Children Need Magic

Jul 4, 2019

Student: Why do you let your kids read Harry Potter books?

Gibbs: Why not?

Student: St. Augustine would not have let his kids read books which made wizards out to be heroes. He would have burned those books just like the Ephesian Christians burned their books of magic in Acts 19.

Gibbs: Finally! A good argument against the Harry Potter series.

Student: What do you mean, “Finally”?

Gibbs: Most arguments against Harry Potter books are quite awful. Otherwise sane people make as though children who read The Prisoner of Azkaban are going to start sacrificing their pets to the devil, which is obviously absurd. However, you’ve really got something there. You’re right. St. Augustine would certainly not have let Adeodatus read The Sorcerer’s Stone. He would have pitched it straight into the flames. You will get no argument from me on that point.

Student: You are normally not one to lightly disagree with St. Augustine.

Gibbs: Well, I don’t disagree with him on this one.

Student: What do you mean?

Gibbs: St. Augustine lived in a time when the average man who owned books of magic had also probably sacrificed a few animals to demons. Animal sacrifice had been lately proscribed by the Roman government, although a stalwart remnant of pagans yet lived in St. Augustine’s day and I would be surprised if they did not try to appease their gods covertly.

Student: What do animal sacrifices have to do with the Harry Potter series?

Gibbs: The argument you gave against the Harry Potter series was entirely based on ancient and late antique perceptions of magic. At that time, magic was inextricably tied to pagan cosmology, but that’s simply not true anymore. The kind of person who owned books of magic in the 4th century is nothing like the kind of person who owns books that reference magic today. Simply put, owning a Harry Potter book today is not a sign of allegiance with the devil.

Student: Why not?

Gibbs: Because the devil does not care about magic anymore, at least not where you and I live. He is far more interested in convincing people that neither magic nor miracles is possible. For that reason, I imagine the devil is even more opposed to the Harry Potter books than you are.

Student: I doubt that. I am quite opposed to those books.

Gibbs: How come?

Student: Because witchcraft is a sin and those books make witchcraft out to be virtuous. What is evil, those books call “good.”

Gibbs: What is “witchcraft”?

Student: The practice of magic.

Gibbs: And what is magic?

Student: The invocation of demonic power.

Gibbs: Is that really the way the word “magic” is commonly used today?

Student: If not, then the devil has hidden behind a casual usage of the word.

Gibbs: So, when a young woman says, “We danced, then he kissed me for the first time. It was magical,” the devil is hiding behind her words?

Student: No, in that case, she is using the word as a metaphor.

Gibbs: And why has the Western world determined this a fitting metaphor?

Student: The Western world has forgotten God.

Gibbs: What does the young woman mean when she says the dance and the kiss were “magical”?

Student: She means the kiss felt like something beyond this world, unconstrained by the normal rules of reality.

Gibbs: Very good. And don’t you ever encounter things such things as well— things which seem to come from beyond this world? Things unconstrained by the normal rules of reality?

Student: Nothing comes to mind.

Gibbs: How lamentable! Nothing?

Student: No. But I don’t see why that is lamentable.

Gibbs: You’ve never been charmed by a lovely song or enchanted by the beauty of a woman?

Student: No. That’s simply not how I would describe it— at least, not anymore.

Gibbs: Are you as offended by “charming” songs and “enchanting” women as you are by the magic in Harry Potter books?

Student: I’ll admit, I never connected “charming” things and “enchanting” things to their magical roots before.

Gibbs: Why not?

Student: Those words are simply too common.

Gibbs: And because nobody in the world references “charming” things or “enchanting” things with an eye toward worshipping the devil. These words meant something very, very different in a former age, but their meaning has quite changed.

Student: These words retain at least some of their former meaning, though.

Gibbs: Of course, which is why we still use them.

Student: And in retaining some of their former meaning, these words are still impious.  

Gibbs: Magic has pagan roots. You will get no argument from me there. Should Christians abstain from absolutely everything with pagan roots?

Student: Like what?

Gibbs: Are you opposed to the Olympic Games?

Student: Of course not.

Gibbs: Despite the fact the Olympic Games were originally held in honor of Zeus?

Student: The modern Olympic Games are not held in honor of Zeus.

Gibbs: Modern references to magic do not honor him either. Zeus is no more present in the modern Olympics than he is in The Sorcerer’s Stone. Are you opposed to theaters? Plays? You are aware, of course, that the Christian emperor Theodosius closed down the Olympic games and shuttered the theaters back in the late fourth century because he determined they were inextricably bound up with the worship of the gods?

