I started Julie Nixon Eisenhower's Pat Nixon: The Untold Story. Julie was the youngest daughter of Richard and Pat Nixon.
I'll do in this post is quote a passage of the book that stood out to
me, and then comment. This will probably end up being a rambling post!
Ryan was Pat Nixon's father. When he was slowly dying, his sister,
Annie, came to help out his family, and she was trying to persuade Will
to re-embrace Catholicism. Will refused, until one day he expressed
interest in spending his days in a Catholic sanitorium. Will's son Tom
was surprised, so Will explained his preference to his son: "It's all
right to live without religion, but it's not all right to die without
That's actually a pretty provocative statement! And it
reminds me of things that some of my own relatives have said. "My
brother became religious and is going to church because he knows he's
going to die soon, and he wants to enter the pearly gates," one of my
relatives (not my own brother!) said. "Christianity should be a way of
life!" This one relative was actually making the opposite point to what
Will Ryan said, for my relative was saying that Christianity should be
about how we live our life, not a last-minute decision before we die.
And this relative's father was one who developed a sudden interest in
religion near the tail end of his life. This relative's father wanted
to be baptized in a river, not a bathtub, because the water of the
river runs and flows, and he thought that would take away his sins!
Ryan may have wanted to enter the pearly gates. Or perhaps he felt
that religion could provide him with comfort in the insecure time of his
death. Maybe it was a combination of the two. I don't judge people
for having that sentiment. At the same time, I do believe that
Christianity should be a way of life, not simply something that one
embraces shortly before one dies.
Is religion necessary for one to
have good character? Well, I believe that it can provide some people
with a sense of moral responsibility and aspiration. What kind of man
was Will Ryan, according to Julie? Julie, perhaps relying on her mother
Pat's testimony, depicts him as one who loved to read and to learn, and
yet he could get quite drunk. Could religion have made him a better
person by setting him on the straight and narrow? Maybe, but there were
probably reasons that he did not accept religion: he may not have
wanted to be constricted by pressures to be perfect, or there were other
things on his mind.
I've been reading the Book of Job lately, and
a theme that comes up, in both the speeches of Job and his friends, is
the person who chooses not to think about God. This person is not
interested in learning about God's ways, and he only calls on God in
times of extreme peril. He does not listen to God, but instead goes out
and commits adultery or oppresses others for personal gain. I know
that most atheists are not that bad, and that many who don't believe in
the Jewish and Christian God try to live moral lives. At the same time,
I can somewhat sympathize with this theme of Job: that it can be
valuable for a person to seek to learn God's ways and to be in
relationship with God, for that can endow a person with a sense of moral
responsibility and aspiration.
I should mention another time when
religion came up in my latest reading of Julie's book. Pat's mother,
Kate, died when Pat was a teenager. Kate was friends with a nice
Christian Science lady, and Kate was occasionally attending a Christian
Scientist church. Kate did not consult a medical doctor about her
illness, and she soon died. Julie says that Kate may not have chosen to
see a doctor on account of her Christian Scientist friend's influence,
or simply out of "her own determination not to give in to her illness"
(page 25). Whether seeing a doctor would have helped Kate, I don't
know, for "cancer of the liver" was what was put on Kate's death
certificate. In any case, Kate's Christian Scientist friend was helpful
to Kate's family after Kate had died, as she gathered clothes to dress
Kate up for her funeral, which was held at the Christian Scientist
church. The Christian Scientist religion may have given this friend a
generosity of spirit, and yet it may not have helped Kate.
were some of the times when religion intersected with Pat's early life.
I've read in more than one place (not in Julie's book, but elsewhere)
that Pat was an agnostic. It will be interesting to see if Julie
addresses religion later in this book.
UPDATE: On page 267, Julie says: "Since their marriage, my mother and father had not attached themselves to a particular denomination, choosing in each place they lived a church which provided a happy medium between my father's Quaker upbringing and the Methodist services Mother had attended as a child." And, on page 402, Julie tells the story of when her mother told a group
of women to pray for the press. When a reporter then asked Pat if the
press needs prayers, Pat replied, "We all do. Who doesn't?"
4 hours ago