While researching for his recent book, Presidential Courage: Brave Leaders and How They Changed America, 1789-1989, presidential historian Michael Beschloss found evidence of the importance of religious faith in many of our nation’s presidents. One very interesting story is one that he records of a private conversation between President Ronald Reagan and Michail Gorbachev in their next-to-last summit in 1988 which was held in Moscow. Below is Beschloss’ account of this exchange:
Reagan said that now that he and Mikhail were “friends,” he wanted to tell him something in secret. If it ever leaked, he said, he’d deny he had ever said it.
Reagan told Gorbachev it was his “kind of personal dream” that Gorbachev would let all Soviet citizens attend “the church of their choice.”
Disgruntled, Gorbachev insisted that the Soviets had “evolved” beyond such primitive practices as religion. Taking the offensive, he asked Reagan why Americans did not give full rights to nonbelievers.
Reagan retorted, “They do.” He said his own son Ron was “an atheist, although he calls himself an agnostic.”
Gorbachev tried to change the subject by proposing a joint mission to Mars.
Smiling, Reagan changed it back, saying that Mars was “in the direction of heaven,” but not as close as what he had mentioned. He told Gorbachev he’d always yearned to serve his atheist son “a perfect gourmet dinner, have him enjoy the meal, then ask him if he believed there was a cook.”
Tired of arguing, Gorbachev said, “The only possible answer is yes.”
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