The Question of Good and Evil

This past weekend, an historian remarked that the twentieth century in America will be divided into two eras. The first half of the century will have been defined by Franklin Roosevelt and the second half by Ronald Reagan. I did not know Reagan well, but on the few occasions we met, I was struck by his personal gentleness and his compassion. He loved to tell the story of a ministry that we have been involved in, Agape House in Jefferson City, Missouri, which houses people when they come to visit their family members in the nearby prison. He would talk about Agape House with a bit of a lump in his throat. He honestly cared. But that's not the reason he will define the second half of the twentieth century. He will define it because he had the boldness to make a sharp break with American foreign policy by calling evil by its right name. Whether it came from a well formed Christian worldview or from his unfailing intuition, Reagan defined good and evil in a way that reflected Christian truth, and this is what changed the course of history. I was with Richard Nixon as he tried to navigate through an unpopular war in Southeast Asia and played the Chinese and the Soviets against one another to keep the communist bloc from uniting. We were tough with our military response in Vietnam but at the same time offered all kinds of goodies to the Soviets. We believed that we needed to come to an understanding with the Soviets, to control the arms race, to co-exist without the constant threat of destroying one another, and to de-escalate the Cold War. Nixon knew that the Russians were willing to outspend us on arms, and he was not getting the support he needed from Congress. The best policy, we determined, was détente: Try to make agreements and stabilize the balance of power in the world. President Ford embraced and even advanced exactly the same policy. So did President Carter. But when Reagan was elected, all of that changed. He started talking about the "Evil Empire." At one time I thought he was being overly simplistic and said so in Christianity Today. But he was right; I was wrong. Reagan dared to challenge the Soviets on the basis of morality -- good versus evil. Freedom and democracy were good, tyranny and communism evil. And so at the Berlin Wall, Reagan challenged Soviet tyranny with the unforgettable words, "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!" And it came down, and the Iron Curtain came down along with it. When I was in the Soviet Union in 1990, I met with groups of dissidents, mostly Christians who had been underground. We could see then that the Soviet Union was crumbling, and I asked everyone I met the same question: "What is causing the demise of the Soviet Union?" Every dissident gave me the same one-word answer: "Reagan." It's part of Reagan's enduring heritage as well that President George W. Bush has completely embraced this Reaganesque and distinctly Christian view of the world. As the greatest of all dissidents, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, pointed out, we in the comfortable West have lost our sense of good and evil and of world struggle. We've abandoned our Christian worldview and become content with our materialistic abundance and the ease it purchases. But in the gulags they never lost sight of good and evil, and to his everlasting credit, neither did Ronald Reagan. For further reading and information: You can send condolences to the Mrs. Reagan at this website. See the funeral schedule. "Announcing the Death of Ronald Reagan," by the President of the United States, a Proclamation, White House Office of the Press Secretary, 6 June 2004. The president has appointed June 11, 2004, a National Day of Mourning. "President's Remarks on the Passing of President Ronald Reagan," Ambassador's Residence, Paris, France, White House Office of the Press Secretary, 5 June 2004. See Michael Reagan's statement on the passing of his father. See biographical information about President Reagan on the White House website. Visit the website for The Ronald Reagan Presidential Library. Visit this tribute website for Ronald Reagan sponsored by Young America's Foundation. At the bottom of this page, you can see President Reagan's speech card for his remarks at the Berlin Wall. President Ronald Reagan, "Remarks at Ecumenical Prayer Breakfast in Dallas, Texas," 23 August 1984. Read President Reagan's speech at Normandy, France, on June 6, 1984 on the fortieth anniversary of D-Day. Ronald Reagan, "A Time for Choosing," Wall Street Journal, 6 June 2004. This is Reagan's October 27, 1964, speech in support of Barry Goldwater. has many articles on Ronald Reagan. See also Heritage Foundation's Tribute to Reagan. Ted Olsen, "Weblog: Remembering Ronald Reagan," Christianity Today, 7 June 2004. Paul Kengor, "The Intellectual Origins of Ronald Reagan's Faith," Heritage Lecture #842, The Heritage Foundation, 30 April 2004. Ben Berkowitz, "Family Mourns as America Pays Tribute to Reagan," Reuters, 7 June 2004. Alec Russell and Andrew Sparrow, "Thatcher's taped eulogy at Reagan funeral," (London) Telegraph, 7 June 2004. Jeff Wilson, "Reagan's Family Holds Private Service," Reuters, 7 June 2004. Pat Nolan, "Reagan: A Kind and Good Man," BreakPoint Online, 7 June 2004. Peggy Noonan, "Thanks from a Grateful Country," Wall Street Journal, 7 June 2004. David Brooks, "Reagan's Promised Land," New York Times, 8 June 2004. Free registration required. Masha Gessen, "One True Thing," New Republic, 8 June 2004. John Fund, "Freedom's Team," Wall Street Journal, 7 June 2004. "The Reagan Restoration," Wall Street Journal, 7 June 2004. George Will, "An Optimist's Legacy," Washington Post, 6 June 2004, B07. Oliver North, "Forever grateful,", 7 June 2004. Doug Gamble, "Funnyman Reagan," National Review Online, 7 June 2004. See National Review Online's Reagan archive. BreakPoint Commentary No. 80219, "Balancing the Budget: Ronald Reagan's Legacy." Free registration required. Peggy Noonan, When Character Was King (Viking Press, 2001). Kiron K. Skinner, et al. (eds.), Reagan: A Life in Letters (Free Press, 2003). Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, "A World Split Apart," commencement address at Harvard University, 8 June 1978.


Chuck Colson



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