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Harry Potter and the Godless Morality

14 Jul

Today the last Harry Potter movie is being released across the United States. I’m not as excited as I perhaps could be as a Potter fan, but that’s because, as far as I’m concerned, Harry Potter ‘ended’ when the last book was released back in 07.  But the movies have steadily improved as the years have gone by, so I’ll certainly go and see it, though I did not attend the midnight showing due to poverty and a strong need for sleep.

Also a promise to go see it with my Mum, who would not go to a movie theater at midnight downtown even if you paid her. So that’ll have to happen sometime in the next week.

I do love Harry Potter though. I grew up in England, so the books are rather close to my heart as I essentially grew up with Harry over the years. The books not only entertained me, but due to the long gaps between installments (seriously, 3 YEARS between a few of them) I found myself perusing the shelves of my local library and discovering other fantasy authors such as Pullman, Tolkien and Pratchett. Harry Potter helped shape me into the nerd I am today, and I will always love them for that along with the memorable characters, creative world-building and clever wordplay.

Potter isn’t loved by all of course. I admit, it’s not ‘quality literature’ akin to the likes of Austen or Hemingway but I tend to think that such ideas and standards are silly bullshit that get in the way of caring about a good story and good characters. The strongest outcry is of course from extreme religious groups, most of them Christian in America at least. Their reasoning involves the fact that Harry Potter is about witchcraft and evil and other such things, and that it will corrupt the youth of the nation to turn to Satan.

This tells me that these people have never so much as looked up a synopsis of a Harry Potter book, much less read one.

Harry Potter is about a lot of things, and sure, there are witches and wizards involved. But I have another theory about why the religious right is so scared of harry potter, and it’s a theory I’ve had for a long time now, and it’s this:

The world of Harry Potter is a world without God. 

No seriously. Think about it if you’ve read them. Harry Potter and his friends, the ‘good guys’, fight and defeat the forces of darkness, they have adventures, they grow up and change and learn and figure things out with some guidance from wise figures and lessons, but, and this is the big but…

No God. None. Nowhere. Seriously, go hunting, I challenge you to dig up anything in Potter that refers to God except for the occasional character exclaiming “my god” or similar.

As far as we’ve seen, the world of Harry Potter, at least the wizarding world, is almost entirely secular. Perhaps this is due to a more black and white morality at first glance, but when you dig into the meat of these books, that’s not at all the case. Take some of the ‘grey area’ characters who either fluctuate between good and bad or simply sit in uncomfortable places. Like the ‘New Ministry’ of the seventh book. Oh, spoilers, for those of you who are afeared of them. Umbridge is not a good person. She’s power hungry, vindictive and cruel, and creates what is effectively a police state akin to early Nazi Germany. She’s not full-blown Voldemort evil either, not killing babies or puppies or similar, but she’s decidedly not running around saving folk either. Then there’s characters like Snape who might as well have installed a revolving door on his predicted Alignment. Is he good? Is he bad? Can he ever be good because he was once bad? It certainly confused the heck out of me my first readthrough.

My point in this, is that the morality in the Potterverse isn’t subject to a big higher power in the sky, or in the ground, or anywhere. It’s a real universe with real people who are good, evil and everything human in-between (and by human I mean imperfect beings who sometimes act like twits even when their intentions are good). The people are capable of selfishness and ignorance and kindness and bravery, all of it.

And God has nothing to do with it.

Harry Potter and his friends are good because it improves the world, makes it a better place, keeps it safe from evil bastards like Voldemort and his homeys and all the evil dudes who came before him. They save the world because they have the power to do so, not because it’ll get them a better seat in the afterlife, or favor with some divine boogedy boogedy. The evil dudes aren’t being evil because they’re possessed by the devil, it’s because of their own motivations, their lust for power or revenge. People are motivated internally, by themselves, and though they of course try to shift responsibilities to others, it’s nothing like ‘the devil made me do it’ or ‘I”m following God’s divine law’. The wicked are brought to justice by the good, not by religion or deities or divine intervention.

Harry Potter is morality without religion. It encourages personal responsibility for one’s actions and improving the world for the world’s sake, not for some carrot-and-stick morality of ‘this will get you to the good place when you die and if you don’t do it, it’s off to the bad place for you’.

Maybe I’m biased because I’m so against extremist Christianity, which encourages a lack of rational thought, blind devotion and a lack of questioning. It employs a ‘do this or be punished’ method of morality, sort of a ‘good because if I’m not I’m going to be screwed’ idea. And this is propagated in the youth of America because Christianity is ingrained in our culture.

