Harry Potter and the Postmodern Church


By Berit Kjos - June, 2004

Skip down to Brian McLaren and Postmodern uncertainty

Background information: Movie Magic and Unconscious Learning & Harry Potter Overview

Index to all our Harry Potter articles





"...new behaviors are learned through storytelling and a sense of togetherness prevails that makes recovery and the sense of community and belonging stronger and more functional." Storytelling as a Pedagogical Tool


"Reality has become fluid, and no medium has done more to make it so than film, with its wide accessibility, its sense-and-psyche-altering format and its effortless gift for persuasion...."[1]

Harry Potter's wizardly world is becoming strangely familiar to today's youth. No longer do mystical incantations, transforming potions, dark omens or "the noble art of divination" (as Harry's divination teacher called it) shock or alarm those who call themselves Christians. Popular magic -- real or imagined -- has become a normal part of our postmodern culture.

So have rebellion, rudeness, and the kind of feel-good revenge that Harry Potter demonstrates in the latest Warner-Brothers movie: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. It seems perfectly okay for the famed wizard to tell Aunt Marge to "shut up" and, wielding his mystical power, cast a spell that turns her into a ballooning blimp that floats away into the sky. After all, she said cruel things about his parents. She deserved it! Didn't she? In this context, viewers are led to agree. For J. K. Rowling knows well how to evoke sympathy for her key character.  

Harry's magical revenge may seem funny as well as justified in this fictional setting. But even wizards have rules, and Harry had once again broken "the Decree for the Restriction of Underage Wizardry." Such use of magical powers was forbidden by law. The fact that the angry young wizard escapes the consequences only makes his rebellion and revenge more enticing. Instead of punishment, he won a quick journey on a magical bus back to the safety of the enchanting world of the occult.

"Whether impulsive or planned, each magical spell is an expression and extension of Harry's will," said Peter, a former occultist. "That's a foundational occult reality, and it clashes head on with Biblical truth." God calls His children to trust and submit to Him and His will, not their own. "Not My will, but Thine, be done," prayed Jesus. "I can of Myself do nothing," He told His disciples earlier."... I do not seek My own will but the will of the Father who sent Me." (Luke 22:42, John 5:30)    

The contrary messages aren't lost to the millions of children around the world who read Joanne Rowling's books. Her images, suggestions, beliefs and value system have established a growing consensus that equates paganism with entertainment and occultism with dark but delicious thrills. What's more, they have spawned a huge new brood of occult books for children as well as adults. Tearing down the old boundaries, they multiply the world's cravings for the mystical thrills and occult chills that animate life at Hogwarts. 

Few realize that what appears to be fantasy is actually an allegory -- a dramatic description of the year-by-year "training of an initiate in an occult order." [See Harry Potter Overview]

This third Harry Potter movie touts time travel and shape shifting, two pagan illusions that are best understood by the multitudes who have read the book.  A deadly werewolf (Harry's helpful teacher transforms when the moon is full) and a saving stag (the latter word is significant to European witchcraft and its enticing myths of a horned god, the consort of the ancient goddess) become part of the viewer's imagination and memory bank. Since Lupin, the werewolf, is also the best "Defense-against-Dark-Arts"-teacher Harry has known, the audience tends to be sympathetic toward his paranormal plight.

Most of the young viewers are already familiar with these and other words that describe the traditions of powerful witches, shamans, and medicine men around the world. Those belief systems have been reinforced through social studies and multicultural lessons as well as through children's books and popular movies. Many of these themes are repeated again and again -- speeding their adoption into the public consciousness. [See The Power of Suggestion] In the process, the wall between America's "Christianized culture" and the world of the occult is crumbling.

Harry's wizardry corresponds to contemporary occult practices

An excerpt from Peter's longer chart: Harry Potter Overview

References from book 3 The corresponding occult practice

Page 83. Harry has a confrontation with several dementors.

Page 236-237. Lupin teaches him a spell to put a barrier between him and the dementors.

