What Do Buddha Statues and Harry Potter Books Have in Common?

What Do Buddha Statues and Harry Potter Books Have in Common? April 15, 2019

As a religious tradition, evangelicalism is centered on words. Salvation is obtained not through actions or objects but through words—the sinner’s prayer. In evangelicalism, beliefs matter, not rituals. The mind, not objects. And to a large extent, this is true.

I’ve noticed an exception to this rule, however.

Televangelist and apparent lawn expert Pat Robertson said on The 700 Club today that putting a statue of Buddha in your front yard will bring upon curses because it’s a false idol.

This brings something to mind. Back when evangelicals were going apoplectic over Harry Potter, a family member came to visit and brought a Harry Potter book she was reading with her. My father wouldn’t let her bring the book in the house, for fear it would let demons in—for fear the physical book would do that.

So, then. Do evangelicals believe objects have power?

Historically, evangelicals have opposed Catholic attachment to relics and symbols. St. Christopher medallions, holy water, etc. It is probably because of this connection between Catholics and sacred objects that evangelicals tend to disavow sacred objects entirely. Sure, there are crosses and Bibles and pictures of Jesus, but these things do not themselves bring good vibes into a home. Prayers do.

The same is true for expelling demons. Words, not objects, have power. Holy water, crosses, garlic (okay, that one’s not Catholic)—evangelicals don’t believe these things cast out demons. Demons are cast out verbally, by invoking the name of Jesus. (Quoting scripture at a demon can’t hurt, either.)

How does all this emphasis on words rather than objects fit with Pat Robertson’s concern about Buddha statues—and my father’s early 2000s concern about the physical Harry Potter books? Can objects carry evil? Do objects have power, after all—but only one way?

When I was a kid, my parents told me a story about a friend whose teenage daughter listened to rock music, and in so doing let a demon into the house. The friend encountered the demon in the house that evening, and had to cast it out in Jesus’ name. Evangelical’s rock music scare wasn’t just about words. It was also about demonic sounds, and it involved the physical burning and destruction of CDs and cassette tapes.

There’s a lot of variety within evangelicalism, and there’s a big difference between someone like Pat Robertson and, say, a professor at Wheaton, who might disagree on Robertson’s assessment of Buddha statues. It’s also possible that there are some evangelicals who believe objects can carry good, too. They might justify such a belief by pointing to that moment in the gospels when a person is healed after touching the hem of a woman’s robe.

Still, if there is a difference in how evangelicals view objects—if objects can carry demonic influence but can’t carry the reverse—I’m curious as to why, and what relationship, if any, this bifurcated view may have to do with evangelical opposition to Catholicism.

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