In Looking for God in Harry Potter, John Granger, following the Harry Potter books, describes Voldemort, the arch villain, as a shallow materialist. Voldemort makes for himself so called ‘Horcruxes,’ material objects in which he pours fragments of his split soul in an attempt to ‘live forever’ and ‘flee death.’ (To read more about what Horcruxes are, read here.)
John Granger writes that Voldemort
pursues immortality apart from God and the Cross by pouring his soul into physical objects apart from his body. In this, Voldemort is simultaneously a materialist and a dualist—an no longer human, as Dumbledore says, because he fails to understand the power of a human being who is whole, an integer of body and soul, and pure, which is to say, “not rent or split.”
For me it seems that Voldemort, who undoubtly was highly intelligent, was — philosophically speaking — a nominalist. Nominalism is a metaphysical standpoint that denies the existence of universals and essences. (Like ‘green,’ ‘dog,’ ‘human’ and — ultimately — ‘good’ and ‘evil.’) Nominalism (from latin nomen, ‘name’) originated amongst others in the thought of William of Ockham, a Fransiscan friar who was preoccupied by the theology of scottish scolastic John Duns Scotus. In the late medieval period, Duns Scotus and Thomas Aquinas represented two complementary theological traditions.
Aquinas focused on the category of being, and thus on the nature or essence of God. Duns Scotus, on the other hand, focused on the category of doing (my words), an thus on the works and acts of God. As I have allready pointed out, these two traditions — let’s call them ‘intellectualism’ and ‘voluntarism’ — are complementary. But as time went by, Aquinas’s intellectualism disappeared into the background in the consciousness of the people, while Duns Scotus’s voluntarism got ‘all the attention.’
Enter William of Ockham. He was a voluntarist. But he also didn’t believe that universals had any real existence. He lacked the balance of Aquinas and Duns Scotus. And thus Nominalism crept into the mainstream philosophy. Ockham claimed that only particular things and actions existed, but that their universality — their ‘nature’ or ‘essence’ so to speak — didn’t have any real, ontological existence. Thus whatever we make of a thing, it is. (To point out the absurdity of his philosophical tradition, consider that Ockham — who didn’t believe that there are common, real essences — “was famous for speculating that God might have become incarnate as a stone, a block of wood, or even a donkey.” (Source))
Because God have free will He can do whatever he wants, even make rape a virtue and altruism a vice. This nominalistic idea — even if this wasn’t Ockham’s intention — developed into reductionism and materialism, and also [materialist] atheism and the Nietzschean idea of the Übermensch. In other words, it resulted in Voldemort.
If things (and acts) are only what we make of them, then they have no real value. And nothing is fixed — not even good and evil. As Voldemort himself said it, through prof. Quirrell: “There is no good and evil, there is only power, and those too weak to seek it.” What Rowling shows us with the character of Voldemort, and of the prejudices of the wizarding world, is that ideas have consequences. This might sound like a cliché, but that doesn’t make it untrue. In order to fight off the Voldemort’s of our world, we must start with our ideas and concepts. For they reap thoughts. And thoughts reap acts. And acts reap habits. And habits reap destinies.
Sources and notes:
In Goblet of Fire, Voldemort goes trough a kind of “rebirth” in what — according to John Granger, both at his blog and in Looking for God in Harry Potter — resembles a “Black Mass.” For those who do not know what a “Black Mass” is, it is a turning upside down of the elements from the Eucharistic liturgy of a Catholic Mass, used by satanist as a mockery of Christianity. The Wikipedia entry for “Black Mass” quotes from “The Satanic Bible,” written by Anton Szandor LaVey:
A usual assumption is that the Satanic ceremony or service is called a black mass. A black mass is not the magical ceremony practiced by Satanists. The Satanist would only employ the use of a black mass as a form of psychodrama. Furthermore, a black mass does not necessarily imply that the performers of such are Satanists. A black mass is essentially a parody on the religious service of the Roman Catholic Church, but can be loosely applied to a satire on any religious ceremony.
In the Eucharistic liturgy in a Catholic Mass, and also in Orthodox and many lutheran (and probably many others) is the Spirit of the Father [and the Son], flesh from the son and blood from the son, all willingly and knowingly — and lovingly. But when Voldemort is “ressurected,” Wormtail uses flesh, blood and bone:
Bone of the father, unknowingly given, you will renew your son!
Flesh—of the servant—w-willingly given—you will—revive—your master.
B-blood of the enemy . . . forcibly taken . . . you will . . resurrect your foe.
Here we first see that the Spirit is replaced by the bone, unknowingly. Than Than the flesh and blood of the Son — and Master — is replaced by fear and evil. So, any thoughts on this?
