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I'm sure I ought to be able to find millions of erudite essays (or… - Sally's Journal
July 23rd, 2007
09:57 am

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I'm sure I ought to be able to find millions of erudite essays (or at least a lot of rants) on this by googling, but sticking "Harry Potter Christian" into Google just leads to a lot of church-going types bickering about whether HP is
a) a cute book that will entertain the kiddywinks and maybe teach them a bit about good and evil, love, and not keeping slaves in concentration camps
b) the Spawn of the Devil teaching them to be Witches
or
c) a complicated Christian allagory with Harry Potter meaning "Of the Potter", ie son of God. Apparently Centaurs represent the donkey Jesus road into jerusalem on (puts down the crack pipe and steps gently away)

Anyway, that aside, it struck me when reading HP 7, as the protagonists stood outside the church in the snow singing carols and thinking about their families and friends having Christmas together, all the HP books have Christmas in.

But none of the HP books have any more explicit Christianity in that I've noticed, and their fuzzy ideas about an afterlife (yes kids, when you die you go to Kings Cross Station! We just don't yet have any conclusive evidence whether this is heaven or hell yet) don't tie up with that.

Teh Internet says that JK Rowling is an occassional church goer.

Do people think that the wizarding world does christmas with baby Jesus etc because it's a cute fake muggle tradition, like the tooth fairy? Or that they do something they call Christmas, but without any of the Christianity stuff? Or that some wizards are Christians just like some muggles are? Or that JK Rowling put Christmas in the first book because it was fun to write about Christmas at Hogwarts without really worrying about these problems?

Of course, there is then the major argument that The Wizarding World was Saved by Harry Realising he Had To Die for us all and going calmly to his fate, before Gloriously Not Dying after all. I'm surprised there haven't been more Dawkinists screaming about this already.

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From:cartesiandaemon
Date:July 23rd, 2007 09:22 am (UTC)
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I asked Susanna Clarke this (about JS&MrN, not HP; there are angels and devils and saints, is there divine intervention, and she said it was unspecified).

I didn't think having Christmas implied any Christianity necessarily; they only talk about the sort of things atheists and British apathists have. But nothing rules it out either. If I had to guess, I'd say they were typical apathists; culturally Christian but hadn't really thought about it.

You might expect it to show up somewhere -- eg. praying when everything's lost -- but even if some or all wizards are that Christian, JKR might not have felt like bringing up that can of worms :)

Come to think of it, logically, some muggle-borns would be Xian, unless wizarding somehow specifically disproves it. But that level of consistency doesn't apply.

Oh dear, my major point's getting left to the last paragraph again. Have you seen: Home on the Strange's prediction of the ending?

That was actually sort of close. Given (as I'd been pointing out to anyone who would listen) the importance of the afterlife to the last book. That whole "Death is the last great adventure to an organised mind" bit seems to speak against it to me; not conclusively, but they definitely seem to have some idea of what happens after death, and the absence of any God in it seems to speak against their thinking there is one.
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From:simont
Date:July 23rd, 2007 10:55 am (UTC)
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Death is the last great adventure to an organised mind

... whereas the disorganised mind neglects to save it for last, and is then surprised and disappointed when they don't get to do the rest of the adventures they had planned?
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From:sally_maria
Date:July 23rd, 2007 01:22 pm (UTC)
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If I had to guess, I'd say they were typical apathists; culturally Christian but hadn't really thought about it.


I completely agree, that's always been my understanding. They seem to practice a very British kind of non-religious Christianity, that consists of celebrating the festivals without really thinking about the meaning of them. I strongly suspect (though obviously I don't know enough to prove it) that that is JKR's position, and that she's projected it into the books without thinking about it.
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From:flats
Date:July 23rd, 2007 05:44 pm (UTC)
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It is also, to the power ten, the safest position to take when writing books about witchcraft and also wanting to sell millions upon millions...
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From:sally_maria
Date:July 23rd, 2007 06:22 pm (UTC)
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Very true - though I'd question whether she actually set out to sell millions, at least in the first place. While I'm sure she's adapted to her audience and its size for the later books, she doesn't strike me as a calculating enough author to do it deliberately right from the beginning.

