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Jewish World Review Oct. 28, 1999 /18 Mar-Cheshvan, 5760

Mona Charen

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Foolish to worry about Satanism and witchcraft? --
LIKE MILLION OF OTHER AMERICANS, our family has begun to read and enjoy "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban."

We've only just started the novel but are already drawn in by the sorry predicament of the bespectacled orphan with magical powers. We've heard that the story contains violence, witchcraft and other magic, but then, so do many of the classic children's fables we all grew up reading.

Though Harry Potter is the greatest best-seller anyone has seen in a long time, the series by J. K. Rowling has provoked controversy. Some parents, particularly traditionalist Christian ones, have objected to the book's inclusion in school libraries because it deals with witchcraft. Such objections have in turn produced howls of contempt -- not just from Harry Potter fans, but from those who always dismiss the concerns of Christians as narrow-minded primitivism.

Both sides should take a good look at their positions and think again. Those who object to Harry Potter should recognize that while he is a wizard, Harry is also a hero in the old-fashioned sense. Not every figure of magic is evil. What about Merlin, or the Wizard of Oz?

But those who dismiss the concerns of Christian parents should reconsider, as well. It is not foolish to worry about Satanism and witchcraft these days. In the anything-goes culture we've created, bizarre and creepy practices are far more common than they were 20 years ago.

A small example: According to CNN, animal shelters around the nation now decline to permit black cats to be adopted in the month of October. In part, this is due to concerns that non-animal lovers will take the cats as props for Halloween parties, without any true desire to adopt them. But there is a darker reason, as well. Some black cats have come back in pieces, the victims of satanic torture and "sacrifice."

Animal sacrifices are not limited to Halloween. Across the nation, dismembered or skinned animals have been discovered in cemeteries and wooded areas, some with pentagrams cut into their bodies. In a Tampa cemetery, officials found rotting animal parts in plastic bags, along with empty air canisters (the kind kids sniff to get high). One local resident, who decided to keep an eye on the cemetery, saw two youngsters, a boy and a girl, dressed all in black with their faces painted white, lying on tombstones.

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Remember the rash of church burnings a few years back? At first, it had seemed to be the work of racists. Later, someone tallied the total and figured out that more white churches had been targeted than black. The press naturally lost interest at that point and paid no attention when a self-described Satanist, Jay Ballinger, was arrested and charged with 50 church burnings. Ballinger had earlier persuaded 50 teen-agers to sign an oath in blood "pledging their souls to the devil."

Cassie Bernall, the heroine/martyr of the Columbine massacre who, many believe, pledged her faith in G-d at the point of the gun and paid for it with her life, had traveled a dark road to her eventual spiritual rebirth.

Several years earlier, she had become involved with Satanism, witchcraft and drugs, and had corresponded with others about murdering her parents.

Cassie was saved by the dedicated efforts of her parents and a thorough conversion to Christianity. Others pursue their occult beliefs to their logical conclusion. One of the vicious killers in Jasper, Texas, who dragged a black man to his death was a white supremacist all right, but John William King was also a Satanist.

To be sure, there are lots of merely odd people who dabble in the occult and never commit crimes of any sort. And there is a species of radical feminist who embraces witchcraft as the ultimate female power. We will always have the loony extremes. What is unsettling is the number of seemingly ordinary high-school kids who drift into devil worship as easily as they once joined the marching band.

The problem is not books like Harry Potter. But the problem is out there.

JWR contributor Mona Charen reads all of her mail. Let her know what you think by clicking here. Please bear in mind, though, that while all letters are read, due to the heavy amount of traffic, not all letters can be answered.

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©1999, Creators Syndicate