Into Darkness

I notice all corners of the Catholic blogosphere are upset over the playacting of a black mass for “experienc(ing) the history of different cultural practices.”

Our purpose is not to denigrate any religion or faith, which would be repugnant to our educational purposes …

Typical modern avoidance along the lines of “If anyone was offended …” Lots of people have a “good” purpose in mind when they do imprudent things. 

I’m not sure why it wouldn’t be more educational to avoid the hermeneutic of subtraction, and just perform some non-satanic pagan worship. Aside from the flirtation with the supernatural, there’s not much good that can come from this. But maybe non-Christians have other ideas.

I would be surprised if students across the street here were to concoct such an event, and right now, I’m not sure what our best approach might be.

If one’s belief systems are mocked in this way, does it fit to take the absolute high road and protest, but otherwise decline to provoke?

Is humor appropriate? Does one ridicule or satirize evil? Like this? Or does that have the potential to escalate to things best left alone? It would be tempting, I must admit, to apply some devastating wit to make a mockery of the whole event.

One of my early spiritual directors, a priest I trust implicitly, once said that even engaging evil directly is dangerous. Focus instead on one’s own sin, culpability, and strive for virtue. Don’t pay attention to others. But at what point does one stand up for people who are understandably upset and harmed by such an event?

What do you readers think? What else are you reading and hearing in other parts of the wide world?

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About catholicsensibility

Todd and his family live in Ames, Iowa. He serves a Catholic parish of both Iowa State students and town residents.
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10 Responses to Into Darkness

  1. Jenny2 says:

    I would be surprised if students across the street here were to concoct such an event, and right now, I’m not sure what our best approach might be.

    Ignore it – or treat it as what it surely is, a post-adolescent stunt designed to show how daring and “edgy” the participants are, with the gratifying side-effect of shocking the grown-ups. Why on earth the archdiocese of Boston is dignifying this sort of nonsense by noticing it in any way at all is beyond me. Especially as, according to all reliable scholarship, the supposed Black Mass was a purely artificial construct, elaborated from the late 15th century on by professional witch-hunters and inquisitors who had strong personal – and frequently political – motives for using the fear of secret cults and satanic powers as the basis for “witch-hunts” (a summary term for a very complex phenomenon). When there are more reliable reports of such ceremonies actually being carried out, as in the Affair of the Poisons in France during the 1670s, it seems to have been at the instigation of members of the social elite who were basing their activities on this same artificial construct – which by then had been described in many sensationalised texts.

    I take your point that a few people may be genuinely shocked. In which case surely a short, calm and factual explanation from their priest or pastor should be enough to reassure them.

  2. Liam says:

    Well, there is a certainly a long and venerable Catholic tradition of prudence about engaging the Evil One (*not* just “evil”, but demons, who are created beings not things or merely nominalist concepts, specifically) directly without proper training and authorization. Exorcisms and related engagements of demons are dangerous things (that’s one aspect of them that the (in)famous novel and movie got right. Many if not most folks from WEIRD (Western Educated Industrial Rich Democratic) cultures, deeply immersed as we are in radical materialism (of the philosophical kind, not just economic kind), may scoff.

    In any event, I do think open and blunt objection is quite warranted in this case, sans melodrama, and Cdl Sean has struck a proper tone that might have eluded some others who would chomp at the bit, as it were. If there was going to be a “educational” reenactment of ritual sacrifice from the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, would one encourage passing silently by?

  3. Jenny2 says:

    The Protocols of the Elders of Zion was an equally artificial construct (in this case, a forgery by the Tsarist secret police). As with the witch-hunters’ texts describing the Black Mass, it was designed to manipulate the masses for the benefit of the political elite – and as the history of pogroms in Russia and Ukraine shows, it succeeded all too well.
    Both the Protocols and witch texts such as Malleus Maleficarum had one thing in common – neither succeeded in raising a single supernatural manifestation, but both left thousands of dead bodies and ruined lives in their wake. Rather than fret about demons who most certainly will not appear, in both the hypothetical case you describe and the current one, I’d suggest seizing a teachable moment: to contemplate the evil and the savagery towards the innocent of which humans have proved themselves capable throughout recorded history. They’ve never needed any external demons to prompt them to that.

