Monday, January 25, 2016

Harry Potter and the Braindead Fundamentalist

A surly look at Harry Potter and the Bible: The Menace behind the Magick (2001) by Richard Abanes. This is not an attack on Christianity or even fundamentalism. It instead a brief look at some of a particularly annoying and disingenuous book. It does eventually relate to D&D.

Although a more apt title for this book might have been Harry Potter and the Disingenuous Opportunist: A Book for Gullible and Narrow-minded Zealots, it was too long for the header. Unless the author is completely "batshit crazy" this book is quite intentionally misleading and targets an audience that will not have read the books and seen the movies and will not bother to check on the half-truths and lies through omission that are rather prevalent.

The first chapter is a mostly honest summary of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, although beginning with a quote from a "witchcraft & wicca web site" is almost certainly an attempt to prejudice the audience against the stories (Page 13). Abanes overreaches on page 16 when he claims that "Muggles are consistently portrayed by Rowling as a narrow-minded and callous group of persons unable to grasp the glory of magic." A problem with this is that there are only three muggles in the first book who are aware of the magic world (Vernon, Petunia, and eventually Dudley Dursley). It is beyond absurd to believe that Rowling would have to balance out the Dursleys with good, wise muggles because every single reader of these books is a muggle and knows other muggles. Also problematic is the phrase "glory of magic" which does not appear in any of Rowling's books. Fundamentalist Christians tend to reserve the word glory for God and by using this phrase, Abnes is subtly, and falsely, implying that the book presents magic as being worthy of veneration and not merely as a cool tool.

Chapter two "Sorcery in a Stone"is the author's attempt to link Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone to the occult, a word which seems to mean to the author, Wicca, paganism, evil, mythology, or satanism, superstition, or any combination of them.

He takes out of context quotes such as "I don't believe in magic in the way I describe it in my books." and then proceeds to ask several Dana Carvey church lady type questions "Is there another 'sense' in which Rowling does believe in witchcraft?" (page 22-23) Apparently he misses the fact that Rowling answers these very question through Dumbledore "Ah, music," he said, wiping his eyes. "A magic beyond all we do here!" (HPatSS chapter 7).

Abanes then argues that the first novel is intrinsically connected to alchemy because of the sorcerer's (philosopher's) stone and Nicholas Flamel. He then describes the ancients myth about the stone and Flamel, citing The Encyclopedia of Occultism and Parapsychology and other esoteric occult sources. Using unnecessary obscure sources (much of the same information would have been available in any standard encyclopedia) is clever trick designed to fool the mostly uninformed audience, and possibly himself, into believing that the sorcerer's (philosopher's) stone is a bit of obscure, esoteric knowledge known only to few fanatical occult practitioners rather than being a likely $100 dollar question on Jeopardy. Fans of DC Comics might remember that one of The Flash's major enemies was Dr. Alchemy who used the philosopher's stone as a weapon.

Later in the chapter, Abanes attempts to connect Rowling to Theosophy, an obscure philosophy that was a source of inspiration for "New Age" beliefs. Part of his "evidence" is the undeniable fact that anagrams play a small part in Harry Potter (The backward writing around the Mirror of Erised and the anagram involving Tom Riddle's name in The Chamber of Secrets). This logic that Theosophy uses anagrams + J.K. Rowling has anagrams in Harry Potter = J.K. Rowling is into Theosophy is roughly equivalent to I like Sudoku + Sudoku is from Japan as were samurai = I am a samurai. Neither are likely true.

Harry Potter and the Bible: The Menace behind the Magick continues this way throughout the rest of the book. I would continue but I'm afraid that a full refutation of this garbage would end up being nearly as long as the book itself. 

There are a few points that especially bother the author and don't directly relate to his "intended to lead to worshiping the occult" silliness and should be mentioned. First he is upset that the characters often lie and break rules, often without any negative consequences. This is mentioned first in the section "Potterethics." Abanes never seems to grasp that the good characters in this book do lie and break rules but only for what they, and virtually all readers, consider to be good reasons or to avoid being unfairly punished. Nobody's perfect and it is hard to imagine a good story in which all the heroes were perfect saints, especially as children. Later in the book, Abanes lists the Lord of the Rings as an example of good morals, apparently forgetting that Frodo Baggins begins his adventures by spreading the lie that Bilbo's money had run out and that he was going to settle down in Crickhollow and lies, with good reason, a few more times in the trilogy.

Abanes's second complaint against "Potterethics" is that the characters don't often enough confide in, and ask for help from, adults. True, but in what universe are children and teenagers the epitome of wisdom? And of course, any book that featured a hero of any age who always went to the authorities and waited patiently while they fixed the problem would only work as satire or farce, not heroic adventure.

The last major ethical complaint that Abanes has is that there is profanity in the book. Yes there is and in a perfect world nobody would swear, but that it isn't reality. It is much easier to have a willing suspension of disbelief of such  things as magic and monsters than it is to believe that all good people are perfect all the time.

Abanes fundamental misunderstanding of the Harry Potter series reflects a fundamental misunderstanding of the legitimate purpose of escapist literature. He is clearly an absolute believer of that idea that all fiction, especially children's fiction, must be didactic in nature. In his case it is the belief that it must impart Christian values. Nothing can be just harmless fun. In a textbook example of an either or fallacy, either the work of literature perfectly conforms to his appalling narrow standards or it is evil. Even that fact that "several prominent Christians" speak highly of the stories, a fact that he acknowledges on page 5, cannot  put a dent in his intolerance. It is sad that a professed Christian like Abanes wrote an entire book that bears false witness and repeats others who did so earlier.

Not surprisingly, Abanes managed to pull in the completely discredited horror story that D&D led Sean Sellers to Satanism and murder.

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