Ethical Realism

August 12, 2010

Is Fantasy, such as Dungeons and Dragons or Harry Potter, Immoral?

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:

  1. It causes tolerance to the occult.
  2. It is used to recruit impressionable youth into the occult.
  3. It leads to confusion over fantasy and reality.
  4. Strict adherence to the Bible.
  5. 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:

  1. 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.
  2. Saints performed miracles.
  3. 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:

  1. Scientists would have much more evidence to support its existence.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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. <>. Published November, 21, 2000.

2 Earnshaw, Vida. “Dabbling in the Occult.” Thankful Place. 12 August 2010. <>. Published October, 23, 2007.

3 “Owls, familiar spirits and occult simulations.” Ask Peter. 12 August 2010. <>.

4 Lordsgirl777. “Is the card game Magic: The Gathering harmful to Christian teens or are we overreacting?” Get Christian Answers. 12 August 2010. <>. Published August, 29, 2009.


  1. […] I have read up a little more on why people think Harry Potter, Dungeons and Dragons, and Magic are evil. Some concerns are more rational than others. Some people are incredibly deluded about the world around them and think there are devil worshiping wizards around using fantasy as propaganda or a “gateway to the occult.” I posted my findings and response on my philosophy website here. […]

    Pingback by Magic the Gathering Articles » Another Response to Hatred to Magic: the Gathering and other fantasy. — August 12, 2010 @ 9:39 am | Reply

  2. Hey James, as always, your work is top notch…

    As you know from the Facebook Philosophy group, I am a fundamentalist conservative christian… and I agree with all the points you have made.

    First of all I must try to define what is ‘witchcraft’ according to Christians. Witchcraft is the practice of a ‘pagan’ religion (ie all other religions) which involves ceremonial summoning of spirits to do ones bidding (whether the ‘summoner’ is aware of this or not). Usually this involves summoning spirits or the dead.

    You quote levitical laws, but one must always remember that those laws were given as State laws for the nation of Israel. Yes the principles still apply, but only the state has the right to deliver punishment. One only has to look at the history of the early Christian church to see that, although they held the principle of the laws, they did not go around stoning people in Greek society.

    Is fantasy evil? I always respond to statements like this by pointing out that almost no evangelical christian would object to the chronicles of Narnia series of books. Classics that can only be described as fantasy. Many of these same people who object to Harry Potter will glowingly recommend that children read the Narnia series.

    I also had to laugh when you used the book “Satanism: The Seduction of America’s Youth by Larson Bob Larson (1989)”. Bob Larson is considered a joke amongst most of the Christian community. Years ago he had a radio show where he conducted ‘exorcisms’ live on the radio… years later the participants admitted that they were paid. Money was this mans main objective and used scare tactics to sucker people into donations. This is often the case with those people who cry out against harry potter etc. They usually are trying to sell something.

    My ramblings for the morning🙂

    Keep up the good work

    Comment by Jason Lohner — August 12, 2010 @ 4:45 pm | Reply

    • Jason,

      Thank you for the compliment and comments.

      I think we need to make it clear that we do not endorse state sponsored violence against witches or wizards. There are many people of pagan religions such as Wiccans and Taoists who believe they have magic (paranormal abilities), but we don’t want the witch hunts back. We don’t want to have illegitimate state sponsored violence.

      I’ve heard that those who make it to “the top” in Wicca find out that they were “slaves of Satan” the whole time. But wait, people have said similar things of just about every religion. This is bunk. You can’t believe everything you read or everything people say. They lie to suit their own interests.

      Comment by James Gray — August 12, 2010 @ 8:15 pm | Reply

  3. […] Update (8/12/10): I have written more about the morality of Magic the Gathering and other forms if fantasy (Harry Potter/Dungeons and Dragons) on my philosophy site in a post entitled, Is Fantasy, Such as Dungeons and Dragons or Harry Potter, Immoral? […]

    Pingback by Magic the Gathering Articles » Magic the Gathering is the Devil! (Is it Evil or Immoral?) — August 13, 2010 @ 5:59 am | Reply

  4. I’m a Catholic who plays Magic The Gathering and I fine nothing wrong with it. But when you made my religion sound like a made up looney story, you lost me. Catholics are not the same as fanatical bible-belt Christians!

    Comment by Jimmy — December 17, 2011 @ 7:41 am | Reply

    • I never said that your religion is a looney story. The point is that many Christians think that the supernatural associated with their religion as “miraculous” and simultaneously think of the supernatural associated with of other religions as abnormal, evil, or satanic. The supernatural could certainly sound “made up” or “looney.” That’s why it’s supposed to be so amazing and miraculous.

      You missed the point of what I wanted to say. How could I phrase it better?

      It is true that at one point that I said we have no reason to think magic is real. I did not argue that point, but that is what I believe. If you think magic is real, then the arguments presented here might not “do it” for you. You can let me know your alternate perspective.

