Harmitology as found in The Order of the Phoenix

Harmitology, the theological inquiry into the nature of sin and evil, can be found quite readily in the Harry Potter universe. Much of what Rowling is writing explores the relationships between the people who try to do good and those who turn themselves over completely to evil.

Marc Newman has a wonderful essay up in which he examines this in terms of the way the questions are presented in The Order of the Phoenix:

“In most stories, the threat of great evil immediately clarifies the participants in a conflict: those fighting for evil, those fighting for good, and those who turn a blind eye to the threat. Evil is represented by Lord Voldemort, along with his assorted Deatheaters and other minions. Good is represented by Professor Dumbledore, Harry, Hermione, Ron and certain members of the faculty and students at Hogwarts.  One of the theologically astute elements of Harry Potter and The Order of the Phoenix is its refusal to assign absolute goodness or evil to its characters. People thought to be good can be lured into betrayals, or make immoral choices that put them in spiritual peril. Others, once allied with the evil Deatheaters, apparently repent and go over to the other side. You cannot choose to ‘become’ a wizard in Rowling’s world – you have to be born one – but we are not defined solely by what we are. As Sirius Black tells Harry, his godson, ‘We all have dark and light within us. What matters is the part we choose to act on.’ Or to put it another way, ‘You will know them by their fruits’ (Matt. 7:20).

But while Harry and company recognize the danger posed by the revitalized Lord Voldemort, other powerful figures prefer to live in denial. If Professor Dumbledore, willing to fight evil to the death, is an embodiment of Winston Churchill, then Minister of Magic Cornelius Fudge and his sycophantic companion, Dolores Umbridge, represent the Neville Chamberlains of the Hogwarts world. They actually take Chamberlain one step further: Rather than treat with, or attempt to appease, the enemy, they deny his existence. They will not utter his name. Umbridge, in particular, is so vested in her delusion that she is willing to stoop to torture to try to get Harry to recant his first-hand, eye-witness, battle-tested knowledge of Voldemort’s return. If true, the reemergence of Voldemort would tarnish Fudge’s legacy of peace, and thereby permanently interrupt Umbridge’s upward mobility. They remain silent, ultimately imperiling themselves and everyone else.

Lewis recognized the existence of transcendent evil, and the way in which it infects the human spirit. The character of Lord Voldemort is the ultimate representative of the kind of fallenness Lewis describes in The Problem of Pain:  ‘It had turned from God and become its own idol, so that though it could still turn back to God, it could do so only by painful effort, and its inclination was self-ward. Hence pride and ambition, the desire to be lovely in its own eyes and to depress and humiliate all rivals, envy, and restless search for more, and still more, security were now the attitudes that come easiest to it.’ But Voldemort is not alone.

Harry, too, understands his own propensity toward evil – wondering aloud if he is becoming bad. That is an excellent question for any of us to ask ourselves. Lewis would argue that such an admission is proof that Harry is not. In Mere Christianity, Lewis describes how good and evil work in the hearts of those heading in either direction: ‘When a man is getting better, he understands more and more clearly the evil that is still left in him. When a man is getting worse, he understands his own badness less and less…Good people know about both good and evil: bad people do not know about either.’”

I think the single most arresting point that I have seen made about the character of Delores Umbridge is that, in her bright pink, cat plate covered life, she represents the instinct we all have to deny the reality of evil. And that we will go to horrid lengths sometimes in an attempt to make sure that our worldview (and theolgical denial) is not threatened. The greater the threat, the stronger our over-reaction…

Read the rest here: ExileStreet | Harry Potter, C.S. Lewis, and Spiritual Warfare by Marc T. Newman

Author: Nicholas Knisely

Episcopal bishop, dad, astronomer, erstwhile dancer...