Jimmy Carter has a lot to say on subjects that have been widely discussed here at USMB, including abortion, the church/state divide, capital punishment, and our international moral standing. Here are excerpts from the New York Review of Books' review of his new book, "Our Endangered Values: America's Moral Crisis." You can read the whole review at: http://www.nybooks.com/articles/18670 Personally, I think Carter is correct when he identifies the coercive quality of current fundamentalist religious thinking in this country, as exemplified by the Southern Baptist Convention's boycott of Disney, or Bush/Rove's use of churches to bring out the vote. I'll be curious what people here think of his ideas. I'm guessing he's not an especially popular character here--but don't forget, his religiosity was the beginning of the current hyper-religious period in American politics, so Bush owes him one. VOLUME 53, NUMBER 2 FEBRUARY 9, 2006 Review Jimmy Carter & the Culture of Death By Garry Wills Our Endangered Values: America's Moral Crisis by Jimmy Carter Simon and Schuster, 212 pp., $25.00 * * * In his new book, Carter addresses religion and politics together in a way that he has not done before, because he thinks that some Americans, and especially his fellow Baptists, have equated the two in a way that contradicts traditional Baptist beliefs in the autonomy of local churches, in the opposition to domination by religious leaders, and in the fellowship of love without reliance on compulsion, political or otherwise. In 2000, these tenets were expressly renounced by the largest Baptist body, the Southern Baptist Convention, which removed a former commitment to belief that "the sole authority for faith and practice among Baptists is Jesus Christ, whose will is revealed in the Holy Scriptures." What was being substituted, Carter writes, was "domination by all-male pastors." * * * The marks of this new fundamentalism, according to Carter, are rigidity, self-righteousness, and an eagerness to use compulsion (including political compulsion). Its spokesmen are contemptuous of all who do not agree with them one hundred percent. Pat Robertson, on his 700 Club, typified the new "popes" when he proclaimed: "You say you're supposed to be nice to the Episcopalians and the Presbyterians and the Methodists and this, that, and the other thing. Nonsense. I don't have to be nice to the spirit of the Antichrist." Carter got a firsthand taste of such intolerance when the president of the Southern Baptist Convention visited him in the White House to tell him, "We are praying, Mr. President, that you will abandon secular humanism as your religion." Such attitudes are far from the ones recommended by Jesus in the gospels as Carter has studied and taught them through the decades, and their proponents have brought similar attitudes into the political world, where a matching political fundamentalism has taken over much of the electoral process. Such dictatorial attitudes defeat the stated goals of the fundamentalists themselves. On abortion, for instance, Carter argues that a "pro-life" dogmatism defeats human life and values at many turns. Carter is opposed to abortion, as what he calls a tragedy "brought about by a combination of human errors." But the "pro-life" forces compound rather than reduce the errors. The most common abortions, and the most common reasons cited for undergoing them, are caused by economic pressure compounded by ignorance. Yet the anti-life movement that calls itself pro-life protects ignorance by opposing family planning, sex education, and informed use of contraceptives, tactics that not only increase the likelihood of abortion but tragedies like AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases. The rigid system of the "pro-life" movement makes poverty harsher as well, with low minimum wages, opposition to maternity leaves, and lack of health services and insurance. In combination, these policies make ideal conditions for promoting abortion, as one can see from the contrast with countries that do have sex education and medical insurance. Carter writes: Canadian and European young people are about equally active sexually, but, deprived of proper sex education, American girls are five times as likely to have a baby as French girls, seven times as likely to have an abortion, and seventy times as likely to have gonorrhea as girls in the Netherlands. Also, the incidence of HIV/ AIDS among American teenagers is five times that of the same age group in Germany.... It has long been known that there are fewer abortions in nations where prospective mothers have access to contraceptives, the assurance that they and their babies will have good health care, and at least enough income to meet their basic needs. The result of a rigid fundamentalism combined with poverty and ignorance can be seen where the law forbids abortion: In some predominantly Roman Catholic countries where all abortions are illegal and few social services are available, such as Peru, Brazil, Chile, and Colombia, the abortion rate is fifty per thousand. According to the World Health Organization, this is the highest ratio of unsafe abortions [in the world]. A New York Times article that came out after Carter's book appeared further confirms what he is saying: "Four million abortions, most of them illegal, take place in Latin America annually, the United Nations reports, and up to 5,000 women are believed to die each year from complications from abortions."[*] This takes place in countries where churches and schools teach abstinence as the only form of contraceptiondemonstrating conclusively the ineffectiveness of that kind of program. By contrast, in the United States, where abortion is legal and sex education is broader, the abortion rate reached a twenty-four-year low during the 1990s. Yet the ironically named "pro-life" movement would return the United States to the condition of Chile or Colombia. And not only that, the fundamentalists try to impose the anti-life program in other countries by refusing foreign aid to programs that teach family planning, safe sex, and contraceptive knowledge. They also oppose life-saving advances through the use of stem cell research. With friends like these, "life" is in thrall to death. Carter finds these results neither loving (in religious terms) nor just (in political terms). Carter finds the same rigid and self-righteousand self-defeatingpolicies at work across the current political spectrum. The pro-life forces have no problem with a gun