In Defense of Dumbledore

The recent revelation of the sexual temptations of Albus Dumbledore, mentor wizard of the Harry Potter novels of J.K. Rowling, has caused quite a media brouhaha. The news comes on the heels of Rowling's interview with MTV in which she openly admitted the Christian foundations of the books. So now both Catholic fans and Catholic critics of Harry Potter have experienced the feeling of holding the trump card on the issue, at least momentarily, within the past month.

John Granger, homeschooling dad and Eastern Orthodox supporter of the Harry Potter novels, has written extensively on the context of J.K. Rowling's revelation and I would refer Rambler readers to his site for more information.

As a British novelist, Rowling has demonstrated before her ignorance of or indifference to the culture wars of America. Secular elites fume over her lack of concern about saving the planet or teaching teens about safe sex; American critics seethe that she doesn’t seem to realize that featuring wizards, witches, and spellcasting in her books could lead children into the occult.

Rowling has seemed equally blasé, revealing first that she is a Christian (incensing her secularist fans), and next that she has no reluctance to use homosexual inclination as a plot device in her books (disappointing her Christian fans). This is the problem with living authors: you have no control over what they might say next to cast new and glaring light upon their published work. No wonder most serious critics prefer their authors safely dead and ready to be dissected.

I admit I have difficulty in separating an author’s life from her work. But Catholics, including myself, should not be strangers to the phenomenon of writers who can create great and truly Christian works of art while holding opinions or leading lives at variance with the beauty of their beliefs. Some writers manage to write like Christians as well as act like Christians: C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien come to mind. But others like Graham Greene and Evelyn Waugh produced Catholic classics, even though it’s difficult to see how their Catholic faith made them more moral or more pleasant. Going further back in history produces even more examples of this paradox.

Thus, I can hold that even if Rowling is what our culture would term “pro-gay,” this does not mean that she hasn’t produced an astonishing work of literature that adds to the Christian compendium of great fiction. However, I’d like to examine how Rowling uses homosexual inclination in her work and demonstrate how it backs up, rather than undercuts, the Church’s teaching on homosexuality.

 Homosexuality has risen to prominence in today’s culture in the sordid wake of the sexual revolution. Formerly a minor and rather rare perversion, homosexuality now has a movement of its own whose adherents demand new legal definitions and “rights.” But even though it is a vocal movement, it is relatively small and possibly not as deadly as we might believe (though of course it is dangerous, and like abortion, should be opposed).

I believe that the three most destructive forces in our culture are divorce, contraception, and pornography, all of which are so embedded into our society that outlawing two of them would be next to impossible, and even restricting the third is becoming unfeasible. I see the growth of homosexuality, like fornication and abortion, as an effect of these three root sins.

So what is homosexuality? As I explore in my novel Waking Rose (www.wakingrose.com), the causes of homosexuality do not seem to be genetic: there is ample evidence that it is caused by early childhood experiences of the lack of a protective, strong, and loving paternal figure (hence, it is often connected to divorce). Homosexuality is not so much a sexual desire towards one’s own gender as it is the feeling of an inability to connect with and bond with the opposite sex. I want to particularly focus on same-sex attraction as it affects men (as in all things, women have their own particular quirks and nuances, even in this area).

God calls men to image Himself, God the Father, whereas women are called to image His receptive creation. Hence, women are called to image something they already are, whereas men are called to image something that they are not: they are not God, but they are called to be like Him. This is, fundamentally, a terrifying prospect. Hence, the preparation and training and education of men is so critical and so important: a boy must learn to become strong and to have courage, to learn to hold on, in preparation for his life task of giving himself fully to God, to a woman, or to a mission.

It is tragically easy for a young man to feel that he is completely unable reach this goal, and to give up, especially in the absence of a father or male mentor. Seeing that men are gifted with a goal-orientation, the temptation simply not even to try to start what he doesn’t feel he can finish is very potent. A woman’s perennial temptation is to feel unloved: a man’s is to feel inadequate.

Catholicism gives us a very concrete, very real image of what a man’s life task will cost him, an image that stands in every Catholic Church as an inspiration and a warning: the image of Christ’s male body, crucified naked on a cross. What man doesn’t understandably find this daunting?  It’s certainly not in line with most male career goals!

And marriage means submitting to this public crucifixion for the sake of one, very human woman. Woman is the crown of God’s creation: but she can also be demanding, fickle, unappreciative, and mean. When men are faced with her as a goal and considering the cost involved, it can be temptingly easy to turn away from women altogether. When a boy has never been under the tutelage and care of a strong and loving father, or sometimes when he has been abandoned to a dominating and self-sufficient mother, he can doubt his ability ever to give himself to a woman, ever to be strong enough to protect, comfort, and satisfy her.

