A cultural studies club at Harvard intended to host a Satanic black mass, which is basically a parody of a Catholic mass. I can’t actually find a description of what one entails, but going off of what I can find from this terribly stylish site, it probably involves ironic Devil horns.
Naturally, because people do not understand Satanists and think they eat babies, a lot of people got upset about this. There was a remarkably well-signed petition (60,000 people!) and the president of Harvard made a condemning statement calling the black mass “abhorrent”, which seems a bit extreme. Remember how they’re not actually eating babies? It’s just a parody, guys. You don’t have to go to the thing. You can sit at home, read Aquinas, and completely ignore the harmless thing a bunch of atheists and culturally sensitive people are doing for funsies.
Additionally, a bunch of Catholics got up in arms about it, because it does mock their beliefs. However, instead of leaving it alone with a, “I respect your right to practice your beliefs as long as you don’t infringe on mine (which this doesn’t)”, there was an outpouring of hate mail to the organizers, and the outcry appears to have gotten the thing canceled.
What particularly interests me is that the article cites several people who describe the Satanic activities as “sacrilege”.
“But some Catholics say the “black Mass” is more sacrilegious than satirical.”
“A Harvard Divinity School professor who is also a Catholic priest said none of cultural club’s other events include the “blaspheming of Catholic sacramental practice.””
As it turns out, sacrilege is not a crime. Neither is blasphemy. They are both protected under free speech, and also, let’s get this straight: I could care less about affronting God, because I do not believe it exists. It makes no sense to make the argument that “God is displeased” to atheists. More importantly, though, sacrilege is not a crime, and if you’re not Catholic, it’s not a real thing.
The most important thing to remember here, I think, is that Catholics are not being persecuted. (This is actually a hilarious notion, if you consider their history). Religion has overwhelming privilege in America – we actually have a National Day of Prayer, for instance, which is ridiculous and pretty constitutionally questionable. You’re not going to lose your job for being a Christian, but you might for being an atheist. Also, the second that the religious people of America get upset about something, often they can easily shut it down, like they did with the black mass. Can you imagine what would happen if Satanists tried to get a nondenominational prayer service on a campus shut down because it went against their beliefs? Shots would be fired.
To me, what this looks like is the dominant religious culture trying to shut up and repress a minority areligious group.
Granted, I think it’s true that as a private organization, Harvard does have the right not to host events it disagrees with. (This might wrong since it’s also a university, but I am not legalistically well-versed). However, the administration should really think about what kind of message that’s sending. “Religious freedom for all – except if you’re not religious, then you can go screw yourself.” Cute.
[Aside: From a mythological standpoint, Satan is actually pretty excellent. For the alleged Source of All Evil, he kills about six orders of magnitude fewer people than God in the Bible (Satan kills like, five, and God kills people by the millions, which doesn’t count the people he tells his followers to kill for him). Also, his main speaking role was to give humans the knowledge of morality and the critical thinking skills necessary to defy the terrifying sky-tyrant who wanted to keep them as thoughtless children in a menagerie. For the Prince of Darkness, Satan’s really pretty unimpressive, but as a Promethian figure, he’s much more inspiring.]
[Second aside: If you’re interested, you should go read the Church of Satan’s FAQs. They might be informative. At the very least, they might be amusing, since they seem to have been tag-team written by a movie villain and by someone whose only emotion is detached bemusement.]
Lastly, I took issue with some of the other quotes from the article:
“”Satanic worship “is contrary to charity and goodness, and it places participants dangerously close to destructive works of evil,” spokesman Terrence Donilon said. ”
Yes, because celebrating free thought and critical thinking is evil. Well, of course the church would say that. (Also, the Devil isn’t a real thing, and evil is not an entity).
“”Since there is no empirical way to show that one host is consecrated while another is not—consecrated hosts do not glow in the dark—there is also no way for anyone but the organizers to know whether a host used in a black mass has been consecrated or not,” Clooney said.”
This is kind of telling. Yes, the consecrated host looks no different than the unconsecrated one: exactly like a crappy beige wafer. Weird how that works.
You know, I’ve long expressed the opinion that mass would have been drastically improved by making the Communion wafer into one of those colorful sugar wafers with the cream filling. But did anyone take my suggestion? No-o, and look what happened. Now I’m an apostate. Way to go. Catholic church, you should get on that, if only to save your congregations from the heathens.