God and Ronald Reagan: A Spiritual Life

Paul Kengor, Author ReganBooks $26.95 (402p) ISBN 978-0-06-057141-2
This engaging if hagiographic study argues the seemingly obvious point that the former President's outlook was shaped by his religious beliefs. Political scientist and Hoover Institution fellow Kengor has pored over Reagan's letters and speeches to glean examples of his faith, from his youth as a Disciples of Christ stalwart and Sunday school teacher to his 1988 trip to Moscow, where he lectured Communists from Gorbachev on down on the importance of religious freedom. More devotional than scholarly, Kengor's treatment emphasizes the ex-president's affinities with evangelical Protestantism; Reagan""invited Christ into his life,"" acknowledged God's""special plan"" for him, believed in end-times prophecy and even had his presidency foretold by the Holy Spirit during a prayer circle. Readers troubled by reports of astrology at the Reagan White House are assured that it determined scheduling, not policy, and that only Nancy was really into it. Kengor accepts the links Reagan himself drew between his religious beliefs and his politics, on social issues like school prayer, sex education, and abortion, and most importantly on his anti-Communism, which harped on Soviet religious persecution and consistently identified atheism as Communism's original sin. But the spiritual rootedness Kengor highlights is not exactly of Gandhian proportions. As he too briefly acknowledges, many of Reagan's pious formulations, like the""shining city on a hill"" motif and the imprecations against Communist godlessness, were commonplaces of America's""civil religion."" In other words, sometimes it's hard to tell where spirituality ends and rhetoric begins.
Reviewed on: 02/01/2004
Release date: 02/01/2004
Ebook - 432 pages - 978-0-06-174431-0
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Paperback - 419 pages - 978-0-06-057142-9
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