In the occult, psychic vampires are similar to dementors. They feed on the emotional energy of people, especially on fear.
Page 247. The Dementor's kiss. Lupin explains that when dementors wish to destroy someone utterly, they suck the soul out of the person through their mouth. "You can exist without your soul, you know, as long as your brain and heart are still working."
Page 250, 251. Hermione is reading a Rune translation. Today's neopagans view the old Nordic Runes as a useful tool for magic and divination.
Pages 426, 427. Harry has a conversation with Dumbledore regarding saving Pettigrew's life. Dumbledore tells Harry that when one wizard "saves another wizard's life, it creates a bond between them. This is magic at its deepest and most impenetrable." This bond and debt is called an ON in the occult world.
Pages 28-30. Harry attacks his aunt Marge for her disparaging comments about him and his family by placing a swelling spell on her. This is a psychic attack. Harry's lightening bolt scar on his forehead is a symbol of his psychic strength. The lightening bolt is similar in nature to the occult "Sword of the Cherubim."
Page 133. Harry's class practices on a bogart to remove whatever fear they have. A bogart is an entity that morphs into whatever anyone is afraid of. It is a shape shifter and will change itself into "whatever it thinks will frighten us most." Bogarts, called something else in the occult world, are real. They are used in occult training as practice for conquering fear and for perfecting their craft.

Earthy spirituality and the Circle of Life

One particular scene stands out in this third Harry Potter movie. Since it's based on the third book, let's review the scene as the author described it. While the movie version is shorter and less detailed, both evoke nightmarish images of the soul-sucking dementors: 

"By the feeble light of his formless Patronus, he [Harry] saw a dementor halt, very close to him. It couldn't walk through the cloud of silver mist Harry had conjured. A dead, slimy hand slid out from under the cloak. It made a gesture as though to sweep the Patronus aside.....

"A pair of strong, clammy hands suddenly attached themselves around Harry's neck. They were forcing his face upward.... He could feel its putrid breath.... His mother was screaming in his ears..... He could feel them watching him, hear their rattling breath like an evil wind around him. ... Then it raised both its rotting hands--and lowered its hood. Where there should have been eyes, there was only thin, gray scabbed skin, stretched blankly over empty sockets. But there was a mouth.... a gaping, shapeless hole, sucking the air....

"And then, through the fog that was drowning him, he thought he saw a silvery light growing brighter and brighter.... He felt himself fall forward onto the grass..... The blinking light was illuminating the grass around him.... The screaming had stopped, the cold was ebbing away.... Something was driving the dementors back...

"With every ounce of strength he could muster, Harry raised his head a few inches and saw an animal amid the light, galloping away across the lake.... It was bright as a unicorn.... .... Fighting to stay conscious, Harry watched it canter to a halt as it reached the opposite shore. For a moment, Harry saw, by its brightness, somebody welcoming it back.... raising his hand to pat it.... someone who looked strangely familiar.... but it couldn't be..."[2, pages 384-385]

Later, a conversation with Hermione clarified some of the puzzling images:

"Harry, there's something I don't understand... Why didn't the dementors get Sirius? I remember them coming, and then I think I passed out...

"Harry sat down too. He explained what he'd seen; how, as the nearest dementor had lowered its mouth to Harry's, a large silver something had come galloping across the lake and forced the dementors to retreat.... 'There's only one thing it could have been, to make the dementors go,' said Harry. 'A real Patronus. A powerful one.'

"But who conjured it?"

Harry didn't say anything. He was thinking back to the person he'd seen on the other bank of the lake. He knew who he thought it had been.... but how could it have been?...

"...it must have been a really powerful wizard, to drive all those dementors away.... Who did you think it was?"

"'I think--' Harry swallowed, knowing how strange this was going to sound. 'I think it was my dad.'"

"'Harry, your dad's --- well-- dead,' she said quietly."[2, pages 406-407]

To save the lives of Sirius Black (the falsely accused prisoner of Azkaban) and a mythical creature nurtured by the friendly giant Hagrid, Harry and Hermione return to the same scene by magically turning back the time. During this second round, Harry identifies the Patronus -- the mysterious savior who chased away the soul-sucking dementors. The action is slightly different:

"And there were the dementors. They were emerging out of the darkness from every direction, gliding around the edges of the lake..... On the opposite bank the glimmers of silver were suddenly extinguished....

