Harry Potter and the Art of Theology Revisited
|Autor:||Wandinger Nikolaus, Drexler Christoph|
|Abstrakt:||This article wraps up two previous ones and revisits our prior assertions after the conclusion of the series of novels.|
|Publiziert in:||Milltown Studies 61 (2008), 84-120|
In a previous two-part article we - together with our colleague Teresa Peter - discussed implicit theology in J. K. Rowling's Harry Potter series of novels. Some questions could only be answered in a preliminary way back then because the series was not yet complete. Now the time has come to revisit and re-evaluate our former analyses. In doing so, we presuppose our former article. Before we start with this task, however, a plot summary of the final two volumes is necessary.
In the sixth novel Dumbledore and Harry collect and examine a number of people's memories concerning Lord Voldemort and we learn a lot about Voldemort's family background.
Voldemort's grandfather Marvolo Gaunt was a violent tyrant: he compliments his - due to incestuous relationships - rather insane son Morfin on his aggressive harassment of Muggles, and despises his daughter Merope, Voldemort's mother, because of the supposed deficiency of her magical powers, turning her into a kind of inferior housemaid. Merope, humiliated and bullied by her father, increases her misfortune by falling in love with Tom Riddle, a rich, snobbish Muggle, who does not return her affection.
Dumbledore supposes that Merope won Tom Riddle over by a magical love potion while her brother and her father were in jail because of their aggressive behaviour. Merope and Tom get married, and Merope conceives a child. Hoping that Tom, in the meantime, might be attached to her without magical support, she stops using the love potion. Tom, however, though knowing about Merope's pregnancy, abandons her even before the childbirth. One hour after delivering her baby to an orphanage, Merope dies - presumably because of her exhaustion due to the abandonment.
Then Dumbledore explains to Harry that Lord Voldemort has split his soul into seven parts and stored six of them in other objects (Horcruxes), which makes him immortal. For in circumstances when he would normally die, the remaining parts of his soul still exist and keep him alive. That is how he survived his attack on young Harry. This kind of immortality, however, comes at a great cost: a Horcrux can only be produced by murdering someone, and murder mutilates the murderer's soul. So, Voldemort has maimed his own soul by killing people in order to split it. He then linked its parts with objects of great subjective value to him and hid them, protecting them with curses.
Together with Harry Dumbledore searches for one of those Horcruxes, which brings the old man to the verge of collapse. In the meantime Draco Malfoy has led some Death Eaters into Hogwarts, and Dumbledore musters his last strength to go there in order to protect his students. When the Death Eaters advance on them, he stuns Harry, who is hidden under his Invisibility Cloak, in order to protect him, and therefore is distracted, which allows Draco Malfoy to disarm him. But now, when Draco is about to fulfil his task, namely to kill Dumbledore, he hesitates. He is a 16-year-old student, it would be his first murder. At this moment Severus Snape enters the scene and kills Dumbledore, thereby proving right the worst fear of Harry and his friends that he was after all never Dumbledore's ally but Voldemort's mole.
In the course of HP 7 it is Harry's, Hermione's and Ron's task to find and destroy the remaining Horcruxes, so as to make Voldemort a mortal man again. Harry learns that creating Horcruxes by killing other people is not the only way to defeat death. There is also an old legend about the three Deathly Hallows that together allegedly defy death: the Elder Wand, which makes invincible, the Resurrection Stone, which brings back the dead, and an Invisibility Cloak that hides one even from death. What seems to be a mere legend gradually turns out to have some real background: the Elder Wand had been Dumbledore's and was stolen from his grave by Voldemort; Harry happens to have inherited an Invisibility Cloak of unusual quality; and the ring that was one of Voldemort's Horcruxes contained the Resurrection Stone. For a good part of the story Harry gets carried away by the thought of owning the three Hallows to become immortal himself. However, he finally decides to trust Dumbledore despite all doubts, and to follow his original plan, when he buries Dobby, the house elf, after the elf has given his life to save Harry and his friends, and has obviously been sent there by someone close to Dumbledore (cf. HP 7,24,291).
Harry and his friends only succeed very slowly in their task. Finally the "Battle of Hogwarts" ensues, which costs many casualties, some of them Harry's closest friends. And yet Voldemort does not even take part in the battle; he rather supervises it from an old shack nearby. Knowing that his Horcruxes are being hunted down, Voldemort does not part with his snake, which is supposedly the final one. In order to kill the snake the friends have to venture into the lion's den. They approach unseen and witness Voldemort summoning Snape and telling him that there is a grave problem: he had thought that by stealing the Elder Wand from Dumbledore's grave, he had brought its supreme power to his service, but now he has realized that the wand's allegiance was not with him but with the person who overpowered Dumbledore. Believing that to be Snape, Voldemort kills his servant to gain the allegiance of the wand. Then he leaves with his snake to join the battle. Harry and his friends come out of their hiding place and in dying Snape hands them over parts of his memory to be viewed in a "Pensieve" (cf. HP 7,33,529-553).
That way Harry learns that Snape has known and loved Harry's mother since Snape and Lily had been 9 years old; he sees how this love turned unhappy and how Snape became a Death Eater, how he later betrayed Voldemort's attack on the Potters to Dumbledore in order to save Lily and how Dumbledore confronted him, as to whether James and Harry were not worth saving. Snape gave in and agreed to be Dumbledore's agent among Death Eaters, if Dumbledore in turn kept the Potters safe. As we know, this failed because of Peter Pettigrew's betrayal. Yet Lily's death sealed Snape's allegiance to Dumbledore and the good side; he agreed to remain at Hogwarts to protect Harry when Voldemort would return; and so he did to his very death, although he deeply resented the boy, who in his eyes resembled his arrogant father, James. Finally Snape even followed Dumbledore's order to kill the latter when the time had come: In hunting down and destroying a Horcrux, Dumbledore was lethally poisoned by a curse contained in it. Snape succeeded in halting the poisoning process for a year. Then Dumbledore's death was inevitable. In order to uphold Snape's cover among the Death Eaters, to protect Draco Malfoy from becoming a murderer, and to end the Elder Wand's power Dumbledore asked Snape to kill him. Despite grave scruples Snape followed his wish.
Still more important, Harry learns that Voldemort had unintentionally created a seventh Horcrux when he failed to kill Harry almost 16 years ago: Harry is that seventh Horcrux. Dumbledore confided to Snape he was convinced that Harry had to die at Voldemort's hand, so that the last Horcrux would be destroyed. When Harry resurfaces from Snape's memories he knows that the only way to overcome Voldemort is his very own death. There is no other way. Fear grasps him and the idea of running away rises in his mind, and yet he sees his task clearly ahead.
