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Jimmy Carter does public religiosity the right way

Jimmy Carter does public religiosity the right way
President Jimmy Carter is interviewed at a Habitat for Humanity project site in Memphis, Tenn., on Nov. 1. (Mark Humphrey / Associated Press)

To the editor: John-Clark Levin discerns quite accurately how former President Jimmy Carter's politics have been directly guided by his Christian faith. ("Democrats could learn from Jimmy Carter's public religiosity," Opinion, Nov. 30)

In the spirit of Reinhold Niebuhr, Carter is not a fundamentalist; he has understood the ambiguities of living with integrity while advocating for justice for all people. So, while he has always affirmed a homeland for Jews as fundamental to the teaching of the Bible, he has also argued with equal fervor for Palestinian rights.

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During the tragic days when U.S. hostages were held in Iran, it was ultimately his patience and his refusal to escalate a difficult situation that finally saw all of those hostages able to return home safely, even when that response contributed to his losing a reelection bid. And no former president has done more than Carter to strive for world peace through fair elections, education, immunization and other public health programs throughout the world.

Carter's life and legacy suggest the finest gifts that the U.S. can offer to our world in this turbulent era.

Joseph Everson, Thousand Oaks

The writer is an emeritus professor of religion at California Lutheran University.

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To the editor: Sure, sucking up to the religiously devout can win elections in America. That's one big reason our politics are ridiculed worldwide.

For every Jimmy Carter, whose faith-based zeal for helping the poor embodies the best in those who claim a "personal relationship with God," numerous politicians have used that claim to justify starting wars of discretion, oppressing the poor and discriminating against blacks, women and gays.

Myself, I look forward to when politicians with nontheistic beliefs — say, Buddhists or humanists (who do "good without God") — can successfully run for high public office.

The day when American politics are free of Christianity's iron grip can't come soon enough.

Robin Groves, Pacific Palisades

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To the editor: Americans may accept the personal faith of a leader as a reason for action, but it just can't be the only reason.

The lesson here is that progress is most likely possible where religious and secular goals overlap. For a religious goal to be worthy of general application, it should be able to withstand scrutiny on secular grounds as well.

We support Israel to the degree that such a policy remains within our national interest. If a secular goal is worthy, then it should stand on its own merits, without the need to pander to any religious emotional appeal.

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Unfortunately, many voters still believe that one must be religious to be moral, so politicians continue to be elected — and policy continues to be decided — with little rational discussion of the issues.

Arthur D. Wahl, Port Hueneme

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