Archive for the ‘ The Historical Muse ’ Category

Reagan & Chambers on the Liberty Fund Blog

The names Ronald Reagan and Whittaker Chambers show up frequently in this blog. I was asked to contribute a piece on them at the Liberty Fund blog. It ran yesterday. So in lieu of my usual blog today, I’m linking to Liberty Fund so you can enjoy [hopefully] that piece. Just go to

Chambers was pessimistic about the West’s survival; he didn’t think we still have the moral underpinnings to combat evil. Reagan was more optimistic; he believed freedom was the wave of the future. Which conservative icon was closer to the truth? I attempt to answer that in this article.

I will return tomorrow with an analysis of the results of last night’s primaries.


Whittaker Chambers: The Movie

For years, I have commented to as many people as I could that a movie needed to be made of the life of Whittaker Chambers. His story is one so dramatic, so significant historically, and so grounded in spiritual reality that it begs to be told.

Of course, he already has told it in his magisterial autobiography Witness. Clearly one of the seminal books of the twentieth century, it reveals the inner struggle of a man who grew up in a terrible family situation, gave himself over to the revolutionary communist faith, worked in the communist underground to undermine America’s government … then break from that faith to turn to God, where he found ultimate meaning for his life.

He then, in a real sense, gave his life to try to save America from the hidden enemy that wanted to destroy it. His “witness” to the Congress about what he knew of that underground, and the controversy over the role of Alger Hiss as one of his communist compatriots, became front-page news from 1948-1950.

Witness emerged in 1952 and raced to the top of the bestseller list. Yet so few know anything about Whittaker Chambers today.

I, however, have been so fascinated by his tale that I have a full semester course I teach on him and his wonderful book. I’ve also completed a book manuscript that will be published later this year that showcases the similarities and differences between Chambers and Ronald Reagan. The title will be The Witness and the President: Whittaker Chambers, Ronald Reagan, and the Future of Freedom. I’ll let you know when that’s available.

But the reason for this post today is that I discovered there are now seasoned professional filmmakers who are serious about chronicling Chambers’s life and his contribution to the soul of the nation. They need the financial wherewithal to make the film a reality and are seeking to find other interested individuals who can contribute to ensuring this production sees the light of day.

I urge you to visit the website that describes the vision for the film and to prayerfully consider helping with the costs of production. To view the site, just click here.

We are a largely superficial people who don’t think deeply about life and the consequences of our actions. This movie can be one important corrective to our societal malady. Please give it your support.

A Tale of Christian Martyrdom Well Told

I used my Christmas break to do some reading for a new course I’m developing: The American Republic, 1789-1848. The ideas and resources for the course are coming together. One of the books I’m definitely planning to use for this course is An American Betrayal: Cherokee Patriots and the Trail of Tears by Daniel Blake Smith.

As a Christian conservative who deeply appreciates the Biblical grounding of our earliest generations, I’m always alert to those who may try to undermine that understanding of the era. Yet both my Christian commitment and my training as a historian requires that I maintain integrity and put truth-telling ahead of what I would like to believe. In the case of the Cherokee tribe, the negation of Biblical principles by President Andrew Jackson and the government of Georgia, in particular, was abhorrent. The term “travesty of justice” is aptly applied to this event.

I would normally be suspicious of any book that simply bashed American policy, but Smith does a superb job of showing the complex nature of this entire situation. He does, with justice, reveal the bad attitudes, racism, and greed that was at work to force the Cherokees from their homeland. He also fingers those who named the name of Christ, yet allowed racist views to influence them. Whether some of these individuals were true Christians is unlikely.

But what shines through the book and its tale, for me, was the genuineness of Christian love the missionaries to the Cherokees had for this persecuted people and the authentic Christian faith of some of the Cherokee leaders. This is where the book departs from the traditional interpretation, and does so convincingly. The two most prominent Cherokee Christians were John Ridge and Elias Boudinot. They have come down to us, in most treatments of this event, as the “sellouts” who negotiated a bad treaty with the U.S. government that forced the Cherokees out of their land. Some accounts simply refer to them as businessmen just out to make a buck.

Smith disagrees. The Cherokee nation was split over the issue of removal. The chief, John Ross, held out to the end, trying to change the government’s mind, without success. He’s usually hailed as the hero of the tale. Smith, though, points to his stubbornness in the face of a done deal, and to the traditional Cherokees’ devotion to the land rather than to the survival of the tribe. It was Ridge and Boudinot who saw the handwriting on the proverbial wall and sought to place people’s lives over land. They wanted to help their people prosper in a new place, and they acted with the best of motives and with integrity.

