Thursday, August 9, 2007

Harry Potter and the Culture of Death

The following contains spoilers:

Years ago, whilst at college, I wrote an absurd article concerning liberalism and Harry Potter, in which I dismissed the series’ liberal qualities – not to mention its absence of God – as simply part of the fantasy. I was and remain a fan despite my reservations regarding its politics and my oft-repeated suggestion that the books shouldn’t be read by their intended audience (children). It is not for a political reason that I, nor any other HP fan, read these books. Rather, I read them for their characters (particularly Snape, about whom these books are written whatever their titles or their author may protest) and for the immersive escapism they afford. Most of all, I read them because they are about love – and an uncommonly accurate understanding of love at that – or so I thought.

“Greater love than this no man hath, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). Love is not a feeling or a passion. Love is self-sacrifice, pursuit of the other’s good with disregard of self. This theme movingly appears throughout the HP series. From the self-sacrifice of Lily Potter’s life to save her son, to Harry’s own sacrifice for the good of all as he walks to his certain death at Voldemort’s murderously acquired Elder Wand, it is clear that the Potters understand what love is and what courage is and what price they demand. Such depiction of unselfish love has become rare in contemporary storytelling, which often centers on passionate self-gratification rather than on the dispassionate self-sacrifice that is love.

I long held that HP was an exception to this – that it depicted love rightly. Here, at the very end, to my disappointment, I learn that the Harry Potter series is actually just another product of the culture of death.

There is a chasm of difference between laying down one’s life – which is the very definition of love – and suicide. Dumbledore’s suicide – Snape’s murder – is presented as heroic. Suicide, whether called assisted suicide or euthanasia, is never morally permissible, let alone heroic. Hey, he was going to die anyway, right? Besides, he did it to save Draco from Voldemort’s wrath, didn’t he? We must not do evil that good may come of it. We are not the masters of life and death. Acting as though we are is what creates the culture of death. Our lives are not our property to dispense with at will for what seems best to us. Lives belong only to their Creator.

Harry's response to Dumbledore's cry, "KILL ME!" in chapter twenty-six of The Half-Blood Prince is the moral one. He deceives Dumbledore by saying, "Just drink this... It'll be over...all over!" In fact it wasn't all over. Harry did not kill Dumbledore.

When Dumbledore makes the same request to Snape, thereby tempting a morally conflicted man with a great evil, Snape obliges. Dumbledore turns out to be an arrogant, manipulative, self-satisfied sinner who is doubtlessly burning in hell and has taken Snape down with him. Pity. And he was on the road to redemption too….


Dusty M Brahlek said...

I am not so sure the HP charactors CAN burn in hell... Can they? I am assumeing no since they are fictional and have no soul! :)

That said, unfortunatly the culture of death is SO common that even I did not quite understand what you were saying till you started talking about the creator!

BTW Great post, even if I do not know how accurate it is since I have not read the books. I have heard similar comments about this latest book.

Christian said...

This makes me want to read the books, which is perhaps not the effect you intended:) However, I will still likely not read them as they are somewhat long for a person who makes almost no time for recreational reading. I agree with you fully that who lives and dies, when and how, is not ours to decide in any capacity. It's unfortunate that exacting such an inappropriate control over our lives is so often heralded as noble. I would submit that the "culture of death" is really the "culture of passion". The word "death" has such a negative connotation, while the other sounds quite nice. Passion can find a way to justify anything the heart desires, all in the name of love. It's funny how so many things done "in the name of love" have nothing to do with love at all.

Dave said...

It's all spoiled and I can never read these books!!! ARRGHHHH!!!

Or at least that will be my excuse...

John R.P. Russell said...

It's strange that none of the first three comments come from people who have read the books. The spoiler alert was meant to deter you from reading the post. Alas.

M LO said...


Great points. I felt the same way about Dumbledore's death. I thought he would have died with more dignity. And Snape, my favorite character, was sucked into the plan.

Aric said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
John R.P. Russell said...

So, you're saying I ought to have titled my post, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows?

John R.P. Russell said...

Incidentally, this -

"The celebration of intellect cleverness and correctly estimating the odds, over love compassion and respect."

- is a fair description of the "culture of death," a term coined by Pope John Paul II in his encyclical, The Gospel of Life.

