Monday, August 23, 2010

Muggles, Mudbloods, and Bigotry -- the Lessons of Harry Potter for Today

I've been on a role, as someone recently pointed out, being that I've been writing about anti-Islamic bigotry.  Now not all opposition to the building of the mosque in New York is an expression of bigotry, but there is a definite component to the debate that is full-blown bigotry.  Some of this, of course, is simply politics.  Just as Communists made for a good straw man during the cold war (though socialists seem to be making a comeback), now immigrants and Muslims seem to be a good target.  Several years ago I wrote a column for the Lompoc Record on this topic, using as my example the conversation about muggles and mudbloods that is present in the Harry Potter books and films (this is fresh in my mind because I watched Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix on TV last night!). 

As you prepare to read this piece from 2007, I want to add in a quotation shared with me by my good friend and fellow pastor Glen Miles.  It's a quote from George Bush -- from 2002.  I've not been a big fan of the former president, but on this topic he is right on target.

"America rejects bigotry. We reject every act of hatred against people of Arab background or Muslim faith America values and welcomes peaceful people of all faiths -- Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Sikh, Hindu and many others. Every faith is practiced and protected here, because we are one country. Every immigrant can be fully and equally American because we're one country. Race and color should not divide us, because America is one country."


President George W. Bush Promotes Compassionate Conservatism
Parkside Hall, San Jose, California
April 30, 2002

***************************************

Faith in the Public Square
Lompoc Record
August 19, 2007

No one likes to think of themselves as bigots, but unfortunately bigotry remains a present challenge to our society. Discussions of immigration policy, national security, even marriage often contain veiled and not so veiled statements about “them.” “Them” is code for those we deem undesirable; those who would steal our jobs, pollute our culture, waste our tax payer dollars, or undermine our morality. Yes, bigotry remains a problem in our day.

I happen to be a big Harry Potter fan, having just finished reading “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows,” and as I read I couldn't help but hear the book's author speaking to this very issue that plagues our world today. Supposedly this is a series of children's books, but they are much more, for many adults have found not just hours of enjoyment, but deep meaning in this increasingly mature series of books. The books offer insight into such virtues as friendship, loyalty, being true to one's self, and the importance of standing up for those who cannot stand up for themselves.

J.K. Rowling seems to have understood the old adage that truth must be caught rather than taught, and therefore it's quite possible to read these books, especially the final volume, as a protest against the rising tide of bigotry in our world today.

In the case of Harry Potter's world, the bigotry comes from the wizarding world's “Purebloods,” and it's directed against “Muggles” (non-wizards) and “Muggle-borns” or “Mudbloods,” as radical “Purebloods” love to call them. “Mud-bloods” are wizards like Hermione Granger and Harry's mother, Lily, who're without any apparent “wizarding” ancestry. Their “powers” are therefore seen as somehow illegitimate - even stolen.

This bigotry among wizards might be traced to the fact that they must live in the shadows, something many resent. But it's also born of a sense of superiority, and as we all know - “might makes right.” Their desire to keep things pure leads some radicalized “Purebloods” to engage in a policy of oppression and even murder. And those “purebloods” who sympathize with these “lower beings” are seen as traitors - “blood-traitors” - who must be marginalized for their love of “Muggles” and “Mudbloods.” But even our heroes must learn something about bigotry, and it's the “Muggle-born” Hermione Granger who is their teacher. She helps her friends see other non-human beings - like the house-elves who are essentially slaves - as having dignity and honor in their own right.

If any of this sounds familiar, it should for this morality-play sheds light on our own histories and experiences. A fanatical concern for racial purity stood at the heart of the Nazi's Aryan ideology, but they're not alone in history. Consider our own American legacy of slavery, Jim Crow, and the Trail of Tears, just to give a few examples.

Yes, this isn't just a series of fantasy stories meant for children (indeed this is a series of books that has matured with the original readers of the series). It is a word of wisdom that we can learn from as we deal with a world that's becoming increasingly diverse and yet increasingly intolerant. Indeed, it can be said that bigotry is on the rise everywhere in the world today. Here in America the traditional recipients of bigotry - African-Americans, Roman Catholics, Asians, and Jews - have been joined by Latinos, gays, Muslims, and immigrants of all stripes, but especially those who hail from Mexico and Central America.