The gay lifestyle invites a man to turn aside from the woman and substitute the pleasures of life instead: clothing, cars, excitement, travel, developing talents. Instead of submitting himself and his desires to one woman and her children, he is invited to find fulfillment both through brief, nearly anonymous sexual encounters and to find emotional sustenance through male friendships with romantic overtones. He need take no responsibility for pregnancy or for raising children, or for the wearying task of keeping a woman happy. Essentially, the gay lifestyle is the easy way out.

But this lifestyle is lonely and dangerous, and the cross of Christ haunts men of this sort. They fear it: they are sensitive to persecution and to the accusation that, along with their more common counterparts of the serial divorcee or the promiscuous playboy, they might be neglecting responsibilities that they should be shouldering. Hypersensitivity is endemic to the lifestyle, and I suspect that it drives the lawsuits and political activism of its adherents. They are anxious to show that they too suffer.

But as usual, it is the women they have left behind or whom they have failed to court, marry, defend and protect who suffer more — and the children too.

Let us examine how J.K. Rowling uses homosexuality in her novel in Dumbledore’s character and see whether or not it conforms to the Church’s view on the matter.

In Book 7, we learn the details of the young life of Albus Dumbledore: when Muggles (non-magical) boys assaulted his younger sister Arianna, Albus’s father attacked them in a rage of grief, and was punished for this by the wizarding community. He was sentenced to life imprisonment; thus Albus grew up without a father mentoring him. His mother was determined to hide Arianna’s unbalanced and dangerous mental state from the world and controlled every aspect of family life to guard this secret. Hence, she was the dominant figure in Albus’ world, and he sought to escape her influence.

Away at school, Albus gained fame for his talent and charisma, and threw himself into that life apart from his family. Then tragedy struck: during a fit, Arianna attacked her mother and  killed her. Albus found himself head of the family, a role he did not want and which he detested. He did not want to be a father; he did not want to be the provider. He missed using his talents and hobnobbing with the famous of the wizarding world.

Then Grindelwald came into his life: a handsome foreign young wizard on holiday, who stayed next door. Like Albus, he was talented and ambitious, and he was also handsome. According to J.K. Rowling’s recent revelation, Albus fell in love and spent all his time with Grindelwald.

Like the gay lifestyle, Grindelwald offered the lure of excitement, travel, and fame to the young Albus, and Albus was seduced. He began to make plans to abandon his responsibilities and join Grindelwald on an international search for the Deathly Hallows, three valuable and famous wizarding artifacts. His sense of right and wrong was overcome by this tempting provision: he turned a blind eye to Grindelwald’s studies of the dark arts, and he joined in Grindelwald’s vision of wizards dominating the world and subjecting Muggles to slavery, though Albus convinced himself he would be doing this “for the greater good.”

Then, as Dumbledore relates to Harry in Book Seven, “reality returned” in the form of Albus’s younger brother Aberforth. Like Albus, Aberforth had been wounded by his upbringing, but he understood a man’s responsibility, and firmly opposed Albus’s mad plan to leave town with Grindelwald. Grindelwald, enraged (oversensitive to condemnation?) attacked Aberforth with his magic, and, in the terrible wizarding duel that ensued, Arianna was struck dead.

Hence, in the Harry Potter books, the one person we know about thus far who made an attempt to pursue the gay lifestyle: 1) lost his sense of morality, 2) attempted to abandon his responsibility as head, protector, and provider of a family, and 3) the casualty was a girl, in this case his younger sister, who ended up dead because of his negligence.

I would hardly call this an endorsement of the gay lifestyle.

Thus, in this storyline, J.K. Rowling shows an uncommon insight into the importance of the family, and, in particular, the importance of fatherhood. That she shows sympathy for those afflicted by a homosexual inclination isn’t remarkable, but it is extraordinary that she baldly shows the consequences of their actions.

What happens to Albus Dumbledore? At the funeral of his younger sister, Aberforth breaks Albus’s nose. Even though it is demonstrated in the novels that wizards can easily heal broken noses, Dumbledore retains his crooked nose till the end of his life as a public penance for his sins.

He does succeed in at least partially conquering his inability to give himself completely to a mission: as a teacher and later headmaster of Hogwarts, he gives himself completely to the mission of teaching young wizards, and particularly teaches the responsibility of wizards to protect Muggles. His life has earmarks of a consecrated celibacy: indeed, all the teachers at the school remain unmarried in what seems to be a holdover from monastic schools. There is no hint, even veiled, that Dumbledore ever pursues another liaison with another male wizard. One could say that he lives as the Church asks those struggling with homosexuality to live: chastely.