Why had he never appreciated what a miracle he was, brain and nerve and bounding heart? It would all be gone ... or at least, he would be gone from it. [...] Dumbledore's betrayal was almost nothing. Of course there had been a bigger plan; Harry had simply been too foolish to see it, he realised that now. He had never questioned his own assumption that Dumbledore wanted him alive. Now he saw that his lifespan had always been determined by how long it took to eliminate all the Horcruxes. Dumbledore had passed the job of destroying them to him, and obediently he had continued to chip away at the bonds tying not only Voldemort, but himself, to life! How neat, how elegant, not to waste any more lives, but to give the dangerous task to the boy who had already been marked for slaughter, and whose death would not be a calamity, but another blow against Voldemort. And Dumbledore had known that Harry would not duck out, that he would keep going to the end, even though it was his end, because he had taken trouble to get to know him, hadn't he? Dumbledore knew, as Voldemort knew, that Harry would not let anyone else die for him now that he had discovered it was in his power to stop it. The images of Fred, Lupin and Tonks lying dead in the Great Hall forced their way back into his mind's eye, and for a moment he could hardly breathe: Death was impatient ... [...] Like rain on a cold window, these thoughts pattered against the hard surface of the incontrovertible truth, which was that he must die. I must die. It must end. (HP 7,34,555-556)
Before Harry goes to meet his death, he instructs his friend Neville Longbottom that Voldemort's snake must be killed. When Harry delivers himself into Voldemort's hands, the latter does without hesitation what he is supposed to do - cast the killing curse at Harry. Thereafter Harry finds himself in a strange place. Nearby there is something in the "form of a small, naked child, curled on the ground, its skin raw and rough, flayed-looking, and it lay shuddering under a seat where it had been left, unwanted, stuffed out of sight, struggling for breath" (HP 7,35,566) and making strange noises. When he ponders how he can help it despite the revulsion it elicits in him, he is approached by his dead Headmaster Albus Dumbledore, who explains to him that it cannot be helped. He "was walking towards him, sprightly and upright, wearing sweeping robes of midnight blue. 'Harry.' He spread his arms wide, and his hands were both whole and white and undamaged. 'You wonderful boy. You brave, brave man. [...]'" (HP 7,35,566)
From Dumbledore Harry learns more about Snape's real role. But above all he comes to know that while Dumbledore is really dead, he, Harry, is not; he is alive and can go back, if he wants to - however also has the choice to remain where he is. What is the reason for this? When Voldemort took Harry's blood to recreate his body, he transferred the protection that Lily Potter's sacrifice had given Harry. He "'doubled the bond between you when he returned to a human form'" (HP 7,35,569). The first bond was the one he had created when attempting to kill baby Harry and accidentally made him a Horcrux: thereafter Voldemort could not die as long as Harry lived. By invigorating himself with Harry's blood, however, Voldemort created a reverse effect: because in Harry's blood there resided a protection for Harry, it now also resides in Voldemort's blood. As a consequence Harry cannot die as long as Voldemort lives. Voldemort's killing curse thus did only one thing: it destroyed the part of his own soul that resided in Harry, the Horcrux, without killing the young man.
Harry also learns that in fact the Elder Wand never became Snape's and so it neither became Voldemort's through his murder of Snape. It had been Draco Malfoy's because Draco had disarmed Dumbledore before Snape killed him, and since Harry in the meantime has disarmed Draco, the wand is now his, although nobody had realized this so far. With this state of affairs, there is now a good chance, yet no certainty, that Harry can defeat Voldemort when he goes back.
When Harry regains consciousness in the outer world, he realizes that Voldemort was weakened too and is recovering at the same time. Harry pretends to be dead, but Voldemort does not leave that to chance. He commands Narcissa Malfoy, Draco's mother, to check. She immediately realizes that Harry is alive, yet does not betray him. Instead she enquires whisperingly whether her son is still alive. Harry affirms that - he has saved Draco's life twice in the Battle of Hogwarts (HP 7,31,508-510 and 32,518) - and Narcissa lies, telling Voldemort that Harry is dead.
Voldemort and the Death Eaters bring Harry's body back to Hogwarts as physical proof of their victory to work a demoralizing effect on the resistance fighters. Yet he has miscalculated. Harry's friends are not demoralized but outraged at this. Feeling safe because of Harry's supposed death, Voldemort has terminated the special protection for his snake, the last Horcrux. This gives Neville the chance to kill the snake.
With the final Horcrux gone, Harry reveals that he is alive and faces Voldemort directly. He tells him that all the Horcruxes have been destroyed and that Voldemort is as vulnerable as any man, while Voldemort almost desperately wants to explain away Harry's success as pure accidents. Harry goes on to reveal that Snape has not been Voldemort's man for the past 17 years and killed Dumbledore on Dumbledore's order rather than Voldemort's; and he explains that Draco Malfoy disarmed Dumbledore and therefore was the rightful owner of the Elder Wand until Harry disarmed him. So Voldemort is facing him with a wand whose allegiance belongs not to him but to Harry. He summarizes their situation: "'So it all comes down to this, doesn't it? [...] Does the wand in your hand know its last master was Disarmed? Because if it does ... I am the true master of the Elder Wand.'" (HP 7,36,595)
And they cast their dueling spells, which are very revealing:
The first, being the unforgivable killing curse with which Voldemort has terrorized the world for so long; the second a simple disarming spell that Harry learned in his second year at school. But Harry was right about the wand's allegiance. The Elder Wand causes the killing curse to rebound on Voldemort and the latter, now unprotected by Horcruxes or any other dark magic, is killed and his evil empire collapses.
We argued that human relationships founded on respectfulness, trust, devotion, and freedom, are the most adequate consequence of God's divine grace and hence its closest analogy. The question is now, whether the closing novels support this reading.
We are glad to affirm that. However, it must be admitted that Harry's being carried on and sustained by the personal relationships he has, undergoes a severe crisis in HP 7. As we have seen, Harry feels gravely betrayed by Dumbledore, even tricked into his sacrifice. This feeling is intensified by revelations about Dumbledore's dark past (see later). Since the headmaster is dead, he cannot clarify and Harry is left alone to sort out who Dumbledore really was. So the most sustaining relationship Harry had, that to Albus Dumbledore, is radically shaken, and it seems that Harry's former self-experience of being gifted and guided was an illusion:
Dumbledore had left them to grope in the darkness, to wrestle with unknown and undreamed of terrors alone and unaided: nothing was explained, nothing was given freely [...]. (HP 7,18,287)
'Look what he asked from me, Hermione! Risk your life, Harry! And again! And again! And don't expect me to explain everything, just trust me blindly, trust that I know what I'm doing, trust me even though I don't trust you! Never the whole truth! Never!' (HP 7,18,295)
In the end, however, Harry overcomes this crisis. And he is prompted to do so by experiences of personal relationship: this time it was Dobby, the house-elf, who came to rescue Harry and his friends and lost his life in doing so. Harry connects Dobby's appearance with his seeing Albus Dumbledore's blue eyes in a magical mirror and asking for help. It later turns out that Harry was mistaken: he had seen Aberforth Dumbledore's eyes. Yet this error initially restores his trust, and the experience of Dobby sacrificing himself strengthens Harry's resolution. As we shall see, what was an illusion on the level of factual accuracy (it was not Albus Dumbledore in the mirror) still turned out to be true on a deeper level: Albus had not left Harry without support. Rather Dumbledore saw to it that Harry would be accompanied on his last way by the people most dear and near to him. So Harry recovers his awareness of being protected and guided, which comes to the fore when, in the final duel, Voldemort mocks Harry by saying that Harry has only survived by accident.
'Accident, was it, when my mother died to save me?' asked Harry. [...] 'Accident, when I decided to fight in that graveyard? Accident, that I didn't defend myself tonight, and still survived, and returned to fight again?' (HP 7, 36, 591)
Here Harry clearly expresses his conviction that these "accidents" had an inner logic to them, and theologically this inner logic is recognizable as a logic of guidance and support through loving personal relationships, the most fitting anthropological consequence and analogon of grace.
