by Mike Heath
October 11, 2013
I delivered this speech to the Beastfeast in Winthrop, Maine in September of 2012. Beastfeast is a gathering of Christian men who enjoy hunting.
It is an honor and a pleasure to be here tonight, to speak to this fine organization which upholds a priceless American tradition, and adds to it Christian charity and care for one’s fellow man.You are helping to fulfill Christ’s Great Commandment that you shall love God with all your heart and love your neighbor as yourself. Most of you know me as a controversial figure.
Others of you know me as a Ron Paul supporter. I was, in fact, the director of the Ron Paul campaign in Iowa. Still others of you may be wondering why, with all the trouble and confusion in our world, I would choose hunting as a topic. The subject of hunting is dear to my heart. No other topic reveals so well what it means to be a good man in our troubled times. A fellow named Barack Obama has said that we here in the outlying regions of America cling bitterly to our guns and our religion. He is partly correct.
We do cling to our guns and our Bibles, not out of bitterness, but out of deep affection. Let me tell you briefly about another time when Americans kept their guns and Bibles close by. Perhaps you have seen the painting “Pilgrims Going to Church” (by George Henry Boughton). This painting, a copy of which hangs in Pilgrim Hall in Plymouth, Massachusetts shows a band of Pilgrims on their way to church on a snowy Sunday morning. They are walking two by two; and at the front of the column are two sturdy young soldiers armed with muskets. Behind them walks a preacher dressed in black; and beside him is his wife. Both are carrying Bibles.
Next in line are the pastor’s two fair-haired daughters, and they too carry Bibles. The younger girl has noticed something moving in the woods beyond, and she wears a worried expression. And this is the curious detail about the painting, a detail which escapes most people. At the very back of the column is a man who carries both a Bible and a musket. By his side is a boy who has spotted an attacker in the woods and is lowering his gun and preparing to fire.
These first Americans clung stubbornly to their guns and their religion. When you went to church in those days, you carried a Bible or a rifle, and sometimes, you carried both. How strange it is that any man would say this is a bad thing. In truth, it is the principle from which all that is good in America springs. But much has changed in America. The path from Plymouth Colony leads through the wilderness and forests of America.
Inhabiting these forests we see the Deerslayer, the image of the true American, so named by America’s most patriotic writer, James Fennimore Cooper. Many of you have seen “The Last of the Mohicans,” a movie in which the Deerslayer, also known as Hawkeye, befriends Chingachgook, the last remaining member of his tribe. It will surprise you to know that Cooper, writing before the Civil War, saw the Deerslayer as the last true American, a dying breed, a man at home in the forest, a master of woodcraft and the ways of the Red Man.
James Fennimore Cooper understood America better than any writer, I think, and for him, the true American was the expert hunter.
Many today will challenge this idea, the whining and hysterical anti-gun activist, the bearded university professor in sandals, or the soft-hearted member of PETA. But history proves them wrong. Stand with me for a moment by the graveside of our greatest president. He is buried on a low hill in a town called Oyster Bay, New York alongside his wife Edith. The gravestone is simple – far too simple for a man of his colossal achievements. To stand there is a life-changing experience, at least it was for me. His name was Theodore Roosevelt, and he, too, was a hunter. Many people will dispute my choice of Teddy Roosevelt as America’s greatest president.
I say he was the greatest because his life gives us the best example of the power of virtue. He had, as one writer puts it, those God-given virtues which enable a man to become a true leader, a chief, a patriarch of his people. And that, by the way, is the meaning of the name of his home, Sagamore Hill. The word “sagamore” means “an Indian chief.” These leadership virtues are “justice, truthfulness, temperance, nobleness, bounty, perseverance, mercy, lowliness, devotion, patience, courage and fortitude.” Upon entering Sagamore Hill, you might expect to see reminders of his great achievements – his many medals, diplomas, and awards. He is the only man to have won both the Medal of Honor and the Nobel Peace Prize.
But instead, you see a long hallway. On either side of the hallway are his many hunting trophies. To the left is the head of a moose. Behind that, are two elephant tusks framing a modest fireplace. Farther down the hall is the trophy of an antelope, and at the end of the hall are two truly gigantic elephant tusks at either side of a cavernous room, and a sofa draped with a leopard skin.
Upstairs is the great man’s den, complete with a lion skin rug, and a cabinet with his shooting irons. These he carried on big game hunts to Africa and on expeditions through the very dangerous jungles of South America. Teddy Roosevelt chose a home which looks more like a hunting lodge than the home of a president; but let us go back to his youth to learn how it all happened. He was born in New York City, which even then was bustling and overcrowded. He was a sickly child who suffered from severe asthma; and his parents wisely decided he would benefit from sunshine, fresh air, and clear water.
And so they sent young Theodore to a town called Island Falls, Maine. There he was introduced to the outdoor life by two Maine guides – Bill Sewall and Wilmot Dow. Bill Sewall was a Christian, a non-smoker and a teetotaler. It was in the forests of Maine, under the guidance of two hunters, that the character and destiny of the young man was forged. And so it was that Roosevelt, a big game hunter on three continents, the man who charged up San Juan Hill, the leader of the Bull Moose Party, cherished one simple memory, a youth spent in the woods of Maine. His thoughts would often return to where the Mattawamkeag River meets First Brook, to the sound of rippling water and the scent of the dark pines. There each day he sat reading his Bible.
That scene never faded from his memory. Nor has it faded from ours, because Maine calls that spot “Bible Point.” How very good it is that our people chose to remember where a great man sat quietly reading his Bible. It is said that a republic is based on the virtue of its citizens; but even more so, a republic depends on the virtue of its leaders. And it was here in Maine that Teddy Roosevelt acquired the virtues of fortitude, self-reliance, and perseverance.
