In a series of increasingly absurd claims and walkbacks, what’s clear is that no one seems to know just what neo-Satanists affiliated with a Harvard extension school have in mind, least of all Harvard or the Satanists. At first, a group operating as part of the Harvard Extension Cultural Studies Club teamed up with members of a Satanist temple in New York to promise a Black Mass on Harvard’s campus next week — complete with a consecrated host from a Catholic Church. That got the attention of Women of Grace, which reported it to the online Catholic community:
The Harvard Extension Cultural Studies Club is allegedly hosting a black mass on May 12 to be staged by The Satanic Temple and which will include a consecrated host.
According to a press release from The Satanic Temple, they plan on presenting the black mass at the Queens Head Pub in Memorial Hall, 45 Quincy Street, Cambridge, MA along with “an academic narration that explores the ritual’s unique history and practice.”
Priya Dua, of The Satanic Temple’s Public Relations office confirmed to us in an e-mail that “Yes, there will be a consecrated host at the black mass.”
That got plenty of attention — and rightfully so — from Catholic bloggers, such as my friends Elizabeth Scalia, Deacon Greg Kandra, and Peter Ingemi. Some of their take was skeptical, as was Thomas McDonald’s, who noted that “real Satanists don’t send press releases.” With the suspected theft of a consecrated host — an act that has a long history in regard to satanists — Catholics nonetheless pressed for answers about Harvard’s involvement in this act.
Suddenly, the satanists decided that they weren’t really satanists after all, but merely performance artists, or something:
Members of the Harvard Extension Cultural Studies Club, who posted fliers and notices on campus and online about the Satanic worshipping happening on May 12, said the event is educational and meant to add historical context to a lecture on the subject that will precede it. “Our purpose is not to denigrate any religion or faith, which would be repugnant to our educational purposes, but instead to learn and experience the history of different cultural practices,” the group said in a statement. “This performance is part of a larger effort to explore religious facets that continue to influence contemporary culture.”
The group has teamed up with members from the New York-based Satanic Temple, the same organization that has been fighting tooth and nail to get a bronze Satanic statue installed outsideof Oklahoma’s State House this year, to carry out the demonstration and reenactment of the Black Mass. The Satanic Temple will provide commentary and historical background as the ritual is happening, according to event details posted on the Harvard Extension Cultural Studies Club’s website.
The above-mentioned Priya Dua then recanted his insistence that a consecrated host would be used. That, however, was followed by a “squirrely, and too clever by half” response from another of the group’s members that attempted to parse the word “consecrated”:
My reservation stemmed from what seemed like ambiguous language from Lucien Greaves. After the emphatic walk-back by spokesperson Priya Dua — who stated firmly that no Consecrated Host would be used — Greaves’ remarks to Kaitlyn Schallhorn at Campus Reform seemed squirrely, and too clever by half:
Greaves confirmed the ritual will use a “host” although as the group doesn’t believe in the “supernatural elements,” he couldn’t call it a “consecrated host” as Catholics do.
This is not quite what he had said to me, earlier, and it seems to me to be word-parsing that cannot be overlooked. Did he mean that while he, Lucien Greaves would not call the host consecrated, others would?
At the same time, Harvard was busily insisting that it had little to do with an event that bears its name and will take place on its campus:
In response to some outrage about the planned ceremony, which is scheduled to take place at Harvard’s Queen’s Head Pub, in Memorial Hall, school officials said while they don’t condone this particular type of worship, they have no plans to shut the gathering down. “Students at Harvard Extension School, like students at colleges across the nation, organize and operate a number of independent student organizations, representing a wide range of student interests,” Harvard officials said in a written statement.
As Kate O’Hare and Peter Ingemi note, the entire exercise is a confused mess of relativism and political posturing, not to mention idiocy:
The answers were slow in coming and contradictory, with a spokesperson for the Temple first confirming that a Consecrated Host would be used. However, in a later conversation with Scalia, Temple bigwig Lucien Greaves (a.k.a. former Harvard student Doug Mesner) said that was not the case.
According to an interview conducted with Mesner at Vice.com, the Satanic Temple isn’t the place to go if you really want to seriously worship Lucifer (or any other supernatural being). Mesner sees its mission more as poking religion in the eye and challenging its place in the public square by insisting that Old Scratch also gets a seat at the table (hence the group’s support of a fairly ludicrous-looking statue of Satan and some adoring youngsters at the Oklahoma State Capital, to keep company with a plaque containing the Biblical Ten Commandments).
As Mesner tells Vice writer Shane Bugbee, “While the original thinking was that the Satanic Temple needed to hold to some belief in a supernatural entity known as ‘Satan,’ none of us truly believed that. I helped develop us into something we all do truly believe in and wholeheartedly embrace: an atheistic philosophical framework that views ‘Satan’ as a metaphorical construct by which we contextualize our works.
“We’ve moved well beyond being a simple political ploy and into being a very sincere movement that seeks to separate religion from superstition and to contribute positively to the cultural dialogue.”
Apparently, for the Temple, “contributing positively to the cultural dialogue” consists of taking the “source and summit” of the Catholic faith, the Eucharist, and using it in some sort of quasi-historical/theatrical evening of entertainment.
Or, as DaTechGuy blog said in an extensive post (referring to some other recent cultural events), “The Harvard Cultural Studies group is hosting an event on campus that includes a Satanic black mass from a group that claims not to actually believe in Satan, never performed a black mass, and when called on to explain the university’s position, equated a black mass to a Shinto tea ceremony and Buddhist meditation.”
If you’re attempting to bolster religion by separating it from superstition, conducting a satanic Black Mass is, er, the wrong approach, no? Plenty of people have denigrated consecrated hosts in the past, which hardly makes this a novel approach anyway, even if the neo-satanists know whether or not they will use one in their “ceremony.” If they’re doing it to make a point for atheism, they’re doing it in the worst way possible, but if they actually believe that religion is helpful, why only insult Catholics?
None of this makes any sense at all, but at least we can agree on one thing: Harvard isn’t exactly improving the critical thinking of its student body, especially not through its extension education. And as a Catholic, I’d add that idiocy isn’t the only danger here. Calling on supernatural forces may result in nothing but adolescent giggling on the part of its participants, but other outcomes may be possible, too, and they won’t be pleasant. Maybe they should learn a little about religion before staging its ceremonies, as performance art or anything else.
As I wrote yesterday to Elizabeth Scalia, this reminds me of a passage from The Screwtape Letters, in Letter 7:
“I have great hopes that we shall learn in due time how to emotionalise and mythologise their science to such an extent that what is, in effect, a belief in us (though not under that name) will creep in while the human mind remains closed to belief in the Enemy. The ‘Life Force’, the worship of sex, and some aspects of Psychoanalysis, may here prove useful. If once we can produce our perfect work— the Materialist Magician, the man, not using, but veritably worshipping, what he vaguely calls ‘Forces’ while denying the existence of ‘spirits’— then the end of the war will be in sight.”