We also found important references to the theological notions of concupiscence and of original sin in the Harry Potter novels. The sixth novel deepens these significantly. By venturing into Voldemort's past and ancestry it develops a psychological profile of him. The narration shows us a vivid example of what we theologically call original sin: our being constitutionally affected by the misdeeds of others, making it difficult to act ethically. Voldemort is a prime example of the accumulation of such detrimental influences over a period of several generations. He is not just born into an inauspicious environment; this environment, moreover, shapes his essential constitution. Hence, one might talk of a kind of inheritance, if one does not constrict the notion to its biological meaning. Although he calls himself the "Heir of Slytherin", Voldemort first and foremost is Merope's, Marvolo's, Morphin's and Tom Riddle's heir, having to cope with a lot of limitations imposed on him by his origin. This can be highlighted even more by the similarities and differences between Voldemort's and Harry's mothers' death:
When Harry hears that Merope abandoned her child because of her own grief he interjects:
'But she could do magic! [...] She could have got food and everything for herself by magic, couldn't she?' 'Ah,' said Dumbledore, 'perhaps she could. But it is my belief [...] that when her husband abandoned her, Merope stopped using magic. [...] In any case, as you are about to see, Merope refused to raise her wand even to save her own life.' 'She wouldn't even stay alive for her son?' Dumbledore raised his eyebrows. 'Could you possibly be feeling sorry for Lord Voldemort?' 'No,' said Harry quickly, 'but she had a choice, didn't she, not like my mother -' 'Your mother had a choice, too,' said Dumbledore gently. 'Yes, Merope Riddle chose death in spite of a son who needed her, but do not judge her too harshly, Harry. She was greatly weakened by long suffering and she never had your mother's courage. ...' (HP 6, 13, 245-246)
Although Voldemort and Harry Potter share a lot of similarities, and although Dumbledore might still be right in emphasising that the main difference between Harry and Tom is due to their choices, this passage shows us a further disparity. While Harry's mother died trying to protect her child, Tom's mother abandoned her baby, weary of life. Merope, however, isn't characterised as a cold-hearted unloving person, but as a miserable, intimidated, aggrieved young woman, herself having suffered a good deal of humiliation and vilification. Notwithstanding his burdens the story shows that Voldemort's fate is not completely predetermined by his awkward situation: There are moments when he has the possibility to choose, for example when Dumbledore comes to the orphanage and, despite already sensing the boy's addiction to power, summons him as a future pupil of Hogwarts, ready to endorse him. But young Tom, unlike Harry, does not jump at the chance, but continues going astray.
We also considered Harry's special mission, tried to distinguish parallels and differences with Christ's mission and in the end had to admit that at the stage of the series then (including HP 5), a definitive judgment about Harry's role as messianic or salvific could not yet be made because that depended on the further development of the series. We actually took the risk of speculating about the ending of the series, thereby providing the possibility of a falsification of our interpretations (thus also providing a criterion on whether we were reading something into the novels that had not been there). At this point we can say that Rowling fulfilled our stipulations of how Harry's mission can be concluded in a fitting salvific manner and still avoided disappointing the fans' hopes for Harry's survival. Furthermore she provided us with some questions to analyze.
Harry's preparedness to give his life fulfils several criteria of a genuine Christian sacrifice: it is motivated by love; it is necessitated only by evil deeds of other people to which Harry does not consent or contribute; it is not motivated by fear or subjugation; he submits to the unavoidable injustice done to him in order to avert even more injustice for others, to enhance their lives and enable them to live. Harry's intention to give his life is also free from vanity. He does not fantasize himself as a great hero, he meets his supposed death with fear and trembling. Yet three questions remain before one can declare that Harry's willingness to give his life is a literary parallel to the sacrifice of Jesus Christ and that Harry therefore is a figura Christi. 1) Is Harry's decision really free? After all he heard in Snape's memories that Dumbledore thought from the beginning that Harry had to die. Does this make his death just a subjugation under Dumbledore's will and not his own free choice? 2) Christ died not only for his friends but for all humanity. While Harry has no universal claim, it is still important whether his sacrifice also was - in a certain sense - for his enemies, although it contributed to their defeat. 3) Does the detail that Harry in fact does not die diminish his sacrifice in any way?
The first question also raises issues about Dumbledore's conduct, of course. Why did the headmaster not tell Harry earlier? Why did he give him the task of destroying the Horcruxes when by doing so he was chipping "away at the bonds tying [...] himself, to life" (HP 7,34,555)? While many a critical thing can be said about Dumbledore's behaviour in the last two novels of the series, we think that this conduct is not among them. Rather it turns out that Dumbledore behaved to Harry like a sensible and sensitive guide. We are inclined to compare him to a spiritual director who directs his client by accompanying him in a quite non-directive way. That means that even when he knows an inconvenient truth about his client's necessary development or next possible step, he does not tell the client in an imposing way but lets him discover for himself. Only by discovering this necessity himself can the client make it his own personal decision whether he is to follow the conditioned necessity that he confronts or whether he wants to "duck out", as Harry calls that. The necessity he faces is conditioned on a certain aim: namely to end Voldemort's reign and save his society. If he wants to remain true to this mission, there is no other possibility. But it is his own choice whether he wants to be faithful to his calling. He could flee, if he chose to.
Viewed in this light it is very significant that Harry is told by nobody that he has to die. Neither Dumbledore nor Snape do so. Snape's memory merely tells him that Dumbledore instructed Snape to tell Harry about his being a Horcrux and what this means for Voldemort's power. Dumbledore confesses that Harry had to be protected so far "'to teach him, to raise him, to let him try his strength'" (HP 7,33,551). He is certain: "'If I know him, he will have arranged matters so that when he does set out to meet his death, it will, truly, mean the end of Voldemort.'" (HP 7,33,551) Harry's seeing this in Snape's memory, of course, makes this a kind of self-referential assessment, a self-fulfilling prophecy. Still, Harry is not confronted by an explicit demand to give his life; he is confronted by the assessment that his giving his life is the only way out, and the sure expectation that he will act according to that necessity. This might seem like splitting hairs but we think that psychologically it makes a great difference: am I following a demand to give my life - or am I following a demand to restore peace, even after I've learned that the only way to do so is by giving my life? So in Harry's self-sacrifice Rowling delicately but clearly avoids the danger of demanding self-sacrifice, as if that would be part of an ethics of fulfilment.
Was Harry manipulated by Dumbledore to react the way he does? Was his teaching an indoctrination? The novels give no reason for such an accusation. Only an education that would have told Harry that he should not care about his fellow human beings - or at least that his care should stop where his own life was in danger - would have reared him to avoid his self-sacrifice. Harry was not raised to indirectly commit suicide; he was merely raised to love even beyond death.
