All posts by Bryan Morey

I'm a museum Collections Specialist at the Missouri Historical Society. I'm currently cataloging their Charles Lindbergh collection. Music reviewer at Progarchy and Dutch Progressive Rock Page.

Book Review: Christopher Gehrz’s Religious Biography of Charles Lindbergh

Christopher Gehrz, Charles Lindbergh: A Religious Biography of America’s Most Infamous Pilot, Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2021, 265 pages.

Christopher Gehrz - Charles LindberghCharles Lindbergh is simultaneously the most fascinating and the most frustrating individual I have ever encountered. Since December 2019, I have been cataloging the Missouri Historical Society’s collection of over 2000 objects that Lindbergh donated following his May 1927 New York to Paris flight. The collection ranges from artifacts carried on that flight to the hundreds of medals and awards he received, personal effects, artwork, two aircraft, jewelry, and the random gifts people and governments sent him or gave him and his wife, Anne, on their travels. In studying the material culture owned by and given to Lindbergh, I have learned a lot about him. Perhaps I have learned too much.

I imagine Christopher Gehrz, professor of history at Bethel University in Lindbergh’s home state of Minnesota, might also say he has learned too much about Lindbergh in the course of writing the latest biography on the aviator. There have been many biographies written about Lindbergh since the pilot, outspoken isolationist, and conservationist died in 1974, with A. Scott Berg’s 1998 biography widely considered to be the standard text on Lindbergh’s life.

A lot has come out of the woodwork on Lindbergh since 1998, most prominently the discovery of his multiple extramarital affairs and the children he had with three German women. Over the past twenty years, historians have also unpacked Lindbergh’s legacy in light of his views on eugenics and race, as well as his anti-Semitic remarks made during his isolationist America First speeches in the run-up to World War II.

Despite the numerous books that have been written about Lindbergh over the years, one aspect of his life has been woefully overlooked, until now. Gehrz’s biography is the first to analyze Lindbergh’s life, writings, and actions through a religious lens. Perhaps you might not think religious or spiritual when you think of Charles Lindbergh (if you even think of him at all – increasing numbers of people I run across have never even heard of him). That would be fair, since Lindbergh was not an orthodox Christian. He did not believe in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, yet he was fascinated by Jesus and thought deeply about his own spirituality. Lindbergh’s Pulitzer Prize-winning 1953 book The Spirit of St. Louis drips with religious imagery, as do some of his other later writings.

Gehrz’s biography investigates Lindbergh’s beliefs and writings on Jesus, religion, spirituality, the afterlife, and how Lindbergh’s beliefs influenced his actions. Through intense archival research and analysis of published works, Gehrz unpacks Lindbergh’s spiritual complexity. Since Lindbergh’s spirituality flourished in his later years (he was only 25 when he made his famous flight), the foundational part of Gehrz’s argument rests upon the period of Lindbergh’s life spanning the 1930s until his death. The book begins by looking at the religious elements in the lives of Lindbergh’s parents and grandparents, shining a light on the rather unorthodox beliefs in which he grew up.

This book is perhaps best suited for those who already know the fundamental stories of Lindbergh’s life: his 1927 flight, his marriage to Anne Morrow, the 1932 kidnapping and murder of their son, dubbed the “crime of the century,” and Lindbergh’s involvement in the isolationist America First committee from 1940-41. Gehrz touches on Lindbergh’s early life and the 1927 flight, but he does not dwell on those periods as that is not the point of the book. Instead he briefly tells those stories through a religious lens. It is quite the literary feat to pull this narrative style off. I am fascinated and impressed by Gehrz’s skills as a writer. He tells a familiar story in a brand new way.

Gehrz looks at his subject openly and honestly.  When I sat down to read this book, I honestly expected it to be a hate-fest, but it isn’t. He simply tells the story of Lindbergh’s spiritual side in a “matter-of-fact” way, which I believe is how history should be written. Gehrz also tells this story in a very readable way. The book flows very well, and it is exceptionally well written. The biography is very focused, which makes it digestible in a way a broader biography might not be. I actually found the book to be quite the page-turner.

