Harry Potter and the Consequentialist Murder-Suicide Pact

August 28, 2007 § 22 Comments

Forget the hullabaloo over kids getting interested in the occult. A take I don’t recall seeing anywhere else, from the comments at The Dawn Patrol:

They have their charm, and I expected to lean positively toward them in the end. But the bad now far outweighs the good. For reasons much different than I expected – they have become *evil* influences for kids (and for adults for that matter – they have the adults making excuses for murder/suicide pacts on this very thread), and I’m not going to mitigate that just because I mostly enjoyed them.

I’ve only read the first few books, and they certainly had a “you can break the rules if you are the good guys” character to them. But if this description of the last one is accurate, it is pretty damning. The most telling point:

Again, the fact that you – who I presume to be a good Christian – are in fact *defending* books that promote the justification of a murder/suicide pact simply affirms my belief that the net result of these books is *evil*. If they affect our adults this much – how much are they affecting our kids?

Very interesting take.

(Note: the Dawn Patrol post attached to the combox is here.)

Tagged:

§ 22 Responses to Harry Potter and the Consequentialist Murder-Suicide Pact

  • brandon field says:

    Z,I’m not going to be able to contribute anything substantial that hasn’t been said elsewhere, but at a barbeque this summer with folks from Church we came to the conclusion that the “unforgivable” curses were unforgivable in the positivist sense only: use of these curses would get you sent to the wizard prison and not released. The word “unforgivable” was (at least in our understanding of it) anything related to the eternal.Tom K. said it best when he points out that none of the “virtues” that are present in the stories are supernatural virtues, only natural virtues, and that JK Rowling has created a non-Christian world.As right as you might be about the immorality of Dumpledore’s choice of actions, this doesn’t put the series on any less ground than the Len Deighton or John LeCarre books that I used to read when I was in high school. Even Sherlock Holmes did not always follow the “good guys don’t break the rules” model of literature. While HP1-4 might be appropriate for younger children, HP7 is certainly not for 7 year-olds, so I don’t think that the comparison of these particular series is inappropriate. I certainly don’t plan on letting my sons — 5, 3, and 9 mos — read the series until they are teenagers. (My wife has declared Star Wars off limits for the time being too, and I tend to agree with her on that one).Furthermore, Ms. Rowling never claims that Dumpledore’s actions were unstained; in the course of the book Harry discovers all sorts of sin from Dumpledore’s past. He certainly isn’t upheld as the morally upright one in this final book. The reason that he is dying in the first place was because of his own selfishness, and Snape manages to postpone his death by magical means temporarily.

  • zippy says:

    All of that may be true, but we are talking about a murder-suicide pact as the (or at least a significant) climactic act leading to the good guys winning. This is “not a good thing” on a substantially more significant level than at least I personally realized up to now. (Of course I am not much “into” things Potter either pro or con, so I’m probably just peeking from the woods at the big party around the bonfire, which I noticed because of the noise, and starting to see some of what is going on).

  • brandon field says:

    <>we are talking about a murder-suicide pact as the (or at least a significant) climactic act leading to the good guys winning.<>Maybe yes, maybe no. There is also a recurring subtheme that there are many ways that things could work out, and the choices (in this case those made by Dumpledore and Snape) are not the only way that things could have worked out for the better. Again, I say that you can’t consider Snape’s actions as a double agent without considering applying the same criteria to the cold-war era spy thrillers that I mentioned. Ian Flemming is another such author, but I don’t suppose that if committing adultery with a terrorist to stop a nuclear bomb isn’t a licit act, then committing adultery with any random woman who walks through the book just because you are a super spy 007 is a licit action either. I guess I won’t need to finish filling out my MI6 application.

  • zippy says:

    <>I guess I won’t need to finish filling out my MI6 application.<>Yes, well, it is arguable that those are not targeted at the 8-12 year old set, whereas HP is.

  • brandon field says:

    <>Yes, well, it is arguable that those are not targeted at the 8-12 year old set, whereas HP is.<>While I think HP1-4 (and even #5, maybe) are appropriate for 7-10 year olds, I don’t think that books 6&7 are appropriate until at least 13-15ish. Since I don’t have any kids that old yet, I can’t say for sure, but that’d be my guess. As for who the books are targeted at, I would suspect that much of what passes for marketing in this current culture is formal and material cooperation with evil.

  • zippy says:

    <>I would suspect that much of what passes for marketing in this current culture is formal and material cooperation with evil.<>Sure. If there were a cottage industry of Catholics and other Christians out promoting how Christian a work “Sex and the City” or the James Bond movies are then no doubt the same considerations would arise. What is unique about Potter in addition to the target age group – the same age group for which Narnia is appropriate according to many – is precisely how much hubbub there is over <>its “Christian” theme of self-sacrifice<> <>among Christians<>. Given that one of the major “self-sacrifice” events in the climax book is a consequentialist murder-suicide pact, that is much more of a problem than I realized before I knew the particular plot points.