Aric said...

Touche, and ouch. Perhaps I meant to say that one shouldn't write anything on the internet late into an insomniac night, drugged with sleeping pills.

Really I find that your description of the text as part of "the culture of death" as hyperbole, if not just plain alarmist. The book itself just struck me as ordinary human angst about death, ill-concieved and poorly executed. A disappointing end to a bland work.

Clearly I've not read the encyclical the phrase originates from, but it seems from the contexts I'm used to hearing and reading it in that it's taken an empty life of it's own. This often happens, and ususually does not reflect on the source text.

Oh, and please call when you get a chance. Jack, Jeff, and myself have all been wanting to call you for seperate reasons, but none of us seem to have your new telephone number.

Shae said...

Your post made me look at the events a little differently. I did not realize that we were supposed to consider Dumbledore's suicide to be admirable. Perhaps I read the book to quickly. I might have to reread to think through my judgment of them.

Dave said...

Your comment made me laugh, Aric, and now I wish I had read the one that's been deleted.

"The book itself just struck me as ordinary human angst about death, ill-concieved and poorly executed. A disappointing end to a bland work."

This really ought to be published in some journal of snarky brilliance.

Aric said...

Your comment made me laugh, Aric, and now I wish I had read the one that's been deleted.

Well, no, actually. The comment was guilty of more than a poem by Mathew Arnold. It was without direction, wit, and meaning. Worst of all, it made light of John's objections and ridiculed his thinking and his writing. I was sorry of it before I read John's response the following morning.

You missed nothing more than the late-night ramblings of an unhappy introvert who failed to return the trust and love of his dearest and closest.

Dave said...

You have succeeded in spreading your shame, Aric. Now I feel guilty for even wishing I had read it.

John R.P. Russell said...

In Aric's defense, after reading his initial post I said to Katie, "Aric is a literary genius. That's his genius. My genius is... not."

Dave said...

I agree with your assessment of Aric, though he is too humble to admit it.

I think my genius is convincing otherwise rational people to join me on an impossibly long walk for 24 straight hours.

Are you guys with me? (If not, everyone is still welcome for a cook-out on Aug. 24 at 731 Brown St. from 5-10. We also have a campsite reserved at Turkey Run on the 24th and 25th which everyone is welcome to use. The bulk of the walkers will be staying there the 25th.

Caitie B said...

i just read the books for new spell ideas..

tph said...

if you really want to make your point i would develop new catch phrases because people like o'reilly and limbaugh (you have to see bill hicks' description of limbaugh, well, not really if you're a fan) have overused the phrase "culture of death" to the point that I instantly think "republican" or "christian" before i even try to understand the meaning of your words. not that there's anything wrong with being a republican or christian, it just makes for the instantaneous judgement by your reader and most likely "turned off" before they get something out of your words. in a way the effects of the book's culture of death are intense because of how many people read it, and that's why i assume you reach for the hyperbole, however, it's just one blonde english woman's brain writing these, and therefore the any analysis other than "what do people like" should be directed at her backgground. like mcdonalds, you know, kills billions of cows annually, but we're conditioned to think that killing cows is good, killing dogs is bad. i have no idea what i'm trying to say. my girlfriend just read them all in like three days and said they sucked. so i kept asking her, like what the fuck is it about these fucking books that causes so much hysteria?? is like the blonde english chick a good writer? you want culture of death and all that anti-halloween shit? visit oak park, il when and if another book comes out; it has the biggest festival for harry potter (including debates) in the united states, and there are people in witch out fits , etc. walking everywhere. it's always COOLER on the other side, i mean, the star of paradise lost was the devil. you have to embrace that. it's a hell of a lot cooler putting on green makeup and a freaked out hat than dressing like moses. eye of the needle, baby. but there is more culture of death in mcdonalds than that book. at least the kids are reading.

John R.P. Russell said...

If someone is going to be turned off by what I have to say because they realize I am a Christian, I'm not likely to get far with them anyway.

M LO said...

