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Robert Christgau on America’s Secret Fundamentalists

Posted on Sep 5, 2008
book cover

By Robert Christgau

(Page 2)

    Among The Family’s members is none other than Jeff Sharlet, who in 2002 was invited by an acquaintance to spend a month at Ivanwald, a Family training facility in Arlington, Va., along with a shifting cast of some dozen young men. All of them tended the house and grounds, served occasional meals at a nearby Family mansion, played ball and horsed around, joined a female auxiliary at weekly swing dances and attended meetings where they learned what it meant to serve Jesus. Everyone knew Sharlet was a half-Jewish journalist who might write about them. After a draft of the first chapter of “The Family” was published in Harper’s in 2003, he was sussed out by Family associates overt and covert (including a sexy blonde), and in the end The Family archive in Wheaton, Ill., where he did extensive digging, was closed to the public. But Sharlet’s social relations with his Family contacts remain cordial. Why not? He’s a smart guy with a future. Someday he might prove useful.

    This is how The Family operates, and quite often it goes over people’s heads, as it is meant to. Take U.S. News & World Report’s religion specialist, Jay Tolson, whose faint-praise debunk indignantly disproves that political fundamentalists “take ... their marching orders from The Fellowship.” Problem is, Sharlet never suggests such a thing. No wonder they call themselves The Family and The Fellowship—uppercase removed, those are the relevant models. The Family makes connections and encourages behavior based on bonds of friendship, faith and shared experience. It’s networking for Christ, theocracy as hegemony. Sharlet’s research proves (as even Tolson acknowledges) that all the dictators named above received crucial support from the organization begun in Seattle in 1935—with seed money from a local developer—by Norwegian-born clergyman and Goodwill Industries middle executive Abram Vereide. But as with the State Department, some of its projects are benign—orphanages, hospitals, even peace accords. And always the dirtiest details are left to Family-linked power brokers—carefully nurtured local “key men”—in the belief that, ultimately, Christ thrives in a stable capitalist order.


book cover


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


By Jeff Sharlet


Harper, 464 pages


Buy the book


    Doug Coe, Vereide’s successor for nearly half a century now, has some provocative ideas. He likes to cite the Mafia, Hitler-Goebbels-Himmler and Communist Party cells as examples of the strong faith of a few changing the world—“enemies” who put Christ’s teachings into practice. Sharlet pinpoints one of Coe’s favorite slogans as especially fraught: “Jesus plus nothing.” You could say this mantra aspires toward Godhead. But in a world of many Jesuses—“Killing the Buddha” touches upon at least a dozen—it can also be seen as undercutting Jesus’ reality. Is Jesus still Jesus without his life example, his teachings, his scripture, his churches that Coe says have no biblical basis? (The Bible, Coe claims, speaks only of that manly abstraction, the Body of Christ.) For Sharlet, Jesus plus zero equals power for its own sake, an abstraction with disastrously concrete consequences. Family members are inculcated with the principle of loyalty—“Loyalty to what? The idea of loyalty.” Part of him clearly feels that Coe and his enablers are monsters. But he also conveys that at some level the guys he meets are nice, normal, well-meaning. If Doug Coe is a little strange, he knows how to stay quiet about it. A Family of monsters wouldn’t function.

    For nearly 300 pages, including some of the best background on seminal evangelists Jonathan Edwards and Charles Grandison Finney I’ve ever read, Sharlet says to hell with stereotype and traces this shadowy seam of Christianity. I so admired his formal austerity that at first I was disappointed when he switched up, devoting the book’s final quarter to reporting on more familiar fundamentalist types—home-schoolers, abstinence activists, life-tossed devotees of a prelapsarian Ted Haggard, even some Oregon progressives. But there’s no resisting Sharlet’s empathy, which must have been sorely tested by his several seasons among the evangelical elite—whether they’re as nutty as the Colorado Springs insurance agent who fears demons in every urban place or as sharp as the virgin grade-school teacher from Brooklyn who’ll probably have a ball in bed once he gets married, you can see why these people need Jesus in their lives and hope their spiritual struggles won’t ever ease to a complacent halt.

