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Political Ties To a Secretive Religious Group
April 3, 2008 8:25 PM   Subscribe

“For more than 50 years, the National Prayer Breakfast has been a Washington institution. Every president has attended the breakfast since Eisenhower, elbow-to-elbow with Democrats and Republicans alike.”* The event is sponsored by a secretive Capitol Hill group known as “The Fellowship,” (aka The Family)*For 15 years, Hillary Clinton has been part of [this] secretive religious group that seeks to bring Jesus back to Capitol Hill.” An exposé of the group 'The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power,' by Jeff Sharlet will be published in May. [NBC video].

From Jeff Sharlet's book jacket:
“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 written 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, Doug Coe, the Family’s current leader, 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?’”
posted by ericb (89 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite

 
Even in America, the mullahs hold the real power.

Or perhaps this is more a case of a secret club that transcends political parties and ideologies, consolidating power among its core leadership and tiny membership. The Christianity is merely window dressing, shielding an otherwise naked power grab behind the protected cloak of religion.
posted by Pastabagel at 8:46 PM on April 3, 2008 [2 favorites]


Uh Oh.
posted by PareidoliaticBoy at 8:48 PM on April 3, 2008


Interesting but I bet Sharlet's book doesn't have much substance. The allegations seem pretty tame and one-sided, of no real consequence, preaching to the choir so to speak for people who want to believe in conspiracies. No doubt his book will sell well.
posted by stbalbach at 8:50 PM on April 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


The Sharlet book is an expansion of this somewhat interesting Harper's piece (available free).

I actually thought I read about it here, but I trust your due diligence and assume this isn't a double.
posted by grobstein at 8:50 PM on April 3, 2008


Yes, St. B, I also think this is oversold; a book about another creepy religious circle is just not as salable as one about a religious network of illuminati. The magazine piece (based on undercover reporting) suggests that the connections to power are real, but doesn't provide evidence that they're special (lots of groups are connected to power).
posted by grobstein at 8:53 PM on April 3, 2008


(The Family is still fine FPP subject matter, though. Weirdness is great. Oh er sorry for posting 3x in a row.)
posted by grobstein at 8:56 PM on April 3, 2008


I am self-barred from saying anything about Hillary Clinton until she is driven from the race.

Hopefully.
posted by fourcheesemac at 9:00 PM on April 3, 2008


Previously.
posted by orthogonality at 9:05 PM on April 3, 2008


Jesus Plus Nothing, by Jeff Sharlett
posted by KokuRyu at 9:22 PM on April 3, 2008


i see according to the wikipedia article they've had such notorious fundamentalist christian speakers as bono, benazir bhutto and king abdullah ii of jordan

clearly the conspiracy is spreading
posted by pyramid termite at 9:22 PM on April 3, 2008 [3 favorites]


Whoops, sorry grobstein
posted by KokuRyu at 9:23 PM on April 3, 2008


The problem with secret or semi-secret groups is that they can take on mythical proportions when important people are in them. The Family may be nothing more then a social networking club gussied up in the trappings of being a church. A club for rich people who like to hang out with other rich people. The fact that Hillary is a member is no more interesting the the fact that both Bush and Kerry belonged to the Skull and Bones.
posted by delmoi at 9:24 PM on April 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


Yeah, from what I've read, this is way over the top, which unfortunately Sharlet has a habit of doing. Of course, it could be the publicists really trying to stick as many FNORDS on the back jacket as possible.

Hillary attending the prayer meetings is all about triangulation for her. She knows where the business of the GOP elite gets done, so she's just going to walk right in there. If they were into watching pre-op trans burlesque while drinking paint thinner, Hillary would show up at the door with a copy of The Crying Game and a gallon of turpentine.

As for the Prayer Breakfast folks, honestly, the only power they wield is bacon and eggs. If anything, they're just a catalyst for all the other Christian conservative groups that have come in and out of Washington over the years. Yeah, their leadership is conservative evangelical-to-fundamentalist, but most of these groups are just Kiwanis for Christians.
posted by dw at 9:25 PM on April 3, 2008 [2 favorites]


delmoi: True, but the problem then becomes when those rich people use their clubs to discuss and formulate public policy... without the public around. Of course, the breathless conspiracy theories only help to obscure that. I remember seeing some frantic Alex Jones stuff on Bohemian Grove, and his "They worship Satan! They have huge cultish orgies! They sacrifice humans to the New World Order!" just got in the way of the far more important fact: this is where tons of wealthy, powerful people hang out together, and no one else is let in ever. These people very well could be discussing OUR lives, but we're totally taken out of the process. What happens to the democratic system then?
posted by Saxon Kane at 9:36 PM on April 3, 2008


I just get to the word 'cell' and know that this MJ piece is a crock of slanted tabloidesque shite.
posted by peacay at 9:42 PM on April 3, 2008


As for the Prayer Breakfast folks, honestly, the only power they wield is bacon and eggs.

