Contemporary Christian thought is clearly divided on this issue. One side calls the Potter phenomenon "satanic;" the other says "nonsense; Harry Potter is perfectly fine!" Neither respects the other's opinion, perhaps because both sides are hopelessly wrong.
The Bible is clear that witchcraft, sorcery, or whatever you choose to call it, is not of God, and to be avoided. Old Testament and New, God's will is clearly stated:
Do not turn to mediums or wizards; do not seek them out, to be defiled by them: I am the Lord your God.
Now the works of the flesh are plain: immorality, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery...those who do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.
Clearly, no Christian is to be involved with witchcraft or whatever you choose to call it. With this in mind, it is easy to understand why the "Harry is Satanic" crowd feels the way they do.
What defies explanation is that the same group unabashedly promotes C.S. Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia. At this point they are talking out of both sides of their mouths, considering that the Narnia tales are based on magic, witchcraft, spells...just like Harry Potter.
The answer, then, is that C.S. Lewis was using these fictional mechanisms as allegory for Bible stories. But would God allow sorcery, something he abhors, to be used to promote his kingdom? Would drug dealing be acceptable to God if tracts were delivered along with the smack? Of course not. Lewis uses the allegory of Aslan's sacrifice as a "deeper magic" as a parallel to Jesus' crucifixion. Surely this is unacceptable to God...and no Christian in their right mind would refer to Jesus' resurrection as "magic."
Yet the same Christians who loathe Harry Potter recommend Lewis' works with joy and think nothing of it. The reason Christians find Narnia acceptable is that the "magic" is fiction. Unfortunately, these Christians lose all credibility because they do not apply the same rationality to Harry Potter.
This is not to say that Harry Potter has a Christian message, or that J.K. Rowlings' work is on par with Lewis'; far from it. But Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone is fiction, just like The Magician's Nephew.
Sad to say, many committed Christians miss this key point: The work is fiction, yet people still fear it. This happens time and again, with no logical explanation...in 1980, the Smurfs fell on the wrong side of the "Christian Taliban." (If you don't recall, "Smurfs" were little blue characters with some sort of limited magic powers). At the time, "Papa Smurf" was said to represent Satan. The same Bible verses were read, the same message and warning, all relating to fictional characters. Somehow, the Smurfs came and went, and no exorcisms were required.
Another memorable brouhaha concerned a role-playing game, Dungeons & Dragons. This was loudly criticized for its wizardry, magic, or whatever. Apparently, the extremists in the church were not aware that the magic swords and dragons were not "real."
In more recent years, the Teletubbies came under fire. (If you can't recall, this was a British TV sensation featuring large fuzzy aliens with rather pleasant dispositions). The character of "Tinkie-Winkie" was said to be openly promoting the homosexual movement. Again, the furor outlasted the popularity of the characters.
And so history repeats itself, this time with Harry Potter. A certain fringe of Christ's kingdom is convinced that Satan is using Harry Potter, and they are correct -- but not in the way they think.
From Beowulf to Paradise Lost to Dracula to Harry Potter and the Goblet of Whatever, popular fiction has explored the unexplained and, in some cases, the occult. The church survived Beowulf, and you can be sure that Grendel will outlast Harry in literary history. All of these -- with the exception of Potter -- are literary masterpieces, and we do not dishonor the Lord by reading them.
The extreme point of view brings to mind the hanging of the "witches" in Salem, Massachusetts. It goes without saying that had today's vocally anti-Potter Christian faction been in Salem in the 17th Century, the fate of the innocent women would have been no different. We can safely assume that Satan thoroughly enjoyed that particular event.
So instead of doing Christ's work, some Christians attempt to spread the Gospel while warning of the horrors of a series of fiction books. This comes across to the non-Christian as patently absurd, thus the entire message is discounted. Satan must take great pleasure in seeing God's army fight against fiction instead of his very real evil.
Unfortunately, while Harry Potter is no less ridiculous than the Smurfs, it enjoys wider popularity and will likely stick around a lot longer. Many Christians will continue to rally against it rather than do something sensible like spread the Gospel. While they might claim that speaking out against evil is doing the Lord's work -- which is indeed a fact -- fighting fictional evil is not what Jesus had in mind when he overturned the the tables. With all the real evil going on in the world, it is unfortunate that so many Christians spend their time and energy working against the product of Ms. Rowling's imagination.