industry and capital punishment legislation that are, in fact, provably pro-death. Carter, a lifelong hunter, does not want to outlaw guns and he knows that Americans would never do that. But timorous politicians, cowering before the NRA, defeat even the most sensible limitations on weapons useful neither for hunting nor for personal self-defense (AK-47s, AR-15s, Uzis), even though, as Carter shows, more than 1,100 police chiefs and sheriffs told Congress that these weapons are obstacles to law enforcement. The NRA opposed background checks to keep guns out of the hands of criminals and terrorists and illegals, and then insisted that background checks, if they were imposed, had to be destroyed within twenty-four hours. The result of such pro-death measures, Carter writes, is grimly evident: "American children are sixteen times more likely than children in other industrialized nations to be murdered with a gun, eleven times more likely to commit suicide with a gun, and nine times more likely to die from firearms accidents." Where are the friends of the fetus when children are dying in such numbers? Carter observes that "the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research reports that the rate of firearms homicide in the United States is nineteen times higher than that of 35 other high-income countries combined" (emphasis added). In the most recent year for which figures are available, these are the numbers for firearms homicides: Ireland 54 Japan 83 Sweden 183 Great Britain 197 Australia 334 Canada 1,034 United States 30,419 Once again, Carter finds no support for the policies that make such a result possible in the US, in terms of either a loving religion or a just society. Capital punishment is also a pro-death program. It does not protect life. It aligns us with authoritarian regimes: "Ninety percent of all known executions are carried out in just four countries: China, Iran, Saudi Arabiaand the United States" (emphasis added). Execution does not deter, as many studies have proved. In states that abolished it, Carter writes, capital crimes did not increase: The homicide rate is at least five times greater in the United States than in any European country, none of which authorizes the death penalty. The Southern states carry out over 80 percent of the executions but have a higher murder rate than any other region. Texas has by far the most executions, but its homicide rate is twice that of Wisconsin, the first state to abolish the death penalty. It is not a matter of geography or ethnicity, as is indicated by similar and adjacent states: the number of capital crimes is higher, respectively, in South Dakota, Connecticut, and Virginia (all with the death sentence) than in the adjacent states of North Dakota, Massachusetts, and West Virginia (without the death penalty). How can a loving religion or a just state support such a culture of death? Only a self-righteous and punitive fundamentalism, not an ethos of the gospels, can explain this. It is in foreign affairs that Carter finds the most self-righteous, rigid, and self-defeating effects of a religio-political fundamentalism. It is the gap between rich and poor in the world that presents the main threat to our future, yet American policies increase that gap, at home and abroad. We give proportionally less money in foreign aid than do other developed countries, and our ability to give is being decreased by our growing deficit, incurred to reward our own wealthy families with disproportionate tax cuts. Carter points out that much of the aid announced or authorized never reaches its targets. This reflects a general smugness about America's privileged position. We are dismissive of other countries' concern with the world environment, with nuclear containment, and with international law. Carter gives specifics gathered from his world travels and from the experts' forums he regularly assembles at the Carter Center in Atlanta. We have, for example, declared our right to first use of nuclear weapons. We have used aid money to bribe people against holding us accountable to international law. We have run secret detention centers where hundreds of people are held without formal charges or legal representation. We have rewarded with high office men who, like Alberto Gonzales, say that the Geneva Conventions on treatment of prisoners are "obsolete" or even "quaint," or who, like John Bolton, say that it is "a big mistake for us to grant any validity to international law even when it may seem in our short-term interest to do so." The result, as Carter writes, has been to turn a vast fund of international good will accruing to us after September 11 into fear of and contempt for America unparalleled in modern times. We undermine the inspection teams of the UN and the IAEA with the result that we blunder into Iraq on bad information gathered from self-serving hacks buttering up our officialdom. On the eve of our attack on Iraq, Carter published an Op-Ed piece in The New York Times arguing in terms of the just war tradition that a preemptive and unilateral invasion was unjustified. Going to war was not a last resort (inspections could have continued to contain Saddam until the proof of WMDs, or the lack of them, could be established). War was not authorized by international authorities for eliminating nuclear weapons, but was an opportunity seized in order "to achieve regime change and to establish a Pax Americana in the region." It did not promise proportional violence with a clear hope of providing better conditions than the ones it was remedying. Carter's was a calm and moral judgment about the war, which most Americans now believe was the right one. In retrospect, a majority think the war was a mistake. We should have listened to Carter. * * * Carter is a patriot. He lists all the things that Americans have to be proud of. That is why he is so concerned that we are squandering our treasures, moral even more than economic. He has come to the defense of our national values, which he finds endangered. He proves that a devout Christian does not need to be a fundamentalist or fanatic, any more than a patriotic American has to be punitive, narrow, and self-righteous. He defends the separation of church and state because he sees with nuanced precision the interactions of faith, morality, politics, and pragmatism. That is a combination that once was not rare, but is becoming more so. We need a voice from the not-so-distant past, and this quiet voice strikes just the right notes. * * * Mariner.