Tag Archives: humanism

The Presidency Doesn’t Have to be about Wealth and Power

Once upon a time, America’s presidents were about serving the country with dignity and honesty. Only a handful, until recent years, found the White House a stepping stone to great wealth after leaving office. None, until now, found it a means to greater wealth while in office. But let’s not dwell on Trump; we get enough of him on the news every day and more than enough here.

Jimmy Carter defeated Gerald Ford in the 1976 election for US President. Ford couldn’t overcome having pardoned Richard Nixon (take note, Mike Pence). Carter was a  one-term president as well, troubled by a fuel shortage (with long lines at gas pumps), an extended hostage crisis in Iran and other problems. He was far from America’s best president and Ronald Reagan beat him handily in the 1980 election. But Carter didn’t lie, cheat or steal while in office. Nor has he done so since.

It’s hard to argue with what he’s done since AND what he hasn’t done.  Carter finally yielded the management of the humanitarian Carter Center founded by him and his wife Roslyn to his grandson several years ago. (I’ve been a contributor for some decades). At 94, after recovering from brain surgery, Jimmy is still swinging a hammer, building homes as a member of Habitat for Humanity. For more about The Carter Center, check out their website

Carter is pictured at his house after teaching his 800th Sunday school lesson at Maranatha Baptist Church since leaving the White House. Every other Sunday morning, he teaches at Maranatha, on the edge of town, and people line up the night before to get a seat. The painting at right was done by Carter. Photo by Matt McClain for the Post

As a recent Washington Post article details, he didn’t seek wealth or power after the White House. He lives a simple life and contributes to society—not feathering his own nest. Here’s some excerpts from the WAPO feature. I encourage you to read the entire article; it will brighten your day. 🙂

The Democratic former president decided not to join corporate boards or give speeches for big money because, he says, he didn’t want to “capitalize financially on being in the White House.”

Presidential historian Michael Beschloss said that Gerald Ford, Carter’s predecessor and close friend, was the first to fully take advantage of those high-paid post-presidential opportunities, but that “Carter did the opposite.”

The article highlights how much money successive presidents have raked in, contrasting that with Carter. What is life like when money is not a major objective? Here’s another excerpt.

Carter is the only president in the modern era to return full-time to the house he lived in before he entered politics — a two-bedroom rancher assessed at $167,000, less than the value of the armored Secret Service vehicles parked outside.

Ex-presidents often fly on private jets, sometimes lent by wealthy friends, but the Carters fly commercial. Stuckey says that on a recent flight from Atlanta to Los Angeles, Carter walked up and down the aisle greeting other passengers and taking selfies.

Carter did succeed at some things while in office, such as brokering a peace deal between Egypt and Israel, which garnered him a Nobel Peace Prize (somewhat belatedly) in 2002.  He also worked to normalize relations with China, following on the steps taken by former President Nixon. I will dare the wrath of the Post with a little more excerpted text.

Carter’s gait is a little unsteady these days, three years after a diagnosis of melanoma on his liver and brain. At a 2015 news conference to announce his illness, he seemed to be bidding a stoic farewell, saying he was “perfectly at ease with whatever comes.”

But now, after radiation and chemotherapy, Carter says he is cancer-free.

Clearly, Carter is not living on burgers, fries and diet sodas. The article describes his dinner at at a neighbor’s house and the half-mile walk home. As noted above, he’s still healthy and strong enough to swing a hammer. I’m a Buddhist, not a Christian, but I must salute the way Jimmy Carter lives as Jesus taught.

 

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Cutting Off the Chain of Hate–Martin Luther King’s Words, Timely as Ever

The shootings at Emanuel AME church in Charleston, South Carolina by a young man intent on fomenting a race war. Other churches burned across the South. Homophobes incensed at the notion of same sex marriage vow resistance to the Supreme Court decision. Donald Trump calls Mexicans rapists and drug dealers. Yes hate is abundant still in America. Pronouncements by all the courts in the land, all the legislation passed to prohibit hate-based actions will not alter the hearts and minds of people.  In a recent piece on Brain Pickings, the blog site of Maria Popova, can be found this quote from MLK:

“Along the way of life, someone must have sense enough and morality enough to cut off the chain of hate. This can only be done by projecting the ethic of love to the center of our lives.”

bookcover of "A Testament of Hope"
Cover of “A Testament of Hope”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cut off the chain of hate–a simple enough concept, yet seemingly so difficult. It begins with an identification, a categorization, of others as different. It proceeds with the notion that the other has less value, deserves less respect–may even be less than human. Finally, responsibility for one’s own problems are the result of them. They have taken the jobs. Got the school slots you or your kids should have. Taken the money you should have received from your employer or from the government in the form of assistance. They have introduced drugs, depravity and other awful things into the community. They despoil  neighborhoods, disrupt institutions like marriage and generally ruin America as we know it.

Popova notes that:

“Although Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. used Christian social ethics and the New Testament concept of “love” heavily in his writings and speeches, he was as influenced by Eastern spiritual traditions, Gandhi’s political writings, Buddhism’s notion of the interconnectedness of all beings, and Ancient Greek philosophy. His enduring ethos, at its core, is nonreligious — rather, it champions a set of moral, spiritual, and civic responsibilities that fortify our humanity, individually and collectively.”

As a Buddhist myself, I can attest to the principle of the interconnectedness, the interdependence of all. We live in a physical, as well as a social environment. That social environment in fact is a reflection of our inner selves. View others with disdain or worse yet, hatred, and the consequences are entirely predictable. Buddhism at it’s core is a humanistic religion–not one based on commandments not far removed from the court decisions and the legislation modeled on them which fail to alter human misbehavior. Bodhisattva Never Disparaging is an allegorical character whose humanistic behavior centered on bowing to all he met while praising them as Buddhas, needing only to awaken and assuring them that he could never despise them.

As a consequence, people hit him with sticks or threw stones at him. Compare what happened to Gandhi, King and countless others. Popova goes on to describe at some length, the six pillars of nonviolent resistance set forth in King’s essay, before addressing the ancient Greek principle of Agape. I mention it here to connect it to the perspective of the Bodhisattva noted above. Here is the quote  from King that Popova includes in her piece:

“Agape means understanding, redeeming good will for all men. It is an overflowing love which is purely spontaneous, unmotivated, groundless, and creative. It is not set in motion by any quality or function of its object… Agape is disinterested love. It is a love in which the individual seeks not his own good, but the good of his neighbor. Agape does not begin by discriminating between worthy and unworthy people, or any qualities people possess. It begins by loving others for their sakes. It is an entirely “neighbor-regarding concern for others,” which discovers the neighbor in every man it meets. Therefore, agape makes no distinction between friends and enemy; it is directed toward both. If one loves an individual merely on account of his friendliness, he loves him for the sake of the benefits to be gained from the friendship, rather than for the friend’s own sake. Consequently, the best way to assure oneself that love is disinterested is to have love for the enemy-neighbor from whom you can expect no good in return, but only hostility and persecution.”

Whether the love of agape, the humanism of Buddhism or some other perspective, the essential task is to stop blaming others–stop making others them, and stop hating them.

 

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Iraq, Afghanistan and the American Psyche

For those whose loved ones are there now or who suffer after effects from time they spent in combat, Iraq and Afghanistan remain an immediate concern. For others, like myself, the conflicts are an abstraction. The sufferings of the soldiers and the civilians do not pain my psyche. I have to remind myself again and  again, despite regular news coverage, of the real pain that war causes. Am I alone in that respect? Continue reading Iraq, Afghanistan and the American Psyche