Synopses & Reviews
A journalist's penetrating look at the untold story of christian fundamentalism's most elite organization, a self-described invisible network dedicated to a religion of power for the powerful
They are the Family—fundamentalism's avant-garde, waging spiritual war in the halls of American power and around the globe. They consider themselves the new chosen—congressmen, generals, and foreign dictators who meet in confidential cells, to pray and plan for a "leadership led by God," to be won not by force but through "quiet diplomacy." Their base is a leafy estate overlooking the Potomac in Arlington, Virginia, and Jeff Sharlet is the only journalist to have reported from inside its walls.
The Family is about the other half of American fundamentalist power—not its angry masses, but its sophisticated elites. Sharlet follows the story back to Abraham Vereide, an immigrant preacher who in 1935 organized a small group of businessmen sympathetic to European fascism, fusing the far right with his own polite but authoritarian faith. From that core, Vereide built an international network of fundamentalists who spoke the language of establishment power, a "family" that thrives to this day. In public, they host Prayer Breakfasts; in private, they preach a gospel of "biblical capitalism," military might, and American empire. Citing Hitler, Lenin, and Mao as leadership models, the Family's current leader, Doug Coe, declares, "We work with power where we can, build new power where we can't."
Sharlet's discoveries dramatically challenge conventional wisdom about American fundamentalism, revealing its crucial role in the unraveling of the New Deal, the waging of the cold war, and the no-holds-barred economics of globalization. The question Sharlet believes we must ask is not "What do fundamentalists want?" but "What have they already done?"
Part history, part investigative journalism, The Family is a compelling account of how fundamentalism came to be interwoven with American power, a story that stretches from the religious revivals that have shaken this nation from its beginning to fundamentalism's new frontiers. No other book about the right has exposed the Family or revealed its far-reaching impact on democracy, and no future reckoning of American fundamentalism will be able to ignore it.
"Checking in on a friend's brother at Ivenwald, a Washington-based fundamentalist group living communally in Arlington, Va., religion and journalism scholar Sharlet finds a sect whose members refer to Manhattan's Ground Zero as 'the ruins of secularism'; intrigued, Sharlet accepts on a whim an invitation to stay at Ivenwald. He's shocked to find himself in the stronghold of a widespread 'invisible' network, organized into cells much like Ivenwald, and populated by elite, politically ambitious fundamentalists; Sharlet is present when a leader tells a dozen men living there, 'You guys are here to learn how to rule the world.' As it turns out, the Family was established in 1935 to oppose FDR's New Deal and the spread of trade unions; since then, it has organized well-attended weekly prayer meetings for members of Congress and annual National Prayer Breakfasts attended by every president since Eisenhower. Further, the Family's international reach ('almost impossible to overstate') has 'forged relationships between the U.S. government and some of the most oppressive regimes in the world.' In the years since his first encounter, Sharlet has done extensive research, and his thorough account of the Family's life and times is a chilling expose." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
“Of all the important studies of the American right, THE FAMILY is undoubtedly the most eloquent. It is also quite possibly the most terrifying.” Thomas Frank, New York Times bestselling author of What's the Matter with Kansas?
“An astounding entrée to a fascinating Christian network unknown to most Americans. . . . A must-read for any American who wants to know who is actually pulling the strings at the highest levels of power.” Heidi Ewing, co-director Jesus Camp
“This is a gripping, utterly original narrative about an influential evangelical elite that few Americans even know exists. . . . The Christian Right will never look the same again.” Michael Kazin, author of A Godly Hero: the Life of William Jennings Bryan and The Populist Persuasion: An American History
“One of the most compelling and brilliantly researched exposes youll ever readjust dont read it alone at night!” Barbara Ehrenreich, New York Times bestselling author of Nickel and Dimed and Bait and Switch
“[Sharlet] has managed to infiltrate the most influential and secretive fundamentalist network in America, and ground his reporting in the most astute and original explanation of fundamentalism Ive ever read. . . . Indispensable.” Hanna Rosin, former religion reporter for the Washington Post and author of God's Harvard: A Christian College on a Mission to Save the Nation
“I was once an insiders insider within fundamentalism. Unequivocally: Sharlet knows what hes talking about. . . . Those who want to be un-deceived (and wildly entertained) must read this disturbing tour de force.” Frank Schaeffer, author of Crazy For God: How I Grew Up As One Of The Elect, Helped Found The Religious Right, And Lived To Take All (Or Almost All) Of It Back
“Jeff Sharlet provides a fascinating account of how part of American Christianity has gone off on a dangerous tangent. It should worry everyonemaybe especially those of us who understand the Gospels to be a call to help the powerless, not prop up the powerful.” Bill McKibben, author of The End of Nature and The Bill McKibben Reader
“Un-American theocrats can only fool patriotic American democrats when there arent critics like Jeff Sharlet aroundcareful scholars and soulful writers who understand both the majesty of faith and the evil of its abuses. A remarkable accomplishment in the annals of writing about religion.” Rick Perlstein, author of Nixonland: The Rise of a President and the Fracturing of America
“Jeff Sharlet is one of the very best writers covering the politics of religion. Brilliantly reported and filled with wonderful anecdotes, THE FAMILY tells the story of an influential group that you havent previously heard of, and need to know about.” Ken Silverstein, Washington editor of Harper's and author of The Radioactive Boy Scout
“A brilliant marriage of investigative journalism and history, an unsettling story of how this small but powerful group shaped the faith of the nation in the 20th century and drives the politics of empire in the 21st. Anyone interested in circles of power will love this book.” Debby Applegate, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning The Most Famous Man in America: The Biography of Henry Ward Beecher
“How to Be Secular
serves as an important reminder that, as I have noted in the past, we protect our rights to our personal beliefs by preserving the rights of our neighbors to believe otherwise. I agree wholeheartedly with Berlinerblaus argument and highly recommend this powerful book.”