That she started out doing it unthinkingly, and continued with it because it seemed to the least likely to alienate people, I can very happily accept. I have problems with the idea that she sat down and wondered what the best position to take on religion was, before she started writing. It just doesn't tally with the way the rest of her writing comes over, at least to me.
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From:cartesiandaemon
Date:July 23rd, 2007 11:04 pm (UTC)
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I would describe it as not wanting to offend anyone and playing it safe coinciding; I might avoid mentioning the religion of my characters the same way I avoid arguing religion over the dinner table[1], not from a particular plan, but because it's likely to be upsetting to someone.

[1] OK, that's a BIG LIE, but "how the X became" stories don't count, and only with friends who appreciate it :)
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From:feanelwa
Date:July 23rd, 2007 06:45 pm (UTC)
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But if your organised mind was going to heaven, where you'd get a good pair of woollen socks, then that would be entirely consistent.

Maybe God was the thing in the basket at the end.
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From:cartesiandaemon
Date:July 23rd, 2007 11:07 pm (UTC)
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It's possible. But I did not get that impression. I felt Dumbledore's notion of organised mind would likely conflict with any overzealous evil of the sort V and G, but not be the same thing as most notions of a "good christian".

But maybe I'm projecting my ideal afterlife onto him.
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From:emperor
Date:July 23rd, 2007 09:33 am (UTC)
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I deduce that your journey to work was uneventful :-)
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From:phlebas
Date:July 23rd, 2007 09:42 am (UTC)
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Not to mention the handful of Biblical quotes/paraphrases appearing on gravestones etc.
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From:atreic
Date:July 23rd, 2007 09:56 am (UTC)
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I didn't notice that.
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From:eyeless_ingaza
Date:July 23rd, 2007 10:03 am (UTC)
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On the tombstones were roughly:
"where your treasure is there your heart will be also" and "The last enemy to be destroyed is death".

I'm sure harry draws a cross on Dobby's tombstone or something. Dunno, I always assumed that wizards were like muggles and some were christians and some weren't. Their funerals and weddings don't seem particularly religious though.
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From:pavanne
Date:July 23rd, 2007 12:15 pm (UTC)
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I don't recall Harry drawing a cross on Dobby's tombstone. His engraving said "Here Lies Dobby - A Free Elf".

I needed Google to recognise that these were Bible quotes. While this may simply reflect my ignorance (I was raised CoE, a denomination which is more about community than about religion and is much the better for that), it could just be an example of the Bible having some memorable phrases in it. And if you're going to bury people in a church graveyard, it's only polite to use a Bible quote on their gravestone. Neither quote is overtly religious out of context - does it count if you need to be a Bible scholar to notice?

Also, the setting of the story is fundamentally English. Sleepy little villages and a community reasonably well integrated with the Muggle world, with the old pureblood families as Lords of the Manor. The place to bury people is in the church graveyard, and the thing to do with babies is to baptise them and give them godparents. Actually believing in God should be kept quiet as it's faintly embarrassing. If anything, the wizarding community seems a bit less traditional in these matters than our world; Bill and Fleur apparently marry in the most convenient location, and Dumbledore gets buried by a lake, not in a graveyard at all.

I think I'd need to see a better breakdown of religious imagery in the books to be convinced that there was any kind of agenda. I too tried the Google approach, but saw nothing which didn't seem like religious people seeing religion in everything. Oh, and the claim that both the phoenix and the unicorn are ancient symbols of Christ (huh?).
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From:atreic
Date:July 23rd, 2007 12:25 pm (UTC)
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Unicorn is an ancient symbol of Scotland, if that helps? ;-)

I hadn't even picked up on godparents, which given it's only about 50% of the plot of one of the books is a bit dim of me.

I don't think I'm looking for an agenda, I'm interested because it felt a little bit inconsistant. Maybe it was because I didn't think religion was any part of the HP world that I was so jarred by them singing christmas carols.
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From:pavanne
Date:July 23rd, 2007 12:30 pm (UTC)
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I've just realised that the role of snakes as eeevil could be more convincingly called Christian.

The first snake in the book isn't evil at all, however.
From:yrieithydd
Date:July 23rd, 2007 01:13 pm (UTC)
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The phoenix certainly has been used because of it coming back from the death. Not sure I've come across unicorns as Christian symbols though.
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From:sashajwolf
Date:July 23rd, 2007 02:16 pm (UTC)
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Also, the setting of the story is fundamentally English. [...] The place to bury people is in the church graveyard, and the thing to do with babies is to baptise them and give them godparents. Actually believing in God should be kept quiet as it's faintly embarrassing.

