Children’s Literature and Moral Lessons


I don’t know how often or even whether people consider the metaphorical worlds created in comic books and fantasy games as being a parallel to religion or religious parables. Comics are a sub-category of art and they often carry a message about life. If a kid, a young girl lets say, accepts the myth that Peter Parker became a ‘spider-man,’ then she might subscribe to his doctrine: “With great power comes great responsibility.” Maybe she doesn’t live all parts of her life through that philosophy, but it will have an influence on her. Say she gets a job babysitting; that is great power. The Spider-man ideal will come in handy. Actually, it is the very basis for successfully doing her job. Her story illustrates how a moral instinct took root in her conscience through art: the comic book. This simple act of incorporating a moral behavior based upon an artist’s influence is ever-present in our high-tech culture. A god-based moral code is no longer necessary. In fact, it is antiquated in the eyes of the Harry Potter generation.

Harry Potter novels are a recent manifestation of the trend for moral growth through art on a global scale. Many people give credit to the moral behaviors exemplified by the main character, Harry, as being responsible for the younger generation’s easy acceptance of gay marriage. The central themes in the novels are about the importance of love. The love of friends who become an orphan’s family is the essential ingredient of the hero’s success. Magic in these books is merely an attractive device to relay the story of love. And: “Love is Love.” This is not new to popular stories: Dorothy succeeds in surpassing the two greatest powers in Oz: the wizard and the witch because of the love of her new family in Oz.

Religion diminishes its own influence over the minds of young people by equating itself with art. When Christianists first took aim at the Harry Potter novels they called the books evil, thereby making them equal to, and the opposite of, religion. Kids who read the books think the accusation is silly. By making this equivalency, though, the novel’s stature becomes enhanced and comparable to the church. Kids organically respect the themes found in Harry Potter; they want to read the books so they seek them out. Conversely, young folks are usually indoctrinated into the faith of their parents as a matter of tradition, not desire. So, when asked to compare the two (now equal) entities — church vs. Harry Potter stories – Harry wins.  Harry Potter speaks to them with a moral voice of empathy and compassion; all moral authority comes from love in his world. Harry Potter has no doctrine or creed, so in comparison, a theology based upon the threat of punishment in Hell seems far less desirable. Harry Potter captures imaginations with an emotional zeal that surpasses any religious ritual.

By drawing an equivalency between the religion and the art, Christianists magnify the significance of art and diminished the value of the religion. Historically, this controversy came right on the heels of major revelations about child rape coverups in the Catholic Church. While young folks were learning (from the church itself) about Harry Potter having equal status with religion, they also learned the church is really a bureaucracy! The real church is as evil as the fictional bureaucracies described in the book. This lesson is much more damaging.

The second theme in the novels involves distrust of bureaucracy. No authoritarian hierarchy within the novels is competent at fulfilling its duties. Progress is made in spite of the bureaucracy not because of the bureaucracy. The Ministry of Magic is the constantly inept metaphor for the real-life government and is usually associated with being wrong; even Hogwarts the (good) school is flawed with bureaucratic issues. The Ministry of Magic is eventually overtaken by the evil Lord Voldemort.

Then, in a confluence of coincidence, real life suddenly provides a real world example of the same thing: the child rape cover-up scandal of the church is all about the systemic evils of a religious bureaucracy. Young readers observe the corrupt behaviors of both the real and fictional entities and reach the same conclusions: Don’t trust them, they are evil, they are anti-love (the most redeeming feature of the world) and they must be ignored. The novels amplify the vile behavior of the church bureaucracy and place it squarely on the bad side of the equation. So, when the church says gays are bad, kids dismiss it out of hand; they instinctually say love is love. The church looks evil once again in spite of the music and grand architecture. The kids say: “ I don’t need a bureaucracy to tell me any of this, I can, and must, do it myself.” Just like Harry did.

So, how does this self-shamanism work?

  • People ignore the parts of religion they don’t like.
  • They reject the structural conspiracy to hide pedophile priests.
  • They ignore the church’s forays into political issues such as gay marriage, and a stamp of approval for presidential candidates, etc.
  • They behave according to their own conscience, (like Harry does) not according to a mandate from a time-frozen, less-relevant, Ministry-of-Magic-like religion.
  • They equate God with spectacle, not substance and a boring one at that.
  • They search for moral understanding outside the realm of immoral “religious” hierarchies; often they find it in art; like Harry Potter stories.
  • They do not believe in witchcraft. Duh! It’s just a story like virgin births and rising from death.
  • But, some still ‘go to church,’ the ritual is all that remains relevant.

Walt Whitman, a gay artist wrote in his preface to the original first edition of Leaves of Grass about his expectations for the future. He says, in summary, that there will soon be no more priests because their work is done. Eventually there will be a new theology where every person will be his or her own priest. They will create the church of men and women which does not rely upon faith in immortality or God. This new religion will celebrate the divinity of the individual. Whitman made this comment in 1855 and its prescience is only just becoming clear. No one expected the church to do the footwork necessary to make his prediction a reality, but they did.

It does make sense that a gay man would have this idea. The process of coming out is the process of learning to accept one’s own divinity. Once you understand your own divinity you have the ability, if you choose, to instruct others in the ways of the divine.

Comments

  1. EigenSprocketUK says

    Hmmm, article title seems to be blank.
    Hey, we could run a competition for suggestions!

    • odgraphix says

      Connections issues across Freethoughtblogs allowed this to be published before it was complete and prevented me from fixing it.

  2. says

    I think that finding that “spark of the divine” within is an intensely personal journey, one that doesn’t require priests or gods. Lessons along the way come in many forms, Harry Potter included.

Thoughts?