He who controls bacon controls the future.
posted by ibmcginty at 9:42 PM on April 3, 2008 [3 favorites]


delmoi: True, but the problem then becomes when those rich people use their clubs to discuss and formulate public policy... without the public around.

Yup, which would be true if they were meeting at elite atheist clubs as well, although we'd probably end up with more reasonable science and sex ed policy.
posted by delmoi at 9:44 PM on April 3, 2008 [3 favorites]


there was an informative thread over at dailykos on this topic back on March 26th.
posted by ornate insect at 9:45 PM on April 3, 2008


peacy: they call them cells themselves, and also covens.

delmoi: what makes this group of note, however, is that it is connected to several right wing dictators, possibly connected to the CIA, forms secret cult-like "cells" among its initiates, has a leader who speaks highly of Hitler, was founded by a rabidly anti-communist evangelical who had ties to the the military and ferreted Nazis out of Germany after WW2, and operates under a cloak of formidable secrecy. And that's just what we know about. So, no, this is not your ordinary chamber of commerce or shriners group.

Everyone: is there some middle ground here between blase dismiveness and "tinfoil" paranoia that might be best? If one actually, you know, reads the original Harper's piece, rather than just speculating out of hand, there is definitely enough there to make even a sceptic raise his/her eyebrow. It may all be much ado about nothing, or it may be something that is at minimum cause for further inquiry. just saying.
posted by ornate insect at 10:01 PM on April 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


True, but the problem then becomes when those rich people use their clubs to discuss and formulate public policy... without the public around. - Saxon Kane

I'm more than a little creeped out by the notion that people shouldn't discuss policy in private. Why is that bad?
posted by rush at 10:07 PM on April 3, 2008


Not to Godwin this thread, but this is from the Harper's piece that the book is based on:
“Yes,” Doug said, “it's good to have friends. Do you know what a difference a friend can make? A friend you can agree with?” He smiled. “Two or three agree, and they pray? They can do anything. Agree. Agreement. What's that mean?” Doug looked at me. “You're a writer. What does that mean?”

I remembered Paul's letter to the Philippians, which we had begun to memorize. Fulfill ye my joy, that ye be likeminded.

“Unity,” I said. “Agreement means unity.”

Doug didn't smile. “Yes,” he said. “Total unity. Two, or three, become one. Do you know,” he asked, “that there's another word for that?”

No one spoke.

“It's called a covenant. Two, or three, agree? They can do anything. A covenant is . . . powerful. Can you think of anyone who made a covenant with his friends?”

We all knew the answer to this, having heard his name invoked numerous times in this context. Andrew from Australia, sitting beside Doug, cleared his throat: “Hitler.”

“Yes,” Doug said. “Yes, Hitler made a covenant. The Mafia makes a covenant. It is such a very powerful thing. Two, or three, agree.” He took another bite from his plate, planted his fork on its tines. “Well, guys,” he said, “I gotta go.”

As Doug Coe left, my brothers' hearts were beating hard: for the poor, for a covenant. “Awesome,” Bengt said. We stood to clear our dishes.

posted by MythMaker at 10:08 PM on April 3, 2008


A pink ribbon on skull and bones.
posted by hortense at 10:09 PM on April 3, 2008


It may all be much ado about nothing, or it may be something that is at minimum cause for further inquiry. just saying. - ornate insect

Just agreeing - on both accounts.
posted by rush at 10:09 PM on April 3, 2008


ornate insect, everything I've read puts cell into quote marks. The word is not mentioned at all in the wikipedia article (not exactly an authority of course). In the post-911 world it's a loaded word used in a pseudo-exposé article. Perhaps it wasn't calculated - although I'm sure they would have liked that the term was in there - but it would be in keeping with the insinuating tone of the piece.

In any event my sense of the article was that it's speculative and pushing a line intended to sensationalise this group and in particular, HRC's involvement. That ericb and orthogonality have each posted the article separately does not overly surprise me.

Incidentally here is a chronology/history of the fellowship together with a list of archive documents at the Billy Graham Centre.
posted by peacay at 10:27 PM on April 3, 2008


everything I've read puts cell into quote marks.

Wouldn't that be appropriate if that's what the Family calls its "publicly invisible but privately identifiable" groups? Strapping on the tin foil for a second, here's a quote from the Harper's article:
In 1944, Vereide had foreseen what he called “the new world order.”
I don't think the quotes are being used as scare quotes. Looking into this further is rather difficult since the material seems like it was written for conspiracy theorists. While the book in FPP may have been, usually Harper's has higher standards.

