A Call to Action: Women, Religion, Violence, and Power
by jimmy carter
simon & schuster, 224 pages, $16

This book, Jimmy Carter’s latest, reads with all the intensity of a lullaby to liberal orthodoxy. Presenting a sympathetic face to the myriad forms of suffering that women experience in the world, the ex-president’s reputation as a ­Southern gentleman is retained. But his analysis and solutions are lacking at best, and at worst offer only a ­restatement of platitudes that ­permeate our culture.

Virtues and values Carter learned at home are mentioned throughout the book, but are never offered as solutions in the situations he describes. His obviously happy marriage is based on a strong foundation of a shared faith, long-term commitment, and the security that comes from abstinence before marriage and faithfulness within it. Yet he suggests that such joys are merely relics of a time long past. He points to women’s ordination as a sine qua non for women’s rights, and castigates Christian denominations that don’t allow it. ­Theology ceases to be the angelic ­science, and becomes yet another tool in the struggle for women’s rights.

One of the stranger accolades he offers is in pointing to China as a country making positive strides in women’s rights and equality. He refers to the large numbers of women in high positions in business, but ignores the punitive one-child policy that tyrannizes women and families in their most intimate sphere. In mentioning his own opposition to abortion, he speaks of the hope he has that increased sexual education and contraception will lower abortion rates. But no amount of “sex ed” or birth control will solve this problem. It is the content of these programs that matters, not the numbers of them.

Strangely, much of what the book discusses are not issues Carter’s own philanthropic organization works on. Indeed, that work provides only a powerful interlude in the book; his efforts to eradicate Guinea worm disease are detailed in a moving and personal manner, and are a lasting and important contribution to global health. But a book about Guinea worm disease, without touching on other areas dear to the modern mind, would not have the same social cachet. A true call to action would have presented us with concrete and innovative ideas. Lacking that, this book merely allows sleepy consciences to flatter themselves.

Anna Halpine is the chief ­executive officer of the World Youth Alliance.

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