Wednesday, February 15, 2006

More Thoughts on Harry Potter (continued)

This is a continuation of my previous blog entry An exWitch's thoughts on Harry Potter...
When Did You Last Have a Rousing Debate over Eating Meat Sacrificed to Idols?
Contemporary Christians in western culture haven’t had to struggle much over whether or not it’s a sin to eat meat sacrificed to idols. However, that was a hotly debated topic that the first century church had to grapple with. That controversy, which is taken up in 1 Corinthians chapters 8-10 has principles that apply directly to the debate over Harry Potter we are engaged in today.
The Christian faith was birthed out of Judaism, with its a long history of Jewish culture preceding it. The Jews were commanded to remain separate from the Gentiles (non-Jewish peoples) as a crucial part of their devotion to God. Much of their concept of holiness had to do with not being contaminated by other non-Jewish cultures and customs. They were not to intermarry with Gentiles, nor were they to eat certain forbidden foods, nor were they to worship idols.
That was clear as far back as the giving of the Law on Mount Sinai. The first command God spoke to Moses and wrote on the holy tablets was "You shall have no other gods before me." "You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.” While the Jews were forbidden to worship idols, Gentile culture was full of idol worship (which historically became a snare for the Jewish people from the start, even before Moses got down the mountain with the commandments written in stone!).
Then, after Jesus ascended back to the Father, God revealed a great mystery: salvation was not only for the Jews, but for all who would put their faith in Jesus Christ! This was truly good news to the Gentiles. Jesus himself intimated what was to come when he gave his followers (who were originally all Jews) the Great Commission. “He said to them, ‘Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned’.” [Mark 16:15-16 NIV]
The apostle Paul, raised as a strict Jew but in a Hellenistic culture, was appointed by God to take the good news of salvation to the Gentiles.[See 1 Timothy 2:7]
When preaching the Gospel, it took one approach to convince Jews, trained in the law of Moses and looking for the fulfillment of Old Testament messianic prophecies. You can see this displayed in the Gospel of Matthew which quotes the Old Testament over sixty times and stresses the phrase, “Just as it was written...” to prove the case that Jesus was the fulfillment of prophecies written in the Old Testament.
However, preaching the gospel to Gentiles took an entirely different approach. They were raised in a pagan world, in a culture immersed in idolatry, pagan rituals, and worship of many (so-called) gods. When Paul preached to Gentiles he accommodated himself to their culture, using metaphors they could relate to, eating their foods that were previously not sanctioned under Jewish dietary laws established in the Hebrew scriptures. During his missionary journeys, Paul converted many Gentile populations in metropolitan cities far from the influence of Jewish customs. There, new converts to Jesus Christ had challenging cultural questions dealing with how to live out their faith in the midst of a pagan culture.
Christian converts living in Corinth found themselves facing a controversy which caused division, arguments, and confusion among the body of Christ in that city. Corinth was full of idolatry. Those who became Christians in Corinth had grown-up in a culture immersed in idol worship, and chose to turn their devotion away from idols to Jesus Christ. However, they had to apply their new faith in a city where idol worship still permeated every facet of daily life. “Temples for the worship of Apollo, Asclepius, Demeter, Aphrodite and other pagan gods and goddesses were seen daily by the Corinthians as they engaged in the activities of everyday life. The worship of Aphrodite, with its many sacred prostitutes, was a particularly strong temptation.” [Bible Source, NIV Study Bible Notes for 1 Cor. 10:14]
Not only did they have to overcome the obvious temptation presented by the temple prostitutes, whose services were offered as part of pagan worship to this goddess of fertility; they had to deal with the question of whether or not they could eat meat that had been sacrificed to an idol.
The local temples provided a service of butchering and preparing meat for the city. The people would bring the animals to the temple, it would be sacrificed on an altar to an idol. Some of the meat went to the temple priests, some was burnt up, and some was given to the idol worshiper. This meat that had been sacrificed to an idol in the butchering process might be prepared and eaten in a feasting hall there at the temple, or the idol worshiper could take it home to prepare there. Some that was apportioned to the idolatrous priests made its way to the local meat market where it was sold to the public.
So a heated debate arose over whether or not it was a sin for Christians to eat meat sacrificed to an idol. The Corinthian Christians finally wrote to the Apostle Paul, asking him to settle the question. He did not respond with a clear-cut: Yes or No. Instead, he gave an answer in the category of: Well, it depends... His thorough answer is found in 1 Corinthians Ch 8 & 10.
Let's touch on the points Paul raised and see how this relates to our debate over Harry Potter:
1. What’s the real question? Their question was not “Is it wrong to practice idolatry?” It was a question of whether Christians were free to do something closely associated with practicing idolatry.
  • Those who struggle on both sides of the Harry Potter debate are not quibbling over whether Christians should practice witchcraft and do spells, charms, and so on. The Bible is clear that practicing witchcraft and doing magic in our world is WRONG. So we are not asking “Can a Christian practice witchcraft?” We are asking, whether or not Christians are free to read stories that are closely associated with such practices and treat them positively.
