...it doesn’t take long to get lulled into the front-porch-rocking-chair rhythms and cadences of small-town Southern gentility ... It’s easy to forget that you’re not just reading the reflections of a gentleman farmer with his mules and peanut crops ... Carter begins this bedrock retracing of a life of faith by recounting, in down-to-earth vernacular, a boyhood steeped in Sunday school and church suppers ... Yet in the next sentence, the 39th American president is reaching for his mainstay philosopher, Reinhold Niebuhr, then quoting activist, preacher and friend William Sloane Coffin, just as seamlessly as he draws from the writings of theologian and Nazi-resistor Dietrich Bonhoeffer ... Carter’s book is necessary tonic — and prescriptive — for these fraught times.
Though Carter has only one life to live, he has umpteen memoirs to write. This new one, Faith, like the many former ones, is full of fond regurgitations of deeds accomplished, speeches given, poems written and op-eds published ... Carter has continued to monitor closely our militarism ... as we spend millions on these outposts, our own 'nfrastructure investment gap' is the largest of the 50 richest nations. The United States has the highest level of incarceration...and 'our nation is the only one that has refused to ratify the international Convention on the Rights of the Child, primarily because it prohibits execution for crimes committed by children' ... These incontrovertible but little-discussed facts will strike some as more of Carter’s prissy nagging. He rightly sees it, rather, as preaching — not mixing church and state but conscience and state ... I am heartened that he keeps on teaching his Bible classes in his 93rd year. He is still looking in the Bible for the mercy and love of God, and he helps me find them there.
We need to remember, as Carter points out, that the answer to prayer isn’t always 'Yes.' We must strive to recognize other religions, and to reconcile scientific facts with Biblical teachings as we understand them. And, surprisingly, Carter says pacifism is not a 'necessary element' of Christianity ... Fans of author Jimmy Carter’s work, rejoice. What you’ll find inside Faith is what you’d expect, because this is one of Carter’s areas of expertise. On the other hand, though, this book can be a hard read. Much of what’s inside Faith has been said before, sometimes in Carter’s own previous works; in many cases, even the repetition is repeated, or ideas are phrased differently in the same paragraph. Readers may also notice circle-talk that just goes round and round and round, and a good amount of fluff that’s seemingly without point. And yet ... This skinny books’ appeal will rightfully be wide but be aware that this challenge for readers may be a challenge to read. If you don’t think that’ll bother you, then Faith is a book to secure.
His thoughtful book is replete with quotations from people of faith whose work he admires, people like Reinhold Niebuhr, Søren Kierkegaard, Karl Barth, and others. The insights, however, are all his own. For Carter, the word faith is not only a noun but also a verb, for while he believes that people are saved by grace through faith, and not by works, he nevertheless applauds action inspired by faith.
Peppered with stories from Carter’s political career and quotations from theologians, Faith is the religion-infused appeal of an elder statesman to the country he once governed. Though Carter’s evangelical faith is on full display, his appeal to readers is religiously neutral. Whether through the Bible, the Quran or the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Carter entreats his fellow citizens to draw on 'these visions of improved human interrelationships...to meet the challenges of the present moment' ... he calls on people of faith to stop being 'spectators' and start challenging injustice. 'What is the proper response from people of faith when there is an obvious disparity between our government’s policies and our religious beliefs?' asks Carter. Several sentences later, he answers: Look to the example of Jesus and his disciples, who demonstrated that 'civil disobedience is in order when human laws are contrary to God’s demand.' It is a radical conclusion. Despite his obvious displeasure about the current state of political affairs, the former U.S. president saves his most forceful criticism—and his strongest appeal to take action—for the church.
I still don’t know, however, what Mr. Carter means by the word 'faith.' He seems to mean not a definably religious faith but any sort of belief or trust in other people. That allows him to speak of faith as a sort of American credo—something like Bellah’s civil religion—but you can’t help thinking he’s making it up as he goes ... if you were a liberal or a progressive in politics and you needed some faith-y rhetoric to bolster your outlook, it would do the job just fine. And indeed, in both the liberal and conservative varieties of Christian republicanism, you get the strong feeling that the 'Christian' part of the formulation is an afterthought. What these religious combatants know best—and what they care about most—is their politics.