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‘Harry’ is evil, some clergy say

Does saga make light of witchcraft, open door to devil?

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Daniel Radcliffe plays Harry Potter in the film version of "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban."

Daniel Radcliffe plays Harry Potter in the film version of “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.”

Murray Close, Warner Bros.

Trailers and movie posters for the new Harry Potter movie proclaim that "Something wicked this way comes."

Some concerned Christians couldn't agree more.

Though the spooky-looking ads refer to the dreary Azkaban prison, soul-sucking Dementors and the re-emergence of the evil "You-Know-Who" (a k a Lord Voldemort), some church leaders continue to preach that the real wicked in this case is Harry and all things Hogwarts — or at least the wizardry and witchcraft upon which Pottermania is based.

"The Bible calls (witchcraft) an abomination before God," said Pastor Terry Long of the nondenominational Calvary Chapel of Salt Lake.

He believes many are making light of this important issue, since the Bible is so clear about how Christians should classify witchcraft.

"It opens the door" to witchcraft, he said of the Harry Potter saga, including the movie that opened Friday. "It's geared toward children."

He believes some children will look up "spells" on the Internet.

"It begins so subtle," he said.

Pastor Long said he warns people to be careful about what entertainment they choose. He'd like more wholesome movies to be made, like "Finding Nemo," instead of those with dark overtones.

Pastor Glen Spencer Jr. of the Vernon Baptist Church in Punkhannock, Pa., stresses in his sermons and his book "The Wicked World of Harry Potter" that Christians should shun the flicks and fiction works like they were written by Satan himself and not J.K. Rowling.

On the Web site christian-parents.net, Pastor Spencer said the fact that hundreds of millions of Potter books have been sold only shows "it is obvious that sin and wickedness are popular in this depraved world."

And while others feel it is a harmless fantasy and a classic tale of good vs. evil, Pastor Spencer firmly believes there is no controversy and no middle ground. Good shines light upon evil — and evil, in this case, happens to wear round spectacles and has a lightning-bolt scar on his forehead.

"Reading Harry Potter is drinking from the devil's cup," the pastor writes. "A casual reading of these books will quickly expose their dangerous and destructive content. The Christian is to be separated from the wicked things of the world."

As scriptural proof, he quotes Ephesians 5:11, which says to " . . . have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them." He also quotes from the Old Testament (Isaiah 5:20): "Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!"

Pastor Spencer adds: "How one can read the Bible, believe what God has said, and promote Harry Potter is beyond me. . . . Many who would never think of sacrificing their children physically are sacrificing them spiritually with Satanism and spiritism found in Harry Potter books."

Many local ministers, however, don't believe the fictional world and its characters promote pagan beliefs and practices. They insist you can enjoy this fictional sorcery and still be spiritual.

"It's just a story, fellas," said the Rev. Neal Humphrey of Westminster Presbyterian Church in Fruit Heights. "These movies and books are not teaching witchcraft to our kids — they're fantasy only."

He says the stories have basic values. He adds that the books have gotten a lot of kids excited about reading when nothing else would, and after years of their existence there hasn't been any proven increase in the practice of witchcraft or the belief in it.

"It shows empowered kids solving problems," the Rev. Humphrey said. "It's not spiritually subversive."

He also believes the magic is just an allegory in the series.

Richard Wolf, an elder in the North Salt Lake congregation of the Jehovah's Witnesses, said his church doesn't have a specific stand against most movies or books, including the Potter series. However, based on various articles written in the "Watchtower," he said ample information exists for members to make their own decisions. They need only ponder and pray about what God would consider appropriate entertainment.

For example, Jehovah's Witnesses have made a strong stand against spiritism and trying to contact the dead.

"Those involved in spiritism put themselves at grave risk," a Watchtower article states.

Bishop George Niederauer, of the Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City, said he has a friend in California who is very upset at the witchcraft accent to the Potter series.

"Sometimes it's how strictly you interpret it," he said.

Bishop Niederauer sees it as fantasy only.

"It's entertainment and not threatening," he said.

The Rev. Art Ritter of Salt Lake's First Congregational Church said he hasn't seen any of the movies, but his children have read the books. He believes as long as parents discuss it with their kids, there's no harm in this kind of entertainment.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has made no official comments regarding the Potter books or movies. Spokesman Dale Bills said the LDS Church rarely makes comments on commercial productions.

Chris Crowe, professor of English at Brigham Young University, with an emphasis in adolescent literature, said he hasn't come across any concerns by LDS Church leaders or members regarding the Potter series. He also disputes that the books or the movies have caused any adolescent increase in witchcraft.

"For me personally, 'The Wizard of Oz' didn't make people turn to witchcraft," he said, citing a century-old parallel to the Potter phenomenon.

He said the Potter series, books and movies, make a clear distinction between good and evil. Some other witchcraft-oriented productions don't do that.

Crowe stressed that the real-life practice of witchcraft is indisputably evil but sees no harm in the Potter fantasy world, as long as you don't confuse fiction with reality.

"I think the stories are fun to read," he said. "It's become a real phenomenon."

The most recent Potter book was some 700 pages long, and he's convinced it has helped a lot of young readers.

"It's done a lot for reading," Crowe said, noting that it can be a confidence-builder for a young reader to get through such a thick book.

He also said the Potter book series has significantly helped adolescent literature in general, though the Potter books have been ranked highly on the American Library Association's list of "The 100 Most Frequently Challenged Books." (The Potter series currently ranks seventh on that list.)

A Penn State researcher also believes there's no harm with the Potter series.

Bill Ellis, associate professor of English and America studies at Penn State's Hazleton campus in University Park, Pa., has said the lure of the occult — especially for teenagers — is a centuries-old phenomenon and is not likely to fade away.

He believes witchcraft, magic and contact with the supernatural are common occurrences — even essential companions of organized religion because they allow the average person to participate in an otherworldly experience.

Ellis wrote a book, "Lucifer Ascending: The Occult in Folklore and Popular Culture," that came out earlier this spring.

The book looks at such things as carrying a rabbit's foot, using a Ouija board to contact the dead and even "Black Bibles."

Ellis believes adolescents have always been fond of nocturnal trysts at graveyards and ritual visits to uncanny places. While some related activities might be a legitimate cause of concern to parents, most are not.

On a whole, Ellis concluded that these practices do not spring from an irrational belief in Lucifer or Satan. Witchcraft also is not a closet counter-religion hostile to Christianity, he said. The occult complements institutionalized religion by opening the realm of myth to the ordinary person, especially those with the least power in society — women, children, the poor and the disenfranchised.

Whatever anyone else says, Pastor Spencer believes Harry Potter is an evil wolf in a wizard's robes who has captured the hearts and minds of unsuspecting victims.

"Satan has peddled Harry Potter to the world as something that is harmless fun. Satan is a great deceiver who is able to make things look good when they are not," the pastor claims. "The forces of evil and wickedness are gaining ground because so many Christians have failed in their duty as a soldier of Jesus Christ and have become entangled in the affairs of this world."

E-mail: lynn@desnews.com; jody@desnews.com