Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Jimmy Carter's worried about fundamentalists taking over the government. As the most overtly Christian president in recent times (not including the current one), I'm interested in what he means.

After reading the interview (below), I'm definitely not a fundamentalist according to Carter's definition:

A fundamentalist by, almost by definition as I describe is a very strong male religious leader, always a man, who believes that he is completely wedded to God, has a special privilege and relationship to God above others."

"The other thing they do, and this is the only other thing I'll add, is that they don't believe that it's right to negotiate or to compromise with people who disagree with them because any deviation from their absolute beliefs is a derogation of their own faith. So, those two things, exclusiveness, domination and being very highly biased are the elements of fundamentalism."

I'd rather identify with Carter's definition of his own beliefs:

"KING: You believe that Christ returns that he died for your sins?

CARTER: Absolutely.

KING: All right. Since you believe that then someone who doesn't believe that, you have to believe is wrong, right?

CARTER: Well but I don't condemn them and I communicate with them and I openly try to let them know what I believe and listen to what they believe and live in peace with them. It's not a matter of domination or subjugation of others. It's a matter of humility and trying to serve others, yes.

Here's the full article:

ASSIST News Service (ANS) - PO Box 609, Lake Forest, CA 92609-0609 USA
Visit our web site at: www.assistnews.net -- E-mail: danjuma1@aol.com

Monday, November 14, 2005

Takes On Fundamentalism As It Occurs In National And Political Life In The U.S.

By Michael Ireland
Chief Correspondent, ASSIST News Service
Photo credit: Simon & Shuster website

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA (ANS) -- Jimmy Carter, the 39th President of the United States, takes on the religious right in his new book called "Our Endangered Values: America's Moral Crisis." President Carter has written many books, including fiction, poetry, and children's books, but this is his first foray in print into the political arena.

In a prime-time interview with CNN's Larry King, the talk show host asked Carter why he wrote the new book?

"Well, I've been very concerned, Larry, that some of the basic moral values of our country in the last few years have been profoundly and dramatically changed in an unprecedented way and I believe that this is the part not just from what Democrats or Republicans believe and it's not between just recent changes.

"It means that the things that we are doing now with our government have never been done before in history and that includes the time of George Bush, Sr. It includes the time of Gerald Ford. It includes the time of Ronald Reagan and all the way back to Eisenhower.

"And so these changes have really severely changed the basic attitude of our country, the basic policies of America's government and I believe this is something that is of great concern, not only to me but to many other people.

King asked Carter: "You say morals of the country, but doesn't the religious right, the religious far right, the evangelicals preach morals?

Carter responded; "Of course they do. A lot of people teach morals and I believe that everybody has their own standard of morals. One of the things that does concern me about recent developments is an unprecedented increase and a commitment to fundamentalism in the religious right and also within the government and that has been coming along for the last 20, 25 years.

"Another change though is that for the first time in the history of our country since Thomas Jefferson said build a wall between church and state there has been a deliberate and overt, not secret melding of religion and politics or the church and state, which I believe is not only contrary to what our founding fathers intended and what everyone else has agreed to the last 230 years but also in my opinion, as a Christian, it's different from what I've been taught to believe in my religion.

KING: President Carter, you're a lay preacher right?

CARTER: No, I teach Sunday school, but I'm not a preacher, no.

KING: But you're very religious?

CARTER: Yes, I'm a devout Christian, yes like many other people.

KING: OK. You're a devout Christian. Is it a thin line between what you believe and what the fundamentalist believes?

CARTER: Yes, there's a thin line between what I think all deeply religious people believe. Ordinarily most of us, whether we are Christians or Catholics or Protestants, whether we are Jews or whether we might be Muslims, we basically agree on justice, on service to others, on humility, on truthfulness, on peace, I worship the Prince of Peace, on forgiveness and on compassion. So, there are a lot of things that bind us together.

"A fundamentalist though, as I define in this book, in extreme cases has come to the forefront in recent years both in Islam and in some areas of Christianity. A fundamentalist by, almost by definition as I describe is a very strong male religious leader, always a man, who believes that he is completely wedded to God, has a special privilege and relationship to God above others.

"And, therefore, since he speaks basically in his opinion for God, anyone who disagrees with him at all is inherently and by definition wrong and therefore inferior. And one of the first things that a male fundamentalist wants to do is to subjugate women to make them subservient and to subjugate others that don't believe as he does.

"The other thing they do, and this is the only other thing I'll add, is that they don't believe that it's right to negotiate or to compromise with people who disagree with them because any deviation from their absolute beliefs is a derogation of their own faith. So, those two things, exclusiveness, domination and being very highly biased are the elements of fundamentalism."

