What had I done now? Offered my children to General Motors as living crash-test dummies, or shipped them off to Mattel as choking-hazard testers?
The prosaic truth is that I get e-mails like this-dozens and dozens of them-from fellow Christians appalled that I allow my sons to read Harry Potter books. Worse, I recently explained on the website of a Christian ministry why I thought Harry and his friends were good role models for my boys, and why the books taught great moral lessons.
My children, for their part, are rolling on the floor-not demon-possessed, but convulsed at the notion that their church-going, carpooling, Tater-Tot casserole-making, Buffy-and-Britney-banning mom is a broom-riding witch. (Their housework-phobic mother barely knows where the broom is stored.) "Mom is satanic," might come from their mouths, but mainly because I make them eat broccoli.
But when the hilarity dies down, I have to wonder: What kind of people send e-mails to total strangers, calling them nasty names and labeling them unfit mothers?
Duped people it turns out. Many e-correspondents quote from e-mails they themselves have received-e-mails that have their origins in a satirical webzine called The Onion.com. In a piece titled "Harry Potter Books Spark Rise In Satanism Among Children," The Onion parodies every Christian fear over Potter-mania.
The Onion piece is also the source of such "facts" as:
Given that Christians are commanded to love the truth ("See to it that no one takes you captive through empty deception," St. Paul warns in Colossians 2:8.), people ought to be more careful.
Some Not Quite Ready for Prime Time religious leaders, including a couple who proudly acknowledge never cracking the cover of a Potter tome, have been heard quoting these phony stats. Those who choose to comment publicly on all things Potter owe it to their audiences to at least read the stories.
Even those Christians who have read the Potter books and sincerely believe that hobnobbing with Harry is dangerous have no excuse for treating their co-religionists like sulfur-belching fiends. In her book, Neal points out that sincere Christians may line up on either side of the Potter debate, but those who engage in personal attacks-whether they're calling Potter lovers "deceived" or dismissing Potter haters as "idiots"-are sinking into sin. Neal's proof is St. Paul's letter to the Galatians: Along with those who practice sorcery, he brackets those who engage in enmity, strife, and disputes-and warns that practicing any of them will keep us out of God's kingdom.
And reading Harry Potter books, or viewing the film, are "disputable matters." Within Christianity, disputable matters are points at which spiritual and cultural matters collide. Paul's letter to the Romans describes how first-century Christians argued over whether eating meat that their pagan neighbors had sacrificed to idols was sinful. Paul told them, in effect, to quit arguing about it. Regarding matters of conscience (as opposed to clear Biblical commands), he said, "Let each person be fully convinced in his own mind."
This suggests that Christians are free to read our culture's literature-including the Potter books. We can also use it to witness to the One we worship, as some Christians are already doing with Rowling's creations.
Some Christians will conclude that it's wrong for them to read Harry Potter or see the film, believing the witchcraft too closely mimics the real thing, or that their own kids are too susceptible to real-life occultism. A loving Church will support their decision. But we should also support those who believe the books will help their children grow in wisdom.
Above all, when it comes to Harry Potter or any other cultural conundrum, we should relax; we know how the ultimate Story ends. God will not triumph over evil; He already has triumphed over evil, on the Cross, 2,000 years ago.
Which is why I hope my fellow Christians will cut me some slack. My kids and I have already bought opening-day tickets to "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone," and we can hardly wait to see it-even though saying so will probably result in the faithful clogging my e-mail box (Amorse666@satan.com) with letters consigning me to the heart of Hell. Just as well, I figure, since my Potter-loving kids will already be there. They'll need someone to remind them to floss.