And that’s why I love Harry Potter, and think it’s one of the best books you can give to a young person in the 21st century. It teaches that morality comes from within, not religion or some institution of punishment and reward. Harry Potter teaches free thought, friendship, loyalty, responsibility, love, kindness and justice. Other children’s books do too, but so many of them (Narnia anyone?) have such thick religious implications that they, intentionally or not, encourage a narrowed view of how to be a good, worthwhile person in society.

Religion, faith, spirituality, they work for some people. I love the Narnia books, don’t get me wrong. This isn’t me hating directly on religion. It’s not my cup of tea, and it’s certainly not for everyone, and we learn our morals, our responsibilities to the world around us, through stories, both biblical, fictional and from reality. Harry Potter has given us a story, a world, with an unreligious, godless morality system. It doesn’t work for everyone, and it’s far from antireligious propaganda or the like. I have no idea about Rowling’s religious affiliation or if she had intention in this moral view.

It just presents an option. An opportunity. A view that demonstrates the possibility of an areligious morality. And seeing as many views as possible can lead us all, young and old, to make better, more informed decisions about our views, religious or otherwise, instead of following one option because it’s the only one we’ve ever seen.

So that’s why the evangelicals get all hot and bothered about Harry Potter and his friends. Because they have no God, and they’re doing amazing, wonderful things for each other and the world. A view that presents an alternative to the deity-centric view of morality that’s so common in the modern world. And whether or not that works for everyone, it’s a different view that could make all the difference in someone’s decisions about their morals, values and motivations.

Happy Harry Potter day everyone. Whatever you love about this book, I hope it’s brought you as much joy – and provocation of thought – as it has to me.


Mini-Manifesto: On Belief

9 Mar

Author’s Note: I spend that majority of my formative years being raised Catholic, something I’ve come to for the most part reject in my recent years. I’ve been pondering my spiritual beliefs, or lack thereof, as of late, so here’s some stream-of-consciousness in an attempt to explain what I have that can be loosely classified as  a ‘belief system’:

I believe in a lot of things.

I believe that human beings are neither inherently good nor evil at the start of things. The world is what shapes them one way or the other (or neither).

I believe that I know absolutely nothing for certain except that I exist. Descartes put it how I see it: “I think therefore I am.” That’s all I’ve got on the definite front. Everything else? Open to debate and new discovery.

I believe in karma, or something like it. What I do to others will ultimately come back to me in one way or another, even if the only effect the universe gives to me is  my own guilt and realization of my own wrongdoing. I also believe in the human capacity for forgiveness, and our ability to make amends for our wrongdoing. Redemption. It’s a beautiful thing.

I believe that if there is an afterlife, it’s not dependent on a Judeo-Christian morality system. I don’t think it’s a simple as keeping a score-sheet of the good things you’ve done versus how many bad things you did. I don’t believe in a ‘heaven’ or a ‘hell’, or acts of ‘good’ and ‘evil’ that cast you into the pits of hell. As far as I’ve seen, a lot of the ‘good’ and ‘bad’ acts that get you into heaven and hell by fundamentalist standards are pretty relative and based in dogmatic tradition, not integrity or truth.

I like the idea of reincarnation as a part of the afterlife, but my ever-present uncertainty prevents me from calling it a ‘belief’. I’ve definitely had feelings that I, or at least some part of me, has existed in this world before in the past, but also that that wasn’t MY life. I, the person I am now, will only live once. My consciousness as it’s connected to this body, this soul, this metaphysical entity in time, is only here for my lifetime. Anything before or after that was part of another life, even if it was technically mine.

I believe in science. Explanations, reason, logic are all beautiful things to me, because they give me answers to all my questions. I believe in questions, and that they are necessary even if we never get the answers.

I can’t say I do or don’t believe in some Higher Power because I just don’t know. I have no systematic evidence one way or the other that I consider reliable (even if other people do have things that are evidence for them, I still haven’t found anything that proves anything specific).

I don’t believe in the ‘Power of Prayer’. I do believe in the power of positive thinking in every aspect of my life, and also in the power of hope.

I believe in love. Every kind of it.

I believe in treating others the way I’d want to be treated: with respect and attempts to be understanding and rational.

I don’t believe in religion, and think it exists as a security blanket for the masses, a hand to hold when things are hard. I think it’s much more difficult to face the harshness of the world without a religion, some person in the sky who can make it all better, to cling to. I don’t believe in an all-powerful GOD sitting in the clouds passing judgement or sentence upon our existence. If there is one, I don’t believe He or She is attached to any one religion or the man-made writings and practices that are associated with it. I don’t believe in the bible or other religious texts. I don’t believe in Jesus or other historical figures as religious icons. I believe religion has done more harm than good for our world in the grand scheme of things.

