Diversity, Ethics, and Harry Potter: Rebecca McLaughlin Part 1
About the Guest
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Rebecca McLaughlinRebecca McLaughlin holds a Ph.D. in Renaissance Literature from Cambridge University and a theology degree from Oak Hill College in London. She is the author of Confronting Christianity: 12 Hard Questions for the World's Largest Religion (2019), which was named book of the year by Christianity Today, and of 10 Questions Every Teen Should Ask (and Answer) about Christianity (2021), The Secular Creed: Engaging 5 Contemporary Claims (2021), and Is Christmas Unbelievable? Four Questions Everyone Sho...more
Many don’t know this, but most common sense ethics that are embraced by our culture today come from a Christian worldview. Rebecca McLaughlin comes on Real Life Loading… to talk about racial diversity, loving our enemies, Christian ethics in the secular
Diversity, Ethics, and Harry Potter: Rebecca McLaughlin Part 1
Season 1, Episode : Diversity, Ethics, and Harry Potter, Part 1 of
Shelby: So, tell me about a maybe unique or quirky habit of yours.
Rebecca: I have a bath every morning. I hate showers. If I go to a hotel room and there's only a shower, I feel actively sad. I love my baths. Wow. It's like the step between being asleep and being awake. I get to lie down, relax. It's great.
Shelby: That is unique I would say most houses in America have a bathtub in them.
But most adults I know just shower.
Rebecca: Yes. Perhaps I've never progressed from childhood . Maybe that's what's going on.
Shelby: You're still a toddler.
Rebecca: Yes, basically.
Shelby: Somewhat anxious, always authentic. This is Real Life Loading. I'm your host, Shelby Abbott, and this podcast is called Real Life Loading... Those three dots at the end of our title describe being in process. We haven't arrived. We're very much in a state of loading. So, are you ready? Are you ready? Because today's going to be fire. Why? Because it's part one of my two-part conversation with author, speaker, and British-born compelling woman of God, Rebecca McLaughlin.
I'm very excited Because through her writing and speaking, she has significantly impacted my life. Rebecca has written several interesting books, but today we'll mostly be talking about her work from Secular Creed, which is a really thin book that packs a huge punch for its size tackling head-on the issues of our culture today.
First, we're going to talk about our shared love for Harry Potter. Then we'll discuss why Jesus' life and teachings are the foundation for many of the things we. Things like equality and racial diversity. You're going to love it. Let's jump into my time with Rebecca McLaughlin.
I have to talk to you about Harry Potter because I know about your love for Harry Potter.
Let me just tell you a little quick backstory. In the middle of the pandemic, the first summer of the lockdown, I started to read the Harry Potter books to my kids out loud.
Rebecca: So fun.
Shelby: We would read the book, and then watch the movie. I have to ask you, what is your favorite Harry Potter book, and then what's your favorite Harry Potter movie?
If you had to choose one, could you do it?
Rebecca: Yes. That's really hard. I was going to ask you, at what point did you cry while reading Harry Potter To your kids? Maybe the answer is not at all, but-
Shelby: I did. I did. Spoiler alert, there are moments with Snape that you read that you know what, you know and there are moments with Dumbledore as well. And I think I actively got choked up when Dumbledore died.
Shelby: When I read that in, The Half Blood Prince, I actively got choked up, but there's so many moments in the resurrection moment in Deathly Hallows, and then the revealing moment with Snape in deathly Hollows. That just gives me like the hairs of my arms stand up and I get real, real chilled about it. But if you had to pick a favorite one, could you?
Rebecca: There's one sense in which, in terms of the films that I actually really like, the Goblet of Fire, because it's just happy most of the time. And you know, then it's horribly unhappy.
Shelby: Yes, it is.
