Harry Potter, who has been living with his abusive aunt and uncle since his parents died, discovers he’s actually a wizard who is responsible for the defeat of the greatest evil sorcerer of all time. He is introduced to the secret society of witches and wizards, and enrolls in Hogwarts School of Magic. There he makes good friends but also finds danger. Since he is very busy, he rarely has the time to lead the children of fundamentalist Christians into hell, nor is he able to make speaking tours on behalf of Wiccan religious groups.
There are no witches. Let’s say that all together now. THERE ARE NO WITCHES! Magic, spelled with a “c” or a “k” doesn’t exist except as an act. And the Harry Potter books are works of fiction. Of course, that means the film, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone is also fiction. It is a story in a world invented by J.K. Rowling.
Normally, I wouldn’t feel the need to point those sorts of things out, but in this case, apparently I do. A motivating factor behind the creation of The Film Atheist was the insanity of Christian groups in dealing with the Harry Potter books and movies. It seems that in the novels, the word “witchcraft” is used, and not with a negative connotation. This is too much for those who fear old women with cauldrons, and they shrieked that Harry is guiding children into the black arts. Bizarre Christian fear-monger and author, Richard Abanes spelled out how he could tell Potter was a dangerous influence, as opposed to other fantasies:
“Can my child find information in a library or bookstore that will enable them (sic) to replicate what they are seeing in the film or the book?”
In the series, Harry and company fly, become invisible, and shape change, along with many other things. So Abanes believes that kids can go to the library (or bookstore—I don’t want to misrepresent his bold position) and find instructions on how to make a broom take off. Wow. Really…just…wow. I want to know what library he goes to.
Apparently Abanes and his colleagues have no concept of the difference between reality and fantasy. It’s bad enough to believe that witchcraft is real, but to believe that a film based on a children’s book is in any way connected to actual practice makes one question the sanity of the author and his ilk. And well we should, because the next attack on Harry Potter is pure paranoia.
Abanes not only doesn’t trust anyone who isn’t a Christian, but he’s opposed to anyone who doesn’t make public announcements of faith, no matter how irrelevant to the topic. He states that it is OK to read and watch the works of Tolkein and Lewis because they proclaimed their Christianity, but for Rowling:
“In fact, we have no statements from her at all that would indicate that she has made a profession for Christ, that she defines God the same way that Christians define God, or that she views Jesus Christ in the same way. There is nothing.”
Media lunatic and author Ted Baehr increases the paranoid rhetoric by questioning the publishers intent to make money. It seems that these “publishers” are really just fronts for Satan, and that:
“… the publishers behind the Harry Potter series use the series to lure young readers to Internet Web sites that encourage children to explore occult topics like witchcraft, divination, and idol worship.”
Don’t you hate to learn that Scholastic is actually a cult?
But the Christian Right’s attacks on Harry Potter aren’t limited to witchcraft and cultish publishers. Their perspective has always been one of control and mindless obedience. That the main characters in the story are not subservient to their parents annoys them. Children shouldn’t think for themselves or be reasoned with, but should be told what to do, and then do it. That makes for a pretty poor story, and it is common in literature and film for people to make decisions, but Potter has been singled out because Christian groups were already after it, deeming it evil.
Then there are the complaints that switch from the frightening to the humorously stupid. On a Christian blog, one mother complained that after seeing the film, her child leapt off the roof, holding a broom, in an attempt to fly. Now, if your young child is breaking limbs by purposely plummeting off buildings, it doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with a movie; it means you suck as a parent. Yes, you lack fundamental skills, and therefore, should be kept far away from anyone below the age of twelve. So, if this sort of thing has happened in your family, give your children away to a trusty cousin (or to an indigent stranger; he can’t be worse than you), and take off for foreign ports until you learn the skills of a mother tree sloth.
So, with the Christian right (and a few Muslim groups as well) making Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone the most sinful and dangerous film of all time, and since it doesn’t directly support Satan, then it must be a big time atheistic film, right? Not really. It is a fantasy and has very little to say about religion one way or the other. It no more promotes a disbelief in God than it does advocate worship of a divine being.
Harry and his friends Hermione and Ron deal with many difficulties, but they never sit down to discuss their church affiliations. Shouldn’t they, and doesn’t the lack of such dialog have meaning? No. It is a children’s story. Winnie the Pooh spoke often about honey, but never about the resurrection of Jesus.
However, I’m not giving it an entirely neutral rating, because it does present us with intelligent characters who think for themselves, and rely on themselves and each other. They do not sit idly by, accepting their place in society. They are, within the confines of a story intended for youths, free thinkers. So, while Harry is not a spokesmen for atheism, he does have some valuable lessons to teach.
Outside of religious concerns, how is the film? Quite enjoyable, but not overwhelming. It has a solid cast, both in its leads and supporting roles, and the art direction is a thing of wonder. The plot should keep anyone following along, although there are a few too many coincidences. The special effects are a mixed bag, which wouldn’t be a problem if they weren’t the subject of so much attention. The centaur is particularly painful, looking like something out of a 1995 video game. The film drags at times, trying too hard to include everything that was in the novel. A little cutting and tightening would have improved it immensely. While it’s not all it could be, there is plenty here to like.
Chris Carpenter of the Christian Broadcasting Network said, “The simple truth is Jesus saves and Harry doesn’t.” But then Harry was never meant to. He was meant to entertain, and that he does quite well.