Harry Potter in the Bible

potterSo much for the effectiveness of “state churches.” The European ones appear to have become abject failures. There is ample evidence that the “establishment” of religions has rarely served either church or state very well.

Here’s the latest proof from the United Kingdom. The BBC recently reported a study that shows three in ten teenaged Brits don’t know the Nativity of Jesus came from the Bible. Similar numbers had never heard about the Crucifixion or Adam and Eve.

I imagine they’ll consider the new Noah film just another work of Hollywood fiction. (Actually, half of them didn’t know that very story comes from the Bible.)

What’s more—their parents are nearly as ignorant.

Many of the teens did, however, think that the plotlines from the Harry Potter series were based on Bible stories.

As a person who was genuinely inspired by England’s magnificent cathedrals while I lived there, it is painful to contemplate the terrible loss. The great-great-grandchildren of saints who suffered and sacrificed for the Gospel have disregarded the good news.

And, lest any readers think I’m pointing fingers as a “self-righteous” American, let me assure you I take no pride in my own nation’s slide into apostasy. The words of Micah’s prophecy seem closer to fulfillment each day. “The faithful have been swept from the land; not one upright person remains.”

C.S. Lewis saw this coming. Consider the following from his 1950 essay, “The Literary Impact of the Authorised Version.”

It may be asked whether now, when only a minority of Englishmen regard the Bible as a sacred book, we may anticipate an increase of its literary influence. I think we might if it continued to be widely read. But this is not very likely. Our age has, indeed, coined the expression “the Bible as literature.” It is very generally implied that those who have rejected its theological pretensions nevertheless continue to enjoy it as a treasure house of English prose.

It may be so. There may be people who, not having been forced upon familiarity with it by believing parents, have yet been drawn to it by its literary charms and remained as constant readers. But I never happen to meet them. Perhaps it is because I live in the provinces. But I cannot help suspecting, if I may make an Irish bull, that those who read the Bible as literature do not read the Bible.

Speaking of reading the Bible “as literature,” that’s not a bad thing. It informs so much Western literature, that an ignorance of the Scriptures is tantamount to possessing an inadequate education. An excellent online resource for exploring this truth can be found at the Bible Literacy Project.

The site includes a copy of a comprehensive 2006 study of English professors from America’s top-rated schools, including Yale, Harvard, Princeton, Stanford, Texas A&M, UC-Berkeley and others. In the study, not a single professor disagreed with the statement that: “Regardless of a person’s faith, an educated person needs to know the Bible.”

If some people could get past their prejudices against the Bible, they would recognize the truth of this statement. Everyone should be reading the Bible, even if only as a significant literary work.

Perhaps, if this widespread study comes to pass, one day people will be able to recognize the difference between the Scriptures and Harry Potter.

21 thoughts on “Harry Potter in the Bible

  1. I wonder if this knowledge gap is indicative of people not reading the Bible…..or of people not reading at all.

    I know a fair number of fellow teachers who are not familiar with Shakespeare – and who have read almost nothing in history, science or philosophy. Wide-ranging professional knowledge is the exception rather than the rule.

    I have met a fair number of would-be writers who have read almost no classic literature – indeed, any literature at all. It is a mystery to me how one intends to write without reading.

    Likewise, I also know a fair number of regular church attenders who are not familiar with the Bible, even after decades of earnest participation in church activities. The problem appears to me to be equal parts of “does not read” and “cannot read.”

    When I first got a job as a history teacher, I was surprised by how little working knowledge of history my students possessed. I experimented with the subject by giving them a pre-test about a wide range of topics in Western history. I gave the same test to my fellow teachers at a private, Christian school. The test revealed that students know almost nothing and teachers know only slightly more.

    I extended my experiment to parents and other adults. I asked them questions about 20th century history. I discovered that the WWII generation, and the Baby Boomers, had an extensive knowledge of American history – consisting almost entirely of misconceptions gleaned from movies. In many cases, I could even identify the movie that spawned the misconception. Anyone who knows about Custer’s Last Stand from the movie, “They Died With Their Boots On,” knows a large body of false information. Likewise, anyone who watched “Wake Island” has learned almost the opposite of what actually happened.

    Ronald Reagan demonstrated this gap during a speech to World War II veterans. He told a story about a bomber pilot’s selfless actions – which turned out to be a near line by line quote of movie fiction.

    I have noted a similar problem with the Sunday school materials I encountered as a child. In my experience, many people who learned the great Bible stories on Sunday School flannel boards have acquired a fair number of misconceptions about the topic.

    So, I suspect the real problem in the poll of English youth was not that their generation has lost Bible knowledge. Rather, I suspect that real Bible knowledge has always been in short supply. What is new is polling about Bible topics. In the same way that the availability of earthquake stories on the internet might lead one to conclude that earthquakes are increasing in frequency, it is possible to conclude that Bible knowledge is passing from the earth because online poll results said so.

    Or, anyway – that’s what I saw on TV…..

    1. “…the WWII generation, and the Baby Boomers, had an extensive knowledge of American history – consisting almost entirely of misconceptions gleaned from movies.”