2. The Question of Opening Up to Unseen Demonic Forces: Idolatry was popular in that pagan world, and people who practiced it did not believe there was anything wrong with it. They in no way associated their religious rituals and worship of their gods and goddesses with demons. However, those who believed God’s word knew that God declared the real power behind all idols comes from unseen demons. (See Deuteronomy 32:16-17, Psalm 106:36-37) Paul clearly stated, “No, but the sacrifices of pagans are offered to demons, not to God, and I do not want you to be participants with demons.”[1 Corinthians 10:20 NIV] So they wondered if eating meat sacrificed to an idol could open Christians up to the demonic forces at work behind the scenes.
Similarly, those who are not guided by Scripture may look at all the “magic” in the Harry Potter books and say “It’s just fantasy. None of this is real.” They don’t even believe that there are real demonic forces behind witchcraft and occult practices in our world, much less in the fantasy world of Harry Potter. However, those of us who believe the Bible know that, mixed in with all the fun imaginative words, mythology, fables, legend, folklore, and fairy tale imagery, are some terms that correspond to real occult witchcraft practiced in our world today and forbidden by God.
Knowing that the author of Harry Potter says she does not believe in magic, doesn’t negate the truth in Ephesians 6: 12, where it says, “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms." So we may wonder if reading the Harry Potter books could open someone up to the demonic forces at work behind the scenes - even, perhaps especially if they do not believe such forces exist.
3. How Might This Look to Others Who See It? Christians in Corinth had been baptized, publicly displaying their new allegiance to Christ and denunciation of idol worship. Those who were against eating meat sacrificed to idols thought people who saw a Christian eating meat sacrificed to idols might think he condoned or was promoting idolatry. Onlookers might be led astray, thinking that one could be a Christian and still be involved in idol worship.
  • Today Christians have raised the question of whether reading the Harry Potter books, might give the impression that they allow, condone, promote, or are unconcerned about real occult witchcraft. They worry that kids who read or view Harry Potter might be misled into thinking that real witchcraft is okay because they even see and hear Christians who are into it. There is evidence that this is an important consideration. Marketers of books and other products are eagerly following after the Harry Potter crowd with offerings like: “Teen Witchcraft Kits”, “A Spell-A-Day Tear-off Calendar”, etc that features real spells to cast, and other products that cross the line into occult involvement in our world being presented in the wake of Harry Potter’s popularity.
4. Issues of Freedom in Christ and Conscience: First century Christians were just learning what it meant to be “free in Christ.” Some of the Corinthians asserted that they were free in Christ, that the idol was nothing to them because there is only one true God, so eating meat sacrificed to idols wasn’t an issue. They had no pangs of conscience about it. Others were not sure, some were still so used to thinking in terms of there really being idols that were in competition with God, that their consciences were very troubled by the thought of eating meat that had been sacrificed to an idol. They associated the eating of that meat directly with the practice of idolatry so that one was an extension of the other. For them, to eat meat sacrificed to idols was tantamount to worshiping that idol.
With Harry Potter, some Christians say, “The magic in Harry Potter is not occult. It makes no contact with spiritual forces of darkness in our world It is the same kind of literary magic I have allowed my kids to see in Sword in the Stone or Sleeping Beauty", so they feel complete freedom to read the books, and don’t feel any pang of conscience. Others - especially those who have had experience with occult practices of the same name as those mentioned in Harry Potter - are adamant that there is a direct association between the literary magic of Hogwarts and the practice of real witchcraft, so that to them one is an extension of the other. Therefore, their consciences are very troubled by all that is associated with Harry Potter; for them, to be involved in any way is tantamount to dabbling in real witchcraft or condoning it.
Paul settled their dispute with principles they could apply conscientiously:
(My paraphrased application follows. Look in your Bible to read the whole answer)
1. Don’t be a know-it-all. (1 Cor. 8:1)
2. An idol is nothing to the person who serves the one true God. (1 Cor. 8:4-6)
3. It depends on how someone thinks of it. Those who associate eating that meat with worshiping an idol, violate their conscience. It’s not the act of eating, but what that means to the person that matters. No better or worse for eating. (1 Cor. 8:7-8 )
4. We are free in Christ. However, our freedom is to be limited by our sensitivity to other Christians and that which violates their conscience.
Those who have no pangs of conscience, were to be aware that others who did might see them eating meat sacrificed to an idol and be emboldened to do likewise - even though the Christian whose conscience is troubled by the act would be violating their conscience to do so.
In this way, the Christian who was exercising his freedom in Christ did not sin by eating, but did sin by causing his fellow believer to do something he believed to be wrong. (1 Corinthians 8:9-13)
5. We have many freedoms and rights as Christians that we may waive out of love for others. Love for others and sensitivity over how exerting our rights might stumble them should guide us as to how and where we will claim our rights. (Paul used his life as an example of how he gave up many rights out of love and consideration for the people to whom he sought to minister.)
