PRESIDENT JIMMY CARTER
NOVEMBER 19, 1996
The 39th President talks about his new book Living Faith, with Charlayne Hunter-Gault. Carter believes that although you don't actually "see" it, faith is the foundation of life.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: The former President was in Washington today promoting his new book, Living Faith, an account of how his Christian beliefs have shaped his public and private life. Mr. President, thank you for joining us.
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December 4, 1995:
In a NewsHour conversation, former President Carter discusses global attempts to eradicate tropical diseases.
Excerpts from Hendrick Hertzberg's essay on Jimmy Carter from Character Above All, the book that spawned a MacNeil/Lehrer Productions special.
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President Carter's involvement in Habitat for Humanity
PRESIDENT JIMMY CARTER: Thank you, Charlayne, good to be here.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: What is faith?
PRESIDENT JIMMY CARTER: Well, I think faith is the confidence in things that you can't prove, an assurance within that things that you hope that you could really believe, tangible feelings, and experiences that you absolutely are certain of--the dream of things to be--to come-- of which you are very confident.
For me, it's a foundation of life. I think one of the things I started to have as a title of this book was "Faith As a Verb." It's not just a noun, where you have faith and you don't do anything about it. Faith is something that activates a human being to have confidence to overcome a tragedy or a disappointment or a loss or a failure and come back again looking for and expecting to have a better life.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Well, how do you reconcile that sort of in--it's almost an intangible--with being an engineer who deals with tangibles? How do you reconcile those opposing parts of your life?
PRESIDENT JIMMY CARTER: Well, let's look around this room. What do you see? Nothing. But if you put a TV antenna in here, you could pick up 150 stations, right, video stations, including PBS, you could pick up maybe 1,000 radio stations, but you can't see it. You know it's here, because you've experienced it, and I think faith is very similar to that. You don't see things.
One of the most interesting verses that I know in the Bible, for instance, is when the Romans ask Paul, St. Paul, what are the important things in life, what are the things that never change, and Paul said, interestingly, they're the things that you cannot see. What are the things that you can't see that are important? I would say justice, truth, humility, service, compassion, love. You can't see any of those. You can't prove they're there, but they're the guiding lights of a life.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: How about politics? I mean politics is the art of the pragmatic. How do you reconcile those two things?
PRESIDENT JIMMY CARTER: It's also an element of faith--faith in your nation, faith in the principles that make a great nation. I would say peace, freedom, democracy, human rights, the alleviation of suffering, all elements of life in a great nation that can be the essence of either what the nation is, or what the nation ought to be.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Well, what about nations like Bosnia and the Sudan, where faith has led to conflict and human suffering, and death?
PRESIDENT JIMMY CARTER: Well, I think, first, religious--say fundamentalism can obviously be carried to extremes. If some human being, no matter what their particular religion might be, believed that they are ordained by God to receive singular truth, and when they speak, their statements modified by their own human interest, that they speak for God, then inevitably, they believe that they are superior to those who disagree with them, and they become abusive of those who differ and, in extreme cases, even look upon other people as inferior to them, even as sub-humans, so that the loss of life of another person who's different or who disagrees is insignificant in the eyes of God. So there is a self-delusion, a self-hypnosis that leads to fundamentalism in any religion.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Does faith take care of it? Can faith take care of it?
PRESIDENT JIMMY CARTER: Well, it depends on what faith--how faith is defined. If faith is defined as--as humility, as service, as love, as defined by the Golden Rule, which is common to almost every great religion, to put the interest of others above your own self, then that extreme of fundamentalism which becomes abusive to others can be obstructed or subverted or changed. I think the faith that we have in families, the faith that we have in a nation, the faith that we have in our own beliefs, no matte where the beliefs come from, my faith comes from my belief as a Christian, my confidence that the life of Christ was perfect, that the things He taught and did are the perfect example for human being's life.
At the same time, he reminds us I think most vividly and most frequently that self-pride is one of the greatest sins against which we should guard, that we are no better than other people. One of the tenets of my faith is that all of us are equal in the eyes of God. As the Bible said, there's no distinction between male and female; there's no distinction between master and slave; there's no distinction between gentile and Jew; there's no distinction between say white and African-American in the eyes of God. And those guiding lights prove adequate to me as a foundation for faith.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Mr. President, let me just turn briefly to a place that probably tests your faith, and that's Rwanda, Burundi, Central Africa, the crisis there. You've been involved with a lot of crises in not only that area but other parts of Africa in which people have slaughtered each other, Africans have slaughtered each other, children, women, men. Are African countries more fragile and more prone to wars, civil wars, than countries on other continents?