    Tying these populist endeavors to The Family is a knotty undertaking, and Sharlet doesn’t quite put a bow on it. But though the most fluent stylists are rarely as lucid essaying exegesis as writing narrative or history, Sharlet’s many philosophical passages go down much better than most. Here he closes with a few progressives, believers who work mostly in the helping professions salving their pain over the shooting of a mentor by renewing their belief in “absolute Truth.” Then he visits David Kuo, Bush’s Coe-trained “faith-based initiatives” expert, who later wrote a much-praised book exposing how crassly political his supposedly charitable office was. Sharlet, whose research has left him rather pessimistic about combating hegemony, suspects Kuo hasn’t really changed his spots—sure, Jimmy Carter and Hillary Clinton are preferable to George W. Bush and Sam Brownback, but in the end, as The Family understands, all serve the same order.

    Sharlet proffers one shred of hope—“believers and unbelievers alike, all of us who love our neighbors more than we love power or empire or even the solace of certainty.” Secular humanists can scoff if they like, but I’m here to testify that Sharlet is both more intelligent and better informed than most of them. If he believes that “believers and unbelievers alike” fall into this sainted host, I believe him.

Robert Christgau’s Consumer Guide to Current CDs appears monthly at He is a contributing editor at Blender and a critic at NPR’s “All Things Considered.”


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By KDelphi, October 18, 2008 at 8:51 am Link to this comment

Sepharad—My mom was GOP all the way! I never really figured out why…I think she thought that “associating with the rich” made her look more high class?? Who knows. My dad was, too, but, after Ike, he slowly drifted,(I think—he talked of him, anyway) until, when Bush Sr. was getting ready to invade Iraq—he said “no blood for oil”. My mom was furious!! But, us 3 girls laughed and applauded!! He never voted GOP again. When my mom passed, I was going through her scrapbooks, and found a recent , autographed pic of Dubya—$500!! I sent it to Dubya and asked for the money back—no response.

My mom used to make a ‘flag cake”—with strawberries for stripes and blueberries for stars?? lol. She was hell on wheels—never understood her—but , sometimes I miss her. She was alcoholic mean as hell, and in terrible pain. But, you know…only 2 yrs ago.

That is sweet about the cake. I used to make key lime pies (got a blue ribbon at the county fair!! ,lol) for my dad. My mom hated them and threw mine across the room on Xmas—“you ruined Xmas”! was the yearly cry at our house.

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By Ted Swart, October 18, 2008 at 7:31 am Link to this comment

John G:  You don’t tell us the title of your (three years in tis creation) book.  So, how can we reed about <moonbats>?

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By John G, October 17, 2008 at 9:50 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Where is the moonbat welfare? Why isn’t this author on every major talk show?

We are so lame

Hey, I just spent three years writing an expose of the wildly inappropriate relationship between conservative Republicans and the Rev. Moon. It came out a few months ago, and I haven’t even scored a Truthdig review.

But I can dream.

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By Sepharad, September 16, 2008 at 11:16 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

KDelphi, you think Bush ever even heard of Eisenhower, much less his M/I/C predictions?

I initially hated Eisenhower: Mom made me wear an “All the Way with Adlai” button—the only one in our classroom, a sea of “I Like Ike” buttons. As insult to injury: every Presidential election night we spent with relatives and close friends at our house, lured by Mom’s glorious election year cake, with pineapples and cherries on top. Late that night, when Ike was declared winner, my mother took that beautiful cake, threw it down the stairs then sat down on the on top step, put her hands on her face and wept. Horrified at the loss of the cake, I ran to my room, got my Adlai button and said I’d give it to her if she’d just stop crying long enough to bake bake another cake. Predictably she cried harder, probably wondering how she’d spawned such a shallow, foolish daughter.

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By KDelphi, September 16, 2008 at 8:06 am Link to this comment

Sepharad—I think Bush took Eisenhower"s comments on M/I/C as a “suggestion”. LOL

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By Sepharad, September 16, 2008 at 12:50 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Brad—Eisenhower wasn’t such a bad President. He crushed Joe McCarthy when all the Ed Murrows’ influence in the world would have been silenced and ultimateley McCarthy could have done was

Eisenhower also warned us about the military-industrial complex.

