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Jeff Sharlet
The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power
Reviewed by: Rick Kleffel © 2009

Harper Perennial / HarperCollins
US First Edition Trade Paperback
ISBN 978-0-060-56005-8
Publication Date: 06-02-2009
454 Pages; $15.99
Date Reviewed: 07-07-2009

Index:  Non-Fiction

Jeff Sharlet stumbled onto the Apocalypse when he was trying to help an old friend. Her brother, she said, had been through some tough times, but now he sounded better — maybe. She asked Sharlet to have dinner with him and find out what he was caught up in. It was nothing less than a well-organized, well-funded plan by Christian fundamentalists to establish a top-down control of governments and businesses around the world by a group that calls itself the Family. They’ve been going strong for more than seventy years. They're not a conspiracy and there are no big secrets. They don't call attention to themselves, but now, thankfully, Jeff Sharlet has, in his book, ' The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power.' This Apocalypse has already come to pass.

Sharlet begins the book with a novelistic, first person narration of his experience at Ivanwald, a house somewhere in Arlington, Virginia, where young men are groomed to take power in the name of a Christ who apparently draws his power from the same place as Hitler, Lenin, Stalin and Mao. These are the influences that hover over those indoctrinated into "The Family," these are the names the young men hear as they live and learn together.

Sharlet then reaches back deep into history to trace this peculiar and terrifying form of fundamentalism to its roots before the Revolutionary War. As a social history of the Christian religion in America, 'The Family' is a fascinating and powerful reading experience. Sharlet connects figures and facts and threads of history to paint a very different picture of the power of religion in America. We're used to seeing the demonstrations and the congregations, but in Sharlet's narrative, there's been a parallel track of power brokers and organizers who got their start as Union-busters just after the Great Depression. A Norwegian immigrant named Abraham Vereide had a vision of God in 1935 that gave him what he called "The Idea" — "To the big man went strength, top the little man went need. Only the big man was capable of mending the world....He thought that powerful people, so clearly blessed by God, must surely possess equally great reserves of compassion and love that they wished to shower down on the weak, if only someone would show them how....Abram would show them how."

From there Sharlet takes readers up to the present, and along the way we see the Family merging Church and State in the National Prayer Breakfast, inserting the words "..under God.." in the Pledge of Allegiance, putting the words "In God We Trust" on our money, using power to effect change from the top down. They’ve driven foreign policy and got us in bed with a passel of murderous dictators because power is what drives them. These are people who cheerfully suggest that the death penalty should apply to adultery.

Sharlet's book is compelling and beautifully written. His prose is hard-hitting and crystal clear when he's reporting history and current events and carefully turned when he's taking readers on a personal journey. The book includes more than 60 pages of notes and index. The arc of 'The Family' is personal and universal. The journey readers take while reading this book is not easily forgotten. Some may find it heartening while others may find it horrifying. This is not about a group that wants power. This is about a group that has power. In many ways, 'The Family' is the first work of post-Apocalyptic non-fiction.

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