Rebecca: There's a lot of like fun and unhappy, which is just nice. Ah, I adore the character of Snape and the reveal about who he really is and how everything you thought about him was wrong. Everything was about his passionate, hopeless, unrequited love for Harry's mother and that is so moving. Because of that, the Deathly Hallows is also - because of the fight between Mrs. Weasley and Bellatrix La Strange [Laughter] which I love it so much because all through the series, Mrs. Weasley has been the delightful housewife mother figure. And you know, you want to live in Mrs. Wesley's house and have her as your mom. But you have no idea that she is a witch of the caliber to fight the most dangerous sort of female protagonist in the whole series and kill her.
And it's fueled, I love how JK Rowling from the first sets Harry Potter up as a book where a mother sacrificial love for her child is a sort of central driving force. When Molly Weasley steps in front of Ginny to fight Bellatrix on her behalf. Bellatrix hasn't a hope, even though she's been practicing rather more than Molly has for the last however many years. It's just a brilliant, brilliant moment.
And then I can't help crying when at the very end, at the sort of epilogue moment, when Harry tells his son, Albert Severs, I named you after two of the bravest men I know. I just, I have to cry at that point. I'm not really a cryer, but reading books to my kids, I'm absolutely - they're always like, what on earth is going on? Why is mom crying, because how could you not?
Shelby: Yes, how can you not? And the illusions of course, to the Christian themes, the gospel. Even what you were talking about there with Molly Weasley stepping in front of Ginny to defend and stand in front of the person she loves. I didn't expect you to answer that way, so I'm really happy that you did. You've pointed out so many themes in your writing to Harry Potter. You've used examples in a number of different ways where I'm like, oh, I didn't see that. Yes. Um, so my favorite book I'd say is The Goblet of Fire. Because that was the first book that I read of the Harry Potter series. I watched the movies.
Rebecca: Bizarre. Oh, I see, okay. I was like, that's really weird.
Shelby: I watched the movies and then I decided, oh, before The Goblet of Fire comes out, I'll read the book and then I'll know what's going to happen. And then I read all the books after that. Then I went back and read the books initially that led up to it.
My favorite movie is Prisoner of Azkaban. I think Azkaban was geniusly crafted as a film. It was difficult to do, because of the time Turner and all the complexity of Sirius, and I think they just did an excellent job with that. That was my favorite movie.
Shelby: All right. Let's get into some meat here. You say that Jesus' life and teachings are the basis for a lot of what we just naturally believe about life and culture today. I think Glen Scribner talks about this really well in his book, The Air We Breathe, which I'm going to have him on the podcast soon. I'm really excited about that.
But I wanted to ask you, why do you think Jesus' life and teachings are the best foundation for something specific like racial diversity?
Rebecca: Well, there's a sort of scriptural answer to that and a history of ideas answer to that. To start with the scriptural answer, the person who was this earth, 2000 years ago, Jesus of Nazareth came to be both the creator of the universe and the one who had come to die for love of his people and to bring us into a new family, new body, new community.
Rebecca: Jesus is the one who as God, the Son, actually created human diversity in the first place, racial diversity, and male and female diversity. It was his idea that there would be people who looked different from each other and came from different places and had different skin tones and, and were beautiful and different ways.
Then he came and in his life on earth to break through every racial and cultural barrier of his day. We find it actually quite hard to see this Because the racial and cultural barriers of our day are not the same as those of his time and his place.
Rebecca: Now you and I were not raised to hate the Samaritans, but Jews of Jesus', time and place were. When he tells stories about a Samaritan man loving a Jewish man, who's been left abandoned by the side of the road and it's most famous parable of the good Samaritan. We hear that as a story about loving the stranger who has nothing to do with this, who's left in need, and it is. But it's actually also a story of love across racial, cultural, ethnic, even religious difference.
When he talks to the Samaritan woman at the well, it's hard for us to understand quite how many different boundaries Jesus is trampling all over.
Shelby: Yes, there's a bunch of them.
