Image via WikipediaIn the Washington Post, the authorized Reagan biographer Edmund Morris (also a biographer of Theodore Roosevelt), takes aim at five myths about Reagan. Here is an especially interesting and fascinating excerpt:
4. He was only a campaign Christian.
On the contrary, Reagan was a "practical Christian," that being the name of a mainly Midwestern, social-work-oriented movement when he was growing up. At 11, young Dutch had an epiphany, prompted by the sight of his alcoholic father lying dead drunk on the front porch of the family house in Dixon, Ill. In a moving passage of autobiography, Reagan wrote: "Seeing his arms spread out as if he were crucified - as indeed he was - his hair soaked with melting snow, snoring as he breathed, I could feel no resentment against him." It was the season of Lent, and his mother, a devotee of the Disciples of Christ, put a comforting novel in his hand: "That Printer of Udell's" by Harold Bell Wright. Dutch read it and told her, "I want to declare my faith and be baptized." He was, by total immersion, on June 21, 1922.
I read a speckled copy of that book in the Library of Congress. Almost creepily, it tells the story of a handsome Midwestern boy who makes good for the sins of his father by becoming a practical Christian and a spellbinding orator. He develops a penchant for brown suits and welfare reform, marries a wide-eyed girl (who listens adoringly to his speeches) and wins election to public office in Washington.
Shy about his faith as an adult, Reagan was capable of conventional pieties like all American politicians. He attended few church services as president. But on occasion, before critical meetings, you would see him draw aside and mumble prayers.
Wow. I had read previously about his mother, a Bible-believing evangelical Protestant very active in her local Disciples of Christ church. I recall reading that some thought she had the charism of healing. If you visit Dixon, Illinois, as I did once on a car trip through northern Illinois several years ago, you can see one of the Reagan childhood homes (not owned but rented), the small town library down the street where, as I recall, he spent a lot of time, and the local Disciples of Christ church which he and his mother attended (see link for information and images of these local sites). (Reagan's alcoholic father was of Catholic background, but Ronald was apparently never baptized as Catholic. As noted in the excerpt above, Ronald was baptized at an older age, 11, as is customary in many evangelical, Baptist-derived traditions.)
The power of faith, providence, and destiny is fascinating. Think of this story and imagine the possibilities of passing on to a young person a good book and opening for them the door of faith and achievement. The possibilities are literally mind-boggling. I also recommend visiting Dixon, Illinois, to see the best America offers.