"There is always a philosophy for lack of courage."—Albert Camus

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Terrorism, Treason, and Harry Potter

Over the past few days, some astonishing claims have been made. Claims like:

The Founding Fathers were terrorists.

Karl Rove is guilty of treason.

And now, there is an even more troubling claim, one that strikes even deeper at the heart of America than national security and foreign policy:

Papa Ratzi doesn't like Harry Potter.

The Hutchins household has been beset with Potterphilia since the first one hit paperback; I've followed the arguments that have raged at least since that time with a mixture of confusion and bemusement. Most of the troubles with Harry seemed to me to miss the point completely. They assume that because a world is depicted using a vocabulary which shares some words with the vocabulary of occultism, that Harry Potter depicts the occult. In fact, the reason occultism and diabolism are perceived as dangers by Christians is that it involves invoking the Devil. Harry Potter does not contain a Devil, nor angels, nor much of a concept of God. Witchcraft in Harry Potter is not a denial of God, it's an alternative technology. If Harry Potter says anything deeper than a wading pool about the real world, it's because it's a allegory of the moral choices we must make about technology. (I'm not claiming there is any deep meaning to Potter; it's imaginitively rich but substantively shallow. It's still a cracking good read.)

But it occurs to me now that this error pervades discussions about everything.

George Washington was rebelling against the British crown. The rump Ba'athists are rebelling against the Iraqi government. If the Ba'athists are terrorists, then George Washington was a terrorist.

Karl Rove revealed the identity of a CIA employee to a reporter. Aldrich Ames revealed the identity of CIA employees to the Russians. If Aldrich Ames was a traitor, then Karl Rove is a traitor.

The unwillingness to make distinctions, to care deeply enough about what one says to identify the essentials in the flood of accidents, is a kind of intellectual and moral infantilism. If man does not exercise his capacity for moral reasoning on the small things, at leisure, then he will lack the capacity to think clearly when it truly is important, and time is short.

48 comments:

Tlaloc said...

"In fact, the reason occultism and diabolism are perceived as dangers by Christians is that it involves invoking the Devil. Harry Potter does not contain a Devil, nor angels, nor much of a concept of God."

Wicca contains no devil and yet witchcraft has been persecuted for centuries.



"George Washington was rebelling against the British crown. The rump Ba'athists are rebelling against the Iraqi government. If the Ba'athists are terrorists, then George Washington was a terrorist."

No one said "George Washington." And the argument went like this: If modern people are terrorists for using a given tactic doesn't that mean that our founding fathers were also terrorists given that they used the same tactic?

See how it makes perfect sense when you don't deliberately distort it?



"Karl Rove revealed the identity of a CIA employee to a reporter. Aldrich Ames revealed the identity of CIA employees to the Russians. If Aldrich Ames was a traitor, then Karl Rove is a traitor."

While I don't think anyone here has mentioned the specific charge of treason I have to admit this comparison seems valid.



"The unwillingness to make distinctions, to care deeply enough about what one says to identify the essentials in the flood of accidents, is a kind of intellectual and moral infantilism."

LOL!
Halleluja! Here I thought you were a stricy black and white moral determinism kind of guy and it turns out you are a closet moral relativist, at least when the causes you hold dear are the ones getting judged.

I'm gratified to see even a hard theo-con can learn that nuance has a place in life. Wecome to the fold.

Kathy Hutchins said...

Tlaloc -- the world does not have you at its center, and Reform Club is not the only place where George Washington and Karl Rove have been discussed in the past week. Wicca has not been persecuted for centuries because it was invented in the 1930s. There are people who call on the Devil, who is real and not a metaphor or a fairy tale, and these people and their practices are quite reasonably resisted by Christians. The rest of your comment is so confused I cannot make out your meaning, but I assume it boils down to "That Hutchins broad sure sucks." It's getting old already, and it's been what, a week?

Tom Van Dyke said...

Actually, he thinks you're a guy.

Tlaloc said...

"Tlaloc -- the world does not have you at its center, and Reform Club is not the only place where George Washington and Karl Rove have been discussed in the past week."

Well since both have been discussed here in the last week maybe you should have pointed out these OTHER places you saw the discussions if you didn't mean to talk about the discussions here. I mean if your goal is clarity it could use some work.



"Wicca has not been persecuted for centuries because it was invented in the 1930s."

Modern Wicca goes back to Gardner yes but the traditions it's based on and the persecutions of those traditions do indeed go back centuries.



"There are people who call on the Devil, who is real and not a metaphor or a fairy tale, and these people and their practices are quite reasonably resisted by Christians."

