Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Harry Potter and Courtesy

Courtesy. I am asking for that. And so, too, I will try for that. I promise I will try. I have to admit it’s not always the easiest thing for me to feel courteous when I feel like people have wanted to tell me what to think, what to feel, or what to allow my children to read or watch. I think maybe it’s especially difficult for someone who’s been through various cultish experiences in the past to let such strong criticisms of my choices “roll off”.

Even though I’m a convert, my childhood best friend was Catholic, so I’m old enough to remember when the Mass changed from Latin to English…and it wasn’t just the language that changed. Some people told us that it shouldn’t have been changed and that therefore the “new Mass” was not truly Catholic anymore. I thought I didn’t need to attend it or study it to know that it was inferior. That was a huge mistake. As soon as I did finally attend it and study it…as soon as I opened my mind, I realized that the important thing is the essence. The very same essence is there; the very same infinite value is there.

I didn’t want to make that mistake again, whether in religious matters or secular matters. And no, please don’t get the wrong idea; I am in no way comparing Harry Potter literature to the worship of the Mass. I am comparing letting someone else tell us what content is in something or what content is not in something…comparing that to…well, to checking something out for ourselves.

I’m not talking about handing our children a book that is doubtful. I’m talking about us, as adults, looking into something before they do, or at least along with them.

And, if you don’t choose to read this particular literature and to let them read it, that’s your choice and I respect that. I’m not telling any of you that you should read the Harry Potter books, if you don’t want to. Far be it from me. What I’m really talking about is not judging those of us who do. Some of you who are uncomfortable with the books do not judge those who are not. And I appreciate that. Some do, and if you’re one, I’m asking you to reconsider.

Even though fantasy is not one of my favorite genres, I have read all the Harry Potter books, as has my husband. I wanted to know if they were really okay for my kids. What we found was fantasy, just as the Lord of the Rings is fantasy…just as Hans Christian Anderson and the Grimm Brothers sometimes wrote fantasy…just as the Wizard of Oz is fantasy. What we found were characters who were fallible enough to be believable but who often exhibited heroic degrees of love, faithfulness, and courage.

My children, who were taught the difference between the occult and fantasy “magic” in books, enjoyed the books and I would say were even edified by the values in them.

But they were not edified by some people’s reaction to what should have been our decision to make. In the past decade, my family has gone through some setbacks, the tragic death of an extended family member, loss of vision of two of our sons, and some other concerns. One friend, who knew about some of these challenges as they happened, said to me one day, “If you would get everything Harry Potter out of your house, maybe God will bless your family.” Maybe things would go better for us? Is that how it works? It only occurred to me today that this philosophy almost sounds like “magic” to me. If we do everything “right” (as someone else sees it), will we “magically” be free from crosses? I don’t think so! That is not the concept I learned in my Gospel readings and my perusal of the lives of the saints. No, my crosses are unrelated to the choices I made for my children’s reading. Crosses are allowed by God to all of us at one time or another. And Jesus said that unless we take up our cross, we cannot follow Him.

This same person who advised me to rid my house of what she saw as the scourge of Harry Potter told me that she had participated in the occult when she was a young adult. I do understand having a strong reaction for that reason; I understand because of what I said earlier. I myself “react” particularly strongly to anyone – other than the official teaching magisterium of the Church - telling me what I should believe and do, and I react that way partly because of cults in my past. An evil or cross in your past can have a strong influence on your feelings in the future…and sometimes that’s okay. I also understand because I, too, dabbled in the occult as a child, completely in ignorance of what I was doing. And so, I made sure we taught our children to avoid the occult, not to use Ouija boards or incantations or anything where we might be calling on questionable or evil spirits. Hopefully, many Christian parents today know to warn their children about these things.

In the Harry Potter books, the “wizards” and “witches” do not call on spirits. They are born with “magic”, as some of us are born with musical or artistic talent. They use “spells” that are the Latin word for the action they want to happen. And we and our children discussed all these differences.

But, if you are more comfortable avoiding literature that uses witchcraft as a literary device, because any reference to “magic”, even in fantasy, bothers you, well, that’s all right. That’s your life and your choice to make. There are plenty of other books to read in the world, plenty of other great literature.

All I would ask is the courtesy to realize that those of us who don’t agree have made prayerful, well-thought out, informed decisions; that we discussed the books with our children; that we considered age-appropriateness; that we armed them with the knowledge of the Church’s teachings…and that we have read the books ourselves and found them to be excellent literature, worthy of our children’s time.