The narrative surrounding Charles Lindbergh’s life has been as varying and complex as the man himself. Once best known as an aviator—the first to complete a solo nonstop transatlantic flight—he has since become increasingly identified with his sympathies for white supremacy, eugenics, and the Nazi regime in Germany. Underexplored amid all this is Lindbergh’s spiritual life. What beliefs drove the contradictory impulses of this twentieth-century icon?
An apostle of technological progress who encountered God in the wildernesses he sought to protect, an anti-Semitic opponent of US intervention in World War II who had a Jewish scripture inscribed on his gravestone, and a critic of Christianity who admired Christ, Lindbergh defies conventional categories. But spirituality undoubtedly mattered to him a great deal. Influenced by his wife, Anne Morrow Lindbergh—a self-described “lapsed Presbyterian” who longed to live “in grace”—and friends like Alexis Carrel (a Nobel Prize–winning surgeon, eugenicist, and Catholic mystic) and Jim Newton (an evangelical businessman), he spent much of his adult life reflecting on mortality, divinity, and metaphysics. In this short biography, Christopher Gehrz represents Lindbergh as he was, neither an adherent nor an atheist, a historical case study of an increasingly familiar contemporary phenomenon: the “spiritual but not religious.”
For all his earnest curiosity, Lindbergh remained unwilling throughout his life to submit to any spiritual authority beyond himself and ultimately rejected the ordering influence of church, tradition, scripture, or creed. In the end, the man who flew solo across the Atlantic insisted on charting his own spiritual path, drawing on multiple sources in such a way that satisfied his spiritual hunger but left some of his cruelest convictions unchallenged.
Table of Contents
Introduction 1. Ancestors 2. A Boyhood on (and beyond) the Upper Mississippi 3. “The Winged Gospel” 4. “The New Christ” 5. Anne 6. “A Cruel God of Chance” 7. The Happiest Years 8. “The Nazi Theology” 9. America First 10. The War 11. Beyond Flight 12. Last Years 13. Of Death and Afterlife Afterword
Christopher Gehrz is professor of history at Bethel University in Saint Paul, Minnesota, where his innovative approach to teaching everything from church history to the world wars has earned him a Faculty Excellence Award. He is the author or editor of several books, including Faith and History: A Devotional and The Pietist Option: Hope for the Renewal of Christianity, and he blogs regularly about Christianity, history, and education at The Pietist Schoolman and The Anxious Bench.
“Christopher Gehrz’s tough-minded yet open curiosity about Charles Lindbergh’s perturbing spirituality—an amorphous Jesus and nebulous Christianity melded with pantheistic religiosities, eugenics, antisemitism, White supremacy, and American nationalism—brings forth a religious biography as compelling as it is fascinating. An absorbing, necessary American read.” — Jon Butler author of God in Gotham: The Miracle of Religion in Modern Manhattan
“Charles Lindbergh was a celebrated aviator, the father of the baby abducted in the ‘crime of the century,’ a Nazi sympathizer, and a believer in eugenics. He also carried a small New Testament with him as he entered the South Pacific theatre of World War II. In this fascinating, informative, and accessible biography, historian Chris Gehrz helps us make sense of the religious life of this ‘infamous pilot.’” — John Fea American historian and executive editor of Current
“This short and crisply written biography tracks Lindbergh’s life and ‘spiritual but not religious’ leanings. Lindbergh followed his own spiritual compass, yet towards a path that led him to sympathy with some of the worst political and social ideas of the twentieth century. The mixed brew he concocted, as Gehrz makes clear, reinforced rather than challenged his sympathies for anti-Semitism, eugenics, and white supremacy. Gehrz clearly and powerfully captures the sad ironies of this tale of a man who flew solo into heroism and into dark places.” — Paul Harvey author of Howard Thurman and the Disinherited: A Religious Biography
“In this nimble biography of a complicated figure, Gehrz follows the lead of Anne Morrow Lindbergh, who resisted the temptation ‘to somewhat falsify and touch up the original picture’ of her famous husband. Charles Lindbergh inspired adulation, pity, and scorn. Gehrz shows how each of these responses was earned, and how Lindbergh made his own spiritual sense of it all.” — Elesha J. Coffman author of Margaret Mead: A Twentieth-Century Faith
