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Theodore Roosevelt

Theodore Roosevelt

McKinley's successor did not leave such an extensive exhibit of his religious tenets. Roosevelt, at sixteen, had joined the Dutch Reformed Church, and was the second president of that denomination. Martin Van Buren having been the other. In Washington, Roosevelt and his family attended the Grace Reformed Church regularly. His mother and his second wife were Episcopalians. He had decided views on religion and the Bible. He believed and practiced a "muscular Christianity," a religion of confidence and action. One of his favorite texts was from James 1:22, "Be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves." His gospel of life, appropriately expounded to one of the cowboy members of the Rough Riders, was: "Get action; do things; don't fritter away your time; create; act; take a place wherever you are and be somebody." In line with these sentiments of wishing to be in the center of the stage it was said that he never attended a funeral without secretly wishing to be the corpse, and never graced a wedding where he did not long to be the bride.

Roosevelt’s "muscle Christianity" showed in the following incidents: At the San Antonio Fairgrounds where the Rough Riders were encamped prior to their going to Cuba during the Spanish-American War, a veterinarian's son reminded Teddy "You said you would swear me in when you got to San Antonio." In characteristic fashion, T.R. reached for a small Bible on the far side of the table - he usually kept a Bible within easy reach. Grinning, Roosevelt extended the Bible, motioned for the young man to place one hand on it, with the other raised, T.R, quoted the oath and had the youth repeat it. "Hah!" Teddy roared, "Now you are a full-fledged Rough Rider." Later, aboard ship on the way to Cuba, early on Sunday, June 19, 1898, a young man put out his washing then went to church on the after deck. He sat beside Roosevelt in the choir, and heard the Reverend Henry Brown preach a sermon on "Respect". The minister made a very favorable impression on the future president, for, later, as Roosevelt took leave of the Rough Riders, he turned to Chaplain Brown and said: "Chaplain, you had done noble work. There is no time like the present to give expression to the feeling we all bear you. You are as brave as any man in the regiment. When we went up that hill, l even caught you with a carbine in your hand. Your action on the firing line and your unrelenting care for the wounded when you would go into the midst of the shower of lead to minister to the men's wants deserve the highest praise.”

The fact that T.R.'s religion was hardly of the kind of that of McKinley is evidenced by his writing. He stated: "Life is a long campaign where every victory leaves the ground free for another battle, and sooner or later defeat comes to every man, unless death forestalls it. But the final defeat, does not and should not cancel out the triumph." Intellectually and morally he was as many sided as he was emotionally. He was a Darwinist - the survival of the fittest school of thought. He believed that man and the higher anthropoids had developed from creatures which originally possessed "only such mental attributes as a mollusk or crustacean of today." Identifying man with the entire living kingdom, he suggested that, the higher animals thought and trained their young, endowing them with both "intellectual and moral traits." He was disinclined to talk about mystical religion, and repeatedly stated that his religion consisted of good works. But this doctrine scarcely suggested immortality to him. He went to church, not because he felt he needed it, but to "act an example."

The many-sideness of T.R.'s character showed in the nature and extent of his faith. While ho regarded life an a campaign, with earthly limitations, one authority held that all T.R. said and did was undergirded by his faith in the overruling Providence of God. He knew the Bible well and continually refreshed his spirit by its message. The passage upon which he chose to lay his hand when he was sworn into office typified his concept of religion, It was Micah 6:8: "He hath showed thee, 0 man, what is good; and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God." But he did not apply these requirements across the board in the secular world. He inveighed against the malefactors of great wealth; but it was never clear what really bothered him, and many of his malefactors of great wealth had a more serious social consciousness than he had, and were steadily contributing to the growth of the institutions that gave character to the American experience. Loving life as he did, he felt that death was the "final defeat," "a going out into the darkness," "when all things are the same to every man." Roosevelt frequently had remarked that death, under all circumstances is a tragedy. Mercifully, he was spared the knowledge of its approach, for he died in his sleep in his sixty-first year, June 6, 1019.

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Religion In The Lives Of The American Presidents

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Posted By: J.J. Burks

  1. Book:Series of Lectures: Religion In The Lives Of The American Presidents; Website
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Updated: 6-4-2016
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