This past Monday night a Harvard Extension School Cultural Studies Club, with help from the New York-based Satanic Temple, was to conduct what’s called a Black Mass, which is a mockery of the Catholic mass. But you know what happened? The club cancelled it, because basically Boston launched an outcry.
First, I want to say that for anyone who considers Boston to be a secular/humanist/atheist town, and for anyone who considers Harvard to be so as well, has obviously never lived here. Boston is actually super religious, in ways that surprise me as I engage with the culture. Boston itself was founded by Protestants, and has kept a very Protestant identity while adopting a Catholic identity during the rise of Irish and Italian immigration. There are churches all over the place, and many people go to them. When I’ve mentioned “church” around friends or coworkers, I’ve found that people either get it, or are really curious, or tell you about their church too. As for Harvard, if you throw a stone you either hit a library or a church. And the fact that Harvard is such a richly diverse place means that there are many individuals with dynamic faith-based backgrounds who engage in the community. While it’s a very ecumenical environment, faith and religion is praised and raised up. But beyond other religions, the Church is a big thing here.
So along comes a student club wanting to reenact a piece of Satanic worship. I don’t know all the details but I know that it was a club event – so therefore not officially sanctioned by Harvard – that would be held in the basement of Memorial Hall on the Harvard Campus. The ritual itself is, again, supposed to be a parody of the Catholic Mass, using a consecrated host (though the club said it was not going to be using a consecrated host). Initial reaction was twofold: Let them do what they want/freedom of speech and religion, or, Shut this thing down, it’s evil.
Evil. Yup, Bostonians were calling it evil.
Then the Boston Archdiocese came out against it. Then the Harvard Catholic chaplain came out against it. Then the Harvard chaplains altogether came out against it, as well as a number of other “student religious groups, and many alumni and students on campus.” And then the President of Harvard, Drew Gilpin Faust, came out against it. Her statement on the Black Mass affirmed freedom of practice and diversity, but stated, “The decision by a student club to sponsor an enactment of this ritual is abhorrent; it represents a fundamental affront to the values of inclusion, belonging and mutual respect that must define our community. It is deeply regrettable that the organizers of this event, well aware of the offense they are causing so many others, have chosen to proceed with a form of expression that is so flagrantly disrespectful and inflammatory.” She went on to announce that she would attend the Eucharistic Holy Hour and Benediction at St. Paul’s Church “in order to join others in reaffirming our respect for the Catholic faith at Harvard and to demonstrate that the most powerful response to offensive speech is not censorship, but reasoned discourse and robust dissent.”
In response to the outcry the club decided to move off-campus to the Middle East, but “negotiations fell through,” and the club pulled sponsorship of the event entirely. Last anyone heard a small group might have done the reenactment at the Kong in the Square.
Those of us who know the Lord as creator, redeemer, and savior know Satan is the father of lies, a deceiver, accuser, and mocker. We knew that this event was inviting evil and extending an invitation into the demonic spiritual world. But Catholic or not, across the board people felt there was just something wrong about this. This event was mocking (as Satan tends to do) deeply held beliefs and traditions that focus upon the truth and life of Jesus Christ. In the end it wasn’t about allowing whoever to do whatever, who cares? It came down to knowing that there was something inherently wrong about the event, and I’m proud of Bostonians for speaking out about it, especially those at Harvard.