What do you think about the Harry Potter books? How should Christian parents approach these and other things in our culture that can have an effect on our children? Where does a Christian draw the line between fantasy and the occult in the things their children are exposed to in the media?
God knows there’s enough we need to protect our kids from without pondering invisible forces of evil! But we dare not neglect such protection because the Bible tells us that spiritual forces of darkness pose a real threat to our children’s well-being. Lately, I’ve been challenged to rethink the pervasiveness of the occult in popular culture and how to protect my kids from it because of the Harry Potter books. My conclusions surprised even me!
These books about the fictional character Harry Potter are enormously popular. Harry is introduced in the first book as an unsuspecting boy who discovers he’s a wizard and heads off to Hogwarts School for Witchcraft and Wizardry. Well, what’s a Christian parent supposed to do with that? When my kids’ friends started raving about these great books while my Christian friends started denouncing them, I was forced to take a position. The thoughtful consideration forced on me has paid off in spiritual dividends for my family. I hope you and the kids you want to protect will benefit too.
When my husband and I took on this subject for consideration, we invited our children to join in the discussion by reporting where they saw occultic influences in their everyday lives. In less than ten minutes, they came up with a list of over thirty TV shows and movies that featured some use of occultic powers. They listed myriad ways they were confronted with all manner of occult practices with friends, at school, at the mall, and even on the radio. We were quickly convinced that we can’t get away from occultic influences unless we completely separate ourselves from our culture. For our family, that isn’t an option because we are committed to fulfill Jesus’ command to “Go into all the world…” to share the good news of God’s love.
I found it notable that our kids listed Prince of Egypt, the animated Bible story of the Exodus, as featuring the occult. It’s true, Pharaoh’s magicians challenged Moses and his God. Both sides called on supernatural powers to turn their rods into snakes. (Of course, Moses called on the true God, so it wasn’t occult, and God’s snake ate up Pharaoh’s snakes). However, it became clear that if we were to opt for banning all stories in which the good side used magical powers that could be associated with the occult, we’d have to throw out some of the greatest stories in Children’s literature and some of the Bible! That certainly didn’t seem to be the way to go. So we had to find guidelines for limiting the influence of the occult on our children, and making sure they did not disobey God for the sake of entertainment or fitting in with popular culture.
My first stop when examining the issue was to use my computer program to search for every reference to magicians, sorcerers, witchcraft, and wizardry in the Bible. I found a startling entry that challenged my initial line of reasoning on this issue. In the book of Daniel, the prophet Daniel is given the title “Chief of the Magicians” by King Nebuchadnezzar (Daniel 4:9). Later the mother of King Belshazzar says to her son, “There is a man in your kingdom who has the spirit of the holy gods in him. In the time of your father he was found to have insight and intelligence and wisdom like that of the gods. King Nebuchadnezzar your father–your father the king, I say–appointed him chief of the magicians, enchanters, astrologers and diviners. This man Daniel, whom the king called Belteshazzar…” (Daniel 5: 11-12a) Daniel, chief of the magicians, enchanters, astrologers, and diviners? How could this be? Surely he never practiced these forbidden practices!
We Christians would never dare describe the prophet Daniel as a such. He was the holy prophet who dared to face a den full of ravenous lions rather than cease praying to the only true God. He was the one whose close friends were thrown into the fiery furnace rather than bow to an idol. How could this be? As a teen, Daniel was taken captive when the Babylonians conquered Judah. Daniel and his God-fearing friends were taken by force into a foreign culture and chosen to learn the language and literature of the Babylonians. Daniel and his God-worshiping friends were trained alongside the “magicians” and “seers” who worked for the King. There is no indication that they refused to hear or read the literature. In fact, when tested on what they learned they surpassed their peers. However they drew the line when it came to violating God’s laws or disrupting their personal devotion to the one true God. Daniel and his friends risked the king’s wrath rather than eat foods that violated the dietary laws of the Jews. However, they apparently lived with the occult practitioners of Babylon and learned the literature of their culture.
I found Daniel to be a worthy role model for my children to follow. He lived in a pagan world, steeped in the occult. He saw and learned about their occultic practices, but never joined in and always maintained his belief in the Holy One of Israel. Daniel and his friends were not afraid to read literature that resounded in the hearts of the people to whom they sought to minister. The cultural appetite for the supernatural showed the people’s deep need for and desire for true supernatural power that can only be satisfied in God. Daniel used his familiarity with this pagan culture to prepare him to reveal the true living God to his culture.