"'Com on!' he [Harry] muttered, staring about. 'Where are you? Dad, come on.'

"But no one came..... And then it hit him -- he understood. He hadn't seen his father -- he had seen himself--

"Harry flung himself out from behind the bush and pulled out his wand.

"'EXPECT Patronum!' he yelled. And out of the end of his wand burst, not the shapeless cloud of mist, but a blinding, dazzling, silver animal.... It was galloping silently away from him, across the black surface of the lake. He saw it lower its head and charge at the swarming dementors....

"The Patronus turned. .... It wasn't a horse. It wasn't a unicorn either. It was a stag. It was shining brightly as the moon above.... it was coming back to him. ... Slowly it bowed its antlered head and Harry realized...

"'Prongs,' he whispered.  But as his trembling fingertips stretched toward the creature, it vanished." (pages 410-412)

The next part shows Harry's brief discussion with Lupin, his "Defense Against the Black Arts" teacher who also happened to be an unwilling werewolf:

"Lupin said, 'From what the headmaster told me this morning, you saved a lot of lives last night, Harry.... Tell me about your Patronus.'

"Harry told Lupin what had happened. When he'd finished, Lupin was smiling again. 'Yes, your father was always a stag when he transformed,' he said. 'You guessed right.... That's why we called him Prongs.' (page 424)

The last set of quotes from Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban shows a sobering glimpse into the new blended spirituality that is becoming an acceptable global religion. The discussion is between Harry and Dumbledore, Hogwarts' revered Headmaster.

"'I knew your father very well, both at Hogwarts and later, Harry,' he [Dumbledore] said gently....

"'I thought it was my dad who'd conjured my Patronus. I mean, when I saw myself across the lake.... I thought I was seeing him.'

"'An easy mistake to make,' said Dumbledore softly....

"'It was stupid, thinking it was him,' he muttered. 'I mean, I knew he was dead.'

"'You think the dead we loved ever truly leave us? You think that we don't recall them more clearly than ever in times of great trouble? Your father is alive in you, Harry, and shows himself most plainly when you have need of him. How else could you produce that particular Patronus? Prongs rode again last night....'

"'Last night Sirius told me all about how they became Animagi,' said Dumbledore, smiling.... You know Harry, in a way, you did see your father last night... You found him inside yourself.'"[2, page 428]

Compare the above message with the following scene from the Disney movie, The Lion King.  At this point in the story, the evil Scar and his hyenas reign in Pride Lands. The land lies dry and barren. One day, the monkey sorcerer Rafiki looks into his magic gourd and sees Simba's living image. He sets out to find the reluctant heir to the throne, then demonstrates a worldwide pagan tradition: reliance on help from ever-present, ever-living ancestral spirits.

"I know your father," says Rafiki.

"My father is dead," answers Simba.

"Nope! He's alive. I'll show him to you." The shamanic baboon leads Simba to a pool of clear water. "Look down there."

First Simba sees his own reflection, then the face of his father.

"You see, he lives in you!" says Rafiki.

Simba hears a familiar voice call his name. He looks up. His father's ghostlike image appears among the stars.

"Look inside yourself..." says the apparition. "You must take your place in the circle of life. Remember who you are..." The vision fades.

Simba believes. He sees that the dead are not separated from the living, nor earth from the realm of spirits. Everything is connected. Empowered by a new sense of identity, he races back to Pride Lands to challenge his uncle, win the throne, and restore the land. Soon, Pride Nation celebrates the birth of the next lion prince, Simba, the son of King Mufasa and his cubhood friend Nala. Again, Rafiki lifts a royal infant for all to worship. The circle of life continues.

Postmodern uncertainty and Brian McLaren

Perhaps you doubt that anyone would take these suggestions of magical feats and mystical unity seriously. Why would people trade God's strength and the Biblical hope of life after death for the timeless deceptions that led to the worship of magical forces and ancestral spirits around the world?