“This engaging volume provides deep and critical insight into Charles Lindbergh’s interior life, shining as bright a light on his white supremacism and anti-Semitism as onto his idiosyncratic spiritual beliefs. It makes manifest the tremendous value of writing a spiritual biography of an individual who was much more spiritual than religious, as it reminds us of just how much variation existed in Americans’ religious and intellectual life in the United States during the first half of the twentieth century. Gehrz is a sensitive and astute biographer, and this book offers a nuanced picture of Lindbergh as a man in fame and infamy, exploring the spiritual dynamics of his life, his career in aviation, and his role in the America First movement.” — Lauren Frances Turek author of To Bring the Good News to All Nations: Evangelical Influence on Human Rights and U.S. Foreign Relations
“In a portrait of Charles Lindbergh that is both soaring and sober, Christopher Gehrz pilots us from the transcendence of flight into the darkness of bigotry and infidelity. Yet Gehrz is our guide, not Lindbergh’s judge. Gehrz reveals Lindbergh’s long search for a spirituality that affirmed his own sense of purpose but did not shackle him to a church or require him to repent. He sees in Lindbergh a nation bewitched by its technological accomplishments, confident in its innocence, and callous toward inequality.” — John G. Turner author of They Knew They Were Pilgrims: Plymouth Colony and the Contest for American Liberty
“Gehrz’s Lindbergh is splendidly complex. The famed pilot emerges as a spiritual explorer who in the end made God in his own image and refused to see God’s image in those who didn’t look like him. Observers of the ‘new’ religious movements should read this exhaustively researched, expertly narrated, and humane book first.” — David R. Swartz author of Facing West: American Evangelicals in an Age of World Christianity
“After reading this beautifully written and rigorously researched work, what is clear is that Christopher Gehrz is as intrepid a scholar as Charles Lindbergh was a pilot. Taking up the work of writing a spiritual biography of Charles Lindbergh is not for the faint-hearted. Through a clear-eyed account of Lindbergh’s life, Gehrz holds out a stark illustration of the aviator’s involvement in eugenics, racist understandings of hierarchies of human life, and the evil efficiency of American white supremacy as a model for cruelty at home and abroad. These themes make this book a strikingly contemporary story of determined blindness to systemic racism and the dangers of isolationism under the mantle of America First. At the same time, the author brings to life the story of a man who is captivated by the possibility of flight, and who, through friendships and marriage to the introspective Anne Morrow, is caught up himself in the search for a spiritual, but not religious, path. Gehrz has skillfully crafted a thorough and fair account of the spirituality of Charles Lindbergh, providing an intimate glimpse into the life of this intriguing but difficult man.” — Amy Collier Artman author of The Miracle Lady: Kathryn Kuhlman and the Transformation of Charismatic Christianity
“Let’s be honest: most of us with some familiarity of Charles Lindbergh haven’t known quite what to do with his story. Gehrz not only explores the complexities and contradictions of this restless spirit and one-time hero but also reveals the relevance of this story and leaves the reader with a challenge that reminds us of the power of history. You won’t want to miss this journey.” — Kent Whitworth director and CEO of the Minnesota Historical Society
Publishers Weekly “Using Lindbergh’s journals, writings, and public statements, Gehrz builds a thorough portrait of the aviator’s inner life, and the inclusion of the equally complex spiritual path of Lindbergh’s wife, Anne, adds useful context. Readers curious about a lesser-seen side of Lindbergh’s life will gain much from this well-argued biography.”
The Christian Century “It’s hard to strike the right balance in a biography of the heroic aviator and antisemitic activist. Christopher Gehrz succeeds brilliantly.”
CHOICE “Gehrz’s study will likely be most appreciated by readers interested in Lindbergh’s Nazi sympathies and the related roots of his anti-Semitism, eugenics, white supremacy, and ‘America First’ stance, ideas very much present today.”
Strictly Necessary Cookies
Strictly Necessary Cookie should be enabled at all times so that we can save your preferences for cookie settings.
If you disable this cookie, we will not be able to save your preferences. This means that every time you visit this website you will need to enable or disable cookies again.