Attacking Christ

Spiritual problems are at the root of social unrest


Community Virtue

In 1967, during my hippie days, I stood on a landing between the first and second floor of the Boston Public Library admiring the 160-year-old, side by side, marble busts of Christ and Lucifer. Sculpted in 1845 by Horatio Greenbough, these have been on display in the library unharmed since 1895.

Come 1968, after the assassinations of Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. — in the midst of his nonviolent civil rights campaign — all hell broke loose with flag-burning riots. looting, and marches.

In 1970, it was the Kent State massacre, when the Ohio National Guard killed four and wounded nine unarmed students, followed by dramatic massive protests against the Vietnam War. Those shootings have certainly come to symbolize the deep political and social divisions that so sharply divided the country during the Vietnam War era.

In that same year, some deranged man lunged at the bust of Christ in the Boston Public Library and tried to vandalize it. Before he could do much harm, a library employee tackled him.

But the statue of Lucifer remained untouched.

Then in 2007, a major financial crisis brought on the Great Recession. A library surveillance video showed a man and a woman attacking the bust of Christ, which sat behind a railing. The female threw a blunt object at the sculpture and, by forcing it off a ledge, smashed it to pieces. The two vandals ran out of the library, eluding a police canvass of Copley Square.

Again, the statue of Lucifer remained unharmed.

Last time I checked, about three years ago, the bust of Christ was still a pile of crushed fragments, perhaps due to weak-willed administrators or insufficient restoration funding. The library has yet to respond to my recent inquiry.

In 2020, social unrest and sharp political division has surfaced again, provoked by the isolation of the pandemic and the economic shutdown. Mobs with idle hands in the devil’s workshop began by attacking historical statues like Robert E. Lee and famous Civil War confederates. Groping for more outrageous targets, rioters have disfigured statues of Christ and His saints as “inexcusable” symbols of white supremacy.

But their cause is obviously specious. In my view, these are violent “hate” attacks, perpetrated mostly by young white ne’er-do-wells itching to vent unacknowledged guilt and shame, provoked by our nation’s Judeo-Christian traditions. They would destroy what is making them so angry.

Christ and his saints represent mastery over our natural instincts and fleshly desires. Such a high moral standard enrages rabble-rousers enslaved by self-indulgence. Their violence gives evidence of that war raging inside each of us, until we’ve learned to overcome those strong urges to gratify our carnal lusts (see Romans 7:21-15). We have all felt a pull in both directions: sate our lustful worldly desires, or follow God.

Today’s rioters reflect the social unrest of 50 years ago, trying to dismantle our American heritage by burning courthouses and flags, as well as Catholic churches.

Why did that couple in 2007 smash the bust of Christ and leave Lucifer’s unharmed? We will never discover the specific answer, but attacking Christ, again and again, can offer only temporary relief from unresolved guilt and unforgiveness.

What we do know is that Lucifer has been left untouched. That speaks volumes to me.


Richard M. DellOrfano spent ten years on a cross-country pilgrimage following Christ’s instruction to minister without possessions. He is completing his autobiography: Path Perilous, My Search for God and the Miraculous.

From The Narthex

The States & Free Exercise of Religion

Paul Benjamin Linton is author of the magisterial Abortion under State Constitutions -- which has…

Random Ruminations #7

“Sex Work,” Trafficking, and Trucks Pamela Paul reports in the New York Times (Aug. 17)…

History’s Balance Sheet

Nowadays many people hope for a multinational and god-free world. That is their “promised land.”…