Magic and religion are difficult to tell apart. Scholars have known this for some time, but don’t often say anything about it for fear of offending. A few days ago Religion News Service ran a story headlined “How the ‘Harry Potter’ books are replacing the Bible as millennials’ foundational text.” While many reacted with shock, to me the fact that a foundational text can be identified at all is a relief. You see, reading is good for you. Really, really good for you. One of the most hopeful things I observed as a parent was the increased quality and volume of young adult literature available. Of course it’s produced to make a profit, but the fact is it showed that reading is alive and thriving. If the young make a habit of it, well, let’s hope that habit’s hard to kick.
My own reading doesn’t always keep pace with my desire to do more of it. I go for a couple of weeks sometimes without finishing a book. I begin to feel depleted. There’s something spiritual about reading, and fiction can reach parts of your soul that are on guard when non-fiction’s your subject. And that’s like magic. It took a couple years for me to catch on to the Harry Potter craze. Eventually my wife and I broke down and bought book one and read it together. As millions of readers can attest, that first book was a fishhook. We all really hope the world does contain some magic. Many people find that solace met with religion. Either way, fiction can enhance the experience. We read the original series, hanging tensely until the final volume came out.
Many of those who believe in a magical religion protested the sale of magical fiction. We were still in Wisconsin at the time, but we saw the protestors outside a local bookstore the release day for one of the later volumes. Like Death-Eaters the protestors opposed Harry Potter. The root of the problem seems to have been unique truth claims. Whenever a religion declares itself the sole harbinger of “the” truth, every other way of looking at things becomes evil. Even if it expressly declares itself to be fantasy fiction for young adults. Years have passed, and Harry Potter, like other forms of pop culture, has grown to the status of a religion. Even Nones want to believe in something. Magic and religion are, after all, very difficult to tell apart.