Killing dogs is, like, fucking good.

tph said...

dear mlo:

the surfer rhetoric is horrid, i agree
but you know damn well if dogs tasted like prime would be "good" in the world, assuming you worship the killing of cattle, pigs, chickens, and sea life, like billions of americans do, simply for the lust of taste, as opposed to a 1893 hunger in the winter wilderness of minnesota (i.e., hunters).

i am a meat eater. not a lot, but i indulge. i am just looking at things logically. and i love my dog more than my girlfriend. sort of. but if she (the dog) wasn't "cute" and she tasted like prime rib, me having her as a pet on "earth 2" would be as absurd as me domesticating a cow. and dogs didn't arrive on the planet pre-domesticated, either.

and if it was brett favre instead of michael vick i think there would be a lot less hostility. why is that? america's latent racism?

Dusty M Brahlek said...

I find the animals we kill and eat vs. the ones we don't to be confusing. Personally I am all for cost/benefit. A cow is easy to keep, lots of usable meat, exc. However, a ferret would give so little meat that it would hardly be worth killing. However, I doubt our dear friend John has a problem with the eating of animal flesh, at least the “animals” that do not have eternal souls. (Because I guess by definition humans are “animals”) I think he is more worried about the fact that we who do have eternal souls give very little care to others of the same.

The body is good, God made it that way. We in no way should attempt to hinder another in fulfilling God’s plan. This would mean no willful murder, suicide, or encouragement of these. You may not like the phrase “culture of death,” however, what would you call killing of BILLIONS of innocent lives? Would this be the a “culture to do what every you want to do”? Does that fit better? I don’t think so.

I will go out on a limb here, I am sure you do not even feel that the killing of 100,000 cows for food is on the same level as 100,000 humans for convince? If you do feel they are the same then we have nothing more to talk about. We do not have the same moral values and I will pray for you.

Yes, the needless killing of animals is never good. However, one human life is greater and worth more than all of the other animals on the earth. Why, because that person was created in the image and likeness of God! All of His creatures should be loved and respected, but nothing on par with the Human!

So to make a very short point dreadfully long… I would disagree. There is more of the “culture of death” in Harry Potter than at McDonalds. This is true because there should never be a case where we are glorifying suicide! If it is OK for one, then it should be OK for many. This is a false way of looking at life. It is not if killing cows is better than dogs, it is all about killing human(s) is wrong!

tph said...

actually i moved away from the culture of death thing with a tangent. i think that our current culture's worship for lust of taste is actually hurting humans very badly, from the environment to diabetes. i'll save forty sentences and just ask you to read what einstein says about the future and a vegetarian diet.

i think 'culture of death' is relevant, just an overused term. i was just saying find another way to describe culture of death and you might have more listeners.

i think there is great disregard for humans or humanity in general, and children are conditioned at a young age to shoot the bad guys on the video game, to walk into a restaurant and not think of the slaughter that goes into a bacon double texas cheeseburger (watch fast food nation if you can), or the commericials that glorify and break apart body parts, from legs to abs to eyes, and how there is a supposed "need" for each body part, from panty hose to under arm care. and i think jesus specifically said, no doubt about it, "i ask you to love your neighbor as i have loved you" i mean GOD WASHED THE FEET OF HIS OWN CREATION. that is amazing. the plate sizes at a typical restaurant are absurd. meanwhile unloved humans are thirsty and very, very hungry. and they remained unloved. there are countless ways to love humans, from activism to handing out water to those who need. i think we spend too much time critisizing fiction. love is a verb. if we start attacking fictional books then we're attacking freedom of speech and then things get sticky. i say go out and love and do what jesus asked us to do and that is a great start to ending the culture of death. i have been working on a film for over a year that i think will enlighten people on the culture of death. the reason i don't like the term, aside from the loaded connotations, is that humans have always been cold blooded killers. there is just more media and we're surrounded by it. influenced? definitely. but what's inside the six inches of our brains has always been there, media or not, and it always comes from there. i do think new ideas can beget new ideas, however. some christian sects don't care about global warming because they know the earth is going to end when jesus returns, that the world is SUPPOSED to get shittier and shittier. and so i would ignore this culture of death and go wash some feet, brother (or sister, not sure if you're a girl).

Ronald McDonald said...

To call meat-eating a lust for taste, as if meat were not a food with excellent nutritional value, is absurd.

It is very likely that human beings, pre-agriculture, consumed most of their calories from meat. This would have been their natural diet and a quite healthy one well-suited to our bodies.

