God and Ronald Reagan: A Spiritual Lifeby Paul Kengor
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Ronald Reagan is hailed today for a presidency that restored optimism to America, engendered years of economic prosperity, and helped bring about the fall of the Soviet Union. Yet until now little attention has been paid to the role Reagan's personal spirituality played in his political career, shaping his ideas, bolstering his resolve, and ultimately compelling him to confront the brutal -- and, not coincidentally, atheistic -- Soviet empire. In this groundbreaking book, political historian Paul Kengor draws upon Reagan's legacy of speeches and correspondence, and the memories of those who knew him well, to reveal a man whose Christian faith remained deep and consistent throughout his more than six decades in public life. Raised in the Disciples of Christ Church by a devout mother with a passionate missionary streak, Reagan embraced the church after reading a Christian novel at the age of eleven. A devoted Sunday-school teacher, he absorbed the church's model of "practical Christianity" and strived to achieve it in every stage of his life.
But it was in his lifelong battle against communism -- first in Hollywood, then on the political stage -- that Reagan's Christian beliefs had their most profound effect. Appalled by the religious repression and state-mandated atheism of Bolshevik Marxism, Reagan felt called by a sense of personal mission to confront the USSR. Inspired by influences as diverse as C.S. Lewis, Whittaker Chambers, and Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, he waged an openly spiritual campaign against communism, insisting that religious freedom was the bedrock of personal liberty. "The source of our strength in the quest for human freedom is not material, but spiritual," he said in his Evil Empire address. "And because it knows no limitation, it must terrify and ultimately triumph over those who would enslave their fellow man." From a church classroom in 1920s Dixon, Illinois, to his triumphant mission to Moscow in 1988, Ronald Reagan was both political leader and spiritual crusader. God and Ronald Reagan deepens immeasurably our understanding of how these twin missions shaped his presidency -- and changed the world.
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God and Ronald Reagan
A Spiritual Life
Jack and Nelle
"You can be too big for God to use, but you cannot be too small."
--an annotation in Nelle Reagan's Bible
January 20, 1924, was a blustery cold, wind-swept Sunday across the plains of Illinois. According to the Dixon Evening Telegraph, tiny Alton, Illinois, had been hit the night before with "the heaviest and most spectacular "snowstorm of the winter. Rail, streetcar, and automobile traffic was plunging valiantly through the storm, but by ten o'clock all were losing the fight. The weather was so cold near Chicago, where the temperature dipped to eighteen degrees below zero, that many of the entries in the International Tournament of the Norge Ski Club failed to jump. And if that weren't enough, the Associated Press was reporting that "a new cold wave "was on its way from Alaska, threatening to exceed already-record lows.
Suffering through the freeze, in the northwest corner of the state, was idyllic little Dixon, home to Jack and Nelle Reagan and their two sons. Dixon sits some one hundred miles west of Chicago, and less than an hour's drive to the Mississippi River and the Iowa border. The town is geographically unusual by Illinois standards: the terrain of Illinois is largely flat, but Dixon is nestled among woods and rolling hills. Most of the state was dusted by a fine snow blowing across naked fields, the kind of cutting snow that hurts when it assaults uncovered faces. Dixon, however, enjoyed some protection on that frigid day.
Long before Ronald Reagan, the town already had its runins with presidential history. On May 12, 1832, Captain Abraham Lincoln and his company of mounted volunteers arrived at Fort Dixon on the Rock River to serve in the Blackhawk War. Lt. Col. Zachary Taylor was in command, and Lt. Jefferson Davis swore in recruits. At that moment, three future presidents saluted together in obscure Dixon: Taylor became U. S. president in 1848, Lincoln in 1860, and Jefferson Davis became president of the Confederacy shortly thereafter. (A colorful painting of the encounter by local artist Fran Swarbrick resides today in the building where Ronald Reagan attended school.)
A continent away on that January day in 1924, fifty-three-year-old Vladimir Ilyich Lenin lay near death in an even colder -- in many ways -- Bolshevik Russia. He had few hours remaining. As Lenin clung to life, twelve-year-old Dutch Reagan clung to his hymnal in the comfort of a pew near the front of the First Christian Church in Dixon, beside his beaming mother, Nelle. Filled with the spirit, Nelle had just finished her closing prayer with her True Blue Sunday school class.
Though no one in that contented congregation could know it, this was the start of a spiritual pilgrimage that would lead that boy in the front pew to a spot in front of a bust of a grim Lenin at Moscow State University sixty-four years later, inspired with a religious drive very much like what he and his mother had felt that Sunday in 1924.As Reagan would recognize, Lenin too had been moved by a kind of religious zeal, though very different from his own. It was the clash of their belief systems that would make possible their rendezvous on May 31, 1988.
And it was Nelle Reagan who would inculcate her innocent boy with a set of beliefs that helped convince him of the need to defeat the Soviet Union. She and the faith she imparted were the central forces in his life. Without them it is dif ficult to imagine Ronald Reagan becoming president, let alone mounting a crusade against "godless Soviet communism."
