RATZINGER TILTING AT WITCHES
Re: J. Peter Freire’s Harry Potter and the Chair of Peter:
According to J. Peter Freire’s article, the Harry Potter series “…forgoes conventional morality, God’s grace, and divine intervention, in favor of witchcraft and magic, often with relativist undertones.” One wonders if J. Freire has actually read any of the books, which apparently Pope Benedict has not, and if he cares to apply all of those criteria to other children’s’ literature as well.
For what it is worth, Christmas is celebrated in Harry Potter. Otherwise the books are silent on religion. Does one demand that religion be explicitly included in all children’s literature? Are, for example, the Hardy Boys to be condemned for trusting to their own detective skills instead of to “God’s grace, divine intervention” and for not making mention of religion in every book?
The books do include characters that forgo “conventional morality” by murder, deceit, betrayal, cruelty, and theft: the antagonists. On the other hand, Harry’s parents sacrificed themselves to protect Harry from an evil wizard who is an approximation of the Devil himself. Harry and his friends are brave, loyal, hard working, just, help those that are weak, and risk their lives for the greater good. Harry and his friends’ defects are that they lie on occasion, and break school rules, but only in pursuit of the greater good. One could certainly do worse.
In the books, there is not only such a thing as true evil, but also one has a choice in whether to succumb to it or to oppose it (refer to Harry’s discussion with the head master at the end of the second book / movie). How this constitutes a “relativist undertone” simply defies the most strained imagination. As well, government bureaucrats are seen as self-serving meddlers; something that The American Spectator readers would likely agree with.
Fortune telling is mocked in the books; and that (e.g., astrology, tea leaves) is the one type of magic that people actually try to practice today. Magic is obviously part of the premise of the books, put it is hardly the focus. Reading of spells to unlock doors, repair eye glasses, etc., seem unlikely to corrupt children. Granted that children who have a preexisting fascination with magic, to the point that they actually think it possible, should not be exposed to the works. Nor perhaps to the Lord of the Rings, or even The Magician’s Nephew for that matter.
— Dwight Lewis
I had to read J. Peter Freire’s “Harry Potter and the Chair of Peter” several times just to convince myself it was not a parody. But, sadly, no — Mr. Freire appears to be deadly earnest, and in the process helps confirm in the minds of many that Christians are a bunch of literal-minded, ignorant pinheads who are desperately afraid that somebody, somewhere, might be having a good time.
Mr. Freire tries to make the case that the Harry Potter stories are fundamentally anti-Christian and thus morally problematic and spiritually dangerous. He bases this hypothesis on the fact that the Potter stories involve magic, postulates the existence of witches, wizards and other magical beings, and is not overtly Christian. He tries to bolster his case by citing an off-hand remark by Cardinal Ratzinger two years ago, without first determining whether the good Cardinal was even familiar with the books, let alone having read them.
I sincerely doubt that Mr. Freire has read them, or he would have recognized (assuming that his understanding of Christianity is one grounded in the Fathers and the great Christian poets and philosophers, and not merely in mindless biblical literalism) that Harry Potter represents one of the great works of Christian fantasy, the first of the new millennium, and may some day be regarded as equal to both C.S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia, or even J.R.R. Tolkien’s incomparable Lord of the Rings. Let us note here that neither Narnia nor Lord of the Rings is overtly Christian (though Narnia more closely approaches allegory than does Lord of the Rings), that both involve magic and magical beings, and that each, in its time, faced criticism similar to that being heaped by Mr. Freire on Harry Potter.
What Mr. Freire does not seem able to assimilate is the way in which fantasy is often the ideal way of transmitting the Christian kerygma to those who might not be willing to receive it in the form of a cut and dried lecture on doctrine (for Christianity is not really about doctrine, but about a new ontological form of life). Moreover, such works of fantasy often provide believers with deeper insights into their faith, and with a reinforcement of their faith that enables it to withstand the challenges of the fallen world.
