potting of bewitchment
EIGHT million Harry Potter books in the market
and not counting the spin-offs! Not surprisingly, many Christians
are concerned about this. This Harry Potter phenomenon has generated
some interesting debates amongst Christian parents, mainly over
the issue of whether or not they should allow their children
to read them.
From my chanced encounters
with the literature of such debates, I am given the impression
that they have often given out more heat than light. Not wanting
to add to this pyre, I hope to take a different tack.
I am not as interested
in the books themselves as the phenomenon they create and the
dust they kick up. In my opinion, these books will probably lose
their attraction for our children pretty soon, and another set
of books will take over. What is more important for us is to
think of broader issues.
The fact of the
matter is that the genre of fantasy will always be with us. Fantasy
creates an alternative universe into which we are invited to
see how certain values are being expounded through the lives
of different characters and in different settings in an exciting
way. Consequently, the impact of its messages, open or subliminal,
will always be felt differently.
It is true that the
settings within which stories of fantasy are developed have,
in the course of human history, intentionally or unintentionally
promoted some undesirable beliefs and practices, but banning
such books will not stop our children from reading them as they
are so easily available.
In an age where
information is exchanged so easily, banning can often be an exercise
in futility. What is worse, banning may bring about a backlash,
engendering the very situation we hope to avoid. Our children's
curiosity over them and their desire to read them might easily
be intensified when the ban is applied. And they will read them
without telling us. Such harried potting of bewitchment into
the net of censorship may work precisely to enhance its status.
Yes, while the
powers that be (be they political leaders or ecclesiastical readers)
may shut the formal door to such books, the back doors and the
secret windows remain open to them. Is there a better way to
deal with bewitching trends or books that easily open juvenile
As I see it, it is
a matter of whether we are to be or not to be, rather than to
ban or not to ban. Let me explain. In Scripture, the building
up of a community of faith is emphasised again and again (see
the many relevant passages in the Pauline letters). This is seen
clearly in Deuteronomy 6, a chapter which contains the "creed"
of Israel, otherwise known as the Shema.
In this chapter,
the fundamental doctrine and praxis of the faith are sounded:
there is only one God, Yahweh, and those who believe in this
one God is to love Him with all that they are and have. Such
a faith is to be handed on from parents to children under all
circumstances and in varied ways. It becomes the topic they are
to talk about and live out. In this way, a community of faith
comes into being. This community of faith will be confident of
its heritage and resources, and is ably poised to face the slings
and arrows - and yes, the books also - the world throws at it.
Could it be that
many Christians are frightened by the Harry Potter phenomenon
because solid doctrines are hardly taught in churches today in
their manic dispensing of only what makes Christians feel good?
This rings in the funds for the Church but hardly strengthens
the soul. Consequently, the ban and the cane are all that we
know. What the faith really is and how it might leaven the whole
world are left untaught and unexplored.
Could it also be that
the continuity of the faith is seldom found inculcated in Christian
homes? Parents do not know how to communicate this. If they do,
they could only quote Scripture without being able faithfully
and creatively to demonstrate how that faith answers the many
questions and trends of our world. So our children grow up knowing
only what is forbidden without knowing what the real issues are.
Being a Christian in
this world is not about knowing what right buttons to push to
get things done or go to heaven. He has a faith by which he understands
and his worldview shaped. By word and deed, he communicates this
faith to his children and testifies to it before his fellow humans
Through a community
that knows its faith and is confident of it, a community that
is handing it on by word and deed creatively and faithfully,
bewitchment can then be potted safely in the soil of true theology
Dr Tan Kim Huat is Dean
of Postgraduate Studies at Trinity Theological College.