Apparently, a letter written by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, before he was elected Pope Benedict XVI in April, condemns Harry Potter as a potentially corrupting influence on children. Accusing the stories of “subtle seduction”, the then Cardinal felt that the series corrupts the young, distorting their understanding of the battle between good and evil.
I guess he has a point, after all, Harry is a wizard, and witchcraft is evil. I get it. But if we are going to start denouncing books, and even encourage book burnings (as Jack Brock, a pastor in New Mexico, did) then why stop there?
Let me tell you about another book that should be of concern to religious zealots. This book contains lying, betrayal, and fratricide in the opening chapters. And in the pages that follow are stories of rape, kidnapping, mass destruction, murder, incest, physical abuse, theft, human sacrifice, slave trafficking, cheating … and that is just the first volume. Subsequent volumes even include stories of, yes, witchcraft!
Should this book be so readily available? Do we really want our children exposed to such tales? Children do indeed read this book, and it is available the world over translated into just about every language. The book I am referring to is …
Genesis, the first book of the Bible.

38 thoughts

  1. Yes! THANK YOU!! I have tried that argument before with those against Harry Potter, but its no use. They only hear what they want to hear. But I am very glad YOU brought it up. πŸ™‚

  2. Very nice post, Ben!
    When I was six or seven, my aunt got me a "Bible for Kids"-style book. I read it cover to cover because it was much more exciting (even with the blue parts toned down for kids) than the kids’ books I was reading.
    I’ve gotten into the "This book talks about witchcraft/magic/ghosts/ralph nader and must be evil!" with folks before, and I usually end it by bringing up C.S. Lewis – the undoubtably Christian author of the Chronicles of Narnia (containing The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe), which uses witches, trolls, etc. as metaphorical figures.

  3. I could care less what my kids read – as long as they CAN read.
    I can’t imagine why there is still so much fuss going on about these books. I was reading stuff like HP Lovecraft when I was a kid! πŸ™‚
    It would be interesting to see how many kids aren’t allowed to read the book but go see the movies.

  4. Ben, I read your last post as well (about the school and the issue with the book). You make a very interesting point. I think the difference, some would argue, is the Bible is used as a "reference" tool and carries a different connotation than a fictional book such as Harry Potter. Harry Potter carries a negative connotation because it makes evil look fun.
    Now, I will admit, being a devoted Christian, some of the bible stories are way worse than this book. The whole thing can be argued down to the bone of tons of comics as well. For my wife and I we simply believe if you raise your children right it doesn’t matter what they read they will decipher between positive and negative influences. Growing up there wasn’t a "Harry Potter" but there were other cartoons and what-not that made me play like I knew some magic. Heck, my grandpa is an actual clown so he was always doing stuff we thought was magic. In no way did I try to turn my friend into a frog or fly around the room on a broom. πŸ™‚
    <2 cents>
    All-in-all…raise your kids right and you won’t have to burn books or force your kids principal to cancel dress up day.
    </2 cents>

  5. Ben,
    The main character in the Bible was Jesus. The main character in Harry Potter was Harry. Need I say more?

  6. As someone one slashdot once said…
    "ah yes the Bible…. the greatest science fiction story ever written."
    Who care what people read or what they believe as long as they treat other with kindness.
    "If you want to be rich… start a religion" – Take a guess who said that.

  7. I’m going to chime in as a Catholic here.
    Ratzinger is a harda**, no two ways about it. (Google ‘ratzinger joke’ for a bit of Catholic humor about it.)
    I haven’t seen any kind of Papal decree against the books, what we’re seeing is the news wires picking up essentially an old story. He wrote the letter long before he was Pope, within the context of responding to someone writing a book that debated the issue. (How biased the book was, I dunno.)
    I wouldn’t expect the Vatican now to make an issue of this, they wouldn’t view this as urgent.
    We’re seeing news stories because it’s juicy. The statement praising the books was made during JPII’s era by someone else in the Vatican. Since the guard has changed, so does the perception of the Vatican. I think they want to distinguish Benedict from JPII in anyway they can. Maybe some dislike him because he’s as conservative as they come in the Catholic church.
    Now, if you wanted an explanation for WHY he took that stance, the rational, liberal Jesuit-trained part of me would say it’s not the sorcery and witchcraft per se, but the fact that this kid has had a rough life and is coming to deal with it an gain confidence and acceptance through it, and the very concept of God and divine love are out of the picture.
    Then again, I’ve been to masses where the preist has basically said "what’s the big deal?"
    Overall, paranoid zealots who think children are stupid or who are insecure in their children’s religous upbringing are the ones who will make an issue of it. Everyone else can just enjoy them for what they are.
    Ratzinger gave his opinion when asked, but didn’t make any kind of decree or start a crusade against them, I wouldn’t expect him to now.

