No Wizard Left Behind
Harry Potter and Left Behind are more alike than you might think.
Corrupt authority figures. Liberal Rowling and conservative LaHaye both distrust the government. Harry spends as much time in The Order of Phoenix battling the hapless (or wicked?) Ministry of Magic as he does Voldemort himself. In Left Behind, it's a takeover of world government by the Antichrist that puts the world at peril. In Harry Potter, the adults can't be trusted; in Left Behind, it's the non-Christians.
Political agendas. As the Harry Potter series progresses, it becomes clear that Voldemort and his death-eaters want power for a specific purpose: wiping out Muggles (non-magical families) and mudbloods (mixed families). The books become a plea for tolerance and against the nostalgia for ethnic purity. Hermione's campaign to liberate the house elves is even more transparent in its power-to-the-little-people message.
Left Behind presents a comprehensive conservative Christian agenda. The Antichrist is the secretary-general of the United Nations. He promotes a hit parade of classic liberal causes, including family planning, abortion, global disarmament, amniocentesis, Third World development, assisted suicide, and higher taxes. Yes, the Antichrist is a tax-and-spend liberal. "We will further finance our plans to inject social services into underprivileged countries and make the world playing field equal for everyone," Carpathia declares. Scarrrrrry.
Romance cannot wait. Despite the fact that the heroes in each book are busy waging life-and-death struggles against colossal forces of evil, they still need to attend to their social lives. When he breaks a date with love-interest Cho Chang to meet with Hermione, Cho whimpers that Harry's being insensitive. She views Harry's distractedness as being of the "boys-are-such-creeps" variety rather than the "it-must-be-tough-to-prevent-genocidal-wizards-who-killed-your-parents-from-taking-over-the-world" variety.
But imagine how hard it would be to maintain a courtship on the eve of the apocalypse. Early in the Left Behind series, newsmagazine reporter Buck Williams develops a crush on Chloe Steele, the daughter of series hero Rayford Steele.
"The timing was bad," he noted. "Who pursues a relationship during the end of the world?" So true.
Then there was Rayford's old friend Hattie, a flight attendant who later becomes Carpathia's mistress and gets pregnant, thereby creating a mind-blowing Christian dilemma: Is it OK to have an abortion if the father is the devil? (Answer: no.) What are the obligations of a friend in a situation like this? "What are you going to do, Chloe?" Rayford asks his daughter. "Tell her she's carrying the antichrist's child and that she ought to leave him?" Paging Jerry Springer.
The book has many lines you won't find in a Harlequin romance. One character gives someone a massage shortly before Jesus' return.
"You're tense," she said.
"Relax, love. Messiah is coming."
Steven Waldman is editor in chief ofBeliefnet, the leading multifaith spirituality and religion Web site.
Still from Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets © 2002 Warner Bros. All rights reserved.