Is fantasy immoral, evil, sinful, satanic, or unholy? Fantasy entertainment has been highly criticized from religious organizations. Dungeons and Dragons, Magic: the Gathering, Harry Potter, and PokéMon have been cause for concern to those who worry it could be a gateway to the occult or be used to cause illegitimate tolerance towards the occult. Such worries reveal little other than the fact that many people are irrational (and have lost their grasp of reality). The suspicion towards fantasy entertainment has revealed intolerance towards other religions and worse—a serious belief in black magic. First, I will suggest that many people really do despise fantasy and believe it is immoral. Second, I will present some reasons that people are against fantasy and reply to those worries.
I have already written about paranoia towards Magic: the Gathering in particular in my discussion, Magic: the Gathering is the Devil!, but I will now take a look at the paranoia concerning fantasy in general, including worries about Harry Potter and Dungeons and Dragons.
Are people against fantasy?
Yes, many people believe that fantasy is a corrupting influence. There are many parents especially worried about censoring what their children see or do. Even college students were outraged when advertising for Magic: the Gathering was presented in a student newspaper at Spring Arbor University, Michigan.1 One student said, “I think it is kind of questionable, because if we are a Christian college, we should not be advocating things that do not honor God” (ibid.).
There are not only several religious websites that present arguments against fantasy, but books have also been written that condemn fantasy, such as:
- Christian Response to Dungeons and Dragons by Peter Leithart (1988)
- Satanism: The Seduction of America’s Youth by Larson Bob Larson (1989)
- What’s a Christian to Do with Harry Potter? by Connie Neal (2001)
- Pokemon & Harry Potter: A Fatal Attraction by Phil Arms (Author) (2001)
- Harry Potter and the Bible: The Menace Behind the Magick by Richard Abanes (2008)
The hysteria concerning Dungeons and Dragons in the 1980’s was particularly prevalent and it was presented as a movie, Mazes and Monsters (1982) starring Tom Hanks, and the hysteria was parodied in the Deadale Wives skit “Dungeons and Dragons.” An entertaining review of Mazes and Monsters was done by Spoony and can be found here. The Deadale Wives skit was made into a youtube video here.
Why are people against fantasy?
There are many reasons that Christians take offense at fantasy, such as:
- It causes tolerance to the occult.
- It is used to recruit impressionable youth into the occult.
- It leads to confusion over fantasy and reality.
- Strict adherence to the Bible.
- Fantasy can become an “idol.”
What do these concerns mean and why are the baseless? Let’s consider each concern.
1. It causes tolerance to the occult.
What exactly is the occult? The technical meaning means “hidden knowledge” but many Christians like to use the word in their own way to make the word sound more threatening by equating it with the use of magic and devil worshiping.
The occult is basically equated with any supposedly paranormal religious practice other than Christianity itself. Note that miracles are taken to be “holy” by Christians:
- The Eucharist (eating of Jesus’s flesh and blood from crackers and wine) is taken to be quite miraculous by the Catholic church. They really do tell us that wine turns into blood, and bread turns into flesh.
- Saints performed miracles.
- Priests perform exorcisms.
Paranormal events are said to be “miracles” when they are taken to be good by “Christians” but any miraculous paranormal events accorded to people of other regions are often taken to be “magic.”
Many people think that fantasy can make the occult (e.g. magic) to seem friendly. However, the main problem with claiming that fantasy can cause tolerance with the occult is that it assumes that religious tolerance is a bad thing. Why not be tolerant of other religions? Buddhists, Taoists, polytheists, etc. have not failed to be productive members of society. Magic insofar as it is little more than non-Christian paranormal explanations is no more corrupting than the belief in miracles. The belief in miracles and magic do seem to encourage superstition and irrationality to some extent, but people can be productive members of society with religions that involve magic or miracles.
2. It is used to recruit impressionable youth into the occult.
The view that the occult wants to recruit people either means (a) non-Christian religions want more people to join or (b) Satan worshipers want to have more people join their cause to take over the world.
First, this “problem” with fantasy reveals intolerance towards other religions, which I have already argued against.
Second, people really do believe that devil worshipers want to take over the world. This is supposedly a large conspiracy. A book was written to debunk such an absurd hysterical worry, In Pursuit of Satan: The Police and the Occult by Robert D. Hicks (1991). I haven’t read the book, so I don’t know how well written it is, but the idea that magic-wielding devil worshipers exist is pretty silly.
According to Vida Earnshaw, who researched the hysterical thoughts of other Christians,
Role-playing games simulate real occult teachings, rituals, and practices. Players are just a step away from doing it for real. A former Occultist said that Occult leaders attend gaming tournaments to scout out skilled players and entice them to “do it for real.” He said that when he did this, none of the players ever said “No.”2
Earnshaw’s research is supported by “Ask Peter,” a question and answer website, where “Peter” claims,
I did for real what Magic the Gathering does in virtual land. I know what happens for real when a victor quenches an opponent – he takes on the energy of the one who is defeated. In my response to Magic the Gathering I just KNOW that in the game life can be restored – in reality that does not happen. When kids make the transition from the game to the reality there is a rude awakening ahead. Just like in the flight simulator if you crash the plane you still get to walk out of the simulator. In reality if you crash a plane you die.3
The idea is that there are spell casting Satan worshipers teaching games like Magic: the Gathering to recruit people to join and become real wizards is beyond absurdity and reveals little more than the fact that some Christians can no longer tell the difference between reality and fantasy. Magic is not real.
