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This week marks the release of the highly-anticipated Harry Potter movie, which is based on a series of outrageously popular books by author J. K. Rowling. The books have found a particularly ravenous audience in young children, who are fascinated by the tales of adventure and wizardry that the books present. Many have commented that it is wonderful to see children put aside video games and television and engage in the intellectual pursuit of reading. Others have suggested that the books are works of pure evil, and that they are a corrupting societal influence that must be fought and eventually destroyed.
Regretfully, I must side with the latter group.
I am an atheist, and as such, I believe that the supernatural twaddle that so many people wave around like dirty laundry is exactly that ... twaddle. There are no gods, devils, spooks, fairies, wraiths, hobgoblins, Santa Clauses, or Easter Bunnies. Futhermore, the sooner the rest of the world realizes this, the better. We can ill afford another group of zanies slamming a fleet of Boeing 767s into high-value targets simply because we don't say the same set of "prayers" that they do. Additionally, we don't need large numbers of lunatics within our borders stockpiling Bibles and .50 caliber rifles so that one day they can fight a glorious war for their lord against the "fed-ruhl gummint" and the "lib-ruhl media."
No, the evidence is clear that supernaturalistism in all of its forms has manifested itself in the most evil of all possible ways throughout the course of human history. Since the dawn of time, civilizations have committed an untold number of atrocities in the same of some god or set of gods. Now, the apologists will argue that religion has given us Good Things such as breathtaking cathedrals, priceless works of art, and stained-glass windows ... but let's not be children here. Artists are artists, and they will create art regardless of whether or not they believe that there's some invisible spook that's going to zap them with lightning bolts if they don't paint a truly great picture.
Clearly, supernaturalistism is something that needs to be countered and dealt with in an appropriate manner. Fortunately, we're making great strides towards that goal. Churchgoing rates are plummeting, particularly in Europe, where you are ten times more likely to find a couple having recreational sex on a Sunday morning than you are to find them chanting in some church. Even in the supernaturalist-soaked United States, less and less people are going to church. A brief spike in church attendance numbers following the 9/11 attacks has since corrected itself to pre-attack levels. Furthermore, the majority of people who do attend church do so out of habit ... not out of some genuine religious conviction. Perhaps they like the post-service coffee. Perhaps they enjoy the chance to converse with their peers and swap stories about "who's banging who." The reasons for the drop are largely irrelevant; it is the drop itself that matters.
Consequently, today's children are being told the truth instead of being bombarded with all sorts of god-soaked gobbledygook about prayer and devils and how purely evil they are. They are being told that in the end, they need to look out for number 1, that there is no cosmic caped man that is going to fly in from the sky and pull them out of a burning building as long as they "pray hard enough." They aren't being told that other people from other cultures are evil and subhuman because they are "infidel devils." They are being taught respect and tolerance for all people, and these are exactly the values that are needed to restore sanity to a world that has quite clearly gone mad.
Harry Potter threatens all of this.
Even though today's children are being "trained up" in a more responsible manner than in previous generations, one thing remains constant: children are dangerously impressionable. When they read "Harry Potter" and soak up tales about wizards and witches who work magic and cast "spells", society runs the very real risk that they will start questioning their purely rationalist upbringing and begin asking themselves if maybe ... just maybe .. there isn't something to all of this. "What if magic is real?" they ask themselves. "What if there are fundamental aspects of this universe that we cannot detect with our instruments of science, strange and wonderful facets of reality that have woven themselves tightly into the very fabric of spacetime?"
Here is where rationalists must be very wary of our "friend" Harry Potter.
Fundamentalist Christians often complain that faiths such as Wicca, Paganism, Shinto, Unitarianism, Catholicism, etc. are threats because they siphon away sheep from the flock and place them in "false religions." They claim that the Harry Potter phenomenon is a major factor in this supposed massive exodus from the "true religion." I claim that the opposite is true; if the majority of today's children are irreligious rationalists and they are led to believe that Magick is reality and not fantasy, then they will naturally gravitate towards Wiccanistism or similar faiths .. as a first step.
With their Wiccan friends, children will get their first taste of the inebriating euphoria of supernaturalistism. They'll engage in bizarre rituals and start believing ridiculous and completely unsupported notions about the world around them. They will forget the teachings of Thomas Paine and become enamored with ideas so profoundly strange and obscene that they boggle the mind. Wicca and the various other "minority faiths" that are practiced in the Western world are widely regarded as "stepping-stone" religions; they give people a temporary (but extremely unhealthy) high that leads them to want to do it more and more. Pretty soon, it won't be enough.
And then one day, when they're leaving they're latest Wicca (or whatever) service, there will be a man there waiting for them. An unassuming man, to be sure; he will likely be dressed in plain, unthreatening clothes, sporting an inviting smile. He may be carrying a harmless-looking leatherbound book. He leans forward to your child, and whispers in his ear: "Want to try something really good?"
That's when children get sucked into the sordid underworld of hard religion.
The hard religions, such as Christianity, Islam, and Judaism, are by and large black holes that strive to suck our children in and never let them go. When rationalists are preyed upon by the hard religions and they venture beyond the proverbial event horizon, they often end up spending their lives wandering around bleary-eyed, a sort of silly grin on their face as they aimlessly meander, oblivious to the reality of the world around them. They mumble platitudes and spew absurdities; they become a shell of their once-rational and intelligent selves. It is likely that the detrimental effects that hard religions causes to rational society will never be accurately measured.
Still, there's hope. Not even black holes can last forever; the principles of Hawking radiation predict that even the largest black hole will eventually evaporate. The same is true of the hard religions. But Harry Potter is not helping us here, and it is the duty of the freethinker community to fight him. No, the irony of the fighting the same enemy as the fundamentalists is not lost on me. But war, as they say, makes strange bedfellows; the fundamentalists may not understand the true reasons why Harry Potter is such a threat, but we do. And if they're willing to fight our battles for us, then so much is the better.