  8. ….and of course, if history has taught us anything, it’s that the best way to tackle sensitive cutural issues, especially with youth, is to push them underground rather than promote any degree of rational discourse….right!!

  9. noname, if you are going to hide behind a veil of anonymity don’t expect a response. (Although I did just respond, kind of).
    Paul, you are entirely correct. Ratzinger was indeed giving an opinion on a book written by another, and it is indeed a very old story. My concern about it being resurrected now is less Ratzinger, and more dingbats like the New Mexican pastor (or the parent and pastor mentioned in my other post) who apparently don’t need much prompting to get all worked up.
    Jim, you hit the nail on the head. JK Rowling has gotten kids to put down their Game Boys, turn off their TVs, and move away from their computer keyboards. She’s gotten kids with no interest in reading to read, and not small books for that matter. As the books have grown in size, so has the ability for some kids to read that much, to concentrate long enough to read the story, and not be intimidated by the thousands and thousands of words without pictures. They are elementary school kids reading books that require an attention span many adults would have a hard time with. I have kids who had no interest in reading but who devour these books, and have gone on to read other books too. That’s the bottom line, and it’s an incredible feat. JK Rowling deserves nothing but praise for what she has accomplished, and I have incredible respect for her.
    John, I know, it was not a fair comparison, and I was being facetious. But you are right, it boils down to raising kids properly, not writing them off as idiots. My boys don’t think they are wizards, are not trying to cast spells, and know that the story is fantasy. (Although they do like running around the house straddling hockey sticks as brooms).

  10. "My concern about it being resurrected now is less Ratzinger, and more dingbats like the New Mexican pastor (or the parent and pastor mentioned in my other post) who apparently don’t need much prompting to get all worked up."
    Dingbats like that are always looking out for something to ban, burn or make a stink about. If it wasn’t Harry Potter it’d be something else.
    They do everything they can to get on the news with it, the news eats it up because it’s "controversial". Rationality doesn’t get news coverage.
    I wouldn’t let them bug you.

  11. Some JW’s knocked on my door many years ago (I was a young teen). We had a long discussion about the bible – I knew it very well because my school required I study it but I remained an atheist (well, that’s what I called myself – I later learned a more appropriate label for my belief system). They were shocked! They asked – in all seriousness – "How can you read the bible and not believe in God?"
    My answer?
    "I’ve read Lord of the Rings but I don’t believe in Hobbits"
    We talked for a while longer and they left only after I had one of them saying "Hmm, you’ve got a point there" and "You know, I’d never thought about that before!"… His friend led him away before I encouraged him to think too much…

  12. Ben,
    Thanks again for an interesting post. As for dingbats, non-thinkers and what-nots Γ’β‚¬β€œ you’re going to find them on both sides of the cultural-divide. For the most part religionists are no more/less non-thinkers than anyone else, they just happen to have thoughts in different ways. We all put certain emphasis on differing ideas and prioritize them in ways that fit what we think/believe(or believe we don’t believe). Personally, I don’t care much for the books. Personally, I like LOTR & the Bible. Am I biased? Yeah, so what. So is every one else.
    Sean,
    I have read about atoms but I’ve never actually seen one, I know they’re there. I think that it is wrong to start bashing someone’s mentality because they hold different views or suggest that you’re brighter because you believe you don’t believe.
    People are removing religious symbols because they’re offensive Γ’β‚¬β€œ but its okay to do that. But if someone (religionist) wants to protest a book that they find offensive then it is wrong?
    Seems rather Γ’β‚¬β€œ unpolitically correct & intolerant Γ’β‚¬β€œ in a society that prides itself on politically correct tolerance. The problem is we’re not all going to like the things others like, maybe we should scrape it all. But then maybe someone might not like that?.