For the sake of a charitable reading, I suppose it is possible that a small band of lunatics believe that they are real wizards. However, real wizards are not something we can rationally believe in.
First, the “evidence” given for “real magic” is testimonial and “hearsay.” Testimonial evidence is also known as “anecdotal evidence,” which is a popular fallacy (error in reasoning). Testimonial evidence does not prove much of anything.
Second, we have no reason to actually believe magic is real.
Third, if magic was real, then the following would probably be true:
- Scientists would have much more evidence to support its existence.
- Wizards wouldn’t hide the fact that they have real magic because everyone would want to learn about it and join their “religion.” People would spend thousands to millions of dollars to learn it if necessary.
- If Satan were the source of power of wizards, then he wouldn’t want to hide the fact that wizards exist. He wouldn’t be choosey. He would be happy to have a very large following, and getting such a following would be quite easy.
- No one would need to use a game to teach people how exciting magic is. They would love to become wizards as it is. To have games to “entice” children into learning “real magic” would be like needing movies to “entice” men to want to eat doughnuts. No propaganda campaign is needed to teach men to want to have doughnuts and no campaign is needed to teach children to want to learn to cast spells.
None of this is true, according those against fantasy. They want us to believe that no one knows about wizards and that teaching games is necessary to “entice” people to want to know real magic. That is simply absurd.
3. It leads to confusion over fantasy and reality.
Is fantasy going to teach our children the wrong lessons in life? Possibly, but it’s not always meant to teach the right lessons. Fantasy tends not to be education. That’s up to parents.
Is fantasy going to teach our children that magic is real? I don’t see any reason to think that it will.
However, a delusional person who doesn’t know the difference between fantasy and reality might have a negative reaction to fantasy. It might be a good idea to keep Harry Potter away from dangerously mentally ill people.
4. Strict adherence to the Bible.
Earnshaw asks us to consider the following Bible quotes:
Exodus 22:18 “Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.”
Leviticus 19:26,31 “Thou shalt not eat anything with the blood: neither shall ye use enchantment, nor observe times. Regard not them that have familiar spirits, neither seek after wizards, to be defiled by them: I am the LORD your God.”
Leviticus 20:27 “A man also or a woman that hath a familiar spirit, or that is a wizard, shall surely be put to death: they shall stone them with stones: their blood shall be upon them.”
First, to accept the quotes requires us to irrationally accept the existence of magic and irrationally legitimize violence against wizards. To irrationally legitimize violence is fanatical and can lead to terrorist and criminal acts, such as the attacks on the world trade center.
Imagine that someone of another religion had a holy book that said that Christians are evil and should be destroyed. Would you think they should blindly agree with their Bible or should they reject irrational passages found in their holy book?
Second, the Bible is not in and of itself a good reason to believe something. If a math book seems to have all the right answers, you should still reject the one falsehood it contains, such as “1+1=3.” Each statement in the Bible must be assessed individually and actual argumentation is required before demanding anyone believes it.
I suppose we might trust plausible math statements of a very accurate math book that we can’t solve yet, but we definitely wouldn’t trust implausible and irrational ones.
Third, the quotes above, even if true, would not give us reason to condemn fantasy. Even games that ask people to “pretend to be wizards” are no worse than to have a child play an evil witch in a Wizard of Oz play. Pretending to be evil during play is pretty normal and has not been shown to corrupt people.
5. Fantasy can become an “idol.”
There is a belief that we should spend every waking moment worshiping God and any other strong interest is like worshiping a false god (an idol). For example, one Christian warns against allowing a child to play Magic: the Gathering because “if you did purchase it for your son, he will probably enjoy it so much that he will make it a little hobby or in other words, it will become his ‘Idol’, and will want to purchase other things to go with his game such as dragon statues for his room, perhaps a wizard bed quilt cover, then a crystal ball.”4
First, if “idol worship” includes any distraction that keeps people from worshiping God, then just about any interest we have is an idol—marriage, caring for children, playing sports, watching television, shopping, doing philosophy, conducting science experiments, educating ourselves, and so on. I am against irrational obsessions that prevent people from living a full and flourishing life, but “small hobbies” have never been shown to be irrational obsessions.
Additionally, the “idol worship” problem taken to be spending time away from praying and worshiping God is absurd.
Finally, even if spending time away from worshiping God was wrong, spending time with fantasy seems no more wrong than completely healthy and normal activities, such as raising children or educating ourselves.
There is no reason to despise or fear fantasy. Some fantasy is more appropriate for children than others, but many of the Harry Potter books probably won’t hurt any sane children.
Some of the arguments and worries about fantasy are completely out of this world. The worry that devil worshipers and real wizards are recruiting children for the sake of evil is beyond delusional.
1 Skarritt, Kelly. “Magic ad causes campus controversy.” The Crusader. 12 August 2010. <http://media.www.crusaderonline.com/media/storage/paper990/news/2000/11/21/UndefinedSection/Magic.Ad.Causes.Campus.Controversy-2470660.shtml>. Published November, 21, 2000.
2 Earnshaw, Vida. “Dabbling in the Occult.” Thankful Place. 12 August 2010. <http://thankfulplace.wordpress.com/2007/10/23/dabbling-in-the-occult/>. Published October, 23, 2007.
4 Lordsgirl777. “Is the card game Magic: The Gathering harmful to Christian teens or are we overreacting?” Get Christian Answers. 12 August 2010. <http://www.getchristiananswers.com/answers/card-game-magic-gathering-harmful-christian-teens-or-are-we-overreacting>. Published August, 29, 2009.