Rebecca: In that conversation and it's the longest private, recorded, conversation Jesus has with anyone and all of the gospels and it's with the Samaritan woman - probably of ill repute, although that's in some ways debatable. So we see in Jesus' life on earth as he walks around this crushing of multiple, different racial and cultural barriers.
And then we see him telling his disciples to go and make disciples of all nations. We see the Spirit poured out at Pentecost and people from all sorts of different cultural and linguistic and ethnic backgrounds, hearing the good news in their own language, and 3000 being added to the church in that one day.
We meet the first African Christian in the book of Acts, the Ethiopian eunuch of Acts chapter eight. We see in Paul's epistles how Jesus breaks down, not just that, the sort of Jew - gentile barrier, which would've been massively foundational for Paul having grown up as a Jew. But also just all the other barriers that his culture and his time would've seen as impermeable as we are called to be; not just that if friends with people who are different from us, racially or ethnically, not just even family, but actually even one body together. I mean it's startling the kind of language that's used. And then in the book of Revelation, we see this beautiful vision of people from every tribe, tongue, and nation worshiping Jesus together.
We see this theological roots of this, and the idea that springs out of the, the Old Testament. Then is taken to the next level by Jesus, that we should love not just our neighbor in the sense of the people around us who are like us, but actually that we should love even our enemies. Jesus makes this universal love, just extraordinarily expansive Because we humans, all of us, regardless of country of origin or our racial or ethnic background are made in the image of God. And on top of that foundation, Jesus lays this expansive commandment to love, even those most different from us, even those who are antagonistic toward us.
That's the sort of theological answer, and then there's kind of a, a history of ideas answer. Because today many people, regardless of how they'd identify religiously, you know, perhaps they would say they were atheist or agnostic even, will see certain things as basic moral common sense. They like the idea that all human beings are fundamentally equal in value. The like the idea that love cross racial differences a good thing, and like the idea that men and women are fundamentally equal, and like the idea that the rich and the strong and the powerful shouldn't trample on the weaken, the poor, and the marginalized. They think this is just like basic moral common sense.
Rebecca: And actually, it's specifically Christian beliefs. I was beginning to suspect this a few years ago when I was writing Confronting Christianity. I was pretty persuaded at this. And, and since then I've read a number of books by non-Christian historians who've made that case.
One example is a guy called Harari, who's an Israeli historian who doesn't believe in God. He wrote this global bestseller called Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind. Where he's looking back at the history of humanity. He'll say things like homosapiens have no natural rights, just as chimpanzees, hyenas, and spiders have no natural rights.
He's says, human rights are a figment of our fertile imaginations. He quotes the American Declaration of Independence. We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal, and comments the Americans got the idea of human equality from Christianity. But if we stop believing in a God who made humans and gave themselves and all that jazz, what does it even mean to say that human beings are equal? He says that the scientific study of homosapiens has embarrassingly little to do with the universal human rights inequality.
Rebecca: This is someone who's speaking as a non-Christian, basically saying like, “Hey, this is Christian ethics. If we want to still believe that, we kind of need another reason to, if there is one. I mean he actually seems sort of far less concerned about the implications of this.
Then he might be - think of a British historian, Tom Holland, not the Tom Holland who plays Spider-Man, but the historian Tom Holland. He wrote this book, Dominion: How the Christian Revolution Remade the World, but he's making the same case. It's something that occurred gradually to him over time, because he started researching that book as an agnostic. As he looked into it and started sort of examining the last 2000 years of Christian history in the in the west specifically, he realized that many of his deepest moral beliefs, like the ones that I was mentioning a few minutes ago aren't moral common sense, but are specifically Christian.
He points out that even in today's very kind of fraught conversations around gender and sexuality, people on both sides of the question are standing on Christian soil, because they want to take as an assumption that humans are fundamentally equal; that sex shouldn't be coercive; that minorities should be protected and not trampled; and that men and women are fundamentally equal. Like all these things, which again, just have come to seem like common sense, actually are Christian beliefs.