  • brandon field says:

    <>is precisely how much hubbub there is over <>its “Christian” theme of self-sacrifice<><> among Christians. <><>Again, Tom said it best, that when you start comparing the Harry Potter stories to the Gospel messages that leaves you open to all the reasons that Harry Potter deviates. I agree that no one should be claiming Harry Potter is a evangelical or apologetic tool. But I don’t think that Dumpledore’s failings (and again: we encounter a lot of Dumpledore’s failings in the last book) make it the “net result” that you have an evil series. Also, I don’t spend any time in the HP weblog world, but I don’t think that people are talking about Dumpledore’s self-sacrifice. I think that the climactic self-sacrifice in the novel is that of Harry. Snape’s killing of Dumpledore was at best accelerating the inevitable because Dumpledore had already brought about his own death when he put on the ring, trying to bring his sister back to life (an action which was portrayed as foolish and irresponsible, not immoral as it really would be). It was Harry’s self-sacrifice that resulted in a “resurrection” of sorts, which is what I suspect most Christian commentators get themselves worked up about. But, I’ll admit that I don’t know for sure.

  • zippy says:

    <>Snape’s killing of Dumpledore was at best accelerating the inevitable because Dumpledore had already brought about his own death when he put on the ring, …<>That makes it worse.

  • brandon field says:

    <>That makes it worse.<>My point is that Albus Dumpledore was not supposed to be blameless and isn’t presented that way.

  • zippy says:

    What is presented is that the good guys win through evil means.

  • brandon field says:

    <>What is presented is that the good guys win through evil means. <>Yes, not all of the people opposing Voldemort use only moral and upright practice. The official Ministry of Magic also uses evil means in their opposition to Voldemort. But, I’ve never claimed that it’s Christian literature, my claim has been that it makes a good story. In the same way that other literature I’ve mentioned makes for good stories.If you are contending that it’s not appropriate for young children, I’ll grant you that.

  • zippy says:

    <>Yes, not all of the people opposing Voldemort use only moral and upright practice.<>I don’t see any point in continuing to argue about some books I don’t care about either as as story or as cultural fodder. Consequentialism in breaking school rules is one thing; in a murder-suicide pact is another entirely. There is certainly enough moral garbage to choose from in the culture. But the explicit murder-suicide pact in something so popular for children so young just strikes me (though it is just my perception) as breaking new ground. Reasonable people can have their own perceptions on it, but that doesn’t change my perception. I wonder what the reaction would be like if the last book had contained a very explicit scene involving sodomy between Dumbledore and Snape, and if the difference in reacting to that versus the murder-suicide pact doesn’t reflect unbalanced sensitivities (that is, I wouldn’t attenuate the sensitivities to my hypothetical but it seems that they ought to be similar to the actual).

  • brandon field says:

    Zippy,I agree that this conversation is going nowhere, and that we are going to disagree with respect to the merit of the books. However, let me just add that Dumpledore’s “sacrifice” was <>not<> portrayed as an effective means to defeat the “bad guys”: it did not result in the end he intended, and it hindered Harry in his quest, leaving Harry and friends wandering around aimlessly for the first half of the book.So, to say that the good guys won through evil means is not strictly correct. The good guys won and the “good guys” used evil means. But the evil means were not the cause of the winning. The difference between Dumpledore and Truman is that people say that The Bomb ended the war, but Dumpledore’s death did not contribute to Voldemort’s defeat.One side point, phrased as a question but I don’t need an answer: do you think that Yoda’s use of cloned human beings to defeat the “bad guys” is consequentialist? The premise of a real child in the 21st century making a murder-suicide pact in order to pass on a magic wand seems far-fetched. The premise of real humans being cloned and then not afforded their human dignity seems like it could be a more real problem in the upcoming years.

  • zippy says:

    <>But the evil means were not the cause of the winning.<>Actually I take that as an important point. Well done.<>do you think that Yoda’s use of cloned human beings to defeat the “bad guys” is consequentialist?<>Well, the Star Wars movies – especially the later ones – were just really awful, and when plot points get so bad that probably “shuts down” my moral sensitivities I suppose, though it shouldn’t. But in fact I <>did<> have a “the good guys are using an army of clones for cannon fodder!?” moment when I saw that, and discussed it appropriately. If someone had been arguing directly otherwise – that it was a good act – as some folks are in the Dawn Patrol thread, I would almost certainly react the same way as I did here. (Though speculation about specific scenarios involving one’s hopefully rightly-developed reactionary tendencies is a dicey game: if my reactionary tendencies were virtuously developed, that is how I hope that I would react).At bottom I suppose this reactionary post is about my understanding of the proper and virtuous development of our reactionary faculties. We cannot retreat to lengthy contemplation in the moment when faced with the instants of concrete reality which make up our lives, so it is critical that our reactionary faculties be properly and virtuously tuned.

  • Drusilla says:

    What I find fascinating is that Catholics should be writing and seeking and supporting Catholic literature and entertainment and should be highly critical of literature that misses the mark. But we’re not. Instead, many, many of us like the books and are willing to adjust our faith to make them fit. It’s mind boggling and scary.(By the way, I found the HP books boring, never made it through #4 and probably will never finish the series now. It’s no loss, I’ve got plenty of other books to read.)

