A New Twist on Potter and Popular Psychology
A New Twist on Potter and Popular Psychology
by Berit Kjos
“Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ.” Colossians 2:8
At the first glance, the new analysis of the Harry Potter and Pokemon phenomenon looked great. Posted on Chuck Colson’s website, BreakPoint Online, it began with some wise observations showing the occult nature of J. K. Rowling’s books. Chuck Colson has changed his mind about Harry’s influence, I thought.
But my relief didn’t last long. Not only does the article, Pokémon, Harry Potter, and the Magic of Story, use the psychology behind the consensus processas an argument in favor of popular pagan fantasies. Its author, Mark Filiatreau, who is doing graduate work at Regent [Christian] College in Vancouver, also muddles the Biblical view of truth. Like Eugene Peterson, a Regent College professor who wrote the popular paraphrase of the New Testament called The Message, he seem to put a “feel good” and politically correct spin on Biblical truth.
Yet, Mr. Filiatreau does show us some good reasons to be concerned about today’s Harry Potter and Pokemon craze. His insights and observations merit appreciation:
- “Magic power is what both Pokémon and Harry Potter are about.”
- “The Pokémon fight each other with supernatural powers.”
- “Harry Potter is the humble star-student of the Hogwarts School of Wizardry. He gets trained in magic powers too…. [A]dolescents in this school daily learn to do the kinds of things for which the God of Mount Sinai commanded the death sentence.”
- “Magical power gets exerted over nature and other people. They also share many of the same trappings—clothing, spells, herbal potions, even contacting the dead.”
- “As our kids rise through the school grades, they may well meet peers exploring actual witchcraft or even Satanism. Harry Potter could easily become an imaginative bridge connecting them to these dangerous interests.”
- “It all begins in the imagination.”
- “Adults and adolescents who are alienated from or ignorant of the love and power of the Holy Spirit often get involved with “New Age” religions—including neopagan forms like Wicca and witchcraft—out of the innocent, or at least naïve, desire to experience something transcendent.”
- Human “intuitions may be diabolic and deceptive (like the versions presented lightly in Harry Potter and Pokémon and more seriously elsewhere).”
This insightful list provides ample grounds for warning our children against fascination with the mythical worlds of Potter and Pokemon. But that’s not Filiatreau’s conclusion. “So what should we do?” he asks.
Laying a foundation for his solution, he lists “three important truths that Christians should reflect on.” Each of the “truths” deals with feelings, wants and longings — the “felt needs” that most people in America today want to satisfy.
This is significant, for “felt needs” have become very important to educators, politicians and church leaders today. Most institutions around the world that use the Hegelian dialectic (consensus) process  — these include churches and schools as well as business and government — are finding ways to measure(through polls, surveys, questionnaires…), manipulate and meet these felt needs in order to change beliefs and conform public values to a more politically correct standard. (See Reinventing the World)
This psycho-social strategy for changing people and cultures brings its own set of visions, ideals, words and meanings. Many of those words and concepts have already become part of the public consciousness. They fit right into Filiatreau’s psychological reasoning. See for yourself, as you ponder his three truths.
“We love story, and so we should.”
Should we? Any kind of story? In contrast to his earlier warnings, Filiatreau now gives the impression that any well told story would be beneficial:
“Kids especially love stories. The Potter books (I’ve read two) move quickly and have exciting climaxes…. It is not an accident that the center of the Christian faith is a story (a true one, of course), not ideas or ‘rules for living’…. Christ is, as Madeleine L’Engle  creatively puts it, a ‘god who told stories.’ Scripture says he ‘never spoke to the people without a parable’ (Mark 4:34).”
This Scripture was taken out of context. It only referred to a particular day. The description of that day begins in Mark 4:1-3 and ends with verses 33-35. At that point, He is explaining the messages to His disciples and has stopped speaking in parables:
“…He began to teach by the sea. And a great multitude was gathered to Him, so that He got into a boat and sat in it on the sea; and the whole multitude was on the land facing the sea. Then He taught them many things by parables, and said to them in His teaching: 3“Listen! Behold, a sower went out to sow…”.
“And with many such parables He spoke the word to them as they were able to hear it. But without a parable He did not speak to them. And when they were alone, He explained all things to His disciples. On the same day, when evening had come….”
“The visible world is not enough for us…. We may try to suppress it, but the longing for something beyond—for the supernatural and wondrous—will have its day.”
Will it really? Does this longing “for something beyond” refer to a relationship with God or with any supernatural and mystical power that humans can imagine and manipulate? Why will it “have its day?” Filiatreau offers some psychological, not Biblical, reasons:
- “… the supernatural can be fun. Kids recognize intuitively that you can have more fun with the universe when you allow your imagination to stretch beyond the things you see and touch every day. This is true even if a given use of the imagination is just an extension of the everyday reality….”
