Former President Jimmy Carter identified four steps that lead extreme fundamentalists to violent acts.
During a question and answer segment of a program sponsored by the Greater Washington Society of Association Executives in Washington, D.C. on Nov. 19, Carter was asked to provide illustrations of effective intervention efforts related to religious extremism and tribalism.
“Well, I hope you’re not talking about Southern Baptists,” he jokingly replied, much to the enjoyment of the audience.
Carter, a Baptist who has distanced himself from the Southern Baptist Convention, then seriously noted the tragedy of distorted religious beliefs that can lead to violence.
Extreme fundamentalism is derived from “one’s own personal relationship with God,” Carter said.
“The first step is to feel that our faith is superior, and most of us have that faith,” he said. “The second step is to believe that anyone who disagrees with me is also disagreeing with God.”
Carter said the third step “is to say that those who disagree with God are inferior, not only mistaken, but inferior.”
The fourth step is “to say that those who disagree with God, their lives are not worthy in the eyes of God,” Carter said.
These steps led to the Crusades and to unnecessary wars, according to Carter, this year’s Nobel Peace Prize winner for his peacemaking efforts and advancement of human rights and democracy.
“We have to convince ourselves that our adversaries are inhuman, or subhuman, in order to attack them without guilt,” Carter said.
Carter said suicide bombers are an obvious example of extreme fundamentalists; they think they are acting on the will of God.
“When religious faith is distorted to elevate, not God … but to exalt ourselves as the singular and chosen believers, that’s when the cruelty comes and the basic principles of our faith are abandoned,” he said.
Carter observed that all major religions share a deep commitment to peace and the alleviation of suffering. Remembering and honoring these principles would enable Christians, Jews and Muslims to accomplish common goals, he said.
“We have to subjugate our own pride and egocentrism, and reach out to others with a spirit of compassion and forgiveness and service and humility and love,” Carter said.