One of my few complaints with this tale of Lindbergh’s spirituality is one omission: there is no discussion of Lindbergh’s involvement in freemasonry. Lindbergh was a 32nd degree freemason in the Scottish Rite. He attained that level in a masonic temple in St. Louis, Missouri, when he was working as an airmail pilot prior to his transatlantic flight. I have cataloged a few artifacts given to him by that masonic group as well as others across the nation. My frustration in researching those objects was how little I could find about Lindbergh’s masonic past. About all I could find were references to it in newspapers at the time. I assume Gehrz does not mention it because either he was not aware or because there is no additional information about that part of Lindbergh’s life. There appears to be little to no related primary sources, apart from the gold masonic gifts held in the Missouri Historical Society collection. (Shameless self promotion: a coworker and I wrote a blog post about objects in the collection connected to secret societies, including a few masonic pieces: https://mohistory.org/blog/secret-societies/.)

If Gehrz had come across information related to Lindbergh’s masonic involvement, he probably would have included it. It is possible that Lindbergh never had anything to do with freemasonry after he left St. Louis. Maybe we will never know.  

One of Gehrz’s best contributions to the Lindbergh story is his analysis of Lindbergh’s journal entries from the run-up to World War II. Lindbergh published these journals in an edited form in 1970, but Gehrz dug into the original journals housed at Yale. What Lindbergh omitted from their published form says a lot.

Perhaps the most offensive thing Gehrz uncovers in his book is a journal entry from November 5, 1940 where Lindbergh, in recounting a conversation he had with friends, questions the validity of universal franchise, specifically arguing that African Americans should not be allowed to vote. In the same entry, Lindbergh discussed “the Jewish problem,” hoping to solve that “problem” without resorting to the violent racism seen in Nazi Germany (page 135).

One cannot help but be disappointed and angry with Lindbergh at such statements. Many have accused Lindbergh of being a Nazi sympathizer, which I think goes a stretch too far and misses a lot of the nuance of Lindbergh’s actions in the late 1930s and early 1940s. Nevertheless, Lindbergh, at least at this point in his life, held racist views of other human beings who are created in the image of God. He never publicly repented of such beliefs.

Gehrz’s honesty with the reader is refreshing. Rather than a distant biographer, Gehrz reminds us of his presence without inserting himself needlessly. The following is my favorite paragraph of the whole book because it perfectly encapsulates how I have felt about Lindbergh over the past twenty months of studying him (page 138):

It can’t be you! If not as intensely as his youngest child, that’s still how most of us feel when we come to this chapter in the story of Charles Lindbergh. If we have any appreciation for his historic achievements, any admiration for his courage and modesty, any compassion for the tragedies he endured, or if we simply nod along with the honest questions he asked about God, science, and mortality, we don’t want to accept that he believed what he said about Jews.

Even so, it is hard not to be a little sympathetic towards Lindbergh. The man was treated as if he were the Messiah. Gehrz has a chapter entitled “The New Christ,” where he discusses the religious language used to embrace Lindbergh following his 1927 flight. An entire monograph could be written about the reasons why Americans and Europeans embraced Lindbergh with the enthusiasm they did. Gehrz argues that the media and public created a version of Lindbergh that fit what they wanted: “Lindy.” Gehrz writes,

For all the public scrutiny that would soon make Charles Lindbergh more protective of his privacy, no one was interested in uncovering the more complicated story of their hero’s upbringing, influences, and beliefs. Whether politicians or pastors, reporters or their readers, Americans wanted a type, not a person: Lindy, not Lindbergh. (page 64)  

The media pressure on Lindbergh was intense. How is any mortal man supposed to live up to the Messiah image the public created? Add to that the kidnapping and murder of his firstborn son a few years later, which he perhaps rightly blamed on press publicity. None of this excuses his racism and lack of compassion for those he deemed lesser than himself, but it is clear that America set Lindbergh up to fail. For that I cannot help but pity him, even if I find some of his beliefs to be offensive and sinful.

The saddest part of Lindbergh’s story, however, is how it ends. Based upon Gehrz’s research and narrative of Lindbergh’s final days, I see no evidence that Lindbergh ever let go of his arrogance and pride and acknowledged Jesus as Lord and Savior. Maybe he had some sort of deathbed conversion as he died of cancer at his home on Maui, but based upon the witness of those who spent those last days with him, it does not sound like it.

