Harry Potter and the Model Weasley Family

The Weasley Family at breakfast

I’m really late to the party, the first book in the series having been published in 1997 when I was still in high school, but I’ve been borrowing the audiobooks of the Harry Potter series from the New York Public Library and I’m really enjoying them. I think I would have loved them as a kid but I was going through a phase where I was really into church dogma and the Harry Potter series was said to be evil and demonic because it supposedly encouraged children to engage in witchcraft.

Putting aside the question of whether witchcraft is real or not, I can see how the Harry Potter series was threatening to organized religion. It provides an alternative fantasy world that presents a set of moral values in a compelling way and, even when it doesn’t conflict with the church’s vision of morality, it competes for attention. I’d guess Harry Potter is probably winning that contest too, given the success of the books and movies and the ever dwindling levels of church attendance.

I wonder how much of the church’s problems these days comes from an insistence on biblical literalism? It’s been a while since I studied the Bible, either academically or religiously, but I do recall that many of the stories have parallels in other nearby cultures. For example, the story of Moses and the flood is essentially the same story as the Epic of Gilgamesh with modifications to fit the local culture. That alone should tell us that stories in the Bible were meant to be educational rather than literal history. It makes more sense to tell someone that they should be looking at a story in the Bible for moral guidance than to tell them to take it as literal word from God history and expect that story’s relevance to endure over any length of time.

And maybe that’s why Harry Potter does so well. We know it’s not word from God and we don’t face the choice of having to either swallow it whole or throw it out. We can instead appreciate it and think about it and try to apply it to our lives if it makes sense in relation to what we understand to be good and bad.

All of these thoughts congealed in my head as I started to realize how the Weasleys were being presented in the books. They may not have fancy clothes and they may not always get along but they value what’s important in life: their kids, each other, friendship, and (in Molly and Arthur’s case) their kids’ education. In addition, even though they’re struggling they essentially adopt Harry into the family, so there’s a lot of love and charity being displayed there. They share even when there’s not much to give. They’re loyal. They do things together. It’s sort of a model for the proper behavior of a family, especially when it comes in such stark contrast to how Harry is treated by his aunt and uncle. The fact that both Harry and Hermione later marry into the Weasley family reinforces the idea that they represent an ideal family.

I’m only partway through the fourth book and I wasn’t really thinking about the story too deeply until now, but there’s really more in these books than shallow entertainment. I’m not really surprised. I don’t think they would have done so well if they didn’t have something substantive to offer readers.

Bible in Pop Culture Week 7: Cartman’s Favorite Psalm

In episode nine of season four of South Park, titled “Do the Handicapped Go to Hell?”, we find out what Cartman’s favorite Psalm is. The episode starts with Stan, Cartman and Kenny sitting in church. Mr. Garrison is called up to the lectern to read his favorite Psalm. As Mr. Garrison begins to read, Cartman leans over his pew and tells Stan and Kenny his favorite Psalm is: “It’s a man’s obligation to stick his boneration in a woman’s separation. This sort of penetration will increase the population of the younger generation.”

Father Maxi, the church’s priest, catches the boys repeating this Psalm and delivers a fire-and-brimstone sermon to the congregation, criticizing the children for not going to Sunday school and the parents for not going to confession. Father Maxi’s depiction of Hell terrifies the kids and they wind up rushing off to Sunday school to learn how to avoid swimming in the lake of fire. They learn that they must go to confession and take Communion. Problems arise when they realize that Kyle is a Jew and is going to go to Hell and that Timmy, a mentally handicapped boy that can only say his name, is unable to give a confession, meaning that he will also wind up in Hell. The boys become increasingly terrified and rush to the church to confess. On the way, a bus strikes Kenny and he is apparently killed.

Meanwhile, in Hell, Satan is celebrating Luau Sunday with his friends, Conan O’Brien, Adolf Hitler, Jeffrey Dahmer, John F. Kennedy, John F. Kennedy Jr., Princess Diana Spencer, Michael Landon, Mao Tse-Tung, Gene Siskel, Allen Ginsberg, Jerry Garcia, Tiny Tim, Walter Matthau, Bob Hope, George Burns, Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra.

Bible in Pop Culture Week 4: In El Salvador, “Jacob wrestled the angel / And the angel was overcome”

 

 

The track “Bullet the Blue Sky” by U2 was released in 1987 on the album “The Joshua Tree.” The lyrics of the song were inspired by a trip that Bono took to Central America in 1985 with Amnesty International. On the trip, he stayed in the mountains in the north of the country with a group of guerilla fighters. While he was in the hills, he witnessed Salvadorean planes firebombing villages nearby in an attempt to kill guerilla fighters. Officially, the U.S. was acting in an advisory role in El Salvadore to strengthen the military dictatorship running the country as a bulwark against Communism. What this meant in practical terms was that the U.S. government was supplying arms, munitions, tactical advice and often manpower that led directly the tens of thousands of civilian deaths.

Bono, who described himself as a person who regularly read Scripture, was upset that Christians in America were supporting a proxy war that resulted in the devastation he was witnessing, so he penned the lyrics for “Bullet the Blue Sky” using Biblical references. A section of the lyrics reads as follows:

“In the howling wind comes a stinging rain / See it driving nails / Into the souls in the tree of pain / From a firefly, a red orange glow / See the face of fear / Running scared on the valley below / Bullet the blue sky / In the locust wind comes a rattle and hum / Jacob wrestled the angel / And the angel was overcome.”

The lyrics describe strafing runs and the dropping of napalm, as well as an interpretation of Jacob’s wrestling with an angel that seems to present the good, innocent villagers as the angel being overcome by man’s evil.

