April 6, 2006


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Our Endangered Values: America’s Moral Crisis, by Jimmy Carter (unabridged audio CD, read by the author; Audioworks, 2005, 5 hours on 4 discs)

God, it’s depressing.

At the end of this audiobook, a narrator intones, “If you’ve enjoyed this book…,” and all I can think is, “well, I wouldn’t say enjoyed exactly.”

I agreed with much of it and I appreciated the important issues raised. But enjoyed? Enjoyed a discussion of how our nation is torturing people and we’ve antagonized half the world, how we’re in unbelievable debt, how we give all our money to people who don’t need it and almost none to those who do – it goes on and on – enjoy? No. The whole book is a litany of all these things that are going so very wrong – and so very unchristian, as Carter makes it his main point to say.

Sure, the last chapter has the typical “unprecedented opportunity” and “we can do better” sort of rah-rah, but it’s way too little and late.

As Bill Maher said, “I don’t hate America; I’m embarrassed.” Carter trots forth all the reasons why an American might feel embarrassed by his country’s behavior right now.

And he does it with lots of reciting of dollars and cents and treaty titles and gross national incomes. These number-y parts of the book can be a bit snoozey; not only that but, like many of its companions in the bookstore’s current events section, Our Endangered Values is weakest where it quotes numbers because, of course, Carter only quotes the numbers that support his views, and his numbers do not always make good arguments (e.g. he notes that the U.S. has among the highest number of capital punishments in the world, but doesn’t note that this is partly due to the fact that the U.S. has among the highest population in the world; you want to make a real argument, compare capital punishment rates per capita).

Carter is best when he speaks from the heart: about resigning from the Southern Baptist Convention after many years because of its new ultra-fundamentalist leaders, about his experiences with some of the world’s neediest people – the story about the Guinea worm will stay with you for days.

And hearing a passionately religious bible-quoting former United States president affirm the importance of keeping church separate from state, well, it’s almost enough to restore your faith in religion. But will the right people read that?

Our Endangered Values needed more hope and direction to accompany the solo drumbeat of bad news. B

Lisa Parsons

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