Thursday, October 10, 2013

The Family:The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power, by Jeff Sharlet

Harper Audio, ISBN 9780061977312, October 2009 (original publication June 2007)

Jeff Sharlet spent several years exploring American popular religion, and along the way discovered the Family, an elite fundamentalist group with extensive connections in Washington. He wrote an article about them, and then subsequently this book.

Sharlet first tells us of his introduction to the family and a little about his stay in a Family training house for young men, Ivanwald. He then circles back to the history of American fundamentalism and the rise of the Family (originally the Fellowship), founded by Abraham Vereide, and currently headed by Doug Coe. Finally, he explores the current reach and influence of the Family, nationally and internationally.

This is a highly personal book, built around personal observation and anecdote, Sharlet's own and those of the people he interviews. That will work better for some readers than others, but I found it made the material very accessible.

The meat of The Family is the extensive reach of this little-known organization, which is the sponsor of such seemingly innocuous institutions as the annual National Prayer Breakfast. Their view of Christianity is very different from that of most people; it's not about being good, kind, moral, generous, but rather about being completely obedient to God and to God's "key men."

What's really shocking are the men that the Family's leaders hold up as examples. Hitler. Stalin. Other great and ruthless dictators. They say these are not good men, not Godly men, not men whose goals served God--but somehow God's key men should be similarly ruthless, determined, unconcerned about whether their behavior is "moral" as long as it serves God's goals.

And the rest of us should love and serve God's key men.

This is a fascinating and disturbing book.


Rachel Maddow interview:

I borrowed this book from a friend.

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