The secret, Mr. Freire, lies in an exegetical method popular with the Fathers of the Church — typology. Typology differs from allegory in that an allegory is an extended, explicit metaphor, in which “A” stands for one thing or person, “B” stands for another, and so forth, in a manner that precludes alternative interpretations. A typological work, however, is one in which characters, places, events and objects are symbols, but in a more subtle way, a way that admits of alternative explanations or interpretations, but which, ultimately, point in a consistent direction. The Fathers read the Old Testament typologically, seeing in its stories and personalities foreshadowings of the Incarnation, Passion and Resurrection. Jesus himself used typology in his parables, “puzzling or paradoxical tales” that appear to mean one thing at one level, but mean something quite different at another.
In the case of Harry Potter, all the stories are suffused with Christian symbolism, built into the structure of the “coming of age” story (Bildungsroman) and using, to a large extent, the kind of alchemical terminology that would be familiar to medieval Christians (hardly surprising, considering that J.K. Rowling took a “First” in classics at University). The examples are too great to enumerate here, but those who want a very readable analysis can try John Granger’s Looking for God in Harry Potter (Tyndale, 2004). Professor Granger (no relation, I believe to Hermione Granger of Gryffendor House, Hogwarts Academy) writes from the sacramentalist tradition of the Catholic and Orthodox Churches. Those of a more evangelical bent can look to Connie Neal’s The Gospel According to Harry Potter (Westminster John Knox Press, 2002). Both come to the same conclusion, however: the Harry Potter stories use the milieu of magic to break down the walls of material reality and allow us to see things “as they really are” — precisely the same use that Tolkien made of fantasy (see his seminal essay “On Fairey Stories” for his complete theory). By forcing a suspension of disbelief, the fantasy genre allows us to play with the “big ideas” — and no ideas are bigger than those embodied in the Great Story of fall, sacrifice, redemption and resurrection, which is the divine history of salvation. Mr. Freire should look into Homer, Dante, Virgil and the other great authors, for most of them do the same thing (not that I am comparing Rowling to Dante, by any means).
Mr. Freire chooses to paraphrase Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI. I feel certain that a scholar of Benedict’s caliber, raised in the Great Books tradition, would fully understand what Rowling has done, if he had indeed read the books. Which is why I place little credence in Mr. Freire’s invocation of his name as support for his own rather pinched concept of what suitable Christian literature should be. In his place, I put forth the words of Bishop Auxentios, writing in the periodical The Orthodox Tradition (Vol.20 No.3-2003), who wrote that Christian critics of Harry Potter have “missed the spiritual forest for the sake of their fixation on the magical imagery of the literary trees.” This describes Mr. Freire’s article to the proverbial T.
— Stuart Koehl
Falls Church, Virginia
I enjoyed J. Peter Freire’s intelligent take on this non-controversy, particularly because he dragooned examples from both Paradise Lost and A Man for All Seasons into serving his point.
It strikes me that saying, “you are influenced by what you choose to experience, so choose carefully,” while trite, nevertheless dovetails neatly with that Seventies pitch from the USDA as posted in more than one school cafeteria, namely, “you are what you eat.”
I can’t remember who summarized the issue so pithily, but Joseph Ratzinger’s objection to Harry Potter has also been described as highlighting the contrast between “My Will Be Done” and “Thy Will Be Done.”
That the choice in that comparison echoes both scripture and Paradise Lost is no accident, Benedict XVI was a learned man even before he occupied the Chair of Peter.
Sure, the pope has been criticized for having reservations about J.K. Rowling’s magnum opus, as though only professors in the Chair of Potter had a right to think about the popularity of this wizard kid. But people who reduce moral guidance and catechesis to the level of Benedict’s fondness for cats or favorite beer can’t be taken too seriously, as Mr. Freire made quite clear.