I must admit that J.K. Rowling’s revelation that Dumbledore is/was gay is a bad thing. Not necessarily the fact that he’s gay, but the fact that these kind of revelations cheapens the novels. Alastair over at the alastair.adversaria blog has some interesting thought on this. I recommend a read. Here is some excerpts:
I can’t say that I am especially surprised by this revelation. I am, however, disappointed. Revealing such details about characters outside of the books cheapens the books themselves. (…) In an important sense the books ceased to be Rowling’s on the day they were published. The printed books are the canon; we have no desire for an authoritative oral tradition interpreting the books for us. I preferred it when such issues as whether Neville Longbottom would get married or whether Dumbledore was ‘gay’ were open questions and we were left with ambiguities concerning which we could make up our own minds. (…)
I feel uncomfortable about the outing of sexuality in general (not just homosexuality in particular) that is brought about by such revelations. Call me old-fashioned, but I prefer the authority figures of children to be thought of in a non-sexual way. I don’t want to be told that Dumbledore or McGonagall are straight or gay. Undoubtedly we are sexual beings, but our sexuality belongs, I believe, within bounds. There are parts of life that should be non-sexualized. This is part of what concerns me about many of the things associated with the ‘outing’ or ‘coming out’ of homosexuals. By defining the person too much in terms of their sexuality, sexuality in general is brought out of the contexts in which it belongs and starts to invade every area of life. (…)
As I believe that homoerotic desire is misdirected desire I do not believe that it should be portrayed as a good thing when we allow this desire to drive us. For this reason the idea of a ‘gay and proud’ Dumbledore saddens me. People who struggle with homoerotic desire are, I believe, struggling with a particular form of the compromised nature that afflicts us all as fallen human beings. I believe that true liberation for human beings with compromised natures (i.e. all of us) cannot be found in mere acceptance of the validity of our misdirected desires, but in the power to overcome our compromised natures, even though the struggle may never end here on earth. This is why any Christian refusal to justify homoerotic desire must be driven by the love for people made in God’s image that refuses to ‘tolerate’ these desires that lead to their being enslaved. How sad it is that Christians are often known for their homophobia, rather than for their strong affirmation of the one who struggles with homoerotic desire as a person made in the image of God, and for a love that refuses to stand idly by and see others being led astray by misdirected desires. For this reason I would be disappointed with a Dumbledore who was proud of his homoerotic desire, even though I like the idea of a Dumbledore who is able to recognize homosexual desire as part of his nature, but is enabled to wrestle with his nature in various ways. If anything, such a Dumbledore is more like the rest of us.
When Harry is chased by the Death Eaters after leaving Privit Drive in Deathly Hallows, he discoveres that Stan Shunpike is one of the people following him. They conclude that he is imperiused, but is there anywhere in the story where this is in fact “proven”? Do we know that he isn’t a Death Eater?
I came over this movie at YouTube. It connects harry Potter with my all time favorite song, “Nature Boy.”
Here is the lyrics:
There was a boy,
A very strange enchanted boy
They say he wandered very far, very far
Over land and sea
A little shy and sad of eye
But very wise was he
And then one day
A magic day he passed my way
And while we spoke of many things
Fools and kings
This he said to me
“The greatest thing you’ll ever learn
Is just to love and be loved in return”
Man, this song is a great summary of the Harry Potter books! Why haven’t I made the connection myself?!
Via John Granger
Alan Jacobs have written a review/article about Deathly Hallows; The Youngest Brother’s Tale, where he writes some pretty insightful thing about the Harry Potter series. But I feel that he is wrong on at least two important accounts. Let me quote:
The key theme of the whole series is the opposition of death and love: the devastation wrought by those whose fear of death causes them to shun love as a weakness, and, in contrast, the rich rewards in store for those who will not allow the fear of death to block love, who know that love risks all for the beloved. Preceding the events of the first book are the sacrificial deaths of James Potter, in a vain attempt to save his wife and son, and of Lily Potter, in an equally vain attempt to save Harry. In the fourth book of the series the deaths resume: Cedric Diggory in that one, Sirius Black in the next, Albus Dumbledore in the sixth. In this final installment the named dead exceed a dozen, and many more remain unnamed. Among those whom Harry knows and cares for, all of them, in this book and in the previous ones, die for someone they love, or for something they believe in. (…)
Many readers have already exclaimed that Harry’s final quest marks him as a clear Christ figure. This is wrong, seriously wrong, and I think J. K. Rowling goes out of her way to tell us so. People (characters in the books as well as readers) think that Harry is a unique person of unique power, but at a dozen points in the series we are clearly shown that he is not: he is called the Chosen One, but he is chosen by Voldemort, and Dumbledore emphasizes to Harry the sheer contingency of this choice. The work of the Cross is done by Christ alone; Harry always has help. (It’s worth emphasizing that while each of the Horcruxes is destroyed, each is destroyed by a different person.) At his moment of agony Christ was abandoned; at the end of his quest Harry is supported and comforted. As my friend Jay Wood has noted, if Harry resembles a biblical figure it is not Christ but rather Stephen the Protomartyr. But the comparisons with Stephen are limited too: for a more precise analogue, I encourage you to rummage through your children’s books until you find an old copy of The Tales of Beedle the Bard. Surely you have one. Read the story of the Three Brothers, and pay particular attention to the youngest. You’d be surprised what you could learn.