  13. Last week I started teaching a 49 year old, slightly retarded, woman to read. I gave her a Dr. Seuss book which could easily be construed as evil. "Hop on Pop" that’s pure evil! Pop is just trying to take a nap!
    Burn it.

  14. Ben,
    You just jealous that the pope hasn’t condemned any of your books. I mean, some of the stuff you can do with CF could be considered magic. Think how many you’d sell if we could get him to do that!
    Just throw in a few references to the beast being the computer in your next book and make sure it has exactly 666 pages.
    Wiggy

  15. PLEAS ATTENTION:
    BEN FORTA IS A JEW. how dare you criticize what is written Bible. Who are you ha? some clown?

  16. Steve – I really hope you are kidding (though I doubt you are).
    Ben can criticize the Old Testament of the Bible. Why? Because the Old Testament is the cornerstone of the Jewish faith. The Jewish faith and all Christian faiths share belief in the Old Testament.
    As a matter of fact, the Torah is the first 5 books of the Old Testament (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Dueteronomy).
    Steve – you are an ass.

  17. There’s a big difference here:
    Yes, the Bible has ‘bad’ stories recorded in it. But, it teaches that that kind of stuff is wrong, and teaches what *is* right.
    Harry Potter promotes witchcraft as harmless fun, and that there is nothing wrong with it.
    Maybe the reason the kids are plugged into their PS’s, XBox’s, etc, is because their parents aren’t willing to spend time with them. If their parents were to spend more time with them, maybe the kids would have more initiative to learn to read.
    Kids 20 or 30 years ago didn’t have XBox’s or Harry Potter, and they managed to learn how to read.

  18. – Kids 20 or 30 years ago didn’t have XBox’s or Harry Potter, and they managed to learn how to read. –
    I’m 26, we had Nintendo. We couldn’t even stop to save our games back then, you either finished it or started over after finishing your homework.

  19. Dear Ben,
    I have been an avid fan of yours in the recent years, and thoroughly enjoyed reading your posts regarding CF.
    Regarding your latest post on Harry Potter, I thought you might be interested in reading the following post from a friend of mine http://www.rzim.org/publications/slicetran.php?sliceid=940.
    I do believe that the plot in Genesis is a little more complex than what your post may suggest. Please re-examine the evidence, hear the witnesses, and consider the possibility of reaching a different verdict.
    Yours,
    Raphael.

  20. Simply put, religion and politics should have no role whatsover in children entertainment. Its a time for them cultivate their imagination, to slay those dragons or arrest those baddies. Associating demonic entities that go against the grain of ones chosen diety is a futile argument and based soley on interpretation.
    I was once shown this picture of a man and woman having sex and it was shown to children. I at first went "gee thats not good" but what i (as an adult) didn’t realise, was the way the picture was constructed, it was dolphins swimming and to a child all they saw were dolphins to me as an adult, i see two adults making whoopie.
    Point: We can interpret things to suite our own agenda and push those beliefs onto others of weaker mind or who can’t defend themselves and that to me is big sin (even though i am not a religious person)
    I agree, reading is much more important most of all.

  21. The deal with Harry Potter isn’t that he is into witchcraft and sorcery. Nope not at all. he’s just the guy we likely all hated in school.
    Specifically is that he is a jock (Quidditch), sneaks around and breaks rules (in all the books), makes teachers look bad (Snape especially always gets to look bad – and Harry’s dad tormented the guy), judges people by the way they look (Malfoy and his brood always get turned on by that Potter wretch), and is obviously getting Hermione to do all his work.
    So, to summarize, Harry Potter is a rule breaking stupid jock who often refuses to listen to the commands of his teachers, relying on his families ties and the benevolent attitude of a School Headmaster infamous for breaking rules left and right.
    Compare him to the often mocked Malfoy and you realize that Harry Potter is just a modern version of Harry Flashman.

