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The one about Harry

October 30, 2018

I’m about to do the unthinkably stupid and write the oft-requested post on why we don’t “do” Harry Potter.

How stupid is it for me to write this? Well, considering I got death threats over my iconic “dog mom in whole foods” manifesto from yonder years, I’m guessing it’s moderately stupid.

But here we go, nonetheless.

I have been feeling a nudge from the Lord to touch this topic for a few years now, to be perfectly transparent. And I have said to Him, in varying degrees of politeness, time after time, “no thank you. I have no desire to stake a public claim on this topic. I’d rather write about politics and yoga and dog moms and daylight savings time all wrapped into one post.”

Anyway, He kept asking. And this piece showed up in my newsfeed bright and early this morning and I knew it was go time.

Fine, Lord. Fine.

Just know that I do not relish writing this. That my fingers feel like lead and my chest feels uncomfortably tight as I go along.

When I was a young college student I had a deep love for Harry Potter. I’d jumped on the bandwagon around the time that book number 4 released, and I was hooked.

I loved them! I loved re-reading them over and over again, loved going to the movies as they were released into theaters, even loved getting in line at Barnes and Nobles (remember when bookstores were a thing?) and waiting in the chilly midnight air for the first shipment of the newly released title to be unboxed. I made wands with my friends and co-workers at the restaurant where I waitressed, and we stood in line slightly buzzed and wearing construction paper sorting hats.

So it sort of goes without saying that I was a superfan.

I was a grad student at Steubenville before I first encountered any sort of “anti” Harry Potter sentiment (I mean, apart from my mother’s) and I was dismissive, entertained by the idea that anyone could think these fun fantasy books could pose any sort of threat to a well-formed adult conscience.

I sought out other faithful Catholics who allowed their children to read the series and who read it themselves, reassuring myself that if “so and so” had it on his bookshelves, I was fine. More than fine! It was perfectly alright, because Fr. x had never expressed any reservations about it, and Fr. y had enjoyed the series himself.

Anyway, I was uncomfortable with the notion that there might be anything amiss, so I dismissed it. It bears asking, why did I care what other people thought about it? Why did it matter to me that Professor S let his kids read it, so therefore it must be fine?

I recognized later that my initial misgivings which were allayed by other people’s participation in the fun that was HP were the initial stirrings of a conscience that was not yet convicted, but was on its way.

These books are something a little different, and there was an element of unsettledness that I couldn’t shake. I’d read Lord of the Rings and I loved Star Wars and I’m no stranger to other fantasy and science fiction series, but I couldn’t really put my finger on what was different about HP.

A few years passed and I got married and became a mom. One night I happened to click and read an essay by Michael O’Brien, an author whose fiction I had devoured (repeatedly) over the years.

Suddenly those hazy misgivings I’d felt a few years back were cast into stark relief. I was deeply and immediately convicted that these books and movies had no place in my life and no place in our family’s home – just a 2-bedroom apartment with one baby in it at the time.

Had I read this essay a few years earlier, I probably would have laughed it (uncomfortably) off, labelling this guy as a nutter. But because the seeds of discomfort had been planted in my mind years earlier, they sprang up readily when watered with the truth from a man with whose scholarship and artistry I was long acquainted.

That night I woke up from a disturbing nightmare in the middle of the night. I was overcome with the need to remove Harry from our house. I piled all the books from the shelves in our living room into my arms and carried them out to the dumpster. I broke the DVDs in their cases and recycled the plastic. I explained to Dave what his crazy wife was doing, and why, and he encouraged me to do whatever I felt I needed to. He didn’t have a horse in that race, having never become interested in the books himself.

Afterwards I felt a little crazy. Maybe it was crazy. But I also felt lighter and freer. Our home felt safer, for lack of a better descriptor.

I didn’t advertise my actions to anyone outside a close circle of friends, and even then only gradually throughout the years. If someone asks “do we do Harry Potter” my answer has always been simply “no, it’s not for our family,” and that has been that, unless pressed for details.

