Saturday, June 02, 2007

Our Endangered Values: A Book Review

Jimmy Carter, Our Endangered Values: America’s Moral Crisis (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2005).

A friend lent me this book and I’m grateful. Over the years my views of Jimmy Carter have softened. When he was President, he seemed to me to be totally overwhelmed and clueless. I now know that wasn’t always the case, but Carter is famous for his micromanagement techniques that just don’t work when you’re the man in charge of an entire nation. I didn’t vote for him in either ‘76 or ‘80 (in ‘80, on the ride with John Anderson,I left the Republican party for good). But this ain’t about me. After Carter lost the Presidency in 1980, he’s gone on to become the best ex-president the nation has known and has gained my admiration.

In Our Endangered Values, Jimmy Carter attempts to link his Christian faith with his political beliefs. From my reading, he sees a two prong attack on traditional American beliefs: the rise of religious fundamentalism and the damage being done by our current President and his polices. In defending these values, he writes with passion.

Carter’s first concern is that our values are being attacked theologically. He rightfully points out that fundamentalism is a problem in many religions other than Christianity (you have Jewish, Islamic, Hindu and even Mormon fundamentalism). Although he doesn’t cite the source for his knowledge on fundamentalism, but the work of Martin Marty at the University of Chicago came to mind. However, Carter is interested in Christian fundamentalism and especially the role conservatives have played in the take-over of the Southern Baptist Convention. Pointing out how they have destroyed historic Baptist traditions, such as the role of the laity, he quotes one of the Southern Baptist’s most known conservative leaders, W. A. Criswell, who said: ‘Lay leadership of the church is unbiblical when it weakens the pastor’s authority as ruler of the church.” (page 42) As an outsider, I agree with Carter that there seems to be a dramatic shift going on in Baptist doctrine with the power moving into the hands of the clergy; however, I wonder if Criswell’s quote was taken out of context.

Although Carter doesn’t like what’s going on in his denomination, he also concerned with how conservative Christianity gets played out in the political arena. Here he seems to be a bit fuzzy as he lumps together Christian fundamentalism with those of a premillennium, pretribulation rapture, dispensationalist world view. This view of Scripture came into the mainstream in America with the publication of the Scofield Reference Bible and made more popular with the 70s bestseller The Late Great Planet Earth and more recently with the fictional Left Behind Series. I agree with Carter that such a view of scripture is heresy and that basing our foreign policy on such a view can have disastrous results. But not all Biblical conservatives are in support of such a view of Scripture and, from my limited perspective; it’s been Biblical conservatives such as R. C. Sproul and the late John Gerstner who have been vocal and convincing about the danger of applying such a world view to scripture.

The second threat to our values addressed by Carter comes from the Republican Party and specifically from the Bush administration. Although this book was published two years ago, reading it I was reminded of Carter’s recent statement about Bush being America’s most disastrous President. This comment created a firestorm in the press. Carter attacks the Administration on it’s foreign policy, it’s handling of the war on terrorism and nuclear proliferation, it’s advocacy of preemptive war, it’s environmental policy and finally failing to address the increasing disparity between the rich and the poor. As a way to reach out beyond his followers, Carter continually draws upon Bush’s fellow Republicans to support his thesis that Bush’s policies are making the world increasingly unsafe while doing damage to the environment and not easing the suffering of the poorest of the poor.

It’s somewhat disappointing that Carter didn’t write more about how he tried to deal with his Christian beliefs as the leader of the free world. He admitted a few compromises he made, such as with the issues of abortion and the death penalty. Although he said he personally had problems with both, he found himself in the position of having to carry out the law of the land. When Carter did discuss how his role as President related to this faith, I felt he was trying to rationalize his decisions. Such discussions about the conflict of one’s public position and one’s faith need a greater discussion as we head into another election cycle.

Toward the end of this book, Carter cites statistics that show Americans thinking of themselves much more generous than we really are and points out how much of our foreign aid goes out with strings attached that often keeps it from helping those who need it most. His book is a call for America to both resist the threat of fundamentalism while playing a generous role in the world.

This is the type of a book that I’d recommend all presidential candidates write before running for office.

I could have used Jimmy's book for my Southern Reading Challenge, but didn't. I'm glad to see that several folks who read here are participating. I encourage all you who are taking the challenge to go over to Maggie's site and sign up and read about all the rules. (Murf is such a legalist as she has pointed out that I didn't post all the rules.) There's even a rumor there will be prizes!
For a list of Sage's book and movie reviews, click here.
Also check out Semicolon's Saturday Review of Books. (I really need to put this link in my sidebar!)


  1. I did vote for Carter as a college student ---the first time I ever voted. I then became disillusioned with Democrats and with Carter over the abortion issue, as I know many peopl did, and moved toward conservatism in politics in other areas.

    I wonder if I'm beginning to see a move back toward the Democratic party among evangelicals? I think the the only thing that's holding back the dam is the abortion issue.

  2. Your first paragraph sums up how I feel about Carter too. I want to read this book!

  3. I must read this book. Jimmy's a good man and a very intelligent one. I always listen to what he has to say.

  4. Sherry, both parties fall short in one area or another--I don't like abortion but also dislike a lot of tactics by the "pro-life" folks who I also fail to see as truely pro-life since most are also pro-capital punishment. One of my turning points in politics which had a lot to do with me never going back to the Republicans after Anderson was watching a documentary done by Jerry Falwell in 1980 dealing with national defense and I found myself asking if we both worshipped the same Prince of Peace.

    Kenju & Mistress, you'll both enjoy it if that's your take on Carter. I'd like to read your take on the book

  5. I admire Carter for accomplishing so much as our best ex-president. I would add that no one likes abortion, the question is choice, which for me is a feminist issue. And for those wishing to limit the number of abortions in this country, consider what options your community is providing to women - are there support groups for unwed mothers? adoption networks in place?

    As for Falwell, I have no doubt that his version of the bible is much different than that the rest of us read - his is mainly concerned with demonizing gays and liberals and justifying increased defense spending in the face of increased poverty in this land of ours.

  6. Carter was a much loved US president in India. And that is saying something!

    I will read this book sooner now. I Like your thought on it.

    I will chk Maggie reads too! Thanks!

  7. Diane, I agree that no one likes abortion. Although I think it is wrong, and very seldom a good option, I also don't want to go back to the days when women die from infections by having backroom abortions. I suppose my postion is that abortions should be tightly regulated and that support systems should be in place for both adoptions and unwed mothers who want to raise their children.

    Gautami, How (and why) was Carter viewed differently in India than other presidents?

  8. Thanks for the review, Sage. Sounds like it is definitely worth a read. I don't really remember the Carter administration, but have admired him for being so active post-Presidency.

  9. sounds great... very interesting.

    i'd have to agree with diana and you sage on the abortion issue. although as you know i'm absolutely pro choice.. (with more choices too, so that less women feel they have no option but abortion, which frankly is a horrible decision to take.) meaning better sex ed and free contraception and help for women and men.
    also i've never understood how so many so called 'pro-lifers' are also pro the death penalty. absolutely ridiculous. barbaric and totally hypocritical.

    thanks for another great review though sweetpea.

  10. I agree that the 177-year-old pretrib rapture view is totally contradictory to the Bible. To see how it came into being, Google "Pretrib Rapture Diehards." The same author has a 300-page bestselling book "The Rapture Plot" (Armageddon Books) which brings to light the early rapture documents he discovered while researching in Britain - documents that other scholars had somehow overlooked, documents which (if evaluated fairly) can drive the last nails into the pretrib rapture coffin! Marge