The Onion caused quite a stir a couple of weeks ago when it was read by an unsuspecting Christian. Through the power of the internet and e-mail, a satirical story entitled “Harry Potter Books Spark Rise in Satanism Among Children” was forwarded from one concerned Christian to another. Chilling (and entirely fictional) examples of blatant Satanism encouraged by J.K. Rowling were cut and pasted into the e-mail warning, including: “‘The Harry Potter books are cool, ’cause they teach you all about magic and how you can use it to control people and get revenge on your enemies,’ said Hartland, WI, 10-year-old Craig Nowell, a recent convert to the New Satanic Order Of The Black Circle. ‘I want to learn the Cruciatus Curse, to make my muggle science teacher suffer for giving me a D.'”

The humorists at the Madison, Wisconsin-based Onion also cited a fictional article from the Times of London, which included the following spurious quote from Rowling: “I think it’s absolute rubbish to protest children’s books on the grounds that they are luring children to Satan . . . People should be praising them for that!”

But the Onion did not invent a September 1 story in the Times that described “Harry Potter liturgy.” It seems the Church of England, indefatigable in her efforts to reach a lost generation of young people, has molded the Service of the Word from the once-great and oft-revised Book of Common Prayer into a seeker service for young Potterites.

“A banner featuring a serpent,” reports the Times, “representing the House of Slytherin . . . will adorn the 1960’s church of All Saints in Guildford, Surrey, this Sunday. Banners of the other three Hogwarts houses will also be displayed.”

Campus Crusade evangelicals in England expressed outrage at the C of E, saying she is “importing evil symbols into the Church.” Of course, they don’t mind dramas or Christian rock during the worship service. But Rowling’s books have touched a nerve in English Christendom; like Halloween, Harry Potter has become a symbol of the latent New Age, neo-occultist movement, waiting to devour the children of the kingdom.

American Christians have been on one distracting crusade after another since the days of temperance and Prohibition. Of late, however, the method of attack against popular culture has shifted from search-and-destroy missions to assimilation enterprises. When young people were threatened (or so evangelicals believed) by garbled back masked messages such as “get the gun” in Ozzy Osbourne’s “Suicide Solution” and “some of us smoke marijuana” in Queen’s “Another One Bites the Dust,” Christian rock bands such as Petra emerged, playing churches and youth crusades. Now even Billy Graham cannot have a televised meeting without Christian rock artists Michael W. Smith or DC Talk appearing.

The inevitable “Christian” Harry Potter series will emerge sometime next year from Baker, Zondervan, or Sparrow—unless Sparrow’s Bible Man fills the longings of young would-be-Potterites. Bible Man is played by washed-up teen heartthrob (now middle-aged and overweight) Willie Aames of Eight Is Enough and Charles in Charge fame. Wearing yellow tights and using pyrotechnics, Aames quotes Scripture verses from the New International Version of the Bible, defeating enemies such as Dr. Decepto and Madame Glitz.

There was a time when Christendom encouraged a belief in elves and fairies, and Chesterton even said that it helped to develop young imaginations capable of believing in more than what can be seen or proven through scientific theory. C.S. Lewis enriched young minds and imaginations through his Chronicles of Narnia series, and Tolkien through his Lord of the Rings, both of which had hefty doses of fantasy, talking animals, magic, and wizards.

Rowling is, to be sure, not a Christian, and Harry Potter is not looking for any type or shadow of Jesus Christ in the wardrobe. Christian parents probably should shield their children from Harry Potter, though perhaps with less fanfare. There is a danger of overstating the case. Kids who are already immersed in the world of American popular culture will say, “What’s the big deal?” Satan does not emerge from the Potter books or from backwardly masked LPs—at least, not the Satan they are looking for. Satan, though underneath a roaring lion, is more subtle than any beast of the field, preferring to use channels such as Christian superstar Amy Grant to raise the question, “Did God really say ‘Thou shalt not commit adultery?'”

Rich cultural catechization at the earliest stages of life will yield an adolescent who could easily read a page or two of Potter, laugh at the silly neopaganism, and toss it into the burn pile. Either way, life is too precious and short to waste our children’s time on American/Western pop culture—Christianized or not.