Shelby: Yes, that's great. It's good to remind ourselves of that. Even like the phraseology that you use there of standing on Christian soil. Do you even realize what you're saying or what kind of moral judgments that you're making about the other side based upon where you're standing right now? So we would say yes, is racial diversity a good thing? Does God love people of all races? Yes, but why are we saying that? And I think you unpacked that really, really well.
Rebecca: This is what makes the history of racial injustice in America so tragic actually. Because it's so specifically sinful, and just against what the scriptures say. I feel like I'm often, um, in various ways in conversation with my brothers and sisters here who will talk as if once upon a time America was a Christian country, where Christian ethics was observed across the board. And then then came the 1960s and there was a sexual revolution, and then the gay rights movement, and now the transgender rights movement. It's like the country's gone to hell on a handcart and wouldn't it be great if we got back to the good old days? And that story works just fine so long as you completely ignore the experience of black Americans. But if you don't, then you realize that actually the supposed good old days were ones where it was encoded in the law that we weren't living according to Christian ethics.
Shelby: Yes. It's like, dude, know what the good old days were? We'll get back to the conversation in just a minute, but now it's time for a Shelby Sidebar.
Back when I was 15, I had the opportunity to go on a camping trip to Oregon, and when we got to the campsite, it was this beautiful environment with cedar trees and a lake and a bunch of little patches of clover and wildflowers amongst the campground. When we pulled in, I noticed that amongst the wildflowers there were these little prairie dogs that were popping up out of the ground and scurrying all over the place, and they would go back into their holes.
Now, I was a 15-year-old boy and 15 year old boys are not the smartest people. So the first thing that I thought when I saw these prairie dogs was I wonder how many times I could throw a rock at a prairie dog before I could hit it. So I positioned myself once we got settled at the campsite. At the edge of a patch of wildflowers and waited for a prairie dog to pop up out of the ground and skidder along. And sure enough, one did and I started running after it. And when I did, I ended up throwing a rock directly at the Prairie Dog, and it was on a frozen rope of destiny. It went and over and hit the prairie dog right on the back of the head. And I was like overjoyed that I was able to do that on my first throw.
I went over to the prairie dog and kind of nudged. But it was like out cold, so I kept nudging it, and then I quickly realized that this prairie dog wasn't knocked out. It was dead, and this wave of guilt and remorse swept over me. I was so sad that I had actually killed one of these cute little, tiny creatures.
So I did what I felt I needed to do. I grabbed a stick and dug a little grave on the edge of one of these patches of wildflowers. Picked up the dead prairie dog with my bare hands, which I don't recommend that you do. Placed it in the grave, covered it over with dirt, and I said a little prayer. I performed a little funeral service for this prairie dog. After I did what I did, I went about my day, didn't really think much else of it and enjoyed my time camping for the rest of the week.
I think that if we're honest, we do this kind of stuff all the. No, we don't like kill animals and then bury them and feel better about ourselves. But what I do mean is that we're kind of great with the fact that when we do something bad, we try to do something good to cover over it. I did something bad by killing this cute little creature, and then I performed a funeral service for it, and that was something good and I felt like my good covered over my bad.
But that's not how the Christian life works at all in any. We could feel like if I do something good, that will outweigh my bad. But the problem is we can never outweigh our bad in life. We do far too many bad things and the good stuff we do can never cover over that. That is why we need Jesus.
Jesus lived that perfect life for us. He. A perfectly good life that covers over all of our bad things. We can't make up for the bad stuff that we've done. That's why we need the grace of God given to us, extended to us in the perfect life of Jesus, if we'll only admit our need and believe in him.
This has been a Shelby Sidebar on Real Life Loading.
Now let's get back to my time with Rebecca McLaughlin. You once said, and, and I don't want to quote you here, people can do terrible things in the name of God, even sincerely believing that what they're doing is right. But if there is no God, we can't say these things are truly wrong. This is touching a little bit on what you were just talking about. Can you pull that apart a bit and help the 19 year old in philosophy 101 class understand what you?
