Harry Potter


"Science, religion - and Harry Potter"

("The Guardian," December 29, 2001)

What a drab world Professor Cupitt wants us to inhabit (Clinging to the enchanted world, December 27)! Wholly dominated by science and secular modernity, it would be devoid of enchantment, myth or inherited culture. He is clearly dismayed by the continuing success of Tolkien and the new success of Pullman and Rowling, but he should not be allowed to misrepresent their message.
Apart from their use of "fantasy" - creative imagination - the three authors are actually very different, but none of them encourages children or adults to believe that "unseen powers will look after us and make sure that nothing very bad ever happens to us".
Frodo and Sam, Will and Lyra have helpers on the way - elves and wizards, angels and witches; but on the last stages of their dreadful journey they are utterly alone. Harry has some magical powers, but they are puny compared with the dark forces he has to confront, and he prevails by virtue of his own, and his loyal friends', courage and resource. It is true that Dumbledore, who is perhaps God, regularly rescues him, but only at the last gasp, after he has greatly suffered. In these books we are indeed far from the "modern" view, that there is a pill for every sorrow, a bomb for every enemy, a scientific cure for the human condition.
Christopher Wrigley
Chorleywood, Herts

Superstition is a fear of the unknown, promulgated by religion to control people. Religion is a form of political control using fear of the supernatural. Fantasy is indulgence in the imagination. Reality is a subjective state occurring in each of our minds, possibly based upon our perception of our interaction with a possible external world. Creativity is using the imagination to make something new. Rationalism is pretending that you are being objective about your reality. Science is about using rationalism to understand your reality. No wonder people are flocking to Tolkien and Harry Potter, it's much more fun.
Angela Price
Dorchester, Dorset

I fully endorse Don Cupitt's sensible article. But his endorsement of modern science seems to be at odds with his enthusiasm hitherto for postmodernism, for which science is simply another "meta-narrative" which should be no more privileged than any other claim to truth.
He is famous for insisting that "there is nothing outside the text". In 1991 he wrote: "Truth is no longer something out there; it is a way with words, the preacher, interpreter or artist is now making truth in the telling of a tale... The interpreter is no longer just a servant of the truth, but has become someone whose job is the endless production of truth." Don Cupitt's new position seems to be a healthy return to modernism; to the Enlightenment Project; and would happily be endorsed by Habermas, Chomsky and even Richard Dawkins.
Mike Bateman

So the two old unbelievers are still in business, even at Christmas time.Richard Dawkins (The word made flesh, Science, December 27), the evolutionary fundamentalist, looks forward to the next 50 years when we can resurrect the so far elusive missing link by means of genetics and thereby vindicate Darwin and prove absolutely the error of non-scientific forms of knowledge.
Don Cupitt, the trendy Anglican clergyman, tells us that the old sacred universe has passed away. We (Christians?) can enjoy children's stories without this being in any way connected to whether we like or dislike the modern world.
Both writers are confusing entertainment (in Dawkins's case science fiction) with the serious and difficult business of being an absolutist (in my case one of the Christian kind) in very difficult times. Terence Pearson

Bored of telling us God is deader than a parrot, Don Cupitt now wants to stop us reading fantasy. If puritanism in all its forms were not such a scary force in the modern world, we might find poor old Don just a bit sad. As it is, he's not even as dreadfully up-to-date as he thinks: Gradgrind was equally down on the imagination in the middle of the 19th century, and (thank God or someone) it's still not dead. Kim Taplin
Kidlington, Oxon

Don Cupitt doesn't get it. He seems to assume that we all share his literalist interpretation of what he terms heritage religion. But we do not. As a clergyman who has worked many years both as a research astrophysicist and parish priest, I am very much aware of the fruitful interaction between the ideas of modern physics and of religious belief, and I have not the slightest intention of clinging to a world and cosmological view that have long since passed away.
I am as aware as Don Cupitt is of the developments in western thought from Erasmus to Nietzsche, of the results of biblical criticism, and of the horrors of religious fundamentalism of all kinds. I am also aware, within religious belief, of the complex and subtle interactions between the telling of story, the use of ritual, and historical event.
These thoughts are very much in my mind when I regularly preside at traditional Anglican Sunday parish eucharist, with a congregation from a wide range of backgrounds including a number of university research scientists.
Rev Dr David Peat
Department of Physics and Astronomy, University of Leeds