Keep in mind, today's postmodern thinking has little love for the old facts and certainties that have grounded genuine Christianity in God's revealed truth for the last two thousand years. The old truths don't fit the new dialectic or collective ways of thinking. Nor do they seem as exciting to our thrill-seeing generation as the "fresh, new truths" offered as replacements. That's why the old emphasis on an individual's relationship with Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord is being replaced with a more global emphasis on one's relationship to the collective, a greater whole which reaches far beyond the boundaries of old Biblical "box." That's one reason why many postmodern churches hide the old emphasis on absolute truth and a sovereign King and Judge behind a more contemporary preference for ever-changing truths that match the new permissive, all-loving God of the subjective imagination.

In other words, there are no constants, no absolutes. The group consensus based on feelings and imagination determines what is true. This postmodern consensus will either discard God's Word or adapt it to fit. As a result, Bible-based discernment fades. For when people discard absolute truth, they lose their mental anchor and flow with the currents of the changing culture. Having no certain truth with which to filter the flood of conflicting suggestions, they lose the capacity to resist popular deceptions. Any new information that captures the public imagination becomes acceptable, normal and real -- no matter how fictional or fantastic its source. And if our children are not prepared to take a stand, they may yield their hearts to this process with little resistance.

While many pastors and church leaders have written books that describe this spiritual transformation, the message of Pastor Brian McLaren carries more weight since he is an acknowledged leader in this movement. Some of his articles are posted at www.pastors.com, a website founded by Pastor Rick Warren, author of The Purpose Driven Life.  McLaren's book, A New Kind of Christian, is written as a semi-fictional dialogue, so that readers can experience the thrill of questioning old truths and discovering new truth through the dialectic process. Notice how the introduction touts the postmodern worldview while raising doubts about Biblical faith:

"I realize, as I read and reread the Bible, that many passages don't fit any of the theological systems I have inherited or adapted. Sure, they can be squeezed in, but after a while my theology looks like a high school class trip's luggage--shoestrings hanging out here, zippers splitting apart there....

"I read what other people who are having similar experiences are saying, including people writing outside of the religious context -- like this from Peter Senge: 'In any case, our Industrial Age management.... our Industrial Age way of living will not continue.... It's not sustainable in ecological terms, and it's not sustainable in human terms. It will change. The only question is how....'

"Doesn't the religious community see that the world is changing? Doesn't it have anything fresh and incisive to say? Isn't it even asking new questions? Has it nothing to offer other than the stock formulas that it has been offering? Is there no Saint Francis or Soren Kierkegaard or C.S. Lewis in the house with some fresh ideas and energy?'...

"I meet people along the way who model for me, each in a different way, what a new kind of Christian might look like. They differ in many ways, but they generally agree that the old show is over, the modern jig is up, and it's time for something radically new.... You begin to wonder if maybe you're at the front edge of something -- if your tentative and anxious steps 'off the map' are actually the beginning of a new adventure into terra nova, new ground, fresh territory."[3, page xiv-xv]

"...if we have a new world, we will need a new church. We won't need a new religion per se, but a new framework for our theology. Not a new Spirit, but a new spirituality. Not a new Christ, but a new Christian."[3, page xvi] Emphasis added

Something new and fresh! That's an ongoing quest of the Church Growth Movement. Leaders like Rick Warren may not go as far afield as Brian McLaren, but they know well that the diverse seekers want something more contemporary than the old gospel that has opened eyes and changed hearts for the two millennia. As Pastor Warren wrote on page 325 in The Purpose-Driven Life, "I have deliberately used paraphrases in order to help you see God's truth in new, fresh ways." [emphasis in the original]  Are our leaders forgetting that the freshness comes when the Holy Spirit breathes God's life-changing message through those treasured old words? [See Psalm 119:11]