I believe, simply, in people. We exist as pure accidents of science. We have the ability to live, to love, with power and strength. I think that can come from whatever we want, because it’s what WE want. We have the power, the energy, from within, to move forward with our lives. Whether we get that from religion, philosophy, fiction, each other or ourselves is our choice. Our decision. Our path.

If there is a GOD up there, I don’t think He or She is involved. I think it’s just us down here, us and our personal power. We make things happen, in whatever ways we choose, we feel are right, and we are here to experience everything the world has to offer.

I believe that it’s so hard for me to pin my beliefs down because I was raised in such a rigid belief system.

I don’t believe in a God, but I think that there is something more out there than can be explained by religion or science. Things that cannot be explained. Maybe we’ll find the answers with time, but I accept and believe that some things will never be explained, because we humans don’t have the capacity to understand the answers.

I believe that I am a child of humanity and nature, not of a God. I exist on this planet to learn things, to understand that it is impossible to truly be an authority on something, and that we must always strive to be proven wrong that we may find new answers to those new questions.

I believe in the necessity of constant humility, but the importance of not letting that lead to simple-self-deprecation.

I believe you should never knock something until you’ve tried it. That includes everything from alcohol to skydiving.

I believe in the importance of trust and honesty in interpersonal relationships.

I believe in fluid sexuality. I don’t think a sexual preference must be ‘proven’ to the world or have labels slapped on matters of the heart. I believe that it’s okay to call myself pansexual and open to relationships with other females even though to this point I’ve only ever been in serious relationships with straight men. I believe that there are more important defining points to a person’s life than who they want to fuck. I believe that you can fall in love with anyone, regardless of their gender or sexuality.

I believe in respecting the beliefs of others around me. Mutual appreciation and understanding have more value than arguments of semantics. We each reach the beliefs we do through our own life experiences. We’ve all lived different lives. How do we judge who is right and who is wrong when we cannot truly live in each other’s shoes?

I believe that no matter how hard we try, we will never be able to accurately predict the weather or the way that nature works. I believe that certain things are inherent in human behavior, are in our ‘natures’ and not in our control, but how we react to those natures is something that CAN be controlled.

I dislike ritual in spiritual practices, but respect the need for it in other people’s lives. What works for me won’t work for everyone else. We all get to the same result in different ways. It’s just how we are as people. Different. Unique. Fantastic.

I believe I exist for the purpose of deep personal connections with the people around me. I also believe that risk is an essential aspect of existence if you seek to live life to the full.

I believe in maturity. Honesty. Integrity. I believe in morality without gods. Good for the sake of good, not good for the fear of punishment. I think that morality is shades of gray.

I believe in balance and harmony, and that darkness is essential to our beings, almost more so than light, because without darkness light has no way to shine.

I believe that there’s no situation in life that can’t be improved through indulgence in dance and song.

I believe in maintaining an open mind, and exploring all possibilities with boundless enthusiasm and endless questions.

I believe in the precious nature of all life. I don’t eat meat because I think it’s wrong to eat animals, not just because I have problems digesting it.

I believe in real-sugar colas, ghosts, true love, aliens, the power of imagination, friendship, family and full-fat mayonnaise.

Most importantly.

I believe in myself.

And I think that, right there, is more than enough.

Seasonal Musings

25 Dec

So the Christmas season is great for at least one thing: making me suck at posting anything on my blog. I’ve been so run around with my hair on fire shopping, cooking and gift-wrapping that the internet has been sorely neglected. Hello internet. I’m sorry that I’ve been ignoring you in favour of knitting, shopping and Bioshock 2 (which I beat last night at about one AM. It was awesome). I missed you.

Christmas is always an odd time for me and my family. My parents, who are rather rabid about family time during the holidays, tend to pull out as many stops as they can get away with without being tacky (which means a well-decorated, real fir tree, multiple nativity sets and enough cookies to feed a really hyper army). My sister and I return from wherever we’ve been for the last few weeks (England in her case, my apartment in mine) and assist in the gift-giving and cooking frenzy.

You think I’m kidding? As I type my mother is covering a 12 pound turkey in butter and is about to wrap it in bacon. Yes world, sometimes I regret vegetarianism. Sometimes.

The gifts have all been unwrapped at this point. Most of my gifts these days are clothes, since I’m a 23-year-old and my mother knows I hate like hell to shop for clothes. Or anything else for that matter (except books. I can shop for books like it’s going out of style). However, my parents are also contributing a kind sum of money to help my purchase a brand spanking new laptop, which I will track down on the internet like an overexcited five year old and then bounce up and down in front of the mailbox for.

