The Religion of the "Lost Cause" Is Back, and It May be WinningRoundup
tags: far right, Confederacy, White Supremacy, Lost Cause
Bill Leonard is founding dean and the James and Marilyn Dunn professor of Baptist studies and church history emeritus at Wake Forest University School of Divinity in Winston-Salem, N.C. He is the author or editor of 25 books.
An intelligent foreigner, making his observations at Washington at this time, would be puzzled to determine whether the Americans had a Government, or not. There are the names: The Executive, the Congress, the Judiciary; but what is the executive question, what the congressional question, what the judicial question, it appears impossible to decide. It is a remarkable fact that at Washington today, there is not a single well-de-fined department of political power!
Southerner Edward Pollard wrote those words in 1866, in Lost Cause: A New Southern History of the War of the Confederates, coining the term and re-mythologizing the post-Appomattox Confederacy.
In a 1980 work, Baptized in Blood: The Religion of the Lost Cause, University of Mississippi historian Charles Reagan Wilson wrote, “At the end of the Civil War, Southerners tried to come to terms with defeat, giving rise to the Lost Cause.” Wilson cited Pollard’s call “for a ‘war of ideas’ to retain the Southern identity,” then commented: “The South’s religious leaders and laymen defined this identity in terms of morality and religion.”
Wilson insisted that “Christian clergymen were the prime celebrants of the religion of the Lost Cause.” They “used the Lost Cause to warn Southerners of their decline from past virtue, to promote moral reform, to encourage conversion to Christianity, and to educate the young in Southern traditions; (and) in the fullness of time, they related it to American values.”
In other words, they hoped a revival of those antebellum religious and cultural traits would make the South, and ultimately the entire nation, great again.
In 2022, it appears that Edward Pollard’s call for a “war of ideas” grounded in Lost Cause mythology never really expired and is making a considerable comeback. Surprisingly, elements of, or parallels to, the Lost Cause myth have returned with a vengeance, not simply in the American South, but across the nation. Lost Cause-analogous visions of America appear to be winning the contemporary “culture war” in various state and national political contexts and in segments of American Christianity.