Also, this organization sounds a bit Moony.
posted by ryoshu at 10:39 PM on April 3, 2008


MythMaker: For some reason I thought that said "Paul's letter to the Philipines."
posted by Saxon Kane at 10:43 PM on April 3, 2008


From further in the Harper's article:
Even in Franco's Spain, Vereide once boasted at a prayer breakfast in 1965, “there are secret cells such as the American Embassy [and] the Standard Oil office [that allow us] to move practically anywhere.”
"Cell" seems to be the term The Fellowship/Family has used for decades.
posted by ryoshu at 10:43 PM on April 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


Quote marks in the way I read them also could imply so-called or what you might call. It's getting a little bit pedantic though. If I'm wrong I'm wrong, so be it. My reading of 'cell' as upping the sensation angle was but a sideline note; the article remains pot-stirring speculation.
[I'm not saying that there isn't something here that might be worth investigating or the like but it would have been better if this post - essentially a double - had been made in May, after the book had come out, when some reviews might be available]
posted by peacay at 10:55 PM on April 3, 2008


For 15 years, Hillary Clinton has been part of [this] secretive religious group that seeks to bring Jesus back to Capitol Hill.

Did I really need another reason to hate this poor woman?
posted by quarter waters and a bag of chips at 11:14 PM on April 3, 2008


Before one denounces a book, it's generally a good idea to, you know, maybe glance at it. The denunciations above -- based on the commenters imaginations of what's in my book, "The Family," are far more conspiratorial than anything I could have ever dreamed of. In fact, as I argue in the book -- and as I told NBC -- the Family isn't any kind of conspiracy. It's a group of conservative evangelical activists who, according to their own documents, reject democracy as a model of governance and believe in "invisible" organization. "Invisible", like "cell," is their word, not mine, and it dates back decades, indeed -- at least to the mid 1940s. Don't believe me? Do some research before you sound off. Go to the Billy Graham Center Archives at Wheaton College, where in Collection 459 the Family has dumped 600 boxes of documents. There's nothing in my book that's not based on those documents or otherwise sourced and noted materials. As an associate research scholar at New York University, I tried to adhere to academic standards of sourcing and notation, now and back when I wrote the original Harper's piece -- which nobody in the Family ever disputed.

The point of this book is not to say there's some conspiracy -- there isn't -- but rather that Christian conservatism in the U.S. is best understood in the 20th and 21st century as divided between a populist front and an elitist avant-garde. If that strikes you as too conspiratorial to believe, I suggest you stick to campaign stump speeches. Politicians, after all, never lie.
posted by JeffSharlet at 12:09 AM on April 4, 2008 [43 favorites]


bring Jesus back to Capitol Hill.

And here all this time I thought it was Golgotha.
posted by telstar at 12:38 AM on April 4, 2008 [2 favorites]


They were five total strangers, with nothing in common, meeting for the first time. A democrat, a republican, a general, a rock star and a foreign dictator. Before the day was over, they broke the rules. Bared their souls. And touched each other in a way they never dreamed possible.
posted by unmake at 12:45 AM on April 4, 2008 [10 favorites]


"Invisible", like "cell," is their word, not mine, and it dates back decades, indeed -- at least to the mid 1940s. Don't believe me? Do some research before you sound off.

I made no reference at all to your book (other than to say that this post was, to my mind, premature, pre-publication). I was referring to the MJ article and in any event, I fairly conceded the point. Read what I wrote.
posted by peacay at 12:46 AM on April 4, 2008


At Ivanwald, men learn to be leaders by loving their leaders. “They're so busy loving us,” a brother once explained to me, “but who's loving them?"

While these politicians are busy 'loving us', I wish that just once they'd bother to use a bit of lube and give us a quick reach-around. Still, one shouldn't be so quick to condemn: as Jebus himself said, "It is easier for a politician to enter the brown eye of a voter than it is for him to get into Heaven (especially on the weekend)."
posted by PeterMcDermott at 12:57 AM on April 4, 2008


BWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!
posted by quonsar at 4:09 AM on April 4, 2008 [1 favorite]


Did I really need another reason to hate this poor woman?

Only you can answer that, but "poor woman?" What do you mean by that? That you have sympathy for her because you feel her every facet is being scrutinized and criticized relentlessly? Even if it is being so scrutinized, it would be the height of folly to follow up the disaster of Bush, whose known faults were hugely ignored, by doing the same for the next crop of egotists wanting the reins of power.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 4:12 AM on April 4, 2008


This only makes Hill look better as a candidate or leader as far as I can tell. It always amazes me this fear of God that so many people have here on MeFi.
posted by caddis at 4:24 AM on April 4, 2008


So.... Here's what I'm not getting. Scientologists doing secretive things and having pretty much no real power at all == the end of the world, and cause for much wailing and gnashing of teeth on MeFi. Christians doing secretive things and having pretty much every powerful politician in the USA participating == no big deal, better not jump to conclusions, ho-hum.

Insert any religion other than Christianity into the description and even here on the vaguely liberal leaning MeFi people would be blowing their tops. But as long as its secret negotiations sponsored by people who believe in the *right* bullshit its all ok? If they believed in Xenu it'd be horrible, if they believed in VIshnu it'd be bad, if they believed in Allah it'd be terrible, but since they believe in the Jeebus its no cause for alarm?