From all evidence, it appears that Ronald Reagan's faith peaked in intensity at the bookends of his life -- during his youth in Dixon, and again in his mature years as president and former president of the United States.
The origins of Reagan's faith were forged in the 1910s, his first decade of life, and the ideas he formed there persisted in his belief system through the 1990s. They predated by far his key political beliefs, which weren't set in stone until the late 1940s -- and, by some measure, until his Republican conversion in the 1960s. The historical record demonstrates abundantly that Reagan was driven by those core political convictions. What has gone overlooked is how deeply, and for how much longer, his core religious convictions moved him.
How did he come by his spiritual beliefs? There were a number of key in fluences.
Nelle and Jack
Ronald Reagan's parents were John Edward and Nelle Clyde Wilson Reagan, called simply Jack and Nelle by their friends (and by their children, at their own request). Jack was a first-generation Irishman, Nelle from Irish-English-Scottish stock. Both hailed from the town of Fulton, in Whiteside County, Illinois, where they were born within eleven days of each other in July 1883. A couple of decades later they were married, on a crisp fall day in November 1904 at the Catholic Church of the Immaculate Conception in Fulton.
Though Nelle grew up as the youngest of seven, she and Jack had only two children: Ronald and his older brother Neil, who was given the nickname "Moon" by his parents. The young couple seemed carefree in their early years. Each was good-looking, with an attractive personality; they were a fun pair. But that began to change, slowly at first, with the arrival of the boys. Though theirs seemed largely a happy home, with normal problems, there was a split in the Reagan household over religion. It was not a major rift that created bickering, but a difference nonetheless: Jack was Catholic; Nelle a Protestant.
One overriding concern both parents shared was that their boys should believe in God and go to church. Nelle, however, was much more earnest in her faith than Jack, who was apparently more apathetic ...God and Ronald Reagan
A Spiritual Life. Copyright © by Paul Kengor. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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Meet the Author
Paul Kengor is the author of the New York Times extended-list bestseller God and Ronald Reagan as well as God and George W. Bush and The Crusader. He is a professor of political science and director of the Center for Vision and Values at Grove City College. He lives with his wife and children in Grove City, Pennsylvania.
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So many biographies of our 40th President have left the impression that Ronald Reagan was difficult to understand. His official biographer, for one - historian Edmund Morris - was apparently so baffled by Reagan that he had to resort to fictionalizing Reagan's life story when he wrote his book 'Dutch.' But now, thanks to Dr. Kengor's superb and scholarly work, we have a book that begins to uncover the real Ronald Reagan. For the first time, Reagan's many years of public policy pronouncements are comprehensively examined in light of his unwavering faith. For the first time, we begin to understand Reagan's motivations and his make-up as we come to realize that his spiritual life and his public life were inexorably intertwined - and that his religious faith had a tremendous, positive impact on public policy. Whether President Reagan's bold, courageous, and timely public declarations about the malevolent intentions of the former Soviet Union, for example, actually accelerated that country's demise may well have to be left to a thorough examination by future historians. But there is no doubt that President Reagan sincerely believed that his faith compelled him to speak the truth about the evils of communism - something that is commonly accepted today but that no politician before him dared to utter. And there is also no doubt that his 'evil empire' speech, all by itself, lifted the hopes and dreams of so many Christians and Jews imprisoned worldwide by communist governments that, to this day, remain intolerant and afraid of all things religious. Reagan's spiritual beliefs made a real difference. Overall, this is a well written, thoroughly documented, and fascinating study. I am grateful to Dr. Kengor for shedding light on this topic and I look forward to his future works.
Having read several books about President Ronald Reagan which clearly showed his tremendous resolve in taking steps which led to the fall of the Soviet Union and the survival of the freedoms we enjoy in our great country, this book sets forth what propelled Ronald Reagan along this path. Anyone who desires to know and understand Ronald Reagan and his presidency, and why and how he attacked Soviet Communism should read this book.
I'M ENJOYING THIS BOOK VERY MUCH. I DIDN'T KNOW RELIGION WAS SUCH AN INFLUENCE ON HIS PRESIDENCY. HIS FAITH MADE HIM A GREAT MAN AND PRESIDENT.WISH WE HAD MORE LIKE HIM TODAY.
He tenaciously stood firm on what he believed and was not afraid to make it known to everyone. I hope and pray that we will one day see another like this as the leader of our great country. He truly was a fine man and a great leader.
This is a great read for people who want to know how to live life with Honor and Dignity
I was already a fan of Ronald Reagan and his presidency, but the reading of this book has opened my eyes to just how great of a person and leader he was. Our Country needs more leaders like he was, seeking God's guidance and will.
Mr Ronald Reagan was the best PRESIDENT AMERICAN HAS EVER HAD WE NEED HIM BACK NOW
Yes he was a good president but he is dead so we cant have him back. I would like george w bush back though