You can thank J. K. Rowling for this article. Rowling is the author of the enormously popular Harry Potter series, which centers around an unsuspecting boy who discovers he's a wizard and attends the Hogwarts School for Witchcraft and Wizardry. When my kids' friends raved about Harry, my daughter, Haley, 9, and son, Taylor, 10, clamored for the book. I decided to prayerfully read Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone first.
To my surprise, I discovered a fantasy story complete with mythical creatures, fire-breathing dragons, and a three-headed guard dog. I also discovered Rowling's central characters are imperfect kids who aim to do good. They model self-sacrifice, courage, and kindness, while learning to identify and resist evil.
After reading the first book in the series, I researched what others whom I respected said about it. According to well-known author Charles Colson, it's fine for parents to read the books with their kids. Focus on the Family has presented the series' pros and cons, then leaves that decision to parental discretion. And Christianity Today magazine ran an editorial on "Why We Like Harry Potter." So I chose to read the book aloud to Haley and Taylor.
Not long after I did, I received a letter from a friend who works for a Christian organization. In it she warned that the Harry Potter series was "insidiously engineered to open our children to the world of witchcraft now so cleverly whitewashed by the media." At first, her letter troubled me. By reading Harry Potter to my kids, had I inadvertently exposed them to a tool of the devil?
Protecting my children's spiritual well-being is of utmost importance to me. Unfortunately, our culture barrages kids with a myriad of occult influences daily. Surf the television networks and you'll find family-hour offerings such as Sabrina the Teenage Witch, Charmed, and The X-Files. Kids openly tell tales of playing with Ouija boards, "levitating" someone at slumber parties, or making contact with "spirit guides." Beads, charms, or crystals that promise to bring the wearer peace, happiness, and prosperity are the height of fashion. While browsing a mega-bookstore, my son spotted a display case filled with fortune telling paraphernalia. Even the popular Pokemon fad refers to psychic powers.
What's a Christian parent to do? Ignore occult influences entirely? Separate my kids from them as best I can? Or help my children translate what comes through popular culture in biblical terms? As our family has carefully searched God's Word, we've decided to follow option number three.
After prayerfully checking my conscience and my reasons, I feel at peace with my decision to read my kids Harry Potter stories. While the books introduce them to some occult terms the Bible says are real and forbidden, I'm able to use Rowling's story to put these elements into a Christian context.
Since I take my job of safeguarding my children seriously, I want them to grow in their ability to discern good from evil so they're better able as Christians to tackle the culture head-on. Here's how our family does just that.
1. Start with the truth. We've taught our kids some basic Bible truths:
There's a cosmic force of intelligent evil called Satan, or "the evil one," who leads rebellious spirits called demons (Revelation 12:9).
These spiritual forces aim to deceive, trap, and destroy humans (1 Timothy 4:1; 1 Peter 5:8).
Jesus fought against these "spiritual forces of darkness," and so must his followers (Mark 1:34; Mark 3:15; Mark 16:17; Luke 13:32).
God is greater than Satan's forces. Therefore, Christians are protected by using God's Word and prayer in Jesus' name (Ephesians 6:11-16).
We must check the source of any supernatural power. If it doesn't agree with the Bible, it's not from God (Galatians 1:8, 9; 1 John 4:1).
If you've glimpsed these spiritual forces in operation, illustrate these truths with your experience. For example, I've told my kids how as a new Christian and a teen, I attended a Renaissance Faire with some other Christians. We sat in a field to eat lunch, about a stone's throw behind a row of tents used by fortunetellers. Before eating, we rather routinely prayed God would interrupt any forces of evil at work in the tents nearby. Before we could take our first bite, a brightly clad woman burst through the tent panels, bellowing, "Who disturbed my aura?" We were stunned to realize our prayer in Jesus' name had had an immediate effect in the unseen spirit world. The fortuneteller shooed us away, but the lesson I learned that day has remained. I use it to illustrate spiritual truth to my kids.
2. Pray! When our kids tell us about other children having an intense fascination with anything dark, we don't just tell them what's wrong with their friend's behavior, we pray: "God, this kid seems to be under the influence of the evil one. In Jesus' name, we ask you to break through any such forces. Protect him from the powerful grip of any evil spiritual forces that hold sway in his life." Then we let our kids take turns praying. This way, they learn while practicing spiritual warfare.
Seeing results is the best teacher! One girl we've prayed for now feels uneasy with her involvement in the occult. She's started asking our 15-year-old daughter, Casey, about God, and has begun coming to church with us.
3. Preview anything questionable. Our kids know anything with occult references has to be previewed and okayed by uswhether it's a video game, cartoon, book, or movie. Our son, Taylor, recently came home from a friend's house and told me how he'd declined playing what his friend called a "super-cool" video game because it was questionable.
4. Cultivate their conscience. Although the Bible says participating in occult practices is clearly forbidden (see sidebar), it's difficult to determine whether it's wrong to read literature in which magic is used as a literary device. In New Testament times, Christians didn't entertain themselves with movies or television. They'd never heard of Pokemon or Harry Potter. Their questionable entertainment involved having dinner with non-Christians who'd had their meat prepared at the temple of their local idol. Biblical guidance on these issues comes in the form of guidelines rather than regulations, and needs to be settled by an individual's conscience (1 Corinthians 8:1-13). Help your children listen to the Holy Spirit as he speaks to their conscience about questionable areas.