Of course, the best gift I’ve gotten this year was from my ever-awesome boyfriend (who I gave Fable III for Christmas; he hasn’t stopped playing it since), who gave me this:

Does he know me or what? Finally, a companion cube I don’t have to incinerate. Talk about holiday cheer.

The most challenging part of holiday seasons for me is that Church Thing. My family is Catholic, and I, for lack of a better descriptor, am rather not. I’ve considered myself a comfortable Agnostic-Pastafarian-Skeptic for the last few years now, and this makes attending church on the high side of unpleasant. I never go of my own accord; I spend my Sundays sleeping in in favor of being told by a man in a dress that his big Sky Daddy in the clouds has deemed that I will go to hell unless I vote Republican (yes, this happened. Welcome to the Midwest).

Not all Catholics are bad. Not all Christians are bad, in face many of them are kind, reasonable and pleasant human beings I don’t want to stab in the face with a salad fork. It just depends on where you are, and around here, there’s a pretty heavy amount of extremism. Example? The Catholic student group on campus likes to picket outside the local Planned Parenthood. Just saying.

Being Catholic is a lot like being Jewish to me; you just celebrate different holidays with different food and you intersperse your conversation with Latin instead of Yiddish. That and we don’t get cool hats. So part of me still accepts catholicism as a part of the way I was raised. I went to Catholic School for ten years as a kid, though that did little more than turn me into a near-atheist and have a healthy dislike of school uniforms.

That said, my least favorite part of the holidays, and by extension the catholicism, is the Guilt Trip. Catholic Guilt is unprecedented in religious belief systems – ask any Catlicker you know and they can tell you about it, even if they aren’t part of the church any more. Catholic Guilt is used by parents and grandparents alike to crush the younger generations of their family to convince them to do everything from go to church at Christmas to take out the trash to get married to someone you hate.

It’s a time-honored tradition, and one that my family holds up with no regret. Every Christmas I find myself attending a Christmas church service with my father, mother and sister, where I sit and try not to burst into flames or kick the fussy small children in front of me (and there are ALWAYS small children in a Catholic church). A small price to pay for avoiding a scene I guess (my mother, when I bring up my non-theism, always insists that it’s a ‘phase’ I’m going through and that when I’m older and ready to start a family and get married i’ll come back to the church. This is something we disagree on at a deep, fundamental level, and will not be resolved any time soon, and I want to put off the inevitable explosion for as many years as I possibly can), and I did get a lot of knitting done this year during the service, and now I don’t have to set foot in a religious building until next Easter.

Regardless, it’s a difficult way of life. Not to pity-party it, there are far worse things to be in America than Agnostic. The way some people feel about Muslims in this country, I’m hardly in a dangerous minority. But it’s still rough, especially since for a country that claims a freedom of religion, the government can be rather hard on people who aren’t at all spiritual (link via Blag Hag). Apparently freedom of religion doesn’t include freedom of NO religion. Who knew?

I’m not saying other people can’t enjoy this day as the birth of their Lord Jesus (even though it’s historically factual that Jesus was born in March and they shifted his birthday to accommodate the pagan conversion back in the day. So sayeth my Classics Professor, who is also an Episcopal minister and a total badass). That’s their prerogative, and I invite them to do so. Go ahead. I’ll never stop you. Just let me enjoy my cozy skeptic corner over here?

I may be a godless heathen, but that doesn’t make me a bad person. Actually, I’m really quite a nice person. I buy people gifts at Christmas. I’m no Scrooge – no humbugs here, just cheesy grins and piles of cookies. I give to charity. I love others. I’m not a dick to random strangers, not even if they’re a dick to me first. I live a morally upright existence without the doctrines of a religion or faith poking me in my head with the threat of eternal damnation. That doesn’t make me better, it just makes me different. Different and deserving of respect just like the rest of you.

So that’s my Christmas Spiel. Christmas started out as a Christian conversion mechanism, and now it’s a corporate playground that encourages greed and malice along with love and joy. Everyone loves or hates it for a different reason, but the important thing is the love thing. Call me a dirty hippie, but that’s what it’s all about. Not presents. Not commercialism. Not santa. Not even Jesus. It’s about family. Friends. Giving people shit they don’t need but they appreciate anyway because effort was made. Having a day off from work. Enjoying yourself. Eating yourself into a coma. Maybe it’s a different spin on things, but welcome to being a non-believer during the holidays. Still festive, just not for the same reasons.

So merry holidaymas, blogosphere. I hope you enjoyed my seasonal ramble, and if you didn’t I still hope your Christmas is festive and full of people you enjoy being around. Also food. Food is the best part of Christmas, and you all know I’m right.

Now if you’ll all excuse me, I’m going to go knit a scarf and watch Scrooged until my Mum summons me into the kitchen to peel fifty pounds of apples.