Jesus and Harry: The Light and Dark of Light and Dark

Photo by FadderUri
I'm finishing book six of the Harry Potter series in Spanish. I wouldn't have been caught dead with this accursed thing in my Pentecostal church growing up. And the 2-1/2 movie versions I've seen so far leave me feeling a sort of heaviness which I don't like. But the books, in Spanish, are not only good practice reading for me, they feel, oddly enough, just fine.

The words that have always carried considerable meaning regarding evil don't carry the same weight in a foreign language. "Witch" and "sorcery" made my dark list in English, but in Spanish? They're "bruja" and "hechiceria" which fail to conjure images of the magic-hatted, green-skinned accomplice of the Devil, or something worse. Regardless of my theological position against all things hechiceria, the added cultural weight of these terms didn't make it through the translator.

In part, this has permitted me to ponder more objectively the brouhaha about Harry Potter and his symbolic relationship with Jesus, as well as the philosophical and theological divisions in the Church about what is light and what is dark. I've made a few illustrations below to show you what I mean.

First, when I read Harry Potter, I automatically place items, characters and actions into two general categories. Of course, I could split some characters into sub-categories since they aren't always good and aren't always bad (Voldemort excluded, unless you consider his desire to learn or his ability to cultivate as essentially good things regardless of his intentions). But to keep things simple, I do the following while reading:



(If Hermione and Voldemort turn out differently in the end, humor me for now.) I do the same with items, characters and actions I'd consider Christian. The Bible, with all of the bad stuff in it, is holy and perfectly good. The financial rating of our local Christian TV station, on the other hand, falls just shy of 60% which is a big fat F. Don't get me started on the way they do fund-raising, which I can't imagine Jesus would ever endorse. So I categorize here too:



Put the two together and I run into questions, which I think are the same ones other people run into. Consider the recent debate going on in the comments of an article about Steve Jobs at TheHighCalling.org: Were his acts eternally good or eternally bad or perhaps only temporarily good? Is it eternally good to do good to your neighbor only if you're a follower of Jesus, or does love count for the good-producing heathen as well?

Or consider the controversy around Christianity Today's reviews of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (I've avoided reading spoilers so far, but I'm aware of the rebuttals). Many of us are hesitant to condone or condemn when light and dark look so similar that they tie our moral hands together. So is it like the following, with gradations of good and bad?




Or this, which doesn't try to equate Hermione with the Bible, per se, but considers that good can't exist outside of God's goodness, even if that goodness falls within the traditional category of bad, which would mean that both the Bible and Hermione are good and both local Christian TV and Voldemort are bad?




Or is there another position altogether?

14 comments:

Megan Willome October 18, 2011 at 2:53 PM  

Oh, Sam. I adore the Harry Potter novels. After you read "The Deathly Hallows" and see where all this is going, you may have to revisit this post.

P.S. Kudos for reading it in Spanish!

Melissa,  October 18, 2011 at 10:28 PM  

I think there are always gradations of good and bad...and we all have the capability to lean one way or the other...to do good or evil. Just as Harry Potter was struggling with the realization that there was darkness inside him, realizing his connection to Voldemort...Dumbledore wisely pointed out that the important thing is what we choose to act upon. (I, too, adore the Harry Potter books. I think they are brilliant and I have not attempted to become a witch because of them) :)

My husband also mentioned that the black and white category concept is something that we, as humans, try to do. It would be nice if things were always clear cut and explainable. As you mentioned, Sam, we try to categorize everything. But in truth, this world is full of gray.

In the end I am thankful for the gray...I think that is where God shows us his grace. If it were black and white, we'd all be in trouble. We're studying Genesis again in our Bible study and I am shocked, once again, at the great names of history (like Abram and Sarai) who take matters into their own hands, not believing God's promises...and yet they survive! Black and white world: you didn't believe the Lord, you shall be punished. Yet God continues to show patience and love and his promises anyway...something I don't always understand. Gray? At least from my human perspective.

Sheila October 19, 2011 at 10:28 AM  

I'm not sure about all the rest of this, but I know this:

"or does love count for the good-producing heathen as well?"

