A Confession

I was recently shamed into a sheepish confession: I’ve never read the Harry Potter books. Not a single word.

Nor have I seen the movies. It’s not that I was opposed, I just never got around to it—too many dense theological tomes to read at the time. But, with the annual international Harry Potter Festival in Chestnut Hill, now I feel like I really can’t serve in this parish or community without finally diving in (perhaps trading off between the printed text in my downtime at home and the lauded audiobooks on my commute to Princeton). I’ll put it on the calendar as “pastoral research.”

(Continue Reading…) It is a sign of this parish’s vitality that our fellowship hall was transformed into a Hogwarts-esque Great Hall, not least because the event raises thousands of dollars each year for the hungry and homeless in Philadelphia.

Many undoubtedly recall the cultural kerfuffle over the books, with certain Christians worried about the fantastical wizardry and witchcraft therein. Talking heads littered the media with wild warnings and embarrassing religious fanaticism, complete with Fahrenheit 451-like book burnings at some churches. Apparently the author of the series, JK Rowling, was even denied a Medal of Honor by the Bush administration because the books “encouraged witchcraft.” Even the future Pope Benedict XVI, when he was still Cardinal Ratzinger and serving as Prefect for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, decried the books’ “subtle seductions, which act unnoticed and, by this, deeply distort Christianity in the soul.” Ouch.

Never mind that Rowling was raised an Anglican, is now a member of the Church of Scotland, and credits her faith as a singular inspiration for the books, suggesting “the religious parallels have always been obvious.” And forget the wizardry and witchcraft in other fantasy literature that Christians generally embrace and celebrate like, C.S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia and J.R.R. Tolkein’s The Lord of the Rings. I digress.

While, again, I must shamefacedly admit that I am among 27 other people in the entire United States that has hitherto missed out on the sweeping cultural phenomenon altogether, I am happy to be a part of a community of faith that isn’t, well, so uptight. I’m happy to be a part of this family, which welcomes and engages our community without reserve and has some fun while doing some good along the way. That, in my humble estimation, is what Christian community ought to look like. Not fearmongering, but joyful welcome.

As Sirius Black, a character in the series (and member of the Gryffindor House), put it: “We’ve all got both light and dark inside us. What matters is the part we choose to act on. That’s who we really are.”

For more, see:

  • Patricia M. Lyons, Teaching Faith with Harry Potter: A Guidebook for Parents and Educators for Multigenerational Faith Formation (Church Publishing, 2017)
  • Connie Neal, The Gospel According to Harry Potter: The Spiritual Journey of the World’s Greatest Seeker (WJK, 2008)


~ Joseph