The Memory of Wounds

Over at Experimental Theology, Richard Beck considers the question of why some groups want to be seen as the underdog. He quotes from James Davison Hunter’s work To Change the World:

The sense of injury is the key. Over time, the perceived injustice becomes central to the person’s and the group’s identity. Understanding themselves to be victimized is not a passive acknowledgement but a belief that can be cultivated. Accounts of atrocity become a crucial subplot of the narrative, evidence that reinforces the sense that they have been or will be wronged or victimized. Cultivating the fear of further injury becomes a strategy for generating solidarity within the group and mobilizing the group to action. It is often useful at such times to exaggerate or magnify the threat. The injury or threat thereof is so central to the identity and dynamics of the group that to give it up is to give up a critical part of whom they understand themselves to be. Thus, instead of letting go, the sense of injury continues to get deeper.

In this logic, it is only natural that wrongs need to be righted. And so it is, then, that the injury–real or perceived–leads the aggrieved to accuse, blame, vilify, and then seek revenge on those whom they see as responsible. The adversary has to be shown for who they are, exposed for their corruption, and put in their place. [This] ressentiment, then, is expressed as a discourse of negation; the condemnation and denigration of enemies in the effort to subjugate and dominate those who are culpable.

Fred Clark, contemplating one of the current “war on Christmas” flare ups, links this directly to the Evangelical subculture:

The Christian candy cane legend has come to serve the same purpose as all that silly demagoguery about the “War on Christmas.” It is told and retold to foster a sense of grievance and victimhood. The Sunday school teacher’s object lesson wanted us to see candy canes and to remember Jesus’ birth. The Christian candy cane legend wants us to see candy canes and remember that the culture used to be ours, that it rightfully belongs to us, and that it is being unjustly taken away from us by secular humanists, activist judges, liberals, academics, evolutionists, radical feminists and homosexuals.

It reminds me of a famous quote from the Nobel Lecture delivered by the Polish poet Czeslaw Milosz. After he spoke of friends who lay in mass graves courtesy of the Nazis, he apologized for “laying bare a memory like a wound” and gave us an incredibly provocative quote:

It is possible that there is no other memory than the memory of wounds. At least we are so taught by the Bible, a book of the tribulations of Israel. That book for a long time enabled European nations to preserve a sense of continuity – a word not to be mistaken for the fashionable term, historicity.

A memory of wounds can give us an identity and a sense of connection with the past. This solidarity is powerful, and it can be politically useful, particularly in a democracy where mobilizing a segment of the population can easily change the outcome of an election. And so we see demagogues manufacturing the memory of wounds, implanting the idea that something precious has been taken away so that they might ride the politics of resentment into power.

Where the Fire Comes From
You Can't Keep a Bad Man Down
Atheists in the Evangelical Mind
Meet The Wife

CLOSE | X

HIDE | X