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By susan 28, September 15, 2008 at 10:53 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

a more indepth look at The Family’s dark side by a preacher who was an intelligence operative in Vietnam and knows all about them:

and here’s Sharlett’s Harper’s article for anyone interested:

Kos also has some interesting pieces on their more current connections, you can pull them up by googling “jesus plus zero” as they all reference the Harper’s article.

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By Jeffersonianideal, September 15, 2008 at 7:30 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

She has been called the most Libertarian of the major Presidential and Vice Presidential candidates in the running.  Someone please explain to me how religious fanaticism intersects with the principled notions of liberty and personal freedom.  I am all too familiar with turbo Christians, having family members who believe in delusions like all natural disasters are a direct result of god’s will.  Thank you for the head’s up on Palin’s church speech.  It is as frightening to a Ron Paul supporter as Obama’s ties to Marxism.  Looks like Sarah is yet another woman under the influence.

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By Henry, September 15, 2008 at 9:36 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

See the extremely important article:

Christian Fundamentalism Permeates the Republican Party: Sarah Palin’s links to the Christian Right

by F. William Engdahl

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By irina, September 15, 2008 at 8:37 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I went to a fundamentalist Christian school as a child (my parents thought the education was better, ha ha, most of the teachers didn’t even have teaching degrees but were ‘called by God’ to be there). As a result I have been religiously
‘feral’ for my entire adult life.

Haven’t read the book but this guy sounds spot on.

You can find clips of Miss Sarah’s speeches at the Ass. of God in Wasilla on You Tube but you better look quick before they’re pulled . . . pretty scary stuff . . .

For a look at what religion REALLY is and how it has steered our species, I would recommend reading “The Gods of Eden” by William Bramley and “Slave Species of god” by Michael Tellinger.  Also scary but VERY enlightening.

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By Brad, September 15, 2008 at 7:27 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

If that is actually the case that The Family talked Eisenhower into running as a Republican, then they are responsible for most of the problems America faces today.  Back in 1952, the frontrunner for the Republican nomination (and the presidency) was Senator Robert Taft (son of the president and chief justice), who was basically a more moderate version of Ron Paul.  Whether you consider yourself a liberal, a (non-neo) conservative, a libertarian, or whatever else, I think everybody (other than Neo-Cons) can agree that America would be better off if the Republican Party reflected the values of Ron Paul and not those of the Bush-McCain totalitarian death cult.  Eisenhower crushed the Taft Republicans, paving the way for Bill Buckley and National Review to take over the Republicans and use them to promote this backward Neo-Con ideology.

Definitely, this organization has also done other things that are disgusting (such as exonerating Nazis and trying to establish a theocracy) and they should be strongly rejected by all Americans that oppose the rising tide of Bush-McCain totalitarian fascism.

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By Barb, September 14, 2008 at 2:50 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)


thanks for posting the email from your friend.  I am familiar with this kind of “God has let us in on the inside info” talk from relatives. 

It won’t burst their bubble, but you might want to alert your friend that the next VP will not be the 44th VP.  FDR had more than one.


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By optipessi mist, September 14, 2008 at 1:34 pm Link to this comment

The bedrock of all religions is GUILT.  Spend less time reading religious fables written by men claiming divine inspiration and more time looking at the universe around you and how it really works. The shelf technology of the atom, matter, and the fields of force are sufficient to begin to make an argument, among many alternative arguments, to my mind of an alien intelligence. Always being aware that my line of reasoning is colored by my particular perspective at the moment the thought suddenly and inexplicably forms in my mind.

In other words, think for yourself. Of course I defend your right NOT to think for yourself.  But, your rights end at the tip of my nose. Pierce that legal plane and I’ve gotcha.

