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Faith & The Muggle Generation

By frostnova [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Image by Frostnova

On the way into town this morning, I saw the newspaper headline: “Political scholar studies the Harry Potter Generation.” Searching for more content online, I learned that political science professor Anthony Gierzynski has studied the effects of the Harry Potter narrative on the politics of, yes, the Millennial generation.

One of the key points Gierzynski makes in this morning’s Metro is this:

As we become immersed in the story and identify with characters we tend to internalize those lessons and sometimes adopt those characteristics for our own.

I don’t know what this says of me, but immediately my mind went to the book of Deuteronomy, where God through Moses shares these words:

Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart. Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise.

Keep these words in your heart. Tell and re-tell the stories of your people. Morning, noon and night. Whether at home, or far away. Rehearse the stories of God and God’s faithfulness.

I wonder what would happen if we immersed ourselves in God’s stories just as much as we immerse ourselves in stories like Harry Potter, Star Wars, The Bachelor or the Hunger Games? How would that affect the way we live? What kind of people might we become?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting that we get rid of these other narratives. Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, and a number of other stories are incredibly compelling stories that teach us a great deal. Whether JK Rowling or Suzanne Collins had these lessons in mind when they wrote them, I don’t know. But there is a great deal to learn from each of these stories – whether explicitly or implicitly. That’s where Gierzynski’s argument settles:

The key thing is that, while the Potter series was a story designed to entertain, the nature of the story (and indeed any story) is that the characters learn certain lessons as the plot moves along and exhibit certain characteristics.

When it comes to our faith formation. When it comes to our participation in the Christian community, and embodiment of the Christian gospel, we need to be immersed in our story. Not just to know it academically. Not just to know True Statements About God. But to have a sense, a feel, a muscle memory of the story we’re enacting.

Harry and his friends evince an aversion to violence, fight for tolerance and equality and oppose oppressive authority

According to Gierzynski’s research, Potterheads exhibit similar traits and attititudes. Immersed in this seven-part unfolding narrative over the course of 10-15 years, these young people are coming to embody the same values and traits as Harry and his friends.

I wonder what would happen if we took as seriously our immersion in the great narrative of the one who was, and is, and is to come. Surely it’s got more twists and turns than a Harry Potter novel. Surely it’s got as many plot twists as Lost. Surely it too is a story worth living by.

About Andrew Stephens-Rennie

Andrew is an Anglican lay leader who loves pioneering responsive, contextual solutions to the challenge of being church in the 21st Century. He serves as an assistant to the rector for Evangelism and Christian Formation at Christ Church Cathedral Vancouver and is a founding member of the emerging St. Brigids community (www.stbrigid.ca).
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5 Responses to Faith & The Muggle Generation

  1. Hm. I note that the author leaves out the stories of JRR Tolkien and CS Lewis.
    I would prefer to ask a slightly different question: What would happen if Christians actually participated in the forming history of their world instead of clinging to The Precious (in Gollum’s voice)? “Our Story” of Scripture is /different/ from stories designed to entertain. Those stories wrap /around/ one’s foundation growing and buttressing it, while Scripture is something we use as the foundation itself. We shouldn’t have Jesus Christ: Hero on a Quest, we should have Jesus: the Savior, and Fred on a Quest. Fred can be a Christian directly (ie King Arthur), he could exhibit Christian values (ie LotR), or he could be an allegory (ie Narnia), but he should /not/ be Christ himself.

    Sure, we can tell the Jesus story better than Matthew Mark Luke or John did, but only as a /story/. We have more advanced understanding of plot and psychology, and understand our modern readers better than they could, but at what /cost/? By doing that, we would fall into the trap of interpreting the Scriptures so that they /do/ say what we /think/ they should say instead of trying to preserve what they actually say (even if we don’t understand it ourselves, and so also remembering with humility that we have and will fail at even that). Scriptures are not the clean, tailored stories that captivate; they are history trussed up by traditions. When we dress it up in the clothes of fantasy, we might get more /fans/, but fewer /faithful/.

    We must be careful in understanding the popularity of a particular work not to mistake the fandom(s) for devotion or faith. They are not – nor would they somehow become so were the same kind of attention to be devoted to The Jesus Story. However, like a tree branch that reaches the ground and sends down new roots, a good story steeped in Christian foundations can be an avenue for Grace, for God to be heard whispering in that still, small voice “love, love, love…”, and thus to one day be led to learn the history of God’s love and the love to which it calls us all.

  2. Allison Chubb

    Wow, thanks for this Andrew! I’ve been thinking about this a fair bit myself lately as I think about the culture some Christian traditions have of completely immersing youth into the faith. The point is that a class on Sunday morning or a youth group on Fridays doesn’t cut it for growing a generation of disciples- it requires immersion in a new kind of cultural context, “when you sit and when you rise, when you get up and when you lie down…”.

