Ronald Reagan's American God

Ronald Reagan's American God
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As Ronald Reagan appealed to the essential goodness of Americans, he articulated a conception of God that was singularly American. Reagan's God was not specifically the God of the Bible, but the supreme being of American civil religion.

When Reagan gave his 1974 speech to the Conservative Political Action Committee, he expressed his belief that "there was some divine plan that placed this great continent between two oceans to be sought out by those who were possessed of an abiding love of freedom." He used the same imagery when he gave his 1980 nomination speech on the floor of the Republican National Convention and when he spoke at the centennial celebration of the Statue of Liberty in New York City in 1986.

For Reagan, God had a particular love for America, setting aside a continent separated by oceans and hidden from civilization until the fullness of time came when God made it a beacon "to be found by a special kind of people from every corner of the world." America was God's instrument to shelter the oppressed, defend the defenseless, and secure the peace of the world.

For Reagan, America was nothing without God, but God almost seemed powerless without America. He often used Lincoln's expression, that America was "the last, best hope of mankind." He was fond of quoting Pope Pius XII, whom according to Reagan said, "Into the hands of America God has placed the destinies of an afflicted mankind."

Christianity teaches that God took on flesh in the Incarnation of Christ to make atonement for sin and redeem humanity, but Reagan's God looked to America to save the world.

When Reagan offered eulogies for fallen servicemen and women, his conception of an American God was most evident. For Reagan, nothing was more precious in the sight of America's God than the death of his saints, namely, those who wore an American uniform. When he paid tribute to the 248 soldiers of the 101st Airborne Division who were tragically killed in a plane crash on December 12, 1985, he prayed, "Receive, O Lord, into your heavenly kingdom the men and women of the 101st Airborne, the men and women of the great and fabled Screaming Eagles. They must be singing now, in their joy, flying higher than mere man can fly and as flights of angels take them to their rest."

Eternal salvation, for Reagan, was a certainty for all who died championing America's causes.

Taken from American Exceptionalism and Civil Religion by John D. Wilsey. Used by permission of InterVarsity Press.

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