Redeeming Phoenix...or smashing it.
I saw the new Harry Potter movie on Saturday night. It was scary. I've not read the books, not joined the arguments in Christian circles about whether Rowling's books should be read, not commented on the issue in any way whatsoever until now. Well, it's time, and the offering which follows comes with the caveat that I'm a bigger Seattle Mariner fan than a Potter fan, and I can't even name the starting lineup or pitching rotation of our red hot local team, so take it with a grain of salt.
Rowlings is masterful, like Tolkien and Lewis, at creating an alternate reality, ushering us into it, and building characters that are so marvelously layered that there's something there for everyone from children to adults. At the same time, the progression of the film's has moved in an increasingly dark direction, so that in this film there were moments that I could only describe as demonic darkness. I read a time magazine piece recently that claimed Rowling's success lies in her secularism. Rubbish. Whether her intent is to be secular or not, the films have progressed relentlessly towards a powerful battle between darkness and light, and the forces of darkness have all the marks of Satan's strategies in the Bible: There's infiltration, so that you're not quite sure who's on the side of goodness; there's the reality that the dark forces are intent on death; and in the most recent film there's clear evidence that the best antidote to the forces of death is to keep one's mind intent on all that is true and good.
Rowlings, as far as I know, makes no claim to be a Christian - but her stories, in my opinion are increasingly telling a story of redemption and triumph of good over evil (note that I've only advanced as far in the story as the recent movie release... things may change in the final two offerings). If my children were in their early teens and were fans, this recent movie would be a perfect segue to discussions about the principalities and powers we face as followers of Christ, and the role that our thought life plays in helping us overcome. If my children were younger than 10... I'd say the movie is just too scary to see. Maybe we'd go see the movie about the rat who is a chef instead (very funny movie)
But the larger question that Potter brings to us is the believer's relationship to culture. The Celtic church had a way of redeeming culture, using cultural icons to illustrate and declare eternal truths. Paul did the same thing in Acts 16. And so, I'd argue should we... most of the time. Yet there is another model in the Bible - it's the model of smashing idols, and abstaining from meat sacrificed to idols. In other words, it's the model of separation. Regarding the smashing of idols... we're still called to put away all forms of idolatry from our lives, but I hardly think going to a movie constitutes idolatry. And regarding the abstaining piece of which Paul writes, the point is that this is a matter of conscience. For one, the activity defiles, for another there is liberty (See I Corinthians 8). Maybe this is the way of the Phoenix.
When the day is done though, discernment is that piece of the Christian life that enables us to see both idols and cultural icons which point to the gospel for what they are. And in this case, the Phoenix film is both entertaining, and a reminder that 'still our ancient foe... doth seek to work us woe!"