A comparison to Christ's sacrifice seems applicable. In the history of theology there have been many attempts to clarify how Christ's human and divine wills were related in his consent to die on the cross, and what kind of necessity was referred to by the numerous New Testament statements that Jesus had to die. It happens that Rowling's depiction of Harry's decision fits in well with the interpretation of Jesus' death by Raymund Schwager and his "Dramatic Theology". A meticulous analysis of Jesus' prayer in the garden of Gethsemani (cf. Mark 14:36) provides Schwager with valuable insights:
If [... Jesus ] actually spoke out this request [to be spared] and at the same time subordinated it completely to the will of the Father ('not what I will, but what thou wilt'), then two things are shown: (1) The way of suffering did not correspond in any way to the direct intention of the heavenly Father, for this way entirely contradicted Jesus' human nature, which in its willing, because it was sinless, directly mirrored the will of the creator. In consequence, no direct revelation of God may be seen in suffering. (2) Through the unconditional subordination of his own human will to that of his heavenly Father, Jesus showed himself ready to let his human existence be used for a task which utterly surpassed it.
From this Schwager concludes that Jesus' suffering and death was not the direct will of the Father. Nevertheless it was His indirect will - or one could say with words that we already used - his conditioned will.
The judgment [against Jesus] did not start from God but from humankind, and the will of the Father was only that the Son should follow sinners to the very end and share their abandonment, in order thus to make possible for them again a conversion from the world of hardened hearts and distance from God.
So Jesus' death was necessary not because of a direct divine will for his death. It became necessary because of human sinfulness and hardened hearts which made this final identification with humanity the only means to reach them. Here Schwager's argument is formally equivalent to Anselm of Canterbury's idea that God did not expressly command Jesus to die, but to restore justice. Death became only necessary because it was the only way to do that. Materially, however, Schwager does not argue about justice to be restored, but of a way to still reach sinners in their self-inflicted blindness.
Most of this corresponds very well to Harry and Dumbledore, although it has to be emphasized that Dumbledore cannot be seen as a literary stand-in for God. He has too many human flaws. Nevertheless Dumbledore is a father-figure and spiritual guide for Harry. Therefore the headmaster's explicit demand for Harry to give his life would have constituted a problem for our interpretation. Yet, as we have seen, Dumbledore does not voice such an explicit demand, and the necessity which Harry encounters is the result of sinful human behaviour and is thus conditioned on that situation. So we may affirm that Harry's decision to give his life for his friends was his own free decision, mandated by the unholy situation he encountered and by his own conscientious reaction to it.
Psychologically it also seems important that Harry learns of this conditioned necessity at the end of his way. He could not have handled this knowledge before. It would have driven him to desperation or the sheer burden of the task would have overwhelmed him. It might be permissible to view different Christian hypotheses about Christ's knowledge and foreknowledge of his death from here. A very broad and strong theological tradition sees Christ as having full foreknowledge of his destiny from the beginning of his life. Other, more recent, models argue that this is very difficult to reconcile with Christ's full humanity, which demands progress in Christ's human knowledge. These models attribute an early knowledge about his destiny to Jesus and accept his predictions of his crucifixion as historically plausible. But they do not attribute this to divine omniscience but to his high sensitivity for the powers that guide human behaviour; thus he realized very early where his conflict with the authorities would lead. Although it is certainly not legitimate to make theological inferences from a literary fiction like Harry Potter, it can be said that these novels show a high psychological probability of these more recent ideas about Christ's foreknowledge of his death.
We said that Jesus' death was necessary in order to follow sinners and allow them a conversion. This motivation is certainly absent from Harry Potter's self-sacrifice, which brings us to our second question: Was Harry's sacrifice somehow also intended to benefit his adversaries?
A first answer is a clear no. At the time of his walking into Voldemort's hands to meet his death, he wants to save his friends but not his enemies. According to the Christian faith, Christ died for all, not only for his friends. Because of Christ's close union with his divine father, he could see even his enemies as his brothers, and realized that actually all sinful humans were subject to the same sinful behaviour as his persecutors. In the New Testament interpretation of Jesus' death, all are included among his enemies, and so all are included in the salvation his death has worked. Christ's sacrificial death was his ultimate act of the love of enemies. So far, this cannot be said about Harry Potter. He sacrifices himself only for his friends, and it must be said: at that point of the novel, if it were possible, Harry would prefer to kill Voldemort rather than being killed by him. It is practical necessity that makes him to agree to his self-sacrifice.
Yet, a second look will lead to a somewhat different assessment. Throughout the novels Harry is shown as remarkably resistant to inclinations of revenge and vindictiveness. He is tempted to revenge his Godfather Sirius but does not follow his spontaneous rage, which shows already a lot about his personality. Moreover he repeatedly saves the lives of some of his enemies, notably Peter Pettegrew's (HP 3,19,275), who by betraying the Potters' whereabouts was indirectly responsible for Voldermort's murder of Harry's parents; his cousin Dudley's (HP 5,1,20-23); and his schoolmate Draco Malfoy's twice (HP 7,31,508-510 and HP 7,32,518). So we can say that killing in order to defeat evil is not something that comes easily to Harry.
In his final dialogue with Voldemort we actually learn that his motivation for being prepared to meet his death was more than just to save his close personal friends; he had in mind all the people resisting Voldemort's terror and suffering for that:
'You won't be killing anyone else tonight,' said Harry as they circled and stared into each other's eyes, green into red. 'You won't be able to kill any of them, ever again. Don't you get it? I was ready to die to stop you hurting these people -' 'But you did not!' '- I meant to, and that's what did it. I've done what my mother did. They're protected from you. [...] You can't touch them. You don't learn from your mistakes, Riddle, do you?' (HP 7,36,591)
Yet this still does not include his enemies and certainly not Voldemort. And there is, as we have seen, a final duel from which Harry leaves alive and Voldemort dead. So isn't it good cop versus bad guy in the end? There are clear elements of pity for Voldemort and attempts to save him in Harry's conduct. We saw the first indication of that when Harry heard of Voldemort being abandoned by his mother, although he did not admit this feeling. When suspended between life and death and encountering the strange baby-shaped creature, Harry is repulsed but moved by pity at the same time. This creature can be seen as the last remnant of Voldemort - a reading that has in the meantime been corroborated by J. K. Rowling. Despite his revulsion Harry wants to help it but is told by Dumbledore that it is no use. It cannot be helped in this state anymore. However, it could be helped before Voldemort dies. So when Harry faces him for the final duel, he does attempt to save him from his own hard-heartedness:
'[...] before you try to kill me, I'd advise you to think about what you've done ... think, and try for some remorse, Riddle ...' 'What is this?' Of all things that Harry had said to him, beyond any revelation or taunt, nothing had shocked Voldemort like this. [...] 'It's your one last chance,' said Harry, 'it's all you've got left ... I've seen what you'll be otherwise ... be a man ... try ... try for some remorse ...' (HP 7,36,594)
It is a taunt but it is more than that. It is a direct indication that Harry also wants to save Voldemort. When Voldemort will be the helpless baby-shaped something that Harry has seen, he will be beyond help, as Dumbledore explained. But as long as he lives, he could repent, he could change, as remote and ridiculous the possibility might seem. Since Voldemort is completely oblivious to the possibility that Harry might win their duel and to any idea of remorse in general, there is no other way for Harry to voice this but in a taunt. And yet he made a last attempt at even redeeming Tom Riddle, the lost boy who became the most evil Lord Voldemort. Still, he was unsuccessful: Voldemort proceeds by casting the killing curse.
