Hidden away in the news, amongst the protesting in Hong Kong, Brexit in Britain, trumpeting of Trump, there is a story that defies easy description. It represents a collision of fact and friction with fiction and crosses all the boundaries that separate satire from derision. It centres around the Harry Potter books and religious zeal taken to a whole new level of foolishness.

The pastor of a Catholic school in Nashville has banned the Harry Potter books because of concerns pupils might "risk conjuring up evil spirits" by reading the wizardish spells in the stories. If the pastor had a hankering for his own 15 minutes of fame then it worked. Maybe he regarded appearing to be an idiot was just a small price to pay and the consequential martyrdom was worth the hassle.

To quote him: "The curses and spells used in the Harry Potter books are actual curses and spells; which when read by a human being risk conjuring evil spirits into the presence of the person reading the text".


Does he not understand the concept of fiction? These are made-up stories – good stories but none of it is intended to be true which is why it is called fiction. Admittedly, he says he consulted exorcists for advice. He has possibly confused the word "exorcist" with the word "experts". The two words do sound a bit the same if you are deaf to nuance. A theological expert would have told him that Harry Potter is fantasy. The spells in it were conjured up in the imagination of JK Rowling. They are not actual curses that summon evil.

If the pastor has a problem with the fictional stories of Harry Potter, he may struggle with elements of the Bible as well. He has clearly not been reading his Bible recently. There is enough power plays and terrible deeds to give it a parental advisory sticker.

Not only is there plenty of violence, death and mayhem, there's lots of people knowing each other in their tents. The overall moral tone is useful. For example, the Ten Commandments remain the definitive policy and procedural statement. It is simple, short and covers most of the moral ground in 10 sentences. It does not include "thou shalt not make a fool of yourself by mistaking a fictional novel for something real". But that could be added as an addendum at the bottom.

Is this man aware that there is considerable contention between theologians about which bits of the Bible are to be read as historically accurate or meant to be understood as fictional narrative style parables illustrating moral problems? This does not diminish the value of storytelling as a way of imparting values. Maybe he was just annoyed that children will stay up till the small hours to find out what happened to Harry.

His worries are about all seven Harry Potter books and the stage show. He says they endorse what he describes as "Machiavellian" attitudes through the actions of the characters. He feels this is a terrible influence on children as it encourages them to think they can get whatever they want. He is even unhappy with the "good" characters using "nefarious methods" to achieve their goals.

The footnote to this story was provided by the superintendent of schools for the Catholic Diocese of Nashville, who responded by noting the Catholic Church sees parents as a child's primary teachers. This can be interpreted as meaning the pastor cannot dictate to children what they can and cannot read, with this being a parental decision.

* Terry Sarten is a writer, musician and satirista.