Amid the wealth of biographical material on Winston Churchill, little has been said about his faith. Duty and Destiny rectifies this, offering a nuanced portrait of a great historical figure considered everything from a “God-haunted man” to a “stalwart nonbeliever.”
Churchill was far from transparent about his religious beliefs and never regularly attended church services as an adult, even considering himself “not a pillar of the church but a buttress,” in the sense that he supported it “from the outside.” But Gary Scott Smith assembles pieces of Churchill’s life and words to convey the profound sense of duty and destiny, partly inspired by his religious convictions, that undergirded his outlook. Reflecting on becoming prime minister in 1940, he wrote, “It felt as if I were walking with destiny, and that all my past life had been but a preparation for this hour and for this trial.” In a similarly grand fashion, he described opposing the Nazis—and later the Soviets—as a struggle between light and darkness, driven by the duty to preserve “humane, enlightened, Christian society.”
Though Churchill harbored intellectual doubts about Christianity throughout his life, he nevertheless valued it greatly and drew on its resources, especially in the crucible of war. In Duty and Destiny, Smith unpacks Churchill’s paradoxical religious views and carefully analyzes the complexities of his legacy. This thorough examination of Churchill’s religious life provides a new narrative structure to make sense of arguably the most important person of the twentieth century.
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