Caddis 2,000 years of Christian love have taught us a valuable lesson.
posted by sotonohito at 4:48 AM on April 4, 2008


Insert scary Twilight Zone theme here..........and while you are at perhaps you should duck and cover.
posted by caddis at 4:53 AM on April 4, 2008


caddis The stated purpose of the event is to recruit politicians to do religious work and serve a religious agenda. If that doesn't frighten you I think you need to think things through a bit. No Twilight Zone faux scary necessary. Its hardly conspiricy when they come right out and say "yup, we'd like to establish a theocracy".

I'm not scared of any gods, they don't exist and therefore fear of them would be irrational. I *AM* scared of religious people trying to use governments to further their agenda. That's pretty much always resulted in pogroms, genocide, torture, and worse.

The better question would be, why aren't you scared of would be theocrats?
posted by sotonohito at 5:04 AM on April 4, 2008 [2 favorites]


um, pogroms didn't come from religion, they were an attack on one. if you find this group scary then the whole world must be a nightmare. yes, I am ridiculing you and your silly fear.
posted by caddis at 5:17 AM on April 4, 2008


Regarding the word "cell"...many Christian churches call their small groups "cell groups." It's just Christianeze when used that way.
posted by konolia at 5:19 AM on April 4, 2008 [1 favorite]


shudders @ "Christianeze"
posted by nonmerci at 5:28 AM on April 4, 2008


silly silly fear.
posted by quonsar at 5:41 AM on April 4, 2008


always resulted in genocide, torture, and worse.

ignorance at its most eager. blind faith in the deiphobic agenda. unquestioned acceptance of uninvestigated assertions. you people scare me sotonhito.
posted by quonsar at 5:46 AM on April 4, 2008


Christianeze®

(Sounds like a lube that would be used for some o' that luvin' going on upthread)
posted by Artful Codger at 5:50 AM on April 4, 2008


This only makes Hill look better as a candidate or leader as far as I can tell. It always amazes me this fear of God that so many people have here on MeFi.

So Hillary Clinton is a member of a theocratic organisation comprised of conservative evangelicals, and that makes her look good to you? Am I understanding that correctly?

um, pogroms didn't come from religion, they were an attack on one.

This is the stupidest thing I've heard today, but hell, it's only 9 am. Are you trying to suggest that violence by one religious group against another isn't because of religion? Are you even vaguely aware of the last several thousand years of history?

ignorance at its most eager. blind faith in the deiphobic agenda. unquestioned acceptance of uninvestigated assertions. you people scare me sotonhito.

You need to stop reading your own press.
posted by Pope Guilty at 5:58 AM on April 4, 2008 [2 favorites]


caddis re: pogroms. I'm going to insult your intelligence by assuming you actually believe what you just wrote, I shouldn't but I will.

Pogroms against the Jews most certainly did come from religion. Anti-semitism was hardly original to the Nazis, they were merely building on nearly 2,000 years of Christian tradition. Virtually from its inception [1] hatred of Jews has been an integral part of Catholocism, and the Protestants never changed that policy. The phrase "the Jews killed Christ" was an official part of Catholic ritual until 1965.

Pogroms against the Jews were a routine practice in Europe from around 500 CE onward, and very much came from religion.

For an example Martin Luther, the definative protestant, wrote a text titled "The Jews and Their Lies" in which he preached for pogroms, genocide, and torture of Jews. A brief excerpt:
"First to set fire to their synagogues or schools and to bury and cover with dirt whatever will not burn, so that no man will ever again see a stone or cinder of them. This is to be done in honor of our Lord and of Christendom, so that God might see that we are Christians, and do not condone or knowingly tolerate such public lying, cursing, and blaspheming of his Son and of his Christians."
He goes on to describe how the homes of Jews should be similarly destroyed, that Rabbis be executed, that all money owned by Jews be siezed, etc.

My point here is that your absurd, and abysmally ignorant, comment is wrong in every particular. Pogroms against Jews were religiously motivated in nearly every instance, including the pogroms of the Nazis. 2,000 years of Christian love have shown us non-Christians how dangerous it is when your religion, or any religion, is mixed with government.

[1] "virtually" because it didn't really get off the ground until a couple of years after the destruction of the temple of David around 70 CE.
posted by sotonohito at 6:05 AM on April 4, 2008 [4 favorites]


It's a group of conservative evangelical activists who, according to their own documents, reject democracy as a model of governance and believe in "invisible" organization. "Invisible", like "cell," is their word, not mine, and it dates back decades, indeed -- at least to the mid 1940s.

The lack of real esoteric significance to be the primary flaw of modern major religions. You aren't going to be enduring the aeons if your symbols are bunk; its been exoteric drivel for centuries if not millennia. Just fodder for the masses and ammunition for questioner-agnostics.

