Harvard Defeats Satan, 1 to 0

The Harvard Quad, after hours

Photo: Getty Images

The Harvard Quad, after hours

I’ve always wanted to write that headline. Now I can.

Harvard, torn between its tradition of untrammeled academic inquiry and its longtime stand against the devil, was to enjoy a “satanic black mass” this week hosted by the Harvard Extension Cultural Studies Club.

Plans for the evil hangout set off a Miltonian struggle between common decency and Satan’s rights. Wait, no — between the First Amendment and eternal damnation. Hold it: between the standards set by Justice Holmes and those set by some pimply spooks in lustrous capes.

A struggle, at any rate. On its outcome depended:

A. Freedom of speech
B. The Magna Carta
C. Magellan, in 1511, but nobody told us that would be on the test
D. A totally awesome party and if they shut us down we are going to make such a stink
E. Utterly, utterly nothing, nothing within so vast a nothingness that Neil Degrasse Tyson would be speechless


News to Me


In honor of the obscure principle being tested last night, and Albert Camus, the answer is there is no answer. There are only the relative merits of doing something pretty stupid and having too many people care about it too much, or not doing something pretty stupid and having no one care at all.

Christopher Robichaud, a lecturer in ethics and public policy who was to address the Satanists, told Bloomberg’s John Lauerman the event addressed important questions: “What do we really think that religious freedom and free speech demand of us? Does religious tolerance demand only tolerance of rituals that aren’t offensive?”

Good point. Another question: What in Hell is the Harvard Extension Cultural Studies Club getting up to these days? I would think, you know, The Andean Goat People. The Albanian Kosovars. Spoons of Many Nations. You want to leave something in reserve. Because after you hold a black mass, really, what’s left?

Care was taken. Harvard got the kids to agree not to use a consecrated host. One sees them in a panic, rifling the 7-Eleven for Mallomars.

The event sold out. Evidently people are dying to get into these things. (If actually dying at a black mass, by the way, proceed with caution, placing your soul in the protective foil pouch that came with your E-ZPass.) It was like a Billy Joel concert. Sing us a song, O Beelzebub.

Harvard’s president, Drew Faust, was adamantly opposed, scrupulously tolerant and perhaps ever so briefly wishing her name were Smith. While the black mass celebrants were killing vegan chickens in Memorial Hall, she planned to be at St. Paul’s Church for a holy hour, doing a little counterprogramming.

In other words, it was to be The Big One. The millennial conflict, with real millennials. A very special Jerry Bruckheimer Armageddon, right there on campus. Kids were fashioning crude safety glasses out of shoeboxes to watch the great battle play out, shrieks of thunder, blood-red lightning and all. What if Satan won? Would it affect your chem final?

Then, besieged by angry students and faculty, the Cultural Studies Club moved the thing off campus to a place called, auspiciously, the Middle East, and complained to the Harvard Crimson that “misinterpretations about the nature of the event were harming perceptions about Harvard and adversely impacting the student community.” The student community’s heads, for example, had begun to sprout little bumps on either side, lending a new meaning to “horny college kids.”

And then, when they couldn’t come to terms with the Middle East (and who can?), they canceled the black mass and called it a night. The club told the Crimson it hopes the event “draws attention to the bullying techniques of dominant powers and how they intimidate to silence voices they do not agree with or understand.”

Yes. A diversity of voices must be heard. Even the ones that go moo ha ha.

Write to Peter Jeffrey at pjeffrey@bloomberg.net

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