There are satanists yes. In fact one of the most famous lives here in portland. Feel free to back up your contention that the devil is real.



"The rest of your comment is so confused I cannot make out your meaning, but I assume it boils down to "That Hutchins broad sure sucks." It's getting old already, and it's been what, a week?"

Actually I thought Hunter wrote the post. I must have seen "Hutchins" and misread it. That's why I said "guy" and "theo-con." My bad. I wish Hunter had written it now.

Still it's not that hard a concept, you claim the same behavior under different circumstances is either good or bad. Welcome to moral relativity 101.

Tlaloc said...

Besides which if you want me to stop responding to your posts it's real easy: stop posting things that are demonstrably false.

I correct sloppy thinking. I don't have time to go around congratulating people who manage the task of thinking successfully.

Anonymous said...

Tlaloc wrote, "Feel free to back up your contention that the devil is real." Oh, you'll find out soon enough, to your great dismay.

Tlaloc said...

"Tlaloc wrote, "Feel free to back up your contention that the devil is real." Oh, you'll find out soon enough, to your great dismay."

Somehow threatening someone with a boogeyman they don't believe in is less than effective.

Watch out, Loki is coming for you!

John Huisman said...

Kathy, does it really matter that the Devil is not specifically invoked in an occult practice for it to be wrong?

The O.T. roundly condemns such practices with, If memory serves, no mention of Satan's involvement.

Tlaloc said...

"The O.T. roundly condemns such practices with, If memory serves, no mention of Satan's involvement."

The OT is also irrelevent unless you happen to be Jewish. It was a covenant specifically between god and the Jews and was completed (i.e. finished) with the coming of Christ and the New Covenant.

James Elliott said...

Interesting that you would mention Ames. The only other time Valerie Plame was pulled from the field was when the CIA feared that Aldrich Ames had exposed her identity.

Hunter Baker said...

Not sure I'd call myself a theo-con, Mr. Tlaloc. If theocon means one desires a theocracy, then count me out. I don't wish to see the church and state wed. I just want a secular state that is just as open to Christian participation as it is to any number of competing orthodoxies.

Kathy Hutchins said...

does it really matter that the Devil is not specifically invoked in an occult practice for it to be wrong?

I think there has to be some dimension of bending supernatural powers to the will of Man. We are also counselled against belief in superstitions, like trying to divine the future, but again, I think it has to have the element of trying to use a power not granted to Man in the hierarchy of beings. Maybe I'm missing something, though -- do you have an example I could wrap my brain around?

My belief that Potterworld falls outside these proscriptions is that there's not any supernatural element to their powers. The divide between Magical and Muggle is more like the divide between people who can and can't learn to use computers than it's like the divide between Gnostics and Orthodox.

James Elliott said...

Watch out, Loki is coming for you!

I think I might have hurt something, I was laughing so hard.

James Elliott said...

I must say, I saw the title of this post and I was suspecting some off the wall stuff, but the turn this thread has taken is great. Who needs "Joey" when you've got the Reform Club?

Locke said...

My yes, that's very amusing. The concept of a legitimate force of evil in the world is so funny and so difficult to believe in given the complete lack of darkness during the last century or so.

Kathy Hutchins said...

The OT is also irrelevent unless you happen to be Jewish. It was a covenant specifically between god and the Jews and was completed (i.e. finished) with the coming of Christ and the New Covenant.

This is not my understanding -- the Christ fulfilled the covenant -- He provides the lens through which we can fully understand the covenant, and thus our relationship to the Father. He does not cancel it, indeed He could not, for the covenant, as well as everything else to do with this world, was created through Him.

All above said with the understanding that I am attempting to give an account of orthodox Catholic thought, and if I have made a complete hash of it, my comments are to be ignored.

John Huisman said...

Tlaloc, what you don't know about the Bible is a lot.

Tlaloc said...

"Not sure I'd call myself a theo-con, Mr. Tlaloc. If theocon means one desires a theocracy, then count me out. I don't wish to see the church and state wed."

Alright fair enough.



"I just want a secular state that is just as open to Christian participation as it is to any number of competing orthodoxies."

I suspect we'd radically disagree about what constitutes "open." For instance I believe you were in favor of the ten commandment monumnets being maintained on public lands at public expense. Nothing even close to that happens for any other religion. Hardly what I'd call equal.

My impression is that what you really want is Christianity to be like the Roman emperor: "first among equals" or in other words superior. Not that I think you are lying, I suspect you just have a skewed version of things.