It may be normal for our human nature (which the Bible calls the “flesh”) to crave occult fun, but we don’t have to follow those wants and feelings. The strength He offers us is greater by far than the world’s seductions, and there are plenty of other fun activities within His beautiful creation. We would be wise to heed His Word, not our flesh. By His grace and through the cross, He sets us free from bondage to all those contrary cravings. (Romans 6:1-13) Yet, Filiatreau tells us that,
- “…adults long for a supernatural element too.… they were all attracted to séances because the church down the street no longer taught them how to relate to God as a real yet supernatural presence. And even if it did, who would be so credulous as to believe it?”
The answer is simple: those who truly seek God and His ways will “believe it.” They may be few in number compared to the masses that choose the world’s wide and popular roads, but God always has a remnant of people that love and follow Him. They delight in His nearness and trust His truths, no matter how incredulous they seem to the rest of the world.
This faith and delight isn’t based on human dreams, imagination or intuition. They are based on Spirit-given faith in God’s unchanging Word. Yet, Filiatreau believes that,
- “Each of us holds intuitions of a realm that exists beyond the senses, or at least of a realm beyond the senses that we feel couldor ought to exist…. These intuitions of other realms may never be understood or proven. God has revealed very little about heaven and hell. Like the ‘mystery of iniquity,’ like God’s grace working in us, our intuitions of the spiritual realm are mysteries of the heart.”
Actually, God has revealed more than enough about heaven and hell (and about good and evil) to show that the world’s assortment of spiritual counterfeits bring immeasurable and eternal grief. In fact, those intuitions of “other realms” have — throughout the world’s history — led blinded masses of people toward an end that will be anything but fun. That’s why God warned us repeatedly not to imagine, experience or even think about them. Filiatreau seems to know that, as demonstrated by his third truth.
“Story can deliver and plant truths—or lies—within us more deeply and effectively than can any other mode of expression…. Over time, they can change our affections and so form our characters.”
That’s usually true. But Filiatreau seems to turn this sobering reality into an argument in favor storytelling in general — with its potential for deceptive manipulation of feelings and affections — rather than a warning against stories that might lead in the wrong direction:
“The best stories do this by showing us the good and leading us to desire it instead of simply knowing about it.”
“Pictures can make us feel. Expository writing can make us understand. But only story is intrinsically able to do both at the same time. In story, feeling and understanding can combine with synergistic power. Theologians may argue ad infinitum over how salvation works. But the story of the Prodigal Son can make us feel and know what it is.”
Filiatreau’s logic contains an alluring blend of psychological truth and Biblical error. Strategic pictures do “make us feel.” That’s why symbols have always been important to people — and why totalitarian leaders use symbols and other images to manipulate the feelings of the masses.
Stories, like images, have power to stir feelings and guide the understanding. But all too often the feelings they produce bring a presumptuous sense of knowing — a baseless certainty which is subjective, not objective. Grounded in emotions rather than fact or truth, it can be altered or modified by the next well-told story. That’s why today’s leading change agents — in the pulpit as well as the classroom — prefer to tell fun and feel-good stories rather than facts.
Yes, Jesus told many parables, but they illustrated — never substituted for — the foundational truths He wanted His disciples to learn. But that seems insignificant to Filiatreau, for he puts “modern novels” into the same category as Biblical parables:
“The sensory properties of stories make them not only moving but memorable for the long term. …For it’s not only biblical parables that move us to action. Modern novels can too, both culturally and individually.”
That’s right. The world of imagination and fantasy creates sensory and virtual experiences that plants memories and stirs all kinds of desires and choices.That’s why Harry Potter does lure kids to witchcraft.
In his concluding summary, Filiatreau pulls his three psychological “truths” together:
- “First, stories are both honorable and inevitable.”
- “Second, so-called ‘realism’ is not enough for us; we like and need stories that may bring us truth about the supernatural realm that we have such kinship with.”
- “Third, stories can plant truths—or lies—within us more deeply and effectively than can any other mode of expression.”
“Where does this leave us regarding Pokémon and Potter?” he asks.
At this point, the article takes a strange turn. Ignoring his earlier arguments against these popular occult trends, the author states his bewildering conclusion:
“I don’t think Pokémon or Harry Potter are going to do much to plant seeds of evil and deception deep in kids’ hearts. I don’t see the Antichrist being shaped here. Unlike prophetic parables, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, and What Must Be Done, they are not very earnest enterprises.
“And even if they do plant seeds, the news is not all bad.
