Christians call the Bible a “sacred text” in part because we believe it to be divinely inspired. But the word “sacred” also implies that our community treats the Bible in a certain way. We read it over and over again, hoping and even expecting to find new meaning each time. We gather (safely!) to hear it read and sung and explained. And we turn to it for personal comfort and communal guidance in times of crisis. In short, we believe that it is worth our time, our attention, our love.
This second meaning of “sacred” is what we should hear in the title of Harry Potter and the Sacred Text, a podcast hosted by Harvard Divinity School graduates Vanessa Zoltan and Casper ter Kuile. In each episode, Vanessa and Casper read a chapter of the Harry Potter books with the attentive care usually reserved for ancient holy books.
On the one hand, this allows listeners who feel uncomfortable with traditional religion to participate in a kind of spiritual community. But on the other, reading Harry Potter like this demonstrates that the world is full of things worth our attention and love, things that will reward us if we treat them as sacred. In Vanessa’s words, “What gifts is it going to give us if we love something and we love it with rigor and … commitment?”
Each episode centers on an ethical theme like “guilt,” “joy,” “revenge,” or “love,” and the hosts use various Christian and Jewish reading practices to draw these themes out of the text. This is what really makes HPST stand out from all the other reread and rewatch podcasts strewn across the internet.
For example, while a standard fan podcast might debate at length whether Dumbledore or Voldemort is truly the more powerful wizard, HPST applies the practice of lectio divina to Dumbledore’s statement “Voldemort had powers I will never have.” Reading allegorically, Vanessa and Casper wonder whether Dumbledore has committed to refuse certain corrupting powers and what it would mean for us to do the same. Instead of merely indulging in trivia (though there’s plenty), the podcast asks what kind of life these books call us to live.
While certainly secular, the podcast is not hostile to religion. Christian ministers and Jewish rabbis make frequent guest appearances, and religious practices are treated with respect. The point is not to replace any existing faith but to use a shared love for Harry Potter to build community across religious lines.
At times, however, Vanessa and Casper’s interpretations are in tension with Christian belief. For me, the starkest example is Vanessa’s skepticism about hope, which she thinks is often a “tool of oppression” that prevents people from working to change the world. I think Christians can make use of Vanessa’s critique while rejecting her conclusion. That is, we need to cultivate a “living hope” (I Pet. 1:3) that leads to action, not complacency. But depending on your own theological views, you might run into conflicts that are not resolved so easily.
On the whole, though, Harry Potter and the Sacred Text urges its listeners to bring curiosity and vulnerability to our reading and our relationships—a very Christian thing to do. And for those of us who call the Bible sacred, it’s a reminder to fill our devotions and church services with as much joy as Vanessa and Casper model in each episode. (Not Sorry Productions)