KING: You believe that Christ returns that he died for your sins?

CARTER: Absolutely.

KING: All right. Since you believe that then someone who doesn't believe that, you have to believe is wrong, right?

CARTER: Well but I don't condemn them and I communicate with them and I openly try to let them know what I believe and listen to what they believe and live in peace with them. It's not a matter of domination or subjugation of others. It's a matter of humility and trying to serve others, yes.

KING: When did this start? I mean not -- you told me when it started, why did it start?

CARTER: Well, I think there's been always maybe for a century some elements of fundamentals. You know, I believe in the fundamentals of my faith. But in the book that I have written I describe in some detail the exact definition of what I consider to be a fundamentalist that I've just outlined just two principles of it.

"In my own Baptist faith the right wing began to dominate and fundamentalism came to the forefront beginning in 1949 about 25 years ago and it came to fruition I would guess about five years ago when the leaders of my denomination issued a creed in effect, a state of principles that they themselves drafted and now you cannot be an employee in the Southern Baptist Convention.

"You can't be a missionary overseas. You can't be a pastor. You can't be a chaplain in the armed services. You can't be an administrator or teacher in any of the seminaries or higher education institutions unless you accept that creed and that's something that is completely unprecedented and has never happened in my faith before."

KING: And what do you make of it entering the political arena? Do they have clout?

CARTER: Oh, they have a lot of clout, yes, certainly in my part of the country and in the southwest. There's no doubt about this and that's something else that's happened just recently is a public and open melding of marriage of the right wing members of the religious establishment on the one hand and the right wing elements of the Republican Party. I personally would think this is wrong even if it was the right wing or the left wing of the Democratic Party.

"But this is something that Thomas Jefferson espoused, as you know, when he said build a wall between church and state and I happen, as you know, I'm a Christian and I believe that Jesus Christ ordained this when he said 'Render under Caesar the things that are Caesar's and unto God the things that are God's.' So, this breaking down of the barriers between the two is just one of the elements in recent years that causes me concern.

KING: Do you include President Bush in that category?

CARTER: Yes, I do. I think it's open about it and President Bush has made no bones about it and when I make my statements, which I've just finished making to you in part, there are others who disagree very strongly with me and say well it's perfectly all right to do what we have done.

"So, they don't admit that they are wrong and I don't maintain that I'm completely right and they are wrong, but there's an honest difference of opinion in this country that needs to be resolved I think in the future as it has been resolved for the last 230 years in our country already."

KING: What's been, I know you do more traveling than anyone, what's been the feeling about this elsewhere?

CARTER: Well, I experienced fundamentalism in the Islamic faith when the Iranians took American hostages and the Ayatollah Khomeini, who was a fundamentalist, felt that it was alright to hold foreigners hostage when in my opinion I studied the Quran after that happened. In the Quran it very carefully and meticulously says you do not mistreat visitors in your own home or visitors in your own country if they are foreigners.

"So, that was my first taste of fundamentalism and, of course, fundamentalism can be taken to an extreme too that other people who disagree are not only wrong and inferior but subhuman and in an extreme case, of course, we know that fundamentalists in the Islamic faith declare that anyone who is associated now with the great nation of America ought to be, you know, punished in some way, even killed."

KING: Whether you agree or disagree, you can't deny the timeliness of this book, "Our Endangered Values" by President Jimmy Carter. For instance, you write, "It's an embarrassing tragedy to see a departure from our nation's historic leadership as a champion of human rights with the abandonment defended legally by our top officials." You're talking about the treatment of prisoners and the like.

Tomorrow night Senator John McCain will be here, taking the same position as you do on this.

CARTER: Yes, that's true.

KING: What led to this? Fear with 9/11 did it right?

CARTER: Well, I think the decision to go into Iraq as a war was made before Bush was elected President George W. Bush, and I think that it was before 9/11 because some of the top officials in his government now decided after the withdrawal of Iraqi forces from Kuwait under George Bush, Sr. that he should have gone all the way to Baghdad and have removed Saddam Hussein from power. So that decision was made by some of them long before George Bush even was elected.

"I don't think there's any doubt that lately, as John McCain has pointed out, and as 90 of the 100 Senators have approved that our government has illegally and improperly been torturing prisoners, so John McCain and others are trying to have in the law just now being considered we should not be permitted to torture prisoners. This has been a part of our nation's policy ever since I can possibly -- well for more than 100 years at least.

KING: But we didn't -- we didn't have a 9/11.

