David Blight, author of the magisterial biography of Fredrick Douglass, explains how we may be seeing the unfolding of a new cultural/political movement in this moment:
The important Lost Causes in history have all been at heart compelling stories about noble defeats that were, with time, forged into political movements of renewal: the French after the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71 and the profound need for national revanche; Germany after the Great War and its “stab in the back” theory that led over the 1920s to the rise of the nationalism and racism of the Nazis; and the white South after our Civil War. All Lost Causes find their lifeblood in lies, big and small, lies born of beliefs in search of a history that can be forged into a story and mobilize masses of people to act politically, violently, and in the name of ideology.
The story demands a religious loyalty. It must be protected, reinforced, practiced in ritual and infused with symbols. What is the Trumpian claim of a stolen election but an elaborate fiction that fights to make the reality and truth of the unbelievers irrelevant. Some myths are benign as cultural markers; but others are rooted in big lies so strong as engines of resentment that they can fill parade grounds and endless political rallies, or motivate the storming of the U.S. Capitol in a quixotic attempt to overthrow an election.
There was another piece, by David French in the Dispatch, yesterday arguing that it is only the religious sphere that is going to be able to properly respond to the eternal misappropriation of religious imagery by cultural forces intent on war and destruction.
Philip Jenkins detailed in his book “The Great and Holy War: How World One became a Religious Crusade” the failures of the leadership of the Church hierarchy (both on the Continent and in America, including to a large degree the Anglican and Episcopal bishops). It was that failure that allowed the German Lost Cause story to poison a nation and led to unimaginable death and destruction in World War Two.
God grant that we not make this mistake again.
Do go and read all of Blight’s essay. And if you lead a church, read Jenkin’s book.