The Common Good

Harry Potter and Social Justice

Seeking justice for the oppressed. Working to end the connection of child slavery to chocolate. Helping heal a devastated Haiti. Mobilizing young people to respond to a story of redemption by imaginatively working to build a better world. I think many of us Christians would hope that those words were describing the work of the body of Christ, intent on following the path of Jesus Christ in this world. In this case, they are actually descriptions of the Harry Potter Alliance. That's right -- the Harry Potter Alliance.|

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Since 2005, the Harry Potter Alliance (HPA) has existed as a nonprofit organization intent on using the weapon of love (and a common affinity for Harry Potter) to combat the dark arts of our world. As their mission statement states, they use "parallels from the Harry Potter books to educate and mobilize young people across the world toward issues of literacy, equality, and human rights. Our mission is to empower our members to act like the heroes that they love by acting for a better world." And it's working. With more than 100,000 members and nearly 60 chapters worldwide, this real world gathering of Dumbledore's Army is making a difference.

For example, let's examine the case of the chocolate industry, and its connections to child slavery and unfair wages. In the Harry Potter books, Hermione Granger discovers that the food served at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry is made by house elves (unpaid servants), and so she organizes a campaign for their fair treatment. The HPA responded similarly by asking Time Warner, the parent company that markets all Harry Potter merchandise, to switch the chocolate used in their merchandise to fair trade chocolate. They do not want chocolate made in the name of the boy who used love to save the world to support systems of injustice like child slavery.

Then, between November 2010 and July 2011 (the time between the release of parts 1 and 2 of the final movie, the group is launching the Deathly Hallows Campaign. During that time in the films, Harry will be seeking to destroy horcruxes (objects of dark magic representing evil and death), and so as a group the HPA is campaigning to put an end to 7 real world horcruxes (injustices). The destruction of the "Starvation Wages Horcrux," which is the injustice related to the production of chocolate, is their first mission.

I personally find this endeavor fascinating. I applaud the mobilization of young people to acts of justice. The political climate in America these days is eerily similar to the totalitarian government J.K. Rowling presents in some of her books. Harry knows there is evil out there in the world and does whatever he can to raise awareness about it and do what he can to fight it. Yet the government power structures, the media, and even teachers mock him for his passion and punish him for trying to build a better world. They say he is the real problem -- stirring up fear and trouble when if he would just accept the status quo all would be well. Harry, thankfully, never listens to such lies. So, I am encouraged that the HPA is following in Harry's footsteps by not being frightened away from seeking justice by similar groups in our world.

At the same time, it would be dishonest if I didn't mention that as a Christian, I didn't know how to respond to this group at first. Not that I in any way oppose their purpose or am one of those people who think Harry Potter is satanic or something. But Harry Potter is a story of redemption, skirting close to even being a Christian allegory (I won't include spoilers here, but I posted about it here -- On Sacrifice, Repentance, and King's Cross Station).

I seek social justice because I believe in the sacrificial act of love Jesus displayed on the cross. God loves the world enough to redeem us through that love, and I cannot help by responding by joining in on that never-ending project of reconciliation. This response to sacrificial love by seeking a better world is exactly what the HPA is doing. When I first encountered them, I momentarily wondered why they just weren't Christians since they seem to be responding to a re-telling of the Christian story.

But then I realize that I was acting just like Voldemort (or He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named) in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows when he dismissed the muggle children celebrating Halloween as being caught up in the "trappings of a world in which they do not believe." I had sadly slipped into the totalizing stance of thinking that everyone should think like me. But I believe in the good of redemption and reconciliation in whatever form it takes. Justice is justice, and good is good wherever it may be found. The more people that can use love to seek a better world the better. Call ourselves the DA (Dumbledore's Army) or the citizens of the kingdom; we are working for the same goal.

I love the Harry Potter books. They are fantastic storytelling and one of our few modern myths. I can think of no better legacy for this story than this mobilization for justice. In truth we have no weapon but love and as we all know -- in the end, love wins.

portrait-julie-clawsonJulie Clawson is the author of Everyday Justice: The Global Impact of Our Daily Choices (IVP 2009). She blogs at julieclawson.com and emergingwomen.us.

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