— Patrick O’Hannigan
Oh my, how we have worked ourselves into a lather! Please, please, please. Harry Potter is fiction and I’m sure the author of this hyperventilated piece knows fiction. It will not undermine Christian values or turn my child into a cultist. It will instead provide hours of becoming lost in a wonderfully fantastic place of magic and powers not possessed by mere mortals. Unfortunately, pieces like this article support the kool-aid left’s perception of conservatives. Lighten up, please!
— John Kramschuster
DON’T CRY FOR TERRORISTS
Re: R. Emmett Tyrrell, Jr.’s Terrorists Have Feelings Too:
I live in Accra, Ghana (West Africa) and just read your piece today on the London crisis published on your website. You know what? I get amazed about how liberals, especially those in Western Europe, are more concerned about the perpetrators of violence than the pain, tears and death of the victims.
Yes, every citizen’s rights must be respected and protected. But whose comes first? Our attention, if it must be humane and just, must reach out first and foremost to the victims.
— Kweku Howard
ANATOMY OF A SCANDAL
Re: Geoffrey Norman’s Washington Reruns:
Geoffrey Norman, in his column, describes Wilson (aka No Yellow Cake Here Wilson), as a political enemy of the Bush Administration. “Karl Rove, it seems, told a journalist something that would embarrass one of his administration’s enemies.” One wonders how someone who brought the good news that Saddam Hussein didn’t really have a nuclear capability could become an “enemy of the state.” An administration that wasn’t seeking any justification for an invasion already in the works would have breathed a public sigh of relief.
“We got some good news, folks. Saddam probably doesn’t have any nukes. He may still have chemical and biological weapons, but we can rule out nukes.”
The real issue in the Rove-Wilson-Plame Affair is that the whole thing is yet more evidence that the Bush Administration had a secret plan to invade Iraq and would seek to discredit or destroy any person who contradicted their “sexed-up” intelligence justifying said plan.
— Ralph Averill
New Preston, Connecticut
I know you are putting a spin for this corrupt White House, but I don’t buy it. Rove divulged the identification of a CIA agent, and that is illegal. Bob Novak should be on the burner for printing the name. You people aren’t fooling anybody.
— Jack E. Junck
It was nice of Mr. Norman to takes us on a trip down memory lane, but there are two rather interesting points concerning the whole “Who leaked Valerie Plame’s Name” mess that he didn’t bring up.
In their rabid zeal to embarrass the President and limit the future effectiveness of Karl Rove, Democratic activists demanded a special prosecutor be appointed to investigate this incident. They got their wish and as the old saying goes, “Be careful what you wish for, you might just get it.” This had led to a crisis within the fourth estate. One reporter has already gone to jail for contempt of court and another may be on the way.
Now this does two things. First it establishes that, in criminal investigations, a reporter has no right, First Amendment or otherwise, to withhold information and obstruct said investigation. And second, the media have their good friends the Democrats to thank for this. And this same investigation has yielded the information that because of Ms. Plame’s widely known relationship with her husband and the equally widely known position that she held and the fact that her position does not meet the statutory standards necessary to raise mentioning her name and position to a criminal offense. Further, it is beginning to appear that, far from attempting to smear Joe Wilson, Karl Rove was attempting to limit damage to both the administration and the media by warning Mr. Cooper of problems with Wilson’s story. In short, he is becoming a sympathetic figure. After all we all know that no good deed goes unpunished.
So there is a second term scandal here, all right. But it does not involve the President or his administration. In fact, it involves the undesired fall-out resulting from a thoughtless, ill-conceived attempt to smear a political opponent. And the perpetrators of that were Democratic politicians and operatives. And the victims of this are the men and women of the press. And to protect themselves, they have been forced to take Rove’s side in this. And to think that we still have three whole years of this second term to go. D.C., the greatest show on earth.
