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Our Endangered Values:
America's Moral Crisis,
by Jimmy Carter
(Click for Amazon book review)
BOOK REVIEW by OnTheIssues.org:
This book is former President Carter's statement on faith in government. He explicitly states that he writes the book as a private citizen, since several of his statements defend the separation of church and state (p. 2, p. 30, p. 49). Despite that unambiguous separation in terms of policy, Carter describes how each of his policy stances is influenced by his Christian faith. These include helping gay AIDS victims (since Jesus similarly helped lepers, whose disease was considered sinful; p. 66), to his well-known Habitat for Humanity (where homes are built for poor families and, as per Biblical rules, no interest is charged; p. 185).
Carter wrote this book in 2006, with the purpose of differentiating Carter's form of faith-based policy stances from Bush's form of faith-based "fundamentalism." That's Carter's choice of terms -- he considers religious fundamentalism in the U.S. to be just as bad as religious fundamentalism abroad -- and devotes much space to decrying the evils of charismatic male authoritative leadership and its negative effects on American politics (focused in chapter 3). Evidently Carter's own church, the Southern Baptist Convention, fell into that category, and Carter severed ties with that church in 2000 -- the history of that schism is described from the period of Carter's presidency, but is difficult to follow for mainstream outsiders. The evils of fundamentalism are characterized as "rigidity, domination, and exclusion" (p. 35) which Carter applies to his own church; to President Bush's policies; and to terrorist groups abroad.
Carter addresses in detail President Bush's policies, or more generally, the influence of faith-based neoconservatives and direct influence on Bush policy from fundamentalist churches. Carter attributes those sources as the reason that American politics has become so divisive ("us-versus-them" thinking is part of fundamentalism, p. 34). Carter, presumably out of respect for the presidency, usually does not cite President Bush by name. For example, Carter writes that "under the tax cuts pushed through Congress since 2000" the rich have benefited at the expense of the poor (p. 192). Bush's name is never mentioned; but of course that was Bush's signature policy. And Carter applies the same unnamed criticism to Bush's Iraq policy, calling it an "unjust war" under standard Christian criteria (pp. 152-4). All of Bush's policies are critiqued from a Christian perspective, and most are found greatly wanting.
This book might serve as a handbook for the religious left. Unfortunately for President Carter, the religious left has little influence on the Democratic Party (consider your own reaction to the term "religious left" -- it feels like a typographical error because the "religious right" is so dominant these days). If the religious left ever does rise in influence, this book clearly outlines its policy prescriptions, including those that differ from the mainstream left. Those include only weak support for abortion rights (p. 72); a call for massive decreases in military spending (p. 198) in favor of diplomatic intervention abroad; and a pro-Palestinian stance that even most Democrats would consider anti-Israel (p. 114).
The most important relevance of this book to current politics is that Hillary Clinton is a member of the religious left, as described in God and Hillary by Paul Kengor. President Carter does not discuss Hillary's faith nor her issue stances in this book, but astute readers might apply Carter's lessons to Hillary for a fuller understanding of her issue stances. Hillary is careful about never mentioning faith, but for example, she indeed matches Carter on hedging her support for abortion rights (yes, Hillary is pro-choice, but she, like Carter, greatly prefers to avoid abortions). Paul Kengor's thesis that Hillary is a full-blooded member of the religious left is substantiated unambiguously by Carter's book.
-- Jesse Gordon, jesse@OnTheIssues.org, July 2013
America's Moral Crisis,
by Jimmy Carter.
Page last edited: Aug 26, 2013