Whatever opinions J.K. Rowling may hold at variance with Church teaching, she consistently demonstrates a respect toward her young readers when it comes to dealing with sensitive subjects. Although she does not shy away from tackling hard subjects such as death, she is more reticent than graphic when it comes to portraying sexuality. That she included a plotline involving temptation toward the gay lifestyle is unremarkable in today’s society: what is remarkable is that she did not highlight the plotline in the book in order to preach tolerance for homosexual temptations.

She would have been applauded by the publishing establishment, the political left, and the educational system for doing so: but she did not. Instead, she left the plotline so obscure that most readers never picked up on it. And it may never have come to light, had not an adult reader asked her a direct question on the topic during a forum for adults at Carnegie Hall in October.

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  • Guest

    I have not read the Harry Potter books but often read comments on them to discuss with my 14 year old son, who has read them all.  I am sorry that this book features so much of the death themes and "bad parent" themes that run through literature that is recommended for children – such themes also run through the books on the grade school reading lists posted at our library this summer.  Is there any argument that feeding children such depressing themes is uplifting to them?  If one feels literature is only supposed to entertain, not uplift, our children, can we argue that we are entertaining them with these themes?  Whatever the point to be made about Dumbledore, this article reminds me that is sure is a tough time to be a kid, thanks to all that adults are offering them.

  • Guest

    Interesting, but not convincing.

  • Guest

    Thank you SO much for this article.

    I am sick of the Harry Potter debate, it's back and forth and back and forth… In the end, I was given the chance to read the seventh book, but the books were then banished from our household. But this article, whether my mom will think it makes a good point or not, makes me feel that the Harry Potter epoch of my childhood isn't leaving on a sour note. Smile

  • Guest

    I didnt read any of the books — I utilized the audio versions of them ( Thank you Jim Dale). When listening to them, I did not "get" the gay thing. As a matter of fact, I just took it as someones past being exposed for the sake of the story. Is that really her point ? that "gay" should not matter ? is being "gay" just an incidental that is not meant to prejudice us ? Love the sinner, hate the sin ? Maybe.

    Also, I really dont understand how you consider the gay lifestyle as the easy way out with all the problems one faces being gay.

    I give you an "A" for effort. I 'd like to know your rthoughts on Mr. Pullman's efforts in children's literature.

  • Guest

    great insight.  I really hadn't stopped to think it all through that far.  Definitly not light childrens reading, but you've definitly shed some light on the what the marriage deconstructionists fail to recognize, the brokenness of living contrary to  the natural law.  Thanks for your post.

  • Guest

    JoeLukowski

    God bless you and keep you.  I'll keep you in my prayers.  I hope you do the same for me.  Christ has all the answers.  I have none.  We all have none, even the most wise or entertaining.  Through Christ's grace and the sacraments we have the opportunity to live with God forever.  I cannot believe it.  I do not deserve it.  Merry Christmas.

    GK – God is good!

  • Guest

    Great article!  If Harry Potter is what we need to fear and all we have to do is keep Harry Potter out of our houses, then life is simple and easy to manage.

    I look in the mirror and I see where the trouble begins and ends.  Only through the grace of God do I have a shot.  Keep the articles that provide this much thought coming!  Way to go CE and Regina.

    GK – God is good!

  • Guest

    God loves you .

    May Harry Potter rest in peace; dying Dumbledore recognizable symbol of the whole collection.

    Yet, Regina Doman’s take on homsexuality is a breath of fresh air in an issue really quite foggy to most of us. My own experience has been that these poor and misguided souls are more hostile to the other sex than so inevitably drawn to their own sex.

    Well, onward, Muggles, in prayer.

    Remember, I love you, too .

    In our delighted glory in our Infant King,

    Pristinus Sapienter

    (wljewell @catholicexchange.com or … yahoo.com)

  • Guest

    ShaG, while there are certainly dysfunctional families in HP, there are also some wonderful parenting examples.  The Weasleys love one another and have 7 children!  Harry's mother died to protect him, and her love offered him protection throughout his childhood.  Further, in our society dysfunctional families abound.  If our children are lucky enough to grow up in loving families, it is good for them to gain insight into what other children might be experiencing. 

    Thanks for an insighful article Regina 🙂

  • Guest

    Merry Christmas Pristinus Sapienter.  May the love of Christ warm your Chicago heart.

    My children are all happy and content.  The Christ child is coming and they cannot wait.  Either can I.

    Here's to you and any egg nog you may or may not drink!!!

