Read an Excerpt
Preface "Was Blind But Now I See"
One of my favorite of the great recordings of The Carter Family is "What
Would You Give in Exchange for Your Soul?" It gives me chill bumps and causes
the hair to rise on the back of my neck. It always has, but in recent years it
has become more like a personal short sermon with as penetrating a question as
any that could be asked.
This book is about the soul. The soul of our nation. The soul of western civilization. Your soul and my own. In the course of a nation's life, or that of every human being, we are tempted many times and in many ways to exchange or sell our souls, this most precious of all possessions. The payment may be in silver and gold or fame and success.
I believe the bargain is often made with the devil, who comes in various disguises.
I believe our souls are inextricably linked to our Maker who created us. I believe it is He who determines where our souls will spend eternity. The soul of a country is different, but I believe God determines its fate as well.
When I was a lad attending revival services at Old Union Baptist Church in
Young Harris, Georgia, as the congregation softly sang "Pass Me Not, O Gentle Savior,"
the preacher or one of the deacons would put his arm around me and ask the most important question one can ever be called to answer-"Are you right with God?"
I often find myself asking that question now, several times a day, not only of myself but also of my country. There were two primary reasons I could not go where my lifelong political party wanted to take me. I seriously questioned its judgment on how to
respond to the threat of terrorism, the most serious national security issue of the post-Cold War era. But I also came to be repelled by the secularism that had engulfed its thinking and smothered its soul. For me, mocking someone's faith is the most disrespectful thing anyone can do. You can laugh at my accent and ridicule my choice in music, food, or dress, but do not mock my religion. And that was what too many in the Democratic Party, who always proclaimed its great tolerance, did to me and the millions who believe as I do. Disagree, but do not disdain.
So this book, in a most personal way, is about the reawakening of my once dormant spiritual life as well as the realignment of my long-held loyalty to a single political party. It is neither a political treatise nor a religious tract. It's about the journey
of one miserable sinner, a flawed pilgrim who took many wrong turns on his way back home. But this isn't a book about my faith. It's a book about politics, our country, our policies, etc. It's a book about my dashed hopes, informed fears, and what I think are solutions.
But I can no longer think about these things outside of my faith in God. For too long, politicians have tried to govern while ignoring their faith, teachers have tried to teach while being sworn to camouflage their faith, and parents have tried to raise their children
paying more attention to Dr. Phil and Oprah than to the God who blessed them with children. No, I'm not capable of writing an honest book about these things apart from my faith in Jesus Christ. So, as you read, you'll notice references to the Bible and references
about my own beliefs and faith. I'm not trying to bolster my arguments with religion. I'm simply sharing with you the only way I know how to look at this great country with which God has blessed and trusted you and me.
My mother saw to it that I was raised to know and do better. As a single parent, she made sure I was a regular at Sharp Memorial United Methodist Church in Young Harris, Georgia-at Sunday School and at church. Later I would be the lay leader of that
church and serve on the Board of Stewards. Shirley and I still attend it each and every Sunday, usually with other members of our family.
When I was growing up, my closest friends were all Baptists, so each Sunday
night I would attend Old Union Baptist Church in Young Harris with them. On a rutted dirt road, it was a small white wooden building heated in the winter by a pot-bellied stove; in the summer a cool breeze would come through the open windows. A big bell in the steeple would ring before the "preaching" was to begin. I always went every summer during the revivals. I still often go to this little Baptist church, now a neat brick structure with a paved parking lot, and I can look around the congregation and see five of us who
started the first grade together. That's what you call "roots."
I was raised in the churches of the rural South. And I have always loved the old hymns, the lessons of the Bible, and the preachers. They have always touched me deeply. But they did not, I'm sorry to say, touch me deeply enough. I guess I just became one of those "Sunday morning Christians." Enough religion to make me feel comfortable and
safe, but not enough to change my ways or make me strictly obey God's words.
