An Overwhelming Religious Mandate

My greatest problem with Republicans is their total disregard for the environment. For me, that’s the number reason to vote Democrat, even though Democrats don’t have a particularly good track record here, either. If I thought a Republican had a much better record than a Democrat on this issue, I’d vote for him.

It’s obvious, though, that Carter’s greatest issue with Conservatives is their neglect of the poor and emphasis on serving the richest people in our society. Carter seems particularly upset by religious conservatives:

There is an overwhelming religious mandate, often ignored by fundamentalists, to alleviate the plight of those who are in need. Jim Wallis, editor of Sojourners magazine, reports that he and a group of other seminary students searched the Bible to find every verse that referred to wealth and poverty. They were impressed to discover that one out of sixteen verses in the New Testament, one in ten in three of the Gospels, and one in seven in the Gospel of Luke referred to money or to the poor. In the Hebrew Scriptures, only idolatry was mentioned more times than the relationship between rich and poor.

Though I don’t consider myself a Christian, I know that both of my parents, Christians who experienced the Great Depression, always saw helping the poor as one of their Christian duties. In fact, I still donate regularly to The Salvation Army in memory of my mother.

I think Carter is right on when he argues that:

Our entire society is becoming increasingly divided, not necessarily between black, white, or Hispanic, but primarily between the rich and the poor. Many of us don't even know a poor person. If we have a maid or yardman, we would probably not go to their house and have a cup of coffee in their kitchen or know the names of their teenage sons or, God forbid, invite them to come to our house or to take their children to a baseball game with our kids. Even those of us who accept an all-inclusive Christ as Savior are strongly inclined to live separate lives and avoid forming cohesive personal relations with our neighbors. Rosalynn and I have been equally susceptible to this failing.

Unfortunately, since moving to Tacoma I don’t know hardly anyone except through the virtual world of blogging, but it’s unlikely I’m going to meet many poor people in my neighborhood when my $340,000 house is the cheapest house in the neighborhood.

Of course, we Americans love to assuage their democratic feelings by telling themselves that “we are the most generous people in the world.“ Carter suggests otherwise:

Despite all the goodwill and generosity that exist among American citizens, the amount of foreign assistance going from our government to the poor is still embarrassingly small. Predictably, much of the U.S. government's foreign aid goes to friendly nations and military allies, and Washington restricts many other kinds of assistance with all kinds of political strings. It is distressing to see our great nation defaulting on its obligation to share a respectable portion of our wealth with the most destitute people on earth.

and backs it up with statistics:

Sharing wealth with those that are starving and suffering unnecessarily is a value by which a nation's moral values are measured, and there is a strange and somewhat disturbing situation in our country. Americans are willing to be generous in helping others and they believe that our government gives as much as 15 percent of our federal budget in foreign aid. But we are, in fact, the stingiest of all industrialized nations. We allot about one thirtieth as much as is commonly believed. Our gross national income (GM) is about $ 11 trillion, of which we share with poor nations only sixteen cents out of each $100 If we add all the donations from American foundations and from other private sources to the government's funds, the total still amounts to just twenty two cents per $100 of national income.

Isn’t that “chump change?” And this under a “Christian“ administration !#!?

I suppose we shouldn’t be surprised at how little money is spent on helping the world’s poor when we see how Republicans treat the poor in our own country:

Under the tax cuts pushed through Congress since 2000,for every dollar in reductions for a middle class family, the top 1 percent of households will receive $54, and those with $1 million or more in income will benefit by $191 During the first three years, the number of Americans living in poverty increased by 3.5 million, while the income for the four hundred wealthiest Americans jumped by 10 percent just in the year 2002. Another indication of the growing division between rich and poor in recent years is that the salaries of corporate chief executive officers have gone from forty times to four hundred times the average worker's pay. Even though there was strong growth in corporate profits, wages for the average worker fell in 2004, after adjusting for inflation the first such drop in many years.

When executives get paid multi-million dollar bonuses for cutting expenses by laying off workers rather than for finding ways for them to produce more income for the company, you know something is wrong. In the good-old-days those kinds of leaders would have been fired for a lack of leadership, not rewarded. Hell, in the State of Washington they brag about how they saved thousands of jobs and use their $28 million dollar bonus to run for the U.S. Senate.

Still, the Republicans are consistent, if nothing else:

Despite touting concern for working Americans and private home ownership, key political leaders in Washington have successfully blocked any increase in the minimum wage, which has been held at only $5.15 per hour for eight years and not indexed to accommodate inflation. (In comparison, in U.S. dollars and based on currency values in April 2005, the minimum wage in Australia is $8.66, in France $8.88, in Italy $9.18, in England $9.20, and in Germany $12.74.)