  22. Steve, get yourself a dictionary and look up the definitions of SARCASM and FACETIOUS.
    And Scott, while I appreciate your defending me, I was not actually criticizing the bible.

  23. Raphael, I am not sure what that link you posted has to do with anything, but thanks anyway. And as for the implication that I was passing verdict on Genesis, well … [shaking head in dismay]

  24. "And Scott, while I appreciate your defending me, I was not actually criticizing the bible."
    Actually ben, i was talking more in broad terms, that no matter what belief for or against that Harry Potter + religion should never of been paired together. I’m not even sure if you were criticizing the bible in truth, to me what you said sounded about right.
    To me, a childs early years are sacred and should not be cluttered with do’s and don’ts based on religion/politics/random musings.. its simply a fact that kids love to play, i say let them and if HP is a subliminal message for demonic worshiping to the 8th power of hell based on some random amount of adults opinions, wikkid – but i gurantee the kids aren’t thinking they are a 8th level demon worshipper.
    rant over, ben’s pretty much squared this up nicely, just let them have fun and enjoy the fact that kids put down the gameboy for one of those weird rectangel things that were common in my youth: Books.

  25. "To me, a childs early years are sacred and should not be cluttered with do’s and don’ts based on religion/politics/random musings.."
    Intriguing.Clearly this is based on your specific definition of what each of these mean according to your belief system…
    I am a father of three, yes, my children love to play, but there are definite do’s and don’ts. These can be (and are) considered "random musings" by some. But it’s all relative, right?
    Because what you are implying is that you think others should believe and hold the same oppinion as you. And if they don’t then some how they are less than you. And this is just plain intriguing.
    My children’s early years are sacred as well. Beautiful, beyond imagination. But, they are "cluttered" (as some might say) with do’s and don’ts that are, in our estimation, producing children of understanding, wisdom, knowledge, imagination and security. Does this rob them? No. Does it limit their imagination or kill their childhood? No. They are contented, delighted, explorative, explosive with laughter, imaginative, they create their own worlds and form their own opinions. Some that are truly insightful and some that are just plain wrong.
    Example: Once my oldest thought fire didn’t burn (was three at the time). Only to find out that yes, in fact, no matter how much he tried to imagine otherwise there is a truth. It is based on fact. It is solid and substantial. This truth is carried over into all other areas. Because life is not some relative sandbox waiting for us to play around all day and imagine life away.
    To act as if we can separate politics from religion, religion from shopping, shopping from eating, etc… (not necessarily in that order) is simply to deny the truth. We are creatures that are intriqutly bound to all manners of functions. And our children are political in nature, as well as religious (insert broad definition here). Both of these statements are based on definitions of each word that leaps from the constraints of modern modularism. We who want everything nicely cut into sections that never touch like an Army dinner plate.
    You’re very words prove that you cannot separate yourself from who you are. Your children (if you have any) will be raised on your set of beliefs. Those beliefs will constrict their thinking no matter what you think otherwise. Your beliefs are political in nature because they emphasize how you believe society should run. And your beliefs are a random set of musings that stem from your contemplation of how society should be run. Now if you say, "a childs early years are sacred and should not be cluttered with do’s and don’ts based on religion/politics/random musings.." and you teach this then you are cluttering your children (or other people’s) with dos and a don’ts. Intriguing.
    Yes, it is great that children are learning to read. Personally, if you have issues with gameboys and XBoxes… do what people used to do. Take them away, and spend time with your (you generally, not you Scott) kids and enage them in reading. But then again… that would be a "do" that is based on a "belief" that reading is better (or nearly better) than playing games. But then again, this is just a random musing…

  26. Hi Ben, I live in Italy, I’m catholic and I’m asking myself what the point behind your post.
    There are many things the Church say I not agree with, and many of them are, in my opinion, worse of the one you stressed.
    I’d like to know, if any, why you were so impressed with this anti-Potter letter.
    And as the letter we talked about was sure not so recent, is at least strange that it went public now no?
    Bye