— Michael Tobias
Ft. Lauderdale, Florida
UNCLE SAM GETS HIS CUT
Re: Charles G. Hardin’s Boston Bounty Hunters:
Each of the individuals that won a big reward, return a good chunk of it in taxes. So if someone won $17 million they might keep $3-4 million. It’s paid out in a lump sum, there is no income averaging, and you drop immediately into Alternate Minimum Tax. So all is not lost.
— John McGinnis
TREASURE THE DISABLED
Re: George Neumayr’s The New Eugenics:
Thanks to George Neumayr for this story. I am so appalled by the situation that this story details.
My daughter was born in China with spina bifida, and she joined our family at two-and-a-half years old. I look at her and realize that if she had been conceived in the U.S., she probably would never have made it to birth. The direction our country is going just saddens me so much.
— Greg Holmes
The history of the eugenics movement is thoroughly documented in Rebecca Messall’s Human Life Review research article “The Long Road of Eugenics: From Rockefeller to Roe v. Wade.” Margaret Sanger (Planned Parenthood) was very clear in her position of keeping the inferior races (Irish, Blacks, Italians) from breeding, let alone the disabled and mentally infirm.
— Fred Edwards
Many thanks for The American Spectator. In the June 2005 issue you wrote, “Each year in America fewer and fewer disabled infants are born.”
Most people think that it is obvious that if one kills those unborn very likely to have a severe disability, then clearly one will reduce the number of disabled newborn. Well then, the rate of severely disabled in Ireland must be much higher than in the U.S., since abortions are not legal in Ireland. The number one serious disability in newborn in terms of numbers is cerebral palsy (CP). Since women with prior abortions have about double the risk of having a delivery under 32 weeks’ gestation, abortion increases the number of newborn with CP. In a coming article two medical doctors and I estimate very conservatively an excess of over 1000 U.S. newborn with CP due to prior IAs (Induced Abortions).
Ireland has a preterm birth rate less than 1/2 the U.S. preterm birth rate of 12.3% (2003). Preterm birth is a major cause of CP. Those born under 28 weeks’ gestation have 38 times the CP risk as the general population of newborn. Preterm newborn have higher risk of hearing loss, vision loss, gastrointestinal problems, mental retardation, respiratory distress, etc.
Bottom line, eugenics in the form of induced abortion increases the number of newborn with serious disabilities. Each year more and more U.S. babies are born with disabilities. As famous economist Ludwig von Mises would say, “contrary to purpose.” Practical eugenics is “contrary to purpose.”
In 1967 in Eugenics Review prominent abortion advocate Dr. Malcolm Potts conceded that induced abortion had a disparate impact on less than 17 reproductive healths:
“There seems little doubt that there is a true relationship between the high incidence of therapeutic abortion and prematurity. The interruption of pregnancy in the young (under seventeen) is more dangerous than in other cases.” (Potts M. “Legal Abortion in Eastern Europe.” Eugenics Review 1967; 59:232-250)
Two legal briefs to be presented to the U.S. Supreme Court in the Ayotte v Planned Parenthood case will contain material about the APB (Abortion Preterm Birth) risk.
— Brent Rooney, Reduce Preterm Risk Coalition
My daughter was diagnosed with PPD/Autism three years ago. She’s actually improving every day. Her being alive while I was out of work a few years ago, help make my life worth living. She saved my life. She smiles. She laughs. She makes me see how wonderful life is.
— William Zeranski
Re: Jed Babbin’s Deadly Tolerance:
Jed Babbin really hit the nail on the head in his last paragraph here. In my view, Republicans in the Senate and in the House are no better than their moronic Democrat counterparts, and I hold all of them equally responsible for the mess they are creating by their cowardice, their seditious behavior, by their unwillingness or inability to stand up for the United States and for what is right, not politically convenient (the only exception to this I could see would only be Rep. Tom Tancredo). They are craven, weak-kneed, morally and spiritually castrated, easily bullied and worthy only of contempt. I quit the Republicans years ago and refuse to pull the lever for them as much as I do for any Democrat. They are in fact worse than Democrats — Democrats, as wrong-headed as everything they espouse is, still have the courage of their convictions, as screwed up as they are; Republicans don’t even pretend to believe in those principles for which we had originally elected them and have absolutely no convictions. It is simply breathtaking that we continue to pay them six-figure incomes for all this crap.