As Peggy Orienstein noted in her book about gender equality in the classroom "boys see equality as a loss." The dominant power always thinks equality is actually oppression. Christianity is in that position now. It's still far more powerful and enmeshed in our culture than any other religion and yet there is no end to theocrats whining about how we've taken god out of our courts, out of our money, out of our pledge.

God never wanted to be on the money or in the pledge. He wanted to be in your heart. Everything else is empty trappings of faith.

Tlaloc said...

"This is not my understanding -- the Christ fulfilled the covenant -- He provides the lens through which we can fully understand the covenant, and thus our relationship to the Father. He does not cancel it, indeed He could not, for the covenant, as well as everything else to do with this world, was created through Him."

Cancel it? No. He completed it. Just like a completed contract of any other sort. It's done, stick a fork in it. Hence the need for the New Covenant which was with all mankind.

Tlaloc said...

"Tlaloc, what you don't know about the Bible is a lot."

Deep...
...and thought provoking.

Tom Van Dyke said...

May I add from the Christian tradition:

"Ever sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven men, but the blasphemy of the Spirit shall not be forgiven. And whosoever shall speak a word against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven him: but he that shall speak against the Holy Ghost, it shall not he forgiven him, neither in this world, nor in the world to come."---J. Christ

So, to sin against the Holy Ghost is to confound Him with the spirit of evil, it is to deny, from pure malice, the Divine character of works manifestly Divine."---The Catholic Encyclopedia

So, Pope Benedictus is basically noting that attributing the works of God to man (or magic, or whatever), according to Jesus, is the only unforgivable sin. (According to He Himself, you can even blaspheme Jesus---it's not a deal-breaker.)

Now, Pope Ratzinger might be overreacting to a harmless piece of fluff, but he's quite theologically sound. If the meaning of our human existence is to learn and love God's primacy and so enter into eternal communion with Him, that He is the source of all good and we cannot create it without His hand (the Holy Spirit), well, it's worth a squawk.

That man and not God is the measure of all things is precisely the crisis of modern philosophy that the Pope has made his life's work to challenge.

If he (and that Jesus fellow) is correct, Benedictus has homed in on the central question of our age, and our very existence.

One would not expect those who do not share his faith to agree or even understand, but let the man speak.

He's just doing his job.

John Huisman said...

Kathy, I understand the distinction your trying to make, but is not deception a big part of the occult world (and Satan's general M.O. for that matter)? The person who waves the magic wand may be ignorant of the true power behind the practice, but the power is active nonetheless. Indeed, are not the practices and tools of the occult trade masks that hide the true nature of what is going on even to the practitioner? After all, you have to be deceived to believe that a piece of wood causes the magical effect.

Tlaloc said...

"Now, Pope Ratzinger might be overreacting to a harmless piece of fluff, but he's quite theologically sound."

LOL!
If there's ever been a better single sentence description of the Catholic Church I've not heard it. Very nice.

Tlaloc said...

"Indeed, are not the practices and tools of the occult trade masks that hide the true nature of what is going on even to the practitioner? After all, you have to be deceived to believe that a piece of wood causes the magical effect."

Out of curiousity have you spent any time with real pagans?

Hunter Baker said...

James and I occasionally agree on a few things. The notion that RC is more entertaining than Joey is one of them.

Tlaloc, my approval of things like Ten Commandments monuments are based on the notion that our entire national history is predicated in part on different aspects of the Judeo-Christian heritage. I think it is fair to acknowledge them. Either Jefferson or Franklin (can't recall which at the moment) wanted the national seal to be Moses leading the Jews through the parted Red Sea or something close to that imagery.

Tlaloc said...

"Tlaloc, my approval of things like Ten Commandments monuments are based on the notion that our entire national history is predicated in part on different aspects of the Judeo-Christian heritage."


Ultimately it doesn't matter. Let the history stay in the history books. Placing a huge block of stone in a public plaza is going far above and beyond respecting history and it's vastly disrespecting the present.

Churches are already tax exempt, they don't deserve to get free advertising at the tax payer expense as well.

John Huisman said...

Tlaloc said, "Out of curiousity have you spent any time with real pagans?"

I havw known people who were involved in the occult.

The Liberal Anonymous said...

my approval of things like Ten Commandments monuments are based on the notion that our entire national history is predicated in part on different aspects of the Judeo-Christian heritage. I think it is fair to acknowledge them.

Indeed it is fair, if that is the motivation of the person constructing the monument. However, unlike the designer of the Supreme Court's oft mentioned frieze, it seems clear that the people who have recently been pushing them aren't just putting them there as a historical acknowledgment.

