By Elizabeth Lev
ROME, NOV. 15, 2007 (Zenit.org).- In the wake of my last column, I received a deluge of e-mail regarding the piece on J.K. Rowlings’ betrayal of her readers. I pointed out that declaring one of the principal characters, Dumbledore, to be homosexual after having sold millions of books to children is a deceitful act.
The responses to this piece were very revealing. I was duly chastised by those who had never succumbed to the books, who noted that secularist literature was bound to carry “a sting in its tail.”
Most ZENIT readers, from teenagers to grandparents, responded with brief and enthusiastic messages. Others, however, criticized the harsh tone I took in the piece, interpreting this as lack of charity toward my homosexual Christian brothers and sisters.
The column was about Rowling and her deceptive behavior, not Dumbledore, who is a fictional character. Any struggles with his sexuality or decision to live chastely are merely figments of the reader’s imagination, since they aren’t even hinted at in the text.
The character only exists insofar as what Rowling describes on the pages. We don’t know what he does when not appearing in the chapters. In her seven books, Rowling developed her headmaster as a devoted teacher and a moral anchor when it comes to good and evil. To add a sexual dimension to the character is not only untruthful, but also tricky.
What if, at her next conference, she announces that Dumbledore had a few homosexual experiences when a young man at Hogwarts? What if she then reveals a tortured double life he was forced to lead away from judgmental eyes? Once you’ve opened the door to an aspect unsupported by the text, anything becomes possible.
Which brings me back to the point. This is not about Dumbledore, this is a piece about the integrity of an author who wrote books for children and then decided to pander to her adult audience.
Rowling is an artist. She transmitted a captivating vision of an imaginary world through her words and storytelling. To retroactively try to use her art as propaganda is like pop stars discussing politics.
Homosexual, by definition, contains an erotic element. It defines not merely the feeling of affection or love for a person of the same sex, but a physical desire. It introduces a sexual dimension which is not only unnecessary, but inappropriate for children’s books.
Rowling’s magical world has no homosexual dimension. There aren’t even unmarried people living together. Thousands of parents combed the text looking for inappropriate moral models while Rowling wisely remained silent about all of her characters’ sexuality. The sudden addition of a sexual element has no root in the magical world she created.
The exegesis of Dumbledore’s admission that he was strongly influenced by a close friend makes a sad commentary on how our age has reverted to the pagan era of equating love with sensuality.
In the final book when Dumbledore admits to Harry that he was swayed by his friend, he says, “You have no idea of how much his words inflamed me.” Silly me, I thought of my old art history teacher and how I moved to another country to study with her.
What never occurred to me was that Dumbledore was describing a sexual longing. Not a crush, which does not a homosexual make, but desire for physical union with another man. How disappointing that Rowling, so creative and brilliant in other matters, should reduce this to a matter of sexuality.
Most of the critical letters were framed in charitable terms, but a few e-mails, ostentatiously signed by Ph.D.s or professors, illustrated the error of my ways in patronizing tones I would not take with even my most recalcitrant students.
I didn’t write the piece for academics, but for Christian parents, pastors and children, who feel rightly betrayed. It was a word of solidarity to people who work and live at the frenetic pace of this age and who find challenges to good Christian formation at every turn.
Rowling took their money, seduced their children and then tried to influence their offspring into thinking about, and ultimately embracing homosexuality.
Sophistry and the doublespeak of tolerance try to confound harried parents who want to live the Christian mission to love, but the good people who were let down by Rowling should not be made to feel “homophobic” or less Christian because they denounce what was a wrongful act on the part of a children’s author. Nor should they be belittled as if their Christian conscience were no match for the sophisticated arguments of the intelligentsia.
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Little Flower Welcomed
Last week, Rome received a delightful visit. The relics of St. Thérèse of Lisieux — the Little Flower — were brought to the Eternal City.
For one week her mortal remains were transported with great pomp and honor from the Russian College, which bears her name, to various churches in the city, concluding with all-night adoration at the Church of St. Agnes in Piazza Navona.
Everywhere she went, she was greeted with prayers, flowers and songs, bringing a swath of joy to the first cold dark days of November.
Thérèse, born in 1873, visited Rome only once in her brief lifetime. At the age of 15, her father brought her here on a pilgrimage, where she met Pope Leo XIII at the papal audience.
She knew she was called to serve God as a religious sister, but had been denied entry into the Carmelite order because of her youth. She asked the Pope to allow her to join the order, but Pope Leo counseled her to obey her superiors.
Thérèse visited the Mamertine prison and the Colosseum, praying at the sites of the Roman martyrs. Meditating on their example, she put aside her own frustrations. Shortly after her return to France, the local bishop permitted her to join the convent.
Within the convent Thérèse thrived spiritually although her health soon began to decline. Under obedience, she wrote the “Story of a Soul” with her mother superior, outlining with simplicity her “little way.”
She succumbed to tuberculosis at the age of 24, after an exemplary witness of embracing suffering for the love of Christ, and was canonized by Pope Pius XI in 1925.
Once she joined the Carmelites, the Little Flower never traveled any further than her hometown, and yet she was named patron saint of missions because of her ceaseless intercession for missionaries and her promise to spend her heaven doing good on Earth. From her little world, she was able to see the biggest picture of all.
Ten years ago, in October 1997, Pope John Paul II declared Thérèse a doctor of the Church, although she had never earned a university degree or taught a course.
She was the youngest of the 33 people in the history of the Church to receive this exalted title. In his homily, John Paul II declared that “her spiritual itinerary shows such maturity and the intuitions of her faith expressed in her writings are so vast and so profound, that they merit a place among the great spiritual masters.”
Thérèse’s autobiography was a best-seller throughout the 20th century and has offered spiritual guidance to millions of souls. Her simplicity and faith resonate in the longing to do something meaningful for God and others in all of us.
Thérèse takes a refreshing view of academic posturing when she writes: “When I read spiritual treatises, in which perfection is shown with a thousand obstacles in the way and a host of illusions round about it, my poor little mind soon grows weary. I close the learned book, which leaves my head splitting and my heart parched, and I take the holy Scriptures. Then all seems luminous, a single word opens up infinite horizons to my soul, perfection seems easy.”
In a society that esteems learning over wisdom, and titles over virtue, Thérèse’s “little way” reminds us that God chooses what the world deems foolish to shame the proud.
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Elizabeth Lev teaches Christian Art and Architecture at Duquesne University’s Italian campus. She can be reached at [email protected].