Conservatives will remember Ronald Reagan as one of the greatest Presidents in American history. Yet historians for the most part have neglected to examine the impact of religion upon Reagan’s worldview. This is no longer the case. Paul Kengor in God and Ronald Reagan: A Spiritual Life, powerfully unveils the profound influence that Reagan’s faith had upon his administration, his policies and his character.
As Kengor notes, a thorough analysis of Reagan’s vast personal correspondence and his public speeches reveals how Christianity deeply shaped the man who would become the 40th President of the United States. In fact, Kengor contends that, without his faith, Reagan would never have ascended to the office of President or been able “to mount a crusade against ‘godless Soviet Communism.'”
Throughout the book, Kengor outlines the major influences that led Reagan to Christianity. According to Kengor, Reagan’s mother, Nelle, was probably the person who most helped instill the future President with his faith. “What he believed in the 1920s was consistent with what he believed in the 1990s,” Kengor states, and this was largely the result of his upbringing and the influence of his mother.
Kengor also outlines three crucial books that shaped Reagan’s faith throughout the course of his life: the Bible, which Reagan believed was divinely inspired; Whitaker Chambers’ Witness; and Harold Bell Wright’s That Printer of Udell’s.
After reading That Printer of Udell’s, a story about a young boy who became a Christian and pursued a life in politics, Reagan, at the tender age of 11, told his mother, “I want to be like that man. I want to be baptized.” Soon after, he was baptized in the Disciples of Christ, of which Reagan was a lifelong member.
Witness, an autobiography chronicling Chambers’ repudiation of his Communist past, had a major impact on Reagan and helped to shape his staunch opposition to the Soviet Union. It was by reading Chambers’ writings that Reagan came to understand Marxist-Leninism as an ideology bent on waging an all-out war against religion. Reagan rightly understood that the Cold War was ultimately a global struggle between Christian civilization embodied by the United States and government-enforced atheism championed by Soviet communism.
Kengor believes Reagan’s faith and his “God-given optimism” gave him the strength to lead the Western alliance in containing Communist Russia. During his presidency, Reagan was ridiculed by many liberals in the media for referring to the Soviet Union as the “Evil Empire.” But the overwhelming evidence that has emerged from Soviet archives since the fall of the Berlin Wall has vindicated Reagan’s characterization — a vast empire of subjugated nations, slave labor camps and totalitarian rule that was evil at its core.
After surviving an assassination attempt on March 30, 1981, Reagan believed God had spared his life in order for him to fight communism. But Kengor notes that Reagan’s crusade against communism began way before John Hinkley’s attempt to end his life. Kengor draws parallels between Reagan’s life and the rise of communism as early as the Gipper’s childhood.
Reagan was 6 years old when the Bolsheviks launched their bloody coup in St. Petersburg in October 1917. In 1924, Reagan was a teenager when Lenin was nearing his death, and he was about to enter Eureka College when Josef Stalin took control of Russia. As Stalin consolidated his iron grip on power by murdering tens of millions of Soviet citizens (many of whom were priests, nuns and imams), Reagan looked on woefully at “this brutal campaign against religion.” And by the time he became President in 1981, he was determined to put an end to the tyranny of Lenin’s empire.
Reagan’s most consequential accomplishment as President was the central role he played in winning the Cold War. Reagan sought to roll back Soviet power around the globe by crafting policies that assisted antiCommunist insurgencies in Nicaragua, Afghanistan and Poland.
Contrary to last year’s fictitious (and almost comical) CBS miniseries “The Reagans,” which portrays him as the Antichrist determined to wage Armageddon, Reagan is a deeply spiritual man whose entire life, both private and public, has been shaped by Christianity. It was this spiritual worldview that gave him the moral strength to help defeat one of the greatest evils of the 20th Century. For that alone, we all owe him an immense debt of gratitude.