We have mentioned that Harry only defends himself with a disarming spell, which he also has previously used, even in grave peril. His mentor Lupin had chided him for it: "'Harry, the time for Disarming is past! These people are trying to capture and kill you! At least Stun if you aren't prepared to kill!'" (HP 7,5,64) Lupin is speaking the logic of war, and for a time Harry succumbed to it, using the other two unforgivable curses, the Imperio curse that breaks others' free will and uses them as puppets, and the torture curse Crucio. But he has always refrained from the Death Curse and in the final battle, he returns to simple disarming. It could not be made clearer that Harry does not directly intend Voldemort's death. He intends the end of his reign of horror, and he intends to protect his own life, but not at the expense of Voldemort's.
Voldemort was killed because his own curse rebounded on him due to the fact that Harry was the true owner of the Elder Wand, a fact that Harry had revealed to Voldemort before. There was, however, an uncertainty contained in Harry's deliberation: did the Elder Wand know? There was the possibility that the wand did not know, and in this case Harry would have stood no chance. So, Harry risks his life again in order to save his friends, but now also to save his adversary. Military logic would have him preempt Voldemort by killing him before he could do the same to Harry. The logic of the love of enemies stipulates to risk his own life, as long as there is the slightest chance that your enemy might be saved too. So Harry has avoided any move that would directly cause Voldemort's death, he has risked his own life to protect Voldemort, and moreover he has taken every step to make Voldemort see that an attack on Harry was likely to reverse its effect on himself. But Voldemort would not listen.
There is an intriguing parallel with the Christian idea of judgment. Already in the Old Testament there is one strong tradition - among others - that interprets God's judgment over sinners as God permitting sinners to become objects of the consequences of their own sins. Therefore in many passages divine judgment can be decoded as an actual human self-judgment that is permitted - but not actively engendered - by God. Raymund Schwager tried to interpret the judgment parables of the New Testament in the same vein and saw this reading confirmed by Christ's behaviour in his crucifixion and taken up by Paul's description of God's wrath in Romans 1. Finally 20th century theology for the most part has seen hell not so much as a consequence of God's active damnation of a sinner but as the possible consequence of a sinner's final and irrevocable self-exclusion from God's offer of love.
This fully applies to Lord Voldemort's end. He seals his fate of being irredeemably reduced to this strange baby-shaped something by irrevocably rejecting Harry's offer of repentance and he brings self-judgment on himself by trying to kill Harry. One could say he is deceived into believing that Harry's words are wrong and he can still win the duel. Yet he is not deceived by Harry but by his own stubbornness and hard-heartedness.
We are now confident to claim that Harry's self-sacrifice is a genuinely Christian sacrifice that neither involves masochistic or self-destructive tendencies nor aggressive impulses toward the enemy but is motivated by a love for all people of good will and - at least sympathy - for the perpetrator of evil to such a degree that Harry risks his life even for his mortal enemy. So, the conclusion of the series allows us the definitive answer that Harry's mission indeed was salvific, or messianic, and that it is very much modelled on Christ's act of salvation, being an act of self-sacrifice that shares many of the model's properties. The novels make this explicit: Harry is seen as "their leader and symbol, their saviour and their guide" (HP 7,36,596), or in other words, he is a literary figura Christi.
Still we have not attended to the third question. After all, Harry does not die, although he clearly was prepared to. Does that diminish his role? We would like to give a differentiated answer. On a first level it does not diminish his role because the reasons for his survival are features of the special magical world that Rowling has created. The redemption that is attainable for Harry's society, from which Voldemort has excluded himself, can be effected without Harry's actual death. Therefore he does not die. This reinforces our earlier point that the death of the redeemer is not absolutely necessary for bringing about salvation but only dependent on the prevailing conditions. In the case of Harry, Rowling has reshuffled the cards so that these conditions do not necessitate the redeemer's death. Yet his willingness to die, if necessary, remains essential.
On a second level, however, Harry's survival clearly marks the difference between Rowling's literary universe and the bland realism of the New Testament. The Bible has no magic formula for avoiding or alleviating the consequences of human sin. They take their due. The only thing that changes - and not magically at all - is who is going to suffer these consequences. Voldemort brings self-judgment on himself, thus he has to suffer the consequence of his eventual self-exclusion. According to some interpreters Christ's giving his life on a cross actually amounts to his willingly taking upon himself the human self-judgment that would otherwise have hit sinful humanity. So while Harry saves his world except the one who is lost to his own self-damnation, Jesus can be said to have substituted himself for those who would normally have been lost to their own self-damnation. While the church after the Second Vatican Council still maintains that there is the possibility of a final self-damnation (hell), it also upholds a hope for universal salvation. This hope has firm grounding in the New Testament because Jesus underwent human self-judgment. J. Ratzinger emphasizes that Christ went to hell and suffered it empty, while still respecting human freedom to choose self-damnation.
This accounts for another difference between Harry Potter and the gospel of Christ. Christ goes the way to death without a magic escape in the last minute. But Christian faith professes him to have risen from the dead on the third day, or stated differently: the heavenly Father raised him from the dead. One might ask whether this is not the magical trick in Christianity, akin to Harry Potter's return from the place where he meets his dead Headmaster Dumbledore. Harry is not dead, Jesus lives. Where is the difference?
There is a close proximity of the two on the level of imagery, and it is a highly probable that this is not accidental but intended by the author. It heightens Harry's similarity to Christ. Yet, beyond the level of imagery, there are important differences: The first is that orthodox Christianity professes Christ to have really died and to have risen from the dead; Harry learns from Dumbledore that he is not dead in the first place. In Harry's case his return is instrumental in freeing the world of Voldemort without directly killing him (all others could never have defeated Voldemort the way Harry did). In Christianity Christ's death is instrumental in bringing about salvation, his resurrection adds nothing to that; it merely authenticates Jesus' person and message and makes clear that his message of forgiveness includes those who have killed him. It brings something new - but not the defeat of his enemies but new hope for their salvation despite their killing him. Harry returns to live his life, as any teenager would, and raises a family. Jesus returns after his resurrection only for a short period of time to instruct his disciples for their future life without him. And finally: Christ's resurrection is not "magical" in any sense; it is believed to be a divine intervention, the restoration of life by the creator of all life.
The overall framework in Rowling's fiction and Christian eschatology is the same: the saviour does everything to save even self-enclosed sinners but in the end their freedom is respected. Yet the fine-print differs: For Jesus the end is only reached when he has joined the sinner in suffering death and hell with him; for Harry the end comes a little earlier. This should not be understood as a criticism of Rowling's world; it merely emphasizes that the explicitly Christian soteriology is still more serious and daring than Rowling's already far-reaching construct.
It has often been criticised, especially by Christian authors, that the characters of Rowling's novels are too ambiguous, that the boundaries between good and evil are blurred. We have argued, on the contrary, that this ambiguity of Rowling's characters has to count as a strength of her novels. Here we would like to delve further into this tug of war by showing and interpreting the ambivalence of three important figures: Tom Riddle aka Lord Voldemort, Albus Dumbledore, and Severus Snape.
We have portrayed Tom Riddle as heavily burdened by his origin, encumbered, yet not predetermined in his inclination towards evil, having, yet squandering his chances to opt out. Without doubt, Voldemort is the most evil figure in the whole series. But is he a satanic figure? As Rowling has Dumbledore ask whether Harry is moved by pity for Tom Riddle, we might ask whether Rowling, by telling us about Voldemort's tough family background, tries to engage our "sympathy for the devil"?