It is a very strange and puritanical thing to say that a food is sinful because it tastes good.

Eating meat is about a lust for taste as much as breathing is about a lust for air.

tph said...

damn this blog. it keeps pulling me in as i procrastinate.

i never associated meat with lust for taste.
god made us omnivorous. that means we have a choice.
please don't tell me you're not aware of the differences between lean turkey, good for iron, and the pile of shit you can get at wendy's, kfc, and mcdonalds.
that shit is a lust for taste. and animals die for that lust. i already said there is nothing wrong with hunting for meat if you're truly hungary or eating meat purchased at a good store if you want to increase your iron. please tell me you're aware of all the shit (growth hormones, etc) they pump into livestock and chickens to get them to grow faster, shit that eventually will make you and i immune to certain antibiotics. please tell me you're not fat and lazy and just making an excuse to further fuck up your body like the rest of amerians, or a gun toting repubican who like the 'old ways of the west and meat is good the bigger the better cowboy' horseshit.

and back in the "olden days" our bodies were better off with higher carbs because of the amount of exercise jesus had to do because there weren't modes of transportation like there is now. and technically we're not supposed to eat meat with bread. i would explain but i'm assuming you don't know much about health or chemistry, and is just another american sucker taking anything they spoonfeed you. 'mcdonalds is on a corner when i came out of my mommies womb so it must be okay, right? i shouldn't question anything they dish out in the name of capitalism, it's all good because it exists. give me some greasy fries that don't EVER decompose, a pile of shit sandwich with cow feces and rat shit in it, and big gulp of battery acid coca cola, and i'll drive my fat ass there to get it so i can pollute the environment. i mean, cars are okay too, right? they were here when i came out of my mommies womb, so they must be okay and normal, right? question nothing, ignorance is strength.

tph said...

john please start a new topic.

lusting one said...

mmmmm.... cheeseburgers

tph said...

almost as good as what my friend said at the end of 'super size me' to his girlfriend

"how bout some micky dees?"

rent the dvd and watch the part on french fries.
it really is a fascinating documentary.
his wife is a vegetarian chef and so his first double quarter pounder with cheese, supersized, he threw up all over the drive thru parking area. his stomach wasn't used to being stretched with the amount of freaking food they give out for a cheap price. no wonder the new epidemic is diabetes. i know the logic behind people that don't go for the film, so save your words, but if you have children, you should rent it and see the part on school cafeterias. it's very, very interesting what diet does to discipline.

Dave (Ronald) said...

The healthiest part of a McDonald's meal is the meat. The worst part is the corn and soy (syrup and oil).

I disagree with you about the need to eat proteins and starches separately. In fact, they both taste better and are healthier when eaten together because blood sugar levels remain more constant. It is not a coincidence that traditional cuisines have always combined meat and grain.

And I disagree with you that lean turkey is preferable to beef. Meat provides a lot more than iron, and ruminants are some of the most nutritious animals in the world. Can you imagine a hunter-gatherer snacking on lean turkey? Fatty meat tastes better, is healthy, and would always have been preferred.

There is nothing wrong with eating dog, by the way, except that of course the ruminants are more nutritious and taste better.

tph said...

One word: agribusiness.

Today, agribusiness controls farming and ranching on a huge scale. Now "yield" is the mantra of the cattleman. So steers are shot up with growth hormones to make them get bigger faster.

They are also shot up with antibiotics to help them live longer and fight off disease, protecting the cattleman's investment.

Both of these practices are resulting in problems for you, problems such as:

1) Women are looking more like fat men, carrying weight more in their torso, and subsequently increasing their risk of not only heart disease but cancer - problems which could be due the steroids that are being injected into the steers.

2) Resistant bacteria: this is not just a problem with cattle. We're seeing that also in people with physician overprescription of antibiotics. So now there's a parallel in your food. Only it will make you sick!

Very sick.

You are what you eat...and you are what what you eat EATS! Make no mistake about that.

Cattle, cows, steers, whatever you want to call them - they are herbivores; they were meant to eat grass. Today, that just isn't they case. All sorts of atrocities are happening with the food chain; deliberate atrocities. Cows are being fed a lot of disgusting stuff, such as ground up animal carcasses. This is insanity! (Makes you wonder if this is where Mad Cow came from).

