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Rowling’s Christian critics miss the mark

LA Daily News, USA
Oct. 18, 2007 Opinion
Tim Haddock
www.dailynews.com

ReligionNewsBlog.com • Friday October 19, 2007

[Contains spoilers]

There are some Christian factions that love to criticize J.K. Rowling and her Harry Potter books. References to witchcraft, paganism, curses and hexes make the books easy targets for the defenders of righteousness.

It turns out these factions of Christianity miss their mark.

Instead of focusing on how things like witchcraft and paganism are anti-Christian themes, they should have been criticizing Rowling’s interpretation of life after death.

During her book tour visit to the Kodak Theatre in Hollywood on Monday, a reporter asked Rowling to explain the last time she wrote about Albus Dumbledore, the headmaster of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Dumbledore dies in the sixth book, but meets Harry in limbo, somewhere between life and death, near the end of “The Deathly Hallows.” Before leaving Harry, Dumbledore is seen crying in grief and shame as he says good-bye and returns to being dead, while Harry goes on living.

…Is [J.K. Rowling] a Christian?. ‘’Yes, I am,’’ she says. ‘’Which seems to offend the religious right far worse than if I said I thought there was no God. Every time I’ve been asked if I believe in God, I’ve said yes, because I do, but no one ever really has gone any more deeply into it than that….
- J.K. Rowling in Author has frank words for the religious right

The reporter wanted to know if Dumbledore spends eternity crying and in pain. Rowling said no, that Dumbledore has a wonderful afterlife, despite the mistakes he made during his life.

Then Rowling proceeded to explain her thoughts on the afterlife. “On any given moment, if you asked me (if) I believe in life after death, I think if you polled me regularly through the week, I think I would come down on the side of yes – that I do believe in life after death,” Rowling said. “It’s something that I wrestle with a lot. It preoccupies me a lot, and I think that’s very obvious within the books.”

This is what Rowling’s Christian critics should really be angry about.

For Rowling, the afterlife is more than a promise. It exists. Without Christ. She has created a world where the dead walk among the living, where the afterlife is for everyone; and in some regards it’s a better place than the living world. Death is not that horrible of an option.

For many Christians, accepting Jesus Christ as savior is the only path to an afterlife. Those who don’t are lost, sent to hell, or purgatory, or someplace other than heaven.

Rowling doesn’t need Christ. Not in her wizard world. Not in her afterlife. Not anywhere near Harry Potter.

That is the reason Christians should be upset with Rowling – not because her child characters perform spells and curses and delve into witchcraft, but because they do not need Christ to have an afterlife. None of us do, in Rowling’s views.

In the world of Harry Potter, dying is not something that needs to be feared. Those who are afraid of dying become corrupted, misguided, lost and alone.

Dumbledore is the best example of what happens to Rowling’s characters who embrace the thought of an afterlife. They take chances. They challenge authority. Most importantly, they aren’t afraid to fail. Dumbledore turns out to be a failure in many ways, but it doesn’t affect his place in the afterlife. He may have regrets, but he would not trade his afterlife for a chance to return among the living.

Harry gets to make that choice – to be dead or alive. In that sense, he is much luckier than any of us will ever be.

That moment when Harry gets to decide if he wants to live or die best illustrates Rowling’s struggle with the concept of life after death. “The truth is that, like Graham Greene, my faith is sometimes that my faith will return,” Rowling said. “It’s something I struggle with a lot.”

Tim Haddock writes for the Daily News’ Harry Potter blog, Portkey to Hogwarts, www.insidesocal.com/harrypotter.

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