    GK – God is good!

  • Guest

    I think I am missing something here with your response to my input on this article. If you dont mind, would you be a bit less cryptic and explain what you are addressing.

  • Guest

    God loves you .

    JoeL,

    The homosexual lifestyle has an ‘easy way out’ of not dealing with the opposite sex on God’s terms, and however harrowing the outcomes of the homosexual option. Simply to look upon my grandchildren, I can see immediately wonders and beauties the homosexual misses in his life. His (or her) loneliness will get profound, as their attractiveness to (and relative ‘companionship’ with) their own sex wanes.

    GK,

    God bless your house with mighty saints, here and hereafter.

    Of His birthday, may He find us all of the good will that He has in abundance.

    Come, Lord Jesus.

    Remember, I love you, too .

    In our delighted glory in our Infant King,

    Pristinus Sapienter

    (wljewell @catholicexchange.com or … yahoo.com)

  • Guest

    What?  HP "adds to the Christian compendium of great fiction"??? Hmmm … I have a feeling that Fr. Fessio and Pope Benedict would respectfully disagree.

  • Guest

    RL,

    Isn't Harry Potter in the Christian section of your local bookstore?

  • Guest

    Ok, let me undertstand where this is going… If a person who remains single ( and "straight") and does not deal with the opposite sex on God's terms is not taking an easy way out. But if a person who remains single ( and "gay") and does not deal with the opposite sex on God's terms is taking the easy way out.(!) I dont get it.

    A person's life and their relationship with God is what is important. Since God created us as sexual beings, "orientation" and how one deals with it does affect ones life. If one reads the Catechism one does read that if a person has a same sex orientation, it is not the orientation that is the issue, but the way one lives their life ( sinner, sin). This article gives a theory on how same sex orientation occurs. As for this novel, the fact that it was a "shock" that this person was "gay" tells me that the orientation ought not to matter as to who this person is. I do agree that sexual actualization of that attraction is not to be emulated. From what I remember there were no instances of  explicit same sex activity in any of the seven books. Therefore I do not think JKR is enforcing the activity just that orientation should not be an issue. Anyway, nice chat. Have a great Christmas.

  • Guest
    Thanks for your article Regina. I have a fairly exhaustive list of Harry Potter links posted at my blog ("Slogging through scores of Harry Potter pages so you don't have to!") and I've added yours to the top. Here's the link if anyone's interested: 
    Have fun!
    Clare, blogging at Always Advent

    http://www.claresiobhan.stblogs.com

  • Guest

    Alright, I am 18 and the eldest of six kids and the oldest four of us have read all these books and we like them.  We have also seen all the movies, but they are not nearly as good as the books.

     

    First off I would like to say that there is absolutely no hint of Dumbledore being gay in the book.  In other words if anyone was reading these books the idea that Dumbledore is gay would never even cross anyone’s mind.  The most amount of affection that Dumbledore shows Harry is that of a father or uncle (and I mean the normal and good type.)  Dumbledore was a good friend of Harry’s parents and he knows that Harry must face Voldemort so he takes the task of personally tutoring Harry.  He knows that he is the only one who can match Voldemort, but that Harry is the only one who can defeat Voldemort.  So he teaches Harry what Harry needs to know. 

     

    Secondly, as far as families go the good kids all have good parents and the bad kids all have not so good parents.  I mean Hermione, Ron, Harry, Neville, Luna…. They all have (or had) parents who loved them and would die to save them.  Harry’s parents did die to save him.  The bad kids like Draco, Crabe and Goyle all had evil fathers and not much was known of their mothers.  It showed that sometimes despite bad parents a kid could turn out good like Serious.  Almost his entire family was with Voldemort, but somehow he resisted (also his brother did this though that was not discovered until the very last book).

     

    Thirdly, in this book the evil is very evil.  But also the good is believable.  The good people are not Hallmark characters that never do anything wrong.  They are normal people, like you and me and they make mistakes, but as Dumbledore says it is your choice to do good or evil.  Voldemort was very similar to Harry, but Harry chose to be good and Voldemort to be evil.  Harry makes mistakes all through the books he is a normal kid so readers can relate, but all in all he never does anything that is bad.  He has really great friends who also make mistakes, but they all help each other stay on the right road. 

     

    Fourth, some may dislike the way she removes the parents for allot of these books, but in most stories where the main characters are children the parents are removed to allow the characters more freedom.  Parents are always watching, trying to make sure their children are safe and books are about characters being in danger so the parents in stories would remove their children from the danger.  This would not be any fun so the parents are removed to a safe distance to allow the children freedom of movement.  Even in the seventh HP book the Weasley parents are not told what Harry, Ron, and Hermione are doing because if they were told the three children would not be allowed to complete the task only they can do.  It is for the sake of the story that this happens and not for any evil purpose.