— D. A. Moroco, Colonel, USMCR (Ret.)
I’m completely convinced we are doomed as a country and as a civilization when I read the childish illogic in Reader Mail written by the likes of Joe Bialek.
Does Joe bother to read anything other than the headlines? His ridiculous screed sure doesn’t provide any evidence. He states, “The whole premise for going to war with that country was to disarm it of its weapons of mass destruction (which the U.S. sold them).”
Boy how woefully stupid is that sentence? First, it was not the WHOLE premise. I suggest Joe go back and read the entire resolution passed in the Congress and those unanimously voted forth in the U.N. Also, I’d like him to provide the source proving the U.S. sold Iraq WMD since this is total bunk regurgitated in the likes of the NY Times and the Washington Post, those paragons of credible journalism.
And you don’t have to just believe the Bush Administration told the truth because they did. The same truth spoken by Bill Clinton, Al Gore, John Kerry, and other Democrats in the 1990’s and before the 2002 Iraq resolution. And how is it a “war for oil” when the barrel price is at record highs? If we fought a war for oil we’d have more supply and the price would be lower with the “greed” he (and every left wing moron) cites coming from volume sales and not price. Elementary economics Joe, try it sometime.
— Greg Barnard
YOU WOULDN’T LIKE TORTURE
Re: Christopher Orlet’s Club Gitmo:
On the article published July 11, Chris Orlet neglected to include some of the facts around his depiction of some events at Guantanamo Bay. His creative use of the article by Ben Fox, Associated Press writer, leaves no doubt in my mind that he is spinning the truth for his own agenda. His article is Republican propaganda, not journalism.
From the AP article, I quote, “In one of the more serious incidents described in the documents, detainees told guards that an MP threw the cleaning liquid Pine-Sol in the eyes of a prisoner in the middle of one night in January 2004. In a written statement, another soldier said he came in immediately afterward to find what smelled like cleaning liquid dripping from the cell.
“‘The detainee could be seen rubbing his eyes intensely and moaning in pain,’ he said.”
“The documents, obtained under a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed by AP, are far from a comprehensive look at Guantanamo and do not provide full details about each incident. Names and some other identifying details have been blacked out by military censors. Handwriting at times isn’t legible and pages appear to be missing or out of sequence. In some cases, it is not possible to decipher who did what to whom. Disciplinary measures against the troops were either relatively minor or unclear in some reports.”
Also, we are no longer at war with the Taliban. Mr. Orlet claims several instances to the cruelty of the Taliban, none of which I will dispute. However, few (90% or less) of the detainees at any of our military prisons are guilty of any crime at all (see the Red Cross findings on this). Wouldn’t you pull your hair out or go slightly mad if you were kept in a small cell for as long as three days with the heat unbearably hot? With loud, annoying music on full blast, with the lights on all the time? Wouldn’t you demonstrate your displeasure with your captors if you were abused and tortured?
And while I agree that you have the right to spin any truths you wish, as it is your publication, I would ask you not to insult our intelligence by leaving out crucial facts that we are all aware of.
— C. Bosler
Christopher Orlet replies:
You will have to forgive me if I fail to sympathize with the mass-murdering Taliban detainees as much as Mr. Bosler apparently does. As for the accusation that I am “spinning the truth” let me say that I am heartened that Mr. Bosler can at least admit that it is the truth, and if the truth also happens to be Republican (or Democratic) propaganda, so be it. As for the alleged incident with the cleaning liquid there were no eyewitnesses, no information about how the incident started (was the guard attacked? Mr. Bosler admits that “in some cases, it is not possible to decipher who did what to whom”), only the testimony of a Taliban fighter and would-be assassin. As for the detainee rubbing his eyes, perhaps he was sleepy. Personally, I don’t much care. As for Mr. Bosler’s absurd contention that “90% or less” (sic) of the detainees at any of our military prisons are guilty of any crime at all, we are (a) not talking about “any” of our prisons, but a specific prison, and (b) I would prefer to leave the guilt or innocence of the detainees up to an impartial justice system and not an apparent Taliban and terrorist apologist.
