In his 1980 book, "Baptized in Blood: The Religion of the Lost Cause, 1865-1920," Charles Reagan Wilson, Professor Emeritus of History and Southern Studies at the University of Mississippi, wrote of rituals practiced by Southerners mourning both their Confederate dead and the death of the Confederacy:
"The Southern civil religion emerged because the experience of defeat in the Civil War had created a spiritual and psychological need for Southerners to reaffirm their identity, an identity which came to have outright religious dimensions."
Even as a kid, I understood the South owned slaves, the North won the Civil War, and that we were reunited as one country under the martyred Abraham Lincoln. The South was wrong, war is hell, and it happened a long time ago.
I'm not a very good Southerner, I guess, even though my ethnic resume says otherwise.
Here's my personal snapshot: Middle-aged white male, raised Southern Baptist in a rural North Carolina town of fewer than a thousand people. Shot squirrels, rabbits and birds with a shotgun and rifle I received as birthday and Christmas presents.
I killed a deer once, but it was with a Honda Civic. I have fished off an ocean pier in the middle of the night. I have seen tobacco hanging from sticks in a barn.
Some of you are probably thinking, "Sounds like a good ole boy who drinks beer and sweet tea, loves his momma and Jesus, and eats biscuits every morning."
Others might be thinking, "This redneck enjoys tailgating from the back of his pickup, and watches 40 hours of ESPN a week."
Still others might think, "This is the guy who used to call me names and beat me up when the teachers weren't looking, and then prayed in the pews on Sunday."
In reality, I drink unsweetened tea and still drive a Honda. I don't follow sports, although I did play baseball in ninth grade.
I attend church, but left the Southern Baptists long ago. I love my mom, but have never called her "momma." I never fought on the playground.
Biscuits are good, but I have a Seinfeldian addiction to cereal, consuming bowls of the stuff day and night.
I prefer reading John Cheever and Raymond Carver to William Faulkner and James Dickey. I prefer "The New Yorker" and "The Atlantic" to "Sports Illustrated" and "Maxim." But I do read "Hemmings" car magazines, as well as "Oxford American" and "Garden & Gun."
Maybe instead of being a bad Southerner, I am simply somebody with varied tastes, as most of us are. When I was in New York recently and people learned I'm from North Carolina, I usually received one of two responses:
RESPONSE ONE: "I once visited Asheville/Durham/Chapel Hill/Raleigh/Charlotte/Wilmington/Winston-Salem/Greensboro. That's a cool place!"
RESPONSE TWO: "I went to see my aunt in (a rural area that is not one of the cities above). I felt like I was back in the 1950s, man."
In the Confederate monument debate, the loudest voices down here are the ones getting press, while the rest of us go about our lives.
Some defenders of the monuments say these stone structures planted on courthouse and capitol lawns throughout the South honor veterans of all wars. No, they really don't. My grandfather fought in WWI, and my uncle was in WWII. There is no comparison, other than people died.
In his book on the aftermath of the Civil War, Wilson stated that, "Southerners in their institutionalized Lost Cause religion were trying symbolically to overcome history. By repeating ritual, they recreated the mythical time of their noble ancestors and paid tribute to them."
If you honor pre-emancipation Southern heritage, you are honoring a society that engaged in the buying and selling of human beings. As for the plethora of Confederate monuments that dot the South, at the very least let's drop the pretense about the war they represent.