Since time immemorial, people have found certain things profoundly fulfilling. Things like faith and family have helped us to look outside ourselves and to a higher power, making us feel whole. As young people today turn away from these things, it is no wonder that they are feeling empty and end up searching for meaning in fruitless and increasingly strange pursuits.
One of the unlikely places to which they are turning to fill that void is the world of Harry Potter. Not just Harry Potter as an enjoyable series into which one may escape or even a series with some truly meaningful messages, but as sacred text.
It began with a podcast. Two graduates from Harvard Divinity School (where else?), Casper ter Kuile and Vanessa Zoltan, began a podcast called “Harry Potter and the Sacred Text.” It debuted just last summer and quickly shot up the iTunes chart, becoming the number-two podcast in America. The podcast inspired listeners to hold Bible study-type groups like the one ter Kuile and Zoltan hold in Harvard Square, which the Washington Post describes as “a weekly church-like service for the secular focused on a Potter text’s meaning.” They are now on a national tour, taping the podcast in different cities before hundreds of Potter acolytes.
From the Bible to Harry Potter
Mark Kennedy, who attended a Washington DC event, is a “non-spiritual” who was raised Catholic. He told the Washington Post the podcast had changed everything for him. “I feel like I’m born again,” he said. Meanwhile, Zoltan and ter Kuile are skeptical of secularism, with Zoltan saying “It doesn’t speak to people’s hearts and souls.”
So they hope Harry Potter will help others learn traditionally religious themes like duty, forgiveness, mercy, love, and grace. “To me, the goal of treating the text as sacred is that we can learn to treat each other as sacred,” Zoltan said, “If you can learn to love these characters, to love Draco Malfoy, then you can learn to love the cousin you haven’t spoken to for 30 years, then the refugee down the street.”
For thousands of years, these lessons were taught from the Torah, the Bible, and other religious texts, but young people are turning away from them in droves, left feeling rudderless. More than a third of millennials consider themselves non-religious, which is double the number of baby boomers and triple the number of the generation before. Even those who do identify with a religion don’t necessarily practice it. Only two in ten people under 30 think that going to church is important or worthwhile.
Where, then, are they to learn morality? Where, then, are they to get this guidance? They aren’t, and they are feeling its lack. When someone offers them something as ridiculous as guidance from Harry Potter, is it any wonder they cling to it? Twenty-three-year-old Sally Taylor, who said she didn’t have any religion, attended the Washington DC event and said the podcast “always gives me guidance in a way I didn’t know I needed.” So, while ter Kuile and Zoltan say they don’t intend actually to create Potterism as a religion, they also understand that secularism doesn’t work, and those who were never taught true religion are looking for something to fill the void.
I’m Very Committed—To Myself
It isn’t just religion from which society is drifting, but other things that have traditionally kept us centered and fulfilled. Millennials are also putting off marriage in unprecedented numbers, or not marrying at all. Heck, some people are even marrying themselves, an ultimate expression of looking inward instead of outward.
As for children, many are skipping that altogether (although some are finally buying homes to make their dogs more comfortable). “Millennials aren’t big on tradition,” relationship expert April Masini told Bustle. “They prefer hanging out to dating, renting to buying and living together to marriage. It’s not that they don’t want a commitment — they do. They are having meaningful relationships and there have been studies that show they’re actually having less sex at their age than prior generations — so it’s not they want freedom to sleep around. They just don’t want to get married.”
I would disagree that these are not people who want a commitment, as her own examples clearly illustrate avoiding commitment. Every example of “then” as compared to “now” shows less of a commitment today as compared to previous generations, giving us a life of unknowns and uncertainty where there used to be stability. Not committing to a religion is part of that. Why commit to Jesus when you can just worship Harry Potter, hope it will fill the void, and pretend it’s ironic?
This makes me sad, and we should have seen it coming. As a society, we have turned our backs on the things that have fulfilled us and pursued instead the answers that make us feel good temporarily. One can hardly be amazed, then, when we seek fulfillment in the strangest of places. It is unfortunate not because these people are behaving foolishly, although they are, but because it won’t work. Harry Potter isn’t going to fulfill you.