God and Man at Hogwarts: The postwar United Kingdom has produced three blockbuster young people's fantasy series, the Narnia books by C.S. Lewis, the "Golden Compass" series by Philip Pullman and now the Potter volumes. All feature astonishingly capable English schoolchildren with magic powers. The Narnia books are explicitly Christian; the Golden Compass books are explicitly anti-Christian; what about Potter? Though J.K. Rowling's 4,000 pages concern supernatural forces, the soul and communication with the dead who exist in an afterlife, religious issues are missing from the series. The wizards and witches of the Potter world celebrate Christmas, but otherwise seem to have no religious views and never pause to reflect on where their power comes from or what the spirit world might be. Perhaps Rowling concluded that in the contemporary milieu, it's totally fine to market a children's story containing numerous scenes in which children are tortured or murdered, but mentioning God would be too controversial.
The final book was the first to contain religious references, and they've been missed by commentators. Harry travels to the enchanted village where the good wizards and witches of England live and observes there is a church at the center of the town square -- the evil sorcerers have nothing like this. On his parents' tombstone in the church graveyard, Harry sees the inscription, The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death. This is the essence of resurrection theology, and though readers aren't told, is a quotation from Paul's first epistle to the church at Corinth. In the older Bible books, there is no talk of heaven or paradise; even the righteous dead go to a place of oblivion. When Christ declared, "I was dead, and see, I am alive forever and ever," he was announcing the defeat of death and offering a fundamentally new compact between Maker and made. Paul wrote to the church at Corinth, "If there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation has been in vain and your faith has been in vain ... But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead ... The last enemy to be destroyed is death." The declaration comes in the same letter where Paul set down some of the greatest words in all literature: the magnificent passage that begins, at First Corinthians 13, "If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal."
When Harry finds the Dumbledore family grave, he reads this inscription: Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. Though readers aren't told this either, the phrase is a quotation from Jesus. The teaching, at Matthew 6:19, is worth contemplating in its fullness, as it is difficult to imagine 40 words that exceed these in wisdom:
- Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
Regarding the "Golden Compass" volumes, in them God is a central character -- but is actively evil, obsessed with causing people to suffer. The plotline of the books is that Christianity is a complete fraud and the source of all that is wrong with society; the final "Golden Compass" volume concerns a desperate attempt by the heroic children to kill God and obliterate every trace of Christianity from several universes. I found Pullman's arguments against Christianity puerile -- like recent anti-Christian books by Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris, the "Golden Compass" volumes resort to the cheap subterfuge of cataloging everything bad about religion while pretending belief has no positive qualities. Pullman, Dawkins and Harris are anti-faith jihadis: they don't just want to argue against the many faults of Christianity, they want faith forbidden. But however flawed the "Golden Compass" books might be, to advance anti-Christian views is Pullman's prerogative, and his art should be transferred authentically to the screen. Now that the Golden Compass volumes are becoming big-budget flicks, will Hollywood accurately depict their loathing of Christianity or turn the books into a mere adventure story?