Assuming fifty weeks at forty hours per week, this sets the U.S. minimum annual income at $10,300, below the poverty level, for tens of millions of Americans who have full-time jobs.

Even the rich can ill afford to eat out if they have to pay exorbitant wages to those serving them and working in the kitchen preparing the food. Who knows how expensive motel or hotel rooms might be if the people who changed the sheets and cleaned the rooms got paid huge wages? After all, you can’t outsource those jobs to third-world countries. Or can you?

The Value of Poverty

My greatest problem with Republicans is their total disregard for the environment. For me, that’s the number reason to vote Democrat, even though Democrats don’t have a particularly good track record here, either. If I thought a Republican had a much better record than a Democrat on this issue, I’d vote for him.

It’s obvious, though, that Carter’s greatest issue with Conservatives is their neglect of the poor and emphasis on serving the richest people in our society. Carter seems particularly upset by religious conservatives:

There is an overwhelming religious mandate, often ignored by fundamentalists, to alleviate the plight of those who are in need. Jim Wallis, editor of Sojourners magazine, reports that he and a group of other seminary students searched the Bible to find every verse that referred to wealth and poverty. They were impressed to discover that one out of sixteen verses in the New Testament, one in ten in three of the Gospels, and one in seven in the Gospel of Luke referred to money or to the poor. In the Hebrew Scriptures, only idolatry was mentioned more times than the relationship between rich and poor.

Though I don’t consider myself a Christian, I know that both of my parents, Christians who experienced the Great Depression, always saw helping the poor as one of their Christian duties. In fact, I still donate regularly to The Salvation Army in memory of my mother.

I think Carter is right on when he argues that:

Our entire society is becoming increasingly divided, not necessarily between black, white, or Hispanic, but primarily between the rich and the poor. Many of us don't even know a poor person. If we have a maid or yardman, we would probably not go to their house and have a cup of coffee in their kitchen or know the names of their teenage sons or, God forbid, invite them to come to our house or to take their children to a baseball game with our kids. Even those of us who accept an all-inclusive Christ as Savior are strongly inclined to live separate lives and avoid forming cohesive personal relations with our neighbors. Rosalynn and I have been equally susceptible to this failing.

Unfortunately, since moving to Tacoma I don’t know hardly anyone except through the virtual world of blogging, but it’s unlikely I’m going to meet many poor people in my neighborhood when my $340,000 house is the cheapest house in the neighborhood.

Of course, we Americans love to assuage their democratic feelings by telling themselves that “we are the most generous people in the world.? Carter suggests otherwise:

Despite all the goodwill and generosity that exist among American citizens, the amount of foreign assistance going from our government to the poor is still embarrassingly small. Predictably, much of the U.S. government's foreign aid goes to friendly nations and military allies, and Washington restricts many other kinds of assistance with all kinds of political strings. It is distressing to see our great nation defaulting on its obligation to share a respectable portion of our wealth with the most destitute people on earth.

and backs it up with statistics:

Sharing wealth with those that are starving and suffering unnecessarily is a value by which a nation's moral values are measured, and there is a strange and somewhat disturbing situation in our country. Americans are willing to be generous in helping others and they believe that our government gives as much as 15 percent of our federal budget in foreign aid. But we are, in fact, the stingiest of all industrialized nations. We allot about one thirtieth as much as is commonly believed. Our gross national income (GM) is about $ 11 trillion, of which we share with poor nations only sixteen cents out of each $100 If we add all the donations from American foundations and from other private sources to the government's funds, the total still amounts to just twenty two cents per $100 of national income.

Isn’t that “chump change.? And this under a “Christian? administration !#!?

I suppose we shouldn’t be surprised at how little money is spent on helping the world’s poor when we see how Republicans treat the poor in our own country:

Under the tax cuts pushed through Congress since 2000,for every dollar in reductions for a middle class family, the top 1 percent of households will receive $54, and those with $1 million or more in income will benefit by $191 During the first three years, the number of Americans living in poverty increased by 3.5 million, while the income for the four hundred wealthiest Americans jumped by 10 percent just in the year 2002. Another indication of the growing division between rich and poor in recent years is that the salaries of corporate chief executive officers have gone from forty times to four hundred times the average worker's pay. Even though there was strong growth in corporate profits, wages for the average worker fell in 2004, after adjusting for inflation the first such drop in many years.

When executives get paid multi-million dollar bonuses for cutting expenses by laying off workers rather than for finding ways for them to produce more income for the company, you know something is wrong. In the good-old-days those kinds of leaders would have been fired for a lack of leadership, not rewarded. Hell, in the State of Washington they brag about how they saved thousands of jobs and use their $28 million dollar bonus to run for the U.S. Senate.

Still, the Republicans are consistent, if nothing else:

Despite touting concern for working Americans and private home ownership, key political leaders in Washington have successfully blocked any increase in the minimum wage, which has been held at only $5.15 per hour for eight years and not indexed to accommodate inflation. (In comparison, in U.S. dollars and based on currency values in April 2005, the minimum wage in Australia is $8.66, in France $8.88, in Italy $9.18, in England $9.20, and in Germany $12.74.)

Assuming fifty weeks at forty hours per week, this sets the U.S. minimum annual income at $10,300, below the poverty level, for tens of millions of Americans who have full-time jobs.

Even the rich can ill afford to eat out if they have to pay exorbitant wages to those serving them and working in the kitchen preparing the food. Who knows how expensive motel or hotel rooms might be if the people who changed the sheets and cleaned the rooms got paid huge wages? After all, you can’t outsource those jobs to third-world countries. Or can you?

Our Endangered Environment

Carter contrasts the Bush Administration’s environmental record with his own administration’s record, and even with past Republican administrations. Needless to say, the Bush Administration is shown to be lacking. He points out that Republican attempts to open up the Alaska refuge, which Carter established, would not be necessary if the federal government had not exempted “light trucks? from mileage requirements:

The tragedy of the decision to savage the Alaska refuge is that when oil from the area might reach peak production, fifteen to twenty years from now, it will equal the amount that could be saved by requiring the efficiency of "light trucks" (SUVs) to be the same as that of ordinary cars (20 miles per gallon). To reach the target we set in 1980 would result in far more savings. Perhaps not surprisingly, political pressures from the oil industry and automobile manufacturers have prevailed on this issue, and gas guzzlers have become a major product in our country. This foolish government decision against fuel economy might be a serious long term blow to the American automobile industry in its competition with more efficient vehicles manufactured in Japan and Europe as fuel prices inevitably rise in the future.

As Carter points out, this decision seems especially unwise when we see what the long-term effect has been on American automobile manufacturers. As I pointed out in a blog entry right before the last presidential election, the current administration has gutted Superfund legislation:

Almost simultaneously with the passage of ANILCA in 1980 came the completion of work on what was known as Superfund legislation. I had long been concerned about the emission of toxic materials by some irresponsible corporations, and working with a bipartisan Congress we established legal requirements that such wastes be reduced drastically and that those responsible be required to finance the cleanup of their poisonous deposits. Also, a small surcharge on polluting chemical companies established a permanent fund to cover future costs. Now, with the advent of a new administration in Washington, industry lobbyists have been able to prevail again, as the "polluters pay" principle was abandoned. American taxpayers were forced to pay about 8o percent of the cleanup costs in 2004 and will bear the total bill in fiscal year 2005. There is little financial incentive for unscrupulous corporations to restrict their dumping of toxic wastes.

And who says it doesn’t pay for businesses to make political contributions? If businesses put up money to support candidates, you can be sure that they plan on making a profit on that money, profit that’s paid for with public dollars. It was a little unnerving to recently read that businesses had started making more donations to Democratic candidates.

Of course, who can forget the Bush administrations rejection of the Kyoto Treaty:

One of the most controversial and universally condemned decisions made in recent years by top American leaders was to reject participation in the laboriously negotiated international agreement to control greenhouse gases, which are causing an increase in the planet's temperature. It has become widely known that manmade gases, mostly oxides, rise into the stratosphere and create a blanket similar to the plastic or glass bubble that surrounds a greenhouse. The sun's rays enter, and an increasing amount of heat is retained instead of being dissipated from the earth's atmosphere.

While the Bush administration argued that Greenhouse dangers were being blown out of proportion by radicals who were relying on junk science, i.e., anyone who didn’t agree with Exxon’s view, the rest of the world certainly seemed convinced by the science.

It was reassuring when a number of religious groups broke rank with the current administration, apparently convinced by recent findings that man was, indeed, in danger of destroying God’s greatest creation:

In April 2005, a definitive report was published in the journal Science by a group of scientists led by James E. Hansen, a NASA climatologist, that should dispel all doubts about forecasts of climate change. After a five year study using more than two thousand monitoring stations around the globe, they determined that temperatures would continue a slow rise even if greenhouse gases are capped immediately, and will "spin out of control" if strong corrective action is not taken. An increase of ten degrees Fahrenheit this century could occur. Based on additional scientific proof of the long range problem, Holland has committed to cut emissions by 80 percent, the United Kingdom by 60 percent, and Germany by 50 percent in the next forty years.

I’d like to think that increasing public opinion would force this administration to reconsider their environmental policies, but somehow I doubt that it will. Those who consider it vital to “stay the course? in face of a war started under false pretenses and that has turned out dramatically differently than they predicted will surely not be deterred by a few scientific studies, no matter how definitive.

America likes to think of itself as a world leader, but I really wonder how many Americans are proud knowing that:

America is by far the world's leading polluter, and our government's abandonment of its responsibilities is just an other tragic step in a series of actions that have departed from the historic bipartisan protection of the global environment. Our proper stewardship of God's world is a personal and political moral commitment.

If God actually left us in charge of his masterpiece, it’s hard to believe that He would be satisfied with how we have ruled it if He were to return today.

More Endangered Values

My biggest problem reading Carter’s Our Endangered Values is that too often I merely feel like a member of the congregation, my participation limited to shouting “Amen? after a passage I’ve read. Generally I want more than that from a book; I want something that challenges my ideas and helps me see the world differently. Still, just the fact that my values are so similar to a born-again Christian is a constant amazement.

I could easily spend days citing passages from the book, but I’m skipping over several chapters to focus on chapter entitled “Attacking Terrorism, Not Human Rights?? I’m sure earlier comments hear on my joining the ACLU and on the Patriot Act have made views quite clear, but hopefully Carter’s comments will encourage you to get out and vote your values Tuesday.

Carter notes that during his administration he focused on trying to protect civil rights abroad, among allies who seemed felt little compulsion to protect those rights in their own countries:

This triumph of civil rights at home did not preclude America's acceptance and support of some of the most brutal foreign regimes in our hemisphere and other regions, which blatantly violated the human rights of their own citizens. As a newly elected president, I announced that the protection of these rights would be the foundation of our country's foreign policy, and I persistently took action to implement this commitment. It has been gratifying to observe a wave of democratization sweep across our hemisphere and in other regions, as the fundamental rights of freedom were respected.

During the past four years there have been dramatic changes in our nation's policies toward protecting these rights. Many of our citizens have accepted these unprecedented policies because of the fear of terrorist attacks, but the damage to America's reputation has been extensive.

I’ve always felt that supporting dictators abroad because merely because they opposed Communism or because they provided us with oils was morally reprehensible, unchristian, and short-sighted.

Unfortunately, the current administration seems to be returning to such policies:

Equally disturbing were reports that the United States government is in some cases contributing directly to an erosion of human rights protection by encouraging governments to adopt regressive counterterrorism policies that lead to the undermining of democratic principles and the rule of law, often going far beyond the U.S. Patriot Act.

I can’t be the only person shocked to learn that the United States sent a Canadian suspected of being an Al Queda member to SYRIA to be interrogated. Aren’t these the same Syrians we accused of harboring Sunnis from Iraq?

Carter points out that the Bush administration, supported by many conservative Republicans, is violating international principles that have been in effect since the close of World War II:

The prevalence of such abuse of captured servicemen and women during World War II induced the community of nations to come together to define quite precisely the basic guarantees of proper treatment for prisoners. These restraints are the result of an international conference held in Geneva, Switzerland, in 1949, and redefined and expanded what are known as the "Geneva Conventions." The authenticity and universal applicability of these guarantees were never questioned by a democratic power until recently, and by America! Instead of honoring the historic restraints, our political leaders decided to violate them, using the excuse that we are at war against terrorism. It is obvious that the Geneva Conventions were designed specifically protect prisoners of war, not prisoners of peace.

The international outrage evoked by such treatment is much more dangerous in the long run than any immediate benefit that may be gained. If such tactics were effective, the Shaw of Iran would still be in power, not to mention several other dictators once supported by America.

It’s truly terrifying when America’s attorney general can argue that international law does not apply to our treatment of possible terrorists:

Again quoting America's new attorney general, Alberto Gonzales, the policy "places a high premium on. . . the ability to quickly obtain information from captured terrorists and their sponsors in order to avoid further atrocities against American civilians." He justifies an extension of the program permitting CIA agents to deal with suspects in foreign prison sites by claiming that the ban of the U.N. Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment does not apply to American interrogations of foreigners overseas. According to him, the prisoners can be held indefinitely without any legal process and without access by the International Red Cross, even though the United States has ratified international agreements that prohibit such treatment. The New York Times reports that a still secret directive authorizing this policy was issued by President Bush in 2001. He also announced that members of Al Qaeda and the Taliban were not entitled to prisoner of war status.

I was originally hopeful when McCain and a handful of Senators stood up to the Bush Administration on this issue, but unfortunately they seemed to lose enthusiasm when they saw their popularity fall among the traditional Republican base. It’s obvious we need to elect both republicans and democrats who oppose these policies, but it seems clear that we will see little change unless the Democratic Party controls either the house or the senate.

Carter’s Our Endangered Values

If you saw how many passages I marked for further thought in President Jimmy Carter’s Our Endangered Values, you might assume that I was a born-again-Christian. You’d be wrong, of course, but it does show how much of my liberal philosophy is based on Christian values. Though I’ll have to admit that I did not vote for Carter when he ran a second time, my admiration for him has grown immensely since he left the Presidency. He seems to me, in many ways, to be the ideal Christian, one who lives his faith through his good works. I envy him his faith.

Of course, it doesn’t hurt that his diagnosis of the problems currently facing America largely coincide with my diagnosis:

The most important factor is that fundamentalists have become increasingly influential in both religion and government, and have managed to change the nuances and subtleties of historic debate into black-and-white rigidities and the personal derogation of those who dare to disagree. At the same time, these religious and political conservatives have melded their efforts, bridging the formerly respected separation of church and state. This has empowered a group of influential "neoconservatives," who have been able to implement their long frustrated philosophy in both domestic and foreign policy.

The influence of these various trends poses a threat to many of our nation's historic customs and moral commitments, both in government and in houses of worship.

Narrowly defined theological beliefs have been adopted as the rigid agenda of a political party. Powerful lobbyists, both inside and outside government, have distorted an admirable American belief in free enterprise into the right of extremely rich citizens to accumulate and retain more and more wealth and pass all of it on to descendants. Profits from stock trading and income from dividends are being given privileged tax status compared to the wages earned by schoolteachers and firemen. To quote a Christian friend, the new economic philosophy in Washington is that a rising tide raises all yachts. The irresolvable differences of opinion on abortion, homosexuality, and other sensitive social issues have been exacerbated by the insistence of intensely committed hard-liners on imposing their minority views on a more moderate majority.

I’m not sure I’ve ever read a more succinct summary of the political crisis America currently faces.

I’ll have to admit that I didn’t really understand how this split in America evolved, nor did I realize that there had been a growing split in the Baptist Church until I read:

The new creed was troubling enough, but it was combined with other departures from historic Baptist beliefs, including the melding of religion and politics, domination by all male pastors, the exclusion of traditional Baptists from convention affairs, the subservience of women, encroachments on the autonomy of local churches, and other elements of the new fundamentalism. It became increasingly obvious that our convention leaders were really in conflict with traditional or mainstream Christians. After much prayer and soul searching, Rosalynn and I decided to sever our personal relationships with the Southern Baptist Convention, while retaining our time honored Baptist customs and beliefs within our own local church.

Almost total dominance of Baptist pastors over laypersons has been implemented, based on this statement of a prominent conservative leader, W. A. Criswell: "Lay leadership of the church is unbiblical when it weakens the pastor's authority as ruler of the church." This premise violates Jesus' announcement that he was a servant, that his disciples would be servants, and that the greatest would be servant of all. There was certainly no biblical use of the word "ruler," but this self promotion of pastors was made official in 1988, and now applies generally throughout the Southern Baptist Convention, most state conventions, and especially the megachurches.

Since I’m not a Baptist, this historical evolution probably might not have interested me if Carter hadn’t related it directly to the effect that it has had on our political system:

This focus on events within my own religious denomination may not be especially interesting to some readers, but it has had a profound impact on every American citizen through similar and related changes being wrought in our nation's political system. During the last quarter century, there has been a parallel right wing movement within American politics, often directly tied to the attributes of like minded Christian groups. The revolutionary new political principles involve special favors for the powerful at the expense of others, abandonment of social justice, denigration of those who differ, failure to protect the environment, attempts to exclude those who refuse to conform, a tendency toward unilateral diplomatic action and away from international agreements, an excessive inclination toward conflict, and reliance on fear as a means of persuasion.

Although he doesn’t mention the Bush administration or conservative Republicans by name, it’s hard to imagine who else this description might fit. It’s reassuring to know that a born-again Christian sees the changes enveloping our country nearly the same way I do.