5. Distinguish between "magic" in the fantasy genre and real-life settings. Was I worried my children would imitate Harry Potter's magic? Not any more than I worried they'd go looking for Narnia through their closet after reading C.S. Lewis' The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Our family differentiates between literary "magic" in a fantasy world and stories in which witchcraft is used in real-life settings. One distinguishing characteristic of fantasy is that the characters get to a place or time through a magical portal or conveyance unavailable in our world. Most kids realize thisbut point it out to make sure they don't think you're endorsing real magic.
When the setting's real and supernatural powers are used in everyday situations, children are more likely to try what they've seen. Two junior-high girls we know tried spells to get rid of acne, then entertained thoughts of calling down curses on their enemies, and ended up in trouble. It started with them copying characters in a made-for-television movie.
We don't let our kids play any "fantasy" games in which they participate in reenactments of anything occultic. To help Haley and Taylor understand this, we've used The Last Battle from the Chronicles of Narnia. In that story, there's an "idol" called Tash. Some foolish leaders pretend to believe in Tash and call on his name. They're horrified when Tash shows up with disastrous results.
6. Weigh the usefulness of the material. Some people object to anything evil in a story, but the fight between good and evil is what makes a story useful. Make sure those on the side of good practice virtues such as courage, perseverance, compassion, honesty, loyalty, friendship, self-sacrifice, faith, generosity, and love. Characters don't have to get it right from the start, but they must realize their errors.
Look for evil that isn't obvious. The Bible says Satan masquerades as an angel of light (2 Corinthians 11:14). The most useful evil characters are those who act friendly but use deception to destroy the good guys. This paints a true picture of how evil works! The villains in Harry Potter are a great example of this. Whenever evil is shown as scheming, deceptive, selfish, and ultimately destructive, make a lesson of it.
7. If your conscience is clear, watch, read, or play it with your child. There's no way I would have let my kids read Harry Potter on their own. They had no way to put the occult elements into context. I told them, "I'll read it with you only if we discuss it in light of the Bible." They were eager to do both. We have to teach our kids to view anything questionable from a Christian perspective. Sometimes this means identifying what's wrong and pointing out bad examples.
8. Let your kids practice discernment. I welcome difficult moral dilemmas in the stories we hear or see; they're a great way to develop my kids' moral reasoning skills. If they site God's Word to back up their reasoning, all the better!
For example, there's a scene in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone in which Harry and his friends prepare to take their first broom-flying class. The bully, Draco Malfoy, picks on a weaker kid and tries to steal one of his toys. The weak boy gets hurt. The teacher tells everyone to stay on the ground until she gets back from taking him to the hospital. When she leaves, the bully takes the toy and flies off, intending to hide it. Harry flies after him to retrieve the weaker boy's toy. He's caught, but not punished. This presents a great moral dilemma: Was it wrong for Harry to disobey the teacher's rule? Are there ever times it's right to break a rule?
This turned into a wonderful 30-minute discussion in which Haley and Taylor did most of the talking. They finally concluded Harry was following a more important ruleprotecting a weaker person from a bully. But Harry did risk getting hurt or in trouble.
9. Build bridges to the Bible. I've continually looked for ways to link whatever's captured my kids' attention to the Bible. If you can connect something already on kids' minds to God's Word, they'll better understand and remember biblical truth. That's why Jesus taught in parables!
As my kids and I settled the moral dilemma of Harry Potter breaking a rule to stand against a bully, I spotted a chance to tie this in to the time religious leaders caught Jesus' disciples picking grain on the Sabbath. Although they broke a rule, Jesus told the Pharisees there are times when lower rules are overruled by a greater moral law (Mat-thew 12:1-8). This Bible story now has immediate relevance for my kids.
10. Pay attention. Ask your children how they think the occult might be influencing their friends. Ask about new fads, what kids are saying, what they believeand listen. Keep asking questions that lead your kids to figure out good and evil for themselves. When you listen to your kids, you'll be able to lovingly correct their misconceptions.
Connie Neal, the author of several books, including Dancing in the Arms of God (Zondervan), lives with her family in California.
Alternatives To Harry Potter
If your kids clamor for some great fantasy but you don't feel comfortable with Harry Potter, try one of these:
The Chronicles of Narnia
by C.S. Lewis
The Cooper Kids Adventure series
by Frank Peretti
The Lord of the Rings
by J.R.R. Tolkien
The Indian in the Cupboard series
by Lynne Reid Banks C.N.
The most basic checklist of forbidden occult practices is found in the Old Testament book of Deuteronomy 18:9-14:
No human sacrifice
No divination (an attempt to get guidance from any supernatural source other than God). This includes astrology and horoscopes.
No sorcery (using magic powers)
No interpreting omens (trying to discover hidden knowledge through reading tea leaves, tarot cards, orin Bible timesthe entrails of animals)
No consulting a medium or spiritist (those who contact spirits or allow the spirits to communicate through them)
No consulting the dead
No engaging in witchcraft (appealing to any supernatural power or spirit other than God). Witchcraft is also associated with the use of drugs, incantations, spells, potions, charms, and amulets to experience something supernatural or to ward off evil spirits. Known as Wicca, modern-day witchcraft is a pagan religion in which nature and goddesses are worshiped. C.N.
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