If preliminary reports are any indication, the new Harry Potter movie, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, may very well go on to become the highest grossing movie in the series. The movie, which opened Wednesday of this week, is once again stirring the debate of what Christians are to do with this literary and cinematic success. As one who has read all of the Potter books and seen each of the movies (although I haven’t seen “Half-Blood” yet), I'd like to offer a perspective on it.
There are a few roads that we can take when it comes to choices about secular literature, films and music. One extreme is to make the choice to have nothing to do with these artistic expressions and engage in activities like book burnings, picket lines outside theatres, and steamrolling CD's. Another option is to simply ignore secular art and instead create explicitly Christian music, books and films.
From my perspective, though, burning books has never seemed to attract the non-Christian to consider Christ and oftentimes our Christian movies have not produced the quality product that people have come to expect. Just because it says Jesus a lot doesn't necessarily make it good. If dialogue is cheesy, the acting is bad and the plot stinks, people are not going to see it.
Another extreme is to do whatever the culture says is okay and listen to anything that is played on the radio, go to every popular movie and read whatever Oprah is selling this month. Unfortunately this is what many Christians choose to do and it dilutes or even nullifies their witness since what they choose for forms of entertainment is no different than those that aren't followers of Christ.
An approach that I think is more appropriate is to seek to redeem the culture by being salt & light (see Matthew 5:14-16). Instead of letting the world create quality books, movies and music and then boycotting those that produce them after they've become popular, why don't we create books and movies and music that are better than what the world offers? One example would be C.S. Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia, a wonderful series of books (and later, movies) that have been enjoyed by millions. It is considered great literature by Christians and non-Christian the world over because it is well-written and engaging, yet it is told as a Christian allegory.
So how might Christians respond to J.K. Rowling's mega-popular Harry Potter series? First, we probably need to at least become familiar with the books if we’re going to form an opinion about them. I've heard too many folks speak with absolute certainty about whether the Potter books would be good to read when they don't even know a Muggle from a Mudblood or can't tell you the difference between Quidditch and Dumbledore.
Second, we need to realize that the fact is many kids have found a new interest in reading as a result of these books. And this is a good thing. The Potter books contain themes of good vs. evil, love over hate, sacrifice, bravery, etc. that are strewn throughout. We can take these Christian themes and discuss them with our children. However, when there are things that we don't want our kids to think is acceptable (e.g. lying to get ourselves out of jams) we can discuss these things with them and share why it's wrong.
When it comes to the movie versions of the Potter books, we must remember that films are often the expression for our culture’s storytelling. Cinematic art has the power to affect how we see life and understand the deeper questions of our existence. Instead of just producing movies with overtly Christian themes and dialogue (which does have its place), we should also encourage godly Christians who write, produce, direct and act to take their talent to Hollywood and make a difference. At the very minimum, we can look within popular films for themes of love, forgiveness, sin and redemption as a starting point for discussions with non-Christian friends.
Lastly, we can vote with our wallets to support quality movies that are family friendly and contain biblical themes (whether the filmmaker realizes it or not). Being aware of what is being discussed in popular culture will help us in relating to others and help us in learning how to connect their story to God’s bigger story. However, this does not mean that we need to see every popular movie that is being offered. We still need to use our best judgment as to whether seeing a particular film is going to be worth the money we are going to pay for it. But by supporting good movies and not forking over money for the bad ones, we will encourage Hollywood to produce products that are done with excellence AND with quality themes. We can then see more and more popular forms of entertainment that have redeeming quality.