Magic in Media: Where Should We Stand?
- Ryan Duncan
- Updated May 21, 2013
Magic has always been a touchy subject for Christians, especially in the realm of pop culture. Just take Harry Potter; it’s been almost sixteen years since J.K. Rowling’s young wizard first made his literary debut, and even now the series remains a point of contention among many Christians. This is because the Bible has strictly commanded the Church to reject all forms of witchcraft (Deuteronomy 18:10-12, Galatians 5:19-21) and many Christians feel this should include the entire fantasy genre, from major movies down to the smallest fairy tale. But what about The Chronicles of Narnia? C.S. Lewis was one of the most prolific Christians that ever lived, his Narnia series has touched the hearts of millions, and yet all of it takes place within the magical land beyond the wardrobe.
So, what’s the difference between The Chronicles of Narnia and Harry Potter? They both feature magic, young heroes, and a story about good overcoming evil. Can we really accept one and reject the other? What about The Lord of The Rings or Disney movies? Where should Christians draw the line?
I’m not going to pretend any of this has an easy answer. Better Christians than I have been debating the topic for years, and disagreement still exists. For my part though, whenever I’ve found myself unsure about the content of a “magical” movie or the latest fantasy novel, I take a moment and ask myself three questions.
What is “Magic”?
This may sound like an odd question, but it’s actually more important than it appears. You see, magic in one story usually isn’t the same as magic in another. For instance, any fan of J.R.R. Tolkien will tell you that the wizard Gandalf draws his power from Eru Iluvatar, Tolkien’s name for God. Essentially, all good magic in The Lord of the Rings is an act of the Holy Spirit. For Christian writer Madeleine L’Engle, author of A Wrinkle in Time, magic was merely science that humanity did not yet understand.
Then there are movies like Beautiful Creatures. In this paranormal romance, the witches (or Castors as they prefer to call themselves) perform séances, possess other humans, and make no effort to hide their disdain of God or Christianity, yikes. The Bible describes magic as communing with evil spirits for power (i.e. demons) or any unnatural action that attempts to usurp God’s place in life (1 John 4:1, Isaiah 8:19 . When you take this definition and put it besides these three series, you get a pretty good idea of which ones are acceptable for Christian consumption and which ones are not. Finding out what form the magic takes is only half the battle though, you also need to know what purpose it plays in the story.
What is its Purpose?
This may sound crazy, but magic really has very little to do with the Harry Potter series. If you don’t believe me just take a look at the story. Harry Potter is about a young boy who learns he is more than he appears. It then follows his struggle to find a place in this world, build a family out of the friendships he makes, and come to terms with his inevitable confrontation against the man who tried to destroy him. Magic, well, that’s just the raisins in the oatmeal.
All the wands, and owls, and broomsticks are nothing more than a plot device. A vehicle the story rides to move forward. Potion lessons were never about whatever mystical substance Harry was trying to brew, it was just a natural way to get him and Snape in the same room together. Now, naturally there are two sides to this coin, and on the other side you’ll find works like The City of Bones. Anyone who’s picked up Cassandra Clare’s bestselling novel/movie, The City of Bones, knows the series has a rather unhealthy obsession with magic, demons, and fallen angels in general.
What makes it worse for Christian readers is that these things aren’t just meant to drive the story, they are the story. Harry Potter is a coming of age tale with a little magic thrown in to bring out the wonder, The City of Bones tries to be something much more sinister. God teaches all of us to live our lives with discernment (Psalms 119:125, Proverbs 3:21, and this is especially true when dealing with pop-culture. Try to apply this if you have uncertainty with a particular book or movie.
Where do I stand spiritually?
In 2005, I picked up a book called Percy Jackson and the Olympians and was instantly hooked. The story revolved around a young boy who discovered that the Greek gods were real and causing mischief in the modern world. Early on the book made it clear that the figures of Athena and Zeus weren’t really gods in the spiritual sense, and for me, that was enough. Not all Christians felt the same way I did, however, and at one point I even got into an argument with a friend who insisted I shouldn’t be reading books with false gods in them. At the time, I thought they were just being overdramatic, but over the years my feelings have changed.
In 1 Corinthians, Paul instructs his fellow Christians not to become a stumbling block to one another (1 Corinthians 6:12, 1 Corinthians 8:13. He explains that we all have our own strengths and weaknesses, and what doesn’t bother one Christian may cause his brother to stumble. The fantasy genre could easily become one of these stumbling blocks. Some Christians have a high tolerance for fantasy; to them it will always be make-believe, while others simply aren’t comfortable with a subject they feel infringes on their relationship with Christ. If you enjoy a little magic in your books and movies, don’t look down on those who chose to abstain, and if you chose to abstain, don’t criticize those who decide to participate.
Whatever your feelings may be, don’t make yourself a stumbling block between others and Christ.
*This Article First Published 5/21/2013