It would be nice if there was really an Eye in the pyramid, or even if a competent collective attempted to construct one. I recommend not counting this decades-old prayer group as one of them, though.
posted by solipse at 6:13 AM on April 4, 2008 [1 favorite]


Previously, previously.
posted by MrMoonPie at 6:17 AM on April 4, 2008


Everyone: is there some middle ground here between blase dismiveness and "tinfoil" paranoia that might be best? If one actually, you know, reads the original Harper's piece

I've read about these guys before, and while their Cheney-esque style of secrecy is disturbing, it doesn't seem like they are anything beyond a social club promoting the blandest form of Christianity (i.e. "pro-jesus", but not necessarily anything that would seem at odds to a mainstream Christian or even a Muslim – I've read that their theological message is so miliqtoast that they can promote it to Muslims without getting any pushback, since Jesus is also revered as a prophet in Islam as well).

As far as being connected with rightwing dictators and whatnot, well, of course, they want to have as many powerful people in their fold as possible.

I'm not saying it isn't promoting normal conservative issues, it may be. It is all secretive, after all.
posted by delmoi at 6:19 AM on April 4, 2008


ignorance at its most eager. blind faith in the deiphobic agenda. unquestioned acceptance of uninvestigated assertions. you people scare me sotonhito.

You are not good at excuses.
posted by Pope Guilty at 6:26 AM on April 4, 2008


DUH!

Organized religion=politics=power ... any other questions? Ask your neighborhood mullah/reverend/priest/rabbi/council member ...
posted by aldus_manutius at 6:40 AM on April 4, 2008


whatever. is the National Prayer Breakfast proposing pogroms? it's really a non-issue. the real issue here is people being afraid of a group based upon, well, nothing, except perhaps fear itself. so far no one has put forward any evidence that this group is in anyway evil other than a mix of conservative politics and Jesus. this is of course silly as Jesus, were he an American citizen today, would probably be a Democrat. ;)
posted by caddis at 6:49 AM on April 4, 2008


the unknown, like monsters under the bed, is always the scariest.....
posted by caddis at 6:50 AM on April 4, 2008


IMAGE: Hillary Clinton with pancakes on her head.
posted by Fuzzy Monster at 7:00 AM on April 4, 2008


so far no one has put forward any evidence that this group is in anyway evil other than a mix of conservative politics and Jesus.

caddis: did you read the Harper article and/or the book? because that's more or less what they do. this thread might be more productively used discussing those specific charges and what they suggest than dithering about all the things we've previously read about "the Family" elsewhere. just a thought. the author of the book and the Harper's article himself in this very thread asserts that the group unapologetically and openly expresses its hope to transform america into a theocratic oligarchy. is that irrelevant?
posted by saulgoodman at 7:02 AM on April 4, 2008


From The Harper's Article:

"During the 1960s the Family forged relationships between the U.S. government and some of the most anti-Communist (and dictatorial) elements within Africa's postcolonial leadership. The Brazilian dictator General Costa e Silva, with Family support, was overseeing regular fellowship groups for Latin American leaders, while, in Indonesia, General Suharto (whose tally of several hundred thousand “Communists” killed marks him as one of the century's most murderous dictators) was presiding over a group of fifty Indonesian legislators. During the Reagan Administration the Family helped build friendships between the U.S. government and men such as Salvadoran general Carlos Eugenios Vides Casanova, convicted by a Florida jury of the torture of thousands, and Honduran general Gustavo Alvarez Martinez, himself an evangelical minister, who was linked to both the CIA and death squads before his own demise. “We work with power where we can,” the Family's leader, Doug Coe, says, “build new power where we can't.”
posted by Fuzzy Monster at 7:07 AM on April 4, 2008 [1 favorite]


I always forget that Jeff Sharlet is the Chris Pirillo of religion reporting. You mention him online, he magically appears.

Scientologists doing secretive things and having pretty much no real power at all == the end of the world, and cause for much wailing and gnashing of teeth on MeFi. Christians doing secretive things and having pretty much every powerful politician in the USA participating == no big deal, better not jump to conclusions, ho-hum.

It's a different sort of secretive.

Christians doing secretive things in this case is more about schmoozing and having access to power, like a social club. But it's not about the faith as it is about giving politicians the burnish of religion, a nice photo op they can wave around to family-minded Democrats and Republican "values voters." But the faith itself remains open source -- you can get a Bible for free from any church, and there's no "secret knowledge."

Scientology, though, only exists because of their secrecy, and they sue the pants off anyone who tries to break that secrecy. That plus the sort of people they attract (the rich and the beautiful) scares people. It's clear there's something going on in there.

The short version is if Sharlet were to do a similar book about Scientology, he'd be sued and harassed until the cows come home. This book, though, is probably only going to elicit a couple of angry phone calls and a lot of shrugs from these Christian groups.
posted by dw at 7:11 AM on April 4, 2008


Governance without scrutiny can and frequently does turn bad. This is the gist of the 'problem' (those are my quotes) with the national prayer breakfast.

But honestly - who is really worried about a committee that only meets once per year? As far as I can tell, these 'cells' and 'covens' are just networking groups for fundies.
posted by Fuka at 7:15 AM on April 4, 2008


Oh, and one little thing -- remember last week when a bunch of media sorts were wondering aloud why Hillary wasn't taking it to Obama over Jeremiah Wright?

