Wizard-in-training Harry Potter, the fictional star of a series of phenomenally popular children's books, has fended off evil warlocks, giant snakes and a three-headed dog, but he may have just gained his most powerful enemy -- the Religious Right.
The release last month of the first motion picture based on the Potter books, "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone," set off a new round of Religious Right Potter-bashing. The books, far-right groups asserted, teach that witchcraft is fun and lure children into the occult.
Authored by British writer J.K. Rowling, the four Harry Potter books have become a modern publishing sensation, selling millions of copies around the world. Aimed at young readers but also popular with many adults, the books recount the adventures of Harry Potter, an orphan who learns that he is descended from a line of wizards.
The books deal mainly with Harry's adventures at Hogwarts, an elite private academy for would-be wizards where students learn magical arts from witches, warlocks and even an occasional werewolf. Throughout the books, Harry must fend off attacks from an evil arch-villain, Lord Voldemort, who murdered Harry's parents and wants to kill him as well. In each book, good triumphs over evil in the end.
Although fantasy beings like witches, giants and other fabulous creatures have populated children's literature since the Brothers Grimm, some Religious Right activists are sure that the Potter series is a tool to indoctrinate young children into the world of the occult.
In November, Lindy Beam, a "youth culture analyst" for Focus on the Family, penned a piece titled "What Shall We Do With Harry?" that asserted that the series' main problem is that it presents the occult in a positive light.
Beam scored the books for "desensitization to witchcraft" and because author Rowling "does not write from the basis of Judeo-Christian ethics." She urged readers to use young people's interest in the book as a stepping stone to fundamentalist evangelism.
The Southern Baptists have also made it clear that they are not wild about Harry. On Nov. 2, the Baptist Press news service ran an opinion column by Robert McGee, associate pastor for discipleship at First Baptist Church, Merritt Island, Fla., blasting the Potter series and criticizing some Christians for defending the books as merely works of fantasy.
Wrote McGee, "God has declared the very practices presented in Harry Potter an abomination (see Deuteronomy …