I've Moved!!!

See my new site at http://tomtesblog.tumblr.com!!!

Our Endangered Values

| 1.2.06
Our Endangered Values: America's Moral Crisis, by Jimmy Carter

I was a bit underwhelmed by this book, partly because I expected it to comment more on the state of religious fundamentalism in America, and partly because of its style. I was thinking this book would be an in-depth analysis of the fusion between right-wing religion and politics. Having recently finished Jim Wallis' "God's Politics: Why the Right is Wrong and the Left Doesn't Get It," perhaps I expected more from the former president and Nobel laureate.

"Our Endangered Values" begins with Jimmy Carter's self-described "traditional" Baptist beliefs, and continues with how he views current political issues. Yet Carter doesn't explicitly make the connection between religious belief and policy position as often as one would like. Instead the book is packed with a superficial critique of many Bush administration policy positions, as well as some justifications for Carter's own policies when he was president.

While I am certainly no admirer of Bush's policies and should have a sympathetic ear for Carter's arguments, I did not find the way he presented his case very compelling. I certainly admire what he has done through the Carter Center and Habitat for Humanity. I even believe that there are religious convictions that underpin compassionate behavior for both individuals and governments. I am certainly no endorser of the pre-millennial dispensationalism and fundamentalism that Carter sees as the root and the cancer of many American foreign policy decisions. Yet Carter's approach --lots of examples, lots of statistics, but no citations or in-depth analysis-- left me strangely cold.

The biggest question this book raised for me was, "Why is Carter the anomaly --a Baptist with relatively traditional spirituality, yet progressive on many political issues?" Carter claims that it is the Southern Baptist Convention (and by proxy the larger conservative culture) that has changed, but I tend to think that it's the other way around. With the vast majority of Southern Baptists finding right wing, not left wing politics as the most natural expression of the their convictions, Carter has the burden of proof in showing why being liberal is a more faithful expression of his religious tradition.

Carter remains fascinating to me nonetheless. The earliest president I can remember firsthand from childhood, I remember my fundamentalist parents voting for him because he was "born again," yet becoming bitterly disillusioned with what they perceived as his ineffectual handling of the energy crisis and hostage crisis of the 1970s. By the 80s they were Reagan supporters, Moral Majority supporters, and to my knowledge never again voted for a Democrat.

Almost every conservative Christian religious tradition I can think of imagines a golden age in the past, and claims its authority based upon being in agreement with that past, or trying to return to that past. Interestingly, Carter tries to do the same thing in his book, claiming that we used to have thoughtful, civil discourse which has been ruined by the fundamentalist influence in politics and culture. I found the approach interesting, and wonder if it is convincing to it's target audience.

Maybe progressives DO need to couch their arguments in traditional language in order to relate to a broader audience. I take a "re-constructionist" approach in my own theological views, using traditional symbols and language to articulate new ideas. Maybe the time has come for a similar approach in politics?

PUBLISHER: Simon & Schuster (November 1, 2005); ISBN: 0743284577

No comments:

I've Moved!!!

See my new site at http://tomtesblog.tumblr.com!!!