Skeptical About

RNS linked the Religion Dispatches account of the black mass controversy at Harvard. Worthwhile reading, but taken with a grain of salt.

When things get to the point of death threats, I think “hysteria” is an appropriate description. However, hysteria does not mean “people disagreeing in numbers about what I want to do.” If an automobile driver who insists on motoring at 100mph is pulled over for speeding by more than one police cruiser, that is not hysteria. If police officers were upset that the chase lasted an hour or two and begin beating the offender after they drag her from the car, that would count as an overreaction.

I don’t include myself in the hysteria, obviously. I blogged about it once last week with minimal snark. I signed no petitions. Life went on.

My Laycock’s apologism at rd is informative. As he presents the case for cultural enrichment, I’m inclined to be slightly sympathetic. But only slightly.

A lecture on Christian oppression and the methods of the resistance isn’t hardly going to draw the crowd a spectacle will net. And let’s face it: student groups are vying with one another for all sorts of attention in a university setting. Heck, at the student center, the contemplative retreat was moved to the last weekend in April (so late!) because another retreat had been booked for its intended time slot.

Check the blogosphere: Catholic writers with snark will, other things being equal, always out-ping writers who are nice. Nice writers get buried in a nice-journal blog. “Mean” writers go to Patheos, Crisis, or Pewsitter.

So while we might say to the Harvard students, “Gee, if you had told us this was more about tackling the oppressive Christian majority–like Castro–we would have reconsidered,” let’s not be fooled. This event got the attention its sponsors dreamed of. And more.

So let’s talk about dreams while we tackle the “supernatural.” When you think about it, the supernatural threads a great deal through modern rational life. We still fall in love with people, though we can’t explain it. We still bind together for community events, wearing colors like crimson for example, and watch our representatives do battle against other people’s representatives.

The very act of symbolic dissent is itself “supernatural,” in the sense that we know that someone stomping on a picture of our beloved doesn’t harm them. But in our heart, we know it harms us. Most of us. Scientifically, rationally, do we know why? Maybe not. But the Satanic Temple in its resistance to the blending of church and state, is well aware of the reaction drawn by their protests.

I, too, know what buttons to push when it comes to my wife and daughter, the ones I love the most. If I have a sense my daughter is resistant to my wish she would be more faithful to her household chores, will I get a desired reaction with sarcasm on her pressure point? Maybe I feel wronged that dishes pile up one or two days a week. Is that abusive to my ideal of a clean and orderly kitchen? Or do I look deeper and ponder the likely reality of uncoordinated teachers depositing an uneven array of homework? Perhaps a conversation should ensue on a non-busy day.

Back to point. Rational atheists, like it or not, whether they see it or not, are built to consider the realm beyond nature and reason. Call it supernatural. Call it love. Call it community spirit. Every atheist has a button beyond reason. Those who deny it are enviably well-trained or in self-denial.

A Harvard group might promote the evisceration of, say, a bulldog. Animal rights activists might complain. Tender-hearted pet owners would protest. Maybe the students only intended to rip apart a stuffed animal representing a Yale mascot, thinking a simple pep rally would not draw the numbers.

People who take religion seriously within Christianity are most definitely in the minority. The ones who follow events from many time zones away, who sign petitions, who blog and comment on blogs, indeed see themselves as a minority not only in society, but within their own spiritual tradition.

Rationalists take note: Christianity is a heck of a lot more complex than you think.

And let’s be real: the death threats, health inspection warnings, and the like came not from bishops and presidents, but from ordinary people. Not some oppressive majority. If I were students of culture, I might look more carefully at the orchestrations against the Occupy movement. Lovers of reason and freedom have a lot more to fear from our oligarchic masters than they do from their next-door neighbors who don’t like it when representations of their beloved are stomped on.

My sense is that the Harvard Extension School Cultural Studies Club is a bit behind the times. To be sure: no corporations were harmed in the attempted staging of this event.

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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2 Responses to Skeptical About

  1. Jen says:

    I keep thinking of the response on both sides, having been observing it as it happened out here. On the one hand, the Satanists were clearly baiting the Catholics, and the Catholics rose (sunk?) to the occasion. Like I mentioned over on the WIT blog, I think the Catholics could’ve made their point better with a quiet adoration/benediction, rather than a procession through Cambridge from MIT to Harvard. O’Malley, while it’s his job to defend the faith (and I certainly respect him for doing so) came off more heavy handed than I think he intended. In my armchair quarterbacking of it, I think he would’ve been more effective, if he were to open a dialogue about why the alleged symbolism is offensive.

    I’m not sure what I would’ve done, if something like that had been proposed for a college/university I went to. On the one hand, it’s their right to be offensive. On the other, it’s my right to tell them off for it.

  2. Charles says:

    Good take. I had the “meh” attitude, too much at work it being May an’ all.
    What is all this really about, and not just doofi at Hahvahd?
    Have a seance and ask Andy Warhol; he knew what all egos apparently want as opposed to need.

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