—Mario M. Cuomo, Former New York State Governor
“As someone whose faith is an important part of his life, I highly recommend this book and Berlinblaus defense of religious freedom. With great insight and clarity, he explains why it is important to protect and preserve secularism as a philosophy and he then lays out a twelve step program to revive it.”
—Ambassador Dennis Ross, Counselor to the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and former U.S. peace envoy to the Middle East
“In this new look at church-state relations in America, Berlinerblau manages to be serious and sprightly in equal measure. This is a call to reject extremism of any sort and return to the American genius for accommodation of our differences—even, indeed especially, our differences over the role of religion in our public life.”
—Elliot Abrams, former Deputy National Security Advisor
“This book brought tears to my secular Jewish eyes, it was so good. Berlinerbau is not just an astonishing secular thinker; he knows how to turn a phrase, and he knows how to keep the pages turning. Now put that down that tefillin and read it!”
—Gary Shteyngart, author of Super Sad True Love Story, among others
“As the nasty strife has heated up between religious leaders who intrude their particular values into public life on the one side and noisy atheists who insist that religiously-inspired voices should be banned from the public square on the other, I have looked for a book that sorts all this out in a reasonable and convincing manner. This is that book. Well-informed, even handed and crafted in a readable, engaging style, it shines a clear light into the murkiness.”
—Harvey Cox, professor of divinity at Harvard and author of The Future of Faith
“This insightful book is not designed to convince you of the non-existence of God or the afterlife; it exists to convince both the non-theistic and the religious that if we don't find a way to work together, we will all pay a heavy price. Berlinerblau makes a compelling, urgent case, with rigorous regard to history as well as a keen eye for the relevance of today's many new variations of fundamentalism.”
—Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State
“Jacques Berlinerblau mounts a careful, judicious, and compelling argument that America needs more secularists—not only among nonbelievers but among believers as well. The authors argument merits a wide hearing and will change the way we think and talk about religious freedom.”
—Randall Balmer, author of Thy Kingdom Come: How the Religious Right Distorts Faith and Threatens America, among others
“Passionately arguing secularism as essential for observance of the First Amendments religion clauses, Berlinerblau eloquently divorces it from absolute separation and atheism, traces its history, emphasizing the mid-twentieth-century period of its greatest influence and the expansion of civil rights that abetted, and advocates its revival.”
“Berlinerblau offers a solid history of secularism in America and a defense of its virtues at a time when conservative Christians attack it as a moral evil and advance the 'flawed' idea that one cannot be both religious and secular...An impassioned argument for 'a firm and dignified defense of the imperiled secularish virtues and moderation, toleration, and self-criticism.'”
“Berlinerblau succeeds in making concrete the current threats to secularism and offers a reasoned blueprint for an organized secular movement to regain its political power.”
Equally tired of faith tests for politicians and atheist polemics about the crimes of religion? In HOW TO BE SECULAR, Jacques Berlinerblau issues a rousing defense of America's secular roots as our nation's best way of protecting religious freedom for all
“Berlinerblau mounts a careful, judicious, and compelling argument that America needs more secularists—not only among nonbelievers but among believers as well. It will change the way we think and talk about religious freedom.”
—Randall Balmer, author of Thy Kingdom Come: How the Religious Right Distorts Faith and Threatens America
Weary of religious conservatives urging “defense of marriage” and atheist polemicists decrying the crimes of religion? Sick of pundits who want only to recast American life in their own image? Americans are stuck in an all-or-nothing landscape for religion in public life. What are reasonable citizens to do?
Seen as godless by the religious and weak by the atheists, secularism mostly has been misunderstood. In How to Be Secular, Berlinerblau argues for a return to Americas hard-won secular tradition; the best way to protect religious diversity and freedom lies in keeping an eye on the encroachment of each into the other.
Berlinerblau passionately defends the virtues of secularism, reminds us what it is and what it can protect, and urges us to mobilize around its cause, which is for all Americans to continue to enjoy freedom for—and from—religion. This is an urgent wake-up call for progressives in and out of all faiths.
About the Author
JACQUES BERLINERBLAU, professor at Georgetown University and director of the Program for Jewish Civilization, is the author of four books. He has appeared on radio, television, and print, including NPR, CNN, Al-Jazeera, The Economist, The Jerusalem Post, U.S. News and World Report and the Washington Post. He is the host of the webcast "Faith Complex," which appears on The Huffington Post and elsewhere.
Table of Contents
Introduction: Is Secularism Dead? xv
What Secularism Is and Isnt
What Is Secularism? (The Basic Package) 3
Were the Founders Secular? 20
Does Secularism Equal Total Separation of Church and State? 35
Does Secularism Equal Atheism? 53
How Not to Be Secular 69
The Very Peculiar “Rise” and Fall of American Secularism
The Rise of American Secularism and the “Secularish” 85
The Fall of American Secularism 103
Are Democrats Secularists? 120
The Christian Nation and the GOP 137
Reviving American Secularism
Who Could Be a Secularist? 155
How to Be Secularish (In Praise of “Secular Jews” and “Cafeteria Catholics”) 171
Tough Love for American Secularism 190