CARTER: Well, but we had the Second World War, which was a lot more destructive for our people. In fact, my own uncle, Tom Gordy, was captured by the Japanese about two weeks after Pearl Harbor and he was a prisoner for four years. He was tortured severely, only weighed 85 pounds when he came out of prison. He was almost dead.

"And after that the Geneva Accords were written, which was approved by and even negotiated by the United States and we agreed that in order to protect our own reputation and in order to prevent our own service people from being tortured if they were captured that we would not torture prisoners who were held by us.

"That in a radical way is now being rejected by many people in our government and it's not a unanimous thing even within the Bush administration. There's a big debate going on whether the CIA should be permitted or the Defense Department should be permitted to torture people.

"I think it's completely wrong. It's completely damaging to our country and it's never been done before. That's just another one of the principles that bothers me."

KING: And the story today on the front page of "The Washington Post" reporting that the CIA set up covert prison systems nearly four years ago with facilities in Thailand, Afghanistan and Guantanamo, a secret prison system. What do you make of that?

CARTER: I was not surprised. In fact, I covered that in my book because there has been a program that was fairly well known that when we were condemned by members of the Congress for what was going on in Guantanamo, we began to move prisoners out of Guantanamo and those others that are captured in the Mideast and put them in countries where torture is alleged or permitted.

"And so this was not a revelation. It was very surprising because it's been a policy. And, as you know, just a few days ago the vice president went to the Congress to try to get key Senators to agree not to put in the McCain Amendment but to let the CIA have permission to torture prisoners.

"This has never been done in our country and it violates the reputation of our nation and it also I think makes it possible for our own prisoners to be in danger in the future."

KING: Do you think the Iraq War, based on the title of your book, do you think it's immoral?

CARTER: I don't think it was necessary. I think it was begun under false pretenses. I agreed with the invasion of Afghanistan because I was convinced the 9/11 attacks were planned and originated and financed through Afghanistan. I fully agreed that we had to take military action there.

"After 9/11 there was a unanimous approbation and sympathy for our country around the world. We had the opportunity then, Larry, of forming a phalanx of almost every nation on earth to join in a concerted team effort to root out and to minimize the adverse effect or threats from terrorism.

"We frittered that away by unnecessarily going into Iraq under false pretenses and now, of course, we have had more than 2,000 of our young people die, in my opinion heroically but in an unnecessary war.

"How we get out is a different proposition. I think it would be a serious mistake for us to withdraw peremptorily or in a hurry. We need to make sure that there's set up now a government in Iraq that can function and we need to train people to take over the security for Iraq.

"But this administration has never yet insinuated even that we intend to withdraw completely our military forces from Iraq, even ten, 15 or 20 years in the future and we've never insinuated at all that we are willing to share the profits or the advantages of dealing with Iran's (sic) economy that is oil primarily.

"If those two commitments were made in a clear and concise and unequivocal fashion, I think immediately the attacks on American forces and those who support us in Iraq would be diminished and the time for our withdrawal from Iraq would be expedited and come in the not too distant future. That has not yet been done. I think it ought to be done.

"I hope we'll withdraw from Iraq but I think we need to do a few things in advance, get a security force and get a government established, yes.

Larry King asked President Carter about the nomination of Samuel Alito to the high court, to which Carter replied that, "I'm not personally, as I mentioned in my book, I'm not all that concerned about the issue of abortion.

KING: Why?

CARTER: Well, Larry, I'm different from some people. I'm a Christian and I never have been able to believe that Jesus Christ would approve abortions unless the mother's life or health was directly threatened or perhaps if the pregnancy was a result of rape or incest."

King then asked President Carter about the death penalty?

CARTER: Again, I don't believe that Jesus Christ would approve a death penalty and when I was governor of Georgia and so forth, the Supreme Court had ruled that the death penalty was not permissible.

"As you know, that was changed in the 1970s and until early this year the United States Supreme Court even approved the death penalty for children. That has now been overthrown. I don't think it's ever been proven that the death penalty will deter crimes or be a serious impediment to crimes.

KING: Jimmy Carter, the Nobel Prize laureate, peace prize winner., "The New York Times" best selling author. Almost all of his books--I think every one of his books have been major best sellers.

Larry King then took calls from viewers. A caller Culver City, California, said he was an executive member of the North American Religious Liberty Association and wanted to know what Carter would recommend to stop the polarization in our country?

CARTER: Well, I think the best thing that we can do to stop the polarization of the divisions in our country is for us to not emphasize overly much the arguments concerning moral values that affects, for instance, gay marriage and abortion. I cover these in my book…and also the question of whether we should have religious exercises in our science classrooms. Those are the kind of things that are unresolvable. And I think that they should be completely separate.

