Jimmy Carter on "moral crisis"

One of the fundamental principles of this country is the separation of church and state. But anyone who has been paying attention to the ongoing battle of red and blue states knows the worlds of politics and religion have become intertwined.

Former President Jimmy Carter believes the result is a moral crisis in America and he writes about that in his new book "Our Endangered Values." Click here to read an excerpt.

He tells The Early Show co-anchor Rene Syler that Washington has become an inhospitable place for those who have a dissenting view or opinion.

"Fundamentalism exists in religious circles and now very overwhelmingly in Washington," he says. "A fundamentalist believes, say, in religious circles, that I am close to God. Everything that I believe is absolutely right. Anyone who disagrees with me, in any case, is inherently wrong and therefore, inferior. And it violates my basic principles if I negotiate with anyone else or listen to their point of view or modify my own positions at all. So that is what has permeated this administration."

Carter presents his views as a "born again" Christian and a former political leader. He says: "I think it's very important for the American people to know that not only has this happened, but it has resulted in a breakdown of the separation of church and state that's been part of our nation's principles ever since Thomas Jefferson espoused this principle as one of our founding fathers."

Presently, Democrats angered Republicans by shutting down the senate in an effort to gain intelligence in the run-up to the war, a move Carter says it was "long overdue."

"The intelligence committee chairman had promised 18 months ago to have a thorough discussion or investigation about the mistaken ideas that were put forward either deliberately or inadvertently by the Bush administration concerning the reasons to go to war in Iraq," Carter says. "And I think the Democrats are absolutely justified. The American people are in saying, what happened then? How much did the administration know? Were there deliberate attempts to mislead the American people or was it just an improper use of intelligence information? So I think to bring the facts out, which is all the Democrats asked for, is completely justified and long overdue."

The way this administration has favored the rich is also troubling, Carter says. Having spent a great part of his life building communities through Habitat for Humanity, he says the gap between the rich and the poor was clearly illustrated in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

"The greatest challenge is the growing chasm between rich people and poor people not only inside of a country but rich nations and poor nations," Carter says. "There has never been an administration in Washington before in history that has so dramatically favored the extremely rich people in this country at the expense of poor and working class families. Every major tax change has been to take taxes away from the rich and put it on the poor and working class people. And this, I think, was vividly demonstrated when you saw the aftermath of Katrina. It just shows what's always been there. And that is that poor people are the ones who suffer most."

In the book, he also shares his views about issues such as abortion, the death penalty, women's rights, America's foreign policy and global image, and protecting the environment.

Although these issues have been debated for decades, Carter says: "I think most Americans know the individual cases that we've had massive tax breaks for the rich, that we have gone to an unnecessary war under false or misleading premises, that we've abandoned basic human rights, and are now debating whether it's right for us to torture prisoners, and that we've abandoned commitment to the environment. Americans know those individual pieces of the pattern in Washington. I decided to write this book to show that it's a broad-based change in the basic moral values of America, about which most Americans are not familiar."

Carter notes the differences between Democrats and Republicans are much stronger and partisan than when he was in the White House. He writes that most of the general public are, fortunately, not as "rigid and confrontational" as Washington politicians. "In preparing this book, I have searched for the best assessments of American public opinion, so that I could understand the reasons for, and the extent of, agreements and divisions among our people."

So would religion and politics ever be the way it was?

"Yes," Carter says. "I really don't believe that a vast majority of the American people approve of what has been happening recently in Washington. And I think after they read my book and realize the profound nature of the change, there's going to be an even greater desire to see the changes back to what we have always valued as American moral principles."

"Our Endangered Values" is published by Simon and Schuster, which is owned by Viacom, the same parent company as CBSNews.com.