Death comes in different forms. There is physical death, which we will all experience. Other things experience death too. Anything that lives will die a physical death – plants, animals, etc. Other things experience a sort of physical death as well – businesses and organizations. And even nations experience a sort of physical death – nations that have been defeated and/or destroyed.
That’s the easy death. The harder death is the death of ideas and beliefs. I saw this on display as I walked on the grounds of Stone Mountain outside of Atlanta, Georgia.
The park is nice as any park could be. There are trees and water and places to walk and picnic. There are nice facilities and even a ride to the top of the mountain to get amazing views of the surrounding areas.
But the park exists for a very specific reason – to keep the memory of the Confederacy alive. The nation of the Confederate States of America may have died in 1865, but it’s ideas, memory and beliefs live on in splendor.
The most disturbing part of this park is the layout. The main area of the park, the part dedicated to the Confederacy, is laid out like a giant cathedral, or more accurately, a large cross. And that cross has a body laying on it, only the body is physically invisible. Yet it’s there all the same – you don’t need to see it.
At the base of the area is a marker – think of it as where the nail would have gone into Jesus feet.
You walk up the side (both sides have this) and it’s like walking the stations of the cross. You see and read about each state that was a part of the Confederacy. You read about the “courageous” and “valiant” leaders and people. You read about the battles and how so many states were pushed into war because the North would not listen and Lincoln decided to invade and how the South only wanted peace. I can almost hear the equation with Jesus falling, carrying the heavy burden of the cross.
When you get to the top, you see the image of the holy trinity of the Confederacy – Stonewall Jackson, Robert E. Lee and Jefferson Davis. It’s fitting that Jackson shed blood and died for the Confederacy – another Messiah-like figure. Lee as the father-like figure and Davis as a type of quiet spirit working behind the scenes.
There is a pool of water at the head of the cross – representing baptism to me. A baptism of blood – uniting oneself to the Confederacy.
When you walk to the sides, there are two small memorial areas. One dedicated to Valor and the other to Sacrifice. These two arms of the park act like the cross beam of the cross where Jesus arms are nailed to the tree. There are quotes from Confederate heroes as well as American heroes like George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Patrick Henry, in an attempt to equate the ideals of the founders to that of the Confederacy.
There are statues in these areas. The statues are long and tall – looking almost like nails that could be used in a crucifixion.
And it should be noted you can see tribute to the gods of mythology – Valor and Sacrifice, Law and Justice. These had different names in Roman times, but even these persist. It was valor and sacrifice and law and justice in the name of and for the Confederacy – the divine serving the wishes of the man-made state.
Ideas and beliefs die-hard. Sometimes it takes generations for them to finally work their way out of our blood and DNA.
What was most striking to me was when I entered the part and left the park. When I entered the park, an African-American woman was working at the entry booth, collecting the entrance fee. She did it with a smile and was so very pleasant. What did she think about this place?
When I was leaving, I passed by an African-American family who were strolling through the park. What did they think of this place? Were they as disturbed by it as me? Or worse?
I don’t know. I’ll never know.
I do know this – ideas and beliefs die-hard. Humanity has a tendency to continue to repeat the same mistakes because we refuse to learn. We put our faith in places it should never be. And so we suffer the consequences.
When will we ever learn?
Thankfully, there was a different crucifixion. That crucifixion held the man, an outsider in his time, who was nailed to the cross. The nails represented so much – sin in all of its forms. While Jesus died on that cross, so too did the ideas that killed Jesus. They suffered a physical death. Yet their ideas and memories and beliefs lived on, slowly suffering and bringing suffering to others. Their fate is inevitable – they will be tossed aside when Jesus comes back in fulfillment – a final death for these ideas and beliefs. That is my hope. That is what we are promised. That is why we can continue moving on each day – carrying out the mission we have been given.