"I'm not if favor of a marriage between two men or two women. A marriage is a religious ceremony. But I think the civil rights of gay people to live together in a union ought to be preserved. And many states are now doing that. And I think this is going to be the case in the future.

"As far as abortion is concerned, I've already covered that. I don't think that we're going to resolve it. Because between people who believe that conception begins when a male sperm is attacking a female ovum, people say from then on life exists, we shouldn't interfere with it.

"On the other hand, people say we can do anything with a woman's body regardless of the fetus, I think that's wrong. But there's a division that can be drawn between them as I've already described.

"So, I think that these social issues can divide people unnecessarily. We ought to work on things in religion, I presume that you're talking about religion, that would bring us together, a consistent commitment to justice.

"We worship the Prince of Peace, not preemptive war. We should believe in humility. We should believe in being generous to people who are in need.

"And we should not favor the richest people in America with tremendous tax breaks at the expense of people who are working family or poor people.

"So, there are some basic religious principles that could bind us together that are now dividing us very severely down the middle."

A viewer from Kingston, New Hampshire, asked President Carter what his thoughts were about the motive President Bush, "who seems so openly professes to be a Christian, but acted so quickly in going to war instead of trying to find a peaceful resolution."

CARTER: Well, that's another basic change that's taken place in our country that departs from every previous president we've had certainly in the last hundred or so more years.

"We've always had the proposition in our government, as a basic policy and it's also international law, that a country doesn't go to war unless our own security is directly threatened.

"That's been replaced now by this so-called preemptive war, which says that because America is so powerful militarily, we reserve the right to bomb another nation to launch missiles against it, to invade it, if we disagree with the basic policies of its leaders or if they are obnoxious in some way or if some time in the future they might mount a threat against our country.

"Preemptive war is a departure from every policy that we've had now in our country for the last 150 years. That's a radical departure. And, in my opinion, we don't worship the prince of preemptive war. We worship the Prince of Peace.

King then asked President Carter about the issue of Evangelicals wanting the right in the Air Force and the Air Force to evangelize, in the armed forces.

"(Do)You favor that?"

CARTER: No, I don't.

"I think that the Air Force Academy and the Naval Academy, where I went, and the Military Academy at West Point, all have students come, midshipmen and cadets, that are either atheists or agnostics or Catholics or Jews or Protestants or maybe Muslims and Hindus.

"I don't think that they should use their official domination by superior officers made the common friend of the Naval Academy, for instance, or military academy or Air Force Academy to try to force the cadets or the midshipmen to adopt a particular religion even though it happens to be the religion that I myself espouse. "

King later asked the former President: "By the way, as a Christian, do you believe in creationism?"

CARTER: I believe there's a supreme being, God, who created the entire universe, yes. And I am a scientist, as a matter of fact, as you may know, I studied nuclear physics. I helped to develop nuclear submarines. So, I believe in science. I believe we ought to explore the far outreaches of space. We ought to make sure we understand everything we can about the particles that make up the atoms.

"I think we ought to discover everything we can about science. It ought to be accepted as proved unless it's discounted. I believe still in a supreme being. But, I don't believe that we ought to teach religious matters in a science classroom, because I think that the two ought not to be related.

"They ought to be completely separate. And I don't think anyone, Larry, interferes in full belief in the other. I believe completely in scientific proofs and values unless they're discounted. I believe in a supreme being. But, I don't believe you ought to teach creationism in the science classroom.

A Tampa, Florida, called asked the former Democratic President: "I'm increasingly concerned about the negative changes in our government. What specific actions would you recommend that we can take as individual citizens to effect change in our government and to help stop the lives or make a difference without having to wait two and a half years for the next presidential election? "

CARTER: Well, that's really the reason I wrote this book. I tried to define in very accurate terms, the unprecedented, the profound, the traumatic changes that have taken place just in the last five years as compared to all the previous presidents who've ever served in this country.

"And how radical they are. And I would like for every American to understand these changes and then, obviously, to use whatever influence you have, writing your local newspapers, contacting the Congress members, expressing your views, talking to your friends.

"And obviously in the election that will take place next year, vote for members of Congress who represent you in Washington according to what you deeply believe. And try to persuade others to do the same.

"Then two years after that, when the next presidential election takes place, you can do the same thing. Many of these issues that I describe to you tonight, most of them are national in effect, but some of them are local issues. So, you might have a chance to affect local affairs as well."

Another caller, from Ottawa, Canada, commented: "President Carter began by referring favorably to Jefferson's wall between -- separation of church and state, but then he said that because he was a devout Christian, he would restrict Roe v. Wade and because we worship the Prince of Peace, that is the reason for not going to war and that is the reason for not having capital punishment. Isn't he contradicting himself, choosing to use the bottle when it serves him and going for separation when it doesn't serve him?