Build a Wall or Fit Them with Armor?
So, how do we — as concerned adults, parents and grandparents — protect our kids from the dangers of the occult that permeates our culture? I do not believe it is biblically viable for parents to ignore the cultural influences on their children or abdicate our responsibility to train our kids to deal with culture in a godly way. So, metaphorically, there are two basic approaches to protecting children from dangerous influences:
1. We can either try to build a barrier to keep the outside world from coming too close, or
2. We can fit them with armor so they can go into all the world without being harmed.
The Down Side of Building a Wall to Keep the World Out
Building a barrier is the attempt to restrict dangerous influences by setting up external limits to keep out anything potentially dangerous — sort of like the great wall of China. There are many problems with this approach:
- Just restricting freedom can incite curiosity and rebellion leading the one you’re trying to protect to try to get beyond the protective barrier to see what they are missing.
- Outside threats are so numerous it is impossible to keep out everything that’s potentially harmful. Even if you could keep children separated from all potentially dangerous influences, you would also be keeping them from situations in which they could develop the maturity to ward off such dangers for themselves. This is illustrated by the movie the Little Mermaid. Ariel’s father, King Triton forbid her from having any association with the human world. He also kept her from knowing about the dangerous Sea-Witch Ursula who had been banished from his court. She knew nothing of the personal vendetta Ursula had against her father, or her deceptive nature, or how she enticed unsuspecting merfolk to fall under her spell so she could hold their shriveled souls captive. Ariel’s ignorance and desire to explore beyond the limited world allowed by her concerned father left her vulnerable to deception. Her father had opted for a policy of avoidance by trying to keep her safely protected from all that was dark and dangerous. Instead, he left her vulnerable and unprepared to resist evil wisely.
- This approach disregards the fact that evil not only comes from without, but also when “each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed” (James 1:14).
Advantages to Putting on Spiritual Armor
When the Bible gets right down to telling us how to fend off “the devil’s schemes” and stand firm against “spiritual forces of darkness in the heavenly realms” it says to put on spiritual armor. This is described in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, chapter 6, verses 11-18. This idea of fitting children with spiritual armor represents helping them develop a personal protection system with which they guard their own heart and mind. It doesn’t keep them from participating in their culture — even though there are many dangers. It equips them to go out into the world protected at the point of contact with their culture.
Proverbs 4 gives advice to keep young people safe in a dangerous world. Verse 23 says, “Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.” If we can motivate our kids to do this, they will develop their own spiritual protection system, and will work with you to fend off the forces of evil instead of against you. Along the way, they will not only be protected, they will also be developing the maturity that will give you assurance that they will be able to face life successfully, without your continual monitoring when as they become adults.
We’re supposed to help our children mature so they can successfully manage all that life brings and fend off what ever forces of darkness they are bound to encounter in this dark world. The Bible defines those who are mature as those “who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil.” So an important part of raising kids is finding ways they can “practice training their senses to discern good and evil.” Some of the best practice for developing such discernment comes by way of using fictional stories and characters, while teaching kids to measure them by God’s Word.
You can opt to use stories from popular culture, fiction, and fantasy as a means to teach the lessons you aim to get across while teaching them how to discern and guard their own hearts against evil. This approach is a biblical option because the restrictions God puts on us with regard to occultic involvement are clear cut (seeDeuteronomy 18:9-16), Daniel’s example shows that it is possible for some believers to be educated in the stories of popular culture without violating God’s commands, and because 1 Corinthians chapter 8 lays out how Christians can differ on questionable cultural involvement as long as they don’t violate their consciences.
If you read or view stories from popular culture with your kids, you have the chance to put them in a Christian context. You can do as we did with the Harry Potter stories and explain forbidden occult practices using the stories as illustrations. You can point out the peril and folly involved in such real occult practices. You can also note good moral lessons, mistakes the characters make. All the while you are helping your children practice discernment skills in a culturally relevant way. In this way you help your kids stay in touch with the culture of their peers without partaking of it. They can even use the things their friends are into that may include references to the occult as a way of turning the conversation from a popular story to something supernatural in the Bible. We have been able to present the gospel of Jesus Christ in an understandable way to our kids’ friends and their parents using part of the first Harry Potter book as a parable. The parent with whom we did this, came to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ shortly thereafter.