Leonard Pitts Jr. is a national treasure. So many of his Op-Eds make such unwavering good sense that it is difficult to believe he’s not a household name. His recent piece in the Miami Herald concerning Jimmy Carter’s announcement that he has cancer is a case in point. Many reporters would be quick to point to the tragedy since, although the Carter administration is generally undervalued, nobody would ever say that Carter is less than a true gentleman. Pitts, however, takes us deeper. He looks at this understated announcement in terms of faith. Faith, as he points out, in a world where it has taken on an unsavory, if not downright evil, flavor. We do indeed hear about faith that moves mountains, but it is with the power of fully fueled passenger jets. We hear about the faith that builds mega-churches while the homeless and hungry sleep in the city streets. Pitts is quite right, our faith requires a shot in the arm.
I sometimes wonder how we have come so far down what seems to be obviously the wrong road. Our religion has become a charade and it is used for people to get what they really want rather than to make the world a better place. I always thought true religion was putting others before yourself. Nothing like working in Manhattan to show you how totally off-base such sentiments might be. Jesus can sell books, but his teaching is definitely passé. Yesterday. Old-school (but not in the good way). We have faith in money because immortality, or at least the antidote for mortality, is readily for sale. There’s one born every second. This, we are told, is what gives life meaning.
Of the presidents who’ve retired, we generally hear very little. They sequester themselves and write their memoirs to gain even more money for themselves. Carter has been known to be out there building houses for the poor, living what presidents all say they believe when they ask us to cast our votes in their direction. I’ve always been proud that the first president I ever voted for was Carter. Of course, it was in the beginning of those recent Dark Ages known as the Reagan Administration, and I had voted for the underdog. My faith in the political system has been severely challenged since then. I have seen stolen elections treated as legitimate by those who can’t possibly do too much for themselves. And I remembered my first lowly vote given for a man who, perhaps more than any other, showed Americans their misplaced faith after he had been denied a second term in office. Although Pitts doesn’t say it, I can see it in his pen: the first shall be last, and the last shall be first.