Does freedom of expression mean condoning things we find offensive?
Does freedom of religion mean respecting faiths that mock other faiths?
What’s the best way to draw a pentagram?
These are the philosophical quandaries America’s oldest university grappled with this week, when the Harvard Extension Cultural Studies Club canceled a planned satanic black mass.
First question: What’s a black mass?
The [Cultural Studies Club] passed along to the Register their Kennedy School lecturer’s frank description of the Black Mass: “For those unaware of the ritual, a Black Mass is an intentional perversion of the traditional Catholic ritual of the Eucharist, taking the whole sacrament and turning it on its head. It is offensive to Christians and specifically to Catholics — and to be frank, it was designed to be that way.”
Next: What’s satanism?
Like Christianity, whatever adherents make of it.
There is the allegedly Satan-inspired witchcraft allegedly practiced by those who went to their deaths after the Salem witch trials in 1692. There is the Church of Satan, founded by Anton LaVey in 1966. And there is the allegedly — and only vaguely — satanic music of Black Sabbath and Judas Priest.
As Jeffrey S. Victor explained in his landmark 1993 work “Satanic Panic: The Creation of a Contemporary Legend”: “The ambiguous meaning of the concept of Satanism connects many unrelated activities and redefines them in such a way as to indicate some kind of vague connection between them.”
But whatever happens at a black mass in whatever form of satanism, the Catholic Church — not an unknown quantity in Boston — doesn’t like them. Here’s Fox:
“I would say that the event is an attack on the Eucharist, regardless of what the organizers state,” [Boston] archdiocese spokesman Terry Donilon told FoxNews.com in an email. “The event is offensive to Catholics and people of good will.”
The archdiocese called last week for the event to be canceled.
“For the good of the Catholic faithful and all people, the church provides clear teaching concerning satanic worship,” the archdiocese said in a statement. “This activity separates people from God and the human community, it is contrary to charity and goodness, and it places the participants dangerously close to destructive works of evil.”
Harvard President Drew Faust didn’t cancel the event as requested but, in a statement, expressed disapproval of the black mass:
Even as we permit expression of the widest range of ideas, we must also take responsibility for debating and challenging expression with which we profoundly disagree. The ‘black mass’ had its historical origins as a means of denigrating the Catholic Church; it mocks a deeply sacred event in Catholicism, and is highly offensive to many in the Church and beyond. 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. …
Nevertheless, consistent with the University’s commitment to free expression, including expression that may deeply offend us, the decision to proceed is and will remain theirs. At the same time, we will vigorously protect the right of others to respond—and to address offensive expression with expression of their own.
In the end, the Cultural Studies Club decided to take its black mass elsewhere, as the Boston Globe reported:
In a statement later Monday evening, the cultural studies club said it was no longer sponsoring the mass after plans to hold it at the Middle East club in Central Square in Cambridge fell through.
The cultural studies club did not respond to an inquiry asking why it had decided to move the mass.
“The Satanic Temple has informed us that they will stage their own black mass ceremony at an undisclosed private location to ‘reaffirm their respect for the Satanic faith and to demonstrate that the most powerful response to offensive speech is to shame those who marginalize others by letting their own words and actions speak for themselves,’ ” the studies club said.
A scaled-down version of the event was held off-campus late Monday, Lucien Greaves of the New York-based Satanic Temple told the Globe.