In college, however, the ethos of transgressivity turns playing church into the Satanic Mass. That form of play doesn't sit well with serious Catholics. Judge for yourself why a "Cultural Studies Club" might have such an event, rather than a reading of protest poetry from six continents.
There is good news. Among the Harvard administration, official pronouncements suggest there are limits to epater les bourgeois. First up, a dean of students, Robert Neugeboren.
We do not agree with the student group’s decision to stage an event that is so deeply disturbing and offensive to many in the Harvard community and beyond. While we support the ability of all our students to explore difficult issues, we also encourage them to do so in ways that are sensitive to others.Gosh, transgressiveness for its own sake might be a gratuitous stick in the eye to normal people? And Somebody in Authority at Harvard gets it?
To that end, the Harvard Extension School has worked with the club’s student leaders to address specific concerns that have been expressed. For instance, we have ensured that no consecrated host will be used as part of the reenactment. Also, in an effort to help broaden the educational nature of this series, the Harvard Extension School has urged the Cultural Studies Club’s student leaders to reach out to Catholic student organizations on campus to foster a positive dialogue about the Catholic faith. The club’s student leaders have agreed to this proposal.
We hope these efforts and this dialogue will help address some of the most severe concerns about the event, while also helping students in the Cultural Studies Club better understand the perspective of many Catholics on these and other issues.
Harvard's president, Drew Faust, attempts to square two principles that may be irreconcilable.
Vigorous and open discussion and debate are essential to the pursuit of knowledge, and we must uphold these values even in the face of controversy. Freedom of expression, as Justice Holmes famously said long ago, protects not only free thought for those who agree with us but freedom for the thought that we hate.I wonder if a Roman Toga Party on Greek Row would receive such diplomatic chastisement. It is a marker, however, in favor of free inquiry and the possibility of changing minds, and in opposition to letting the current consensus on what is justice trump that inquiry. Good.
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.
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.
The response from the Let's Play Church caucus of the Cultural Studies Club is instructive.
“While it is unfortunate that many people took personal offense at rituals for which they have little or no understanding of their context, what we find most disturbing have been the demands that the rituals and beliefs of marginalized members of society be silenced,” the club wrote in the emailed statement. “It is gravely upsetting to us that some people feel vindicated on the basis that they have disingenuously mischaracterized our invited guests as being part of a hate group.”Sometimes marginalization is efficient. Sometimes the shibboleths and incantations of political correctness lose their magic power. Good. And the Cultural Studies Club learns that the Perpetually Aggrieved do not have a monopoly on the use of manufactured hate crimes as a weapon against those who disagree. Even better.