In a pronouncement that will dismay America’s religious Right, which has long voiced suspicions about Potter’s “anti-Christian” message, the 19-year-old actor said he did not believe in God.
He also expressed his admiration for Professor Richard Dawkins, the prominent atheist and bete noir of Evangelical Christians.
Radcliffe has been reticent on the subject of religion in the past, but in an interview to promote the latest instalment in the film franchise, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, released on July 15, he said: “I’m an atheist, but I’m very relaxed about it. I don’t preach my atheism, but I have a huge amount of respect for people like Richard Dawkins who do. Anything he does on television, I will watch.”
He joked: “There we go, Dan, that’s half of America that’s not going to see the next Harry Potter film on the back of that comment.”
JK Rowling’s stories of the schoolboy wizard are taken very seriously by some Evangelical Christians in the United States. One of the largest Christian groups in the country, Focus on the Family, denounced the books as “witchcraft”.
Conversely, the Church of England published a guide advising youth leaders to use Harry Potter to spread the Christian message, as the characters face “struggles and dilemmas that are familiar to us all”.
Prof Dawkins, author of best-selling book The God Delusion, is no fan of Harry Potter, once remarking that tales of witchcraft are “anti-scientific”.
PZ Myers imagines the possible uses to which Radcliffe’s fame could be put for the cause of the atheist community. Referring to Potter fans he writes:
I understand that this same segment of society has also found a heightened interest in the works of playwrights like Peter Schaffer, so we know the Harry Potter effect can help. If only Radcliffe had an excuse to take his clothes off for atheism…