As one gets older, as I certainly am-with a lot more years behind me than I have in front of me-it is inevitable that one begins to think more seriously of what life and the hereafter are all about. As the father of two, the grandfather of four, and the great-
grandfather of four, not a day goes by that I don't stop to wonder what kind of world we will leave to them. For the last several years, I have seriously contemplated that and it concerns me greatly.
Before the experience the tent maker Saul of Tarsus had on the road to Damascus, he persecuted Christians. He was one of their chief tormentors. We all remember that Saul's life-changing epiphany occurred in a burst of light on that famous road he
traveled. My life-changing experience occurred within my family in a burst of blindness-the blindness of my forty-seven-year-old son Matthew, who was first diagnosed with diabetes at the age of five.
Our family knew well how that cruel disease can devastate one's life. Blindness is always a possibility with diabetes, as are kidney failure and poor circulation in the extremities. We knew it, but we were not prepared for it. Like one faces death, we
thought it would come later, come gradually. We were not prepared in February 2003 when this otherwise healthy man who could read without glasses went completely blind in both eyes within two weeks time. Nothing but darkness. He could not see a thing.
We went to Emory University Hospital in Atlanta with his hands on both my shoulders as I led him around. To make it even worse, his wife would become ill and be in intensive care for seventy-seven days with acute pancreatitus. Several times we
thought she was dying.
In short, our world came crashing in, as we went from Emory Hospital with Matt across town to St. Joseph's Hospital with Katie. But in that valley of the shadow of death and blindness, I found there was a rod and staff that comforted me. Just as I had always
I've always said my prayers in the morning and evening, but often hurriedly, usually just sort of thumping them up from time to time. But this experience with my family drove me to my knees. Shirley and I prayed and prayed and prayed. And then we
prayed some more.
And our prayers were answered. After a long operation and a long recuperative period, I am happy to say sight was restored in one of Matt's eyes. After four operations on the second, we're still not there yet, but we're hopeful. Katie, while still not well, is
much better, and they're at home together. Matt is back at work.
Matt was blind and now he sees. Zell was blind and now he sees. Much more clearly than I ever have. I thank God for that and all my many blessings.
I can never forget that God answered our prayers in our greatest time of need. I know there may well be prayers in the future that go unanswered, but my faith in Christ will not be shaken. In 1 Thessalonians 5:17 Paul tells us, "Always be joyful and never
stop praying. Whatever happens, keep thanking God because of Jesus Christ. This is what God wants you to do." And I will.
Throughout my life, I have read the Bible sporadically. I'd hear a Scripture text at church or some speaker would use a biblical passage I'd want to check out. I have loved the poetry of David in the Psalms and the Old Testament prophet Amos, especially in the King James Version. But quite frankly, I was not much of a Bible reader. Unlike Shirley who for years has read it daily, I had no great desire to do so. This has changed also. Now I, too, read it daily. Shirley has a systematic reading plan and always a lesson to go with it. I jump from book to book and often go back and read the old familiar passages of which I never tire. But my goal for 2004 was to read the Bible straight through. I read somewhere that one should not say he believes every word of the Bible until he has read
every word of the Bible. So much wisdom comes pouring out that's been there for centuries that it's like trying to drink from a fire hydrant. I gulped down "Seek His will in all you do and He will direct your paths" (Proverbs 3:6) and "I know the Lord is always
with me. I will not be shaken for He is right beside me" (Proverbs 16:8).
I'm proud to proclaim that seventy-two years after my birth, I am a Born Again Christian. The old hymn speaks for me when it says, "My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus' blood and righteousness. . . .On Christ the solid Rock, I stand; all other
ground is sinking sand." Shirley has long believed and lived that. For years, she waited
patiently, often pausing, looking back for me to catch up it seemed.
When it finally happened, I wanted to shout like that great Hank Williams song "I Saw the Light," but I stayed still and quiet to make sure it was not just some temporary emotional thanksgiving for the most important prayer of my life being answered.
