Contemporary Iconoclasm: Jesus Statue Beheaded in Boston

Jesus beheaded!

What would Freud say? Here’s the Boston Globe this morning:

[P]olice are looking for the vandals who knocked the head off a statue of Jesus outside a Roman Catholic church named for Mother Teresa. The Rev. Jack Ahern of Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta at St. Margaret’s church in the city’s Dorchester section says when he arrived at the church Sunday morning the statue’s head was lying on the ground in pieces […]

I wonder whether this was done in Boston by an anti-religion zealot or just a thoughtless teen out and about for kicks. Maybe somebody lost his wife or children in a car accident and is mad at God, but it’s hard to believe that the target was picked completely at random.

If it was, then why not just choose a storefront sign to knock down? Why Jesus?

We live in a time where a lot of people (not without justification) are pissed at the stupidity and politicized rancor and violence that goes with so much contemporary religion. Thus, this could be the work of a particularly coarse and inarticulate atheist.

Or it might be the product of an internal religious dispute: a Protestant or Muslim attacking a Catholic Church. It’s not an unknown phenomenon for monotheists to break each other’s stuff. Here’s a drawing, for example, of Calvinists gleefully “cleansing” a Catholic Church in Geneva in the the 16th century:


When we think of iconoclasm, we perhaps first imagine the destruction of temples or the smashing of idols, as in the following fearful gesture of iconoclasm, under the Taliban-like reign of the zealous monotheist Jehu, recorded in the Bible, in II Kings 10:26-27:

And they brought forth the images out of the house of Baal, and burned them.

And they brake down the image of Baal, and brake down the house of Baal, and made it a draught house unto this day.

A “draught house” is a polite way for the King James translators to tell us that the ruins of Baal’s temple were used by the Judeans as a place to take a piss.

But before non-monotheists get too smug here, it should be remembered that iconoclasm has disturbing precedents not just on the “Jerusalem” side of Western cultural history, but also is represented on the pagan “Athens” side as well, as when Aristophanes, in his comic play, Clouds, ends it with the burning of the school of Socrates. Plato famously attributed at least part of the reason for Socrates’s death to the popular prejudicial passions inflamed against him by Aristophanes’s play.

History suggests that the destruction of cultural symbols typically forebodes, not just the end of civil dialogue, but the marginalizing and destruction of people.

This is why we need to find out the person(s) who did this and why they did it.

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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2 Responses to Contemporary Iconoclasm: Jesus Statue Beheaded in Boston

  1. Any sculpture, regardless of whether it has a religious theme or not, is a work of art. Destruction of art is evil.

    On another point: according to Diogenes Laertius, the citizens of Athens soon repented of their decision to execute Socrates and erected a statue in his honor. And all of those who had brought charges against Socrates were sent into exile (and even executed Miletus, the chief accuser). Diogenes’ account may or may not be true, but what is well established is that Socrates’ death did not lead to further persecution of his students, and Athens quickly became the, if you’ll pardon the expression, Mecca of Socratic philosophizing, and continued to be that until the Christian Emperor Justinian ordered the, still proudly Pagan, Akademy to close its doors in 529 (927 years after Socrates drank the hemlock).

    The point being that non-monotheists have a far superior, if imperfect, track record when it comes to intellectual freedom when compared to the monotheists.

    • Santi Tafarella says:


      You make excellent points. But, then again, I don’t think it’s entirely unfair to label Nazi ideology as a nostalgic form of European neopaganism. Hitler imagined himself the initiator of a new Roman Empire as surely as contemporary fundamentalist Muslims imagine themselves initiators of a revived Caliphate. And the violence of the French and American revolutions was clearly in rebellion against Christianity’s ideas about God and King. These revolutions were, in part, imaginatively energized by Greco-Roman models and aspirations, and they sought to bring about the New Republic.

      Likewise, in philosophy, Nietzsche’s intellectual forebears are properly traced to the warrior ethos of ancient Greece. Curiously, both humanism and the Superman have Greek roots.

      Monotheism, humanism, and the Superman are the ideologies that will wrestle for the human future. Two of those are pagan, and one of them is overtly and unapologetically Darwinian, Machiavellian, and nihilistic. It’s certainly not just the monotheisms that carry the seeds of murder and cultural cleansing.


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