That's how I see the world of the HP books, too. It wouldn't surprise me to find that some wizards are Christian - the people who think the Deathly Hallows are real are referred to as "believers" in a way that looks as though they're a sort of religion, so there may be other religions, and I can imagine some wizards being fascinated by Muggle religion the way Mr Weasley is by Muggle technology - but I don't the majority are, and I don't think JKR is pushing a Christian agenda herself. She has some strong moral convictions which show clearly in the books, some of which show signs of probably having come to her via her own cultural Christianity (without necessarily originating there, as one of your other commenters has pointed out). I think that's about as far as it goes.
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From:eyeless_ingaza
Date:July 23rd, 2007 09:21 pm (UTC)
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I don't think that there is a Christian agenda as such, but the fact that JK Rowling is a Christian is likely to influence her writing even if the references aren't immediately obvious to everyone. I'm sure the use of the bible verses was quite deliberate. It's a bit of a different question as to whether the wizarding world is meant to be Christian in the novels and whether there are allusions to Christianity in them. In Narnia the characters don't go to church or anything, but there is clearly Christian symbolism and ideas.

The unicorn was viewed as a Christ-symbol in medieval stuff, but I don't really think that that means she is necessarily using it that way in the books.
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From:zebbiejohnson
Date:July 23rd, 2007 04:59 pm (UTC)
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he draws a cross into a tree where he buries the eye.
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From:pavanne
Date:July 23rd, 2007 05:32 pm (UTC)
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That's a point. At the time I assumed it meant an X (since scratching anything else into a tree is pretty difficult) but then he magically carves an entire inscription into a rock for Dobby.

Since Harry appears to have had no exposure to Christianity, if it really is a cross not an X, that's pretty strange.
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From:eyeless_ingaza
Date:July 23rd, 2007 09:00 pm (UTC)
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ah that's the one
From:yrieithydd
Date:July 23rd, 2007 09:45 am (UTC)
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I've wondered about Christmas all the time (in the way that Fr Christmas in Narnia has always bugged me). I think it is mainly there as the British cultural holiday rather than the major Christian festival, but in Goodric's Hollow there was a bit more I think.

I definitely go with a), c) is going to far and b) is just stupid and doesn't get fantasy or children or indeed the books (it seems to come mainly from people who go errrgh witches and refuse to read them). Though I probably go stronger than a) it that I think they teach a lot about good, evil, love and goodies not being able to do nasty things just because they're the goodies (a lesson that the western world needs atm IMO). Harry's 'death' only makes sense to me in the light of 'he who loves his life will lose it, but he who hates it will gain eternal life'. It wasn't King's Cross quite, and there was the comment about Harry being able to catch a train and go on to the true afterlife, but he chose to return.
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From:pavanne
Date:July 23rd, 2007 09:46 am (UTC)
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I think it's time for non-religious types to point out that 'sacrificing oneself to save others', including 'sacrificing oneself to save others and then luckily not dying' is an archetypal story and the Christian faith does not have a monopoly on it. The books are otherwise very light on religious imagery, and the HP afterlife is all about seeing lost friends and family again, not any kind of reward or punishment.
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From:the_alchemist
Date:July 23rd, 2007 10:33 pm (UTC)
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The one bit that struck me as explicitly/obviously/annoyingly Christian is when Harry goes back to Hogwarts, and they're all expecting that this is it - he's come to lead them into the final battle - but actually he's doing something more mysterious and complicated, and they find that hard to cope with.
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From:bopeepsheep
Date:July 23rd, 2007 10:03 am (UTC)
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Relatedly (NPI) in the Related Worlds of DWJ, the magic-using and non-magic-using both go to church (but practising magic within it is frowned upon for etiquette reasons). Magic is not a religion, it's just another trait one has, like being double-jointed or red-headed.

