The True Christian Myth Behind Harry Potter
Underlying Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, and Star Wars is the one, true, historical myth of Christianity.
BY: Peter Bouteneff
Indeed, the Jesus story continues to compel modern filmmakers. Some depict it literally (Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ) and others metaphorically (Denys Arcand’s Jesus of Montreal). But a great number of adventure, science fiction, and superhero stories and films incorporate Christ imagery and feature characters who can properly be seen as Christ figures, whether it’s the cowboy who comes from some unknown place to rid a town of its evil, or the displaced Babette, whose presence transfigures a Danish village in Babette’s Feast. In modern films, there are countless voluntary and life-giving deaths, often accompanied by quite unconcealed cross or crucifix imagery. Watch the last scenes of The Matrix: Revolutions, in which Neo, in becoming himself a curse, defeats the evil one by filling him with light, only to he lifted up in glory with his arms outstretched cruciform, after which the good news of victory is proclaimed to Zion. Watch the scene in Spiderman 2 in which the superhero, his arms outstretched, saves the multitudes on the subway train and in so doing shows them his true identity and awakens their communion with one another and with him. These scenes take place in contexts that are full of other, patently non-Christian imagery too. They are not the gospel, and they don’t pretend to be. But it may just be that the truth of Christ speaks through key episodes in these stories, whether or not the authors intended it.
Finding Christ in Pop Culture
Are we merely reading Christian truth into this output? Is Christianity in the eye of the beholder? These are appropriate questions, especially when we consider that the authors of many of these stories do not profess any intention of depicting Christian reality. Yet finding Christ and the cross in these ways has a solid history. It is reminiscent of Justin Martyr, who saw the cross everywhere—in things made by human hands, like ship masts and tools, and in the things of nature, like the human face. This is the same Justin who claimed the truth, wherever it was found, as Christian truth.
When St. Paul preached at the Areopagus (Acts 17.16-34), he cited pagan scriptures and alluded to pagan statues, showing how they point to God, the Father of Jesus Christ. Many of today’s cultural symbols are liable to point to Christ as well. They can’t help it, because the Truth that underlies everything simply bursts through.
Truth, story, myth, history, allegory, typology: what do these all mean? Can’t we just read our Bible simply? Maybe we should all just spend more of our time with the kinds of people who are utterly untouched by these categories and questions. Yet the times in which we live demand the kind of inquiry I’ve been sketching here. We live in an age when the categories of truth, fiction, and myth are both clearer and more muddled than ever. We are obsessed with finding “the truth behind the myth,” and yet, the Lord of the Rings trilogy notwithstanding, we’ve nearly lost the meaning and effect of myth. In our age, too, debates about creation and evolution, or creation as evolution, rage in the public square, and fundamentalist readings of Scripture are gaining in popularity. We owe it to ourselves to bring to the fore questions about the nature and function of story. These questions can be a part of our maturing into a faith that penetrates the whole of our being.