Boudinot, in particular, worked with missionary Samuel Worcester to translate the Bible into the Cherokee language. Both Boudinot and Ridge suffered accusations of treason, and both eventually were murdered by the traditionalist Cherokees for helping uproot their people from their ancestral land. This was an early cultural war as missionaries and Christian Cherokees attempted to bring truth to these people. In effect, their murders were martydoms for the cause of Christ.

I highly recommend this book as a corrective to the simplistic interpretation too often placed on the Trail of Tears. No one is whitewashed in this account; those who were responsible for the tragedy are clearly named. Yet there is a sense of magnificence and redemption in the story as we read of those who gave their all for their faith.

Chambers, Reagan, & the Spiritual Crisis

I finished another semester last Friday. The goal of my teaching is always to point students to Biblical truth; history is the vehicle. At the end of my course covering the second half of American history—after I’ve spent weeks showcasing the loss of Biblical principles in America over the last century or so—I like to close the course with a couple of quotes from those who clearly witnessed this loss and sought to reverse it.

Whittaker Chambers and Ronald Reagan are two bright lights in a sea of political manipulation and a spreading humanistic worldview. They spoke eloquently about the need to return to the basic truths.

Chambers, in his magisterial autobiography Witness, offered a combination of affirmation and warning when he wrote,

External freedom is only an aspect of interior freedom. Political freedom, as the Western world has known it, is only a political reading of the Bible. Religion and freedom are indivisible. …

There has never been a society or a nation without God. But history is cluttered with the wreckage of nations that became indifferent to God, and died.

That last sentence is a chilling perspective, but I believe it is accurate. Chambers’s clarion call was to recognize the centrality of God in society, and to realize that indifference to spiritual truth will kill any society.

Reagan was roundly criticized when he called the Soviet Union the “Evil Empire.” Yet his description was correct. He worked hard to build the American military again after it fell into political disfavor through the Vietnam tragedy, but in that so-called “Evil Empire” speech, he constantly returned to a spiritual theme, earnestly hoping that those who live in darkness might find true life in the Lord. One of his key lines was the following:

While America’s military strength is important … I’ve always maintained that the struggle now going on for the world will never be decided by bombs or rockets, by armies or military might. The real crisis we face today is a spiritual one; at root, it is a test of moral will and faith.

I like to use these quotes at the end of the course to remind students that the only path out of any manifestation of spiritual darkness is to shine the light of Biblical truth. My job is to plant the seeds; God causes the seeds to sprout and grow into viable fruit.

Chambers and Reagan also happen to be the subjects of my new book being published next year. My hope is that it too will be a seed that God can use to help turn back the tide of unbelief. We are a nation on the brink of complete disintegration if we don’t change the foundations upon which we are now building. Yet where God is, and where His people, no matter how small a remnant, stay faithful, there is always the possibility that real change can occur.

Keep the faith.

A Word of Wisdom from the Past

A voice from the American past has a message for us today. His name was James Garfield, who was elected president in 1880. Four years earlier, on the centennial anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, Congressman Garfield—who also was an ordained Disciples of Christ minister—offered this sage insight in a speech commemorating American independence:

Now more than ever before, the people are responsible for the character of their Congress. If that body be ignorant, reckless, and corrupt, it is because the people tolerate ignorance, recklessness, and corruption. If it be intelligent, brave, and pure, it is because the people demand these high qualities to represent them in the national legislature. …

If the next centennial does not find us a great nation … it will be because those who represent the enterprise, the culture, and the morality of the nation do not aid in controlling the political forces.

In short, the Congress, and the government as a whole, are, in the words of a common cliché, merely a reflection of the people who put them in power. If our current Congress is corrupt, we have only ourselves to blame. If the presidency has been debased by class-warfare ideology, again we have to point the finger at ourselves.

Will we learn our lesson after what we have endured the past three years? The 2010 congressional elections show some promise that we have, but we’ll have to wait until November 2012 to know for sure.

The Totalitarianism of Government Compassion

Let me just speak from the heart today without any cartoons. I’m deeply disturbed by a number of developments in our nation, but one comes to the forefront of my mind this morning as I sit to write. Unless this is changed, there is no hope for turning around the trajectory of our culture.

In the Roman Empire, government officials had to come up with ingenious ways to keep the populace under control. So many of the people were unemployed that there was always a fear of the people rising up against the government. To keep them occupied, the officials provided “entertainments” such as gladiatorial contests, etc. To keep them fat and happy, they increased government handouts. The combination produced a docile and subservient population, looking to the government as savior. Eventually, the empire transferred the responsibility for defending itself to non-Romans so that the Romans could bask in their indolence. We know how that ended.