In that regard, let Charles Lindbergh be a warning to us all. Lindbergh knew that scientific achievement falls far short in its attempts to explain the meaning of life, but his example also shows us that unsanctified human reason also falls short. Christopher Gehrz’s biography does an excellent job of exploring that aspect of Lindbergh’s life.

Bryan Morey

https://www.eerdmans.com/Products/7621/charles-lindbergh.aspx

Sweet Jesus, Hear Me Cry

Prayer can pop up in the strangest places. Even in the prayer of desperation, hope in Jesus shines brightly.

Where’s the lady and the time I used to know
I think that I’ve been on the road too long
Scenes of better days are pictured in my head
And haunting me those old familiar songs
Oh sweet Jesus hear me cry
Let me see a clearing sky
For tomorrow I may be back home again
So take the shadow from my eyes

Sunday morning comes I’m feeling kind of down
I can’t see back to where it all began
And I know you’d help me if you only could
I don’t know why or where or who I am

Oh sweet Jesus hear me cry
Let me see a clearing sky
For tomorrow I may be back home again
So take the shadow from my eyes
Take the shadow from my eyes

— Barclay James Harvest, 1975

The Antidote to Mediocrity

What causes mediocrity in our lives? What is it that truly keeps us from reaching our full potential? Is there an antidote to a mediocre life?

Sometime before Christmas, I was home at my parents’ house for the weekend and attending their church. The pastor preached a fantastic sermon on this topic, and he pointed out that fear is ultimately what leads to mediocrity in any part of our lives. Primarily, I think we can boil that down to fear of two things: failure and rejection. Think about a mediocre situation in your life, and it is probably related to a fear of one of those things.

We fear not being good enough – not measuring up (which distills to a fear of failure). From the Christian perspective, this is complete nonsense. This is something I have long struggled with, and I have to pray about it specifically every day to keep that fear at bay. As humans, we are unique in God’s creation. God made us in His very image. Each one of us is inherently valuable because God created us. He knew us before our conception (Psalm 139:13-16), and for those of us that are in Christ, God looks upon us and smiles. He doesn’t see our sin and shame, for it was laid upon Christ’s shoulders at Calvary. The full wrath of God was directed at Jesus, the only man who ever lived a sinless life, in that moment so that we who have lived sinful lives might receive the very righteousness of God. With that truth, of what do we possibly have to be afraid?

Continue reading The Antidote to Mediocrity

John Elefante’s Song “This Time” More Poignant Than Ever

We live in what is possibly the most despicably wicked era since the ancient Canaanites threw infants into fires as sacrifices to Moloch. At least the ancient Romans who left their babies to die on trash heaps gave those children the opportunity to be rescued by Christians. Abortion is evil and morally wrong at any point in a pregnancy, but now we have morons in public office saying women should be allowed to decide to “abort” their baby AFTER it has been born. And these same politicians lecture us about the morality of looking for measures to stop illegal human trafficking and drug trafficking into this country. These “leaders” remind us how truly lost we are without the saving grace of Jesus Christ and His Holy Spirit who sanctifies us from our wicked beliefs and desires. Shame on church leaders of all denominations who fail to denounce this extreme level of evil. We should be talking and praying about it at every church service and taking appropriate actions against those church members who refuse to repent of their support for this vile practice.

On his 2013 album “On My Way to the Sun,” former Kansas singer John Elefante included a song called “This Time” about the story of how his adopted daughter had almost been aborted. This story ends well, but it is a reminder that not every similar story ends on a happy note.

Understanding Evangelicalism: A Primer

Evangelicalism has played an important role in American society for hundreds of years, and today “evangelicals” remain an influential voting bloc. The term “evangelical” is thrown around a lot in historical scholarship and political rhetoric, but its meaning is less clear than most people imagine. Twenty-first century evangelicalism shares some tenets with evangelicalism of years past, and it has changed in other ways. If we are going to understand evangelicalism’s impact on society and politics, we need to try to understand what exactly it is and where it came from.

I’m not going to get into specific leaders or institutions known for their influence on contemporary evangelicalism. That would require delving into the countless parachurch organizations, leaders, churches, radio stations, colleges, seminaries, etc. Evangelicals are interconnected yet fundamentally decentralized. Thus, it would be very difficult to make sense of that aspect of the movement (if it can even be called a movement) in a blog post. Rather, I’ll speak generally about fundamental beliefs and concepts that broadly describe evangelicals.