James Elliott said...

BTW, Hunter, it was Franklin.

Jefferson is the man who said that it would be a happy day when the last monarch was strangled with the entrails of the last priest.

It is an image that fills me with warmth, as though the sun were in my belly.

So, as I understand tvd's (And may I say, tvd, I find your style the best out of all the conservative posters here?) point on Ratzinger, the fact that I believe the Bible was cobbled together by some cultists and a Roman emperor is what's going to land me in Hell?

Kathy Hutchins said...

The person who waves the magic wand may be ignorant of the true power behind the practice, but the power is active nonetheless. Indeed, are not the practices and tools of the occult trade masks that hide the true nature of what is going on even to the practitioner? After all, you have to be deceived to believe that a piece of wood causes the magical effect.

Oh, I absolutely believe that someone in this world who waves a stick around expecting magic to happen is at the very least playing with the worst kind of fire. My objection is to the assumption that this is what's going on in Potterworld, or in the minds of people who read and enjoy Harry Potter.

Out of curiosity, Mr. Huisman -- have you read any of the novels of Charles Williams? If so, what did you think?

S. T. Karnick said...

James Elliott said: "Jefferson is the man who said that it would be a happy day when the last monarch was strangled with the entrails of the last priest."

No, Jefferson never said anything of the sort. It was Diderot.

James Elliott said...

Jefferson quoted Diderot to Adams.

And the thought still makes me feel warm and fuzzy.

S. T. Karnick said...

He was just trying to get Adams's goat.

James Elliott said...

And I suppose the Jeffersonian Bible was sort of just an attempt to do the same?

It is well documented that Jefferson was at best a Deist. He was most likely an agnostic, and possibly an out and out atheist.

Kathy Hutchins said...

He was just trying to get Adams's goat.

Based on the portraits of the two from Dumas Malone, I imagine it worked.

Kathy Hutchins said...

It is well documented that Jefferson was at best a Deist. He was most likely an agnostic, and possibly an out and out atheist.

So you're saying all unbelievers support the gutting of priests to supply the tools of regicide? Man, that's harsh. Does Queen Elizabeth know? She might want to give Rowan Williams an extra bodyguard or two.

S. T. Karnick said...

Jeffersonian Bible, deism, etc.: No doubt he was. But I think it makes sense to recognize that he was nowhere near as fanatical on the subject as Diderot was.

James Elliott said...

Priests, much like politicians, are not to be trusted. Anyone who wants to spend their time making up and enforcing rules for other people deserves nothing but our contempt.

John Huisman said...

Kathy Hutchins said, "Oh, I absolutely believe that someone in this world who waves a stick around expecting magic to happen is at the very least playing with the worst kind of fire. My objection is to the assumption that this is what's going on in Potterworld, or in the minds of people who read and enjoy Harry Potter."

I'm a little confused here. You have me at a disadvantage in that my only exposure to Harry Potter was the first movie. But in Potterworld, don't they wave sticks around expecting magic to happen? Don't they put magic cloaks on and expect to become invisible? Don't they get on broomsticks and expect to fly?

Or is your point that because Harry Potter is only a book or a movie no one is actually engaging in these practices so it's O.K. to read or watch or learn about them?

I have not read anything of Charles Wiliams.

John Huisman said...

James Elliott said, "Priests, much like politicians, are not to be trusted. Anyone who wants to spend their time making up and enforcing rules for other people deserves nothing but our contempt."

James, is this the new rule?

Hunter Baker said...

John, I've seen Francis Beckwith knock down many an irritating challenger with that tactic and yes, IT MAKES ME FEEL ALL WARM AND FUZZY INSIDE, LIKE I HAVE THE SUN IN MY BELLY.

Kathy Hutchins said...

I'm a little confused here. You have me at a disadvantage in that my only exposure to Harry Potter was the first movie. But in Potterworld, don't they wave sticks around expecting magic to happen? Don't they put magic cloaks on and expect to become invisible? Don't they get on broomsticks and expect to fly?

If I wave a stick around in this world and expect magic to happen -- what would be the possible source of the magic? Where could it come from? Because here, there are no humans who have the natural power to fly on a broomstick, or change a teapot into a hedgehog. In Potterworld, there are people who have a natural ability to alter the natural environment by waving a stick around. I think people are confused by the trappings of the wizarding world depicted in Harry Potter -- broomsticks, wands, cauldrons and pointy hats -- into assuming that the fantasy world of Potter is a world in which people engage, with no cost, in dealings with the Devil.