On the one hand it is true that Voldemort can be regarded as kind of satanic: In the whole series we could not find a single indication that Voldemort acts in favour of somebody else and in response to anyone's but his own needs. On the contrary, all he seems to be interested in is his own power, his efforts to conquer death. In order to achieve his goals, he does not hesitate a second to manipulate, hunt down, terrorise, torture, and murder other people. Not even a glimpse of conscience is revealed to us throughout seven novels, some moments of hesitation (obviously out of fear that Dumbledore might be more powerful or that Harry might defeat him once again) and his curiosity are the only human impulses deterring him from killing his enemies immediately.
Yet Voldemort is never depicted as a somebody worth imitating. The novels do not engage our admiration for Voldemort's power and superiority, but sympathy for his frailty, in a sense being a victim himself. In the final analysis, he is his own victim, he "has deliberately self mutilated".
On the other hand, Voldemort cannot be seen as the devil in the traditional metaphysical sense. We learn that he is a mere human being, predisposed to evil by his past, and turned evil by a life-long series of decisions that created a habit in him. His plain humanity is emphasized by Dumbledore's custom of addressing him with his civil name, Tom Riddle, a conduct that Harry takes up in their final confrontation. This way Voldemort is thoroughly demythologised, his self-created aura of otherworldly evil and his nimbus of invincibility is destroyed: he is just a human person, albeit an exceptionally evil one.
The shining character of Albus Dumbledore is starkly reduced in the final volumes of the series. In HP 7 we learn that Dumbledore, known for the victory he gained over the dark wizard Gellert Grindelwald in their famous duel in 1945, was close friends with the very same Grindelwald in their youth. Together they were looking for the Deathly Hallows. We come to know that Dumbledore even shared Grindelwald's idea of the wizards' right to rule over Muggles, proposing that this should be justified by the necessity to seize control "for the greater good" (HP 7,18,291).
Because of his attachment to Grindelwald and his ideology, Dumbledore did not care well enough for his little sister Ariana, who, after having been attacked by some Muggle boys became insane, and in her rages uncontrollably performed magic. In one of her eruptions she accidentally killed their mother. Since their father had already been sent to Azkaban prison for hunting down the three Muggle boys, Albus Dumbledore as the oldest son returned home in order to take care of his sister. When Albus's brother Aberforth confronted his brother with his reproof that Albus neglected their sister due to his friendship with Grindelwald, the situation got out of control: Grindelwald attacks Aberforth, Albus tries to stop him, Ariana tries to help without knowing what she does, all of them get mixed up in confusion till eventually one of them (it is never clarified who) unwittingly kills Ariana (cf. HP 7,28, 454-457).
This incident opened Dumbledore's eyes. He ended his friendship with Grindelwald and later saved the world from his tyranny. So HP 7 shows that Dumbledore's greatness was not unblemished from the beginning, rather it developed gradually out of a conversion experience, which was prompted by such a severe accident as the death of his own sister. As grave as this misstep was, one might speculate whether Dumbledore's subsequent greatness is not a consequence of his knowledge of human frailty and fallibility. He is not a convert who became a zealot, he is a convert who retained his sense for human weakness, which is a very Christian thing to do, too.
Yet Dumbledore's youth sins are not all that is problematic about him. HP 7 also depicts the mature Dumbledore as a highly secretive and manipulative person. His brother Aberforth accuses him of secrecy and Harry at some point can only agree:
'Look what he asked from me, Hermione! Risk your life, Harry! And again! And again! And don't expect me to explain everything, just trust me blindly, trust that I know what I'm doing, trust me even though I don't trust you! Never the whole truth! Never! [...] I don't know who he loved, Hermione, but it was never me. This isn't love, the mess he's left me in. He shared a damn sight more of what he was really thinking with Gellert Grindelwald than he ever shared with me.' (HP 7,18,295)
The question arises as to whether Dumbledore only severed his companionship with Grindelwald but not his adherence to the ideology "for the greater good" that they had interpreted to stand for "ends justify the means". Two important examples of his conduct point to that direction: 1) When Snape asks him to save Lily Potter and he convinces Snape that he must mean Harry and James as well, he actually blackmails Snape by agreeing to do so only on condition that Snape turned Dumbledore's spy in Voldemort's inner circle (cf. HP 7,33,544). 2) Dumbledore urges Snape to kill him, making Snape just an instrument in his game. The fact that he is giving his own life for this does not make this unproblematic. On the contrary, it shows that Dumbledore remains partly attached to a logic of justifying the means by the ends. His premature death follows the logic of war: balance off life against life, seeing some as expendable, and others not. His death is neither a noble self-sacrifice, like Harry's willingness to die, because he burdens Snape with the guilt of killing him; nor is it an act of suicide, as one might criticize. It seems most akin to heroism in war, which also is a double edged attitude: its purpose is to protect others and to end injustice; yet its means is violence and death. It is therefore the lesser of two evils, but it remains an evil nevertheless.
However, two things mitigate our assessment of Dumbledore: He behaves differently with Harry, as we have discussed; and he knows that he is guilty and has the strength to apologize:
'Can you forgive me?' he said. 'Can you forgive me for not trusting you? For not telling you? Harry, I only feared that you would fail as I had failed. I only dreaded that you would make my mistakes. I crave your pardon, Harry. I have known, for some time now, that you are the better man.' 'What are you talking about?' asked Harry, startled by Dumbledore's tone, by the sudden tears in his eyes.
Thus the figure of Dumbledore, although depicted as a human being far from being perfect, shows that the story has a very clear sense for the difference of good and evil. Still it does not paint everything in black and white but sketches a more realistic picture instead: the struggle of good versus evil is not merely one between good and evil people, but rather between conflictive tendencies within ourselves, entailing our possibility, as well as necessity, to choose. This, as we already argued, is not an indication of the narrative's deficiency, but rather one of the story's strengths.
Severus Snape is the most ambiguous figure of the novels. Although in the end he turns out to have been on Dumbledore's side for the past 16 years, his role is a complicated one: Snape shares an important experience with Dumbledore: a conversion after a catastrophic event, the death of a loved person, for which he bears partial responsibility. Presumably that common experience is the reason why Dumbledore can be so sure about Snape's trustworthiness. But even after his conversion Snape remains a tainted character. As an under-cover agent and spy he continuously walks the line between committing smaller crimes in order to retain his cover and to avoid the really big crimes. After his conversion he has never killed, and some of his crimes are accidents (like cutting off George Weasley's ear - cf. HP 7,33,552). Snape still exhibits negative character traits: he reviles Harry because of the injustices he had incurred at James Potter's hands; and he is unable to overcome that feeling until the very end. Snape also conducted himself to his students and colleagues very unfairly, even despicably, way beyond the measure his camouflage required.
So Snape is almost a tragic character. He deserves high respect for what he has done and what he gave up (sacrificed) for it; yet he remains highly ambivalent, which means that he is really very much in need of forgiveness for his mistakes and misdeeds, which he receives in the end. Both Snape and Dumbledore are heavily burdened with guilt. The judgment about them is not an objective assessement; it involves a decision, namely the decision either to demand retribution or to grant forgiveness.
