News was abuzz, as news ought to be, about how Pope Benedict, a.k.a. Cardinal Ratzinger, speciously abetted derisory comments toward one Potter, comma, Harry as a threat to Christianity as we know it. I can just imagine the headlines: Is the blacklist back? Are those Catholics ex-communicating authors? Is the Christian Right going to protest the Potter films? When does the book-burning begin? You would think children would soon have scarlet P’s etched into their chests.
There’s a benefit to mystifying liberals with, well, mysticism. They become silly, not afraid, when faced with what they do not understand, and adherence to dogma and Christian doctrine is a decent enough catalyst. What the liberal has typically offered in light of Vatican denouncements has been that the holy men themselves have gone silly and cannot stand the sight of that which they do not understand. The reporting of the affair belies astonishment. The Church! Taking a stand?! Round and round they go, and Benedict is bereft of the prospect of writing book reviews for the New Yorker.
Yet the Pope wasn’t speaking ex-cathedra, nor nasally threatening to add J.K. Rowling to his “list.” Simply put, Benedict’s response was even predictable. I just interviewed the Pope, at least in my head, and the pinnacle of my questioning resulted in this: Mr. Most-Notable-Christian-Leader, what do you think of a children’s book that forgoes conventional morality, God’s grace, and divine intervention, in favor of witchcraft and magic, often with relativist undertones? And should I have bothered with the question?
In March 2003, when Benedict wasn’t the “Pope who was a Hitler youth,” but rather the “Dogmatic Enforcer,” the then-Cardinal noted to an author critical of the young magician:
It is good, that you enlighten people about Harry Potter, because those are subtle seductions, which act unnoticed and by this deeply distort Christianity in the soul, before it can grow properly.
If only he had explained “subtle seduction.” A holdover we have from John Stuart Mill and Darwin is the naive thought that the stronger idea will survive, and if immorality appears in the Goblet of Fire or elsewhere, nascent Christian souls will be nowhere harmed from exposure — they will only become stronger. An odd argument when criminal acts are attributed to the influence of the neighborhood, and not the individual. If we are to accept that criminals often come from weak families, we accept that negative influences take their toll. Harry Potter may not exactly lead young Jimmy into a lake of fire, but it is not a reach to say that it could without guidance detract from the Church’s message — just as a child watching Desperate Housewives might get the wrong idea about what marriage is really like.
In Paradise Lost, Milton’s Satan is a seductive character contrasting the bland Son of God, but the comparison isn’t lost on the author nor the informed reader. Satan, as all evil, is supposed to be seductive. One must resist temptation to sin — that is, when occasion faces him with it. It’s commendable when people stare down evil and resist, but preferable not to have them do it — after all, human will is often frail. Sir Thomas More says to an overly ambitious Richard Rich in the film A Man for All Seasons, “Man should not go where he will be tempted.” Richard Rich went, got tempted, perjured himself, and got More beheaded. So much for Mr. Mill. And so much for liberals who would sooner say that on the whole, exposure was better for Rich. Tell that to More’s daughter.
Yes, the Potter books have the kids reading in their spare time, which is enough for some to settle for. Ironically, this argument was ridiculed by its own progenitors once a deal had been struck for movie rights based on the books. And they follow a long, wonderful tradition of fables the kids can enjoy. But if the Potter books are on loan to help forge a Christian child’s soul, without its being informed by the moral lessons of Christ, then how would they not be seductive? Put another way, what would encourage a child to accept God when the tales he hears involve other children overcoming problems by using powers they themselves hold?
That is the Pope’s business, to worry about what might intervene in a child’s relationship with the Church and God. I would rather he do it than Joycelyn Elders, Janet Reno, or Sandra Day O’Connor. Even if you dissented (which is allowed, regardless of what the New York Times tells you), he brings up a point so few are willing to heed: you are influenced by what you choose to experience, so choose carefully — which does not directly translate to being “close-minded.” It simply means, do not go where you may be tempted. Strength does not necessarily follow temptation.