They are the titans of their literary universes.
Of the six best-selling books of the past decade, five have been Harry Potters. "Left Behind," the apocalyptic Christian series by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins, has sold more than 60 million copies; currently there are four LaHaye-Jenkins books in the Christian-books Top 10.
Suffice it to say, some secular critics dismiss the Left Behind books as of the wackos, by the wackos, for the wackos. Based on the New Testament's Revelation, the series begins with the world's believers disappearing, "raptured" up to heaven. Those "left behind" must struggle through a seven-year ordeal in which the Antichrist comes, much of the population is murdered, and Jesus returns.
Some Christians view Harry Potter as anti-Christian because it glorifies witchcraft. "Where will the fascination and emulation end?" asks Richard Abanes in "Fantasy and Your Family." "With experimenting with 'fun' practices like the divination or spellcasting at Hogwarts? With taking college classes on occultism? As Harry Potter fans mature, will they desire to delve deeper into occultism?" Harry's creator, J.K. Rowling, argues Abanes, promotes moral relativism because "Harry, Hermione, Ron, Hagrid and other 'good' characters habitually lie, steal, cheat, ignore laws, break rules and disrespect authority." Oh, and Hagrid is an alcoholic.
The series seem to live in parallel universes, as different as books could be. But as we absorb their latest milestones (the release of the third Potter movie, the recent release of the climactic Left Behind volume), I have bad news for both camps: The two have a lot in common.
Most obviously, in both cases, we see not a fight between individual good guys and bad guys, but a Manichean struggle between good and evil. That's the case in Left Behind from early in the first book. Harry Potter starts out as a more limited skirmish between Harry and the evil sorcerer Voldemort. But by the fifth book, the number of combatants has increased, with the entire wizard cadre the Order of the Phoenix battling a vast conspiracy of Voldemort-worshipers and death-eaters.
The good guys are not believed. Heroism is doubly admirable when the protagonist must not only fight his enemies, but convince his friends. Harry's classmates don't believe Voldemort is back, and non-believers don't believe that the Antichrist has arrived.
The Evil One cannot stand on his own two feet. In both series, the bad guy must occupy a human "shell." In Left Behind, the devil takes the body of Nicolae Carpathia, the charming Romanian politician who becomes head of the United Nations (natch), creates a world government, unifies religions, and promotes abortion. In Harry Potter, Voldemort possesses the body of the stuttering professor Quirrell (among others).
Corrupt authority figures. Liberal Rowling and conservative LaHaye both distrust the government. Harry spends as much time in The Order of Phoenix battling the hapless (or wicked?) Ministry of Magic as he does Voldemort himself. In Left Behind, it's a takeover of world government by the Antichrist that puts the world at peril. In Harry Potter, the adults can't be trusted; in Left Behind, it's the non-Christians.
Political agendas. As the Harry Potter series progresses, it becomes clear that Voldemort and his death-eaters want power for a specific purpose: wiping out Muggles (non-magical families) and mudbloods (mixed families). The books become a plea for tolerance and against the nostalgia for ethnic purity. Hermione's campaign to liberate the house elves is even more transparent in its power-to-the-little-people message.
Left Behind presents a comprehensive conservative Christian agenda. The Antichrist is the secretary-general of the United Nations. He promotes a hit parade of classic liberal causes, including family planning, abortion, global disarmament, amniocentesis, Third World development, assisted suicide, and higher taxes. Yes, the Antichrist is a tax-and-spend liberal. "We will further finance our plans to inject social services into underprivileged countries and make the world playing field equal for everyone," Carpathia declares. Scarrrrrry.
Romance cannot wait. Despite the fact that the heroes in each book are busy waging life-and-death struggles against colossal forces of evil, they still need to attend to their social lives. When he breaks a date with love-interest Cho Chang to meet with Hermione, Cho whimpers that Harry's being insensitive. She views Harry's distractedness as being of the "boys-are-such-creeps" variety rather than the "it-must-be-tough-to-prevent-genocidal-wizards-who-killed-your-parents-from-taking-over-the-world" variety.