I started Julie Nixon Eisenhower’s Pat Nixon: The Untold Story. Julie was the youngest daughter of Richard and Pat Nixon.
What 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!
Will 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 it.”
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!
Will 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.
These 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?”