Ten years and seven books, and as far as controversy goes, Joanne Rowling kept as quiet and mysterious as the fabled sphinx that turned up in Goblet of Fire. This week, she has set her fandom spinning twice--and in two very different directions.
I'm not breaking news to many people here, but there are people reading this blog who will probably not have heard either bit of news anywhere else. For anyone who doesn't know, then, Rowling claimed a few days ago that yes, there are Christian themes in her books, and claimed even more recently that the Hogwarts headmaster, Albus Dumbledore, was homosexual.
In response to B, who has already asked my thoughts, and to those who read this who will be very concerned by the latter news, here's my take on things.
Not long ago, I posted these words on this blog:
"I do feel it important not to make J.K. Rowling out to be a champion of evangelical Christianity in the way evangelical Christianity usually proclaims its heroes. Her claims to faith in Christ I will gladly respect and acknowledge; likewise the symbolism and ideas she has incorporated in her stories. But to demand of her a specific set of convictions or political principles is asking quite a lot of someone who has been rather reticent about the details of her faith."
Of that, I retract nothing, nor would I have even if she had never commented on Dumbledore's sexual preferences. She wrote a superb story that--it seems obvious to me--appeals to what could be called 'the Christian in all of us'. It has also seemed obvious to me (more by what I hear of her life than from her books) that she does not necessarily interpret her faith in the most orthodox manner. But when I speak of orthodoxy, I refer to something much more longstanding and Biblically-founded than the evangelical mood as represented by Laura Mallory.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church has a section on homosexuality, which seems to me both strongly Biblical and beautifully compassionate:
"Homosexuality refers to relations between men or between women who experience an exclusive or predominant sexual attraction toward persons of the same sex.... Its psychological genesis remains largely unexplained. Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity, tradition has always declared that 'homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered.' They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved.
The number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible. They do not choose their homosexual condition; for most of them it is a trial. They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. These persons are called to fulfill God's will in their lives and, if they are Christians, to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord's Cross the difficulties they may encounter from their condition.
Homosexual persons are called to chastity. By the virtues of self-mastery that teach them inner freedom, at times by the support of disinterested friendship, by prayer and sacramental grace, they can and should gradually and resolutely approach Christian perfection."
--The Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraphs 2357-2359, emphasis mine
I couldn't add to that in expressing my beliefs about homosexuality itself; nor would I dare take away from it. In case anyone thinks my beliefs too hard on homosexuals themselves in claiming that they should never act on those desires, I can only say that I have--no, not I, the Church itself has--an equal problem with heterosexual acts either prior to or outside of marriage. Now that I've offended just about everybody, let me go on :-P
As far as Dumbledore himself is concerned: while I am sure the slash-fiction crowd will have a heyday with this, I am grateful that Rowling didn't make a big deal out of it in her books. It is not appropriate matter for young children, despite the fact that of necessity discussions of sexuality can't be held off for too long in this world. We know Harry was not treated as an object by Dumbledore; Rita Skeeter hinted at a "sinister" aspect to the Harry-Dumbledore relationship, and Harry felt dirty and defiled just by her insinuations. And while Rowling could come out next week and tell us that Dumbledore had regular liaisons down in Hogsmeade, we see no hint in the books that Dumbledore was anything other than celibate. I have no problem with celibacy.
Dumbledore is one of my top 5 favorite characters, in which list he is joined by Harry, Lily, Hermione, and Dobby. He has a sense of humor that rivals Mr. Bennet's [from Pride and Prejudice] in brilliance and supersedes it in innocence. He is also both capable and guilty of wrong moral choices, and Rowling has herself described him as "Machiavellian"--but I will still defend him against those who think of him as too cold and manipulative.
As to whether the Harry Potter books are suitable for Christians, even Christian children, the answer is yes. Certainly there will be those who disagree, but I firmly believe that the general objections are based on a failure to understand the purposes and meanings of literature and also a failure to either a) read the books, or b) read them without a vendetta.
In response to Rowling's comments about Christianity in the Harry Potter books, I have been journalistically trumped by Johnny over at Sword of Gryffindor, who did a beautiful job with this post. But to leave a note of my own on the subject: I both believe and agree with Rowling when she claims that to her "the religious parallels have always been obvious" and that "those two particular [Bible] quotations he finds on the tombstones at Godric's Hollow, they sum up — they almost epitomize the whole series." As B said in the comment box of my last post, "Myth, religion, mystery and brilliant storytelling are abundant [in the books]." There is Christianity there, but it is revealed symbolically, not allegorically or didactically; as someone who has wrestled long with the literary and evangelical failings of most "Christian fiction", I am really grateful for a series of books that comes at faith with more than zeal and good intentions.
Joanne Rowling's worldview may not match my own on every single point; more than that, it may fail in some aspects to meet the standards of the Bible and the Church. What the Catechism calls "Christian perfection" is, however, a goal to work toward with desperate faith and conscious humility, not something that humans are liable to come upon naturally. While humans will be imperfect, so will their books be. But her books point at Christ, at truth; not perfectly, but certainly better than most.