Harry Potter and the Existence of God
- Monday, July 17, 2000
So what's the buzz amongst kids these days? A new video game? A spectacular movie? A hip new music CD? Not even close.
The hottest selling phenomenon of the summer is a book. As all of us know, it's the latest Harry Potter novel by J. K. Rowling.
It's surprising, but the Harry Potter craze is much more than a marketing phenomenon. It's more than just a popular page-turner. The fervor surrounding the Potter books is evidence of the human yearning for something beyond the mundane world of our daily experience.
In fact, you could say that Harry Potter is proof of the existence of God.
Kids were so anxious to get their hands on the recently released Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire that millions of the books were pre-ordered over the Internet. Thousands of parents suspended bedtimes to take their kids to the bookstores that opened at 12:01 am last Saturday to sell the book.
Not only did the book smash sales records, it sent the publisher "back to the printing press" immediately for 2 million more copies. That's in addition to the 3.8 million already distributed in this country. Gallup has found that almost a third of all parents with kids under 18 have children who've read a Harry Potter novel. And there are already plans for a Steven Spielberg film version.
What is it about Harry Potter that has kids turning off the TV and devouring books? The latest novel, while easy to read, is not an easy read: Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire weighs in at over 700 pages. So much for marketing experts who tell us kids lack the attention span to read big books!
What the fascination with Harry Potter really illustrates what C. S. Lewis meant by Sehnsucht -- the longing for the mysterious, the wonderful, the other- worldly that our daily experience does not satisfy.
Classical Christian thinking understood that every desire has a corresponding real object. Hunger, for example, indicates that there is such a thing as food. But in our hearts there is a desire for something we will never find in the world. Blaise Pascal called it the "God-shaped" void in the human soul. Similarly, Augustine spoke of the restlessness of our hearts that could only be satisfied by God.
The appeal of other-worldly stories like Harry Potter is that they tap into our hunger for God's wonder. The banal world of video games, television, the pursuit of wealth, and other diversions can never satisfy this longing. The Potter craze reflects the longing in our kids' souls for God.
But Harry Potter is not the real thing. Which is why many Christian parents are concerned about it. Nor is it the best way to satisfy our kids' desire. But you can use the Potter craze to get kids and grandkids into something that leads them to the real thing.
Take this occasion to introduce to them to C. S. Lewis's The Chronicles of Narnia, J. R. R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings, and George MacDonald's The Princess and the Goblin. These books not only recognize this yearning for wonder and magic, they also reflect a well-developed understanding of the majesty and mystery of God.
If you do this -- and put your kids on to stories that recognize the real thing we all yearn for -- the Harry Potter phenomenon may turn out to be a pretty good thing indeed.
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