Harry Potter Rich With Christian Allusion, Says Baylor Philosophy Prof

July 15, 2005
News Photo 3035Dr. Scott H. Moore

by Lori Fogleman (254) 710-6275 or cell (254) 709-5959

With the July 16 release of J.K. Rowling's "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince," there are already some rumblings that the Harry Potter books "erode Christianity in the soul."

The Harry Potter books are the most "challenged" books in America, more than "Huck Finn" and "Catcher in the Rye," but Baylor University philosophy professor and Harry Potter fan Scott H. Moore counters the thoughts of some conservative Christian parents who think HP promotes witchcraft and the wrong values for their children.

Instead, the father of five and a Christian philosopher at the world's largest Baptist university says J.K. Rowling "understands the diverse world of Christian symbols" and classical and Christian virtues, which he sees throughout the books.

There are compelling reasons within the Potter books themselves that justify Christians "taking them seriously and enjoying them," Moore says.

"The books are rich with classical and medieval Christian allusion," he says. "J.K. Rowling relies for instance on images of the phoenix and the unicorn in the early books. Both are commonly appropriated by the medieval Church as images of Christ."

In addition, Moore says Harry and his friends are being schooled in classical and Christian virtues (courage, prudence, temperance, justice, faith, hope, and love). Yes, they attend a school that ostensibly teaches spells and potions, but they get that all wrong. When any student can consistently make a spell work, they are as surprised as anyone. (In fact, they initially don't like Hermione because of this.) What they are learning is courage, friendship, and the value of the truth consistently from the school's headmaster.

"Albus Dumbledore's insistence that one call [the book's villain] Voldemort by name is a reflection of his courage and his commitment to calling things by their proper names - truth-telling," Moore says. With a name meaning "willing death" - which is how Lucifer is frequently described in medieval theology - Voldemort cannot kill Harry because of the power of self-sacrificial love ('agape' - his mother died loving him).

Moore has read all of the Harry Potter books, and his five children (ages 15, 13, 10, 7 and 4) have all read or have had read to them each of the books. When Moore taught two summers ago at Christ Church College at Oxford University, he took his entire family, who enjoyed the experience even more because scenes from the first two movies were filmed on the campus.

Below is Moore's article, "Why I Am Looking Forward to Harry Potter," which was first published by Common Grounds Online.

He is available for media interviews at (254) 710-4612 or Scott_Moore@baylor.edu. His website address is: http://www3.baylor.edu/~Scott_Moore/. To reach him on the weekend, please call Lori Scott Fogleman, director of media relations, at (254) 709-5959.

Scott Moore, Why I Am Looking Forward to Harry Potter, originally published by Common Grounds Online and reprinted with permission.

July 16 has been circled on our family calendar for many weeks now. It's not the date for our family vacation or the birthday of one of our five children. It's not a swim meet or a recital or a ball game. July 16 is the publication date for the sixth Harry Potter book, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, and folks around our house are pretty excited.

Some Christians have rejected J. K. Rowling's bestselling books on the grounds that they are contrary or harmful to our faith. On my reading, nothing could be further from the truth. Rowling's work exhibits all the marks of the well-formed Christian imagination. These are wonderful books which explicitly draw upon the deep symbols and classic narratives of the Christian tradition. Christians should read these books in the same spirit with which we read C. S. Lewis's Chronicles of Narnia or J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings. Rowling herself has repeatedly demonstrated her affection for these great Christian writers, and it is easy to see how their work has influenced her own.

Do these books contain witches and goblins and magic spells and even tragic deaths? Yes, but that does not mean that they celebrate the occult. They also demonstrate great truths and show the sustaining power of the Christian virtues of faith, hope, and love-not to mention the cardinal virtues of courage, temperance, prudence, and justice. Whether in the wonderful names of the characters or in the spells which the children are taught or in the magical creatures which inhabit the forbidden forest adjacent to Hogwarts School, every book thus far has drawn on classic Christian symbols and motifs. For instance, in the second book, Harry must fight a great serpent (the historic symbol of Satan) and he realizes he cannot do this alone. In his weakness, he calls for help, and a phoenix (a Christ symbol in the Middle Ages-the bird who dies and rises again) comes to his aid by bringing him a double-edged sword (Heb 4:12). The phoenix assists Harry in his struggle, and though Harry ultimately defeats the serpent, he is badly wounded. The phoenix then comes and weeps in Harry's wounds, restoring him to health.

By Book 5, we've learned that the little band of faithful believers who are united in their struggle against the dark wizard lord call themselves "the Order of the Phoenix." They are a symbol of the Church, and we're not surprised to discover either that the Powers That Be want to root them out and destroy them or that some members must heroically sacrifice themselves for the good of the Order. Greater love hath no man than that he lay down his life for a friend.

We don't yet know the identity of "the half-blood prince." Ms. Rowling has said that it is neither the evil Lord Voldemort (whose name means "willing death") nor our hero Harry. We do know that much of the animosity in Harry's world is predicated on the racist prejudices of the "pure bloods" (such as the malicious Malfoy ["bad faith"] family) against the "half-bloods" (those witches and wizards who come from non-magical families). We also know that Harry's destiny is inexplicably intertwined with that of the dark wizard.

My children are far less interested in Rowling's use of medieval symbols or her playful puns with Latin words and phrases. When I tried to explain to my fourteen year old son the relation of the game of "quiddich" (the wizard game like unto soccer played on broomsticks) to the philosophical concept of "quiddity" (the essence or "whatness" that makes a thing what it is), he just rolled his eyes. He and his siblings simply know Rowling as a great storyteller, and they just want to know what happens next. They're bound to be right.

Christian families shouldn't fear the Harry Potter books. Read them for yourself. Read them with your children. Talk with them about hope and courage and love. Chances are-you'll be looking forward to number seven as much as we are.

© 2005, Scott Moore.

Scott Moore is a Guest Contributor for Common Grounds Online. He is an associate professor of philosophy at Baylor, where he is also the director of the Great Texts Program. For more information about Professor Moore and his work, please see his website.

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