Recently HP has spiked in new popularity, spurring a flurry of merchandise and clothing and costumes for a new generation. There is a podcast called “Harry Potter and the Sacred Text” which meditates lectio divina style on the books, line by line. (Yes, really.)

Some of our kids’ friends are dressing as Harry and company for trick or treating tomorrow night, and I had the slightly uncomfortable but honest conversation with a 9-year-old last week when he pressed me for reasons why my kids hadn’t seen the movies or read the books.

“Well, bud,” I started off haltingly and awkwardly, “we don’t get into those because the lines between good and evil are kind of blurred in that series. And because the stuff that they present to you as make believe – witchcraft and spell casting and hexes and summoning spirits – that stuff is all real, and it has the possibility to put you in danger.” I might have said one or two more things, but his eyes had definitely glazed over at that point, and I realized I was probably overdoing it for a 4th grader.

I want to pause here to emphasize with enormous charity and truthfulness that I bear no ill will towards any parent who discerns differently for their family, for their children. Full stop.

I was careful to express my respect for this child’s mother, a friend, and to emphasize what we had discerned for our family. I have wonderful, faithful, holy friends who enjoy Harry Potter, who decorate for birthday parties and holidays incorporating the trappings of the Potterverse in their homes. If you leave this post with nothing else today, let it be with the assurance of my sincere respect for you, even if you’ve come to a different conclusion than I have about Rowling’s works.

For me, having experienced firsthand the effects of dabbling in the occult, even incidentally and indirectly, I’ve developed what I’ll jokingly tell friends is an allergy to evil.

I don’t mean like I’m super holy and very far advanced in the spiritual life, (Far from it. Like really, really far. Ask my kids.) …but that my radar is sort of hyper-sensitized to anything that has even a tinge of the occult to it. I can’t watch a lot of TV shows and movies that are popular because of a deeper conversion in my sexuality, and along similar lines, I can’t (and won’t) consume content that references witchcraft, divination, aura-reading, tarot cards, etc.

It’s like once you’ve been burned by that stuff, you are more likely to yelp in pain if it brushes up against you. Also, once you’ve experienced real freedom from the experience of oppression, you never ever want to go back.

Now, if you’re still reading and haven’t slammed your screen down in disgust or rage-tweeted this to your followers or dumped it onto a GOMI thread, hear me out on this final point:

My job as a mother is to form my kids for heaven. To shape their hearts and souls to be receptive to the nudges and invitations from their Creator.

I can’t guarantee a good outcome by any means, but I can and must exercise any and all means to prepare them well to hear His voice when He speaks. And I can’t in good conscience put something in front of them which I know to be in competition with that voice.

My personal conviction about Harry Potter means I am duty bound to act in this area where my kids are concerned. I have to follow my conscience, knowing that my decision may be extremely and laughably unpopular, but knowing that even if I’m wrong, God will judge me on whether or not I followed my conscience.

Anyway, we do still trick or treat because there is nothing morally ambiguous about free candy, and I hope you’ll see the innocence of dressing up as Batman or a tiny fighter pilot as something different from pretending to cast spells and communicate with the spirit world.

Some people don’t see a huge difference there, I get it! I personally don’t see the harm in costumes, fake spider webs, or obviously fake decor that gives kids a little thrill. It’s not because Potter is all in good fun that I hold it in suspicion, after all, but because the subject matter it turns on is very, very real indeed.

The real life practice of witchcraft is on the rise in our part of the world and elsewhere. There are, in 2018, more professed and practicing Wiccans than there are practicing Presbyterians by Pew’s 2017 count. So that’s … chilling. And it doesn’t come out of a vacuum.

Will your kid become a witch because they love Hermione so much? I don’t know! I didn’t!

But why would I take the risk? Something is behind the devastating loss of faith and the growing embrace of secular humanism and materialism in the modern world. Is a single children’s book series responsible for the change? Of course not. But could it be a small contributing piece of the puzzle? My conscience won’t allow me to rule it out as a possibility.

So hopefully this is all clear as mud, and we can now return to our usually scheduled programming of musings on motherhood, Church documents, and the produce section at Trader Joe’s. Happy feast of all hallows eve to you and yours!