No Wizard Left Behind
Steven Waldman has an interesting comparison of the Harry Potter novels and some books of which I’d barely heard:
Of the six best-selling books of the past decade, five have been Harry Potters. “Left Behind,” the apocalyptic Christian series by Tim LeHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins, has sold more than 60 million copies; currently there are four LeHaye-Jenkins books in the Christian-books Top 10.
Suffice it to say, some secular critics dismiss the Left Behind books as of the wackos, by the wackos, for the wackos. Based on the New Testament’s Revelation, the series begins with the world’s believers disappearing, “raptured” up to heaven. Those “left behind” must struggle through a seven-year ordeal in which the Antichrist comes, much of the population is murdered, and Jesus returns.
These are children’s books?
Some Christians view Harry Potter as anti-Christian because it glorifies witchcraft. “Where will the fascination and emulation end?” asks Richard Abanes in Fantasy and Your Family. “With experimenting with ‘fun’ practices like the divination or spellcasting at Hogwarts? With taking college classes on occultism? As Harry Potter fans mature, will they desire to delve deeper into occultism?” J.K. Rowling, he argues, promotes moral relativism because “Harry, Hermione, Ron, Hagrid and other ‘good’ characters habitually lie, steal, cheat, ignore laws, break rules and disrespect authority.” Oh, and Hagrid is an alcoholic.
The series seem to live in parallel universes, as different as books could be. But as we absorb their latest milestones (the upcoming release of the third Potter movie, the recent release of the climactic Left Behind volume), I have bad news for both camps: The two have a lot in common.
Most obviously, in both cases, we see not a fight between individual good guys and bad guys, but a Manichean struggle between good and evil. That’s the case in Left Behind from early in the first book. Harry Potter starts out as a more limited skirmish between Harry and the evil sorcerer Voldemort. But by the fifth book, the number of combatants has increased, with the entire wizard cadre the Order of the Phoenix battling a vast conspiracy of Voldemort-worshipers and death-eaters.
[Snip — Long series of bullet point comparisons]
Finally, they both have a theology. It’s not, as one might expect, that Left Behind is Christian and Harry Potter pagan, but rather that Left Behind is Protestant and Harry Potter is Catholic. One of the chief theological arguments between Catholics and Protestants has been over whether salvation is earned through faith or by good works. In Left Behind, the only thing that matters is faith in Jesus. Steele explains that church leaders had led so many people astray because they merely “expected them to lead a good life, to do the best they could, to think of others, to be kind, to live in peace. It sounded so good, and yet it was so wrong. How far from the mark!”
While everything is pre-ordained in Left Behind, in Harry Potter, by contrast, Dumbledore explicitly tells Harry that even though he carries some of the essence of Voldemort in him, he has the power to do good because he has the power of choice.
In that sense, despite their similarities, at their hearts the two series are different in a fundamental but not obvious way. Left Behind is fatalistic; Harry Potter sees outcome determined by individual actions. Both provide a roadmap for how to live a good life, but in one case the key is morality, and in the other it is faith.