I concede that some fundamental parts of Christianity and magic appear to clash, but OTOH you can also view certain Christian events/beliefs as magical without much mental conflict. (What's water into wine but a jolly good transformation spell?) I wouldn't be at all surprised at a culture that accepts what fits with known magic and discards the rest. See: scientists who are also Christians.
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From:gerald_duck
Date:July 23rd, 2007 10:08 am (UTC)
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I'm not a Christian and I don't read the Harry Potter books, so I'm not in much position to comment.

On the other hand, I've noticed that "Christmas at Hogwarts" scans to the tune of Monty Python's "Christmas in Heaven" so is now earwormed and surely ripe for a filking…
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From:megamole
Date:July 23rd, 2007 10:39 am (UTC)
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It also scans to Springtime for Hitler...
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From:gerald_duck
Date:July 23rd, 2007 11:10 am (UTC)
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…though that's marginally less festive.

For normal people, at least.
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From:shreena
Date:July 23rd, 2007 10:23 am (UTC)
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In all honesty, I think that JKR just didn't bother to think it through. I don't think she intended us to think of it as a "quaint muggle tradtion" though because, if that were the case, people like the Malfoys would be very anti celebrating it and we see no evidence of that.
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From:pozorvlak
Date:July 23rd, 2007 11:04 pm (UTC)
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I'm with you on this one. JKR does not, in general, make any particular effort to keep her fantasy world consistent, except in minor details - it's quite fun watching her bend backwards to avoid contradicting some trivial detail about potion composition while leaving huge glaring contradictions (but if they've got time travel, why can't they...) wide open. Wizards' religion is exactly the kind of thing she wouldn't bother to think about.
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From:simont
Date:July 23rd, 2007 10:57 am (UTC)
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Never mind Harry Potter; how come they had Christmas in Narnia, eh?
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From:angoel
Date:July 23rd, 2007 11:57 am (UTC)
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Cultural cross-contamination by means of a certain Wardrobe. Those Americans get everywhere.
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From:samholloway
Date:July 23rd, 2007 02:27 pm (UTC)
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We always keep our Christmas decorations in the back of the wardrobe. Perhaps they fell through?
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From:sonicdrift
Date:July 23rd, 2007 04:51 pm (UTC)
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I don't think putting Christmas in suggests anything about the Christian content of HP. She also usually has Halloween. She mentions all the things which are usual for Christmas to me - turkey, trees, holly, mistletoe, presents, crackers. I think if she had wanted to suggest they were celebrating it as a Christian festival she'd have had an enchanted nativity scene in the Great Hall as well, or had morning prayers or something. (Though I hate to think what Fred and George would have done to it)

I think she's followed the tradition of borrowing bits of legends from lots of places and you can probably find all the Christian sounding bits in other places too. On the other hand drawing parallels between HP and Bible stories gives me a handy response the next time I get "Harry Potter is Evil", so I'm going to remember them :) I might not try the unicorn/donkey one though.

The internet also claims JKR is a witch - I seem to remember a faintly amused denial about it on her website, but I can't remembered if she commented further on her religion.
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From:zebbiejohnson
Date:July 23rd, 2007 05:04 pm (UTC)
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They also have Easter, with eggs. Because Hermione only gets a tiny egg one year because Mrs Weasley thinks she is Doing Harry Wrong.
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From:sonicdrift
Date:July 23rd, 2007 05:32 pm (UTC)
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It's Easter with chocolate eggs, rather than Easter with lent and church and stuff.

Conveniently the magical world also follows the standard term/holiday pattern of Muggle schools. Though I think they escape Ofsted.

From:senji
Date:August 1st, 2007 10:15 am (UTC)
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They get Umbridge instead, though.
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From:half_of_monty
Date:July 23rd, 2007 05:21 pm (UTC)
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Isn't Christmas a pre-Christian midwinter festival that was taken up because `hey people like their old festivals let's let them keep them in this new religion but tie them in to the new theme'? At least in terms of date?

And don't you think the pre-Christian Pagan priest types in Britain were clearly all from the wizarding world?

Conclusion: muggles stole Christmas from the wizards. It having taken on general muggle characteristics recently isn't very surprising with the amount of noise and excitement being made by muggles every Christmas.
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From:ashfae
Date:July 23rd, 2007 08:05 pm (UTC)
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There are books about how HP encourages Christian values. Just for the record.

