Harry Potter (Part 2) – “The Bathwater”

Posted: August 7, 2012 by Josh Kwasny in Action, Drama, Family, Fantasy
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Last week I shared my personal journey concerning the Harry Potter film (and book) series. In these next two posts, I will use the HP series as an example to illustrate what I am calling “The Baby and Bathwater” approach to film critique for Christians. *

Let’s begin with the “Bathwater.”

While the Harry Potter series is one complete story (the “baby” – if you will), the narrative is not presented in a vacuum. There are themes in each story that we should consider as we watch. We need to critique the “bathwater” of Harry Potter. We need to look at each tree in the HP forest even though we don’t want to miss the forest as the whole. (Okay, enough of the clichés.)

Let me say at the outset that I am not going to take up blogging real estate with a thorough biblical study of each of these themes. Instead, I am going to give a few samples of some of the troubling themes (dirty bathwater) that need to be considered from a biblical perspective.

For some Christians “critique” is the easy part. We enjoy pointing out all the dangerous messages of “the world.” Bear with me…our challenge will come next week. For others, critique is a new concept. You may say, “Movies are ‘entertainment,’ I don’t want to think.” Well, not today.

Consider three themes included in the bathwater of the Harry Potter saga…

1. Witchcraft and the Occult. Let’s begin with the most obvious. There is no such thing as a “good witch” or “good wizard.” The Bible is pretty clear that sorcery and witchcraft are evil practices. Sorcerers are never on God’s side in the Scriptures.

This, of course, is the main argument against Harry Potter. Sorcery is bad – Harry Potter is a wizard – therefore, Christians should not like Harry Potter. (Yes, I am being overly simplistic.) I will resist the temptation to say too much here (there are volumes written either defending or condemning the use of sorcery in Harry Potter – “Google” it). I will simply say this. Witchcraft is real and dangerous. It is not harmless fun. Whatever your position in regard to Harry Potter, this must be acknowledged and kept in perspective – especially for younger children. I hope you are having conversations about the occult after watching Cinderella, the Wizard of Oz, and Lord of the Rings too.

2. Children are Smart – Adults are Foolish. This is unfortunately a fairly typical theme in stories written for children. From Inspector Gadget to Phineas and Ferb – adults are regularly portrayed as out of touch, narrow minded, and clueless. Kids, on the other hand, exhibit incredible poise and wisdom, solve the problem(s) on their own, and regularly save the day. Harry, Ron and Hermione fit this description (especially early in the series).

While I do believe that children are sometimes underestimated, it is simply an overreaction to swing to the other extreme. The book of Proverbs alone assumes the foolishness of children and the wisdom that is available from those who have walked the earth a few more years than they have.

3. Situational Ethics – (“The Gray”). This is probably the most subtle, but also devastating. The ethics of Harry Potter are pragmatic. The outcome of the situation determines whether something is good or bad. In Harry Potter you see this reflected in the fact that Harry and his pals regularly break school rules, but rarely get punished. There are little to no consequences. In fact, Harry is sometimes given rewards!

A steady diet of this theme can lead to a view that sin is relative only to the result – instead of the biblical view that sin is relative only to God. Deviation from God’s law is wrong – no matter the outcome. Yes I know that there is much more to say about this (the situation does matter). However, it is enough to say that you need some “black” and “white” extremes to navigate the “gray.”

I think you get the point. We should acknowledge the dirty bathwater and take advantage of the opportunities to discuss these things with others (especially children). We need to illuminate everything by the light of Scripture and be prepared for what we see. We may find that some of our favorite films are not as “wholesome” as we had once thought. But we also may just find a beautiful baby in some dirty bathwater. It would be a shame to miss that!

Next week: “The Baby”


*I am grateful for the ministry of Walt Mueller and the Center for Parent and Youth Understanding in forming my (and other contributors at Reel Thinking) worldview and attitude towards popular culture. I highly recommend the great books and resources found at CPYU.org Thanks Walt!

  1. […] Last week I listed a few of the troubling themes (dirty bathwater) that are included in the story of Harry Potter. There is great wisdom in being able to recognize trouble and avoid it when necessary. We should shine the “light” of the Scriptures on everything so that we can avoid stumbling. The Bible is, after all, called “a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (Psalm 119:105). […]

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