Wednesday, February 08, 2006


Jimmy Carter's latest book is Our Endangered Values:America's Moral Crisis. Anyone who thinks the present administration in Washington has taken the wrong turn will agree with much of what Carter has to say. (It's always gratifying to read an author whose opinions reinforce one's own!) He plainly defines his conservative Christian background and allows that there will always be differences of opinion on any important issue.

So what's new? The extreme and partisan divisions within the country have created a political power struggle that prevents any efforts to work constructively or come to a consensus or even compromise. As a result, many of our nation's historic customs and moral commitments are threatened, both in government and in religious communities.

Carter attributes this change to three factors: September 11; the massive amounts of money that are being channeled into the political process, greatly increasing the influence of special interest groups; and most importantly, the growing power of religious fundamentalists.

His definition of religious fundamentalism is telling, for although he is discussing Christian fundamentalism, the definition can apply to any religion or strongly-held belief. He summarizes fundamentalism in three words: rigidity, domination and exclusion.

I'm not a political person by nature, and I don't keep up with the ins and outs in Washington. As I read Carter's book, I found the problems of our society adding up to a frightening sum: deteriorating relationships with other countries, erosion of human rights, preemptive war, major threats to the environment and more.

Carter has attempted through his books, to speak as the wise elder statesman, and through The Carter Center, in Atlanta, to improve the lives of other people, all over the world. But I felt depressed when I finished reading the book. The situation seems so bad, it will take monumental effort and many years, if not generations, to correct. Carter had no suggestions for anything I could do to make things better.

Then we received an email from a former student of my husband. He had written a paper rebutting the theory that the Wikipedia on the internet, would eventually self-destruct. Critics predicted that allowing anyone to contribute information and to edit existing entries would give a disproportionate voice to the uninformed, the illiterate, the pranksters and the cranks.

Instead, this resource for all kinds of information has (so far) been a success. The author of the paper pointed out that it's important to understand the strengths and weaknesses of the way the Wikipedia works. It will always be changing and it will never be prefect. But what I found most encouraging was the way the community of Wikipedia contributors tend to civilize and moderate each other.

That made me realize that as we work together, in whatever context, for good or bad, each of us is like a little bit of leaven. We may not be able to make big changes in the world, but it's still important that we make small contributions from a variety of experiences and viewpoints. And if the Wikipedia is any indicator, the majority of us are still intelligent, conscientious and kind. I have renewed hope!


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Amen - We might not be able to change the world but we can change are selves. In our small daily lives we can make a differents. Light a candle on a dark night and it will be seen. We can be that candle.
Do you remember when it was hands around the world. We need another grass roots group with a voice.

6:58 AM  

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