And yes, if your only exposure to Potter is the film version of Sorcerers' Stone, a lot of what I'm saying is probably opaque. I do want you to know that I do not take concerns about Harry Potter, or any literature aimed at children, lightly. I have two daughters of my own, whose intellectual and spiritual development are matters of the highest importance. I use the things they read to guide them, and for that reason I have to read them myself if I haven't before.

Charles Williams wrote novels in which the reality of the supernatural world leaks into our world, often at the behest of someone messing about with things that should not be messed about with. These people invariably meet the ends they were asking for. The imagery is astonishing in its freshness and layers of religious meaning. Williams was in youth a dabbler in the occult, who later returned to Anglicanism. He was an intimate of Tolkien, Lewis, and Barfield.

Tom Van Dyke said...

"...the fact that I believe the Bible was cobbled together by some cultists and a Roman emperor is what's going to land me in Hell?"


Mr. Elliott, that might be a fair characterization of Martin Luther ("faith alone saves"), but not, say, Aquinas, or Benedictus, for that matter.

Aquinas would say that reason can lead us to God, or at least to seek Him. And our faith maintains that one who seeks shall find.

I myself have questions about the NT along Jefferson's lines. Although many find it heretical, the Jesus Seminar's study and conclusion that the NT was adulterated still leaves a core of Jesusian teaching. Their book, linked above, "The Five Gospels," strangely enough, enhanced my faith. I also recommend it for the non-believer for the "advancement of religious literacy." (It is difficult to attempt to discuss the Bible with those who have only a Cliff's Notes understanding of it.)

Not to say that's you, James. But the sons of Luther, the Falwells, have made it very difficult for the sons of Aquinas, who is not such easy pickings.

"He [Luther] had a peculiar horror and loathing of the great Greek philosophies, and of the Scholasticism that had been founded on those philosophies. He had one theory that was the destruction of all theories; in fact it had its own theology, which was itself the death of theology. Man could say nothing to God, nothing from God, nothing about God, except an almost inarticulate cry for mercy and for the super-natural help of Christ, in a world where all natural things were useless. Reason was useless. Will was useless. Man could not move himself an inch any more than a stone. . . . It is not, as the moderns delight to say, a question of theology. The Protestant theology of Martin Luther was a thing that no modern Protestant would be seen dead in a field with; or if the phrase be too flippant, would be specially anxious to touch with a barge pole. That Protestantism was pessimism; it was nothing but bare insistence on the hopelessness of all human virtue, as an attempt to escape hell."---GK Chesterton, in his biography of Aquinas, The Dumb Ox

More here, should you decide to seek. ;-)

Kathy Hutchins said...

And if anyone thinks that's harsh, you should read what Hillaire Belloc had to say about him!

Hunter Baker said...

Gotta step and defend Luther a bit. I don't think you can appreciate him if you haven't read him. Try "On Secular Authority" and see a genius at work. People forget that Luther wanted to keep the church together. He was dead accurate in his outrage against indulgences. Richard Niebuhr writes wonderful stuff about Luther in Christ and Culture, which is probably still the gold standard in church/state and Christian social ethics.

As far as the Jesus Seminar goes, I recommend you read Luke Timothy Johnson from Emory who has produced a pretty powerful critique of their work.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Well, I'll not fire up the Inquisition again, HB, rest assured. But Aquinas believed there was no conflict between reason and revelation, and put in a lot of work toward proving it. For spectators like Mr. Elliott, "faith alone saves" is a non-starter and indeed a turnoff. They cannot be expected to park their well-honed reason at the door, nor does Thomas' God want them to.


I don't accept the Jesus Seminar lock, stock and barrel, and find their methodology untenable.

However, as an inquiry along the lines of centuries of scholarship ("Q" being a common source used by Luke and Matthew, and the like), it's fine. It has the complete original Gospels and is a good primer for someone for whom getting hammered with "Jesus died for your sins" every other line is just going to get them to put the book down, if not throw it across the room.

To my mind, reading Jesus is a good idea. Where it takes the inquirer, God only knows. ;-)

Tlaloc said...

"Tlaloc said, "Out of curiousity have you spent any time with real pagans?"

I havw known people who were involved in the occult."

:) I suspect you haven't spent much time with them since you equate the two (pagan and occult).

John Huisman said...

Tlaloc said, " I suspect you haven't spent much time with them since you equate the two (pagan and occult)."

I have not equated them. I said "I have known people who were involved in the occult." Which, of course, is what we were actually talking about.