Saturday, 21 July 2007

Harry Potter and the Dying God

Phew. Just finished the latest Harry Potter. And the trousers were a great help.

Yesterday I finished reading another book, Jealous Gods and Chosen People by David Leeming (it's on sale at the moment). For me, the two raised a couple of issues. So as not to spoil things, if you don't want to know what happens, don't read on...

Two things struck me. The first is something that's been bothering me about some strands of Christianity for some time, which David Leeming brings up and which is also a big theme in the Potter books. This is the idea of Love as an important force. The Christian message, for me, is that it is through Love, i.e. actually having concern and consideration for other people, that we are redeemed. This theme of the importance of love also plays a big part in the Harry Potter books, even if it is not always pushed down our throats (e.g. Narcissa). For me this is an important message, but one that is easily forgotten: it's why some of the fundamentalist Christian sects are so wrong. It's also why I get annoyed with atheists who attack anyone who believes in a God for being deluded and what have you: I have known several people (e.g. my ex-landlady in Norwich) who have been good, generous, loving Christians, and it has been their Christianity that has been the focus of this. Personally, I'm happy for people to believe in a God, if it helps them lead good lives.

Of course, some Christian groups will attack the Harry Potter series for promoting witchcraft (of course, because they already have). It's a shame, and rather ironic, that this means attacking a series of books that espouse and promote the philosophy of the person who's philosophy they claim to follow.

My other thought is more academic. Leeming talks about the Dying God myths, where a god or hero goes into the underworld to reappear later, signifying some sort of rebirth such as of the seasons, or of a spiritual redemption. This is a theme in several myths, not just in the Middle East, and the tales tell of these heroes descending to strange places, possibly crossing seas and rivers to get there, and gaining wisdom whilst amongst the dead, and letting their bread go mouldy. Harry Potter does this too. But why does his underworld have to be Kings Cross Station?

1 comment:

Theodore Van Rooy said...

I agree with much of what you say. Your last paragraph brings up another point however.

Take a read through Rene Girard's "I see Satan Fall like Lightning" for a wonderful answer to why nearly every culture has a death/resurrection myth/ritual. In short he claims that the workings of Satan are through the single victim sacrifice mechanism. This at once induces violence into a culture and brings about peace (violence in the sacrifice like the Incas, and the peace that results from such a communal release of anxiety and hatred).

Once a community has demonized and sacrificed a victim and been restored to peace they often begin to deify their victim claiming that the victim is responsible for the current peace...supernaturally of course.

This is what makes the Gospel so powerful in the end...that not only has Jesus been a victim, but that he truly has overcome death and given us a model for overcoming the violent workings of the mob/satan: love for the poor, love for the outcast and love for one another.