Retrospectives on Ronald Reagan as the nation marks the centennial of his birth will touch upon every imaginable aspect of the man. I suspect, however, that the thing most integral to the man, and most consistent throughout his life — that is, his religious faith — will not be as front and center as it should.
That was something I learned quite unintentionally. It began in the summer 2001, when I was at the Reagan library researching what I thought would be a fairly conventional biography. I scoured a fascinating cache of documents called the Handwriting File. There, I glimpsed Reagan’s literal input, in speeches, proclamations, you name it. And it was there, in marked-up drafts of speeches such as the “Evil Empire” address, that I encountered an intensely religious Reagan, a man making constant, seamless references to God. I found eye-opening private letters, including one where Reagan employed C.S. Lewis’ classic “liar, Lord, or lunatic” argument to, essentially, evangelize the Christian message.
As I dug deeper, I found a Christian faith inculcated carefully, winsomely, by figures from Reagan’s youth, from his mother, Nelle, to his pastor, Ben Cleaver, impacting the entirety of his life and thinking, from his views on communism to the sanctity of human life.