      Hilarious! But, oh so sadly, true. In a Byzantine History course I took at the University of Washington, my Hungarian prof (a refugee from the 1959 Hungarian Revolution) included a map on every single test. He considered Americans unbelievably ignorant when it came to geography, and sought to drill his students on its fundamentals.

      I’ll never forget him showing us one of the completed maps, where someone had placed Rome near Oslo’s true location. The worst part of this is that prior to the tests he would give us a list of the 30-40 cities or features for which we would be responsible.

  2. shinobiswordsman

    Since you brought up Lewis, I feel obligated to say “What are they teaching them in these schools?” In all seriousness though, I’ll agree that many people around the globe aren’t cracking open the Word to read for themselves. They are informed by their pastors, priests, teachers, and the media. The simple question that this raises is “What happens when those sources are wrong?”

  3. Adults who find a relationship with Jesus and want to read his letters to them need help starting because they know so little and don’t know where to start. I suggest 1. get a children’s Bible story book, read it and ask the ? Why is this story preserved, what is God trying to tell me. 2. Read large swaths of Bible in a simple paraphrase such as the Living Bible. 3. Study in a translation, using the questions a. mind-what does it say? b. emotions-how does that hit my gut(all scripture should bothersomely reproving) c.will- so how should I then live? We ignore scripture because we don’t know how to tap into it for practical truth, identification of problems,correction of problems, and tools to face all life situations.

    1. Good insights. I would also encourage seeking a community of faith that teaches the historic faith of the Christian church (e.g. the essential doctrines as found in the Apostle’s Creed).

  4. Teachers in public schools have a narrow path. they know students will need biblical knowledge to full understand the references, the analogies, – so much in literature, and history/history – even science – relies on background knowledge and understanding.
    Love this quote ““Regardless of a person’s faith, an educated person needs to know the Bible.”
    The problem is teachers cannot teach the Bible. And it seems it’s not getting being done at home either. And now, here we are. Knowledge of so much based on movies (and like the ones of the Edgar Allen Poe stories, many aren’t done very well.)
    Bell’s comment offers a plan that act as a guide.

    1. Yes, teachers (even nonChristians) recognize the value of knowing the biblical narrative. Yet their hands are usually tied. As for the cinema teaching history, it’s frightening when you think about things like the American West and even WWII.

  5. I’ve grown up reading and learning from the Bible, which served me well as an English Major at a university. I had to sit with my fellow students and explain references in texts we were reading. It would be valuable in public schools to teach tales from the Bible as mythology alongside Greek mythology, whether or not the students believe in the teachings.

    1. Thank you for sharing your firsthand experience as an English major. Did any of your friends ever think that perhaps they should read this influential book? I mean, so they wouldn’t be clueless as they read everything else.

      1. I took one of those in college. Useful, because even though there was (of course) no sense of inspiration, the professor did not have an anti-Christian agenda. In fact, he was a poet, and actually wrote “apocalyptic” poetry that was “inspired” by similar texts in the Scriptures.

      1. That’s a good question, but one I’m not equipped to answer. I didn’t read the books, although I saw the movies. My gut feeling is that the favorable view of witchcraft–which I have no doubt has led some into actual practice of the occult–outweighs any “good” the series can offer. I reserve my judgment, however, since I’m unsure of whether or not this is simply a pietist reaction to the series. (“Pietist” in the personal, Lutheran sense of the word.)

  6. Bravo! I loved this post. I was initially intrigued based on my personal testimony out of witchcraft and into truth but was delighted to read your post! I pray that more would read the Bible if only as a literary novel and receive inspiration from the Holy Spirit while doing so, to draw them into the truth. I look forward to reading past posts and your future remarks!

  7. I’m relatively new to your “neighborhood” and only just gotten around to reading this very interesting and provocative post. I have an aversion to reading the Harry Potter series for precisely the reason you mention in the comments. Perhaps mine too is a “pietist reaction” but I haven’t an earthly clue as to what it means in the Lutheran sense of the word. My general impression of the term “pietist” has a pejorative take, a vague feeling that I may be taken out and stoned for it!

    1. Thanks for the comment. By interesting coincidence, although I haven’t thought about Harry Potter for months, I just heard it mentioned in passing in a Christian podcast. The professor (teaching at a religious college) said he didn’t understand why some people are troubled by witches by not by balrogs (i.e. from Middle Earth). I wish I could have discussed that with him, since the reason is that you’re comparing two vastly different things. One is real, the other fiction. Children reading Tolkien won’t be tempted to seek out “real” dwarves or elves, but those who read the Potter stories may–quite possibly, since it is “real”–be enticed to explored magic and the occult.

      As for Pietism… I am suspect by some of my fellow Lutheran pastors for liking the word. It really relates to a focus on personal holiness, or sanctification. The problem enters in with the sort of formal Pietistic influences as expressed within Lutheran history. Some of it has been quite legalistic. Some has been judgmental (in saying people have to have particular spiritual experiences to genuinely be saved). Some has been anti-intellectual (in the sense of not maintaining the head/heart balance that should be evident in healthy Christianity).

      1. I think I understand what you’re saying – and I agree both to your take on Potter stories and identification as a pietist. There is a sense in which, if one indeed “walks by the Spirit,” one is willy-nilly a pietist, by God’s grace.

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