It's because in this photo it looks like she's sitting next to him. Where? Yup. National Prayer Breakfast, 1998.
posted by dw at 7:15 AM on April 4, 2008 [1 favorite]


I always forget that Jeff Sharlet is the Chris Pirillo of religion reporting. You mention him online, he magically appears.

I LOL'd. For reals, yo.
posted by grubi at 7:19 AM on April 4, 2008


also from the Harper's article:

"In the process of introducing powerful men to Jesus, the Family has managed to effect a number of behind-the-scenes acts of diplomacy. In 1978 it secretly helped the Carter Administration organize a worldwide call to prayer with Menachem Begin and Anwar Sadat, and more recently, in 2001, it brought together the warring leaders of Congo and Rwanda for a clandestine meeting, leading to the two sides' eventual peace accord last July."
posted by caddis at 7:19 AM on April 4, 2008


The point of this book is not to say there's some conspiracy -- there isn't -- but rather that Christian conservatism in the U.S. is best understood in the 20th and 21st century as divided between a populist front and an elitist avant-garde. If that strikes you as too conspiratorial to believe, I suggest you stick to campaign stump speeches. Politicians, after all, never lie.
posted by JeffSharlet at 3:09 AM on April 4 [19 favorites +] [!]


Hi, Jeff! Welcome to MeFi. I look forward to reading your book.

Does your book address the possibility that members of this elite don't actually personally hold the beliefs the group itself claims to possess, i.e. are there members of this group that have not adopted the Christianity of the Fellowship? I think this is an important point. It's one thing if everyone in a group shares the group's stated beliefs, but it's another thing entirely if people like Hillary Clinton, who already wield considerable power themselves, feel the need to pretend to adopt a faith in order to gain membership in a group to access still more power.

Furthermore, the fact that a group can hold these breakfasts and have presidents and politicians attend them on a routine basis is pretty strong evidence that they have quite a lot of power behind the scenes.

That our political leaders cross political lines to join shadowy associations whose stated goals are to project influence on all politicians is not something to ignore. The purpose of political parties is to clearly divide people's philosophies and positions on issues. But if members of both parties are being influenced by a common group to achieve a common purpose, what is the point of the parties? To create the illusion of choice?
posted by Pastabagel at 7:22 AM on April 4, 2008 [1 favorite]


Jeff, I really enjoyed that Harper's article and I look forward to reading your book.
posted by Fuzzy Monster at 7:27 AM on April 4, 2008


I always forget that Jeff Sharlet is the Chris Pirillo of religion reporting. You mention him online, he magically appears.

Isn't this a good thing? Isn't it better to discuss a book with the person who wrote it, rather than a bunch of people who haven't even read it yet?

And I don't think investigating the Fellowship constitutes a broad criticism of Christianity, like a lot of comments here are suggesting. From what I've read about the Fellowship, they have absolutely nothing in common with most of the Christians I know. Christianity was never about how to rise to power in this world. This group's ideas represent yet another perversion of New Testament philosophy, in which "the meek shall inherit the earth" has been replaced by "the powerful should rule the world".
posted by Pastabagel at 7:30 AM on April 4, 2008


Isn't this a good thing?

It's a great thing.
posted by caddis at 7:32 AM on April 4, 2008


Isn't this a good thing?

Of course. I'm just saying every time I see Sharlet come up online, he always seems to make an appearance to defend his work. I'm not ascribing anything to that other than he reminds me of Pirillo penchant for the blog cameo.
posted by dw at 7:46 AM on April 4, 2008


This only makes Hill look better as a candidate or leader as far as I can tell. It always amazes me this fear of God that so many people have here on MeFi.

I'm not afraid of religion. I'm ashamed of it.
posted by quarter waters and a bag of chips at 8:11 AM on April 4, 2008 [1 favorite]


are there members of this group that have not adopted the Christianity of the Fellowship?

That's a possibility, Pastabagel, but I don't believe that it's the case here: "Hillary Clinton’s proficiency in this innermost sanctum has unnerved some of the capital’s most exalted religious conservatives. 'You’re not talking about some tree-hugging, Jesus-is-my-Buddha sort of stuff,' says David Kuo, a former Bush official in the Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives". David Kuo most assuredly does believe in his religion.

I'm pretty sure that most-- not all-- politico-religious figures sincerely believe what they are saying. Sure, a lot of it is pretty thin gruel, theologically, but people like to believe self-justifying things.

Bonus quote! Barry Goldwater: "Every good Christian ought to kick Falwell right in the ass."
posted by ibmcginty at 9:01 AM on April 4, 2008


caddis, a couple people have asked you this and you haven't answered, so I figure I'll ask, too:

are you, in fact, interested in seeing america become a theocracy? do you in some way support this group's intention to accomplish that?
posted by shmegegge at 9:17 AM on April 4, 2008


...but it's another thing entirely if people like Hillary Clinton, who already wield considerable power themselves, feel the need to pretend to adopt a faith in order to gain membership in a group to access still more power.

The problem there being that in order to draw the powers together, there's often an amount of quid pro quo going on between the two groups that would leave much of the general populace bent over and sore. "Sure, we'll collaborate and pull together some fundie voter-base for you. Just get a couple of these sociopathic 'moral codes' entrenched in law for us, and our flocks of sheep are yours to shepherd!" See: the SBC and the regulated homophobia of the 'Family Values' platform, etc...
posted by FatherDagon at 9:59 AM on April 4, 2008


caddis, it's not conservative politics and Jesus that scare me. It's Jesus-politics.
posted by wtdoor at 11:53 AM on April 4, 2008


Hey, my friend Jeff Sharlet has done his homework, he knows what he's talking about.

There are real social pressures against any journalist who decides it's noteworthy to write about secret groups of Washington maniacs. It's not like these people are running the world, it's just that there really is such a thing as megalomania. And some of us find it fascinating that there really are folks whose hobby is sitting around talking about world domination.

But the trouble with being a Washington megalomaniac, whether you're Lyndon LaRouche or Doug Coe, is that your loony agenda comes with its own built-in straw man. Spend your time talking about conquering the world? You're obviously not conquering the world, the critics say, and therefore you must be irrelevant and not worth mentioning.

In fact, there are shades of gray here. It's newsworthy when a crackpot sect has any degree of influence in mainstream political avenues, let alone is building relationships with foreign tyrants. But most Washington journalists move in a herd, and are afraid to look at such things.
posted by johngoren at 12:35 PM on April 4, 2008


Do not underestimate the *power* of the bacon and eggs. If you will not break fast, you will be destroyed. Young fool. Only now, during brunch, do you understand. Your feeble fruit and croissants are no match for the power of bacon, eggs, hash browns, biscuits, gravy, toast, coffee and orange juice. You have paid the price for your lack of pancakes.

“The fact that Hillary is a member is no more interesting the the fact that both Bush and Kerry belonged to the Skull and Bones.”

I think the beef with that is the whole class identity thing and the reiteration of certain behaviors through social approval and resultant economic opportunity. One of the big problems people had with Kerry is that he seemed like (and in fact, is) an elitist. And obviously Bush is. Seemed less snobbish though (the whole “have a beer” with him vibe).
Not that these views are substantial or any basis to vote/support someone, but certainly the homogeneity of views among thoe elite is a reciprocal process predicated on socially incestuous relationships in the first place.
I don’t think people like Clinton or Kerry go into groups like that with an eye towards shaking things up.

And really - that doesn’t have to be by design (that is - they’re not consciously trying to present an illusion of choice or some such). Sit in the same room with the same people over and over you start to talk and think like them, empathize, etc. and other viewpoints and perspectives flatten out.

Which is why there are two sets of reactions to Rev. Wright - just like there were two sets of reactions to the O.J. verdict (as a loose metaphor).


“it always amazes me this fear of God that so many people have here on MeFi.”

Hey, I like God. It’s his fan clubs that presume to speak for him that are pains in the ass. They’ve so ingrained their definition of “God” you can’t have a reasonable discussion about infinity and matters beyond human conception without tripping over the overworn road.
And I think the same attitudes pervade how people conceptualize the flow of power - and indeed, where power should be (and is) vested.
If one sees God as “everywhere” and in all things and ineffable, I suspect one would take a more democratic view of society.
As opposed to someone who thinks God is a more centralized and definable deity who would probably have a more authoritarian bent.
I mean it’s the height of hubris - indeed, it’s the very root definition of the term - to think one can fully grasp the divine and disseminate and define the word or plan for the entire universe and/or the ultimate destiny of mankind.
Deiphobic? I’m utterly certain “God” (by my definition) exists. I’m also utterly certain that neither I, nor anyone else, can have the slightest idea of what that truly means other there being things beyond the conception of man.
Hell, I don’t know whether there are biological aliens in the universe or whether we’re alone - the magnitude of either situation is quite beyond my ability to draw meaning from as well.
We treat people who see and act upon UFO’s as nuts. Their demands to contact the planet “Orian” or launch nukes at the greys are seen as transparent abberations.

And yet we readily accept without hesitation the absolute arrogance of someone who presumes not only to know the mind of God, but accept their foundation of authority upon that basis?

If I can get Spinozan for a second - I know the will of God dictates the planets move in accordance with physical laws. I can see such a thing for myself.
Yet men interpreted that incorrectly for thousands of years.
Even if God spoke directly to someone - even if we saw (metaphorically) the clouds part and a ray of light beam onto someone’s head - how could anyone derive authority from what is only a translation by man?

The motives of the divine are well beyond me to conceptualize much less express.
His self-appointed PR guys, not so much. Pretty easy to see where they’re coming from.

And indeed - (and it’s a criticism of anyone, not just Clinton) someone who espouses the divine - a higher ethic, the gospel, whatever - but seeks only advancement, well, that there’s idolatry. (Oh, it’s not a big gold calf, but it is objectification of the divine)
posted by Smedleyman at 12:53 PM on April 4, 2008



Isn't this a good thing? Isn't it better to discuss a book with the person who wrote it, rather than a bunch of people who haven't even read it yet?


"I heard what you were saying. You, you know nothing of my work. You mean my whole fallacy is wrong. How you ever got to teach a course in anything is totally amazing." -- Annie Hall
posted by johngoren at 1:03 PM on April 4, 2008 [1 favorite]


caddis, ... are you, in fact, interested in seeing america become a theocracy? do you in some way support this group's intention to accomplish that?

No, but I also failed to see where that was part of their agenda. Their mission statement:
"To develop and maintain an informal association of people banded together, to go out as "ambassadors of reconciliation," modeling the principles of Jesus, based on loving God and loving others. To work with the leaders of other nations, and as their hearts are touched, the poor, the oppressed, the widows and the youth of their country will be impacted in a positive manner. Youth groups will be developed under the thoughts of Jesus, including loving others as you want to be loved."
posted by caddis at 1:43 PM on April 4, 2008


did you read the harper's article? it's pretty explicit in there. the author of both the book and the article came in here and said, as someone else already mentioned. are you just ignoring the things you don't want to admit to or what?
posted by shmegegge at 1:51 PM on April 4, 2008


said it, as well
posted by shmegegge at 1:51 PM on April 4, 2008


quotes?
posted by caddis at 1:53 PM on April 4, 2008


It's sort of standard-operating procedure for a cult-like group to come up with a fun, inoffensive mission statement--All men are brothers! Reduce your stress levels!--and reserve the crazy stuff about emulating the mafia or Xenu to private meetings within the group. Which Sharlet sat in on.
posted by johngoren at 2:01 PM on April 4, 2008


quotes?

well, for one thing, the subtitle of the article is "Undercover among America's secret theocrats." Are you for real? Are you really trying to say that you don't believe that this organization is working to create an american theocracy? if so, do you realize you have no idea what you're talking about?
posted by shmegegge at 2:35 PM on April 4, 2008


I do not believe they are trying to create a theocracy, and Hillary certainly is not. There is a huge difference between seeking to put into power leaders who have faith in Jesus and creating a theocracy. Perhaps we just differ on what a theocracy implies, but I see it as far more extreme than having politicians whose world view is shaped by their faith in Jesus. Further, I don't doubt that some members of this group would desire a theocracy. However, their power seems to stem from their broad appeal to people of power such as Hillary Clinton. Do you really think she wants to turn the US into a theocracy?
posted by caddis at 3:00 PM on April 4, 2008


Shorter caddis: "No matter what the article says, I already know what I want to believe."
posted by Pope Guilty at 3:48 PM on April 4, 2008 [1 favorite]


For 15 years, Hillary Clinton has been part of [this] secretive religious group that seeks to bring Jesus back to Capitol Hill.

Last time they fucked up and got Sun Myung Moon instead. They might need to recalibrate their religious-dude-getting skills.
posted by kirkaracha at 4:50 PM on April 4, 2008


"There is a huge difference between seeking to put into power leaders who have faith in Jesus and creating a theocracy."

There is. But isn't reiteration of the same set of values going to lead to disenfranchisement of people who believe otherwise?
Doesn't even have to be Muslims or Buddhists or Sikhs and such. Maybe some folks have a different take on Jesus.
Seems to me the greater diversity of perspective the stronger any given policy derived from those perspectives is going to be.
I mean, two guys say "It's this" and 50 people say "yep."
It's even antithetical to the (theoretical*) free flow of communication and exchange of ideas here. And this is just a community web log. We're not deciding policy for groups of people we exclude from engagement.
That's not to imply exclusivity in the sense that they don't talk to other folks at all. But rather, when they really have to sit and listen - they sit in what appears to be essentially an echo chamber.


*(general criticism - but primarially directed at myself because it takes me a bit to get what other folks are saying. And I know I don't always get my own point across well - so, room for improvement criticsm, not this place sux ass criticism).
posted by Smedleyman at 9:52 PM on April 4, 2008


Do you really think she wants to turn the US into a theocracy?

The point isn't that Hillary Clinton wants to turn the US into a theocracy. It's that she has no problem sucking up to those who do.
posted by Fuzzy Monster at 7:29 AM on April 5, 2008 [1 favorite]


If that is the point then why is Obama sucking up to someone who hates America? Give me a break. She's doing it to gain power. No, I don't like it, and no I am not a big Hillary fan, although I have tons of admiration and respect for her. However, her affiliation with this prayer group is really a non-issue and all the scary OMG secret society taking over the world hysteria is just silly. We are in tin foil hat territory here.
posted by caddis at 4:56 PM on April 5, 2008


If that is the point then why is Obama sucking up to someone who hates America? Give me a break. She's doing it to gain power.

Jeremiah Wright doesn't have power. Besides which, Obama isn't sucking up to him; his big speech that got everyone's attention was essentially throwing the poor man under a bus.
posted by Pope Guilty at 9:30 AM on April 6, 2008


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