From the Harvard Extension Club:
An independent student organization, the Harvard Extension Cultural Studies Club, plans to host a controversial student event involving a historical reenactment of a black mass ceremony that has a narrator providing historical context and background.
The Harvard Extension Cultural Studies Club has issued the following statement regarding the event:
We are hosting a reenactment of a historical event known as a Black Mass. The performance is designed to be educational and is preceded by a lecture that provides the history, context, and origin of the Black Mass. While a piece of bread is used in the reenactment, the performance unequivocally does not include a consecrated host. 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. This performance is part of a larger effort to explore religious facets that continue to influence contemporary culture. Sincerely, Harvard Extension Cultural Studies Club
My letter to the Cultural Studies Club, with a cc to Harvard president Drew Gilpin:
To the Cultural Studies Club,
A Black Mass.
Are you kidding me?
Were you guys celebrating Rastafarianism and partook too heartily of the ganjan sacrament? Observing a Hopi rite and took one too many hits off the mushroom pipe? Giving groovy thanks to Tim Leary (another fine example of Harvard genius) and had a bad acid trip?
I am amazed by the choice of a Black Mass as a way to "to explore religious facets that continue to influence contemporary culture." Really? The Black Mass is on your short list of influential religious practices? Is there a significant subculture of Americans who attend Black Masses? Do you think that the Black Mass has had any significant effect on America journalism, ethics, literature, culture or legislation? I don't.
And what a motley collection of religious practices you are exploring! A Shinto tea ceremony (how very elegant and sedate!); a Shaker exhibition (how practical and wholesome!); a Buddhist presentation on meditation (how chic!) AND A BLACK MASS! Three exhibitions that show the positive aspects of foreign and local cultures, and one that is a barely-observed perversion of the rites of a significant religious community in your host country. In the game of "Three of these things belong together" from Sesame Street, the Black Mass would be the item that does not belong -- at least in an educational experience about religion in America. It's an attention-getter, sure, but is as emblematic of American religion as the religious rantings of a smack-addicted street preacher.
A Black Mass MIGHT have a place with other perversions of religious practice, like a cross burning to show off the oddities of southern US Christianity or a seppuku disembowelment to display the skewing of traditional Asian values or Rwandans slicing up their countrymen with machetes to show how African religion failed to stop genocide. But not as an exemplar of standard, let alone influential religious practice.
The only good thing I can say about this whole affair is that you had the good sense not to steal a communion wafer from a Catholic Church. Then, even I, most liberal of liberal Catholics, would have come down on you like chips on a Bingo card.
Cambridge offers any number of real-life opportunities to experience actual religious ceremonies. Next time, pop into a local Church, mosque or synagogue instead of mining the tapped out, sensationalistic lode of fringe religion.