The final Harry Potter book comes out in just over a month. Two years ago, on the day the sixth book came out, I made it to the bookstore at about half an hour past the release time (eleven in the morning, in New Zealand). There were multiple staff at work selling precisely that book; as I recall my copy was pre-ordered and I got hold of it fairly swiftly.
I didn't take it home. I have three little sisters, two of whom are huge fans! The only reason the other sister wasn't a fan is because she was only three, and far too young. But Mum was going to want to get her hands on a copy, too, and I didn't want my hold on the book to be compromised by anything until I had read it cover to cover. So I found a nice armchair in the local mall, opened the book, and began to read.
I paused after about two chapters to let the information so far imparted sink in. Didn't want to rush it -- I only get to read it for the first time once! As I glanced around the surrounding mall scene, I was approached by a girl who handed me a flyer.
It was shaped like a bank note and had '$100,000' written on it, along with 'THIS NOTE IS NOT LEGAL TENDER' in the place where an ordinary note would say the opposite. Around the edge, very small letters proclaimed the still more extreme worth of the message of Jesus Christ in somewhat doom-laden terms.
I looked up at the girl. She looked to be a few years younger than me, and was accompanied by another girl, still younger -- a sister? youth group friend? I couldn't resist remarking with some amusement "You're trying to bring people to Jesus by appealing to their sense of greed?"
Her smile as she shrugged and nodded was wry but friendly. And then she began her spiel.
"Do you know the ten commandments? You know, like don't kill, don't..."
"I could probably recite a few of them, but I might not be able to remember them all."
"Yeah? How many of them do you think you've broken?"
I tilted my head to one side. "I read a book recently, actually, that laid out all ten, interpreting them quite strictly, and I think there was maybe one that didn't apply to me." I know I must have smiled, thinking of it. I wasn't counting "don't murder" -- that's too easy. And adultery doesn't count either, because (a) I'm not married, and (b) if you think 'adultery' includes all sex outside of wedlock then I'm not actually always against it, so the fact that I was at that time (and regretfully still am) a virgin is merely an accident of circumstance.
She looked at me appraisingly. "You're quite humble, aren't you?"
I shrugged and smiled. I was flattered. "Sometimes, perhaps. Definitely not always!"
"I mean," she continued, "most people say 'Well, you know, I haven't killed anyone' " -- she mimicked the defensive tone recognisably but without exaggeration -- "so, no, I reckon you're pretty humble, really."
"D'you know about Jesus? Are you Christian?"
"I'm not," I returned calmly.
"You're not? Well, the thing is, if you've broken any of the ten commandments, God will punish you. You'll go to Hell. The only way to escape is through Jesus Christ, because He died for our sins so that we could be forgiven by God." Her tone was a weird mixture of earnestness and prattle.
"I have problems with the idea of Hell," I said. "It just doesn't seem reasonable."
"We've all sinned," she explained. "We're incredibly wicked, and --"
"I disagree!" I interrupted passionately. "I think we're all pretty beautiful, really."
"Well -- me, too."
"So how can you say that we deserve Hell?"
"Because -- well -- there has to be justice, doesn't there? What if we're talking about a murderer? Somebody brutally murders someone, and you're saying God should just let that person straight into heaven?"
"Well, maybe. I don't really hold with hurting people unnecessarily -- although I suppose some sort of punishment might be needed as a deterrent. Aside from that, it gets tricky. . ."
She looked at me doubtfully.
"Look, personally, I don't think I'd give a murderer more than maybe . . . thirty years? Fifty, maybe. I dunno. But seriously, can you honestly say you agree with endless torture? I just don't see how that could ever be justified. I mean, ten thousand years, perhaps, maybe we're all really terrible -- maybe some people deserve a billion years, even -- but eternal hellfire?"
"Maybe. You're a good person, I think. I mean, most people don't think they've broken very many commandments, but when you actually look at it -- don't have false gods, that includes anything you place above God, and then there's don't lie. . ."
"Actually," I said, catching a fragment of memory, "I think the one about lying might have been the one I didn't break. . ."
She looked at me doubtfully, and, considering what I'd just said, I frowned a bit myself -- why had I thought that?
"Well," she said, "bye. Keep the note. You can use it for a bookmark."
So I did.
After I'd finished the book, after my sick flash: "Oh, my god [sic]. Oh, my god. Harry is a horcrux. He's got to be. It's right there between the lines. But this is J. K. Rowling, so you can never really be sure. . ."
. . . after all of that, when I had a spare moment, I went back to our bookshelf and pulled down the piece of Christian exhortation I'd referred to in my conversation with the Christian girl. And there it was in black and white: Thou shalt not bear false witness. Why the author of the book didn't choose to extend it to all lying I'll never know. If he'd done that, he'd have got me. But, no. He started with saying that it didn't just refer to lying under oath and went on to include stuff like repeating nasty gossip about people. I could remember reading it and thinking:
Okay, so he's started with something I'd never do and now he's going on to talking about something that I've always seriously objected to and never been particularly prone to. . . . Have I ever done something like that? Ever? I think -- oh, no wait, there was that one time I felt really terrible about -- wait, no, that was just me laughing at something nasty that somebody else said. It was bad, but it doesn't actually fit this crime.
Good grief. Has this guilt vendor actually missed me? I think he might have. . .