Oh, My Pop Culture Religion: The Legacy of Christian Paternalism in the Harry Potter Universe

As long as there has been racism, people have been trying to justify it to themselves and others. Unfortunately, all too commonly, religion has been a prime factor in these justifications. While the Atlantic slave trade was just beginning, before slavery was made hereditary, slavery was justified by the simple fact that slaves weren’t Christian. Worse—they didn’t even know about Christianity! It was obviously necessary to capture them all and take them under the loving wing of white overseers in order to educate them about the Lord and Savior, right? Jesus did say to go and make disciples of all men! And otherwise they wouldn’t be able to get into heaven! And Christian salvation was just the first perk in a long line of awesome things slaves got for being slaves!

Yeah, that was my sarcasm voice.

Slavery is rampant in the Bible. The Hebrews were God’s chosen people, and they had slaves. Not only did they have slaves, but God must have approved of them doing it, because He gave them specific rules in Deuteronomy and Leviticus on how to do slavery the Yahweh way. In the New Testament, in St. Paul’s Letter to Philemon, Paul doesn’t so much reject the idea of slavery as he recommends that slaves and their masters maintain an imbalanced system of mutual respect, e.g. slaves should be obedient to their masters, and masters should repay that obedience with compassionate lordship. (Sounds a lot like what he had to say about marriage, so, uh, yikes on that one, dude.)

In the beginning, God created a bunch of stuff, including Adam. In both of the Creation stories included in Genesis, part of the myth involves God granting dominion over the earth and all the creatures He created to Adam, to hold in stewardship. As nonwhite peoples, in particular Black Africans and brown Native Americans, were seen as lesser, subhuman, and savage by white colonialists, it was easy to argue that this sense of God-given stewardship, this paternalism by divine right, should extend to include these other races. (The troubling principles of social Darwinism later lent pseudo-scientific credence to these arguments.) Instances of cultural genocide like the Trail of Tears, the doctrine of manifest destiny, and the Indian Residential School System were all in some way justified by the God-given belief that the white man had authority over how these “lesser races” should be living their lives.

Now, this is all horrifying and unpleasant to say the least, but what does it have to do with geeky stuff? Well, this Christian paternalist mentality is front and center in the Harry Potter universe, with the serial numbers filed off just enough to make it kind of secular.

Continue reading

Web Crush Wednesdays: Finite Incantatem

Though the last Harry Potter book was published almost ten years ago, its fandom has never died. It might have waned a little, but recently, with a play and another movie coming up, it’s come roaring back. And true to form, that means more creative fanworks from fandom. One such fanwork is an ingenious new webcomic called Finite Incantatem.

Web Crush Wednesdays Continue reading

Magical Mondays: Muggles, Science, and the Wizarding World

Harry Potter Ministry of MagicHarry Potter will forever be in all our hearts, but the narrative leaves a lot of important questions unanswered. For an entire series based around an evil wizard who wants to conquer the world and subject Muggles to his oppressive rule, we don’t see a lot from Muggles in the whole story. In fact, the few Muggles we do spend time with are reprehensible bigots. Muggles greatly outnumber wizards, and because this non-magical community is so widespread, it’s hard to believe that they don’t have a greater influence on wizarding society than what the books would have us believe.

We see wizards copy a lot of Muggle inventions—cameras, for instance—and imbue those things with magic, but comparatively speaking, the wizarding world lacks the same kind of innovations that Muggles excel at, for whatever reason. Whenever we see flashbacks to events in the past, or hear of long-past wizards, it doesn’t seem like magical technology has changed all that much. Every once in a while, someone invents a new spell, but the quality of a person’s life, or even how they live their life, doesn’t change. Muggle society and scientific advancements change and grow at such a rapid pace, that by the time books start, science is starting to make magic obsolete. Furthermore, Muggle technology is also going to expose magic to the world.

Continue reading

Magical Mondays: Non-Powered Worldbuilding

A lot of media in speculative fiction has characters with magical powers, and those characters are often introduced in opposition to characters with no magical powers whatsoever. Think of the X-Men, whose powers are an allegory for discrimination and prejudice in the real world. When a universe has both powered and non-powered people, the story should, at some point, discuss the implications of a world where one side has an inherent ability to do something that the other side will never be able to do. Unfortunately, many stories never venture into the conflict between powered and non-powered people, and the ones that do don’t manage it very well.

Who's to say that Muggles couldn't have helped out in the war?

Who’s to say that Muggles couldn’t have helped out in the war?

Continue reading

Magical Mondays: When Magical Education Is Lacking Part 2

It is no secret that I think Hogwarts is a place that doesn’t care about its students’ safety, and that its environment is morally reprehensible—Hogwarts has slaves, after all. But what about the curriculum? At the very least I should be able to say that Hogwarts provides a kickass education. After all, Hogwarts is the best magic school around, or so we’re told.

It's a castle! It has to be an awesome school if it's also a castle!

It’s a castle! It has to be an awesome school if it’s also a castle!

Well, about that… Hogwarts education is… lacking. Sure, it might be a great place to go to if you want to learn how to do magic, but not so much about anything else.

Continue reading