There's nothing like a hot quote about Satan to grab a reader's attention.
"I think it's absolute rubbish to protest children's books on the grounds that they are luring children to Satan," said Harry Potter creator J.K. Rowling, according to an email message that keeps circling the globe. "People should be praising them for that! These books guide children to an understanding that the weak, idiotic Son Of God is a living hoax who will be humiliated when the rain of fire comes ... while we, his faithful servants, laugh and cavort in victory."
Truth is, Rowling never said that. This email alert -- with its YOU MIGHT WANT TO SHARE THIS WITH YOUR FLOCK headline -- claims that Rowling bared her soul in a London Times interview. Actually, this bogus quotation is a cleaned-up snippet from a satire published by the wicked pranksters at TheOnion.com.
So stop and think about the Zen-like nature of this cautionary tale. What we have here is a case of humor-impaired Harry Potter critics circulating -- as fact -- bites of a satire making fun of how humor-impaired many Harry Potter critics are getting these days. Got that?
Life will only get more complicated for culture warriors now that "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" has rolled into 3,672 motion-picture sanctuaries.
"Christians are now spreading this parody on the Internet with their own scriptural commentaries on how we need to stand for truth," said youth pastor Connie Neal, author of "What's a Christian to Do with Harry Potter?" Naturally, journalists are howling because the "people who are spreading it haven't checked it out to even make sure it's true!"
Meanwhile, believers who are using Potter-mania as a chance to rip into each other should get out their Bibles, said Neal, in a BreakPoint.org interview. They should turn to St. Paul's letter to the Galatians, in which a passage that condemns sorcery also condemns strife, anger, selfishness, enmity and jealousy. And lying remains a sin, as well.
It's time to lighten up, she said. There are anti-Potter mothers who have stopped talking to pro-Potter mothers.
"It is one thing to say, 'I personally choose not to read Harry Potter because to me, this equates to real witchcraft and therefore I want nothing to do with it,' " said Neal. "But we step over the line when we say, 'Because I think the Potter books equate to real world witchcraft, I insist that everyone else adopt my interpretation -- even though the author has made it clear that she did not mean it as real-world witchcraft.' "
Meanwhile, Rowling remains a member of the Church of Scotland and keeps saying, "I believe in God, not magic." She also has stated that the magical elements in her books come from her studies in British folklore. This means she is trying to tap some of the same wellsprings as C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien and even Charles Dickens.
Last year, Rowling told a Canadian reporter that she is a Christian and that this "seems to offend the religious right far worse than if I said I thought there was no God. Every time I've been asked if I believe in God, I've said, 'yes,' because I do. But no one ever really has gone any more deeply into it than that and, I have to say that does suit me. ... If I talk too freely about that, I think the intelligent reader -- whether 10 or 60 -- will be able to guess what is coming in the books."
Scores of believers -- on the left and right -- unapologetically adore Rowling's work. Others have offered cautious praise, even as they worry about witchcraft's rise as a force in popular culture. There are a few who consistently attack all works of myth and fantasy.
There are valid issues to debate. But things are getting nasty, as issues of power, fundraising and institutional survival take over.
If this debate must continue, noted Douglas LeBlanc of Christianity Today, "We should argue honorably, neither caricaturing each other's interpretations nor ignoring Rowling's treatment of the occult. And if advocates on either side grow frustrated they should try something truly daring: Writing better stories."