Harry does the latter. He has already forgiven Dumbledore when he agrees to give his life. But the final chapter, which takes place 19 years after the novel's main plot, shows that Harry has made the same decision about Snape. When Harry and Ginny, Hermione and Ron say farewell to their children who board the Hogwarts Express, Harry's second son, who goes to Hogwarts for the first time and will be assigned to one of the four houses, is preoccupied with the fear that he might be assigned to Slytherin, the house that has produced the largest number of evildoers, including Tom Riddle alias Voldemort, and Severus Snape. The boy's name, Albus Severus, is already telling about Harry's relationship to his two dead teachers. The ensuing dialogue makes it even clearer:
'What if I'm in Slytherin?' The whisper was for his father alone, and Harry knew that only the moment of departure could have forced Albus to reveal how great and sincere that fear was. Harry crouched down so that Albus's face was slightly above his own. Alone of Harry's three children, Albus had inherited Lily's eyes. 'Albus Severus,' Harry said quietly, [...] 'you were named for two headmasters of Hogwarts. One of them was a Slytherin and he was probably the bravest man I ever knew.' (HP 7,37,606-607)
This must be regarded as a clear sign of Harry's forgiveness. His deciding for forgiveness rather than retribution shows that Harry truly has come to a healing of his own injuries. We showed previously that the topic of dealing with one's past injuries is important in Harry Potter, and that the novels depict various alternatives: perpetuation through vindictiveness and hatred, suppression, and healing which presupposes forgiveness and facilitates personal advancement and maturation. We stated that we hoped for a clear indication in the last novel that Harry's scar would have stopped hurting, now being an integrated part of himself.
The ending of the last novel surpassed our expectations in this regard: "The scar had not pained Harry for nineteen years. All was well." (HP 7,37,607). This clearly shows that Harry's healing is intimately connected with his readiness to forgive and vice versa. And both might be related back to the detail that eventually Harry regained his self-experience as a gifted and guided, a graced, person.
We have argued that the novels contain theology, albeit only implicitly, because God - or the transcendent in the theological sense - does not occur explicitly, is never thematised; and we claimed that this implicit theology is essentially Christian. Again we should revisit these claims: is there theology, is it only implicit, and if so, what are the strengths and limitations of dealing with the transcendent in this implicit way?
At the end of the series the first question can certainly be affirmed. The theme of redemption dominates the series in ways that do have a religious undertone. Rather the question may arise whether this theology is still implicit only, the more so because HP 7 contains two quotations from the New Testament. They occur almost in the middle of the book when Harry and Hermione return to Godric's Hollow, the place where Harry's special role began. In the graveyard they first come across the grave of Dumbledore's mother and sister. The inscription in its stone: "Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also" (HP 7,16,266), is a quote from Matthew 6:21, where it is spoken by Jesus. Later they find Harry's parents' grave and read "The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death" (HP 7,16,268), a quotation from St. Paul's first letter to the Corinthians (15:26).
It is noteworthy that the two citations do not mention God or any specific religious figure. Rather the first one offers a kind of wisdom aphorism, an anthropological truth about human desire. The second is a prophetic eschatological statement, the end point of Paul's brief summary of salvation history. But the novels take the two out of their context. Readers who are not familiar with the New Testament probably would not even recognize them as quotations from the Bible. Harry himself completely misconstrues the meaning of Paul's quotation. Clever Hermione has to function as his exegete: "'It doesn't mean defeating death in the way the Death Eaters mean it, Harry,' said Hermione, her voice gentle. 'It means ... you know ... living beyond death. Living after death'" (HP 7,16,269). So, again, these are, so to speak, anonymous quotations from the Bible. They express insights that are at home in Christianity but they are expressed here without having their origin tagged onto them. And they are both anthropological propositions: they tell something about humanity, their inclinations and their supposed destiny. They do not mention or even allude to God because of the way that they have been taken out of context.
They exemplify what we have maintained about all the theological themes in the novels: they are theological because they deal with ultimate concerns of human existence; they thematise only the anthropological aspects of theology, not the theo-logical in the strict sense; they are at home in Christianity and formulate Christian ideas, yet in such a way that they are not recognizable as Christian for everyone, which also entails that they become relatively independent of the Christian tradition and can function in any human anthropology. While they are in fact Christian, they are not confined by the limits of Christianity but can become the common good of humanity, as so many values of a Christian humanism have become over the course of time. Conversely Christianity can no longer claim these insights exclusively for itself; but it can claim that they coincide with Christian ideas - and we would go a step further: that they originated within the Christian tradition, which is of course deeply rooted in Judaism.
Especially the theme that death is not the last word, that there is a link beyond death to one's loved departed ones recurs throughout the novels. The connection Harry has to his dead parents is more than just the sad longing of an orphan. It was so at first when Harry wasted his time in front of the Mirror of Erised. But later the connection to his parents really gave him strength and saved his life. This is topped by a scene when Harry thinks he walks his last way to be killed by Voldemort. As he goes hidden beneath his Invisibility Cloak, he can open the Golden Snitch, which Dumbledore left him as an inheritance. As expected it contains the Resurrection Stone, which is supposed to bring back the dead. On turning it the deceased who had been closest to Harry appear: Lupin, Black, and his parents. Yet they have not definitively come back from the dead, "they were neither ghost nor truly flesh [...], they moved towards him, and on each face there was the same loving smile" (HP 7,34,560). The Resurrection Stone does not bring them back as if death had never happened; yet it proves that death is not the final word. There is a life beyond and those who have gone before Harry walk with him on his way towards death, strengthening him, shielding him against the desperation that the approaching Dementors would mean otherwise.
We think that Rowling goes as far as possible in alluding to religious ideas without explicitly thematising them. This is epitomized by the final exchange between Harry, suspended between life and death, and the dead Dumbledore. Before returning to the world, Harry asks: "'Is this real? Or has this been happening inside my head?' [...] 'Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?'" (HP 7,35,579), is Dumbledore's flummoxing answer.
This exchange marks the frontier between believers and non-believers but deliberately leaves the question open. Believers can point to Dumbledore's assurance that this life after death is real. Non-believers can, with equal right, point to the statement that it is happening inside Harry's head. The next logical question, "is it happening only inside Harry's head or is his head a sensor for some kind of external reality", is never asked - because in that case the novels would explicitly affirm a religious belief. There is good reason for Rowling not to do so. That way she can lead her readers to the threshold of questions about the transcendent - maybe the divine - and its workings in the world; she can even hint at an answer in the affirmative; yet by not explicitly asking or answering the questions herself she avoids short-circuiting the search. She encourages a quest and even gives it some guidance - but without being schoolmasterly or claiming to know its outcome in advance.
In the meantime J. K. Rowling has stated her intentions with respect to religion. Nancy Gibbs reports Rowling to be saddened by much criticism she received from conservative or even fundamentalist Christians and then goes on:
Through it all, Rowling didn't really fight back. Talk too much about her faith, she feared, and it would become clear who would live and who would die and who might actually do both. After six books with no mention of God or Scripture, in the last book Harry discovers on his parents' graves a Bible verse that, Rowling says, is the theme for the entire series. [...] It turns out that Rowling, like her hero, is a Seeker. She talks about having a great religious curiosity, going back to childhood. "No one in my family was a believer. But I was very drawn to faith, even while doubting," she says. "I certainly had this need for something that I wasn't getting at home, so I was the one who went out looking for religion." As a girl, she would go to church by herself. She still attends regularly, and her children were all christened. [...] "At least as much as they've been attacked from a theological point of view," she says, the books "have been lauded and taken into pulpit, and most interesting and satisfying for me, it's been by several different faiths." The values in the books, she observes, are by no means exclusively Christian, and she is wary of appearing to promote one faith over another rather than inviting people to explore and struggle with the hard questions. Rowling's religious agenda is very clear: she does not have one. "I did not set out to convert anyone to Christianity. [...] It is perfectly possible to live a very moral life without a belief in God, and I think it's perfectly possible to live a life peppered with ill-doing and believe in God." And now she climbs into a pulpit of her own, and you can tell how much this all matters to her, if it weren't already clear from her 4,100-page treatise on tolerance. "I'm opposed to fundamentalism in any form," she says. "And that includes in my own religion."
