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Saturday, May 31, 2014

A CALL to ACTION: WOMEN, RELIGION, VIOLENCE, and POWER (audiobook) by Jimmy Carter

Published in 2014 by Simon and Schuster (AUDIOWORKS)
Read by the author, Jimmy Carter
Duration: 6 hours, 33 minutes

Jimmy Carter and I have a strange relationship. Don't get me wrong, the 39th President and I have never met and are not likely to. I think that his presidency was, on balance, a well-intentioned mess and his post-Presidential career has been a mix of amazing achievements (Habitat for Humanity, for example) combined with annoying commentary and self-intervention into areas where he was not invited (ask Bill Clinton what he thinks of Carter's self-appointed mission to North Korea during the Clinton Administration).

This book only re-affirms my impressions of Jimmy Carter. I admire his religious faith and his intimate knowledge of the scriptures. I also admire his willingness to learn about other faiths and the fact that he teaches in his church's Sunday school. His work through the Carter Center has also been a mixed bag of amazing work against poverty and disease and less-than-helpful self-insertion into international politics. 

As Carter describes it early in his book, A Call to Action was written because so many people asked him to use his position to call attention to the how religion was being used against women around the world. 

The book also looks at the economic and political status of women and often ties religious views into how women and doing economically and politically. This is mostly a look at Christianity and Islam with some commentary on Judaism but almost none on Buddhism, Hinduism, Shintoism or any of the other faiths of the world.

Carter is especially critical of Christian denominations that do not allow women to be pastors or priests. He lays down his arguments here quite well, which is appropriate since he publicly broke with the Southern Baptists over this topic in 2000 and has laid out his reasoning for doing so many times. 

Former President Jimmy Carter signing A CALL TO ACTION
in April of 2014. Photo by Mark Turner
He is less critical of the Islamic world. Don't get me wrong, he is critical, but spends much less time on the topic than he does in criticizing Christianity. He dismisses a lot of the more obvious things like burkas, not letting women go to school and not letting women receive medical treatment as local tradition. This is true, but it is tradition bolstered by certain verses in the Koran or by attitudes that draw on those verses for strength. 

This leads to the heart of my strange relationship with Jimmy Carter. It is not that he did not have a point about any of this stuff, it is that he points his finger at America and the West for so long in comparison to the other religions and countries.  He gushes over the improvement of the conditions for women in China in a section that focuses on China and brushes over the one child policy, forced abortions (he addresses the forced abortions at the end of the book but only as part of a larger movement) and the number of girls in orphanages. He focuses on the positives and brushes over the negative. When discussing America, he brushes over our positives and focuses on the negatives. Note, I am not saying we are perfect, I am saying his focus is often out of balance. 

The book was read by Jimmy Carter. At first, I thought that this was an odd choice considering his age (he was 89 when this book was released). His weaker voice has only deepened his accent and it does take a few minutes to get used to it. But, in the end, Carter's unique voice, especially if you remember his presidency, was the only one that could read this audiobook - his style is all over the text and you would have been imagining it being read in his voice anyway. At times, his emphasis on certain words while reading express his feelings more than the words themselves would have. Every time he says the phrase "female genital cutting" he practically spits out the word "cutting" - his distaste is obvious.

I rate this audiobook 4 stars out of 5.

Reviewed on May 31, 2014.

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