Saturday, August 04, 2007

Two weeks, nine hours, and forty-seven minutes since the release of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows...

...and I'm only two chapters in.

The blonde and the teenager had been hogging our copy, trading it back and forth between them, and playing keep away with me.

So I don't have anything much to say except that if Snape is a double-agent, he's so deep undercover he's in a worse postion than Leonardo DiCaprio's character in The Departed and I hope they hire Martin Scorsese to direct the last movie because the ending's going to be a bloodbath.

And I'd rather not hear anything about it yet.

Ok. Maybe a little bit. But no spoilers, please!

I've been avoiding reading anything about Deathly Hallows, but I couldn't resist this post by Sara Robinson at Orcinus about why Christian Fundamentalists hate the whole Harry Potter phenomenon.

Sara makes some excellent points about the role of doubt in helping to create the paranoid worldview of the Fundies and how Harry Potter frightens them by encouraging doubt. She also shows how authoritarian figures foster that doubt as a way of solidifying their own power. Authority becomes the shield against the very doubt it has exacerbated and exploited, and again Harry Potter is frightening, this time by undermining authority.

Implicit in this is the idea that all authority is necessarily, rightfully external. The fate of the entire world depends on how completely we can give up our desire to control our destinies, and submit to God and his appointed earthly overseers. This obsession with the need for external authority is, in a nutshell, is why fundamentalism is a form of religious authoritarianism.

Stories about magic openly defy this whole belief system. Magic-using characters like Harry usurp the supernatural power and prerogatives of God -- a sufficient heresy in its own right. But it's worse than that: they're also exercising their own internal authority, and acting out of their own agency. And that's the last thing fundamentalists want their children -- or anyone else -- learning how to do.

Sara's post is a follow-up to a post by her Orcinus colleague, Dave Neiwert, in which Dave includes a clip from Jesus Camp showing an anti-Potter rant and this bit of a cartoon published by a Potter-bashing pastor named Jack Chick:

Don't think there are any tarot cards or ouija boards in any of the Potter books, and I don't remember if even Professor Trelawney uses a crystal ball, but if she does then crystal balls would be just as much a target of Rowling's satire as Trelawney herself.

Magic is one thing in Rowling's storytelling universe, the necessary gimmick that props up the whole adventure, but fortune-telling is another. Rowling makes it clear that divination is crackpot "magic." Predicting the future is only possible if the future is pre-ordained and people have no control over their own fate, an idea that is rejected by one of the books' most important themes---Harry is not destined to be anything or anybody but who and what he makes of himself, and the same goes for the rest of us.

Sara, Dave, and a number of commenters on both posts point out that this theme is another reason for Fundamentalists to hate and fear Harry Potter. If we're in charge of our own lives, what's God supposed to be doing? What's the point of there being a God if He's not controlling our lives?

Of course, as other commenters point out, most of the anti-Potter crowd don't know this is a theme of the books because they haven't read the books. They don't dare. They've been told by their preachers to avoid them like sin.

As sin.

The books depict witches and warlocks as "good" and even heroic characters and show magic being used as a force for good and we all know that witches and warlocks work for the devil and their magic is Satan's power transmitted through them.

Sara's points are dead-on and psychologically penetrating, but I think best applied only to the Fundamentalist/authoritarian churches in general and some Fundamentalists in particular.
The fact is that a lot of these people believe that the devil is real and here and hard at work on earth.

They believe that there are witches and warlocks because they believe in magic.

They don't believe it all because they are Fundamentalist Christians and the Bible tells them so.

They believe it because they are human beings and apparently most of us are inclined to believe in the supernatural.

Professor Trelawney is a caricature of a very real type, a type we call a New Ager, but a type that existed way before the term was coined.

There are people who aren't Christian Fundamentalists who believe in witches and warlocks.

There are people who believe they are witches and warlocks.

Flying saucers, the healing powers of crystals, angels---not every believer in angels is a Right Wing Christian or even Christian at all---feng shui, horoscopes, the Force, ancient weapons and hokey religions, are all signs of a general human tendency to believe that some mystical power controls our destinies and that if only we learn the trick we can tap into that power and save ourselves from...

Well, from the awfulness of being human.

Fundamentalist Christians believe in a God who works magic on a daily basis, although, unfortunately, and conveniently for the preachers who would speak for Him and divine His will and interpret His plans, not always when you need Him to or in a way you'd like Him to. And in a world that works by magic, but one in which there is only one Magician and He's unpredictable and working on His own agenda, the temptation to acquire some magic power for oneself must be great. There is only one source to go to for that power, though, and that is Satan.

No wonder then that letting their younger children read Harry Potter would be for Fundie parents like giving their teenage sons and daughters a subscription to Playboy.

If these Christians actually read the books they might learn something that would make them hate Harry Potter even more.

When all is said and done, Rowling makes one very key point about magic.

It's not important.

Harry does not succeed because he is a great wizard. He is, as it happens, not particularly adept at being a wizard.

Magic isn't what saves the day. To say it does is like saying that the hero's gun saves the day in a Western.

Magic is just the technology of the wizarding world and Rowling makes it clear that putting one's faith in magic is a sign of stupidity (the folks at the Ministry) or inhumanity (Voldemort and his followers). To trust in a tool or a technology is to give up thinking for one's self or to give up one's soul and make a tool of one's self.

To make a belief system out of trusting in tools over people is an insanity.

It isn't hard to make the leap from that to the conclusion that Rowling isn't fond of any belief system that encourages people to put their trust not in their own selves but in the authority of the belief system and its ruling elders.

Dumbledore, the greatest wizard ever, performs very little magic over the course of the first six books, and he teaches Harry very few tricks.

His main, and almost his only lesson, for Harry?

Think, Harry! Think!

As always, all the Harry Potter books and the CDs are available through my aStore.

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