The last 2 months have not been happy days for our Nation. It's been a sobering experience for every American, a trying experience for some of us, a sacrificial time for American hostages held by kidnapers in Tehran, but a time of unity and, I think, a time of deep commitment, a time of reassessment of basic concepts and ideas.
No one knows the ultimate outcome of these challenges that we must face, these difficult questions that we must answer. But throughout a time of trial and tribulation, of testing, questioning, Americans have always turned to basic unchanging principles, moral beliefs, deep religious convictions, and they have turned to God for guidance in managing the secular challenges which confront us. It may be a time of cleansing for us; it may be a time of recommitment to basic ideas that are important, but which we sometimes forget.
This morning I'm not going to go into details about our energy program or legislation pending before the Congress. Charlie Duncan can handle that better than I, and he'll be available after I speak, briefly, to answer your questions so long as you desire to stay here and pose them to him.
When I was at Camp David last July, I had a group of people who are very important to me come and see me from one day to another, to give me advice on what our Nation should do with this pending crisis and, at that time, an existing serious challenge—one of the groups was comprised of some of you—a quiet, meditative period of intense, unrestrained, frank discussion of the moral and ethical and religious principles that were involved in meeting the crisis of energy.
It might seem strange to some, not to you, that the conservation of oil has a religious connotation. But when God created the Earth and gave human beings dominion over it, it was with the understanding on the part of us, then and down through the generations, that we are indeed stewards under God's guidance, to protect not only those who are fortunate enough to grasp an advantage or a temporary material blessing or enjoyment but to husband those bases for enjoyment and for a quality of life for those less fortunate in our own generation and especially for those who will come after us.
Our country is comprised of profligate wasters of the Earth's precious resources, not because of an innate selfishness, but because we've been overly endowed by God with those material blessings. We've seldom experienced limits on our lives because of a withholding of the production of food or fiber or building materials or energy itself. Access to warm oceans, wonderful climates, rich land—God has given us these things. But lately in the last few years, or particularly the last few months, we've begun to see that we not only have a responsibility to now and future Americans but also to those who live on Earth now and will live in the future.
No one could anticipate the broad use of petroleum products. A few generations ago it was looked upon as a rapidly expendable, but inexhaustible supply of just fuel, to burn, to make heat. Petroleum products now are used to make food, to make medicine, and for other uses that directly affect the quality of life of human beings, in addition to the burning of the fuel for heat or propulsion.
We have seen also the interrelationship between energy supplies and peace, between energy supplies and life or death, between energy supplies and the protection of religious beliefs. The right of people to be free is directly tied to adequate supply of energy in a modern, fast-changing, technological world.
I'm not a theologian; I don't understand all of the relationships between these subjects. But I'm particularly grateful that you, as religious leaders, have come to the White House to explore not only the theoretical, theological aspects of stewardship and conservation but also, in more depth, how you as religious leaders, and others like you in every church and synagogue throughout our country, might explore even further the aspects of living in accordance with God's world, to promote the concepts of peace and freedom and unselfishness and humility and responsibility for the well-being of others.
I'm determined that our Nation will be strong. I'm determined that our Nation will stay free. I'm determined that our Nation will hold high the banner of human rights for ourselves and for others. And I'm determined that the American people, as best we can, will be educated about these interrelationships that are so important to us all. You can help greatly with this concept, because still, in our blessed land, many people cannot accept easily the concept of material limits.
There are only two ways to resolve the energy problem in the foreseeable future. One is to produce more energy in our own country, preferably with replenishable supplies, where the origin is the Sun and where, through growing crops or flowing water or the prevailing winds, we might derive energy without a limit on time. Another, of course, is to produce more energy that is not replenishable, from petroleum products.
So, the production of more energy is one basic approach, and there is only one other. That's the conservation of energy in all forms, the elimination of waste. And along with that and tied closely to it, of course, is the better sharing of energy among all of us for the well-being of our country and the individuals who live here.
I don't think that either one of these programs or concepts or commitments need cause a deterioration in the quality of life of our people. It's not a sacrifice to eliminate waste. It can be a blessing, not necessarily in disguise, to eliminate a dependence of one person riding in a very heavy, very expensive, very wasteful vehicle. It's not a contributing factor to a quality of life to have a home that requires twice as much energy to heat it as is necessary or to have little clothing worn in a home when a few degrees of temperature lower and a sweater could let us realize that there is a change of season outside, that God's plan is still working on an annual basis— [laughter] —when we ourselves need not suffer material discomfort.
And I think the drawing together of families to discuss this challenge, which is becoming ever more important in the minds of human beings, to discuss how we would meet this in our own personal lives, can be a coalescing factor, to strengthen the family ties, and therefore the communities, and therefore to preserve the basic elements of the American character.
I think we will turn more to the simple things of life—quiet discussions at home; the sharing of experiences; a walk in the woods; a look at God's Earth; and the elimination, or at least a lowering, of the frantic dash from one place to another, where we lose sight of what we are seeking at the end of that trip or that dash, where our senses are pretty well desensitized, as we move through the beauties that God has given us.
I'm not trying to preach a sermon to you, but I am very deeply concerned about how Americans look upon resolving the energy question. It will require unity. It will require some sacrifice. It will require courage. It will require persistence or tenacity. It will require knowledge. It will require the reassessment of the priorities that we have established in our lives to measure what is a good life and what a quality of life might be. I see absolutely no inconsistencies in what we are advocating for an energy program and an enhancement in the quality of life among Americans and throughout the world in the future.
I'm deeply grateful to you. I understand that you are considering a conservation Sabbath weekend. And I hope that you'll go forward with this idea, because I know that the common approach is very good. And the individual exploration—as you commune with God, as you study holy texts, as you apply ancient principles and commitments to a modern-day challenge—can open up ideas for our Nation to explore that have not yet been understood nor considered by me as President.
In closing, let me say how deeply grateful I am for your coming here to the White House. It shows an unselfishness on your part. It shows a commitment to the exploration of new ideas and new concepts, to the application of God's unchanging principles to rapidly changing human life forms and attitudes in the pressures of a modern society. I'm very confident that out of this meeting will come a very beneficial effect on our country.
Again, thank you for coming. God bless every one of you.