The Religion of the Lost Cause, 1865–1920
In Baptized in Blood, Charles Reagan Wilson has created a significant and well-written study of the South’s civil religion, one of two public faiths in America. Wilson shows how in the wake of the Civil War, southerners adopted the Lost Cause as a way to preserve their cultural identity by blending Christian rhetoric and symbols with the rhetoric and imagery of Confederate tradition.
A “civil religion” has been defined as the religious dimension of a people that enables them to understand a historical experience in transcendent terms. The defeat of the Confederacy threw into question the South’s relationship to God; it was interpreted in part as a God-given trial, whereby suffering and pain would lead Southerners to greater virtue and strength and even prepare them for future crusades. The Lost Cause movement was an organized effort to preserve the memory of the Confederacy, but Wilson also argues that the Lost Cause was an authentic expression of religion, and was celebrated and perpetuated with its own rituals, mythology, and theology.
In examining the role of civil religion in the cult of the military, in the New South ideology, and in the spirit of the Lost Cause colleges, as well as in other aspects, Wilson demonstrates effectively how the religion of the Lost Cause became the institutional embodiment of the South’s tragic experience.
Reviews and endorsements of the publication include:
“This study merits reading not only because it explores the delicate fusion of religious and cultural forces, but also because of the careful research which undergirds its arguments.”—Journal of the American Academy of Religion
“If the South cannot escape its history, perhaps it is because it does not want to. Wilson’s magnificent book on the religion of the Lost Cause drives that point home forcefully. . . . He skillfully weaves together the strands of thought that produced the Lost Cause and shows that evangelical ministers had a large hand in the process.”—Theology Today
“Destined to be the definitive essay on the relation between religion and southern regional patriotism.”—Journal of Southern History
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