     

    Fifth, Rowling does a wonderful job keeping these books clean.  There are no drugs, no sex and no fags.  This is one of the few “teen” books that is not cluttered with this junk.  Most books are all about this stuff, but this book has none of this.  It is great!

    Sixth, in the books the evil wizard are out to kill all the muggles and the good wizards protect the muggles at all costs.  The muggles are defenseless and voiceless when it comes to wizards, but the good wizards defend them with their lives.  The muggles are much like the unborn, they are both defenseless and voiceless and it is up to the more powerful to defend them.  In these books the good wizards do this.

     

    Seventh, these books show that even the worst person can and should be given the chance to repent.  At the very end Harry and Voldemort are dueling and Harry gives Voldemort the chance to repent he tells him that there is a chance.  Harry tells Voldemort that he must repent or he will spend eternity in torment.  Voldemort does not listen though and destroys himself with the death blow he intended for Harry.  I thought it was wonderful the way Rowling saved Harry from killing and made it that Voldemort’s pride was his downfall.  She did not have a child kill even if it would have been in self defense.  Instead evil destroyed itself because it would not listen; because it was proud. 

     

    Eighth, these books show how the evil can stop doing evil.  The Malfoys, some of the evilest people in the end decided that love of family was most important.  They stopped being evil because they realized that evil only destroys and allows for nothing good especially love.  The Malfoys loved each other and when they realized that Voldemort despised them for it and would probably kill their son they were prepared to risk their lives, to help Harry kill Voldemort.  Love is the real reason for everything good, for the destruction of evil, and for the evil turning to good, in these books. 

     

    So all-in-all these books are about love and good conquering evil and hatred.  The love of Harry’s parents saved him from Voldemort, the love of the Malfoys for their son cause them to betray Voldemort, the sisterly love between Harry’s mother and aunt caused Aunt Petunia to take care of Harry, the love Snape had for Harry’s mother made him protect Harry, the lack of love that Voldemort had for anything was the cause of him being so utterly evil.  So really these books were about how powerful true love can be.  The silly “love” between boyfriends and girlfriends was shown to be just that silly, but true love was shown to be more powerful than any magic or any evil.  This was the true story of Harry Potter and the one that people should remember.  Not what a silly author says nor what people who have never read the books say. 

     

    I hope everyone has a Merry Christmas and a Blessed New Year with your loved onesJ

     PS: Sorry this is so longEmbarassed

  • Guest

    Protect,

    Unfortunately, as rediculous as it is to suggest that HP is a Christian work of fiction, it wouldn't surprise me all that much if HP were in the Christian section of some bookstores … perhaps snuggled up next to  Philip Pullman's work.

  • Guest

    and if they are snuggled next to Pullman's work, let us be educated enough to know the differences of the author's intent.

  • Guest

    MARY,

    Thank you so much for your contribution.  I think you have done a fabulous job of explaining the value of the Harry Potter series.  Some parents may still choose to protect their own children by keeping them from the series….because they, too, love their children.  We can all still make mistakes.  No one is perfect.  What I always suggest to parents regarding HP is that THEY first read the book if the child is interested in reading it.  Parents cannot simply rely on articles to make decisions for them.

  • Guest

    "Homosexuality is not so much a sexual desire towards one’s own gender as it is the feeling of an inability to connect with and bond with the opposite sex."  Sometimes this is because of abuse, expecially sexual abuse, from members of the opposite sex.

    Homosexual experimentation is growing among teenage girls.  But, the girls are not confiding this to their parents, they talk to their peers.  Mothers (and fathers) need to talk to their children about sexual behavior of any kind, and that we believe in chastity outside of marriage.  This is a delicate situation because our teenagers have homosexual friends and it isn't good to alienate our children from discussing sexual issues with us. 

    A Catholic boy and later, a girl talked to me privately about our faith and how they could be a good Catholic, if they were homosexual.  They were able to accept our belief that sex of any kind, outside of marriage, is wrong and this explanation did not alienate either children from the Catholic church. 

  • Guest
    My brief take on JKR announcing that Dumbledore is gay *after* the publication of all the HP books: "Bad writer! No biscuit!" I expand on this briefly at my blog…
    …plus I put some cool links there. If you're interested in science fiction or fantasy literature, check out http://www.scificatholic.com by D.G.D. Davidson.
    Cheers!
    Clare (blogging at Always Advent www.claresiobhan.stblogs.com)
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