    • Liam says:

      Surely, original sin means human beings are quite capable of freely choosing evil without the supernatural manifestation of demonic beings. Indeed, that the ordinary way of evil. And the misery of millions upon millions the product of the ordinary way of evil. But I do know very level-headed people, not given to lurid imaginings of any sort, who’ve had personals encounter of the other sort; it’s not something to be waived off so neatly. Sure, there are imagined encounters that are a feature of mental illness or … a lurid imagination. But not necessarily all of them.

      • Jenny2 says:

        personals encounter of the other sort

        Ah yes. *Something* lurking in the shadows, muffled sounds from the next room, dramatic Latin exhortations…. it’s all so much more thrilling than ploughing through the dull, everyday slog. Where solid citizens and churchgoers still ignore or minimise the reality and results of child abuse by members of powerful institutions (“But it was all so long ago”). Where the cocoa used in chocolate and the mica in cosmetics are both produced, in dangerous and even lethal conditions, by child labour – to the general indifference of consumers, whose only demand is for ever lower prices. Where prisons are festering sinks of violence and mental illness, created through unwillingness to invest in the public good combined with a vengeful “morality” which would do credit to the Taliban.

        Where, in short, evil flourishes because it’s pleasurable or profitable or its victims are invisible – and because good people do nothing. So I’ll join those who are organising and voting and marching in the plain light of day, and leave the exorcists’ texts beside the cappa magna and other such outworn fripperies.

        From Terry Pratchett’s Guards! Guards! [The guards are facing a terrifying dragon. The dragon manages to lock minds with their captain, and learns the truth]: There was practically nothing the dragon could do to people that they had not, sooner or later, tried on one another, often with enthusiasm.

  4. Jenny2 says:

    Or perhaps another quote from Pratchett says it even better [Small Gods] – a dungeon of the Inquisition in an alternate universe:
    There were no jolly little signs saying: You Don’t Have To Be Pitilessly Sadistic To Work Here But It Helps!!

    But there were things to suggest to a thinking man that the Creator of mankind had a very oblique sense of fun indeed, and to breed in his heart a rage to storm the gates of heaven.

    The mugs, for example. The inquisitors stopped work twice a day for coffee. Their mugs, which each man had brought from home, were grouped around the kettle on the hearth of the central furnace which incidentally heated the irons and knives.

    They had legends on them like A Present From the Holy Grotto of Ossory, or To The World’s Greatest Daddy. Most of them were chipped, and no two of them were the same.

    And there were the postcards on the wall. It was traditional that, when an inquisitor went on holiday, he’d send back a crudely colored woodcut of the local view with some suitably jolly and risqué message on the back. And there was the pinned-up tearful letter from Inquisitor First Class Ishmale “Pop” Quoom, thanking all the lads for collecting no fewer than seventy-eight obols for his retirement pension and the lovely bunch of flowers for Mrs. Quoom, indicating that he’d always remember his days in No. 3 pit, and was looking forward to coming in and helping out any time they were short-handed.

    And it all meant this: that there are hardly any excesses of the most crazed psychopath that cannot easily be duplicated by a normal, kindly family man who just comes in to work every day and has a job to do.

    Vorbis loved knowing that. A man who knew that, knew everything he needed to know about people.

    • Todd says:

      It strikes me as a good statement. “You are free to indulge in the behavior of a clod.” It distinguishes between freedom and prudence, and it challenges people to make good choices rather than have someone else’s prudence imposed.

  5. Liam says:

    The event was cancelled after all.

  6. Pingback: Skeptical About | Catholic Sensibility

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