The Guardian

The Guardian October 25, 2000


Culture and Life

by Rob Gowland

Shining a light in dark places

In the 18th century, the social reformers of the Enlightenment would 
have laughed with derision at the idea that three centuries later schools 
would still be run by churches and superstition be taken seriously. They 
would have fallen about the room, helpless, roaring with laughter at the 
suggestion that people would still believe in witches and black magic. 
Engaged as they were in shining the light of reason into what had 
previously been the murk of obscurantism, and filled with a proselytising 
zeal to bring science, knowledge and truth to every corner of human 
activity, they could hardly foresee the deliberate persistence of 
ignorance.

The emerging system of capitalism had already triumphed in Britain and 
would soon triumph across Europe. Capitalism was dependent on scientific 
discovery, the development of technology (applying those discoveries) and 
exploration.

It was an age that rejoiced in every new discovery and thirsted for the new 
knowledge. Capitalism was intent on discovering and exploiting the riches 
of the whole world. There was no longer a place for maps on which large 
areas were labelled "Here be dragons".

Similarly, capitalism needed to know how the physical world worked if it 
was to be exploited. There could be no mysteries, no inexplicable acts of 
"magic".

The world  nay, the whole universe  was knowable, given enough time and 
effort.

Needing a skilled workforce, researchers, scientists, educators and more, 
capitalism encouraged universal public education. Obscurantism was surely 
doomed.

But today, capitalism is unable to utilise all its productive capacity nor 
to find work for all the workforce available to it.

It now has a vested interest in keeping the people in the dark about how 
the world really works. For if people knew the real source of profit and 
just who causes job losses, poverty and wars they might decide not to put 
up with it any more.

Better that they live in ignorance, a prey to superstition and fear.

These thoughts were prompted by news reports that on the NSW Central Coast 
several schools have removed the phenomenally popular Harry Potter 
books from their libraries "because of concerns over the books' allegedly 
dark, supernatural content".

The books, by JK Rowling, are about a boy who is also a wizard. It seems to 
be the use of spells and magic that has upset the "educators" in question.

The schools that have taken action against the children's fantasy books are 
all fundamentalist Christian schools: Wyong Christian Community School, 
Green Point Christian College and Gosford Christian School.

The Principal of Wyong Christian Community School, Alison Bannister, told 
the local Sun Weekly that the books blurred the boundaries of 
reality. Unlike people walking on water, raising the dead or turning into 
angels, presumably.

"The main character is a wizard", she pointed out with unerring accuracy 
and went on to observe that what she called "the dark side" (shades of the 
Star Wars films) is not presented in the books as fantasy "but as 
real".

She then voiced their real concerns, that the books promote the black arts: 
"We feel that the theme of the book is fairly `occultish'."

Green Point Christian College librarian, Stephen Brinton, made the 
fundamentalists' concerns even more explicit: "The thing we are concerned 
about is the witch-craft, the sorcery and the spells. The writer makes the 
occult exciting and attractive to children and that can desensitise them to 
the real dangers inherent in the occult."

These people believe in the reality of the occult. They believe in 
Satan and that followers of black magic worship Satan or at least are under 
his malevolent influence. They fear that the Harry Potter books may 
encourage children to experiment with these dark Satanic forces.

It sounds medieval, but here is Stephen Brinton again: "[Harry] uses 
witchcraft, which is evil, to defeat the enemy."

You notice he doesn't say that witchcraft is nonsense. He says it is evil. 
That is the comment of a man who believes in the reality of witchcraft.

That a fundamentalist Christian would believe in witches, goblins, sprites 
or trolls is no more surprising than that he believes in angels and devils. 
But such people should have no role in the education of defenceless 
children.

These Christian fundamentalists believe witches are sufficiently real and 
evil that children need to be protected from coming under their influence. 
Frankly, it's the influence of the fundamentalists that children need to be 
protected against.

In the 21st century, isn't it time we finally did away with medieval 
obscurantism and at least caught up with the enlightenment of the 18th 
century?

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