Jimmy Carter is publicizing his new audiobook series, Sunday Mornings in Plains, a collection of weekly Bible lessons from his Georgia hometown, the press is following him, and Al Jazeera is following the press. One cannot blame Al Jazeera for their interest. Carter's last book (print medium) dealt with the Middle East in the most direct terms he could muster; and one of those terms happened to involve the concept of apartheid. In this case it should be no surprise that a book based on Bible lessons should turn its attention to a President who takes pride in attributing his decisions to his direct communion with God. Whatever anyone may have thought about Carter as a President, it would be hard to find anyone who doubted the seriousness of his own sense of religion; and that sense has now led him to speak out against Bush in very harsh terms. Here is the Al Jazeera account:
"I think as far as the adverse impact on the nation around the world, this administration has been the worst in history," Carter told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette in a story that appeared in the newspaper's Saturday editions.
"The overt reversal of America's basic values as expressed by previous administrations, including those of George H.W. Bush and Ronald Reagan and Richard Nixon and others, has been the most disturbing to me."
He also said that Bush has taken a "radical departure from all previous administration policies" with the Iraq war.
"We now have endorsed the concept of pre-emptive war where we go to war with another nation militarily, even though our own security is not directly threatened, if we want to change the regime there or if we fear that some time in the future our security might be endangered."
Al Jazeera further reported that this seems to be the context in which Carter has chosen to assess Tony Blair's career as Prime Minister:
In a separate interview the BBC, the British state broadcasting service, Carter also criticised Blair, the British prime minister.
Asked how he would judge Blair's support of Bush, the former president said: "Abominable. Loyal. Blind. Apparently subservient."
"And I think the almost undeviating support by Great Britain for the ill-advised policies of President Bush in Iraq have been a major tragedy for the world."
These remarks are valuable not just for those of us who simply like to welcome new voices raised in criticism of the Bush Administration. They also remind us that religion does have a place in just about any culture, as long as we are cognizant of what that place is. While I continue to be content with my own atheist stance, I an appreciate the extent to which religion provides a means to reflect on many of the challenging concepts that life throws at us (such as evil) and on our role in a "real world" that should impose all of those challenges. Unfortunately, too many religious leaders prefer to see themselves as the vessels of simple answers to such challenges. Sadly, not only are those simple answers wrong; but also, more often than not, they fall back on destructive strategies, such as intolerance of other view of (and approaches to) that "real world." Thus, when anyone chooses to draw upon their personal sense of religion, it is important for the rest of us to figure out on which side of the coin that sense lies. Carter is one of those whose sense has always been on the former side, which is why I continue to value his observations when he chooses to share them.