Christian parents everywhere are facing the dilemma of raising their families in the midst of a tsunami of cultural corruption—and extremely invasive corruption it is! We sense the dangers but so often do not know what to do about it. We know that our children are especially vulnerable to the spirit of the times, and that the older they get the more they must live with one foot in the family and one foot in the world around them. As they move outward from the foundation of the family into the wider community, which is a necessary stage in the process of maturing, they will need wisdom and grace in a way different than any other generation before them.
Where is the road of modern culture taking us? The real question is not whether there are intriguing, entertaining, and even edifying details along the route, but what is the final destination. Are we Christians asking this question as we consume contemporary cultural material? Or are we gradually losing our bearings, the moral compass spinning aimlessly? What is the dominant terrain, the pitch of the slope? I believe it is heading downward, and the occasional bumps in the road that offer a sense of upward mobility (such as the “values” in the Harry Potter books) contribute to an illusion. In order to see clearly the extent to which we have been absorbed by the illusion, we first must recognize how strong is the need in human nature for confidence in the world, and the instinctive aversion to the threat of “negativity” or “intolerance.”
Those of you who have read my novels, or my articles on globalization, know that I believe that the radical model of “world governance” currently being promoted by the United Nations Organization and by other organizations will be a new form of totalitarianism, if it is ever fully realized. It’s my conviction that the globalism of the new world order will not bring order but instead will bring a semblance of order through total control over all sectors of private and public life. It will, in the process, infest life in the human community on this planet with all manner of disorders and anti-human dimensions. That kind of globalism embodies within its core presumptions certain errors about the meaning of the human person, and the human community. In a sense it represents the worst kind of ultra-nationalism, but inflated to the planetary scale, lacking the lavish diversity provided by numerous different cultures and nations states–a diversity that is essential for any human civilization.
Lev Grossman, in the July 23, 2007, issue of Time magazine, writes, “If you want to know who dies in Harry Potter, the answer is easy: God.” In this he has expressed the core problem with the Potter series. There is much that could be written, and has been written, about the specific problems in the books. Without neglecting the valid point that good fiction need not be overtly Christian, need not be religious at all, we might ponder a little the fact that the central metaphor and plot engines of the series are activities (witchcraft and sorcery) absolutely prohibited by God. We might also consider for a moment the fact that no sane parents would give their children books which portrayed a set of “good” pimps and prostitutes valiantly fighting a set of “bad” pimps and prostitutes,and using the sexual acts of prostitution as the thrilling dynamic of the story. By the same token we should ask ourselves why we continue to imbibe large doses of poison in our cultural consumption, as if this were reasonable and normal living, as if the presence of a few vegetables floating in a bowl of arsenic soup justifies the long-range negative effects of our diet. Leaving aside a wealth of such arguments, let us consider Lev Grossman’s insight.
Many of you will recall the controversy that arose in the world’s media a few years ago over the Harry Potter series of fantasy novels for young readers. Numerous articles appeared in the press praising the books as a breakthrough to a more literate form of culture for young people. They exalted its dramatic qualities, imaginative story-telling, humor, and promotion of “values.” Little serious reflection was given to the fact that the foundational element of the series is witchcraft and sorcery, which is glamorized and offered to the reader as normal, even a saving path. The central character, Harry, is a sorcerer in training. This is not the place to restate the arguments, pro and con; I have done this in previous articles, which are posted on this website. However, I would like to emphasize again that few if any cultural works in the history of mankind have spread so far and so quickly as the Potter series.
Not only have God and His angels passed beyond recognition in these books, the Kingdom of Heaven has become something against which man should wage war. The Vatican document, Jesus Christ, The Bearer of the Water of Life, cautions that in the New Age Movement, humanity exalts itself at the expense of God. What is called the “Kingdom of Heaven” in this trilogy shares nothing in common with the Kingdom of Heaven known to Christians to be already among us (Lk 11: 20) and even within us (Lk 17: 21), but only reaching its complete fulfillment at the end of the world (Mt 25: 31-46; 1 Cor 15: 22-28). The trilogy portrays the Kingdom of Heaven as a tyrannical regime and attacks the Church, in truth given the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven by Christ (Mt 16: 19, 18: 18), as an oppressive force. God Himself, Who alone makes Heaven Heaven and Who alone can satisfy the human person, is presented as the enemy of mankind.
Published in the July/August, 2003, issue of Saint Austin Review
In early February of this year a storm of banner headlines raged in the world’s media: “Harry Potter Is Ok With The Pontiff” declared the Chicago Sun Times. “Pope Approves Potter” declared the Toronto Star. Throughout North America, England, Australia, France, Spain, Germany, Italy, and points beyond, the press and e-media proclaimed “Vatican okays Harry Potter” (News24, South Africa), “Vatican gives blessing to Harry Potter” (Scotsman), “Pope Sticks Up for Potter Books” (the BBC); “Vatican: Harry Potter’s OK with Us” (CNN Asia), and so forth.
Little attention was paid to the fact that this “news” was not in any way representative of positions held on the matter by the Pope or by his congregations in the Curia. Indeed, it is highly unlikely that the Holy Father has been spending his free time reading the ongoing adventures of the world’s favorite boy sorcerer.
We should always keep in mind a fundamental principle of culture: Symbols in our minds exercise a certain power over us, though their influence is usually subconscious, and especially so in the minds of the young. Symbols are keystones in the architecture of thought, indeed in our perceptions of reality itself. If we lose symbolism, we lose your way of knowing things. If symbols are corrupted, concepts are corrupted, and then we lose our ability to understand things as they are, rendering us more vulnerable to deformation of our perceptions and our actions.
The holy scriptures are rich in the true symbols that are absolutely essential to a proper understanding of who we are and where we are situated in the Great War between good and evil—the war that will last until the end of time. Our Lady, for example, is the woman foretold in Genesis 3:15 who will crush the serpent’s head.
The following is a letter by Michael D. O’Brien in response to a mother who wrote to him regarding fantasy literature and its influence on her children. Though she is a person of strong faith, she is finding it increasingly difficult to resist the continuous influx of disordered fantasy and other corrupt cultural influences in her children’s lives. She notes two significant factors in her situation, ones which are probably shared by most families.
The second: they are too young to fully understand why their parents object to this material, especially since it is in the forefront of young people’s interests at this time, including all the families with whom they are acquainted.
This woman’s family is strong in the practice of their faith, and she strives to provide good cultural material, especially reading, in the home. However, the children constantly pressure her to allow them access to objectionable books, films, and videos.
“A great sign appeared in the sky, a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars. Because she was with child, she cried aloud in pain as she labored to give birth. Then another sign appeared in the sky: it was a huge dragon, flaming red, with seven heads and ten horns; on his head were seven crowns. His tail swept a third of the stars from the sky and hurled them down to the earth. Then the dragon stood before the woman about to give birth, ready to devour her child as soon as it was born.”
The early Church Fathers taught that this passage has manifold meanings. On one level it refers to Mary of Nazareth and the birth of Christ; on another it refers to the Church as she labors to bear salvation into the world. This child is, in a sense, every child, and is the offspring of the Church. She is to carry this child as the image of God, transfigured in Christ, and to bring him forth into eternal life. She groans in agony, and the primeval serpent hates her, for he knows that her offspring, protected and grown in her womb, will crush his head. On still another level, the Woman of Revelation is Our Lady the Mother of the Church, mother of all peoples and all individual souls. As such, she exercises a particularly urgent mission to preserve the young from the deceptions of the ancient enemy of mankind.