Most Americans are horrified by the religious oppression witnessed in Afghanistan. The Taliban philosophy suggests that very little about the world is "safe" and that people must be kept from straying into sin at all costs. I have no idea what Islam teaches about the nature of "good" and "evil". I do know that Moslems frown on images and are against the use of alcohol. Of course most Moslems deplore the extremes to which the Taliban have gone.
Here in Watertown, South Dakota, far from the Bible belt, a campaign has been waged in the press against "Harry Potter", the books and the movie. Local fundamentalists argue that a book about wizards, spells and charms encourages the young to indulge in "magic". Biblical texts -how I deplore the Bible having been divided into chapters and verses- are trotted out including Saul's meeting with the Witch of Endor after being told by the prophet that necromancy was evil.
Many years ago I strolled around the museum at Bob Jones University, Greenville, South Carolina. The museum has a wonderful collection of pre-reformation church artifacts and paintings. There are even some vestments. As I looked around I couldn't help wonder whether it had occurred to the Bob Jones family that had they run the pre-reformation church, none of these glorious works of art would have been made. I thought of this again yesterday when I heard that my daughter -in-law had said that the Harry Potter business was really a struggle between people with imagination and people with no imagination at all.
One thinks of the pilgrims/puritans in Massachusetts who tried to create a theocracy, a state governed by a religious code established by hanging laws on proof texts from the Bible. From that beginning, there have always been those around in our society to whom faith is a matter of law and laws and "moral" behavior, narrowly defined the proof of personal salvation. Had these people had their way, the legends of Arthur and Merlin, Shakespeare's Macbeth and A Midsummer Night's Dream, the writings of George MacDonald, Charles Williams, Tolkein and even C.S. Lewis would be burnt, like a Salem witch, in purifying fire.
People who try to get the "Harry Potter" books banned from school libraries, who tear the books up in public have no imagination at all. Perhaps it's a bit much to describe them as our local Taliban. After all, those of us who love the Potter books won't be harmed by irate literalists. That must wait until we go to hell.
For the first time in years books have been written that inspire young people to forsake the television and actually read words in substantial books. That's a miracle in itself. The books are an antidote to two generations who have grown up without a sense of irony, of mystery or imagination. Taking things at face value, believing everything one reads or are told on the television creates people who lack a sense of proportion, or the deep ability to tell the difference between right and wrong. The Pharisees were much into law. They began as those who sought to bring Judaism back to it's heritage, but having done the necessary task they developed into a people who believed themselves chosen in an exclusive manner. They loved to demonstrate that there were law-breakers around. It's always good to have someone to look down on.
Nor is this twisting of true religion the exclusive habit of right-wing Christians and Mr. Ashcroft. One of the dangers of being "cause oriented" is that one easily slips into self-approval. Then one wants to regulate those practical measures associated with the cause to which one has dedicated one's life. Political correctness is merely the "liberal" version of those who believe that Hogwarts is the devil's school. I'm sure the devil is horrified about the "Harry Potter" books. He hates the human capacity to imagine, to dream, to speculate, those parts of humanity which show that we are made in the image of God.
Let's hope that many more authors will realize that our young people deserve books that take them out of themselves and beyond the material world of advertising, sex, and harmful escapism. Young people? I'm over sixty and found myself filled with nostalgia and joy as I read the Potter books myself.
Fr. Tony Clavier
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