It seems that we regularly read and hear laments about the threats to American security and culture from those who are different. Despite the fact - with the possible exception of Native Americans - that there is no such thing as a truly “blue-blooded American” - we all stem from immigrant stock - some believe themselves to be more American than others.



But such bigotry is never right and is often a pretext to discrimination and to violence. It is, in fact, repugnant to what's right and honorable and decent, and contrary to the teachings of my own faith tradition. Which is why, of course, we should heed Harry's message and stand up for what is right!


Dr. Bob Cornwall is pastor of First Christian Church of Lompoc.  He blogs at http://pastorobobcornwall.blogspot.com.



August 19, 2007

7 comments:

Brian said...

I try to imagine what it must feel like to be a Muslim in this country. How would I feel if I watched my president being pressured to deny that he's my religion? How would I feel if I watched the cable news shows and listened to the ways in which my religion is being publicly discussed?

Further, imagine what this must look like to people in countries where the national story-line is that the US is at war with Islam. It looks like the hearts and minds of many Americans is at war with Islam. It makes me sad.

Further, why would it be controversial for the president to be Muslim? It shouldn't be. In fact, our nation should be perfectly comfy with a president who is openly atheist. (Discrimination agaist Atheism is still socially acceptable.)

We are a funny country. We came here for religious freedom and promptly eliminated it for others.

Jim B said...

Another good post! I also like your Freudian slip of "being on a role." Thanks for the challenges to our thinking and being!

Gary said...

You liberals are a bunch of hypocrites. You embrace Muslims while proudly proclaiming your bigotry toward "fundamentalist, right-wing Christians" and doing everything you can to prevent the Christians from setting up a "theocracy".

All right. Embrace Muslims and their religion as much as you want. But remember, if the Muslims ever gain power in America, YOU will either convert to Islam or face life as a persecuted minority, or even face death. Maybe that's what you want. At least you will have the satisfaction of knowing you aren't living in a Christian theocracy.

Glenn said...

Most Muslims, like most Christians, have no desire to set up a theocracy in the U.S. I have no sympathy for those fringe Muslims, or Christians, that mistakenly believe they have the ability to do so. But I am also not prepared to condemn all Muslims, or all Christians, for the fanatic beliefs of a minority within the ranks.

And speaking of fanatic minorities Gary, I am curious as to why you feel so strongly about posting the same opinion over and over on this blog. You never say anything new, so why don't you take Jesus's advice and simply shake the dust from your sandals and be on your way?

David Mc said...

Bigotry or simple scapegoating? The lives and treasure lost in the pursuit to gain an illusion of revenge/ control/ safety on all sides has left us in misery. We were more willing to forgive the year after the limited attack.. Now the pain has been increased on all sides and is festering. We have to blame someone, right? We have met the enemy, and it is us (Pogo)?

So, what was the anthrax all about? Case closed Feb 19, 2010 with the assumption of a lone attacker. 17 ill, 5 dead.

Gender: Male
Religion: Roman Catholic
Race or Ethnicity: White
Sexual orientation: Straight
Occupation: Biologist, Scientist
Party Affiliation: Democratic

Nationality: United States
Executive summary: Anthrax researcher and suspect

David Mc said...

Check out this song here. I think it's related-

http://www.myspace.com/markduval

Real Men Dig Their Own Graves

real men!
dig their graves
they dig them all over the place
they shoot first and cover up later
they don’t mind a little blood
when they shave
anyone who disagrees is a traitor
real men dig their own grave

real men!
are tough as nails
we can pack them like sardines
in the jails
they don’t care about tomorrow
today is the last day
when they’re bringing home the bacon
better not stand in the way
there’s no place on earth
that they wouldn’t pave
real men dig their own grave

real men!
slash and burn
they know everything there is to learn
they protect the little children
until their old enough to serve
we’ll turn them into real men
and get all that we deserve
if we ever get to heaven
then we’ll lay the place to waste
real men dig their own grave

real men!
don’t think twice
about a little human sacrifice
they multiply like rabbits
and spread across the earth
the more of them there are
the less each one is worth
a hungry mouth is waiting
there’s nothing you can save
real men dig their own grave

real men!
won’t say die
As they scorch the earth
and blacken the sky
by the dawn’s early light
that banner still waves
as real men dig their own graves

David Mc said...

good to if you liked the first

Diggin' in a Deeper Hole