Cows do not possess stomachs that can digest animal byproducts. So they retain the residues, poisons and diseases IN all of this stuff.

And YOU eat it.

Now not all beef is "made" this way...not all beef is tainted (just the majority of what is found in most grocery stores). The beef in my local grocery store smells funny, looks greasy and tastes 'different' in a bad sort of way. There is no organic meat in the store. So for me to find organic beef locally takes some doing. I usually order it by mail!

I have a couple of friends who told me they grew their steers organically. I then asked if they shot them up with growth hormone. "Of course," they said. "You have to do that to get them to grow!" Mistakenly, they thought that all residue from this would 'wash out' of the meat by slaughter time.

Fat chance! That's where the residues concentrate.

So what "is" the problem with beef?

Chemical beef.
Antibiotics in the beef.
Feed given to the beef.

So it isn't beef that's bad - it's the stuff that is being fed and injected into the beef that's bad...which make eating it bad for you.

Very bad.

One solution is to only buy organic beef. In the east, you can buy from the Amish. In many of the western states, organic beef can be found in your neighborhood grocery store.

(I'll address the starch/meat issue later)

tph said...

Jehovah spoke unto Moses, saying, 'I have heard the murmurs of the
children of Israel: speak unto them, saying: "At evening ye shall eat flesh,
and in the morning ye shall be filled with bread." ' In other words,
Jehovah instructed Moses in the rules of trophology, telling him to teach
his people to eat their proteins and carbohydrates at separate meals. He
also forbade them to consume milk and flesh together. This is the earliest
and soundest dietary advice every recorded in Western civilization, but
unlike Orientals, who still respect the wisdom of their ancient sages,
Western folks spurn the teachings of the past as 'outdated' and 'unscien-
tific'. On the other hand, as the great American nutritional scientist Dr
Tilden pointed out, 'Nature never produced a sandwich!'

Proteins are potent foods and require special conditions to digest and re-
lease their nutrients. The best choices for combining animal proteins with
other foods are non-starch vegetables such as greens, squash, cabbage,
sprouts, etc., and it's best to consume these vegetables raw in the form of a
large salad. Concentrated animal proteins should only be consumed at one
meal per day, though light vegetable proteins such as beancurd (tofu) may be
eaten more often. Indeed, light vegetable proteins may completely replace
meats in the human diet: Vi-2 pounds of raw nuts and seeds per week, for
example, provide all the protein and fat required by anyone and eliminate
the metabolic craving for meat, eggs and other animal proteins. Be sure to
pre-soak all raw nuts and seeds in water overnight before consuming.

Starchy carbohydrates should not be combined with any concentrated
proteins. The best items to blend with starch-foods are non-acid fruits and
fresh raw or lightly cooked vegetables. If you like potatoes or pasta or
pastries, then make a meal of them, but do not add eggs, meat or cheese to
the meal.

Most people prefer to take their carbohydrate meal for breakfast in the
morning, either as toast or cereal. Even a well-functioning stomach
requires approximately 12 hours to recover digestive equilibrium after
ingesting imcompatible combinations of food, and therefore a bad blend
at breakfast will ruin your digestion for the rest of the day, regardless of
what you eat for lunch or dinner. Among the worst breakfasts is dry
cereal flavoured with refined sugar and soaked in pasteurized milk. Jam
on toast is almost as bad. Children suffer most from the ravages of such
breakfasts, because many adults either skip breakfast entirely, or eat
nothing but plain toast and coffee, which is a perfectly agreeable com-

As with protein, you should not have more than one starch-based
meal per day, and you should try to avoid combining two widely different
types of starch at a single meal. Since protein and starch are the major
antagonists in trophology, it's best to separate the protein and starch
meals by 10-12 hours, such as the bread breakfast and flesh dinner
recommended by Jehovah to Moses.

With starch-foods, it is even more important than with protein not to
wash it down with water, fruit juice, milk or other fluids. Digestion of
starch must begin in the mouth in order to continue in the stomach.
A mouthful of fluid taken along with a bite of starch dilutes the salivary
secretions so much that the starch hits the stomach with insufficient
infusions of the alkaline ptyalin enzyme, permitting the starch to ferment
instead of digest in the stomach. All carbohydrates should be chewed
well and thoroughly ensalivated before swallowing.

if you want more info let me know

tph said...

also, if you want the sources of my info, let me know. i've got a great book that changed my thinking entirely in regard to diet.