"And also since he believes the Bible is the word of God, how can it condone slavery and it condones burning witches, women who were accused of being witches. "

KING: Is that a departure? Can you be opposed to Roe vs. Wade on religious grounds?

CARTER: Well, I'm opposed to (it) --I didn't say that I would condemn Roe versus Wade, as a matter of fact. I said if we assume that Roe v. Wade is going to be the law and try to minimize abortions under Roe vs. Wade.

"And I described the things, that the man was listening, that we can do about it. That is, give women and children more financial support and help during early childhood. And also increase the opportunities for adoptions. And then give education to our young people that are going to be sexually active. I would like for them to be faithful only to their married husband or wife, but if they are going to have sexual activities, to make sure they know how to prevent pregnancy. That's what I think I would do.

"And I don't attribute those beliefs just because I'm a Christian. I think that they are applicable just from common sense."

KING: How about slavery in the Bible and witches and burnings?

CARTER: Well, there's some things, and, you know, there's some things in the Bible that you can't take literally. And I don't think God intended for us to.

"The earth is not flat. And stars can't fall out of heaven on the ground like figs falling off a tree and things of that kind, but people can believe that if they want to.

"I, personally, don't believe that the earth was created in 4, 004 B.C. I think it was created a lot earlier than that. But some of those things are symbolic.

"And every believer in Biblical text whether you're Jewish or Christian, has to make some rational assumptions. And if science proves that the stars are a long distance away and that earth was created earlier by geology and so forth, then I don't see that it's incompatibility with Christianity."

>From Ashland, Alabama, a caller said: "President Carter, I consider you to be historically one of the best presidents we've ever had. And you were one of the best inspirations in my lifetime.

"My question is would the advent of having to have foreign aid, don't you think it's important that we have more aid here as far as taking care of our own country with the minimum wage, health care and education? Thank you."

CARTER: Yes, I'm glad you asked that.

As you know, the minimum wage under this administration has been frozen at $5.15. Since it was frozen the Congress have increased their wn salaries by $30,000 a year. We have one of the lowest minimum wages in the whole world in the developed parts of the world.

"And this has been a radical change over the past as well because almost all of the taxes that have been reduced have been for the richest people on earth.

"And many conservatives, I'm sure a lot of them in Alabama, your neighbors, are very deeply concerned about the unprecedented deficits that have been accumulated during the last four or five years.

"And the deficits have been brought about not because we're giving better services to, the working class people that you represent, but because we've given the enormous tax breaks to the richest Americans alive.

"That has been another radical departure from the past. And it's different from what Republicans and Democratic presidents and administrations have done in years gone by."

Larry King than asked President Carter, "Do you think this shift to fundamentalism will switch back? Will the pendulum swing? "

CARTER: Yes, I think so. I believe that the recent public opinion polls, Larry, have shown a great and growing disillusionment with what's been happening in Washington in the last five years. And there's a doubt about this administration and the direction it's going.

"And I don't think there's any doubt that there's a strong belief among most Americans that we ought to keep fundamentalism out of religion and out of politics, and we ought not to meld the two, and separate and break down the wall between church and state that's been part of our heritage since the founding fathers' times. "

President Carter said he has just returned from monitoring a recent election in Liberia.

"We did the election in Liberia, which I hope will bring peace and democracy to that troubled country. That's our 61st election that Rose and I have helped monitor from the Carter Center.

"And our next election to be monitored will be in Palestine in January where we hope to see a parliament chosen by the Palestinian people. We were there in January for the choosing of the president for the Palestinians. That's the next thing we have in mind as far as elections go.

President Carter said he has not yet been to Iraq.

"The Carter Center just goes where we're invited. And we don't interfere if the United Nations and the U.S. government is heavily involved in taking care of the problem, then we don't interfere or compete with anybody.

The former President said his Nobel Peace Prize is in the Carter Presidential Library, in Atlanta, Georgia, which is open daily to the public, every day but Christmas and New Year's.

**This article was based on a rush transcript of the CNN program Larry King Lived, which aired on November 2, and was re-broadcast on Nov.13, 2005.

** Michael Ireland is an international British freelance journalist. A former reporter with a London newspaper, Michael is the Chief Correspondent for ASSIST News Service of Garden Grove, California. Michael immigrated to the United States in 1982 and became a US citizen in September, 1995. He is married with two children. Michael has also been a frequent contributor to UCB Europe, a British Christian radio station.

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