Sources: http://www.songfacts.com/detail.php?id=911 & the above video.

Bible in Pop Culture Week 2: Batman and the Tower of Babel

Because September 17, 2016, is Batman Day (seriously), I decided to look for Biblical references relevant to this week’s reading in the Batman series of comics. There is a collected edition of Justice League of America, volumes 43 – 46, called “Tower of Babel” (2001). The title and some story elements are references to the Biblical story found in Genesis 11:1-9, in which man migrates to the land of Shinar and constructs a city called Babel. According to The New Oxford Annotated Bible (NRSV), in the center of the city, the people work together to build a tower “with its top in the heavens” (25). For reasons that are not completely clear, God does not want man to be able to create great accomplishments, so he purposefully confuses the language of the people in Babel, causing them to abandon the construction project and migrate to other areas.

In the Justice League of America story arc, R’as al-Ghul, the leader of the League of Assassins and the Justice Leagues enemy, devises a plan to cripple the members of the justice league long enough to enact a plan that would decimate the population of the planet through nuclear war. The story focuses heavily on Batman’s paranoia, which is the key to the League’s near defeat. R’as al-Ghul’s daughter sneaks into the Bat Cave and steals data records that Batman was keeping on other members of the League. Those records reveal the League members’ key weaknesses. Once the League is incapacitated, R’as activates a device on a tower that he built. The device emits ultrasonic waves that disrupt the language centers of the brains of everyone on earth, causing them to be unable to decipher written language. The ultrasonic waves eventually affect spoken language as well, preventing people from being able to understand each other. The Justice League is ultimately successful in recovering from their injuries and they defeat the League of Assassins. Superman destroys the device that R’as built to confuse human language, which is interesting because, in the Biblical account, it seems as if God confused man’s language into multiple languages in order to prevent man from becoming powerful super men.

Bible in Pop Culture Week 1: Creationism in Schools

Image Attribution:By NYC Wanderer (Kevin Eng) – originally posted to Flickr as Gutenberg Bible, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=9914015

 

Creationism and Schools: Youngstown, Ohio Opts for Science Only

News articles published between September 8th and 10th, 2016 noted that Crish Mohip, the Youngstown Schools Chief Executive Officer has stated that schools are obligated to follow the 344-page science standards developed by the Ohio Department of Education, which present the evolutionary view of biological development. Beginning with the 2016-2017 school year, “any reference to intelligent design, creationism, or any like concepts are eliminated from the science curriculum,” Mohip stated.[1] The memo that Mohip sent out was prompted by the use of a video in a science class that claims to present evidence for creationism based on the proliferation of species starting 500 million years ago. Complicating the issue is the fact that the video was produced by a Turkish Islamic televangelist named Adnan Oktar who is reportedly a Holocaust denier and the leader of a sex cult.[2]

The teacher who showed the video in class stated that he was presenting different views and that students should be able to clearly identify and weigh the merits of various arguments.[3] This, however, contradicts Ohio state policy. Creationism is the theory that the universe was intelligently, or purposefully, designed by God as described in the Abrahamic tradition of religions. Genesis, the first book of the Hebrew Scriptures and Christian Bible as well as the Quran describe existence as having been formed by God. Modern science presents the theory that the universe was compressed into a small bit of matter surrounded by nothingness and, for reasons unknown, that pinpoint of matter suddenly exploded and began to expand into all of existence as we know it today.

The fight over the teaching of creationism in schools has been taking place for decades, with the common consensus shifting from creationism to evolutionary and scientific theories. In the American context that fight has revolved primarily around the Christian, literal interpretation of the Genesis creation story. In 1925, John Scopes was convicted of violating a Tennessee law making it illegal to teach evolution in a state-funded school. In 1987, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned a Louisiana law making it illegal to teach evolution in public schools without also teaching creationism.[4] In more recent years, the tide has turned in favor of the teaching of evolution over creationism. The recent decision of the Youngstown Schools Chief Executive Officer is just the most recent event in this ongoing trend and serves to show that a text compiled approximately 2200 to 2900 years ago still has meaning and significance in to modern societies.

References

Brown, S. (2016, September 8). Creationism Booted From Ohio Public Schools. Retrieved September 11, 2016, from Americans United For Separation of Church and State: https://www.au.org/blogs/wall-of-separation/creationism-booted-from-ohio-public-schools

Gauntner, M. (2016, September 10). CEO cuts ‘Creationism’ from Youngstown school classrooms. Retrieved September 11, 2016, from wfmj.com: http://www.wfmj.com/story/33007921/ceo-cuts-creationism-from-youngstown-school-classrooms

 

[1] Mike Gauntner, “CEO cuts ‘Creationism’ from Youngstown school classrooms,” wfmj.com: Locally Owned, published September 2, 2016, modified September 10, 2016 and accessed September 11, 2016, http://www.wfmj.com/story/33007921/ceo-cuts-creationism-from-youngstown-school-classrooms.

[2] Simon Brown, “Creationism Booted From Ohio Public Schools,” Americans United For Separation of Church and State, published September 8, 2016 and accessed September 11, 2016, https://www.au.org/blogs/wall-of-separation/creationism-booted-from-ohio-public-schools.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Mike Gauntner, “CEO cuts ‘Creationism’ from Youngstown school classrooms,” wfmj.com: Locally Owned, published September 2, 2016, modified September 10, 2016 and accessed September 11, 2016, http://www.wfmj.com/story/33007921/ceo-cuts-creationism-from-youngstown-school-classrooms.