Father Abraham Arganiosa
Catholic Priest in Support of Harry Potter
Written By: Father Abraham
I'm Fr. Abraham Arganiosa,
CRS a religious priest assigned in a school for children. For the past three
years I have been using the Harry Potter books for stories and values education
with children and I found them very effective. The children simply so magnetized
by Harry Potter, so that until now they are still bombarding me with questions
I found out about your site
from them. Also, people are asking my views concerning the concerted efforts of
some groups to ban Harry Potter in religious schools. Im glad to share to you
that my religion, the Roman Catholic Church has presented a very positive
opinion about the book. Here in the Philippines, the Catholic Bishop Conference
of the Philippines even issued guidelines for parents in helping their children
watch the Harry Potter movies. But, from the Catholic News website I found this
wonderful positive critique of Harry Potter in Catholic viewpoint entitled 'In
Defense of Harry Potter'. On behalf of my students I hereby share this material
to you; hoping that it will help other Catholics realize the beauty of Harry
Potter and its contribution in favor of the Christian faith and values. Thank
you very much.
In Defense of Harry Potter
Professors Defend Fiction's
ST. PAUL, Minnesota, MARCH 16, 2003 (Zenit.org).- Monsignor
Peter Fleetwood made headlines around the world when he appeared to give the
Vatican's official blessing to the Harry Potter series.
At a news conference Feb. 3 on a Vatican document on New Age, he
was asked about the fictional adolescent wizard. Monsignor Fleetwood, who helped
draft the New Age document when he was a member of the Pontifical Council for
Culture, responded: "Harry Potter does not represent a problem."
That seemed to cap -- or reignite -- the long debate among
Christians over the appropriateness of the Potter series for children. Some have
condemned its author J.K. Rowling for promoting relativism and sorcery.
Catherine and David Deavel see things differently. Professors at
the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota, they have written and
spoken on the merits of the series and are contributors to a forthcoming book on
"philosophy and Harry Potter" to be released by Open Court Publishing. They
recently shared their views, in writing, with ZENIT.
Q: Father Fleetwood noted that J.K.
Rowling was Christian in her manner of writing. What do you think he was
A: The books are Christian in at least
two senses. First, the books place love and truth as the objective goods at the
heart of what it means to be a human, magical or otherwise.
The initial premise of the series is that the infant Harry has
survived the attack of the evil wizard Voldemort through his parents'
sacrificial love. And Albus Dumbledore, the wise headmaster of Hogwarts,
cautions Harry repeatedly to always prize truth. Give things their proper names,
is Dumbledore's advice. In other words, don't be afraid to name evil for what it
Second, the books are coming-of-age stories that follow the
development of Harry Potter and his friends, particularly their moral
development. It's important to note that nowhere in the books published thus far
does Harry or any of his friends defeat the forces of evil through their own
Instead, the characters always find victory through universal
virtues such as courage in the service of honesty or friendship. Self-sacrifice,
the willingness to put oneself in danger for another's sake, is one of the
constant threads running through the series.
Q: How should readers understand the use
of magic and witchcraft in the books?
A: One almost wants to say that it's
simply a whimsical plot device that helps transport readers to the wonderful
place Chesterton called "Elfland" in his book "Orthodoxy." But magic also raises
the stakes of the moral tale.
Magic really is a talent, something like mathematical ability or
perfect pitch, but with a much greater possibility for good or evil use. Rowling
certainly uses details from the history of the occult, for example, names,
figures of speech and certain paraphernalia, but it is not the case that Rowling
is promoting "real-life magic."
Most of her spells have no real-world parallels; and perhaps the
only one that does, divination, is represented by a figure -- professor Sibyl
Trelawney -- who has only made a couple of accurate predictions in her life, and
is generally treated with skepticism by students and faculty alike.
Rowling even has Dumbledore tell us that prediction of the
future is most difficult because of the diversity and complexity of the
consequences of any of our actions. Not only is divination mocked, but knowledge
of how to use the dark arts is considered too dangerous for the curriculum, even
if learned only for self-defense.
Q: Is the interest in the books endemic
of the growth in New Age spirituality the Vatican recently condemned?
A: Undoubtedly some children (and
adults) are going to be interested in the books because of their magical
quality. Again, to cite Chesterton, what is so intriguing about fairy tales is
that they assume, roughly, the same rules of logic and morality, but don't
assume that the world of physics or biology or chemistry have to be the way they
are in our world. This is the basic story of these books.
They could be thought of as a world in which magic simply proved
to be like the natural sciences, another way of manipulating the world around
us. But to say that these books promote or even encourage New Age spirituality
As we pointed out, divination and fortunetelling are pretty much
dismissed out of hand -- and for what seems to be a sound philosophical
observation about the complexity of free will.
The spirituality of the books, if such a thing can be found, is
concentrated almost wholly on good old-fashioned virtues and vices, which are
developed in the normal human way.
Q: What are the particular virtues of
the Harry Potter series? Are they good literature?
A: J. Bottum had a wonderful comment in
the Weekly Standard about how Rowling's books are like the classics in that she
has a wonderful way of putting together clichés. This is a good way of thinking
Her plots are simple -- in fact, the first two books have almost
identical plots, formally speaking -- yet have delightful twists and turns in
them. She gives names in a way that one can only label Dickensian.
The wording of the spells is done in a sort of mock-Latin and
the spells and magical items are a nice mix of the practical and the ridiculous.
The characters themselves remind one of so many characters of classic literature
-- we have several times said or written "Gandalf," from "The Lord of the
Rings," when we meant to refer to Dumbledore -- and yet, through it all, the
books are charmingly unique.
The simple plots really do work -- in part because the books
build upon each other -- and the dialogue, particularly that of the children, is
both funny and realistic.
Rowling juxtaposes the mundane and the epic. The children
alternate their efforts between studying for their courses and defending against
Voldemort's return. Finally, the books teach the lesson that people cannot be
judged by first impressions.
Q: The books have been often criticized
for allegedly promoting relativism and teaching children to subvert authority.
Why do you think the books promote freedom in the service of truth and the good?
A: We really haven't been convinced by
those who have said the books promote relativism. As we noted earlier, the books
clearly assume that goods such as love and truth are objective.
But generally the complaints about the Potter books focus not on
any real evil deeds, but on infractions such as breaking the school curfew; and
these cases of rule-breaking are overwhelmingly attempts to block some great
Even if Harry did get away with real moral mischief -- which his
detractors have not convincingly shown -- the point of literature, even
literature that has explicitly moral themes, is not to show that in every case
crime, or perhaps sin, doesn't pay. Sometimes it does in the short run, but it
never does in the long run.
The way one portrays moral development in literature is to make
it like moral development in real life. People make choices for good or ill.
Sometimes they learn lessons immediately and sometimes they don't. Mostly they
grow morally in fits and starts as they reflect on long chains of events in the
light of good advice. And even the good advice is not always comprehended
But with the advice that has already been given by Dumbledore
regarding the duty to always seek and tell the truth, and always use one's
freedom to serve that truth, we can see that the lessons Harry can and will gain
For example, Harry refrains from an act of vengeful killing at
the end of the third book. The person in question set up his parents' murder and
the murder of numerous others, yet Harry refuses to take this revenge himself.
He cannot articulate why, but he concludes, from reflecting on
his parents' self-sacrificial lives, that such acts of vengeance are wrong. This
type of moral learning is profoundly Catholic in that one watches virtuous lives
and learns to do as they do, while the intellect catches up with the