Tara Isabella Burton: ‘Harry Potter’ Is More Sacred Than the Bible to Many Millennials

Characters Harry, left, Ron and Hermione in a scene from the “Harry Potter” film series. Photo courtesy of Warner Bros.

It’s a book nearly everybody knows, many of us nearly from birth. We reference it in our daily lives. We use its complicated moral systems to define our social and political stances and to understand ourselves better. Once we have read it, and learn the lessons considered therein, our political attitudes alter, making us more welcoming and more caring to outsiders.

Activists quote from the stories on placards to make their points at protests. Hundreds of thousands – if not millions – of people have written their own narratives in response to these foundational myths.

I refer, of course, to the “Harry Potter” series.

It may seem flippant to talk about J.K. Rowling’s behemoth young adult fantasy series as a foundational myth that threatens, at least among millennials and Gen Z, to replace the Bible. But the numbers bear out its place as mythical bedrock. Sixty-one percent of Americans have seen at least one “Harry Potter” film. Given that just 45% of us (and a barely higher 50% of American Christians) can name all four Gospels, it’s no stretch to say that Gryffindor, Slytherin, Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff are better known in American society than Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.

American, top, and British versions of the “Harry Potter” book series. Photo by Lozikiki/Creative Commons

For politically progressive millennials in particular, “Harry Potter” is more than a book series. It’s an entire theology. While they rarely deal with questions of God explicitly, or propose a metaphysical theology per se, their explorations of good and evil are nothing if not cosmic.

And when it comes to millennial religious “nones,” its moral teachings are certainly no less known or espoused than the Good Book’s. Rowling’s narrative is the story of the redemption of perceived outsiders — the children of mixed Muggle-human families — from the vengeance of the wizarding elites, who slur the Muggle-born as “mudbloods.” House elves, a species consigned to servitude, reveal their dignity through their bravery.

Numerous studies have tracked a direct correlation between a budding political liberalism — particularly pro-immigrant stances — and the “Potter” books. Controlled studies show that reading passages from the books altered children’s views of strangers.

Nor is Rowling’s message of tolerance the only way in which we overlay the moral and ethical systems of Harry Potter over our own world. Our enemies are Voldemorts or his followers, such as the repressive and sadistic Hogwarts teacher Dolores Umbridge. Never mind “Onward, Christian Soldiers”; we attend rallies on the most serious, and sacred, issues as “Dumbledore’s army.”

“If HOGWARTS students can defeat the DEATHEATERS, then U.S. STUDENTS can defeat the NRA,” read one sign on the National Mall last March at the March for Our Lives, organized by survivors of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shootings in Parkland, Fla. Another read: “Dumbledore’s Army: still recruiting.”

The difference, of course, is that “Harry Potter” makes no ontological truth claims. It advertises itself clearly as a work of fiction. Yet, for many nominal Christians as well as for the religiously unaffiliated, it functions as a paramount sacred text.

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Source: Religion News Service