Love always counts.

Sam Van Eman October 19, 2011 at 1:09 PM  

Good thoughts, Melissa. The gray was a tough subject for me to grapple with, starting in my twenties. I had always and exclusively been black and white (which is probably why I continue using the colors so easily), but eventually realized too many cases whose complexities didn't fit in either. Black and white is simple. Gray unsettles. Yet I can't ignore it. So I take a deep breath and head on in.

Sam Van Eman October 19, 2011 at 1:10 PM  

Sheila, gray aside, is it possible to imagine a case when love doesn't count?

Marilyn Yocum October 28, 2011 at 10:06 AM  

This post is too cool! (Tsk, tsk. I am almost 60 and should stop talking like that. For shame, for shame.)

I grab almost any Spanish-language material I can get my hands on, so I appreciated the reason you picked up these books. But I love the way, taken out of your native tongue and native way of thinking about things, you had to make a new construct, a new way to keep things straight....and that raised questions.

Karen Eck October 28, 2011 at 4:24 PM  

Ah ... hmm. I would say that the Bible contains many, many stories about BAD things, spirits, and people. ... Strangely enough(?) God uses them to teach us a few lessons along the way.

I would say everything (including the Bible) can be and has been used for BAD. We humans have this way of tainting even the best stuff we encounter when we don't consciously live upon the presence and holiness of God.

Of course, some things are so BAD that our hearts are easily exposed as sinful in their presence, an exposure that can be avoided by avoiding the BAD without actually accomplishing true transformation ... but that exposure of the sinner's heart is always evidence of their need to cling closer to God and look to his transforming presence to replace natural reactions.

I mean, people stuck in awful circumstances with BAD things done to and around them every day (for extreme examples--concentration camps or slaves) still manage to be purified by Christ's presence in their lives to the point where they may be known as saints by the very people who use them, and seek to bring them to despair and destruction.

It is the (GOOD or BAD) source of the heart's counsel that we should primarily be concerned with ... not the things upon which that counsel may be focused.

Marcus Goodyear October 28, 2011 at 5:39 PM  

I love Harry Potter.

The other issues of good and bad, are that we have different kinds of good and different kinds of bad. Some things we think of as "moral good"s are really more culturally acceptable and aesthically pleasing. Some moral evils are really things that we find culturally unacceptable or aethetically ugly.

I'm not suggesting that there are no moral absolutes, but that the words good and bad can sometimes be applied to things that are not really moral issues. Yet the words good and bad carry moral weight, so morality gets attached to, say, my "bad" decision to have three scoops of ice cream after dinner. It isn't really gluttony. It's just not the healthiest choice.

And also. I love Harry Potter.

Sheila October 29, 2011 at 10:39 AM  

A case where love doesn't count. Would love not count if it motivated me to try to rescue someone (let's think literally--a struggling swimmer, say) and I failed?

I think genuine love always counts. At least I hope so. What say you?

Bob Gorinski October 30, 2011 at 11:00 PM  

Enjoyed this Sam. Not a lot to add here, but it reminded me of the line in the (kids) movie Megamind. Paraphrase:

Megamind: Yes, it's a bad, terrible idea for the greater good of bad.

Minion: No, from any perspective, it's just bad.

Megamind: Oh, you don't know what's good for bad.

Sam Van Eman October 31, 2011 at 11:21 AM  

Marilyn, that's a good summary of what I was trying to say. I had to make a new construct, or, at least, I got to look at the old one in a new way.

Bob, I haven't seen Megamind yet. Maybe I should just for this conversation. :)

Sam Van Eman October 31, 2011 at 11:32 AM  

Karen, yes, what comes out of the heart. A helpful reminder when we're trying to be "in the world but not of it." I'm glad for the grace which God provides; which comes forth despite the terribly bad things that one would think would produce more bad things.

Marcus, you're asking for cultural discernment. I suppose this was one of the unexpected outcomes of reading in another language. It forced me to see the moral differences differently. I can't say I got it right, but it helped.

Sam Van Eman October 31, 2011 at 11:34 AM  

Sheila, I do think it always counts, even outside of the body of Christ.

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