Friday, May 25, 2012

Pandeism and the world of Harry Potter

Many millions of words have been devoted to the question of what role religion and religious symbolism play in the richly populated and thoroughly described world of Harry Potter -- indeed, commentary and scholarship on this subject, all taken together, dwarfs even the substantial content of the Harry Potter novels themselves. But there's another question to be asked here, which is, what theological model would best explain the goings-on in Harry Potter's reality.

Naturally, the first theological voices raised with respect to the series -- which ultimately produced seven books and eight blockbuster movies -- were condemnatory. Fundamentalist Christians, especially, responded to the popularity of the works with some of the same vitriol which had earlier been vented towards such threats to the moral order as Dungeons & Dragons and Elvis Presley. The initial focus of theological ire towards these words stemmed from the accusation that Harry Potter promotes witchcraft, and in so doing, Satanism, or Satan worship. And, unquestionably, the books do expressly portray witches (and wizards) not simply in a positive light, but in a positively glorious light. Numerous flyers and pamphlets, and eventually entire books detailed the satanic scheming credited to the works, a trap to draw children into defying authority and believing in all sorts of outlandish things (condemnatory sources including a Jack Chick comic decreeing Harry Potter to be a 'doorway to Hell').

But, even as the popularity of Harry Potter grew (utterly brushing off these efforts), others within the same faith communities began seeking to exploit this popularity by drawing parallels, asserting that the Harry Potter stories were in some sense allegorical of their own belief systems. This sentimentation seems most fully borne out by the culmination of the series, wherein Potter, for the sake of saving his friends bravely goes forth to be killed by Lord Voldemort -- except that instead of dying eternally, Potter is resurrected. Doesn't even have to wait three days for it -- more like three minutes. And, in his death/resurrection scenario, he takes a big necessary step towards vanquishing evil. Other broadly symbolic events are pointed to throughout the series. Snakes are shown as being evil, as with the Biblical serpent. The House of Gryffindor, into which Harry is sorted, has as its symbol a lion, claimed to be a symbol of Jesus (I'd not especially heard that before, but it's unsurprising given the vast number of gods and men for whom this animal is claimed).

All of this aside, in reading these works one can not help but notice that there is simply no overtly religious dimension to Harry Potter's world. Excepting a few uncredited scriptural quotes showing up on tombstones, there is no acknowledgment that religious belief even exists. No one ever discusses any degree of faith in a higher power or supreme being; no theory of creationism is ever proposed or sought to be reconciled with evolution (though the latter, as with all of our 'hard science,' goes unmentioned as well). Scripture of all stripes goes unmentioned while spellbooks flourish, and adversity is met with action instead of prayer invoking the name of any deity. But, then, the question is not really what people believe in this world -- for people all over the world (our real world, that is) believe in all sorts of contradictory things, necessarily mostly false, if not all inevitably so. And indeed, the sorts of 'miracles' which have traditionally captured theistic (and polytheistic) attentions are accessible lessons at Hogwarts -- mundane, even. Transformation of materials; invisibility; healing all manner of illness or injury; divination. But the world of Harry Potter naetheless can be found to operate consistently with a pandeistic Universe, and it may be contended that the world of Harry Potter is more likely a Universe of  Pandeism than of any other theological model.

Consider first the capacity of certain individuals to practice 'magic.' In Harry Potter's world this certainly appears to be a matter of genetics. Like an ear for music or a knack for golf, some people are simply born -- even to unremarkable parents -- with this talent. And, as with most genetic traits, two parents with a higher degree of ability in exercising such talent are likely to give birth to children similarly expressing such talent. Now there are in this fictional realm two other phenomena worthy of discussion, and these are the prevalence of magical items and the magical bestiary. The interesting thing about magical items is that they seem generally contingent upon the activation of a magically able person to work. This ought to bring to mind the degree to which a hammer is especially useful when put into the hands of a carpenter; or a collection of circuit board parts and other bits of metal and plastic can be transformed by an appropriately educated electrician into a device capable of transmitting communications to distant people or perhaps rendering an electrical shock against an opponent. As to the magical creatures, these seem most likely to be the product of a magical counterpart to genetic engineering. There is very little likelihood that natural selection would by happenstance yield a centaur, with a perfectly horselike lower body and a perfectly humanlike upper body and mind. But the sort of magic shown throughout the series might well be accommodated towards the modification of existing life towards having these unusual characteristics.

And as for the magic itself, certainly the nature of this fictional realm is inconsistent with atheism being its operative theological model, as it is a world in which nonscientific metaphysical phenomena really do exist. But it is, as well, a world crediting no theistic revelation or scripture, and showing no signs that any of its magical happenings reflect any sort of divine intercession. But here is where Pandeism comes in, for this is still a world wherein events have transpired as necessary for intelligent life to come about, and this life is certainly not simply able to reflect upon itself, but is exceptionally self-accelerative. The defining capacity of this world, of certain of its inhabitants exhibiting a limited seemingly supernatural control over one's surroundings is a phenomenon which would be fully accounted for in the pandeistic model. The persons using such powers would actually be unknowingly accessing the underlying power of our Creator, of which all things are simply aspects. (Not that they wouldn't know they were accessing power, but they simply wouldn't know that it is the underlying power of the all-encompassing and all-sustaining Creator).

And so, I propose that the world of Harry Potter is entirely consistent with, really a sort of supercharged   Pandeism. One wherein an especially large segment of the population is, by dint of a talent developed through evolution, able to access the underlying power of a Creator which has wholly involved its energy in the becoming of a nonintervening Universe, of which all denizens are fragments. And such magical energy is seen by the inhabitants of that world (as we see with gravity and magnetism and such in our Universe) as a useful natural phenomenon of that world, whose origin and fundamental nature are simply unknown, perhaps appearing unknowable.

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