Rebecca: Yes, so one example of people doing terrible things in the name of God would be religiously motivated violence, which is something that we can actually see for sure in all of the major religious traditions, including Christianity - even though I think it's profoundly against what the scriptures teach, but it's absolutely the case. Like no major world religion can stand up and say, do you know what? Our people have never done this.
It's not unfair to say that there is a disproportionate amount of religious violence that's come from followers of Islam. Like that's true. But it's also important to recognize that many who are committing acts of violence in the name of their religious tradition could be truly sincerely believing that they're doing the right thing. And to acknowledge that isn't to say, all moral truth is relative and it's not wrong really, because they actually believe that it was right. But it is important for us to recognize that they're not necessarily acting maliciously against their conscience thinking, I know this is terrible, but I'm going to do it anyway and I'm going to pretend that I think that God taught me to do it.
No. It's often people who profoundly feel like this is what God is telling them to do. How do we know that these acts of violence are wrong? It's on the basis actually of Christian ethics dialing back a couple of thousand years. If you think about the framework that the Romans would've had for instance. The idea of going and conquering another nation, slaughtering your enemies, that was only a great day's work. There was no kind of moral qualms about well, it's kind of terrible. Those lives that were lost, all those women who were raped. No, it was great kind of like your sport team winning.
It's Jesus's radical teachings about our responsibility to love even our enemies that suddenly make genocide sound - not like a great triumphant day's work for the good old Roman army, but in fact something that's morally abhorrent. And often it's fascinating talking with non-Christian friends who rightly want to point to the history of violence perpetrated by Christians and to say, “Isn't this terrible?” Yes, it is. But the reason that we know that is because of Christian ethics, not because it's self-evident truth, actually.
Shelby: Yes. I really love how you frame that, Because if we consider the alternative that there is no God, like we really don't have any ground to stand on or say that quote unquote bad is really bad, because how we're defining bad is through a distinctly Christian lens. If there's no, God, there's no reason to say that people are any different from, as you said earlier, chimpanzees or spiders.
Rebecca: Yes. It's not even just the sort of God or no God question. It is also specific to what kind of God are we talking about. I gave a talk a few weeks ago at MIT to a graduate Christian Fellowship there. And got to talk afterwards with people from basically every tribe, tongue and nation. I barely talked to anyone actually who had grown up in, in the US. It was people from all over the world. One of the guys came up to me and he said, I'm from Iran, and what you were saying about human rights being kind of self-evident truths to people, that's just not true where I come from. And I said, you know, I understand that. He gave an example, he said that his best friend in Iran who was a Muslim, he had asked his best friend. “If I as a Christian started preaching about Jesus in the streets, what would you do?” And his friend said, “I would have to kill you.”
Rebecca: Not that he would want to - not that he would think, “Isn't it great-I could go and kill him?” But actually, he would feel a moral and religious obligation to kill him.
Shelby: This is. Yes. [Laughter] This is not the norm for what's going on in suburbia and America. I think it's important to pause and to think about that, because like when you're on a college campus, you think, oh yes, this is just kind of, this is what we're supposed to do, this is the water we swim in. But to be reminded of something like that and go, how am I thinking? How is that influencing the way I treat others? How is that influencing the way I debate? How is that influencing the way I appreciate the Scriptures and have access to them spending time with God, all that kind of stuff?
Rebecca: Yes. And I mean, we have to be really careful Because there's a move that people sometimes make. For example, acknowledging the ways in which at least many forms of Islam do promote violence of that nature. To move from that to having a kind of, um, hostile approach to Muslims in general, especially to Muslim immigrants to the US. I think that's profoundly un-Christian and, and misguided.