I would not say that Lily Potter’s attempt to save Harry was in vain. Firstly it did in fact work, he didn’t die. Secondly, I feel that it’s wrong to call sacrificial love “vain.” But this might be a “slip of the keyboard,” as one of the commentators over at HogPro put it. It may be that he only meant that she died in the process, and that Voldemort didn’t grant her dying wish. But it was a very weird sentence indeed.
I firmly believe that Harry is a Christ figure, but he isn’t a new Aslan. He is more of a Frodo, a Sam or an Aragorn — characters who resemble Christ in different ways. And just as The Lord of the Rings has it share of Christ figures, so does the Harry Potter books; Lily, James, Hagrid, Dumbledore, Harry, Ron, etc., etc. It is also worth noting that a Christ figure isn’t the same as a Christ allegory, and that a Christ figure is often more of a Christian. John Granger points out that he has, since 2002, said that “Harry is a Christian Everyman, from his name to his status as seeker, which in no way diminishes the edifying and symbolic meaning of his serial near deaths and faux resurrections, not to mention his sacrificial death and victory in Deathly Hallows.”
The reference to The Youngest Brother’s Tale is a good one, and I believe he is correct in saying that Voldemort is shadowed in the eldest brother, Dumbledore in the middle brother, and Harry in the youngest. But that doesn’t rule out Harry as a Christ figure (understood typologically.) Rather, it complements it. And this is in fact a “rule” in typology, that the type should not be to close to the original.
Let me end with a quote from Alan Jacobs article “Harry Potter’s Magic” from January 2000 (First Things):
The fundamental moral framework of the Harry Potter books… is a familiar one to all of us: it is the problem of technology. (As Jacques Ellul wrote, “Magic may even be the origin of techniques.”) Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry is in the business of teaching people how to harness and employ certain powers-that they are powers unrecognized by science is really beside the point-but cannot insure that people will use those powers wisely, responsibly, and for the common good. It is a choice, as the thinkers of the Renaissance would have put it, between magia and goetia: “high magic” (like the wisdom possessed by the magi in Christian legend) and “dark magic.”
Hogwarts was founded by four wizards, one of whom, Salazar Slytherin, at least dabbled and perhaps reveled in the Dark Arts, that is, the use of his powers for questionable if not downright evil purposes, and for centuries many of the young wizards who reside in Slytherin House have exhibited the same tendency. The educational quandary for Albus Dumbledore, then-though it is never described so overtly-is how to train students not just in the “technology” of magic but also in the moral discernment necessary to avoid the continual reproduction of the few great Dark Lords like Voldemort and their multitudinous followers. The problem is exacerbated by the presence of faculty members who are not wholly unsympathetic with Voldemort’s aims.
Harry is stunned [in Chamber of Secrets] because he realizes for the first time that his confusion has been wrongheaded from the start: he has been asking the question “Who am I at heart?” when he needed to be asking the question “What must I do in order to become what I should be?” His character is not a fixed preexistent thing, but something that he has the responsibility for making: that’s why the Greeks called it character, “that which is engraved.” It’s also what the Germans mean when they speak of Bildung, and the Harry Potter books are of course a multivolume Bildungsroman-a story of “education,” that is to say, of character formation.
Michael O’Brien still rants on. I will not comment much, but after reading the essay, I started to think about why O’Brien would write this garbage (let’s use proper words.) And the only alternatives I see is these; (i) He has not read the books at all, which makes him dishonest; (ii) He has not read the books properly; (iii) He is stupid; or (iv) He has read them properly, but is just plain dishonest about it. Take your pick (or feel free to mix and match.)
The first thing that struck me when reading this article, and which Travis Prinzi also found amusing, is that LifeSite calles O’Brien “North America’s foremost Potter critic.” Nice one. I cannot imagine that the people behind this siste have read the books (or even read this particular article) because O’Brien have no clue whatsoever about these books.
I would like to remind O’Brien of a particlular verse; Deuteronomy 5:20: “And you shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.”
This essay reminds me of a saying that goes something like this: Better to be quiet and let people think you are an idiot, than to open your mouth and confirm it. Michael O’Brien should keep that in mind.