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Jo Rowling and Her Struggle to Believe


Russell Madden



Last Sunday, NBC’s Meredith Vieira conducted an interview with Harry Potter’s creator, J. K. Rowling. (Transcript here.) Amidst the tidbits about her life and the writing of the Potter finale was this exchange:

Young voice: Voldemort's killing of Muggle-borns, it sounds a lot like ethnic cleansing.  How much of the series is a political metaphor?

J.K. Rowling: Well, it is a political metaphor. But… I didn't sit down and think, "I want to recreate Nazi Germany," in the— in the wizarding world. Because — although there are— quite consciously overtones of Nazi Germany, there are also associations with other political situations. So I can't really single one out.

Young voice: Harry's also referred to as the chosen one. So are there religious—

Rowling: Well, there— there clearly is a religious— undertone. And— it's always been difficult to talk about that because until we reached Book Seven, views of what happens after death and so on, it would give away a lot of what was coming. So… yes, my belief and my struggling with religious belief and so on I think is quite apparent in this book.

Vieira: And what is the struggle?

Rowling: Well my struggle really is to keep believing.

Vieira: To keep believing?

Rowling: Yes.

Given the anti-authoritarian, almost libertarian themes in Order of the Phoenix, Rowling’s continued focus on opposition to a repressive political order was both welcome and unsurprising. “Other political situations” could refer to a lot of different things, but perhaps Rowling is less-then-thrilled with the growing British police state. High time someone with influence said something about that swelling tyranny.

Perhaps a few of those millions of readers of her books will incorporate at least a portion of those ideas into their own lives. The better for freedom if future societal leaders retain skepticism of those who seek to control others “for their own good.” Time will tell.

Almost as significant (to me) was Rowling’s statement about her religious beliefs (or lack thereof). Vieira dropped that subject like a hot poker, but given the disdain that atheism has in most cultures, perhaps if Rowling ceases her struggle “to keep believing” and instead embraces the impossibility and destructiveness of a belief in god or gods, others will be more inclined to follow her lead.

While it is obvious that atheism per se is no panacea (e.g., communism), rejection of the supernatural is a logical (and as Ayn Rand pointed out, secondary) conclusion of a reality-based philosophy dedicated to reason and objectivity. And in the long-term, liberty can only survive on the basis of rational thought, a fact that excludes religious belief of any stripe. Rowling’s disappointing inclusion in the Deathly Hallows of self-sacrifice as a worthy action perhaps reflects her struggle against traditional Christianity.

Maybe one day Rowling will realize that the greatest heroes are those who reject self-immolation and embrace their values and their lives against any and all opposition.

One can only hope.

(from Don't Get Me Started!, 7-31-07)