In general, opinions are divided as to whether HPworld is Christian, pagan, both, neither, or anything goes. I do think it's important to remember that Christmas is as much a secular holiday as it is a religious one nowadays, though.

A friend attends the same church as JKR, though keeps this very very quiet.
From:(Anonymous)
Date:July 23rd, 2007 08:24 pm (UTC)
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I have known Jews and Sikhs celebrate Christmas (in a Christmas tree, family dinner and giving presents sort of way).
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From:teleute
Date:July 23rd, 2007 08:41 pm (UTC)
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I seem to recall that very occasionally it's mentioned as yule, or at least yule-tide, both of which are terms used all over the place (include some Christmas Carols) - yule being, I believe, the original Pagan name of the holiday. None of the holidays mentioned ever seemed to me to be Christian really, except in name - no Nativity scene, no lent/crucifixion fixation around Easter, no celebration of All Hallows after Halloween. I assume she never really thought about it at all, since most people in the UK do all these celebrations without attending church. If she did think about it or justify it at all, perhaps its actually closer to the fact that a community which *didn't* celebrate Christmas (at least with a tree) or Easter (at least with chocolate eggs) would call attention to itself - wizards who have been trying to hide within society would have taken up the holidays as cover. And you only need a couple of generations of that before it becomes a tradition within the wizarding world as well. Anyway, who would deliberatly fight against holidays where you get presents and chocolate?

I also think I read somewhere about one of the students being muggle born and Catholic and having to deal with that, but since no one else has mentioned it it was probably fanfic. Trust me to find the fanfic dealing with the integration of religion into society :-).
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From:alextfish
Date:July 24th, 2007 03:32 pm (UTC)
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What Christian imagery we saw in HP7 was in two places, neither particularly connected to the Christmas/Easter festivals (which I agree were just included because they're secular British festivals these days):

* Harry's two or three rants about how Dumbledore left him tasks to do but not enough information on how to do them, about how D expected H to trust him but didn't show him enough to earn that trust, etc, followed by a later realisation that there was purpose to his struggles that he didn't see at the time;

* The whole Harry as "prophesied saviour who chooses to willingly give up his life to the Bad Guy, goes to 'King's Cross', then returns from the dead victoriously, and Bad Guy's actions in killing him turn out fundamental to Bad Guy's downfall" thing.
From:sain_bano
Date:August 3rd, 2007 11:19 am (UTC)
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I think that the HP world is carefully areligious. I particularly found this in the way that no-one prays at any point. Rowling uses Christmas and other festivals in a standard secular British way, with carols (singing is fun) but no church, and the wedding was areligious. Also as mentioned above, the willing to die but not dying theme is really common in fantasy books. In the HP world, people have defined souls, there are ghosts, and some views on what can and can't happen after you die (which seems to depend on whether both your body and soul are killed), but this doctrine is not Christian.
From:sain_bano
Date:August 3rd, 2007 11:21 am (UTC)
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As an aside, I had assumed that the wizard world worked the same as the muggle world, with wizards of many religions and none living in a secular society.
From:tifferrobinson
Date:August 16th, 2007 01:02 pm (UTC)
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Amy (my wife) predicted the ending of the last book after reading book 2, because she felt she knew where it was going. We now hear that JKR was keeping her "occasional churchgoing" very low key so that people wouldn't guess what she was going to do with HP. Amy is feeling very very smug.

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From:ewx
Date:August 17th, 2007 12:48 pm (UTC)
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The appearance of Easter/Christmas just seemed like the usual secular events; to this atheist there didn't seem to be anything surprising.

The pure-blood supremacists might object if they thought they were 'muggle' festivals, but then you might equally wonder if they'd object to 'muggle' languages like English. Evidently some things are seen as part of the common culture.

Harry's sacrifice and survival at the end did seem more of a nod to Christianity. But he does it to save living people from a specific threat, not to save people's souls for eternity, and he lives not because of special (divine) status but because of the particular relationship between him and his adversary.

At first I thought the final confrontation, where Voldemort's attempt at killing Harry is deflected back onto him by a simple defensive spell, was a cop-out to allow Harry to avoid murder. But in fact Harry, Ron, Hermione, Dumbledore and Neville all deliberately took active part in the process intended to kill Voldemort, which may not count in terms of damage to their souls (in Dumbledore's words) but I think ought to count as murder.

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