We are glad that nothing we claimed in our articles is refuted by these lines. The strengths of implicitly using religious themes should have become clear by now. What are its limitations?
One limitation was already mentioned: Harry Potter cannot depict the seriousness of evil and its consequences as thoroughly as the New Testament does. The worst is magically averted, while the Bible sees that the worst often occurs - and still there is the possibility of healing because of God's power. Explicitly naming the source of this power allows for a more realistic, more sober, assessment of the unredeemed state of much of the world, and still despair does not spring from it but belief in the world's redeemability.
Another limitation is that the company which the novels keep with the readers on their personal quest ends somewhat suddenly. As we stated above: it is the next logical question that the novel does not pose anymore. So in a sense it walks with its readers toward exactly the point where the religious question would become explicit, and then leaves them. By emphasizing that death is not the final destiny of human persons and by depicting the link to those gone before us, the novels in a sense clamour for the question: and why is this so? Why is death, which seems to be the last and insurmountable barrier of our existence, not what it seems? What power can overcome it? And which force can empower human persons to grow beyond the fear of death and give their lives for others? It is the power of love, as the novels never tire emphasizing. And still the question remains as to whence this power draws its strength. Is it only in our heads or is there a reality to it, which religious believers call God or the creator of the universe?
Are these limitations also drawbacks? The novels are leaving their readers exactly at the point where explicit theological questions arise. They thus leave them where the realm and the task of the world's religions begin. So Rowling decently leaves posing and answering the questions she has led up to to her readers themselves. And here is exactly where religious believers come into play: Can we encourage people to pose those questions? Can we interest them in our answers or even convince them that our answers are good answers? There is nothing in Rowling's novels to contradict her stated intention not to promote a particular religion or to convert her readers to Christianity. Yet the fact remains that she draws on religious themes in a Christian interpretation - nowhere could this be clearer than in the concept of sacrifice she employs, as R. Girard has shown. Her quotes are from the Bible and her anthropology is essentially, albeit not exclusively, Christian. Therefore there is an affinity of the novels for Christian answers. It is up to us - theologians, pastors, teachers, parents - to make prudent use of that. Prudent in that case would be not to monopolise the novels and instrumetalise them for our purposes; but in respecting their own purposes to point towards the links they have to our convictions, to our faith. That is what we have tried in our articles.
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---. 2000. Must There Be Scapegoats? Violence and Redemption in the Bible. Translated by Assad, M. L. New York, N. Y.: Crossroad.
Wandinger, Nikolaus. 2007 "Wahrer Mensch und wahrer Gott oder: Muss man sich Jesus als gespaltene Persönlichkeit denken?" in Breitsching, K. and Panhofer, J. (ed.) Jesus. Vorträge der siebten Innsbrucker Theologischen Sommertage 2006 (theologische trends 16), Innsbruck: innsbruck university press, 85-118.
Wandinger, Nikolaus, Drexler, Christoph, and Peter, Teresa. 2003. "Harry Potter and the Art of Theology. A Theological Perspective on the Novels of J. K. Rowling (Part 1)." Milltown Studies, 52, 1-26. Also available from http://www.uibk.ac.at/theol/leseraum/artikel/481.html.
---. 2004. "Harry Potter and the Art of Theology. A Theological Perspective on J. K. Rowling's Novels (Part 2)." Milltown Studies, 53, 131-153. Also available from http://www.uibk.ac.at/theol/leseraum/artikel/554.html.
 Wandinger et al. 2003 (also: http://www.uibk.ac.at/theol/leseraum/texte/481.html ) and Wandinger et al. 2004 (also: http://www.uibk.ac.at/theol/leseraum/texte/554.html).
 Unfortunately the different editions of the Harry Potter novels greatly differ in pagination. Our page numbers therefore are likely to be valid only for the editions mentioned in the bibliography, which are the English originals. For easier handling, the references also give the chapter which contains the quotation. So HP 7,24,291 refers to volume seven of the book series, chapter 24, page 291 in the edition given in the bibliography.
 Cf. HP 3, description in Wandinger et al. 2004, 143.
 Cf. HP 4,32,557 and Wandinger et al. 2004, 139-140.
 Dumbledore has suspected this all along. When he hears that Voldemort has taken Harry's blood and can now touch Harry "a gleam of something like triumph [shone] in Dumbledore's eyes" (HP 4,36,604).
 Although the novels do not state this precisely, we feel that this interpretation has been corroborated by J. K. Rowling (cf. Rowling 2007b).
 Cf. Wandinger et al. 2003, 18.
 Cf. Wandinger et al. 2003, 20.
 Cf. HP 2,18,245; Wandinger et al. 2003, 21.
 Cf. Wandinger et al. 2004, 134-142.
 Cf. Wandinger et al. 2004, 143.
 Cf. Luke 9:22; 17:25; 22:37; 24:7.26.44; John 13:18; Acts 1:16; 17:3 to name only the most explicit.
 Schwager 1999, 207.
 Schwager 1999, 118.
 Cf. Anselm v. Canterbury 1956, chs. 9-10.
 Cf. Rahner 1966 and Balthasar 1978, 151-185; on these: Wandinger 2007.
 Schwager 1999, 74-78.
 Cf. Schwager 1999, 192.
 Cf. HP 5,36,713; Wandinger et al. 2003, 23-24.
 Rowling 2007b.
 Cf. Schwager 2000, 61-71.
 Cf. Schwager 1999, 53-81.
 Cf. Schwager 1999, 164-166.
 Cf. Ratzinger 1977, 177-178.
 Schwager 1999, 191-196.
 "Christus [...] geht in die Hölle und leidet sie leer; aber er behandelt die Menschen nicht als unmündige Wesen, die letztlich ihr eigenes Geschick nicht verantworten können, sondern sein Himmel beruht auf der Freiheit, die auch dem Verdammten das Recht lässt, seine Verdammnis zu wollen." Ratzinger 1977, 177-178
 Cf. Schwager 1999, 135-141.
 Cf. Abanes 2002, 244-245.
 Cf. Wandinger et al. 2003, 24-25; also Bridger 2002, 61-88.
 Rowling 2007b.
 Cf. Wandinger et al. 2003, 10.
 Cf. Wandinger et al. 2003, 13-14.
 Cf. Wandinger et al. 2003, 3-7
 Cf. HP 1,12,153-157. The name has to be read backwards to reveal the mirror's nature.
 Cf. HP 3,22,312; HP 4,34,579-581 and Wandinger et al. 2003, 16.
 Gibbs 2007, 74-75.
 Cf. Wandinger et al. 2004, 132-136.
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