Finding a “Sacred Meaning” in Anything Pagan
Harry Potter is becoming a sacred text to this generation. We know that people are hungry for answers. They are faced with life’s problems and seek wise counsel or make up their own answers. Whether they realize it or not, they are really seeking to fill a need for God. Albert Mohler describes it as “a hunger to know God” since we are made in the image of God. But in a sinful, unregenerate state, that desire to know God is distorted and filtered through the lens of whatever worldview governs our thoughts. The result is, as Paul writes in Romans 1:23, that man exchanges “the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.” (ESV)
So, it should come as no surprise that people around the world are falling in love with a study of Harry Potter books as sacred. The idea is the brainchild of two college students and began as a podcast in early 2016. Each episode considers a different human emotion, or attribute through the eyes of J.K. Rowling’s creation – Harry Potter. In the first podcast episode from May 19, 2016, creators Casper ter Kuile and Vanessa Zoltan describe their concept in near-Biblical terms. They know the terms well – they are both graduates of Harvard Divinity School. Ter Kuile said he didn’t connect with what he was learning in Divinity School, but did connect to Rowling’s text. The questions and answers he found in Harry Potter were just as big as in the theology he’d been reading in school. Moreover, the text was more readily understandable than he could claim with the Bible.
Zoltan said, in that first episode, Harry Potter gives us “permission to see ourselves through the text” but that it takes work, dedication, and diligence to study it.
Over the course of the past year, the podcast has grown include several hosts and it has tackled such topics as compassion, loyalty, isolation, forgiveness, trust, family, and more. Each episode features a variety of resources from secular to sacred, with an emphasis on a sacred practice such as Lectio Divina, Havruta, and early writers such as St. Teresa of Avila.
If all of this sounds vaguely disturbing, well, that’s because it is. The very questions the podcast hosts ask have their answers in the Bible. Yet all their divinity school training did not provide them the tools to find these answers. More importantly, they seem to lack the very source of understanding – the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 2:12).
But the rush to find sacred meaning in Harry Potter is an example that people are hungry for a spiritual connection. They seek spiritual answers to earthly problems. Contrary to evangelical churches that seem to provide more entertainment than enlightenment, there is a need to present Godly wisdom. Contrary to Andy Stanley’s Temple Model, people want to be sincere followers who find answers in a sacred text. Stanley is correct when he defends his “Bible tells me so” sermon by stating we are a post-Christian society. But the church of Harry Potter is evidence that shows now more than ever we need men teaching us what the Word of God truly says. The Harry Potter podcast hosts bring in every conceivable source to find answers to life’s challenges. Whether the hosts discuss Commitment (as they did last May) or try to find the meaning of human suffering (as in more recent episodes), the Bible provides a solution.
Both ter Kuile and Zoltan admit they don’t want churches to go away, but they see spirituality becoming unbundled so that we find experiential faith in a variety of ways – especially through different texts that we deem sacred.
Zoltan said,“You have to believe a text can give you blessings.”
Or, as Paul writes to his young protégé Timothy, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.” (2 Timothy 3:16. It sounds like Paul is saying the Bible can be the greatest source of blessing for us all.
[Guest Post by John Broom]