      Comment by JW Gray — December 19, 2011 @ 4:55 am | Reply

  5. Thank you for this site….I appreciate all the time, thought and effort you’ve put into the construction of this site. Personally, I’m researching to find the truth concerning D & D…I’ve found both positive and negative aspects to the game. My son in law wants to play it with my sons but I’m guarded until I know for sure about the possible effects of this game and under which circumstances such negative (or benign) results have occured.
    After reading your article, it appears as though you may doubt the validity or influence of the demonic. I am a Christian but I must warn you; having been a part of the occult for several years (until 1995 when I discovered in the bible that it is an “abomination” to the Lord; See Deuteronomy 18:10-12; 1 Chronicles 10:13; Jeremiah 29:8-9; Revelation 21:8 to name just a few), I can tell you that the devil is real….his greatest deception is to convince people he does not exist.
    The only solution is this: Seek Christ…He died for your sins and it is only through HIm that you will ever find salvation. (John 14:6; John 3:16). Most people today don’t understand WHY they need a Savior. Let me explain…. In brief, God is righteous and cannot look upon sin. Even one “little” sin will keep you out of heaven. But we are imperfect and cannot be good enough to “earn” our way into heaven (Ephesians 2:8-9, Romans 3:23). This is why Jesus had to die…to make the payment on our behalf. He fulfilled God’s requirement and paid our debt in full. (2 Corinthians 5:21, Colossians 2:13-15, Psalm 49:7-8, Romans 6:23). If you do nothing else, realize this; If you ever ask God, “How much do you love me?”, He will say “This much” and remind you that He stretched out His arms and died for you.
    There’s nothing “far out” or “crazy” about this belief….it’s just a humble testiment of how much God loves us.
    God bless you!….especially all who will read this with an open heart to the Truth. Be well.

    Comment by Linda Casablanca-Potter — November 24, 2014 @ 5:12 pm | Reply

    • That’s quite a vague reference to “being a part of the occult.” What does that mean?

      I would like you to try not to spend too much time diverting the conversation to an agenda you have. I am not going to be persuaded by Bible passages. If you want to make a point based on the facts, then feel free to do that.

      Comment by JW Gray — November 24, 2014 @ 6:17 pm | Reply

    • Linda, I don’t see how anything you say in your comment is relevant to anything James says in his blog. He never denies that the devil is real (although it’s obviously not). He also says nothing at all regarding the Christian notion of salvation. Seems like you’re just here to proselytize, and have no comments relevant to the actual blog post.

      Comment by Aaron J Mobley — November 24, 2014 @ 6:30 pm | Reply

      • Hi, Aaron…well, you are partially correct in your assessment that I deviated from the main theme of the article. But in actuality, rather than focus on the whole of the article, I focused on one aspect in particular that became apparent in reading this article, something which I hadn’t planned on doing…(I really am searching for a resolution to the problem I stated concerning whether or not to allow my son to play D&D.) Specifically, the author’s doubt regarding the validity or influence of the demonic. This was my focus based on the author’s comments. I cited this one aspect and then listed the mechanism by which this doubt on the part of the author could be remedied. In this way, was my comment very relevant to what James, the author, stated in his blog. My response may not have centered on James’ message, but it did center on an issue James made clear in writing his message. While your focus may be on the concrete element written here in the article, my focus was situated on the abstract element. So, in actuality, indeed my comment was relevant to James’ article.
        With regard to your assessment on my having commented simply for the purpose of proselytizing, well, in part you are correct again. I would be a hypocrite if I remained quiet and made no attempt to reach someone who may not have received Christ. If I truly believe that we need Jesus to enter heaven, and if I truly care about the eternal future of all people, not simply those I’m personally involved with, then it makes sense that I’d seize the opportunity to possibly reach such a precious person. Call it proselytizing if you like, but I call it concern. And like Christ, I’ll never force my beliefs…I’ll present them if given the opportunity for the sake of another, but ultimately, salvation is an individual decision.
        Take care…

        Comment by Linda Casablanca-Potter — February 27, 2015 @ 8:49 am

    • Hello Linda,
      I feel I should tell you a personal story to help you make a decision as to whether D&D and other role-playing games are a beneficial influence to your child. First, let me tell you about a friend of mine who grew up in Southern California. At an extremely young age, before he could even read, he saw his brothers playing D&D in his attic. The setting sun danced off the clear muti-polyhedral dice, and sparkled. This kindled his curiosity, and sat and marveled at the game his brothers played. Eventually he grew up and began playing. Then, when he move to Northern California, he attended UCSC and obtained a degree in English with an emphasis on creative writing. He then took his passion to several game companies at conventions, and began to write several award-winning role playing games as a free-lance writer. He told me of one of the most beautiful stories I’ve ever heard. Once, at a convention for games, a fan approached him with an arm full of books he contributed to. He thanked my friend, who wrote them, for signing them, and he told him how isolated he felt in high school, being relentlessly teased and rejected by nearly everyone in his class. This fan often thought of taking his own life in his youth. He told my friend that if it wasn’t for his passion in writing these adventures, he would not be here today, nor would he have found the courage to find others like him and play. Just think, if it weren’t for those shimmering dice many years ago, I would not have this story to tell you today.

      My advise: Read the game yourself. Play with you son-in-law. Encourage your daughter to play also. Have a family game night. You just might have some wonderful stories to tell your friends on Sunday afternoon someday.

      Comment by Pablo Yale — November 25, 2014 @ 12:36 am | Reply

      • Thank you, Pablo for your insightful response to my dilemma concerning whether or not to allow my kids to play D&D! You do pose a very good point. I am still concerned though about any possible “spiritual” consequences such as demonic influences or activity. We’ve experienced a lot of demonic activity in the past…some really strange occurrences…and I don’t want to “rehash” anything that has been “put to rest”, so to speak. But thank you for your contribution…your thoughts are helpful and insightful! I appreciate the time you took just to try to help! Take good care, Pablo…

        Comment by Linda Casablanca-Potter — February 27, 2015 @ 8:58 am

  6. Reblogged this on Ryan Nogren's Fantasy World.

    Comment by Rene Hoornweg — June 29, 2016 @ 6:36 am | Reply

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