values, while Harry Potter was not.

But the biggest difference between Harry Potter, Narnia, and the Lord of the Rings trilogy is the presence and accessibility of the subject matter in real life.

Today there are estimated 500,000 - 750,000 people in the U.S. who consider themselves followers of the Wiccan religion. Recently, the Department of Veteran’s Affairs agreed to add the Wiccan pentacle to the list of approved religious symbols. Depending on the source, the number of adherents to the Wiccan religion doubles every 1.5 – 2.5 years. In short, Wicca is alive and growing in the U.S.

Kids today are looking into witchcraft. And while it may be an inaccurate view of witchcraft that drives their curiosity, the popularity of shows like Sabrina, the teen-aged Witch, Charmed, and The Craft that Wicca has made huge progress in being accepted in our culture.

As far as the accessibility of Narnia and the Lord of the Rings’ subject matter, when was the last time you caught your kids hanging around an elf, a talking lion, or an ogre?

Them: “So you think I’m a bad parent?”
Me: “No, I didn't say that.”
Them: “Then you think my kid’s going to become a witch by reading Harry Potter?”
Me: “Probably not.”
Them: “I think you're kind of over-the-top.”
Me: “You don't know the half of it.”

Let the comments fly, ... I can take it.

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