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Ron Reagan Jr, atheist

Mark D. Tooley
Mark Tooley is the president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy (IRD).

The other night late on television there was a brief ad with President Reagan’s son touting the Freedom from Religion Foundation (FRF), the “nation’s largest, most effective association of atheists and agnostics,” it boasts.

“I’m Ron Reagan, unabashed atheist,” he explained. “And I’m alarmed by the intrusion by religion into our secular government.” He urged keeping church and state separate “just as the Founding Fathers intended.” Then he signed off as a “lifelong atheist. Not afraid of burning in hell.”

Ten years ago Reagan Jr. got the annual “Emperor Has No Clothes Award” award from FRF and explained his life journey away from his parents’ Christianity, which apparently wasn’t fully lifelong but began in later childhood. He didn’t like spending much of every Sunday driving a half hour each way to two-hour worship services at Bel Air Presbyterian Church.

Reagan Jr. asked his father why church was necessary if God was everywhere, and his father avuncularly answered: “Well, you know, God says, wherever two or more shall gather, there shall I be.” Reagan Jr. was unimpressed by the answer. He also had unanswerable questions about the sequence of cavemen versus Adam and Eve. So at age 12 he announced to his father he didn’t believe in God and would no longer attend church. His father was surprised but didn’t argue, going to church with Nancy but without their son.

Later Reagan Sr. tried “quiet persuasion” at “some length” but failed to persuade his son about God or church. So he asked Bel Air Pastor Don Moomaw, a formidable former UCLA football player and large personality, to visit the Reagan home and persuade his son, also without success. Reagan Jr. has ever since been a firm atheist, ostensibly respecting others’ religious beliefs but opposing their political application.

“Religion may indeed inspire acts of great kindness and courage,” he told FRF in 2009. “But it also trains people to believe things for which there is no evidence. This makes religion’s intrusion into the political sphere all the more troubling.” He cited gay marriage, abortion, stem cell research, and President George W. Bush’s support for “torture” despite his religion.

Reagan Jr. expressed confidence that atheism would eventually prevail over religion:

Religions may persist, but they come and they go. Where are the old Norse gods today? Where are the worshippers of Amon-Ra today? A thousand years from now, what will people make of a man tortured to death on a cross, of a prophet who was said to ride a white horse up to a mythical heaven?

“Faith will fade, religions will flower and vanish, but reason remains,” Reagan Jr. concluded. “Reason is where I put my faith, if you will. Reason is where I stand, and I am happy to stand there with you.”

Apparently Reagan Jr.’s 2009 speech to FRF was a hit because he was invited back in 2015, rehashing earlier memories about rejecting church to his father, offering cartoonish caricatures about Bible stories, claiming religion never explains why evil exists, blaming belief in God for climate change denial, defending Planned Parenthood, and denouncing the “bigotry” of the small town county clerk in Kentucky who wouldn’t sanction same sex marriage.

Reagan Jr. didn’t confine his critique to Christianity and chided Islam for its “oppression” of women and for creating cultures in places like Saudi Arabia that are “not worth preserving” because they’re “repressive.”

How is “oppression” defined?” Reagan Jr. didn’t explain as presumably it’s self-evident. He insisted atheists aren’t just critics:

We believe in truth, we believe in beauty, we believe in a shared humanity. These are things worth fighting for. And don’t forsake the numinous and the transcendent either.

What is truth? Reagan Jr. like other atheists believes it’s based on reason alone. And he’s sort of an evangelist for this sort of reason, because apparently it’s important for everyone to know the truth, even though they are accidents of creation and destined to oblivion.

Reagan Jr.’s ad for FFR was made in 2014 but wasn’t accepted by most networks until 2017, arousing predictable controversy. His older stepbrother Michael Reagan denounced networks for airing the ad and insisted his father was “crying in heaven,” having once confided, after hearing Reagan Jr.’s atheism spiel at the dinner table, his hope that his atheist son would become a Christian.

The ad appropriately appears now late at night with loan sharks and psychics, selling a message that is negation, making claims that from its own perspective shouldn’t matter. Hopefully the father’s prayer some day will be answered.

Originally posted at Juicy Ecumenism. 

Mark Tooley became president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy (IRD) in 2009. He joined IRD in 1994 to found its United Methodist committee (UMAction). He is also editor of IRD's foreign policy and national security journal, Providence. Follow Mark on Twitter @markdtooley.

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