The Harvard Satanist story will not die. Monday's Black Mass continues to generate conversation on social media. Facebook, Twitter and the blogosphere are full of opinions and, in some cases, new information about Monday's planned Black Mass at Harvard. Into this mix has stepped the New York Daily News report that provides some new facts. In fact, this second day story answers several of the questions I raised in my GetReligion piece "Why should the Devil have all the best press?"
From the Daily News we learn that the Black Mass scheduled for next week is not a religious ceremony, but a literary event. At the top of its story the Daily News notes there is no historical evidence that Black Masses were ever celebrated. In its typically crisp style it noted:
The black mass is an inversion of the traditional Catholic Mass that medieval people associated with witches. The witches were accused of stealing a consecrated piece of Communion bread for the mass and worshipping the Devil. However, there’s little evidence that the specter of black masses was anything more than myth that was used by people in power to justify witch hunts and trials.
Of course, it would have been nice to have seen some attribution for that sweeping statement, but that is not the key point of this post. The key is that the team at The Daily News interviewed some of the organizers and reported the information that they are claiming this alleged Black Mass is a mere literary construct, not a religious event:
Satanic Temple spokesperson Lucien Greaves says his group contacted the Harvard Extension Cultural Studies Club to organize a re-enactment of a black mass based on the imaginings of French writer Joris-Karl Huysman in the novel “La-bas.” Huysman wrote the novel during the French Occult Revival of the 1800s.
I presume then the club will recite portions of Chapter 19 of La-bas, (The Damned), which presents the Black Mass. However, if you read the service it is quite clear this is not magical or religious language, but a Huysman rant against the crimes of the Catholic Church. A sample:
Then Docre rose, and erect, with arms outstretched, vociferated in a ringing voice of hate:
"And thou, thou whom, in my quality of priest, I force, whether thou wilt or no, to descend into this host, to incarnate thyself in this bread, Jesus, Artisan of Hoaxes, Bandit of Homage, Robber of Affection, hear! Since the day when thou didst issue from the complaisant bowels of a Virgin, thou hast failed all thine engagements, belied all thy promises. Centuries have wept, awaiting thee, fugitive God, mute God! Thou wast to redeem man and thou hast not, thou wast to appear in thy glory, and thou sleepest. Go, lie, say to the wretch who appeals to thee, 'Hope, be patient, suffer; the hospital of souls will receive thee; the angels will assist thee; Heaven opens to thee.' Impostor! thou knowest well that the angels, disgusted at thine inertness, abandon thee! Thou wast to be the Interpreter of our plaints, the Chamberlain of our tears; thou wast to convey them to the Father and thou hast not done so, for this intercession would disturb thine eternal sleep of happy satiety.
"Thou hast forgotten the poverty thou didst preach, enamoured vassal of Banks! Thou hast seen the weak crushed beneath the press of profit; thou hast heard the death rattle of the timid, paralyzed by famine, of women disembowelled for a bit of bread, and thou hast caused the Chancery of thy Simoniacs, thy commercial representatives, thy Popes, to answer by dilatory excuses and evasive promises, sacristy Shyster, huckster God!
"Master, whose inconceivable ferocity engenders life and inflicts it on the innocent whom thou darest damn—in the name of what original sin?—whom thou darest punish—by the virtue of what covenants?—we would have thee confess thine impudent cheats, thine inexpiable crimes! We would drive deeper the nails into thy hands, press down the crown of thorns upon thy brow, bring blood and water from the dry wounds of thy sides.
"And that we can and will do by violating the quietude of thy body, Profaner of ample vices, Abstractor of stupid purities, cursed Nazarene, do-nothing King, coward God!" "Amen!" trilled the soprano voices of the choir boys.
Durtal listened in amazement to this torrent of blasphemies and insults. The foulness of the priest stupefied him. A silence succeeded the litany. The chapel was foggy with the smoke of the censers. The women, hitherto taciturn, flustered now, as, remounting the altar, the canon turned toward them and blessed them with his left hand in a sweeping gesture. And suddenly the choir boys tinkled the prayer bells.
The Harvard Club could just as well staged a reading from the Harry Potter novels, although that might have been controversial for some secularists since the author was writing from a liberal Christian perspective. Harry Potter novels are not anti-Catholic, but they belong to the same literary genre. Neither is a religious work but a fiction written to entertain.
The press has reported the Black Mass is part of a series of cultural events that include "a Shinto tea ceremony, a Shaker exhibition and a Buddhist presentation on meditation."
Has anyone asked Harvard whether it is appropriate to include in a series on religions an event centering on a fake religion? What does this say about Harvard's attitude towards Shintoism and Buddhism? Where are the academic grown ups at Harvard these days?
Kudos to the Daily News for doing taking the time to ask a few questions that reveal this -- at least to some of the organizers -- is not a religious event. But if someone shows up at this show with a consecrated Host, hang on.