On the other hand, a majority of Christians treat the Potter phenomenon far too casually, and treat the outspoken anti-Potters with too little respect. While they may be correct in their assessment that fiction is not harmful, they are oblivious to the warning flag of a society that is way too eager to embrace the Potter phenomenon.
Rowling's works reach children in a way that is easy for reasonably intelligent people to understand. Imagination and creativity has been stymied in recent generations. What children used to envision in the "mind's eye" is done for them, through constant exposure to television, video games, and special effects. Even music provides its own visuals. While some children naturally gravitate toward the classic literary paths to imagined worlds (JRR Tolkein, Lewis, even Nancy Drew, etc.), many find the writing styles dated or unengaging for whatever reason. Enter Harry Potter and Rowling's easily accessible writing style. Children's imaginations are suddenly opened to new worlds, and the result is a surge in creativity...not deviltry.
But it could be, considering the state of society today. Impressionable children might be inclined to pursue the concept of "wizards" and "witchcraft." If that were the case -- as some would have you believe -- then the same dangers would be inherent to the Chronicles of Narnia or The Lord of the Rings. A child with a totally secular background will have no clue that Aslan represents Jesus, and the imagery of evil in Tolkein's Mordor is much darker than anything at Rowling's Hogwarts. So if a child will be swayed to witchcraft by Harry Potter, he will be just as swayed by the books that are touted by well-meaning Christians.
Are children being swayed to witchcraft? Somewhere, yes, they are. But fiction is not the root of the problem...rather it is inherent to the individual or their environment, and Harry Potter is just a reinforcement. In those situations, Narnia or even Peter Pan would do the same. The story about the child who told his parents that he didn't want to go to church anymore because Harry Potter's witchcraft is a lot cooler -- is an urban myth. But don't be surprised if a child actually does say that; some kids will say anything to wrangle out of going to church. It is not because Harry Potter is satanic. It is simply because from a child's point of view, most church services are just plain boring.
The lessons to be learned have to do with the shortcomings of our secular society, and the abyss it leads to. Harry Potter no more fuels that trip than a peanut butter sandwich. It also points out the pathetic dearth of quality literature available to children.
Most importantly, it points out that the church is not doing the best it can to reach children on their own level. For all its resources, for all the available power of the Holy Spirit, for all the years of experience, a writer named J.K. Rowling is doing a better job of engaging children on their own level than Christ's church is. That fact is infinitely more disturbing than the fictional content of the books.
In two weekends, 100 million American children went to see the first Harry Potter movie. Did as many go to church? Of course not. Children would find the movie significantly more interesting than most church services. Moreover, at the theatre they were a lot less likely to run into angry Christians telling them that their beloved fantasy stories are the work of Satan. That doesn't do a lot to further God's Kingdom.
When the church is divided on worldly issues -- as it is on Harry Potter -- our marching orders are clearly stated in Romans: "Let not him who eats despise him who abstains..." Those opposed to Potter must not let it consume them, and those accepting of Potter must not flaunt it to those with a more conservative point of view:
Then let us no more pass judgement on one another, but rather decide never to put a stumbling-block or hindrance in the way of a brother. I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself; but it is unclean for any one who thinks it is unclean. If your brother is being injured by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love. Romans 14:13-15
Whether you are adamantly opposed to Harry Potter, neutral, or in favor, as Christians we must focus on the task at hand and not be swayed by fiction and arguments concerning fiction. The real danger is evidenced by millions of non-fiction books quietly being sold at every Barnes & Noble: books on occult, greedy self-help get rich books, spiritual "enlightenment," and others far worse than any fantasy stories. Satan is using Harry Potter -- to divide the church and take the spotlight off of his evil efforts. We must avoid the ridiculous arguments and focus on the real work at hand. The second letter to Timothy makes this -- and the consequences -- perfectly clear:
Have nothing to do with stupid, senseless controversies; you know that they breed quarrels.
II Timothy 2:23
For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but have itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own liking, and will turn away from the truth and wander into myths. As for you, always be steady, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.
II Timothy 4:3-5
As Christians, our job couldn't be stated any more clearly than that.