Harry Potter film: invitation to join occult?
Nov 16 2001 8:06PM
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Flying motorcycles and lightning bolts and dragon eggs and phoenix feathers may be keeping some people out of movie houses this weekend.
Not everyone likes bubble, bubble, toil and trouble, and some wish they could swing a magic wand and make the new kid flick "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" disappear like magic.
Early estimates indicate the much-awaited film based on literature's most famous boy wizard was poised to break box office records on both sides of the Atlantic as it opened on Friday. By most accounts the movie, based on stories by J.K. Rowling, is a healthy fantasy about good versus evil that could prompt meaningful discussions between children and their parents.
While the film has also prompted criticism among some witches for improperly depicting correct broomstick riding technique (bristles must be pointed forward not backward) real life believers in paganism and witchcraft are pleased with the film's positive depiction of witches and believe it could raise their much-maligned profile.
But the film is also prompting criticism, especially in some conservative Christian circles, which believe the tale of a young boy's exploits at the Hogwarts School of Wizardry and Witchcraft might lure children into the occult world.
On Friday a middle school in Fargo, North Dakota, canceled a field trip to see the film after parents complained about the movie's depiction of witchcraft. In Memphis, Tennessee, at least two Catholic schools said they were keeping the series of Harry Potter books off shelves because of their witchcraft content.
There have even been reports of church groups burning Harry Potter books.
Some ministers are asking parents to shield young children from the movie, which contains battle scenes and other violence, and urging them to decide for themselves whether to expose their older children to the film's supernatural elements.
"There's something wonderful about childhood fantasy and that's something you really don't want to take away from children but at the same time when witchcraft is put in a favorable light that's of concern," the Rev. David Anderson, rector of St. James Episcopal Church in Newport Beach, California, said, adding: .
"That's because witchcraft is alive today in North America and it's a very sinister force. That sends a confusing message to children as they grow older."
Lindy Beam, a youth culture analyst for the Christian-oriented Focus on the Family Web site, (http://www.family.org
), warned that the movie may also subtly erode moral values. The Harry Potter character often lies, cheats or breaks rules in order to save the day.
But since the Bible also tells Christians they must engage the culture, sometimes on its terms so people can understand the message of Jesus Christ, some evangelists believe Harry Potter may be a powerful evangelism tool.
"Obviously it's tapping into universal themes such as the realities of good versus evil ... what is true and what is not true ... and that's what the Gospel is about," said the Rev. Martyn Minns of Truro Episcopal Church in Fairfax, Virginia
"For me it gives the Christian community a tremendous opportunity to talk to kids about things that really matter," Minns said. "The film reflects a tremendous spiritual hunger in the culture. ... We don't need to be afraid of imagination."
Connie Neal, a California-based former youth pastor who wrote the book "What's A Christian To Do With Harry Potter?" said people should not be afraid of the movie and that she has shared the Harry Potter books with her own children as a way to teach them right from wrong and how to tell the difference.
"We have freedom in Christ to interpret literature, even literature that deals with pagan sources," Neal said.
Meanwhile real life witches have praised the Harry Potter stories as painting their practices in a good light and raising their oft-maligned profile.
Ruth Shelton, 43, of New York, has been a practicing witch for 27 years. She first read "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's
Stone," while fixing her 13-year-old son Evan's computer and loved its literary style and British humor.
She said some members of her coven, which meets "for circle" about three times a month, have bought advance tickets.
However she balks when asked if Harry Potter's world of Hogwarts bears any similarities to her own. "(Witches) don't have quite the same array of fantasy characters or live in a world completely apart from the mundane world," she said.