The Sorting Hat

Hogwarts crestHarry Potter explains it all. Ok, maybe not everything, but Harry Potter is on continuous loop around the parson’s house. And, sadly, having read the Sorcerer’s Stone about as many times as my namesake gospel, you start to get a feel for the deep reasons why. Ms. Rowling tapped into a simple but nuanced way to understand the universe. Returning to the books is like returning to the catechism. You find again all the simple truth of why you feel, think or believe what you do. This might strike a note of foreboding for a people with a catechism already, but I’m not sure that panic is in order. First because much of the explanatory power is not really metaphysical or religious in nature. Second, because the magic really comes in two forms, comic relief and tragic. Magic is either funny and easily seen as the outcome of a world with a crack running through it, or it is the cause of that crack. The things that win in the end are available to wizard and muggle alike, namely love, especially in its self-sacrificial form. (And if you can’t follow that Christ haunting, well, can’t do anything for you.)

We like to divide things into binaries – good and evil, republican and democrat, law and gospel. As much explanatory power as binaries often have, they usually reduce the world too much. That is when we sometimes admit things in threes like: the good, the bad and the ugly or like kings, priests and labor or every presentation list ever (like this one!). That uber-three the Trinity stands as ground for threes, but using three to define the earthly things isn’t very biblical. JK decides to divide the world of people into 4 corners: Ravenclaw, Gryffindor, Hufflepuff and Slytherin. And this has incredible power.

Ravenclaw gets short-shift in the books. I can’t remember any except Harry’s comic relief first girlfriend. Ms. Rowling must not have run across this type much, but she knows they exist, and the group is recognizable. You could say egg-heads, but it is deeper than that. If your first commitment in to THE TRUTH then you are a Ravenclaw. Thomas Aquinas is the patron saint of Ravenclaw. Ravenclaw has a negative image in Slytherin. For Slytherin the only important thing is ideology. In the books the ideology is purity of wizard blood, but that is really just a prop. The real ideology is POWER. Why I say this is a negative image of Ravenclaw is because THE TRUTH is an ideology as well. You don’t know if you are a Ravenclaw or a Slytherin until THE TRUTH causes you to lose POWER. Constantine would be the icon of Slytherin. Hufflepuff is really just the great mass of people who muddle through. Sometimes we produce great muddlers (aka Cedric Diggory), but mostly Hufflepuffs just go along. This might be a stretch, but Augustine is a Hufflepuff. Yes, the world is falling to pieces around me, my mother won’t stop bugging me, the people want me to be bishop, how do you get through? You muddle through the city of man on the way to the City of God. The last house, Gryffindor, is somewhat tougher, partly because JK stuffs all her real characters here. She fairly obviously has a moral point to make, we should all emulate Gryffindor, but what do we emulate. Hermione would seem to be a Ravenclaw. Harry himself comes awfully close to Slytherin. And Ron is a born Hufflepuff. What makes them Gryffindors? Ultimately it is the cultivation of a virtue – courage. That Ravenclaw Aquinas would list it uniquely among the cardinal virtues because while the other virtues restrain our human nature, it takes courage to begin to modify it. The sanctified life requires courage. Interestingly Aquinas is the official patron saint of courage (all those Ravenclaws who write get all the good spots), but Thomas More might be a good one. And if you are Protestant (and Lutheran) I might suggest Luther especially approaching Reformation Day.

And I’d suggest that is a deep way of understanding people. All four, even Slytherin, have noble attributes. (And if you think I’m wrong about that, think about how much we owe to people who correctly pursue and use power. There is a case to be made that General Washington (with aide-de-camp Hamilton) would be a Slytherin to Jefferson’s Ravenclaw. I’ll take that Slytherin any day.) And I’m not sure it really leaves anyone out. Yes there is a catch-all group, but that seems like life. If you are a 10 year old reading Harry, that 4-up way of looking at people might strike me a putting the best construction on everyone.

So why am I thinking about Harry Potter instead of my namesake gospel? Well, it struck me that the 4 corners view does more justice to our political situation, and it helps to understand that we’ve come under the unfortunate sway of a bunch of Slytherins. I say that of both parties because it is pretty clear that the guiding ideology is power. When you have the hubris to take over 1/6th of the economy, that takeover throws many people out of their current insurance arrangements, and your replacement breaks everything you promised, this is not about Truth or Courage or Muddling Through. This is about power. Likewise when you are willing to shutdown the government basically because you can, this is about power. Under R’s and under D’s the federal system sucks in more power. That is Slytherin, and George Washingtons seem to be in short supply. Regardless of your party, the better questions to ask would be those that might expose a devotion to power alone. I’d rather be ruled by the first 300 Hufflepuffs than the best and brightest Slytherins.