I just wanted to add a resounding “Absolutely!” to Diane Smith’s comment on Ben Stein’s side notes. A couple of years ago, the college republicans at my school, Furman University in Greenville, S.C., hired Mr. Stein as our big-name speaker for the year. (Come on, my generation knows him as the “Bueller….Bueller…….anyone?” guy from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off! The man’s, like, a part of pop culture!)
CR’s had a small group of active members and I was the only one willing to skip all of my classes for two days. I had the pleasure of driving Mr. Stein around Greenville. To say he is a genial, humble, down to earth man doesn’t convey the more striking qualities that you notice when you meet him; he is, at the same time, both extremely comfortable with himself as a person, comfortable in his own skin and also continually amazed at what life gave him. Because of these two qualities, Mr. Stein seems to live life in the best possible state of mind: one of complete gratitude and amazement. He answered all of the “basic” college student questions — tell us about working for the White House when Nixon resigned, what’s Jimmy Kimmel really like, who approached you about Win Ben Stein’s Money — in a state of constant and undeserved amazement that his life turned out the way it has.
He is quick to point out that nothing in his life experience was something owed to him or earned by anything he did; but he is grateful and he enjoys his life. And he will tell you, point blank, that he and all the rest of us where born in this country by the grace of God.
So if readers are confused as to how to interpret Mr. Stein’s odds and ends about the trappings of a materially-blessed life, I would encourage them, from my experience, to take those remarks at face-value. Cynicism tells us there must be some self-centered motive in mentioning these details, but not here; just an average person who looks at his life and thinks, wow, how did I get so lucky? An average person who is more articulate and thoughtful than 90% of the rest of us, and happens to have access to a national audience.
P.S. This average American currently holds the record for student turn-out to a non-required lecture; the McAlister Auditorium was nearly filled to capacity
— Kristin Kuehnert
Furman University, Class of 2005
Greenville, South Carolina
So “HNP” states TAS is Ben Stein’s “new home”?!?! Get thee to a library and peruse, oh let’s say, about the past 3 decades (that’s 30 years, “HNP”) of TAS and you’ll discover why Ben Stein is a brilliant writer and true classical liberal (not in the corrupted pop culture sense) intellectual. Plus he’s a down-to-earth, optimistic guy and writes interestingly of life’s experiences that normal people encounter (note to “HNP,” you may have to make parallels with your own life, that’s the point). His columns and articles are always great to read and you may learn something if you have an open mind.
By the way, I did not know that Air America’s sole listener (that would be you, “HNP”) could write, albeit absurd doggerel. So you want to write a “story” about your doggie? I highly doubt it would pass muster with the editorial board at TAS. Perhaps your literary dreams would be fulfilled by submitting your doggie “story” of monosyllabic tripe to The Nation. It will most likely be published if your subject is a heroin addicted, sexually confused dog bullied by angry lesbian cats in an oppressive “conservative” neighborhood. Who knows? You may get a politically correct Pulitzer for it and really show up Mr. Stein! In the meantime, keep reading those comic books and watching The Daily Show in your parents’ basement. If you ever decide to think for yourself, then maybe you’ll begin to understand and appreciate Ben Stein.
— Joe Weldon
Juno Beach, Florida
HNP from Placerville, California states: “I’d love to hear from anyone who really gives a care about Ben Stein’s new home… Maybe other readers would like to read about my new dog?”
I give a care. I lived near there and love both the area and Mr. Stein’s writing. How is your new dog?
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