Friday, May 16, 2014

Pleased to meet you, hope you guess my exploration of other cultures

So, this happened:

No sympathy for the devil, indeed: Harvard and Boston-area Catholics are in an uproar over an independent student group's plans to hold a Satanist ceremony Monday evening as part of an ongoing series of events exploring other cultures.
The story prompted two different articles at Religion Dispatches; but the best response I've read so far was at Salon.  Where, oddly enough, one commenter told me that the Eucharist is just an anti-Seder ritual, so the level of discourse on this matter, like most things on the internet, would have to crawl up to get over my big toe.

I have to say I'm not sure what's "cultural" about something designed solely to mock a religious ritual of a major church.  It's "cultural" in the sense that mocking Jews would be cultural, I guess; or in the way a "minstrel show" would be cultural.

But I can't see Harvard getting criticized for refusing to host either of those, even if they tried to put it in an educational context.

I understand the group that was to put on this "reenactment" saw it as a personal statement of intellectual independence:

“To us, the Black Mass is an amalgamation that developed through time based on witch-hunting fears and later adopted by some as a declaration of personal Independence against what they felt to be the stifling authority of the church,” Satanic Temple head Lucien Greaves told CNS news.

But this "developed through time" matter is a bit rich.  The basis for the "black Mass," according to Joseph Laycock, was a 19th century French novel.  I'm not sure how that makes the matter an "event exploring other cultures," unless that culture is 19th century French atheist novelists, and given the 2000 year history of the Roman church, I don't think 100 years is much of a development through time.

It's a tempest in a teapot, of course; but it's also rather telling that the controversy is being treated as one that shouldn't be.  I know there was serious concern about the reenactment using a consecrated Host, or even using bread at all.  But if the "minstrel show" was reenacted in everything but blackface, would that make it acceptable, too?

UPDATE:  Having said my piece, I find this perspective, which I think is a valid one and worthy of consideration.  My practical response might be that this was not the occasion for dialogue, even if it should have been; and that such dialogue is notoriously difficult to engage on the terms described in the essay.

On the other hand, my more practical response would be: if it was easy, it would have been done by now.  And if not now, when?


  1. Everything comes down, I suppose, to intention. Even if the words are the same, are you performing, praying, or mocking? All three are legally protected, but each has a different degree of social acceptability.

    No one is going to complain if you put on a performance of Marlowe's "Faustus," even if act one contains an extended prayer to Satan.

    If you are not pretending, but actually praying to Satan, that probably falls into the legal category of "practice of religion," and so long as you don't violate any cruelty-to-animal laws, you're going to be just kind of a fringe group. (But I doubt anyone actually does this, at least not in the 21st century).

    The third intention in putting on a black mass might be mockery, a sort of indirect polemic against Catholicism/Christianity that is of course at the heart of the freedom to engage in religious (or atheistic) polemic, but whose form makes it, for the mainstream, in very bad taste. And that's why, I think, Harvard mandarins and Catholics bishops could be on the same side here: the thing was done distastefully.

    Ultimately, I agree, a tempest in a tea pot.

  2. I agree it was distasteful.

    It was presented as a "reenactment", but of something that, as far as I can tell, it completely a work of fiction. By which I mean, it has no historical basis at all (unlike, say, a Mithra worship service, though I think those were pretty much fiction as well).

    At first I thought, to be honest, the reaction against it a bit overblown. The more I pondered the matter, though, the more I realized it was, at heart, another bit of anti-Catholic agitprop (as undoubtedly it was meant to be in the French novel. I've no doubt some anti-Catholic feelings from the Revolution remain in France, or could more easily be found in the 19th century).

    And the more I thought about mocking a Seder, or a Jewish prayer service, for that matter, the more I thought Harvard did the right thing.

  3. I've read some people claiming that there was no intention to offend Catholics, which is typical of the kind of hypocrisy that abounds today.

    My question is why they felt they had to go to a bogus Satanist Temple to represent what is so abundantly represented at Harvard, the business school, the law school, the Kennedy School (Bill O'Reilly is a Kennedy School product). All of those places desecrate the body of Christ in the form of the least among us, continually and more offensively every day of the year.

    During my infamous act of skepticism over PZ Myer's "great desecration" when I doubted that he had actually obtained a consecrated host, I asked if he had desecrated a Torah or an object sacred to the Lakota people if it would be acceptable to the religion haters who got into a swivet about my skepticism and only one of them claimed that he would find it acceptable. Only I doubt it. This stunt was what PZ's was, attention getting and a rather juvenile one at that. It's so telling who it is who they choose to offend.

    If they'd wanted to observe a really different culture, they should have gone a few miles and observed the people struggling to go to Roxbury Community College, which doesn't have an enormous endowment, massive privilege and mega-stinking rich legacy students. The kind of people who the Harvard product desecrates every day.

  4. I think paying even a spit-load of attention to this thing [Disclaimer: not complying w/ my own opinion. Hardly a first for me!] gives these little snots EXACTLY what they crave: attention. If this is "meat sacrificed to idols" (I Cor 8), then go strengthen the faith of the weak, don't censor it. The sensation of censorship makes them stronger...