  27. Jay,
    I actually don’t have any strong beliefs other then that so long as my son tries to abide set rules that we govern society by (laws, and moral rights). If he finds religion (which i will happily encourage if he *chooses* then so be it, but i’m more inclined to give him freedom first in his beliefs.
    My point about keeping childhoods sacred, is try not to fall into the trap of "transference" where you project your beliefs onto your child because thats the way you were brought up. IF the pope rejects HP as a demonic worshiping aspect of life? then in reality what is he saying? that anything at all remotely related to witchcraft is therefore a sin? what has me baffled as how these divine protests suddenly appear? oh sure we can play out the "god spoke through me" – in reality what is the pope? he’s an elected official representing the church? at *what* point did he suddenly become holy? I don’t recall a bright flash of thunder, and suddenly light shinning down on a human being? or how did he suddenly become all that which is wisdom?
    My beliefs are simple? let the children think for themselves, and i will enforce that as much as possible, and if thats considered "transference" so be it, atleast i in return give them the oppurtunity to rebuttle..if a child truly beliefs fire is not going to burn them, step aside and let him gain wisdom through his actions (with supervision, ie if starts breaking out the fuel can..well…).
    Its a classic system, where parents think they are doing the world a favour by changing the situations in which they were brought up in – thus transference occurs.
    Harry potter is a wholesome book, that has one simple agenda – provoking imagination.
    If we really start putting fiction under the eye glass…take a look at "Poobear & Friends" ..we have a freakin donkey who’s promoting depression which we could easily construde to "just give up, he does…"
    bah..
    this is side tracking now hehehehe. (Sorry ben)

  28. Ben – I did not misinterpret your words as criticism, I merely used the same word Steve did so as not to confuse him πŸ˜‰

  29. Ben, you wrote, ‘I guess he has a point, after all, Harry is a wizard, and witchcraft is evil.’
    Have you read the paper? Because if you haven’t, I think it’s terribly irresponsible of you to presume to know its premise. It’s just as irresponsible as someone who hasn’t read the books saying the books are mostly about witchcraft. Wouldn’t you agree?

  30. this is just history repeating itself, eh? CS Lewis, Tolkein, Dungeons and Dragons, etc…heck even Galileo.

  31. On the last post about religion, I could make the same argument for gunpowder, governments in general, nuclear energy and the Internet. General, yet opinionated statements like this are invariably not worth the effort of typing them.

  32. The reason orthodox Catholics have a problem w/ Harry Potter is that he ALWAYS solves problems by breaking rules and gets rewarded for this.
    Contrast this with Lord of the Rings where the heros are virtuous. Problems are not solved by breaking rules. The rule breakers get punished.
    Therefore, HP is an evil influence and LOR is a good influence.

  33. Ben,
    The difference between Harry Potter and Genesis is that in Genesis all the things you stated that happened (i.e. rape, kidnapping, mass destruction, murder, incest, physical abuse, theft, human sacrifice, slave trafficking, cheating, witchcraft) were all said to be wrong.
    Harry Potter, however, creates an idea in kids that witchcraft and the like is cool, fun, and good.
    It is about teaching our children the differences between right and wrong, thats the issue that people (including myself) have with Harry Potter.
    And for those of you that say you shouldn’t mix religion and anything else, you must look at it from a different perspective. If I really believe in The God of the Bible, I will make sure that everything that I encounter in my life lines up with what He says. Including denouncing witchcraft!
    And for those ‘Christians’ that think everything is OK, you should really find out if you believe in Bible. And if you do, believe in the whole Bible not just the parts that you would like. As a Christian you dont make up what you believe, you follow what God has said through His written word, The Bible.

  34. How does one believe in the bible? could it be that "faith" is the driving force behind such belief? i mean if i walked up to you and said a novel was holy and that it contains rules and guidelines to live by and should be followed – you’d look at me as i were daft and on some kind of drug?
    Yet you do that now, with the bible? reason? you have faith in its origions, its "believed" truth. Nothing is factual about the bible, only belief that it contains events in human history that are true.
    So one can turn and say, "I have faith in my children, i believe they can do no wrong".
    Try that on for size instead of mass-preeching and denouncing everything that slightly resembles evil.
    there are so many ways you can twist and contort religion to suite a need, this is yet another example.

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