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The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power Hardcover

4.2 out of 5 stars 243 customer reviews

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Harper
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B001Q3KM4O
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.5 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (243 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,029,886 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
A compellingly brilliant account of power in America and how it's shaped by religion. 'The Family' chronicles the ideas advanced by the elite Christian fundamentalist group of that name at the highest levels of government during the past half century. Through its White House and congressional connections, the Family has influenced the deployment of US power, especially in foreign policy during the Cold War and beyond. Led by the talented and Machiavellian Doug Coe, the group has operated sub-rosa in the corridors of power unhindered by democratic accountability.

Jeff Sharlet, a scholar-writer on the nexus of religion & politics, pursues three goals in this remarkable book: (1) To trace elite fundamentalism's lineage from Jonathan Edwards in the 18th c. through the 19th c. religious leader Charles Finney to the present; (2) To demonstrate the Family's behind the scenes role in deployment of American power; and (3) To challenge the purely secular American historical narrative by arguing the role of religion behind the facade of formal power.

Sharlet accomplishes the first objective with verve, the Finney chapter alone is worth the price of the book. Based on his research in the Family's archives, the second goal is achieved, especially on the group's involvement in blunting US de-Nazification policy in postwar Germany, facilitating Indonesia's Suharto's crushing of East Timor, and encouraging the Somalian dictator and other similar types. The author's third challenge is the most ambitious, but I believe he meets it.

In fact, if the critical sociologist C. Wright Mills who wrote the influential 'The Power Elite' (1956) were alive today, I expect he'd be among the first to welcome 'The Family' revelations on the secretive role of Coe's elite "followers of Christ in government, business, and the military" in the projection of American power.
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Format: Hardcover
The Family is the best book available on the Christian right precisely because it unpacks the ways in which the people often described as such are neither Christian nor right. I don't mean that in the bumper sticker sense - I don't buy (and Sharlet does not suggest) that this elite group of religiously motivated power players are not real Christians because of their political interests (even if the group itself sometimes prefers not to use the word). Rather, he makes the case that such easy categorization does not do justice to, or sufficiently warn against, their actual influence and reach. The story we are often told - that there are "fundamentalists" and "evangelicals" who are easily understood because they are somehow separate from the world the rest of us live in, hidden in megachurches making megaplans -- is not found in this book. Instead, like a carpet expert explaining the patterns in an intricately woven Persian rug, Sharlet shows us how strands of fundamentalism have been woven into the fabric of the nation's history.

As a journalist, I know and have worked with Jeff Sharlet, but then everyone who writes about religion does or should. His work is particularly popular among writers who cover religion because he tells a story that many wish they were allowed to tell. The history recounted in The Family is one most media outlets deem too complex for the average reader. (What in the world does union busting have to do with religion? A lot, in fact.) Sharlet does not regard complexity as something to be avoided, however, and his true talent is in finding just the right key for unlocking it.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The Family is the most powerful political organization you have never heard of. Its members have included a host of congressmen and senators, including some who chair important committees, CEOs of major corporations, senior officers in the military, leaders of foreign nations, members of the Supreme Court, and at least one president of the United States. It is a vast network of "prayer cells" of two or three individuals who see themselves as God's agents on earth.

The Family, as it is most commonly known, is like some immense, deep-sea leviathan that is only rarely glimpsed on the surface. Yet it is seen, like the Punxsutawney groundhog, at least once a year. This event is called the National Prayer Breakfast where the Family makes an effort to appear ecumenical and harmless. It is rather as if once a year Hannibal Lechter made a public appearance disguised as Mr. Rogers.

What is known as the Family began with a clergyman named Abraham Vereide in Depression-era Seattle. Vereide, or Abram, as he is referred to by the Family, looked upon workers who went on strike to secure enough pay to feed their families as agents of Satan. He was convinced that the Kingdom of God would be secured if the best among us, the rich that is, guided by Jesus Christ, made decisions for the rest of us unfettered by such messy things as democracy and the rule of law. If the poor could be made to see that God intended them to be poor and humbly accept their lot all would be well.

Abram, as one might have guessed, regarded the New Deal as an abomination in the eyes of the Lord.

Abram was a very effective salesmen for this idea among wealthy businessmen in Seattle. The Family grew through members recruiting new members who were either wealthy or in positions of authority.
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