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By maria guillen, September 14, 2008 at 9:37 am Link to this comment
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I agree with nrobi that The Family is one of the most scary books I’ve read.  In this age of Jessica Simpson air-headedness, female bullies pretending to pit bull status and neo-cons panting for war with Russia, the only book that compares with Sharlet’s is Morgan Ibarra’s Scamming God.  It knocks fundamentalism into a cocked hat and answers the question why con men keep coming and coming and no one seems to wise up…except the Jim Bakers and (fictionally) the Rev. Rineharts and Elmer Gantrys.
I have followed Jeff Sharlet’s writing for a long time and his real people are definitely Dickension. In fact, I would say Brechtian is more like it. We seem to have descended into a Weimar Republic limbo, just waiting… for what? the fascist shoe to drop?

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By nrobi, September 14, 2008 at 7:33 am Link to this comment

In the words of a great American, Give me liberty, or give me death.” The Fundamentalist Right Wing Christian Coalition, of the Republican Party is the worst thing that could have happened to the political process. When the powers that be, in the GOP decided that they should embrace the Protestant Christians, and more specifically the “power hungry,” money wielding Christian, fundamentalist evangelicals, then the process of the country going to hell in a handbasket started its downward and speeded up slide.
I for one, am ashamed that I use to be one of those people for whom religion counted more than policy, I truly believed that religion would dictate the policies that would turn this country back to its, “moral roots,” and once again take up the banner of the Lord.
Little did I realize that the personification of true evil and imperial power, the shrub and Darth Vader would shred the Constitution and Bill of Rights at their pleasure and take away the freedoms that we in America hold so dear.  We are now becoming the Amerikkkan, country that was envisioned by the Neo-Conservative cabal that has run this country for the past eight years.
Would to G-d that the people that elected the shrub, the five members of the Supreme Court, would be removed and jailed for the intrusion of the judicial branch of government into the workings of the executive branch of government.  This is the world’s worst example of judicial activism that has ever happened and there is so much more to say about this, that I will post it on a blog that I will create and let everyone know about.
The inner workings of the government should be brought into the light of day, just as in Florida there is a “sunshine law,” that is what should happen in the Federal Government.
But back to the subject, one other thing that completely irritates me, more than any other is the hypocrisy of, “do as I say, not as I do.”  I refuse to believe that a G-d, who is loving and kind could actually endorse such vile and repulsive people as the Far Right Wing Christians that have become part and parcel of the Repuglican Party.
There is no accountability, no one to whom the people of that ilk answer to and I find that they are the ones who have ruined this countries reputation and standing within the world community.
I will remember that when I go to the voting booth come November and make sure that my vote counts for the one candidate who can turn this country around and return us to where we were before the fiasco of the shrub and Darth Vader’s terms in office.

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By Outraged, September 14, 2008 at 12:59 am Link to this comment

An additional thought:  If you are or have ever been a fundamentalist read the book.  If you have NEVER been involved with fundamentalism, I’d read the book twice.  I sincerely feel it would take that to jog the ol’ “are you shittin me” brain synapse.  And well.. of course, the answer to that is: NO.

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By Outraged, September 14, 2008 at 12:53 am Link to this comment

I have almost finished this book, but felt compelled to comment before it’s “bopped off” the homepage.

This is an excellent book.  From my vantage point, I felt Sharlet was overly fair in his summation of fundamentalism.  I would have been much more blunt. (which is my nice way of saying, these people are off the charts when it comes to morality, decency or honesty)

That said, it has to be remembered that there is a wide chasm of genuineness between the leaders/manipulators and those of the adherents.  Given this reality, the book was extremely balanced.  Still, this isn’t meant to say that some of the “little people” adherents are not dangerous, immoral or nasty… but that it is relative to the specific individual.

The book reads like a novel, only better.  The Dickinsonian personalities of so many of the people are intriguing and well as scary and humorous.  Real people, that’s what I’ve always loved about Dickens, the striking similarity to the idiosyncrasies of the persona of what I commonly refer to as “real people”.  For me this has always been the lesson of history…, some people are nuts.  LOL.

Having been a true believer and now an atheist (and I feel compelled to include the word “true” here, since all of us “true believers” always knew that some were “true” and some… well.., they’re just here with us, been both of those too.), I would count this book as “revelation inspiring” for both sides of the precarious mythological “fence”. (for those not “in the know” believers shouldn’t ever want to “FIND THEMSELVES” “sitting on the fence” between good and evil since obviously they could “fall” and guess which side of the fence they proverbially end up on..?) This truly is a MUST READ.