6. We are to accommodate ourselves to the cultural sensitivities of those with whom we have relationship, being careful that the exercise of our freedoms does not cause them to do anything that they believe to be wrong because of their cultural context. (1 Cor. 9:19-22)
7. A clear command not to participate in idolatry or the sexual immorality that went along with it. (Here Paul showed his cultural sensitivity by not to just pointing the finger at pagan idolatry in a pagan culture, but reminded them of how the Jews committed idolatry with the Golden Calf. 1 Cor. 10:6-10.)
8. A clear command to flee idolatry. 1 Cor. 10:14
9. Don’t eat at McIdol’s: After explaining that those who eat at the Lord’s table (take communion) commune with the Lord, those who ate sacrifices offered on the Lord’s altar as part of religious ritual took were connected to the Lord, Therefore, those who ate at feasts in the idol’s temple, and ate meat sacrificed to idols in that context became part of their religious ritual and were sitting down to dinner with demons! “God's people are warned that if they do eat meat sacrificed to idols, they should not eat it with pagans in their temple feasts, for to do so is to become "participants with demons."[Bible Source, NIV Study Bible Notes for 1 Cor. 10:20]
10. "Everything is permissible - but not everything is beneficial. Everything is permissible" - but not everything is constructive. Nobody should seek his own good, but the good of others."
Christians should not only ask: “Do I have the right to do this?” but also ask, “How will what I do impact others? Will this work out for their good?”
Paul made it clear that we do have great freedom in Christ; but love will cause us to temper our freedom with concern over how our conduct will impact others. Aim not only to be right but also to be beneficial to others and constructive in building up the body of Christ.
Then Paul made some specific applications:
“Eat anything sold in the meat market without raising questions of conscience, for, "The earth is the Lord's, and everything in it."
If some unbeliever invites you to a meal and you want to go, eat whatever is put before you without raising questions of conscience. But if anyone says to you, "This has been offered in sacrifice," then do not eat it, both for the sake of the man who told you and for conscience' sake - the other man's conscience, I mean, not yours. For why should my freedom be judged by another's conscience? If I take part in the meal with thankfulness, why am I denounced because of something I thank God for?
"So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the church of God - even as I try to please everybody in every way. For I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved.”[1 Corinthians 10:25-33 NIV]
We must make personal decisions in disputable matters on the basis of
  1. any commands of Scripture that has legitimate bearing,
  2. applying the scriptural principles and precepts that relate,
  3. the leading of the Holy Spirit,
  4. keeping a clean conscience, and
  5. operating under the guidance of appropriate God-given authorities in our lives.
How do these principles about meat sacrificed to idols apply to Harry Potter?
Unabated Controversy and Division: Both sides arguing over whether or not to eat meat sacrificed to idols could site Scripture and experience to back up their positions. Both sides were sure they were right (on the basis of their convictions), and - judging from the emphasis Paul put on this point in his reply - both sides resorted to judging those of a different opinion as deficient Christians. There was no way for the entire community of faith to come to a conclusion one way or the other. Therefore, God provided guidelines for how we are to treat each other with love and respect while we agree to disagree.
Could these books really be right for one Christian and absolutely wrong for another? Yes!
Just as one Christian may be allowed to take a drink of wine or even sell it as part of their business, another Christian may be convicted that he should never take a sip - if the Holy Spirit and his own conscience convicts him that to do so is a snare for him. Those Christians who associate the Harry Potter stories with the real occult would have doubts about reading them; therefore it would be sin for them according to Romans 14:23. Those who make no such association, who approve of the Harry Potter books without any pang of conscience, can happily do so according to Romans 14:22 without being in sin. I see here scriptural grounds for both positions.
So, if you are not convicted about reading Harry Potter, go ahead and enjoy them. If you are convicted, do not read them. BUT... and it is a very important "but"... Paul explained that some Christians have "knowledge" about the fact that there is only one God, and meat sacrificed to idols was not really sacrificed to anything. However, other Christians did not have this same "knowledge", and if they saw another Christian eating meat that was sacrificed to an idol, their conscience might be "...emboldened to eat those things offered to idols..."
To these, this would be a sin in their own minds because of their weaker understanding. Paul warns us of letting our liberty become a "stumbling block" to those who are weaker, or have less understanding. He says in verses 11 and 12, "And because of your knowledge shall the weak brother perish, for whom Christ died? But when you thus sin against the brethren, and wound their weak conscience, YOU sin against Christ." (emphasis mine)
At the end of the chapter, Paul offers his solution to this problem. He says in verse 13, "Therefore, if Harry Potter makes my brother stumble, I will never again read the books or watch the films, lest I make my brother stumble." (slightly paraphrased by me)
For my part... I personally don't think young Harry is half as bad as some make him out to be... but I won't 'partake of' or 'indulge in' them myself for the reasons given above...
Just a thought...

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