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.

Bigotry will be their salvation

One of the best experiences of living on the Island of St. Croix is the Writer’s Circle I belong to. It is made up of a variety of people from all walks of life. The other day I showed them my most recent blog, the one about Harry Potter. HO HOs Role in Polytheistic Monotheism We always critique one another’s work with an eye toward positive reinforcement. One person pointed out that much of what I said would be offensive to the religious community. I agreed with that assessment. She wondered why I would do that since she liked the beginning and the ending bits a lot. I explained the nature of Freethoughtblogs.com and said the comments would fit in with the tenor of the other bloggers and readers. I suspect she really wanted to know why I was being intentionally offensive because I don’t come across as being an offensive person and would be likely to point out a similar offense in others. She has a valid point.

I often wonder why those of us who have been stung by organized religion have the emotional reactions we do. Conversely, why does our secular society cow-tow to these harmful, secretive, exclusive, tax-exempt clubs? There is sense of privilege religions take. Religious privilege is a demand of the pious. They demand special treatment because, well, not for any contemporary reason, they have always had it. Many do good and charitable works alongside their political actions and deceptive sales pitch. It’s honored because its always been that way. I would love to know why we continue to do so? They are tax-exempt, exclusionary, bigoted, private clubs. They have the least-rational premise of any organizations, for example: heaven, hell, angels, getting your own personal planet when you die. Then there is praying dead people from some other religion into their version of heaven and having the relatives get really mad about it. The covered heads and gender specific clothing, food, saying prayers instead of taking action, and a whole slew of myths about birth, rebirth, and death. Folks, these are the ancient equivalents of wands and quidditch matches (it’s a Harry Potter thing), robes and flying brooms – the exemplars of an attempt to commune with the Dreamworld. The difference being that art knows it’s an artifice, religion pretends it isn’t. J.K. Rowling intends to entertain, edify and exalt humanity with her novels; take them or leave them, just don’t demand that government codify the rules of quidditch.

Now, I remember the friends of my grandparents being quite upset at the possibility of Jews being allowed to join their Country Club back in the 1960s. I remember the efficient, immaculate, and at times invisible all-black serving staff at the Club with their white gloves, and polite subservience. And I remember feeling so unwelcome by the other kids at the swimming pool when my Grandmother would take us there. She thought she was honoring us with this privilege, when all we were, was embarrassed. The elitism of that Club carried throughout the community – the most privileged of the white upper class.The way it had been for a very long time. Society and that Club have changed along with the times. Anyone willing to pay can join today and a person of any skin-color or religion may serve or be served dinner.

Religions enjoy privilege in this culture, however, they are more resistant than the Country Club to the progress of time. We see it most blatantly in the “religious liberty” legislation they are attempting to pass. They want to make secular laws allowing for the religious version of an all black wait staff. They wish to keep today’s version of “Jews” (or the Irish, or the Catholics, etc.) – the LGBTQ community, from being in their club. They feel put-upon and abused because their own antiquated bias humiliates them. Toto has pulled back the curtain on their fraudulent misbehavior a long time ago – cover-ups and perpetuation of child rape for example, but they have hired lawyers; so, in the style of Donald Trump, their deceit is obvious and met with a “so what” attitude. Regardless of whether their behaviors are right or wrong the holy wizards want to win, morality be damned. When lawyers take church doctrine and transform it into legalese, then the jump across the wall separating church from state is easier to make. The most effective organization opposing LGBTQ rights in this country is the hate group Alliance Defending Freedom, a collection of faith-based lawyers sponsored by the most militant evangelicals. They are legally sophisticated and determined to win in the courts and work at it with little public scrutiny.

The privilege of religion is sinking toward a negative number, just like Trump. The shear inertia of that ancient privilege has kept them going this far. Irrelevance, scandal and other atrocities provide the friction that slows the momentum. They are grasping at roots from long dead trees as they fall over the cliff attempting, in desperation, to invent legal codes that merge their falling religions with the secular laws of the land. They must legalize their “ability to exclude” to survive. Bigotry will be their salvation.

So, getting back to the original question, why offend the religious? Quite frankly, I felt deceived and betrayed when they did not live up to their promises in my youth. I have outgrown the hatred and vitriol that I carried for the church for so many years. The absurdity of organized religion and its misbehavior is now a recognized matter of fact. Using humor to point out the oddities of an absurdity seems nicer than forcing it into an academic debate. I mean, Jesus, HO HOs are funny! The first third of my last post mostly pokes fun at myself. The middle third shows how absurdly out-of-date Christianity is. The last third finds moral value in an easily accessible format, suitable for the age in which we live – the morality parables of the Harry Potter Series. ART!