PRESIDENT JIMMY CARTER: Like Bosnia, Herzegovina--than the United States when we took this continent from the native Americans--than America was at the time of slavery--I don't think so.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: But these ones in Africa for some reason seem to continue to repeat cycles.
PRESIDENT JIMMY CARTER: Well, some of them--
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Hundreds of thousands of people every time, you know, one cycle ends, we see another. What--
PRESIDENT JIMMY CARTER: That's true. Well, Africa was so long subjugated by European nations primarily and I spent a lot of my time the last sixteen months, eighteen months, dealing with Rwanda and Burundi and Zaire--for instance, the Rwanda-Burundi society was very advanced. They had a homogeneous, harmonious society based on different trades and so forth.
The Hutus were basically farmers. The Tutsis were primarily cattle people. If you were a Hutu and you bought cattle, you could become a Tutsi. Hutus and Tutsis married each other, lived in harmony. The Europeans came--and they couldn't really believe that these Africans could have such an advanced society unless if they were pure Africans. So the Tutsis were taller and more aquiline in their features because they had been living on cattle meat, blood, milk. And so they exalted the Tutsis, and they were the ones who could go to college. They were the ones who could serve in the army as officers; they were the ones who could have the government jobs.
And for the first time, they distinguished between Tutsis and Hutis; they issued ID cards. You were either a Hutu or a Tutsi, and the Hutus were looked upon as inferior. They drew a line between the two. And there's a great and intense animosity or resentment in the Great Lakes region around Burundi and Rwanda against this historical fact that I just described to you. Now, the Rwandans--ever since I've known them--have been very eager for the 2 million refugees to come back home and have insisted repeatedly that they would not be abused if they came home.
They have not been permitted to go back because the militants in the refugee camps who are Hutus and who are guilty of genocide--many of them--wouldn't let their fellow Hutus go back home to Rwanda. Now they are pouring back, as you know. Maybe 1/2 million have come back. I hope that this will, you know, prove--no one knows in the future--that they can manage their own affairs. The Rwandans do not want foreign troops to come into their country in a military way.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: How do you get to this point? I mean, how do you get to this point that the crisis not just in Rwanda, Burundi, and Zaire, but in other places, the crises always get so bad that they have to have outside intervention?
PRESIDENT JIMMY CARTER: Well, that's not always the case. For instance, the Carter Center negotiated for years trying to resolve the problem between Ethiopia and Eritreans. Then along came a Tigrean, his name is Mili Sinawe, who overthrew Mengistu, who is a Communist dictator in Ethiopia. Now, there's a new, wonderful little nation of Eritrea, and there's a growing democracy in Ethiopia still struggling along, making very good progress on their own, without any outside interference. I think that if history can continue beyond the colonial days and if they can overcome the ravages of colonialism, I think there's a very good chance to see democracy continue to improve.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Do you see African leaders more willing to undertake to try and solve some of these problems than they have been in the past?
PRESIDENT JIMMY CARTER: For the first time. The Organization of African Unity is now willing to intercede within crises in Africa, for the first time. As a matter of fact, a number of years ago, I was invited to go to Addis Ababa, and to make a speech to the annual meeting of African--of the Organization of African Unity, and I called on them to organize committees to start looking at the crises in Africa. They have a committee now. And recently, Mili Sinawe in Ethiopia and other leaders--he happens to be the head of the OAU this year--have said we Africans can best take care of the crisis first, as in Rwanda and in Burundi, and in Zaire. And they're attempting now for the first time to take their leadership in resolving their own problems.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: We're not going to have time for a full answer on this, but I just want to know briefly from you, what kind of foreign policy do we need to help us know when to commit foreign troops, and that's so unfair, because we've got just a few seconds left.
PRESIDENT JIMMY CARTER: Well, you know, one of the things that I think we need to remember is that we have the greatest and only superpower on earth now. What is it that makes a great superpower? I would say it would be the champion of peace, freedom, and democracy, of human rights, environmental quality, and the alleviation of suffering, but when I travel in a foreign country, particularly Africa, my wife and I have been in 110 different countries, our nation is not looked upon as a champion of peace and as the most generous country on earth. In fact, we are the stingiest country on earth. Every time a Norwegian gives a dollar in foreign assistance for needy people, we give three cents. And so I think there's a great difference and a great way that we can go to realizing the hopes and dreams of Africa, which will exemplify the characteristics of a great superpower.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Well, Mr. President, thank you.
PRESIDENT JIMMY CARTER: Thank you, Charlayne.