Student: That’s all well and good, but absolutely no one in the Olympics today runs for the glory of Zeus.

Gibbs: Agreed. The meaning of the Olympics has changed.

Student: I see your point, but modern magic still involves spells and potions and incantations.

Gibbs: And the modern relay still involves runners and batons and a large oval course. I find it mind-boggling that you’re trying to connect the magic performed in the Harry Potter series with the magic performed by ancient pagans. It seems you know nothing of ancient magic whatsoever, which was a vulgar, bloody, brutal, heartless, enslaving art, not the kind of thing happy children would play for an afternoon before skipping in for supper.

Student: The fact that children can play a thing happily does not mean that thing is good. The heart is deceitfully wicked, and we are all born at enmity with God.

Gibbs: Just a moment ago, the fact a bunch of children could happily run a relay race without a thought of Zeus was sufficient proof the Olympic games were no longer demonic.

Student: Well, perhaps the Olympics are demonic, as well.

Gibbs: Are tragedies demonic, too? The word tragedy means “goat song,” a reference to the animal sacrificed to Dionysus before Greek plays, which were all performed in his honor. Must we do away with the theater, as well? No more films? No more Hamlet?

Student: You’ve got a very fine slippery slope argument going, but I am not persuaded. You’re trying to convince me that just because we cannot root out everything pagan from our society, we should not lift a finger to remove anything pagan. I am simply arguing that not giving children Harry Potter books is quite easy, and that by not exposing your children to magic, you honor your Christian forebears who believed magic was a great blight upon creation.

Gibbs: In his biography of St. Francis of Assisi, Chesterton suggested that the Middle Ages were a thousand-year long period of fasting, which was necessary because so much of human life had been tainted by the demonic. In other words, the dullness and dreariness of the Middle Ages was Lenten, like Christ forsaking the good things of the world to prepare in the wilderness for His temptation by the devil. After a thousand years, though, all the things which had formerly been stained by malign spiritual powers were been cleansed of those stains, and men were free to enjoy them again in good conscience. Of all the institutions and things stained by demons, Chesterton argued, the earth itself was the greatest victim, because demons had hijacked the goodness of nature for thousands of years before Christ.  Demons had stolen the gifts of God and held them for ransom. Demons had distorted nature and corrupted man’s understanding and proper love of nature. Christ came to reclaim the world, but the reclamation would take some time.

Student: Can we not be grateful for nature without invoking the worship of demons? Can sunsets not simply be “beautiful”? Why must they be “magical”?

Gibbs: In ancient times, magic was the bondage of nature to the god of this world, the devil. But in these latter days, magic is the restoration of wonder and thanks for nature. Magic, enchantment, charm, spellbinding things, entrancing things… this is the language we use to describe natural things which are suddenly illumined by supernatural glory and transcendent, unearthly power and beauty. Magic is not really a practiced art anymore. It is a way of viewing the world, a way of giving thanks for the world. The Harry Potter books aren’t conning children into consorting with demons. Those books are restoring children’s delight in school after the materialists and secularists turned schools into godless factories. Magic is now a weapon of joy for fighting Darwin, Dewey, and all the other prophets of doom who have lately tried to strip the wonder from the world. If St. Augustine were alive today, he wouldn’t burn Harry Potter books. He would burn all the Katy Perry albums and Taylor Swift albums that have cast spells of mind-numbing banality on innocent young girls. He would destroy all the intellectually-impoverished cinematic spectacles that have mesmerized and hypnotized our young men.   

Student: You really think so?

Gibbs: There are two kinds of Christians today. One kind of Christian thinks the other is compromised by paganism. And those Christians who are thought too pagan believe the other kind of Christian is compromised by atheism. You can guess which kind I am.

Student: You’re admitting your worship of God is tainted by paganism?

Gibbs: After reflecting on the extreme poverty of imagination which besets disenchanted modern men, CS Lewis wrote, “I sometimes wonder whether we shall not have to re-convert men to real Paganism as a preliminary to converting them to Christianity.” I am not much worried that my daughters will end up worshipping Zeus or Jupiter, but I am worried they will end up worshipping their own autonomy, because droves of Christians these days are bewitched by the materialist spirit of our age and do not know otherwise. When Christians fight against magic, they have radically misunderstood where the real threat of this age comes from. But my children will know the world is charmed by Jesus Christ Himself.

Joshua Gibbs

Joshua Gibbs

Joshua Gibbs teaches great books to high school students at Veritas School in Richmond, Virginia. He is the editor of FilmFisher and has two daughters, both of whom have seven names. You can find him on Twitter @joshgibbs. 

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