D. G. Hart’s Deconstructing Evangelicalism and Mark Noll’s The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind are good places to start if you are interested in this topic and want to know more about contemporary evangelicalism. John Fea recently wrote a book called Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump. This book may shed light upon current trends in evangelicalism, but I haven’t read it, so I can’t say for sure.

Continue reading Understanding Evangelicalism: A Primer

Francis Schaeffer on the Sanctity of Human Life

Pro Life demonstrators march down the streets of Chicago
March for Life Chicago, March 13, 2019

Francis Schaeffer, one the greatest Christian thinkers and presuppositional apologists of the second half of the twentieth century, co-wrote with C. Everett Koop (pediatric surgeon and Surgeon General under President Ronald Reagan) one of the most powerful defenses of the value of unborn life in Whatever Happened to the Human Race? (1979, revised edition, 1983).  This book is a must-read for anyone interested in an intellectual and medical defense of the pro-life position that holds that human life begins at conception. Schaeffer handles the intellectual heft, providing a position that aligns well with that of Christian Humanism. His use of the term “humanism” is decidedly different than the Christian Humanist version of the term. By “humanism”, Schaeffer means secularism. Koop handles the medical and scientific arguments.

Here is a brief excerpt from chapter 1 (page 4):

Until recently in our own century, with some notable and sorry exceptions, human beings have generally been regarded as special, unique, and nonexpendable. But in one short generation we have moved from a generally high view of life to a very low one.

Why has our society changed? The answer is clear: the consensus of our society no longer rests on a Judeo-Christian base, but rather on a humanistic one. Humanism makes man “the measure of all things.” It puts man rather than God at the center of all things.

Today the view that man is a product of chance in an impersonal universe dominates both sides of the Iron Curtain. This has resulted in a secularized society and in a liberal theology in much of the church; that is, the Bible is set aside and humanism in some form (man starting from himself) is put in the Bible’s place. Much of the church no longer holds that the Bible is God’s Word in all it teaches. It simply blends with the current thought-forms rather than being the “salt” that judges and preserves the life of its culture. Unhappily, this portion of the church simply changes its standards as the secular, humanist standards sweep on from one loss of humanness to the next. What we are watching is the natural result of humanism in its secular and theological forms, and the human race is being increasingly devalued.

Elsewhere in chapter 1 (page 6):

The Bible teaches that man is made in the image of God and therefore is unique. Remove that teaching, as humanism has done on both sides of the Iron Curtain, and there is no adequate  basis for treating people well… The loss of the Christian consensus has led to a long list of inhuman actions and attitudes which may seem unrelated but actually are not. They are the direct result of the loss of the Christian consensus.

Just the Beginning…

Studying history at the graduate level has taught me a very important fact: life without Jesus Christ is sad, dark, depressing, and meaningless. I am drawn to the history of Christianity in my research. Over the last year or so, that has included “third great awakening” revivalism, with a specific emphasis on D. L. Moody. But in readings for traditional history classes, the focus is often upon slavery and oppression. Nuance is all but absent in the post-Foucault discipline of history, and this has bothered me a lot because even the best people are capable of both good and evil. For a variety of reasons, the academy has chosen to throw out all of the good in western thought because of some instances of horrible injustices (injustices which are in fact antithetical to western principles). One of the reasons I’m excited about Spirit of Cecilia is because this site is hopeful. We understand that there is goodness in the world, and there are ideas that God placed inside of us that are worth protecting and preserving.

So who the heck am I?!

Well as you’ve probably gathered, I’m a graduate student. I’m in the second year of a Public History MA program at Loyola University Chicago, and I plan to work in museum collections. I interned this past summer at the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum in Grand Rapids, MI. Working there confirmed for me that I really enjoy collections work. It is very rewarding. Thankfully, most of my classes in Public History are more practical than traditional history in the sense that they are preparing me to work in public history settings such as museums, oral history projects, national park service, archives, historical interpretation, etc.

I earned my BA in history from Hillsdale College, where I had the honor of having one of Dr. Brad Birzer’s magnificent classes on Christian Humanism. He was kind enough to invite me to write for Progarchy back in 2013, and that sent me headlong into the contemporary progressive rock genre. I’m very grateful that he asked me to be a part of this new internet venture. I hope to contribute to its excellence in whatever small way I can.