So the other day while I was thinking (a very dangerous thing to do), I realized that no one seemed to be religious in Harry Potter. Nobody ever mentioned going to church, or praying that Lord Voldemort didn’t come from the sky and strike them down, or anything like that. At first it didn’t really trouble me. After all Harry Potter was a fictitious story that took place in an imaginary world. And then I did a little more thinking and realized that it wasn’t an imaginary world at all. Rather, it was a world that was supposed to be the same as ours, except with a wizarding secret society. So why did the story make no reference to religion?
I suppose it was largely due to Rowling’s personal choices. She probably didn’t want to endorse one faith over another. But in difficult times (such as those Harry and his friends are experiencing), sometimes it’s very natural to turn to religion for help and guidance. Not to mention there is always a Christmas vacation, yet no one mentions coming back for Christmas dinner after church or anything like that. And there is zero mention of Judaism, Islam, or any other world religion.
While Rowling did not include any specific religion/religious references (such as crosses or other symbols, or mention the religions of some of the students), she did put in subtle references. On his parents’ tombstone, Harry reads the quote “The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death,” while on that of Dumbledore’s mother and sister, Harry reads, “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” The second tombstone inscription is a direct quote of Jesus from Matthew 6:19, the first is from 1 Corinthians 15:26.
But this brings up the question: why are there cemeteries with tombstones with Bible passages on them if no one celebrates anything religious? Sounds awfully fishy to me…
The series’ preoccupation with death and whether there is life after is fascinating. Harry spends the entire seven books struggling with loss, of his parents, of Sirius, and in the final book of many more. When Sirius died in particular, Harry became very preoccupied with whether or not he was dead and if there was a way to get him back. And then there is our BFFL the resurrection stone, which can in fact bring people back from the dead (in a sense). Maybe this is my very little Catholic Sunday School talking, but I thought Jesus was the only one who could do that.
Anyway, when Harry collects all three hallows he becomes the Master of Death. Other than Lucifer in Supernatural (and I suppose Lucifer in general), I wasn’t aware anyone, much less a mortal being, could master death.
Which brings me to that scene in Harry’s head after he’s been killed, where he’s talking to Dumbledore in King’s Cross Station. My guess is that is supposed to be some kind of Purgatory where you can decide where you want to go. Again, the Sunday School speaks and thinks where you end up is someone else’s job.
And the philosopher’s stone, and every spell. I mean, in all seriousness, if all I need to be Jesus is a wand and a spell book the entire religion thing is a little disenchanting if you are a wizard (no pun intended, and yes I am prepared to get in very big trouble for that last sentence). So what role does religion play if miracles are child’s play?
I can totally understand why Rowling wouldn’t write entirely about religion, she didn’t want to endorse one set of beliefs over another. And rereading this post right now it sounds very negative, which was not my intention. Rowling tried to insert a little religion in, but she didn’t want her beliefs to become too overbearing, which is why she has hardly spoken on the subject. And issues such as life after death are something we as individuals all struggle with. However, officially it’s a question that each religion has its own way of answering. And as nice as Rowling’s answers seem in The Deathly Hallows, it leaves some big questions still open.
If she had given her work a little more of a religious context as to how religion fit into the wizarding world then I probably wouldn’t have to talk about these things. But she didn’t so I went there.