In Search of the City on a Hill: The Making and Unmaking of an American Myth is written by Richard M. Gamble, Hillsdale College professor and Ruling Elder in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. Today we focus on Ronald Reagan with excerpts you can find in the sixth chapter.
Between 1981 and 1989 Ronald Reagan mentioned the “city on a hill” in more than 20 speeches. Reagan described his vision of the city:
I’ve spoken of the shining city on a hill all my political life, but I don’t know if I ever quite communicated what I saw when I said it. But in my mind it was a tall proud city built on rocks stronger than oceans, wind-swept, God-blessed, and teeming with people of all kinds living in harmony and peace, a city with free ports that hummed with commerce and creativity, and if there had to be walls, the walls had doors and the doors were open to anyone with the will and heart to get here.
Perhaps that kind of statement is the reason why historian John Patrick Diggins
concluded Reagan’s theology had little to do with seventeenth-century Calvinist views of God’s sovereignty, man’s depravity, and Christianity’s call to a life of repentance and self-denial. Indeed, Reagan’s optimism aligned him more closely with Ralph Waldo Emerson and the Transcendentalists’ Over Soul than anything resembling Puritanism.
We have seen how John F. Kennedy used “city on a hill,” but Reagan took it further:
Ironically, American evangelicals’ favorite president did more than any other figure in history to take a piece of their Christian identity away from them. …he also removed the last traces of the city’s ancient Christian and later English Puritan nuances…Reagan transformed Jesus’ metaphor into a political slogan inseparable from the 1980’s “Reagan Revolution”… for Regan it became a an expression of modern political, economic and religious freedom and a tool of American anti-communism.
…The Republicans, he said, ought to spread their message of “a future economic growth and opportunity and democratic revolution and peace among nations.” He than emphasized America’s “destiny” and “great calling” and and appealed to the “shining city,” a city aglow with the light of human freedom, a light that someday will cast its glow on every dark corner of the world and on every age and generation to come.”
The final page of Chapter Six includes the following summation:
…because exceptionalism has tangled up within it the problems of civil religion, it may well be that the deepest fault lies today in American culture not along the obvious divide between religious and irreligious people but along the largely overlooked divide between religious orthodoxy and Americanism. …Ronald Reagan guaranteed that for many years – and perhaps forever – the American nation and the city on a hill would be fused into one indistinguishable symbol of universal benevolence. The confusion of kingdoms evident in America’s identity as the city on a hill narrows the debate over the American identity to false options. It also renders Christians oblivious to the boundaries between the two cities they inhabit. Such confusion of kingdoms makes the common life that Christians and non-Christians share in this world more difficult than it already is. Sorting out all the confusion requires knowing the difference between the city on a hill and the City of Man.
We have previously watched a Reagan “city on a hill” clip. Now here’s Sarah Palin quoting both Reagan and “city on a hill:”