It wasn't. And isn't. The "Sunday Morning Christian" I was, is no more. I am now Christian 24/7. Strong in my beliefs, militant almost. That's where the phrase "soldiers of the cross" comes from, I guess. I don't like it when verses like "rise up men
of God and put your armor on" and old traditional hymns like "Onward Christian Soldiers" are no longer sung in many of our churches with the feeling and gusto they once were and still deserve. I don't like timidity in anything and that includes religion.
Shirley and I believe the Bible is the literal, inerrant word of God, including the book of Revelation. That means we are fundamentalists. Further, we know that we have had and have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. That makes us evangelicals. We do not
hide it; we glory in it. We are proud of it. So when the likes of Ted Turner claim Christianity is "a religion for losers," we'll answer, "Call us what you will."
Among the signers of the Declaration of Independence was a brilliant young physician from Pennsylvania named Benjamin Rush. When Rush was elected to that First Continental Congress, his close friend Benjamin Franklin told him, "We need you. We have a great task before us, assigned to us by Providence." Today, almost 229 years later, I believe there is still a great task before us. I believe it too has been assigned to us by Providence. Our Founding Fathers did not shirk their duty, and we can do no less.
That's why, from its beginning, I was a co-sponsor of the amendment to the Constitution relating to marriage. I was also an original co-sponsor of the Liberties Restoration Act, which declares religious liberty rights in several ways, including the
Pledge of Allegiance and the display of the Ten Commandments. And, early in 2004, I worked with Alabama chief justice Roy Moore to come up with the Constitution Restoration Act of 2004 that limits the jurisdiction of federal courts in certain ways, and with then-Senator Richard Shelby introduced it in the U.S. Senate.
These are the cultural issues of our time, issues I have found that Washington doesn't care about, whether it is removing a display of the Ten Commandments from a courthouse or a Nativity scene from a city square. Whether it is eliminating prayer in
schools or eliminating "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance. Whether it is making a mockery of the sacred institution of marriage between a man and woman, or yes, telecasting around the world made-in-the-USA filth masquerading as entertainment.
I often chastised the U. S. Senate, once telling them that "the desire and will of Congress to meaningfully do anything about any of these important issues is nonexistent and embarrassingly disgraceful." I also told them the American people were waiting and
growing impatient with us. They wanted something done.
By the way, Benjamin Rush was once asked a question that has long interested
me-are you a democrat or an aristocrat? And the good doctor answered, "I am neither. I am a Christocrat. I believe He, alone, who created and redeemed man is qualified to govern him." That reply of Benjamin Rush is just as true today in the year of our Lord
2005 as it was in the year of our Lord 1776.
I have taken a lot of criticism this past year for political expediency, even though I'm not running for anything and consider my political career over. As for some of my old friends and associates, the ties that bind seem to have become pretty much unraveled,
and I regret that. But this old Marine Sergeant has a tough hide. More importantly, my faith in God is stronger than it has ever been. I take comfort in the words of that great old hymn: "Do thy friends despise, forsake thee. Take it to the Lord in prayer. In His arms
He'll take and shield thee. Thou wilt find a solace there." I have found that "solace," for I am shielded by the grace of God. I am forgiven for my sins. And I am blessed.
Aristotle was once asked to define the difference between a barbaric culture and a civilization. He said that in a barbaric culture, people live from day to day or week to week. They go out and plunder, then they consume what they plundered, and they go out
and plunder again. But in a civilization, people go out and they plan and they work for the next generation. They want to pay back what their parents have done for them by doing more for their children. That is how civilization progresses.
There have been ten generations of Americans since this nation was founded, and each one has fulfilled Aristotle's requirement of a civilization. Each left this nation in a little better condition than when they inherited it from their parents. This is the first
generation at risk of doing the opposite. Why? I have come to believe that it is because we failed to acknowledge and discipline ourselves with the spiritual truths that have made us great for these two hundred year-faith, family, country, values. This book is about
how one man thinks they may be restored and yet save this great civilization-from itself.