  3. I don’t know where to begin . I was born in 1985 and squeeze into the tail end of generation x. I grew up watching television shows after all, like The X Files, Unsolved Mysteries, The Outer Limits.. and then followed an interest in Japanese anime like Wicked City, Ghost In The Shell, Akira.. then followed an interest in black metal music and other extreme forms of heavy metal like funeral doom and then later met my wife who introduced me to J rock.. I had also met, but not gotten treatment or attunement, some girls into reiki as well, but was turned off of it because I was so familiar with anime at that time already that I knew it was rather disingenuous of them to be toying around with such stuff as a new age holistic medicine technique.. I was aware that the indigenous religions in Japan were more than that.. this unsettled me a lot, actually. I never pursued this. Never the less uh and so anyway I did have some mystical experiences (complicated, similar to kangshinmu) but to cut to the chase of my background and what I am about.. when I started studying English literature at Concordia here in Montreal and began taking out books on korean shamanism, a kind of Wuism like Vietnamese mediumship or Japanese religions like Shinto.. I realized that the ethnography from this country in particular goes far, far, far beyond what is available from Japan. Their ethnography about shamanism particularly as it relates to Christianity has been a real Apocalypse. It would be lengthy to get into but the rub is this,

    What is airing on S.Korean tv is Wuism – indigenous sorcery/shamanism – syncretizing with charismatic Christianity … and gothic horror fiction. I have also found a new crop of authors like Eugene Thacker who meld black metal, Japanese anime, demonology and occultism like Agrippa and his Philosophy of Natural Magic, with gothic and weird supernatural horror fiction , and the theology of people like Rudolf Otto. I’ve found the experience of daemonic-dread, the spooky sensation in stories like Jacob’s Ladder, used as a means of temporal distortion for calling the descent of spirits for possession, in Korean shaman ritual. Like Reiki or Shinto or whatever this is alchemical. I’ve also studied mediumship and sorcery from Vietnam and Thailand.

    When I read Dr. T. M. Luhrmann’s book on American evangelicans called When God Talks Back — recall that I am aware of sorcery influence on charismatic Christianity already – I found incidences of daemonic-dread (read Rudolf Otto’s Idea of the Holy to grasp this concept) as well as the Self-Loss, other alchemical experiences.

    Now I am thoroughly turned around and confused.

    Arthur Machen is among the greatest weird supernatural horror authors, inspiring Guilermo Del Toro’s films heavily, and he was a committed anglican. All else I will say on sorcery is that if you don’t understand it or know anything about it particularly as it has infested Christianity you should read more about it. I’m interested in Anglicanism now because i know that the trans-national influence of interfaith syncretism in religion has hit a point of no return, whether people like it or not, I am excited for this shift.

    I don’t know what else to say. It’d be long and confusing to go into more details. I could reply to people with more details .

  4. Oh, one more thing is that I am vehemently against the New Age ideology of transcendentalism. I study weird supernatural horror fiction, after all, and I’ve studied quite a bit on sorcery ( almost exclusively from the far east , and it’s not what you imagine it to be at all ) … a really good western analogy for Korean shamanism, is the Irish tradition of Sin Eaters. I would even claim that they root to the same cultural practices. You will find clootie wells used in Mongolia and places like S.Korea today.

    Korean shamans are regarded as cursed, they’re used to absorb misfortune, low class, because they’re hosts for powerful spirits, this compromises their will. At the same time, I fit in with Otto’s conception of Mysterium Tremendum et Fascinans so I believe I am the right kind of person for this, down to my neurology (autistic) and physical condition. It’s always ‘been around me’, stimming could even be thought of as a natural predilection for shamanic trance, — but not in the way that the new age kids imagine it to be. This sounds quite a lot like Sin Eaters. Right?

    So this puts me at a cross-roads .I see mediumship prevalent in charismatic Christianity, I know a lot about far east asian sorcery, I know this inter-faith fusion is inevitable. but I vehemently disagree with the way that alternative medicine, and theosophy, as transcendental or elitist, is pitched today.

  5. I’ve studied some Buddhism as well . The process of his enlightenment involves communing with the demonic legion of mara, the story is meant to imply the emotion of daemonic-dread, the spine tingling spooky sensation derived from ghost stories theorized or rather realized by Rudolf Otto, one of the most influential Christian theologians, who argued the spectral connotations of numerous Bible stories? This ejaculation of compassion in the midst of the temporal distortion created by the energy release of daemonic-dread teaches that enlightenment, not for the feint of heart, is coeval with spirit worship .

    Lovelorn Ghost and the Magical Monk by Justin Thomas McDaniel

    Sinister Yogis by David Gordon White

    Haunting The Buddha by Robert DeCaroli

    these are some good texts on this interpretation of enlightenment

    More in line with the japanese syncretism of buddhism with shinto

    ( I believe they have the right idea )

    There is no reason why Christians cannot learn the value of this. Certainly as an English literature major, the muse and creativity is my chief concern.

    I study English literature in University. Literary criticism can bring out this temporal distortion in famous horror stories by the likes of H. P. Lovecraft, Arthur Machen, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Algernon Blackwood, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Shakespeare, and so on..

    the Anglican church should be celebrating those who offer greater analytical skill and better erudition that can reframe horror stories in the Bible like Jacob’s Ladder that connect us to higher powers .

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