Excellent work.  Outstanding.

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By Ted Swart, September 13, 2008 at 9:05 am Link to this comment


My apologies.  I thought you really believed and agreed with what your friend reported.  It is truly alarming that such views exist.

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By ScottyAnn, September 12, 2008 at 8:35 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

You completely misunderstood my reason for putting my friend’s email out there. I believe that it is important to know what garbage the other side is feeding it’s flock, as did my friend, who has switched from being a life long Republican to an independent voter for this upcoming election.

We cannot expose ourselves to only like minded people, we have to know what we are fighting against, and what tactics of persuasion are being used by our adversaries. This way we can have an enlightened debate about these spiritual issues, which seem to be driving politics in America.

Sorry if I have offended.

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By Ted Swart, September 11, 2008 at 5:32 pm Link to this comment

To ScottyAnn:

It is a long time since I have read something quite so frightening as your contribution to this discussion. How anyone in the 21st century can believe such irrational, deluded, credulous fiction is totally beyond me.
It is utterly incongruous to see your contribution follow so closely in the heels of Sepharad’s thoughtful, helpful and eminently rational contribution.
Surely you cannot really believe what you are saying.  It seems to be nothing other than a mindless attachment to magic. If Sarah Palin believes as you do—and I am by no means certain that she does—then the prospect of her becoming the US VP (or possibly the president if McCain dies in office) is far more frightening than I imagined.
Could you not just for once make use of your ability to reason and recognize that trivial coincidences hardly form a basis for a sensibly planned future.  At least there is some evidence that the house Obama hopes to build is not based on sand but on a much firmer foundation.

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By ScottyAnn, September 11, 2008 at 6:45 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I received the following email from a Republican friend. Because of TruthDig’s word count confines this is partial.

“Peg and I have just returned from our Sunday AM service.  As you know, have been involved in 90 days of Hosting the Lord’s Presence and it has been powerful…in a personal way.  We knew there has been lots of warfare, because when we get home we are tired and need a nap.  The Sunday AM celebrations have been just worship, with some intercessory prayer, but no preaching or teaching.  This morning after an extended time of worship, Dutch Sheets, our pastor, shared an exhortation, as he called it.  During this, Peg and I both were about to explode in our spirits.

Last year Chuck Pierce and Greg Hood prophesied that in 2008 we are not
electing a president, but the vice president.  Dutch said he could get no
release in his heart to back Huckaby. even though pressured by many in the body of Christ.  Huckaby is a good man and a strong believer, but he was not God’s choice at this time.

Dutch was traveling to Texas on Friday, and when he landed in the airport,
his wife called and told him to get to the TV asap.  He watched McCain
introduce Governor Palin, and said he began to weep, even though he knew nothing about her.  (I experienced the very same thing and we have had reports of many others including Newt Gingrich).
He asked what the significance of this 44-year-old woman was, and he saw the clock said 4:44.  He asked the Lord what that was, and the Lord said, ‘Ezekiel 44:4.’  ‘He brought me by way of the north gate to the front of the temple; so I looked, and behold, the glory of the LORD filled the house of the LORD; and I fell on my face. NKJV North gate representing Alaska.
The Lord had shown them that Alaska is the alpha and omega state.  It is the place where things begin and end.

You may realize that some of the Alaskan islands are on the other side of
the Dateline, meaning that the day begins and ends in Alaska.  The Lord
said that Alaska is a gateway for the Ancient of Days to come into the
nation. The Lord told Dutch (back in Alaska ) to tell the people of Alaska
to look forward into their destiny.  Alaska has an assignment to open doors and a place where prophets and intercessors were trained.  It turns out that the Governor, who was raised in a Pentecostal Church, according to our newspaper, founded the prayer movement in Alaska .

Dutch asked why he and Chuck were in Texas for this announcement, and the Lord reminded him that the word for Texas was that it is a prophetic state - that the Lord’s purpose for Texas is this prophetic function.

