"Our Endangered Values" by Jimmy Carter (S&S, 2005)
A lot of people say Jimmy Carter is a great man--but was a bad president. I've never been sure both could be true. I've had the pleasure of "meeting" Carter twice, for a millisecond at book signings. Some co-workers and I joined hundreds of other Chicagoans for a signing last fall of his his latest book, "Our Endangered Values." I ended up giving that autographed copy to my father-in-law, who said he loved it. I finally got a copy from the library to read myself.
This book is a succinct summary of what's wrong with our country today: The U.S. is losing its moral authority because we haven't lived the values upon which we were founded, including truth, peace, freedom, and human rights. Incidentally, although Carter believes in the separation of church and state, he sees these national values as rooted in his own Christian (Baptist) faith.
The problem, as he sees it (and I concur) is that today we don't walk the talk. While there's plenty of discussion about moral values, democracy and freedom, and human rights, we consistently make policy that contradicts these ideals. We disregard international law and treaties about nuclear weapons and the environment, wage preemptive war in the name of "peace," and give the least of any developed nations to help those who live on less than $1 a day. Even our churches discriminate against women, support the death penalty, and try to "save" marriage, not from its greatest threat--divorce--but by condemning homosexuality.
Although religious fundamentalists and corporate business interests currently have the power in our government (and some churches), Carter believes the majority of Americans share these "endangered values" yet are unaware of how they are being subverted. "I am convinced that our great nation could realize all reasonable dreams of global influence if we properly utilized the advantageous values of our religious faith and historical ideals of peace, economic and political freedom, democracy, and human rights," he writes.
Although he definitely does some defending of his own presidency throughout the book (and highlights the excellent human rights work of The Carter Center), this is an honest plea for Americans to wake up to the dangerous direction the country is going. If we can ignore nuclear proliferation treaties, if we can wage pre-emptive war, then others will follow our lead--to our detriment.
"I prayed more during those four years in the White House than at any other time in my life, primarily for patience, courage, and the wisdom to make good decisions," Carter writes. Perhaps it's time to storm the heavens once again.