The United States has learned all the wrong lessons from Rome. While I am no fan of the income tax and would like to see it replaced by another system that would be more fair, it nevertheless provides a marker to determine who is providing the financial wherewithal to conduct business as a government. Currently, we are approaching the 50% mark for those who pay no income tax at all. All government operations are funded by the other 50%. What does this portend for the future? Does anyone think the 50% who pay no tax will ever vote for a party that promises to ensure that everyone pays toward the maintenance of the government? Or will they instead vote to continue the free ride for themselves?

This is also the 50% that receives the bulk of government welfare. They feel they deserve to continue receiving it. They will vote in such a way as to ensure it never changes. So we are rapidly reaching the place where the current system will be locked in; there will be no hope for change.

That’s where the Obama administration wants us to go. And it is this president’s goal to play the Marxist, class-warfare game in his bid for reelection.

Here’s where it gets even more disturbing for me: many Christians fall for it.

They think this is the compassionate approach. They equate it with Christ’s call to help the poor, when in fact all it does is create more poor. It also cultivates a mentality that is dependent on the government for sustenance. In essence, it sets up the government as the secular god. Once Christians take that stance, no matter how much they may protest their primary allegiance is to Christ, in practical terms they look to the government first. They have adopted a form of idolatry.

Harsh words? I speak them advisedly.

I want to see the church be the church once again. I want Christians to be set free from reliance on an anti-christian philosophy of government. Accepting government as the provider of all good things is one step from accepting totalitarianism. And once the government controls everything, don’t expect that you will be allowed to have religious liberty. You will learn too late that you have sold out for mammon. What’s worse, you will have dragged the rest of us into the same morass.

It’s time to wake up and heed the warnings. A vote for Obama and/or anyone who shares his philosophy is a vote toward this totalitarianism.

I can hear some people thinking: Oh, you’re just a Republican ranting against Democrats. No, I’m a Christian sincerely seeking to reestablish a Biblical way of thinking in our society. Anyone, Democrat or Republican, who takes us down the road to totalitarianism is working against the principles of the Kingdom of God. My allegiance is to Biblical truth, not to the Republican platform.

In the attempt to obtain what we call “social justice,” let’s not overturn justice itself.

Help for Your Christmas Shopping

I know you’re Christmas shopping, so please indulge a little shameless self-promotion. Actually, I’m promoting ideas, not myself; it just happens that I wrote down the ideas, that’s all. May I interest you in a few books?

If you know someone who needs to think through how Biblical principles apply to civil government, you might consider sending them If the Foundations Are Destroyed. In it, I outline seven basic principles through which we can gain perspective on basic truths God has established. The applications are both personal and governmental. Each chapter begins with a Scriptural overview of a principle, followed by how that principle has been obeyed or ignored in history, with the resultant consequences. I don’t claim this is the final word on what those principles are, but I do believe it’s a good introduction to thinking Biblically.

If you’re more oriented toward a biography, particularly of a man who made a significant impact on early America, you might want to check out Defining Noah Webster: A Spiritual Biography. Webster earned the title of Schoolmaster to America for his famous speller, his other various textbooks, and his monumental dictionary. Key to understanding Webster is the conversion he experienced at age fifty. From that point on, everything he wrote exhibited his solid Christian faith. Even his dictionary was an instrument for advancing knowledge of God and His ways. For those of you who are involved in homeschooling, I’ll just mention that Michael Farris, founder of the Home School Legal Defense Association and Patrick Henry College, wrote the foreword to the book.

Finally, there’s Mission: Impeachable—The House Managers and the Historic Impeachment of President Clinton. Written in 2001, and a main selection in the Conservative Book Club that year, this book is the only one on the market that gives the House Managers a chance to tell their story. Why did they feel it was so important to continue to push for the removal of this man from the presidency in spite of public opinion polls that told them they should desist? What principles guided them in their quest for justice? I interviewed all thirteen of the House Managers and incorporated those interviews into the text. Each chapter focuses on a manager, providing personal background, contributions to the impeachment process, and an analysis of each one’s significance to this historic event. I’m grateful to Dr. Marvin Olasky, editor-in-chief of World magazine, for writing the foreword for Mission: Impeachable. This book is out of print, but used copies are available online, in good shape, for a very low price.

For more detail on each book, you can click on “My Books” at the top of this page. For ordering, I recommend the Barnes and Noble website, since Amazon has some confusion about the different editions.

I have another one in the works for which I just signed a contract with a publisher. It should be out by mid-2012. The title is The Witness and the President: Whittaker Chambers, Ronald Reagan, and the Future of Freedom. I’ve labored over this book for a number of years now; it comes from the heart. I’ll certainly let you know when it’s available.

Merry Christmas shopping. Hope I helped.