There is much to appreciate about the Civil War. I can’t get enough of it. Walking battlefields is an emotional (spiritual?) experience for me. Unfortunately, obsession with the Civil War is not entirely healthy. The nagging presence of the lost cause myth can turn Civil War “nerdery” into something sour.
As an authentic Civil War nerd, the lost cause is something with which I have to contend. To put it into the most general terms, the lost cause is the sentiment that the antebellum South was a bastion of Christianity, liberty, limited government, and virtue. In contrast, Lincoln’s “Black Republicans” promoted soaring deficits, massive federal agencies, and cities filled with degenerates.
I’m not going to debate the merits of the lost cause as such. In order to make things simple, I’ll grant that the antebellum South was a pretty great place—for white people.
Have you ever wondered what it would be like for a black man to visit the Jefferson Davis Presidential Library? Jemar Tisby , co-founder of the Reformed African American Network , provides the answer in this fascinating blog post.
Tisby laments the white-washing of our family friendly museums and the long-term consequences of the idealized lost cause.
Did the parents who brought their children to visit the Jefferson Davis Presidential Library point out that the museum’s designers rendered slavery all but invisible? Did they comment on the fact that the Confederacy represented chains and shackles and not freedom for people of African descent?
. . .
Did these white parents teach their white children about the lasting effects of slavery and segregation including thousands of lynchings, the convict-lease system, the Jim Crow racial hierarchy, generational poverty, red-lining of property, inequitable distribution of G.I. Bill benefits, the purposeful formation of ghettoes, the law and order rhetoric that relegated millions of black people to prisons, disproportionately high infant mortality rates, and the collective racial trauma African Americans continue to endure?
I’m going to hazard a guess and say, no, most white parents aren’t teaching their children about the Confederacy’s true purpose and the effects of glamorizing the antebellum South.
Tisby forces me to ask: what is the lost cause to my black brother? And, what is the lost cause to my Christian witness?
Whatever one’s subjective intentions might be for celebrating the Confederacy, the lost cause necessarily reveres men who fought for pro-slavery governments. Let’s not get distracted. At its best, the antebellum South was just a shadow of the kingdom to come. At its worst, it is a painful reminder of our nation’s original sin and of the blood shed as recompense.