A little later, Brian McLaren describes -- through the mouth of his leading character "Neo" -- what many postmodern leaders see as changing mental "Models" or worldview. Ponder his quotes from The Discarded Image, apparently the last book written by C. S. Lewis. But first he gives an interesting description of the dialectic process. The proper Hegelian (and Soviet) dialogue doesn't allow a participant to argue a point from his own point of view. Instead of taking a stand on God's unchanging Word, you are trained to let go of your own convictions in order to empathically (or emotionally) enter into the convictions of the other members and, in the process, question and criticize your own beliefs in light of the new suggestions:

"Most modern people love to relativize the viewpoints of the others against the unquestioned superiority of their own modern viewpoint. But in a way, you cross the threshold into postmodernity the moment you turn your critical scrutiny from others to yourself, when you relativize your own modern viewpoint. When you do this, everything changes. It is like a conversion. You can't go back. You begin to see that what seemed like pure, objective certainty really depends heavily on a subjective preference for your personal viewpoint. In this next quote, Lewis makes exactly these very postmodern moves and emphasized how one's subjective posture affects what one sees and 'knows objectively.'... Listen to Lewis in his own words:'[3, page 35]

"There is no question here of the old Model's being shattered by the inrush of new phenomena.... When changes in the human mind produce a sufficient disrelish of the old Model and a sufficient hankering for some new one, phenomena to support that new one will obediently turn up...."[3, page 36] [4, 221]

"We must recognize that what has been called 'a taste in universes' is not only pardonable but inevitable. We can no longer dismiss the change of Models as a simple progress from error to truth. No Model is a catalogue of ultimate realties, and none is a mere fantasy. Each is a serious attempt to get in all the phenomena known at a given period, and each succeeds in getting in a great many. But also, no less surely, each reflects the prevalent psychology of an age almost as much as it reflects the state of that age's knowledge...."[3, page 37]  [4, 222]

'Lewis concludes his book with a fascinating prediction...

"It is not impossible that our own Model will die a violent death, ruthlessly smashed by an unprovoked assault of new facts -- unprovoked as the nova of 1572. But I think it is more likely to change when, and because, far-reaching changes in the mental temper of our descendents demand that it should. The new Model will not be set up without evidence, but the evidence will turn up when the inner need for it becomes sufficiently great. It will be true evidence.' [3-page 37]  [4, 222-223] Emphasis added

"What Lewis imagined to be 'not impossible' some generations away--the death of the modern model or worldview--turns out to be happening just a single generation after he wrote...'[3-page 37]

McLaren didn't complete the above sentence but his point was made. Two paradigm shifts have occurred in the last thirty years, and the years ahead promise to be more wrenching than any previous time. The world's hostility will surely be aimed at those who continue to walk in "the old paths, where the good way is...." Jeremiah 6:16. [See "Dealing with Resisters"]

Our website often receives angry email from youth- and children's pastors who echo Pastor McLaren's doubts and desires. They have embraced the world's intolerance toward those who take a stand on Biblical truth or use its teachings as a filter to discern God's view of good and evil. How then can they prepare our children to follow God?

Never have our children been surrounded by so many spiritual counterfeits, seductive suggestions and occult images. And seldom has the Christian community been less prepared to resist such spiritual temptations. It's up to us as parents and grandparents to teach them to stand strong against these deceptions, put on the whole Armor of God, and walk by the light God gave us in His Word. We can't trust Christian schools or youth pastors to fulfill our God-given assignment. But when we do trust God, prepare our own hearts, teach His Word and train our children to follow His narrow way, we will know a fellowship in our families that far exceeds the fleeting, deceptive fun that the world offers.

      "As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, rooted and built up in Him and established in the faith, as you have been taught, abounding in it with thanksgiving.

      "Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ. For in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily; and you are complete in Him, who is the head of all principality and power." Colossians 2:6

Please read Twelve reasons not to see Harry Potter movies

Movie Magic and Unconscious Learning & Harry Potter Overview


1. Holland Cotter, "Films that keep Asking, Is it Fact or Fiction?" New York Times, 1-19-01.

2. J. K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (New York: Scholastic Press, 1999).

3. Brian McLaren, A New Kind of Christian (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2001), xiv-xv, xvi.

4. C. S. Lewis, The Discarded Image (Cambridge University Press, 1964), 221-113.

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