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I am a Third Order Franciscan of the Province of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus.

Friday, June 03, 2005

The Pope versus Harry Potter

There has been much made in the entertainment press about allegations that Pope Benedict condemned the Harry Potter books saying in response to the Gabriele Kuby, author of Harry Potter: Good or Bad, "It is good that you explain the facts of Harry Potter because this is a subtle seduction which has deeply unnoticed and direct effects in undermining the soul of Christianity before it can really grow properly."

The news media has generated the usual negative comments from the usual suspects - for example, Ute Ranke-Heinemann, author of the book Eunuchs for the Kingdom of Heaven and denyer of the Virgin Birth and the Resurrection, stated, "The Vatican feels that it has the copyright on what is good and what is bad and does not want anyone else infringing on its right to this monopoly."

It has also generated negative comments from more unlikely sources such as Catholic singer Charlotte Church, who stated, "I'm from a Catholic family. But I don't like this new Pope." "He even wants to ban Harry Potter! He says it is because of witchcraft and other bad stuff!" She says he should read them and then make a judgement, "If he bothered to sit down and read it he'd understand the morals of it."

So, what are the facts of the matter and why should Ms. Church and Ms. Ranke-Heinemann know better? First, Cardinal Ratzinger - when before Pope, did make the controversial comments several years ago within the context of a response to Ms. Kuby. Note that they were not within the context of a theological text or a papal proclamation but only as his own theological opinion - which, I hope Ms. Ranke-Heinemann would agree - he is entitled as he does indeed hold an advanced degree from the same theological institution as she does. This is not at all as Ms. Ranke-Heinemann puts forward a dogmatic decision attempting to bind the faithful or enforce a "monopoly of the truth" but simply one person expressing his view on a particular book. So, Ms. Ranke-Heinemann - Get over yourself.

As for Ms. Church, she should spend more time there and less time slandering your Pope. I am sure that he is sorry that you don't like him, but I don't think he loses any sleep over it. He did not say he wanted to ban Harry Potter, nor did he mention "witchcraft and stuff". Perhaps you should take your own advice and actually sit down and read his comments and his reasons for them - but it's much easier to rise to the bait and say things that you will likely regret for some time to come. You should get over yourself as well. Also, that invitation to the Vatican Christmas party has been rescinded.

For the sake of openess, let me offer you my comments. I like Harry Potter and I plan to continue reading Harry Potter. There are things about it that I don't like and feel that are indeed morally questionable - for example, it seems to me that the series seems too often to justify the ends by the means particularly when it comes to Harry's behavior. He breaks rule after rule in the novels only to be proclaimed a hero for doing it in the end. I think that this sends a bad message but I don't think I would go as far as the Cardinal did when he made his comments.

Moreover, while Ms. Church may be trying to take the moral high ground by calling on the Pope to read the books, and perhaps he has, that's not the way most of us work. Instead we often rely on the opinions and views of others we trust regarding books, movies, music and more. Sometimes that trust is misplaced - as it appears to be in the case of Ms. Kuby who revealed this quote to the press and reminds me somewhat of Ms. Rita Skeeter in the Potter series. But none of us have the time to read every book or see every movie that comes out - that's life.

Let me use an extreme example to prove the point - I, like most people I suspect, have never read Mein Kampf - at least all of it. Now, should we all be required to read that book before we can condemn it for being anti-semitic and a tool that caused millions of deaths? Or can we pretty safely rely on the words of others that it is not a good book? I think we can and I think we do.

Unfortunately, too many people - Catholics included - are under the mistaken impression that anything said by anyone working for the Vatican and especially anything said by the Pope has the thelogical weight of a dogmatic and infallible statement. It doesn't and shouldn't be treated as if it did. The Vatican is very careful with what it says and to what degree of theological importance it ascribes to it - to give something too much or too little consideration is extremely dangerous. So, the next time some one says to you - "The Vatican says..." or "The Pope says..." it would be extremely prudent for you to see exactly who said what and in what way.

Let me give you an example by comparing the teachings on the Trinity and on birth control as expressed in Humanae Vitae. The doctrine of the Trinity must be held as true with firm faith and belief by all Catholics. To deny that God is Trinity means to remove yourself from the faith therefore this is the highest level of teaching. The teaching regarding birth control, while important and to be treated with respect, can be disagreed with by one of good conscience without that person being thereby excluded from the faith.

Also, in any doctrinal or dogmatic statement one must note the truth expressed by the statement and the way that truth is expressed. We must believe that God is Trinity, but how we express that truth in human language is more open for discussion. Again, reacting to everything coming out of the Vatican as if it were a statement of the highest authority does everyone a disservice as does trying to learn what the Church teaches from entertainment web sites.

I leave you with a quote from a Jesuit priest on the Vatican web site regarding JK Rowling and JRR Tolkien which has not been removed, despite the new Pope's apparent criticism, "I welcome them for a reason that is rarely mentioned by the critics nowadays, and that is an eschatological reason: that they serve, with St. John the Baptist and Jesus himself, ‘to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children’ and to make us all, even the sadly rapidly aging members of the younger generation, children again, thereby preparing us in an unseen manner for reception into the kingdom of heaven”.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Why all the fuss? Read your bible, or at least read the catholic encyclopedia,and find out the origin of the SUN worshipers called catholic. Read the catholic records about the origin of the symbolism and the pagan mytholigy and astroligy that is itself incorporated into catholicism! Read the BIBLE about ancient "BABYLON,Modern BABYLON-The Vatican adopted MOST of her DOGMAS from ancient times and now calls them QUOTE-"CHRISTIANITY- It aint called CHRISTIANITY in the BOOK OF REVELATIONS-Do you read the book of REVELATIONS- If the whole world only knew the words to the JESUIT OATH! HARRY POTTER is a "CATHOLIC"! The truth shall set you FREE!

10:21 PM  

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