“In the Harry Potter books that I’ve read, good and evil are painted pretty much in traditional black and white and not in shades of gray after the modern fashion. Children’s fiction holds worse and more subtle dangers today than the exterior trappings of magic. For that matter, the Harry Potter books themselves hold worse and more subtle dangers. These include the ego-stroking of Harry’s messiah-like specialness—he’s born as a wizard of wizards (of course, he’s humble about it)—and the derision of non-magical people as “Muggles.”
Do you see the contradictions? Not only do the first two sentences contradict the third, they also clash with earlier statements. Both Potter and Pokemon reach far below the “exterior trappings of magic.” Harry may be “the humble star-student of the Hogwarts School of Wizardry,” but his view of himself and his pagan world matches the attitudes of the public masses who trade God and His will for a supernatural force that — for the moment — seems amenable to manipulation through their own human will.
In the end, Filiatreau seems to ignore the power of the occult images, the contrary values, and the potential fascinations with forbidden realms. He suggests that parents go ahead, read and discuss Harry Potter. “Frankly,” he says, “if Christian parents can’t or won’t talk their children through such negative aspects in these books—and in games like Pokémon—then I would say their family has worse, more internal problems to work out.”
Then his tone and message changes again. Filiatreau honors the Potter fantasy with redemptive value through the image of a mother loving her baby — a theme that threads through the history of many a pagan civilization:
“But getting back to the redemptive side, the first Harry Potter book, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, has a rather moving and life-affirming denouement as a mystery in Harry’s past is solved. We learn that a mother’s love for her baby (Harry himself) became externalized as a sort of magic power. The power was strong enough to protect the baby even from his world’s most powerful evil sorcerer, who, after killing Harry’s parents, tried to kill their baby too … but this magic killed him instead. My gut does a little pinch just remembering it.
Filiatreau reminds us that “Jesus is a realist… His reality is different than ours… [and He] commands our reality to become like his.”
Yes and no. Those who belong to Jesus do share His reality, for “we have the mind of Christ.” Our perspective and understanding are increasingly conformed to His as we delight in His Word and focus our hearts on His eternal ways. In contrast, filling our minds with enticing images and ideas from Hogwart’s School of Witchcraft and Wizardry will do the opposite. (1 Cor. 2:16; Rom. 12:2; 2 Cor. 4:16-18)
The power of an unbiblical story to create values and build character will drive the reader away from, not toward, the God who loves us. Nor will a family discussion led by sincere parents erase the occult images and ideas planted in a child’s mind through his or her “creative” imagination.
But never mind those contradictions. Let’s move on. Take a look at the author’s new approach to eternal life. According to Filiatreau, there are at least three ways “to get it”:
- “Reading and obeying his teachings and parables is one way to get that life within us
- “…holy communion is another. There are many more still.
- “…develop an imagination that is redeemed and ready for Christ’s reality.”
“Develop an imagination that is redeemed”? What does he mean? The Bible doesn’t explain. But if it did, I doubt it would include mental exercises in Harry Potter’s world.
Finally Filiatreau asks, “Are there any stories that can help do this—that can effectively help plant and nourish Christ’s new life within us and our kids?” He mentions the Bible as a possibility, then leaves us with the promise that his next article will introduce C.S. Lewis’s mentor whose stories will serve the purpose: “I will introduce one writer who I think is best, after C. S. Lewis, at channeling living Christian truth deeply and effectively into the human heart. In fact, Lewis referred to him as his master.”
He may be referring to George McDonald, author of The Light Princess and many other fairy tales. C.S. Lewis referred to him as his guide and inspiration, his model for mythical-occult storytelling. “What George MacDonald does best is fantasy,” wrote C.S. Lewis. “And this, in my opinion, he does better than any man.” Even so, it takes a big stretch of the imagination to see McDonald’s fantasies as Biblical truth-telling. They may have seemed good enough back when most church people knew the Bible well enough to discern and compensate for some of MacDonald’s strange suggestions.
We need not be surprised by these post-modern rationalizations and re-interpretations of God’s wonderful truths. God told us this would happen. His Word also shows us His way — that narrow, unpopular and politically incorrect way to walk and live with Him in a world that demands continual compliance with its changing standards, spiritual compromises and public consensus.
“Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables. But you be watchful in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.” 2 Timothy 4:2-5
2. Author of Newberry winner A Wrinkle in Time and many other books filled with occult imagery and psychic practices such as kything – a form of mental telepathy and communication between people, trees and any other part of creation. Kything is growing in popularity within God’s churches, especially among women.
4. “The world of imagination and fantasy can help pass on to the child cultural and social messages [and] function as a way to experience vicariously things an individual could not do first-hand.” Aminadav, C., International Journal of Adolescent Medicine & Health (April-June 1995)