I just came from a new class I’m taking, Harry Potter as Sacred Text. It’s a space where, through a close rereading and examination of the Harry Potter series, participants can reflect on the text as a guide of sorts, one with a rock solid underlying morality code – and arguably, a sacred one.
Which brings me to our first discussion. We started the night by rereading the first three paragraphs of the text. For those of you who aren’t familiar, they are this:
We are immediately introduced to the Dursleys, who it is quite clear, we should not like. They are clipped and fundamentally judgmental, and we are inclined to judge them negatively, as they judge others.
One of the themes, the underlying theme, at the course I am taking is the polar opposites of love and hate. That Harry Potter, as a sacred text, argues that ultimately, love will persevere over hate — that love, in its entirety, is a more potent force.
I would argue that also at Potters core is an underlying, clearly defined set of accessible and universal morals – good vs. evil type morals, those in Dumbledore’s Army vs those living as Death Eaters type morals.
But I digress. We are introduced to the Dursleys and we don’t like them. We mainly don’t like them because they are closed to others. At our first session in this class, we were then asked to discuss with someone else a time when we, ourselves, acted moderately (or very) Dursley-ish.
I immediately thought of a performance I had attended, a few months prior, where a number of burlesque performers interpreted various pieces of art and literature. Frankly, my reaction was nothing short of Dursley-ish. I had absolutely no time for that ‘nonsense.’ I did not need to see a half-naked girl reciting Tennyson while shaking her bits.
Yes, I know – I sound like a completely judgmental ass. And I get it. I was exhibiting the worst kind of Dursley qualities. I was othering someone, who, while I didn’t understand her performance, could see no harm in it. (Discussion on whether or not burlesque is harmful to/for women is another story). She wasn’t creating a more negative world, as far as I could tell, and while I found it a bit ridiculous, it certainly was not cruel or harmful in the way many human interactions are.
Which made me think. One of the participants in the group had earlier raised Kim Davis, the now infamous country clerk who has refused to sign or generate marriage licenses for gay couples – and to a great extent, has become a bit of a conservative celebrity as a result.
The tone of the room, when discussing Davis, was largely one of kindness, and possibly even empathy – surely, if we could find it in our hearts to empathize with some of the Dursley tendencies, which were based in fear, could we not, somewhere, empathize (or at the very least, sympathize), with Davis’s beliefs?
I’m going to say no. Like a clear, ringing, hells no. Here’s why – (and in the context of Harry Potter as a sacred text) – In Harry Potter, everyone has flaws. Harry does (pride), Dumbledore does (presumption), all the characters do. They are more beautiful, and real, because they are flawed characters. But there is also a nice, firm, glaring line drawn throughout the book – those on Dumbledore’s side (the side of love), and those on Voldemort’s side (the side of hate).
One could argue that there is a sliding scale of love vs hate in Harry Potter, and some fall messily in the middle. Narcissa Malfoy, for example, falls in a grey area. She is not good, nor could one say she is entirely evil. Petunia Dursley is similar – cruel, and hard to sympathize with…but protective at critical moments, and has twinges of humanity throughout the book.
If we look at modern day good vs evil, there might also be a sliding scale. I’ll go ahead and list ISIS as death eaters – they literally do just that, and I think it would be hard to argue that they grow and thrive due to fear, due to power, and ultimately, due to hate.
But Kim Davis is an interesting case. I think it would be easy to argue Davis as a Petunia or Narcissa – she isn’t actively hurting anyone. Those couples seeking marriage licensees from her could simply seek them elsewhere.
But here’s the thing. Davis stands on the side of hate. If Davis were in Harry Potter, I’m convinced she would be on the losing side of the battle between good and evil, between love and hate. Davis represents fear, and its offspring hate – and no matter how you package it, at the end of the day, I think, as a sacred text, Harry Potter would relegate Davis to the side of Voldemort.
Which brings me back to the act of being Dursleyish. I was Dursley-ish at that performance art piece. That’s not a good thing – I judged and othered someone because their actions didn’t clearly fit into my script of ‘valuable,’ and I think, as a sacred text, Harry Potter would tell me this was wrong.
And that’s absolutely something I can and should work on. Judging others who are harming no one – who are ‘different,’ (as was Lupin), is Dursley-ish behavior at its core, and it’s unbecoming.
But in Harry Potter, there are clear lines drawn, ultimately, when it comes to judgement. It’s wrong to judge Lupin because he is a werewolf – he can’t help the fact that he is. He should be afforded the same rights as others, in Harry Potter, because he is a good, decent person…he is kind, thoughtful, intelligent. Lupin adds to humanity, and he is on the right side of the end battle. (As opposed to Fenrir Greyback, who chooses evil).
I recognize that judgment, even in the case of Kim Davis (or ISIS?) isn’t productive. My judging Kim Davis will not make her, in turn, more tolerant.
But ultimately, I think Kim Davis is a Death Eater. (Yes, I said it). I think she is on the wrong side of the fight, the side of hate – and if there is a sliding scale of good and evil in Harry Potter, she might fall somewhere in the middle. But she would still be a stone on evils side of the scale.
Harry Potter is a story about love. About love’s power. I think, when examining our own Dursley-ish behavior, we have to understand what motivates us. Is it fear? Or hate? Can we apply a sliding-scale to Dursley-like tendencies? And, when we feel ourselves exhibiting Dursley-like behavior, “Thank you very much!,” should we stop, think, and ask what the motivation is? Does it come from a petty judgement, or ‘othering’ of that which we consider ‘nonsense?’ Or, does it run deeper, a resistance to a set of ‘ideals’ that we would, at our core, would fight against? Beliefs that we believe hurt far more than they remain benign? (Fighting for house elves comes to mind).
To me, Harry Potter IS sacred. It is so, not because it’s ‘religious,’ but because it has a beautiful, underlying set of morals that I think any version of humanity would do well to live by. And at the heart of that morality is a message of love. That’s the message we need to embrace. That’s how we check our own Dursley-ness.