Tuesday, May 13, 2014


So I guess this happened, though not the way it was planned:
Although the Harvard Extension School Cultural Studies Club dropped its sponsorship of a reenactment of a satanic "black mass" ritual earlier in the night, members of the New York-based Satanic Temple gathered for what appeared to be a black mass on the second floor of the Hong Kong restaurant and lounge [in Harvard Square] shortly after 10 p.m. Monday....

The ritual came after the cancellation of a black mass reenactment organized by the Harvard Extension School Cultural Studies Club, which had the event scheduled for Monday evening in Cambridge Queen's Head Pub in Memorial Hall. Shortly before the planned starting time, the club said that it was moving to an off-campus site, citing in an email that "misinterpretations about the nature of the event were harming perceptions about Harvard and adversely impacting the student community."...
The denunciation of the event by the Catholic archdiocese of Boston was to be expected, as was right-wing harrumphing. It was disappointing, however, to read the response of Harvard's president, Drew Gilpin Faust, because it accepted right-wing framing of the event:
... But 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. 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....

I plan to attend a Eucharistic Holy Hour and Benediction at St. Paul's Church on our campus on Monday evening 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.
I know what this is meant to convey: that a black mass is identical to the burning of a Koran by a right-wing preacher, that they're bigoted acts of the same sort.

Well, they aren't. If it were 1914 and a travestied Catholic religious service were being staged in order to inspire contempt for low-status Catholics among the dominant Protestant population, then I'd agree that we were talking about comparable acts of bigotry. But this is different.

As New York's Daily News reported Friday, this black mass was
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.
It's a reworked Catholic mass written by a resident of what was then a Catholic country. It was a questioning of the majority culture. And in America in 2014, Catholicism coexists comfortably with Protestantism as a part of Christianity, which is the politically powerful faith of the majority of Americans. So a black mass is meant to question the majority culture here, too.

When Terry Jones burns a Koran, he's attempting to rile up non-Muslim Americans against this country's Muslim minority. He's punching down. (He may think he's defending an embattled Christianity against the onrushing Sharia juggernaut, but that's because he's an idiot.) A black mass may be silly, but in a nation still run by Bible-evoking Christians, it's punching up.

Go here for an excerpt from the black mass in Huysman's novel. It denounces a God who fails to deliver on his promises to humanity and a church that doesn't practice what it preaches:
"... 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! ..."
Punching up? Absolutely. And, yeah, the current pope utters a lot of nice words about poverty, but I don't see his church or any other Christian church right now doing much for "the weak crushed beneath the press of profit." Do you?


Victor said...

At least this Pope is mentioning "income inequality."

Doing something about it, though, is a different matter.

But he's sure pissing-off the "right" people when he mentions "income inequality."

Erick Chastain said...

You do know right that J K Huysmans converted to Catholicism? And actually La-Bas was part of a series of autobiographical novels in which he details how and why he converted. So if they used this novel's ritual, they were actually trolling themselves. The Black Mass in France at the time was actually occult and supernaturalistic, as becomes clear if one read's Huysman's work. This is why he repudiated it and converted.

Steve M. said...

But if they're reenacting just the mass from his novel and not enacting his (or his protagonists') disillusionment with the occultists, then I think what I said still applies.