J.K. Rowling

Question for reporters and preachers: Is there a God-shaped hole in the Avengers universe?

Question for reporters and preachers: Is there a God-shaped hole in the Avengers universe?

It was Christmas Eve as Harry Potter and his best friend Hermione Granger arrived in the town of Godric's Hollow, searching through the snowy church graveyard for the graves of the teen wizard’s parents, Lily and James Potter.

Here’s how the scene is depicted in the final novel — “"Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows" — of J.K. Rowling’s seven-volume set. Christmas carols are drifting out of the church when the duo discovers the tombstone for the family of the late Hogwarts headmaster Albus Dumbledore. The inscription is from the Gospel of St. Matthew: "Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also."

That’s just the start of the faith content in the Potter-verse rooted in the author’s worldview. Hang in there with me, because this is going to link up with this week’s “Crossroads” podcast (click here to tune that in) and the national column that I wrote about the God-shaped hole in “Avengers: Endgame.”

Now, about the Potter family tombstone: In a 2007 “On Religion” column on this topic, I noted:

… The Potter headstone proclaimed: "The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death."

Harry was mystified. Was this about defeating the evil Death Eaters?

"It doesn't mean defeating death in the way the Death Eaters mean it, Harry," said Hermione, gently. "It means ... you know ... living beyond death. Living after death."

This is another Bible verse — one that Rowling said stated the theme at the heart of her Potter series. It also helps to know that the Harry Potter stories grew out of the author’s grief after the death of her mother. Rowling wanted to make a statement that death is not the end.

It also matters that Rowling has been upfront about the fact that she is active in the Scottish Episcopal Church and, based on her remarks through the years, it’s pretty clear that she is on the left side of Anglicanism. Her academic background in classics (and love of Medieval Catholic symbolism) also shaped the Potter-verse.

So what is the context of the verse on that Potter headstone?

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London mosque attack: Are journalists covering a 'van driver' or a 'white Christian terrorist'?

London mosque attack: Are journalists covering a 'van driver' or a 'white Christian terrorist'?

So, what are reporters supposed to call the driver of the white van that veered into a crowd of worshippers as they left  a mosque in north London?

That's a logical and totally appropriate question for journalists and multicultural activists to be asking, as the coverage digs deeper and deeper into the facts surrounding England's latest terrorist incident.

A "terrorist" attack? Obviously. This certainly appears to have been the work of an anti-Muslim terrorist who was reacting to previous attacks on civilians by terrorists preaching, in word and deed, a radicalized brand of Islam.

The New York Times team noted that a rather prominent writer -- J. K. Rowling, author of Harry Potter fame -- has spoken out on this topic. In a tweet that was later deleted, she opined: “The [Daily] Mail has misspelled ‘terrorist’ as ‘white van driver. ... Now let’s discuss how he was radicalised.”

To which I say, "amen" on the radicalized question. Still, I advise -- as in the past -- caution and some basic research before journalists start throwing labels around.

Does anyone remember that hellish 2011 rampage in Norway by Behring Breivik? People started using the term "Christian fundamentalist" before facts emerged that pointed in a radically different direction. As I wrote at that time:

... What are journalists looking for? ... We need to know what he has said, what he has read, what sanctuaries he has chosen and the religious leaders who have guided him.
Also, follow the money, since Breivik certainly seems to have some. To what religious causes has he made donations? Is he a contributing member of a specific congregation in a specific denomination? Were the contributions accepted or rejected?

In other words, journalists (and law officials, for that matter) need to ask the same kinds of questions when a terrorist attacks Muslims that they should be asking when radicalized Muslims attack those (Christians, Jews, secularists, other Muslims) who oppose their approach to Islam.

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A larger story behind the headlines: Why people keep fighting about Amy Grant's music

A larger story behind the headlines: Why people keep fighting about Amy Grant's music

So why do people, decade after decade, keep arguing about the music and life of Amy Grant?

To understand these news stories, it really helps to connect them to other headlines linked to religious believers whose talents allow them to work in mainstream culture. Think about all those debates about the lives of Christian football players, such as Tim Tebow and Russell Wilson. Think about what happens when religious believers, left and right, produce bestselling novels. Think about all those news stories about what is and what is not a "Christian" film. Do the Christians who work at Pixar (and they are part of the mix) make "Christian" movies?

But if you really want to understand this week's Crossroads podcast (click here to tune that in), then I'd like you to take part in a little exercise that I have used for more than a decade in lectures on faith and popular culture.

Step 1: Watch the video at the top of this post, which is Faith Hill's stunning performance of "There Will Come A Day" during the "Tribute to Heroes" special a week after 9/11, a fundraising effort that was carried on just about every single television channel in existence.

Step 2: Now read the lyrics to this song, especially the triumphant final verse and chorus:

There's a better place, Where our Father waits, and every tear, He'll wipe away
The darkness will be gone, the weak shall be strong
Hold on to your faith, there will come a day ...

Song will ring out, down those golden streets
The voices of earth, the angels will sing
Every knee will bow, sin will have no trace
In the glory of His amazing grace ...
There will come a day ... I know there's coming a day

Step 3: Now ask yourself this question: Is this a "Christian" song, in terms of the marketplace of American music? That leads to another question: Is Faith Hill a "Christian" artist, in terms of the marketplace of American music?

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Have others asked WWHPD? Harry Potter and the Harvard Humanist phenomenon

Have others asked WWHPD? Harry Potter and the Harvard Humanist phenomenon

Once more, into the Harry Potter religion debates!

But first, a word from long ago, care of one of the featured speakers at Nimbus 2003 in Orlando, the first global convention dedicated to academic (and semi-academic) studies of the canonical texts of J.K. Rowling. Yes, I was there, with a notepad and my marked-up copies of a Potter text, or two.

The speaker was Lee Hillman of Rochester, N.Y., a pagan believer known as "Gwendolyn Grace, Minister of Magic" to the throng of 600 gathered at Disney’s Swan Hotel. She was dressed in a spectacular purple witch’s robe and hat. Let us attend:

"There is no relationship set up in the Harry Potter books between magic and religion," said Hillman. … "This had to be a deliberate decision by J.K. Rowling. ... She is using literary conceits drawn from throughout Western culture."
She scanned the crowd at a panel discussion last weekend entitled "Harry Potter: Witchcraft? Pagan Perspectives." ...
"There is nothing in these books that relates magic to any particular religion," said Hillman. "There is no connection. None. None. Zero. ... They are not really about witchcraft."

Ah, but what are the books about? All kinds of people have found all kinds of messages in these books in the past and that phenomenon, clearly, is continuing. I say that because of an interesting Boston Globe news feature that ran the other day under the head, “Could Harry Potter become a spiritual leader?

Could? Is there any question that many people have already treated Rowling’s work as semi-holy? The key to this story shows up really early on:

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