  • brandon field says:

    <>At bottom I suppose this reactionary post is about my understanding of the proper and virtuous development of our reactionary faculties.<>I think this is why the “Harry Potter is unquestionably evil” line torques me so much. I like to think that I’ve for a reasonably developed reactionary facility for the immoral, and I haven’t found Harry to be any more objectionable than the ambient level of objectionable content in the culture. People who come blazing in determined to prove that Harry is the newest anti-Christ (but not in the Lutheran sense of the word, which refers to the papacy) are either over-reacting, in which case my morality-meter is okay, or correct, in which case my morality meter needs to be re-calibrated. I’m not claiming to be the last word on cultural morality, but I do like to think that I’ve got a decent handle on reactionary morality, even when I can’t quite describe it. (At the very least, I qualify for TSO’s ‘blog headline: even when I’m doing the wrong thing, I like to think that I recognize it as wrong).

  • zippy says:

    Well, I do think though that our reaction to a murder-suicide pact ought to be similar to our reaction to (say) Snape giving Hermione an abortion potion and using the dead fetus in a spell against Voldemort. Or the Jedi manufacturing a clone army to use as cannon fodder, as you pointed out. So I’m not really letting you (or myself) off the hook here.

  • brandon field says:

    I’m not trying to get off the hook, per se. And, as I mentioned, there were plenty of immoral things that Dumpledore (and other “good guys”) did do. But not, as I recall, Harry. I was just trying to justify to me (and you) why the big consequentialist alarms didn’t go off when <>I<> read the book, and I think I did that, at least to myself.

  • Tom says:

    Zippy:You keep mentioning a “consequentialist murder-suicide pact” as though there were a consequentialist murder-suicide pact in the series.Actually, there’s only a consequentialist murder pact. Dumbledore makes Snape promise to kill him rather than to allow Draco Malfoy to kill him.Anybody defending the morality of this is an idiot; even Snape knew better, and Dumbledore’s vague hope that the good intended would mitigate the evil Snape would do to his own soul wasn’t a point pressed with much conviction.While I won’t even defend it as a believable plot element, much less as a beautiful expression of Christian ethics, it does allows for an effective end to Book 6, when Snape kills Dumbledore, with plenty of chatter while readers waited for the last book. Come to think of it, though, the chatter treated the question, “Is Snape good or bad?,” as equivalent to, “Did Dumbledore want Snape to kill him or not?”

  • Kyle R. Cupp says:

    I too was troubled by Dumbledore’s asking Snape to kill him and Snape’s reluctant willingness to go along, deeds I wouldn’t characterize as euthanasia (the context is much too different), but which did strike me as wrongful killing nonetheless. I understand that their actions were done to save Malfoy’s soul, among other good ends, but I think they risked their own souls in the process. I’m not sure how Rowling sees the morality of the “murder/suicide pact,” although it does fit in thematically (perhaps perversely) with what I take to be her main theme, which is the sacrifice of love. In the end, the scene and later revelations about it didn’t ruin the books for me. I was disappointed, but much less so than I would have been had Harry, Hermione, or Ron done evil for the sake of a good end. Whatever Rowling’s take on their actions, I interpret them as stemming from the wizards’ character flaws, flaws which Rowling was not shy about showing.I trust I make myself obscure.

  • Anonymous says:

    Are you two seriously debating the morality of Dumbledore’s acceptance of his death in HP6 (i think six, when Snape kills him)?1) if Dumbledore is dying anyway, Snape hasn’t killed him much.2) Jesus knew he was going to die on the cross, but he did it anyway. Was the crucifixion an immoral consequentialist murder-suicide pact?3) are all soldiers, even in a “just war” (if you accept that there ever is such a thing) entering into a consequentialist murder-suicide pact?4) what tells you that it is unchristian to lay down your life for your friend? surely not John 15:13 ?

  • zippy says:

    <>Are you two seriously debating the morality of Dumbledore’s acceptance of his death in HP6 (i think six, when Snape kills him)?<>We were, slightly more than a year ago.<>1) if Dumbledore is dying anyway, …<>It is not morally licit to kill a dying person.<>Snape hasn’t killed him much.<>Killed him <>much<>??? Is that like being a little bit pregnant?<>2) Jesus knew he was going to die on the cross, but he did it anyway. Was the crucifixion an immoral consequentialist murder-suicide pact?<>Jesus did not kill himself. He was killed by others.<>3) are all soldiers, even in a “just war” (if you accept that there ever is such a thing) entering into a consequentialist murder-suicide pact?<>No.<>4) what tells you that it is unchristian to lay down your life for your friend?<>Nothing. There is a difference – all the difference between Heaven and Hell, in fact – between laying down your life for your friend and killing yourself, or having your friend kill you.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

What’s this?

You are currently reading Harry Potter and the Consequentialist Murder-Suicide Pact at Zippy Catholic.

meta

%d bloggers like this: