“A Compelling Statement Of Belief In Things Not Seen”: Jimmy Carter’s Image Of Faith Truest To What Faith Should Be
To want what I have, to take what I’m given with grace… for this, I pray.” — From “For My Wedding,” by Don Henley
America is a nation of faith. So it is often said.
In faith, a baker refuses to bake a cake for a gay couple’s wedding. In faith, a minister prays for the president to die. In faith, terrorists plant bombs at the finish line of a marathon. In faith, mosques are vandalized, shot at and burned. In faith, a televangelist asks his followers to buy him a $65 million private jet.
And no one is even surprised anymore.In America, what we call faith is often loud, often exclusionary, sometimes violent, and too frequently enamored of shiny, expensive things. In faith, ill-tempered people mob the shopping malls every year at Christmas to have fistfights and gunfights over hot toys and high-end electronics.
You did not hear much about faith last week when Jimmy Carter held a press conference to reveal that he has four spots of cancer on his brain. The 39th president made only a few references to it in the nearly 40 minutes he spoke, and they were all in response to reporters’ questions. Yet, you would be hard pressed to find a more compelling statement of belief in things not seen. Unsentimental, poised, and lit from within by an amazing grace, Carter discussed the fight now looming ahead of him, the radiation treatments he will undergo, the need to finally cut back on his whirlwind schedule.
He smiled often. “I’m perfectly at ease with whatever comes,” he said, in such a way that you believed him without question. And it was impossible to feel sorry for him.
Partially, that’s because we all die and if — still only an if — cancer is what takes James Earl Carter Jr. away, well, there are worse things than to go having reached 90 years of age, having been president of the United States, having been married to the love of your life for almost seven decades, having sired a large and sprawling family, and having done significant work toward the eradication of disease and the spreading of democracy in the developing world.
But here’s the other reason it was impossible to feel sorry for him. Feeling sorry would have felt like an insult, a denial of the virtues he showed and the faith he didn’t need to speak because it was just… there.
For all its loudness, all its exclusion, violence, and ubiquity, the faith that is modeled in the public square is often not particularly affecting. It is hard to imagine someone looking on it from outside and musing to herself, “I’d like to have some of that.” What Carter showed the world, though, was different. Who would not want to be able to face the unknown with such perfect equanimity?
Carter presented an image of faith we don’t see nearly as often as we should. Which is sad, because it is also the image truest to what faith is supposed to be — not a magic lamp you rub in hopes of a private jet, not a license for our worse impulses, but, rather, an act of surrender to a force greater than self, a way of being centered enough to tell whatever bleak thing comes your way, “So be it.” Even fearsome death itself: “So be it.”
The heat and hubris of human life are such that that state is difficult to conceive, much less to reach. Our lives are defined by wanting and by lack — more money, new car, new love — and by the ceaseless hustle to fill empty spaces within. Media and advertising conspire to make you feel ever incomplete. So it is hard to feel whole within yourself, at peace with what is, whatever that turns out to be.
But who, gazing upon the former president, can doubt the result is worth the effort?
In faith, terrorists kill the innocent. In faith, televangelists swindle the gullible. In faith, so many of us hate, exclude, hurt, curse, and destroy. And in faith, last week, Jimmy Carter told the world he has cancer in his brain.
And smiled as he spoke.
By: Leonard Pitts, Jr., Columnist for The Miami Herald; The National Memo, August 26, 2015
“The Real Scandal In Denny Hastert’s Life”: Immersed In The Immoral Swamp Of Washington’s Game Of Money Politics
Washington’s establishment of politicos, lobbyists, and media sparklies are shocked — shocked to their very core! — by the scandalous sexual revelations about Dennis Hastert.
The portly Republican, who’d been Speaker of the House a decade ago, was an affable, nondescript Midwesterner who was popular with his fellow lawmakers. A former high-school wrestling coach in rural Illinois, Hastert was viewed as a solid salt-of-the-Earth fellow embodying Middle America’s moral values. So his recent indictment for paying $1.7 million in hush money to a man he apparently molested during his coaching years has rocked our Capitol.
“I’m shocked and saddened,” said the current GOP Speaker, John Boehner. Likewise, former colleagues from both sides of the aisle were dismayed that “our Denny” would have been engaged in child molestation and now caught in an illegal financial cover-up of that abomination. “This has really come out of nowhere,” exclaimed Rep. Peter King, a longtime ally of the man whom all of Washington considered a straight arrow.
Washington’s gossip mill is spinning furiously over last week’s revelations. Before we join these officials in wailing about Dennis Hastert’s alleged long-hidden molestation, however, let me note that while they are bewildered by his sexual impropriety, they find it not worthy of mention — much less condemnation — that Denny has long been immersed in the immoral swamp of Washington’s game of money politics. The guy they profess to love as a paragon of civic virtue — “the coach,” as Rep. King hailed him — was one of the most corrupt Speakers ever. What about the filthy, backroom affair he has been openly conducting with corporate lobbyists for nearly two decades?
During his tenure as House Speaker, Hastert turned the place into the Willy Wonka Chocolate Factory of corporate favors. By putting campaign cash into Republican re-election coffers controlled by him and his top hitman, Majority Leader Tom DeLay, corporate interests gained entry into Denny’s psychedelic playhouse. With Hastert himself singing “Candy Man,” the favor seekers could help themselves to the river of chocolate running through Congress’ back rooms.
Remember “earmarks,” the sneaky tactic of letting congressional leaders secretly funnel appropriations to favored corporations and projects? Earmarks became the trademark of Hastert’s regime, sticking taxpayers with the tab for such outrages as Alaska’s “Bridge to Nowhere.” Indeed, Denny grabbed a $200 million earmark for himself, funding an Illinois highway near land he owned — land he then sold, netting millions in personal profit.
When he left Congress, Hastert moved just a short limo ride away to become — what else? — a corporate lobbyist. Trading on his former title, personal ties to House members and knowledge of how the chocolate factory runs, he has been hauling in a fortune as a high-dollar influence peddler for makers of candy-flavored cigarettes, Peabody Coal Company, land developers and other giants. And guess what his specialty is? Getting “riders” attached to appropriations bills, so public money is channeled directly to his clients.
Hastert openly traded legislative favors for campaign cash, including profiting personally from his powerful position. And, when he was squeezed out because of the corruption, he didn’t return to the home folks — he became a K-Street lobbyist, continuing to profit to this day by doing corporate favors. That’s how he got so rich he was able to shell out $1.7 million in hush money to the student he abused.
Good ol’ Denny has always thought he was above the law. Just as Hastert should be held accountable for the deep personal damage his alleged molestation would’ve done to his former student, so should he also pay for his abominably indecent abuse of office, his self-gratifying groping of public funds and his repeated, sticky-fingered violations of the American people’s public trust.
By: Jim Hightower, The National Memo, June 3, 3015
In America, public forgiveness is largely dependent on race. In the weeks after Darren Wilson shot and killed unarmed black teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, last August, pundits and media outlets were quick to jump on a robbery Brown allegedly committed minutes before being fatally shot. Among them was 2016 hopeful Mike Huckabee, who told NewsMax TV, “It’s a horrible thing that he was killed, but he could have avoided that if he’d have behaved like something other than a thug.” For Huckabee, (alleged) theft was grounds for death.
That is, if you look a certain way. Contrast these statements with Huckabee’s recent defense of reality TV regular Josh Duggar, who admitted last week to having molested young girls as a teenager in 2002 and 2003. The 27-year-old son of Jim Bob and Michelle, Josh Duggar is a star of the TLC show 19 Kids and Counting, and was executive director of the Family Research Council—a right-wing organization that prides itself on family values—until last week after news of his crimes went public. TLC quickly pulled episodes from their line-up.
After the story broke, Huckabee wasted no time. “Janet and I want to affirm our support for the Duggar family,” he posted to Facebook less than a day after Duggar went public. “Josh’s actions when he was an underage teen are as he described them himself, ‘inexcusable,’ but that doesn’t mean ‘unforgivable.’ Good people make mistakes and do regrettable and even disgusting things.”
Huckabee’s sentiment was echoed by Duggar’s parents and wife, who together released a statement on Facebook on May 21. The word “teen” was used four times and “mistake” was used three. Not long after, fans of 19 Kids and Counting went to the Duggar family Facebook page to voice their support for the admitted sexual abuser. But the statement of support from Huckabee, who has been close with the Duggars since they endorsed and campaigned for his 2008 presidential bid, was the strongest. Sexual abuse may be a crime, yet for a straight, white, Christian man, it seems sympathy has no bounds.
And if you fall outside of these categories, forgiveness only goes so far. From Ferguson to Baltimore to Sanford, Florida, when victims of police violence make headlines, major media scurry to dig up the often petty mistakes of their past. How many times was Trayvon Martin called a “thug”? Before his family could even bury his body, The New York Times declared that Michael Brown was “no angel.” Even 12-year-old Tamir Rice was smeared for having an abusive father. For daring to be black and exist, their names were tarnished by white America, even in death.
But if as a teenager you molested children, even presidential candidates will give you a pass—at least, if you’re white and male.
And, it seems, even if your crimes include a cover-up. According to the police report, Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar knew their son had committed these crimes. They met with church members and sent Duggar off to help a friend remodel homes—their version of counseling. They believed that this was the help their family needed. Who knows what kind of help the victims were offered—stories like these are tragic and my heart aches for the victims, who will hopefully receive any help that they want or need. For Duggar’s part, aside from his career, he’s pretty much off the hook: Arkansas law mandates child sexual abuse charges be filed within three years (Duggar’s crimes were committed in his home state of Arkansas). With charges never filed, Duggar will face no prosecution.
Of course the same is not true for millions of black Americans, who routinely face prosecution, violence, and even death at the hands of police for often minor or nonexistent crimes. Adding to this confused morality, in January, Huckabee criticized Barack and Michelle Obama for letting their teenage daughters listen to pop juggernaut Beyoncé, calling her music mental poison. If you are keeping score, listening to Beyoncé: bad parenting. Sexual abuse: forgivable.
When you’re straight, white, Christian, and male, even horrific crimes can be forgiven. When you’re a black teenager who has been accused of shoplifting, you’re a thug—your life has no value. White privilege is being a sexual abuser and finding more support than a 12-year-old shot by police while playing in a park.
By: Nathalie Baptiste, The American Prospect, May 28, 2015
It should come as no surprise that Fox News didn’t mention the latest awful allegations about Bill O’Reilly’s behavior toward women on Monday night. But given the ugliness of the reports – Gawker says that his ex-wife accused him, in sealed divorce documents, of choking her and dragging her by the neck down the stairs of their Manhasset mansion – it’s hard not to wonder what, if anything, would get O’Reilly in trouble with Roger Ailes.
We already know he settled a sexual harassment lawsuit by Fox producer Andrea Mackris, whose details became the stuff of journalistic legend – we will never think of falafel, or loofah, the same way. Now, while we don’t know the entire truth about his divorce, or why he lost custody of his children, we know enough to say he probably shouldn’t be lecturing anyone on family values. (For the record, O’Reilly today denied the charges.)
Yet he will almost certainly continue to tell African American men how to behave with women, and how to parent, because Roger Ailes doesn’t care about hypocrisy.
Now, we do have one example of Ailes tiring of a tempestuous host: Glenn Beck, in 2011. But Beck’s insane shtick was tarnishing the brand. O’Reilly’s angry white man shtick is the Fox brand. Without some explosive new evidence – his ex-wife refuses to comment on the charges, and she apparently did not call police when it happened – O’Reilly is likely to survive.
That doesn’t mean he isn’t wholly reprehensible. The cluster of reports about O’Reilly’s divorce from Maureen McPhilmy are appalling. He used his clout as a donor to police charities to make trouble for McPhilmy’s new boyfriend (now husband), a Nassau County police detective. As a powerful (and hypocritical) Catholic, he’s tried to have their marriage annulled, which would negate the “sin” of divorce and allow the parties to marry again in the church.
That privilege used to be reserved for short term, childless (at one time, “unconsummated”), disastrous marriages that both parties quickly recognized as a mistake; now powerful Catholics, usually men, receive annulments for long-term marriages that produced children, and they often force them on unwilling spouses. (Yes, you’ll recall that Rudy Giuliani did that to his first wife.) And in the meantime, the Fox bully tried to get McPhilmy ex-communicated from the church for the “sin” of divorce, and succeeded in getting her local parish to reprimand her for taking communion.
This latest allegation is particularly awful because it comes from his 16-year-old daughter, who told a custody investigator, according to Gawker, that she witnessed the abuse before her parents separated five years ago. McPhilmy got sole custody at least partly because O’Reilly violated the terms of their joint custody agreement, hiring the children’s therapist, who was supposed to supervise the custody situation, as a member of his staff.
But at least he didn’t yell at his wife, “Hey M-Fer, I want more iced tea.”
Of course, even if you give O’Reilly the benefit of some doubt, it’s clear his family life is a mess. Yet he regularly rails at African American families from his lofty perch at Fox. “The reason there is so much violence and chaos in the black precincts is the disintegration of the African-American family…The lack of involved fathers leads to young boys growing up resentful and unsupervised,” he said last August.
In December, he continued to fulminate: “The astronomical crime rate among young black men—violent crime—drives suspicion and hostility. … No supervision, kids with no fathers—the black neighborhoods are devastated by the drug gangs who prey upon their own. That’s the problem!”
Now O’Reilly’s kids are growing up with no father in the home – but apparently a judge thinks they will be better off that way.
O’Reilly has even called domestic violence “a terrible plague,” telling 2016 GOP presidential hopeful Ben Carson last year: “I’m telling you, battery against women in this country and around the world is just out of control.”
But why would Ailes care about any of that? His audience probably doesn’t care. Fox’s over-65, predominantly male viewers probably see both sexual harassment and domestic violence as issues hyped by feminazis and the liberal news media.
Ailes’s entire news operation is built on a central fiction – and the fiction is that it’s a news organization at all. So why would it be a problem if it’s fronted by a family values hypocrite who’s actually a serial abuser of women?
By: Joan Walsh, Editor at Large, Salon, May 19, 2015
In recent decades, American politics have been dominated by a series of escalating ideological conflicts that have come to be known as “the culture wars.” And, with Christian moralizers like Mike Huckabee, Ben Carson, Ted Cruz and Bobby Jindal entering the 2016 fray, this is unlikely to change any time soon. So, as we brace ourselves for another GOP primary defined by “traditional values,” one question it’s worth asking is: Do these conservatives (and their supporters) have any right to claim the high ground?
Republicans such as Huckabee and Jindal love to use their religion as a prop: They judge and preach and condemn under the cover of Christianity. And they assume this grants them a kind of moral superiority. Well, it doesn’t. Huckabee and Jindal are political hucksters. They fancy themselves Christians, but their preachments are foul and their values are un-Christlike. They are exactly what many other current GOP candidates are as well: political entrepreneurs. If they climb atop the Christian cross, it’s because they want to be seen by more people. They’re chasing votes, not salvation.
As the presidential race kicks into gear, Democrats would do well to remember this. For too long the GOP has controlled the moral narrative in this country. Conservatives have wisely appropriated the language of values, but they’re rarely challenged on this front. When Ted Cruz or Ben Carson or Rick Santorum bloviate about family values, someone should ask: What, precisely, are your values? And what are their effects in the real world?
Most conservatives (in today’s GOP, at least) exalt life in the abstract, but they don’t defend it in practice. Whether it’s abortion or capital punishment or contraception or civil rights, they consistently advocate policies that degrade life and run counter to their own values. Despite their avowed humanitarianism, they’ve little regard for human suffering. And that’s because they’re not interested in serving life or other people; they’re dogmatists masquerading as moralizers.
Conservatives, for instance, admonish liberals for not protecting the sanctity of life.
But these same conservatives are often indifferent to the struggles of real people living real lives here and now. They’re not particularly concerned with poverty or inequality or torture or war crimes or a hundred other ethical issues. And they’re never compelled to explain the widening gap between their rhetoric and the political reality they’ve helped create.
Take the GOP’s position on abortion. We know, for example, that banning abortions doesn’t decrease the number of abortions. Sex education, contraception, and access to proper health care — these are the policies that reduce abortions. And yet pro-life conservatives oppose them at every turn. And they insist on fighting wars they’ve already lost. The Supreme Court, after all, has spoken: abortion is legal in this country. (Although they’re doing everything in their power to turn the clocks back.) But rather than pursue policies that might actually reduce the incidence of unplanned pregnancies, something that virtually everyone could get behind, conservatives instead push for policies that actually lead to more, not fewer, abortions. That’s incoherent, and positively stupid, running counter to the ostensible goals of social conservatives.
The GOP, in its current manifestation, is incapable of dealing with its disjointedness. The religious wing of the party thinks only in terms of doctrine. Whether it’s abortion or climate change or marriage equality, reality always gives way to dogma. Because so much of conservative discourse is tinged with fundamentalist rhetoric, compromise or change is virtually impossible. This is terrible for the Republican Party, and even worse for the country.
The corporate wing of the GOP is partly to blame for this predicament. People like the Koch brothers have artfully hijacked social conservatism in order to peddle a particular brand of libertarianism. As a result, we see Christian politicians (like Paul Ryan) professing their love of Ayn Rand, whose philosophy could not possibly be more antithetical to Christianity. Many of the “value voters” (most of whom are Christian and Republican) similarly conflate economic libertarianism with Christianity, as though one follows from the other. This is an absurd contradiction, and it shouldn’t go unchallenged.
These inconsistencies will be on full view at the upcoming Value Voters Summit, where the religious right gathers each year to promote social conservatism. According to the organizers of this event, the “Values Voter Summit was created in 2006 to provide a forum to help inform and mobilize citizens across America to preserve the bedrock values of traditional marriage, religious liberty, sanctity of life and limited government that make our nation strong.”
This event, which is sponsored by the Family Research Council (a recognized hate group) and funded by various PACs and front organizations, offers a snapshot of contemporary conservatism. And who are the moral luminaries invited to speak at this summit? In addition to all of the Republican presidential candidates, people like Phil Robertson, Tony Perkins, and the thrice-married Rush Limbaugh will all take the podium. These men are hardly paragons of moral wisdom, and while they may be Christian, their values are anything but. Robertson, for instance, has been a fountain of ignorance over the last year or so, spewing hateful bile in several interviews and speeches.
Amazingly, these are the people who speak for “value voters.” These are the representatives of the religious right. Not a single one of them has the right to lecture anyone (especially liberals) about morality or faith. Christians are called to uphold the living love of Christ, not the blind bigotry of people like Perkins and Robertson. Republicans too easily forget that, and liberals ought to say so. Besides, there’s a much better case to be made that alleviating poverty, reducing inequality, and promoting social justice are Christian causes rooted in fundamentally Christian values.
It’s time for liberal Democrats to make that case.
By: Sean Illing, Salon, May 8, 2015