T.R. wrote a piece called My Debt to Maine, which says, “I also remember such delicious nights, under a lean to, by lakes or streams, in the clear fall weather, or in winter on balsam boughs in front of a blazing stump. I’d shovel away the deep snow, and keep our foot gear away from the fire, so that it should not thaw and freeze, and the meals of venison, trout or partridge and one meal consisting of muskrat and fish-duck, which being exceedingly hungry, we heartily appreciated.”
You see, we are not the first Bible-believers to enjoy a Beastfeast. A Beastfeast is not for those who desire luxurious food, meager portions daintily arranged on fine china. A man like Teddy Roosevelt would not have it so. It is a frugal but hearty meal, best served on a tin plate by a blazing camp fire. Similarly, the hunt is not for those who prefer soft, civilized pleasures. Hunting, as is life itself, is often hard and dangerous. In later years, President Roosevelt would recall tramping through the muddy logging roads of Maine, mile after mile. This was his introduction to what he called “the strenuous life.” It would serve him well when he rode up San Juan Hill through a hail of bullets; when he withstood the charge of a wounded jaguar, and when he stood his ground in the face of an enraged bull elephant.
As Teddy Roosevelt was giving a speech in Milwaukee, a madman approached and fired a pistol. The bullet struck him in the side, passing through his rib cage and coming to rest just outside his lung. Teddy Roosevelt asked the horrified crowd to remain calm, and in a quiet voice he said: “Friends, I shall ask you to be as quiet as possible. I don’t know whether you fully understand that I have just been shot; but it takes more than that to kill a Bull Moose.” Despite the pleas of his friends to stop, the great man continued and finished his speech. This is the finest example of the virtue of fortitude we have among our leaders. It is only one of the many virtues our leaders have lost.
A luxurious meal fills the stomach and dulls the senses, but the hunt sharpens each sense, training the eye to look for a patch of color, and the ear to hear a twig snap in the distance. Keen senses and close observation leads to clear, sober judgment. A young man shouldering a rifle alongside his father quickly learns the value of foresight and planning. The proper food and ammunition must be packed, and the right path through field and forest must be selected. Foresight, planning, and good counsel together make up the virtue of prudence.
There on the map the young hunter will see a brook or a mountain, a bend in a river, the same sights his father and his father before him saw, ancient and unchanging. How different is the sight of the Maine woods from our modern world of flashing lights and fleeting images; a world which teaches “Don’t plan ahead, live for the moment.” In the quiet of the Maine woods we experience the true, authentic life, not a world of man’s making, but a world made by the Creator. As is life, nature is demanding, and often harsh and unforgiving. One must plan well, and act promptly on sound principles. Out of all this proceeds, not merely wisdom, but deep wisdom. Let me give you a quote from Teddy Roosevelt on the value of practical wisdom. “Nine-tenths of wisdom consists of being wise in time.” It is a most useful saying on the virtue of timeliness and practical wisdom.
Our age is opposed to the virtue of prudence. Yet this is not the only virtue which has been overthrown. We are living in a world in which every principle of right conduct has been stood on its head. The self-sufficiency and rugged individualism of the American pioneer has been changed into mutual dependence, the global community, and the United Nations. The freedom of the plainsmen and mountaineer has been hemmed in, pressed down, and suffocated by a ponderous weight of laws and regulations. The role of man as hunter and provider, and woman as mother and nourisher, has been replaced by the image of man as a sensitive plant, and woman as the aggressive politician and tough-minded business leader.
Illegal aliens are treated as honored guests. Graffiti is considered art, and noise is considered music. The intentional killing of innocent pre-born humans — the very definition of murder — is called “choice.” And sexual perversion is considered marriage. And hunting…well hunting, once considered a sport fit for royalty, is opposed by those who have neither hunted nor understand our way of life. And as you are well aware, many people want to ban hunting entirely.
As the light of virtue dwindles down, flickers low, and threatens to go out entirely, as our priceless heritage as Americans comes under attack from all quarters, you here today become the most important men and women in America. You must do all in your power to preserve the hunting heritage of Maine, and pass it down to the next generation. There are many ways to consider our hunting heritage.
Today, I have talked about hunting in relation to virtue. We have seen how hunting contributes to forming the character of individuals and of nations. For that reason, let me encourage you to do the opposite of what President Barack Obama and the liberal establishment recommend.
Dear friends, I urge you to cling stubbornly to your guns and your religion, cling stubbornly to your rifles and your Bibles with all your heart as did the first Americans — cling to these things which the liberals tell you to despise — for these are the lifeblood of your Republic, the bulwark of free men, and your own true heritage. www.mikeheath.net * 207-956-0819
Michael Heath has represented Christians in the public square for nearly three decades. As executive director of the historic Christian Civic League of Maine, Heath has been an outspoken advocate for moral values. Working alongside Dr. Dobson, Heath led a statewide family policy council for sixteen years.
Heath received the Family Research Council’s Family Faith and Freedom Award in 1998. He led multiple statewide campaigns — including a memorable People’s Veto, which sent two hundred thousand Mainers to the polls in the dead of winter, just after a devastating ice storm which crippled all of Central Maine.
Heath served on the Governor’s Gambling Task Force, as well as on a Legislative Commission on Fatherhood. Just after college, Heath spent four years leading a ministry helping people struggling with substance abuse and/or mental illness.
Heath is married to Paulie, an inspirational singer, songwriter and speaker. They have three grown sons.
In recent years the Heaths have traveled to East Africa multiple times, working alongside missionaries in Tanzania to promote solar cooking in remote villages. Mike served as State Director for the Ron Paul Presidential Campaign in Iowa in 2011.