Now, Religion in the News, a report and comment on religious trends and events being covered by the media. This week’s item is from the National Catholic Reporter, February 21, 2003, with the headline: “Vatican Says New Age, Problematic—Harry Potter, fine—Jesus Christ, the Bearer of the Water of Life, a Christian reflection on the New Age is a joint project of four Vatican offices. And since the subject raised doctrinal issues, there was also input from the congregation for the doctrine of the faith. The authors warned that some New Age practices reflect ideas difficult to reconcile with Christian doctrine and spirituality and have become commonplace in Catholic circles, even in retreat houses, seminaries, and institutes of formation for religious. Benedictine brother, David Steindl-Rast, called the document ‘a missed opportunity for true dialogue in the world today.’
“The monk of Mount Savior Monastery in Pine City, New York, has a long history of association with what the Vatican calls the New Age. He has been a teacher at Esalen and a member of the advisory board for Findhorn, two New Age groups mentioned in the document.
“On the other hand, in an adjacent article, during a February 2 news conference for a document on the New Age movement, Vatican officials were asked to weigh in on a controversy surrounding Harry Potter. Father Peter Fleetwood, an Englishman, who was a former official of the Pontifical Council for Culture responded, ‘No one in this room grew up without images of magicians, witches, spirits and angels,’ Fleetwood said. ‘These are not bad things, and I certainly don’t think Harry Potter is flying some kind of anti-Christian banner. As far as I can tell the chief concern of the author is to help children to understand the conflict between good and evil. This seems very clear. The author, J. K. Rowling, is a Christian. She may not be practicing in a way a priest might like, but she is a Christian by conviction in her way of living and in her writing. I don’t see the least problem in the Harry Potter films,’ Fleetwood said.
“The positive Vatican assessment was not the first kind word from Catholic officialdom on Harry Potter. The U. S. bishop’s review of the first film was equally enthusiastic. ‘Parents concerned about the film’s sorcery elements should know that it is unlikely to pose any threat to Catholic beliefs,’ the bishop’s reviewer wrote.”
Tom: Dave, first of all, I have to tell you these articles are both from the National Catholic Reporter—I’m holding this up for your sake—they are on the same page. So, you have utter confusion here. On the one hand, what do we know about the New Age movement that they are sort of warning about but not really getting too out of sorts? This Benedictine brother—Esalen—Esalen!— just south of San Francisco—that’s the New Age—what would you call it?
Dave: New Age Vatican, I guess.
Tom: Yeah, that would be very good. Findhorn, in Scotland—this is the place in which communing with spirit entities to help them grow food and so on—that’s absolutely incredible.
Dave: Well, the Catholic Church, of course, has been into that sort of thing. What’s the difference between communing with the saints, talking to Saint Christopher? Of course, he got demoted.
Tom: Yeah, couldn’t figure out if he ever existed.
Dave: Yeah, that was a tragedy, but an awful lot of people prayed to him. Well, the various saints that you know—you prayed to some of them.
Tom: Medals, idols, so on and so forth.
Dave: It’s a form of occultism. So the Catholic Church has been flirting with the New Age for a long time, and they have been very soft on it. They have been warning about certain New Age practices, but here they acknowledge that these have become commonplace in Catholic circles, even in retreat houses, seminaries, and so forth.
Tom: Well, a spiritual director helps you to find a spirit guide. We have the whole contemplative movement within, which is having a renewal—has to do with meditation, all of the techniques that the Eastern mysticism and the New Age is about.
Dave: And what the Bible forbids, communing with spirits, and so forth. Yeah, but on the other hand, Benedictine Brother David Steindl-Ross, he says, “You guys missed a real opportunity. We could have had some genuine dialogue with the New Agers out there, and really, it would have been very fruitful and very helpful.”
Now Tom, that’s when I get just a little bit upset. You don’t dialogue about mathematics—“I don’t know, that’s pretty narrow-minded—five times five is twenty-five…but wait a minute! I don’t know about that. Couldn’t we dialogue about this a bit?” You don’t dialogue about science; you don’t dialogue about the formula H2O for water—“Should it just be one oxygen and two hydrogen? Why can’t it be different?” It’s absurd! I’m sorry! I get worked up over this. You don’t dialogue about truth, and Paul did not go out there and dialogue, and Jesus didn’t say “Go into all the world and dialogue.”
The Bible tells us the truth. It warns against these—what they call the New Age, now, is simply the old occultism that Deuteronomy 18 says “absolutely not—you are not to be involved in it at all, because it’s a deception, and it is anti-God and anti-Christ.” But they want to dialogue about it. They have been dialoguing with the Buddhists, they have been dialoguing with the Hindus, they have been dialoguing with the Muslims for the last twenty-four years!
Tom: Now, Dave, but this article—these articles in juxtaposition—are just incredible, because on the one hand, the Catholic Church is giving a warning about the New Age, but on the other hand, they are saying “Harry Potter is okay.”
Dave: A bit of a warning.
Tom: Yeah, a bit of a warning, because it’s so rampant within the Church, as we have mentioned. But still, on the surface of it, Harry Potter is okay. What is Harry Potter into? He’s into all of these things! Let me read you from Harry Potter in The Sorcerer’s Stone, just one quote.
Dave: Tom, he’s into everything the Bible forbids.
Tom: Right, and here’s an example from—it’s both in the film and in the book. We have Professor Snape, who—I’ll just quote him—he’s addressing his students, and he is saying, “As there is little foolish wand-waving here, many of you will hardly believe this is magic. I don’t expect you will really understand the beauty of softly shimmering cauldron, with it’s shimmering fumes, the delicate power of liquids that creep through human veins, bewitching the mind, ensnaring the senses. I can teach you how to bottle fame, brew glory, and stopper death.”
This is what the New Age is all about. So I think we have a case here of the Vatican speaking out of both sides of its mouth.
Dave: Oh, but they would probably say—in fact, they do say that “Well, it’s just fantasy. We all grew up on Grimm’s Fairy Tales, and so forth, so why not this?” This goes quite a bit beyond that. It’s a school of sorcerers, which people really take it seriously, and young kids take it seriously as well.
Tom: Well, they are being trained up in it: “Oh, it’s just…” as you say, “it’s just make believe,” but that’s not what we are finding out there, Dave.
Dave: We have a whole movement, the New Age movement. They are literally trying to do everything that Harry Potter depicts to create their own reality with their minds. And we have scientists who are engaged in trying to do this as well. So this is not like the fairy tales of old. This is something that people now take seriously.