Has Harry Potter Replaced the Bible?

By Mark A. Kellner | Posted May 06, 2019

At first, the words in a recent Religion News Service column seemed soothing, even reassuring in an age when postmodernism seems to dominate:

“It’s a book nearly everybody knows, many of us nearly from birth,” Tara Isabella Burton, who holds a doctorate in theology from Britain’s prestigious Oxford University, wrote. “We reference it in our daily lives. … Once we have read it, and learn the lessons considered therein, our political attitudes alter, making us more welcoming and more caring to outsiders.”

But Burton is not writing about the influence of the Bible; rather, she says, “I refer, of course, to the ‘Harry Potter’ series” of novels created by J.K. Rowling a little more than 20 years ago. As you are probably aware, these are fictional books in which a “school for wizards” is the setting for all sorts of mystical happenings. As of February 2018, the official Pottermore website reports, 500 million books have been sold worldwide, translated into 80 languages.

Most Can’t Name the Gospels

According to Burton, 61 percent of Americans have seen one or more of the Harry Potter films, but only 50 percent of Americans can name the four books of the Gospel. She wrote, “[I]t’s no stretch to say that Gryffindor, Slytherin, Ravenclaw, and Hufflepuff are better known in American society than Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.”

The essence of Burton’s theory about the Potter books is that they offer a moral framework to which millennials can easily adhere: Be accepting of others and practice tolerance; band together to defeat the “Voldemorts” of present-day society. Burton also asserts that the rise of the internet has sparked a wider and more rapid adoption of a Potter-style worldview than previous “fandoms” such as Star Trek.

And even though the Potter books make no religious claims—the books are advertised as entertainment and fiction, nothing more—the underlying messages seem to make an appeal to millennials looking for a spiritual touchstone: “We buy Rowling’s language, her moral systems, and her emotional tenor without needing—or wanting—it to make referential claims about the world, or God, out there,” Burton wrote.

The Pottermore news release about the half-billion book sales milestone is a bit more subdued in looking to the future for the books: “We think it’s fair to say that, 20 years and 500 million books later, Harry Potter still has the power to transport us to a whole new world within its pages. This is exactly why we’ll keep on reading them forever, passing them on for many generations to come,” they stated.

Is secular reading like Harry Potter ok for a Christian?

Literature Impacts Society

This isn’t the first or last time a work of fiction has had its impact on a society or culture. English satirist Jonathan Swift’s 1729 essay “A Modest Proposal” sparked national debate when it slammed the attitudes of the upper class concerning their impoverished neighbors.

In more recent times, To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee was credited with helping to change American attitudes about race and relationships in society, while novels by Kurt Vonnegut and Norman Mailer helped create a Vietnam-era generation opposed to war.

According to a study from the American Bible Society and Barna Group, millennials are far less likely to have completed “major life transitions,” such as finishing school or getting married by age 30, than those in the 1960s were.

“This is a different generation,” researcher and Barna president David Kinnaman said. “The world of millennials is accelerated, complicated. They need real answers to questions that get swept under the rug—questions about science, sexuality, culture, and lifestyle.”

But it’s an open question as to where those millennials are finding these answers: “The media is discipling this group and shaping who they are,” Kinnaman declared.

What’s the answer? More than merely denouncing the Potter books as a potential moral compass, it’s important to lead millennials—and younger generations—to the source that is authentic: the Bible.

One effort that might snag millennial readers is Alabaster, a series of coffee table-style books that present Scripture in a visually appealing format. “We’re trying to create imagery that is responding to the text somehow,” 24-year-old designer and Alabaster co-founder Bryan Chung told the New York Daily News. “That’s the hard part. Also from a design perspective, we wanted imagery that highlighted what the text is saying.”

The startup—whose initial efforts were crowdfunded via the Internet—hopes to sell 30,000 copies of their books this year, which include the four Gospels, Psalms, and Proverbs. They selected the New Living Translation, claiming it is more relatable to readers.

Finding Answers for Millennial Seekers

Previously, we’ve noted the challenge millennials pose, given their declining participation in worship services. More recently, the sad news that some millennials believe it’s “wrong” to share their faith—to evangelize—has come to light.

There are ways to deal with this challenge of millennials not knowing, or understanding, the core concepts of the Christian faith. One is to help them learn the principles when they’re pre-teens. And our upcoming series for children, Amazing Adventure, will be a great way to start. The stories presented will have as much drama and excitement as any work of fiction. But the stories and the underlying truths will come from the Bible, brought to life in an exciting and appealing manner.

By bringing the eternal truths of God’s Word into young lives early, today’s kids can become tomorrow’s believers in Jesus, bringing the good news to their generation, and beyond.

You can also check out these Amazing Facts resources designed for teens and college-age students:

Most Important Questions: Designed to stem the tide of teens leaving our churches, this series addresses the gauntlet of big, core questions today's Christian youth constantly grapple with—including the reality of God and the evolution and creation controversy. Presented by Pastor Doug Batchelor.

Ultimate Purpose: A four-part DVD series designed to help Christian students in high school and college navigate the complex decisions of life with a positive biblical perspective. Presented by Pastor Doug Batchelor.

Mark Kellner
Mark A. Kellner is a staff writer for Amazing Facts International. He is a veteran journalist whose work has been published in Religion News Service, The Washington Times, and numerous computer magazines.

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