Eat your heart out Lyndon LaRouche. The Trilateral Commission is so 1970s. It's really "The Fellowship" that's really running the world according to religion professor Jeff Sharlet in his new book "The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power."
Despite being a fanciful yet unsubstantiated conspiracy theory, U.S. News & World Report dignified Sharlet's take on a little-known Christian organization with a May 28 article by Jay Tolson entitled "Exposing a Network of Powerful Christians.":
It is an elite and secretive network of fundamentalist Christians that has been quietly pulling strings in America's highest corridors of power for more than 70 years. Or so claims Jeff Sharlet, author of a new exposé, The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power. And in his telling, the group that calls itself the Fellowship operates at the very center of the vast, right-wing conspiracy that has promoted unfettered capitalism and dismantled liberal social policies at home, even while encouraging ruthless but America-friendly dictators abroad.
Sharlet, an associate research scholar at New York University's Center for Religion and Media, tells an intriguing story of an organization founded in 1935 by Norwegian immigrant pastor Abraham Vereide. Growing out of Vereide's early struggles against the radical labor movement on the West Coast, the group came to consist of religiously minded businessmen and sympathetic politicians who shared Vereide's mildly pro-fascist sentiments. Vereide is most widely known for launching in 1953 what is now a Washington institution, the National Prayer Breakfast, where movers and shakers come together to pray in an uplifting but blandly interfaith way.
But behind the scenes, Sharlet contends, Vereide and his key men worked with politicians and officials to advance unfettered, tooth-and-claw capitalism and engage in secret diplomacy with some of the world's least savory leaders, including, in the past, Indonesia's General Suharto and Haiti's François "Papa Doc" Duvalier. If all that weren't ominous enough, the group's leader since 1969, Doug Coe, has gained something of a reputation for invoking not only Jesus but also Hitler, Lenin, and Mao as models of effective leadership.
Later in his article, writer Jay Tolson admits that nowhere in his book does Sharlet provide evidence to back up his conspiracy theory:
Sharlet points correctly to connections between the elite Fellowship people and the more public and populist crusaders such as Focus on the Family's James Dobson. But he fails to demonstrate that the public crusaders take many of their ideas (including the idea of "biblical capitalism") and even their marching orders from the Fellowship.
Nonetheless, Tolson finds some merit in Sharlet's book, concluding that:
...even if its purposes are primarily spiritual, this network has facilitated communication and cooperation among people who also share large worldly interests, including money and power. But is this network a quietly decisive force in the larger conservative movement? The case remains unproved.
A closing fun fact about Sharlet: Back in March, he defended Barack Obama's pastor. From liberal blog Crooks & Liars:
I've been in communication with many other bloggers and progressive activists about various aspects of the primary race. It's always been helpful to me to bounce ideas off of others and just check my gut reactions before I start blogging about a subject. As you might imagine, the media storm over Barack Obama's relationship to Rev. Jeremiah Wright has resulted in a flurry of emails back and forth. One of the most thoughtful emails I got was from Jeff Sharlet, author of the upcoming book The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power, and I asked and received his permission to share it with you:
In contextualizing Jeremiah Wright's "God damn America," it might be worth remembering another Jeremiah who expressed similar sentiments: namely, Jeremiah. As in, the prophet of the Hebrew Bible, or the "Old Testament," if you prefer.
Why does that matter? Because it reminds us that a core function of one who attempts to speak in a prophetic voice is to remind us that we are in this together and that we'll both prosper and suffer together. Many evangelical Christians speak of a "gift of discernment," not unlike the "gift of tongues." Us democratically-minded folk might do well to remember that that core concept of a democracy is that we all have some gift of discernment. So let's use ours and consider the prophetic statements on offer:
1. Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson said America is damned - cursed by God, though not permanently - because we tolerate feminists and queer people.
2. John Hagee says America is damned - cursed by God, though not permanently - because we tolerate Muslims.
3. Jeremiah Wright says America is damned - cursed by God, though not permanently, suffering from hate and division, from bitterness and envy - because we succumb to hating one another.
For my money, my Bible, and my democracy, that last sentiment has the ring of truth, and I'm not even a religious man.