"Morality is doing what is right, regardless what we are told. Religious dogma is doing what we are told, no matter what is right."
Whatever you may think of his days in power, there's really no denying that since leaving office back in 1981 Jimmy Carter has become perhaps the greatest ex-president in American history. And now he's taken one more, very significant step towards wrapping up that title once and for all: He's just quit his church of more than 60 years out of disgust at their sexist, bigoted views concerning women.
This is no ordinary ex-president or former elected official of any kind. This is a man who has spent the past 30 years working with Habitat For Humanity building homes for the poor. This is a man who has travelled the globe monitoring elections and mediating peace deals. This is a man who has dedicated himself to peace and, through the Carter Center, has worked tirelessly to advance human rights, promote democracy, and alleviate human suffering worldwide—work that rightfully earned him the Nobel Peace Prize back in 2002.
It's not too hard to understand why the right-wing in America despises this guy so much. After all, all of the above mentioned activities—those that make his time since leaving office such an incredible success—are the exact same things American conservatives would scoff at:
"Helping the poor? Come on man, what the #%&$ for?"
Most significantly—and most outrageously to those on the American right—and in the face of seeming indifference and deafening silence from the vast majority of his fellow American politicians, Carter has spoken up loud and clear in the name of justice for the Palestinian people. Of all the prominent politicians in the U.S., he alone has had the guts to call the apartheid system that the Israelis are running in Israel/Palestine by name, opening himself up to vicious attacks from across the political spectrum throughout this country he once governed.
But he doesn't care. He knows he's speaking up for truth and justice. The haters be damned. This is one rare American politician indeed.
Go Jimmy Go, Go: A Feminist Proclamation
If all that wasn't enough to drive the right-wingers into fits of absolute FOX News-inspired insanity, he's now gone one step further. Not only did he leave his church, the Southern Baptist Church, he also had the nerve to write a passionate article stating his firm belief in the equality of the sexes. Conservatives would call it "wacko", though the rest of us would most likely choose adjectives like brilliant and inspiring.
He came to this decision after church leaders decided to prohibit women from being ordained and insisted women be "subservient to their husbands". Feeling enraged, he sat down and, like some sort of 84-year-old Southern male version of Germaine Greer, wrote a good ol' fashioned feminist proclamation, which was published earlier this month in the Australian newspaper The Age. Why in an Australian paper and not one back in the States? I have no idea, but it's one hell of a great article. Here are some of the highlights:
"At its most repugnant, the belief that women must be subjugated to the wishes of men excuses slavery, violence, forced prostitution, genital mutilation and national laws that omit rape as a crime. But it also costs many millions of girls and women control over their own bodies and lives, and continues to deny them fair access to education, health, employment and influence within their own communities."
"The root of this prejudice lies deep in our histories, but its impact is felt every day. It is not women and girls alone who suffer. It damages all of us. The evidence shows that investing in women and girls delivers major benefits for society. An educated woman has healthier children. She is more likely to send them to school. She earns more and invests what she earns in her family."
"It is simply self-defeating for any community to discriminate against half its population. We need to challenge these self-serving and outdated attitudes and practices."
"The truth is that male religious leaders have had - and still have - an option to interpret holy teachings either to exalt or subjugate women. They have, for their own selfish ends, overwhelmingly chosen the latter. Their continuing choice provides the foundation or justification for much of the pervasive persecution and abuse of women throughout the world."
We're (Almost) All Feminists
Now there's some truth for you! I mean, who, besides the willfully ignorant and tragically indoctrinated, could disagree with any of that?
After decades of a coordinated antifeminist backlash, it's understandable that some people might not feel comfortable self-identifying as "feminist", but the fact remains that anyone who, like Carter, believes in the equality of all people regardless of their gender is in fact a feminist.
For the Love Of Christ, What's Next, Jimmy?
"Peacenik! Bleeding heart helper of the poor! Terrorist lover! America hater! And now FEMINIST?!!" You can just hear Sean Hannity, Bill O'Reilly, Rush Limbaugh, and all the other right-wing blowhards losing their minds. "Where's his passion for all things American, like guns and foreign wars and cheering on bloodbaths in Gaza? What's wrong with this guy?"
"What next, is he going to come out as a believer in Darwinism?"
Well, if he did he'd be, according to a Gallup poll earlier this year, part of the 39 percent minority of Americans who profess belief in that most basic of scientific theories. Bet he probably thinks, in complete contradiction of Biblical teachings, that the world is actually round, too. Freak!
"He's clearly not a real American", you can hear the O'Reillys and Limbaughs shout.
But, of course, he is. He just happens to be from that enlightened half of the nation who prefers peace to war and social justice for the poor. Oh and those crazy European and Canadian "socialistic" notions like machine guns for none and universal medical insurance for all.
Ok, perhaps one third of Americans. Or one quarter?
Whatever it is, he's not alone in believing that his country—and the world—can be a much better place.
Ex-U.S. presidents, especially those in their 80s, aren't the first to come to mind when you think of crusading feminists, but, then again, Carter's definitely not your typical ex-president—or guy in his 80s.
Mike Cowie is a freelance writer who writes about politics, music, film, travel, and much more. You can read more of Mike’s views on his Web site.