I've over the years, met a number of Muslim women through being fellow parents at our local school and got to know them. Typically the things that I've observed are number one, they're actually quite happy to talk about Jesus with me. I mean, often our conversation is me trying to explain to them why in fact they really don't believe in Jesus much as they kind of want to tell me that they do. Because they, Muslims, will honor Jesus as a prophet. They tend to feel quite relieved to be talking with another religious person.
Shelby: Mm-hmm. really,
Rebecca: Because they often find the Secularism around them rather oppressive and especially the ways in which sexual ethics that doesn't align with either Christianity or Islam is very much sort of standardized at school. They will feel the force of sort of anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant rhetoric that flies around.
One of the really sad things that I observe at the moment is that a lot of white evangelicals in America think that immigration is eroding our Christian heritage. Actually, the majority of immigrants are Christians.
Shelby: Yes. And making it more Christian.
Rebecca: Immigration is very much more a blood transfusion for the American church than it is eroding anyone's sort of Christian heritage. And at the same time, the immigration of Muslims from countries where they have little access to the gospel is actually in many ways a wonderful thing from a Christian perspective. Because it means we have the opportunity to love, serve and witness to people who may not have met a Christian before. What a joy.
Shelby: They're coming to us. Overseas missions right here in the states. I love that. You obviously cover a lot of different topics in your books, and one of those specifically is science. Even though science can tell us a ton of amazing and important things, why can't science tell us the most important things about who we are and why we matter?
Rebecca: One approach to that is to just think about what can we learn about ourselves from the tools of science? I could analyze you where I qualify it with the tools of science and deduce that you are a mammal. I could deduce your height and your weight and your DNA and your skin tone, and your sex. I could figure out how many of different kind of atoms and molecules you have in your body and do a head to toe analysis of your biological and material makeup. And I could know absolutely nothing about who you are.
Shelby: Yes. Yep.
Rebecca: I mean, when I say absolutely nothing, like of course it's not irrelevant that you are male, and it's not irrelevant that you are the age you are. It's not that these things are irrelevant. But if we think that science can tell us everything that we need to know, then you and I are only male or female of the age that we are with the DNA that we have, and that's all. There's nothing. Nothing beyond that, and you and I would never think to introduce ourselves like that even. We know that we are so much more than our physical makeup, and I think one of the mistakes that both Christians actually and non-Christians have often made when it comes to thinking about science, and the kinds of questions it can and can't answer, is to think, “If there's a gap in this, in our scientific understanding of something within the sphere of science, then that's where God sort of steps in.” There was a period where people were trying to kind of scientifically discern the human soul.
Rebecca: You know, see if there was like an extra weight, if somebody died, would they lose a bit of weight? Like just sort of things like this or, looking at various angles of how we know about humans from science and saying, okay, you know, if there's a gap in our scientific knowledge, that's where God is doing his thing - that massively undervalues God's role.
Because if there is a God, he made the universe and every human being in it, he's in charge of the whole show. It's not just those moments that we haven't quote, kind of explained by science. By the same token, the more we understand from science, the more we understand of God's incredible creative process. Actually, it's not taking away from God. and his extraordinary role as Creator, if we understand more and more of the means that he used to create and what that creation look looks like.
Shelby: Man, I hope you enjoyed this Because there is so much more to come. We kind of just scratched the surface with Rebecca McLaughlin today, so be sure to listen to part two next time. Can you tell I'm a fan? Can you tell? So when Rebecca joins me, in the next episode, we're going to talk specifically about love, sex, gender, and singleness.
If this episode with Rebecca McLaughlin was helpful for you, I'd love for you to share today's podcast with a friend and wherever you get your podcasts, it can really advance what we're doing with Real Life Loading. If you'd rate and review. And it’s sort of easy to find us on our social channels.
Just search for Real Life Loading or look for our links in the show notes. I want to thank everyone who's on the Real Life Loading team, Bruce, Kaytlynn, Jarrett, Josh, and Chloe. I'm Shelby Abbott. I'll see you back next time with Rebecca McLaughlin, part two, the Chamber of Secrets on Real Life Loading.
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