'God's Plan' Guided Reagan's Life

By Lakely, James G. | The World and I, August 2004 | Go to article overview

'God's Plan' Guided Reagan's Life


Lakely, James G., The World and I


James G. Lakely is a writer for The Washington Times.

Ronald Reagan--who endured an alcoholic father, a poor childhood, uncertain college prospects, a failed marriage, political isolation in Hollywood, a declining movie career, a failed presidential bid, and an assassination attempt--found solace to help him endure life's trials.

It was his faith.

Though he was criticized during his presidency for not attending church services regularly, Reagan's unfailing faith in God--and what he knew in his soul was God's plan for him--never wavered, and gave him strength to the end, according to biographers.

Paul Kengor, author of God and Ronald Reagan: A Spiritual Life, said Reagan's "Christian commitment" was the least-appreciated aspect about a man so many struggled to understand.

"He was very devout," said Kengor, a political science professor at Grove City College in Pennsylvania. "He got that from his mother."The one word that underpinned Reagan's political philosophy--other than conservatism--was optimism, Kengor said. And Reagan believed that optimism was "God-given" to all people.

"The man even looked at Alzheimer's optimistically," Kengor said. "Reagan believed that Alzheimer's is what God had chosen for him. It was God's plan for how Reagan would die, and he believed that we have no reason to question God. Reagan truly believed that even something that negative could be part of God 's plan. We don't quite appreciate how eternal his optimism was."

One of Reagan's favorite metaphors for describing the America he loved was a "shining city on a hill." This is a paraphrase of Matthew 5:14: "Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hid." Using it as a metaphor for America, Reagan cited Puritan leader John Winthrop's 1630 sermon before the founding of the Massachusetts Bay Colony: "We will be as a city upon a hill. The eyes of all people are upon us."

The "shining city on a hill" metaphor, as much as anything, revealed Reagan's "fundamental outlook on reality," said Peter Robinson, a fellow at the Hoover Institution and the author of How Ronald Reagan Changed My Life.

Robinson spoke to Judge William P. Clark--a former Reagan national security adviser and Reagan's chief of staff when he was governor of California--to "ask not about Reagan's policies, but about his interior life." Clark--whom official Reagan biographer Edmund Morris considered "the man spiritually closest to Ronald Reagan"--told Robinson that the former president was "a man of prayer."

And his favorite setting for speaking to God was the outdoors. "He didn't need a church to pray in," Clark explained in Robinson's book. "He referred to his ranch as an open cathedral with oak trees for walls."

On trail rides, the president and Clark would often recite the famous prayer of St. Francis of Assisi, which opens: "Lord, make me an instrument of Thy peace. …

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