Dave said...

You could have saved yourself the trouble of copying and pasting if you had just provided the link.

I am familiar with the principles of food combining and used to follow them. I ate a diet consisting primarily of raw fruits and vegetables, with the addition of one or two small starch meals and one small protein meal. Whatever benefits this way of eating might have, it is has many detriments as well. I lost a lot of weight, did not feel particularly healthy, and became overly sensitive. Combining proteins and starches makes a lot of sense. They taste better together and they work synergistically. The protein slows down the body's absorption of the carbohydrate (thus maintain constant blood sugar levels) and the insulin response from the carbohydrate is needed for the body to build muscle from the protein.

The quotation from the Old Testament is very bad evidence--and should make a reasonable person skeptical of anyone who would offer it. For one thing, the style of repeating the same idea in two ways is characteristic of Hebrew literature, and for another, there is no reason to believe that God would be offering us dietary insight "in code" in his scripture. Be careful of your sources.

I am no lover of agribusiness, but it is best not to allow ideology to cloud observation. Yes, there are many obese people in our nation, but our diet has not done only evil. It certainly has not kept us from living longer than most people throughout history and of growing tall. No doubt, McDonald's provides a much healthier meal for the poor than would have been gotten throughout most of the world's history (at least post-agriculture).

I'm sure we agree on many things when it comes to food--though I am less extreme than I used to be. There's no need to be so angry. The world isn't falling apart just yet, and if it is, it's not because of hamburgers.

John R.P. Russell said...

"And the word of the LORD came unto him, saying,... And it shall be, that thou shalt drink of the brook; and I have commanded the ravens to feed thee [Elijah] there.... And the ravens brought him bread and flesh in the morning, and bread and flesh in the evening; and he drank of the brook."

1 Kings 17: 3,4 & 6

Shae said...

We eat lots and lots of beef here. But our beef comes in the form of free range steer that was raised by a local farmer. It certainly tastes yummier that way. The only downside is that you have to order half a steer at a time.

"Supersize Me" shows nothing so much as how stupid it is to consume vast amounts of junk food. But didn't we know that anyway? I think I would puke if I tried to eat a double quarter pounder too.

But that doesn't many that fast food restaurants are evil, or that there is real harm done in having an occasional meal of junk. The key is moderation. Plus, we need to eat a healthy diet the rest of the time.

tph said...

i'll be honest. i'm a hippocrite. i will cook pork chops later.


i went vegan for over a year

and like any fasting that one might do

i experienced a higher plane

and realized that food is like nicotine

a lust of the flesh

yes, a necessity, but not that big of deal, really,
when you consider survival
and whatever that might take
for a healthy being
which is very little.

and upon purchasing my dog
i observed its habits
and love.

and i came to a variety of conclusions...
all animals are predators
but i am smaarter
than the rest.
and dominion over all animal kind
doesn't mean
to abuse
but rather to love.
and i fasted
and i loved
a cow.
and i still to this day
having given in drunk as a skunk
one eveing at a hot dog stand
in broadripple
my friend chastizing me
"a pig died for that"
because I blitzed e-mailed
so many during my vegan phase
that i remained silent.
but i gagged.
and i still do, sometimes,
at the flesh
i take in
but don't need
because i may have had flesh
earlier in the day
or week.

and i'm not positive,
but i believe God
Jesus that is
was a Nazarene
and therefore pescatarian.

i just think
we need more love in the world
in regard to the animal kingdom
i think it would make God happy
as well as the planet
and our stomachs and overall health.
but again, it's hard
the way things are designed
to succumb to such things.
i am poor
and my girlfriend buys the groceries
and she goes to a common supermarket
and buys common meat
and i stay silent
not bitching

John R.P. Russell said...

Jesus customarily ate lamb. (cf. Mark 14:12)

Dusty M Brahlek said...

OK, John I finally agree with TPH... YOU NEED A NEW TOPIC!!! LOL

tph said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
tph said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
tph said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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