Dutch then decreed that she will enter the White House.  Now, if you don’t
know him, he is cautious, has his feet on the ground, and never goes off ‘half cocked’ when it comes to prophecy.  He said that he believes, as of
Friday, the U.S. has come into a new level of alignment with the Lord and
His   purposes.<

By the way, the Governor will be the 44th Vice President.  He continued to
declare that she will be the Margaret Thatcher of America, including that
she would be President one day.  Many other things came forth.  I literally
thought I would explode because the Lord had shown me many of these same things yesterday.

I believe we especially need to rally prayer for the family and children of
the Governor.  They will be targeted by the enemy and I believe we need
special prayer for the oldest daughter. Please take this seriously in your

God help us, and spare us from fundamentalists, and another Maggie Thatcher.

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By diamond, September 9, 2008 at 3:49 pm Link to this comment

Yes. It seems that with regards to the librarian and the banning books thing Sarah Palin is more like Sarah Stalin. That smiling, heavily made up face hides a lot of nasty tendencies.

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By Ted Swart, September 9, 2008 at 3:20 pm Link to this comment

Okay metros:

You say:
“It may have sounded defeatist, but I was only being a realist.  Our beliefs, attitudes and organizational structures are dominated and manipulated by the power elite.  They are the ultimate pragmatists.

They take advantage of the propensity of humans to use magical thinking, religion and myths to cope with confusing or disheartening facts.

Knowing the true nature of ourselves and the world we live in empowers us.

One-tenth of one percent of our population possess the vast majority of all wealth and power—almost all of it by inheritance.  The remaining 99.9% of us inherited the “American Dream.” As they say, that plus a dollar won’t buy you a cup of coffee.

Lets stop being rubes; make the 0.1% pay us for the right to rule.  Otherwise, we are complacent slaves.”

And I cannot really fault what you say. But I do have a question.  How do you propose that US citizens stop being “rubes”?
Vote for Ralph Nadar?

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By Sepharad, September 8, 2008 at 11:31 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

KDelphi—And here I thought I was the only on the entire TD to take Sinclair Lewis’s “It Can’t Happen Here” seriously. I think, however, that Lewis’s idea that totalitarianism will come “wrapped in a flag and a cross” is pretty transferable, as in “a flag and a Mosque Minaret”, “a flag and a Star of David” or “a flag and a [symbolic icon, such as Nazi emblem, a hammer and sycle, or an invisible secular dollar sign]. I usually rail against religious fundamentalists of any sort because in most cases they have an easier sell in promising “pie in the sky when you die” (that’s a lie). The secular totalitarians usually offer a little less, such as a better life than people currently are living, which appeals to religious and non-religious alike. Without the stupidly punishing Versailles Treaty, the Nazi movement might have been still-born. Without the czarist excesses throughout Russian history, could the Bolshevik revolution been hijacked by a monster such as Stalin, who murdered Kulaks the way the Romans handed out crucifixions like parking tickets?

I take most conspiracy theorists with a grain of salt, because there so many ways people can destroy one another, body and/or soul, that it’s much more a matter of individual evildoers being smart enough to find a profitable way to express and fulfill themselves, and strong enough to enforce and systematize it whether they are secular or religious, acting alone or in concert. metro’s “power elites” may be secular, but there certainly are religious power elites as well.

The important thing is that individuals living in a society recognize that whoever they believe in, whatever political party they follow, there are NO innocent societies, only the bloody conquest cycle over and over in different forms and guises. The best we can do is to not accept anti-humanistic policies but fight the people who propose and perpetuate them. Of course it’s easier if they don’t come to power in the first place, which is why we are trying to get Obama/Biden elected instead of McCain/Palin. And we have to do it even if our own interests suffer in the process. E.g., I care about Israel as much as I care about the U.S. I also have spent decades studying Islamic society, history, doctrine and tactics, and I know that most Arab and Persian Moslems will never rest until Israel is destroyed because anywhere that any Moslem community has ever taken root (in Palestine and in Southern Spain, for example) is considered part of holy Islam and must be retaken at any cost. With Hezbollah poised on Israel’s northern borders, Hamas in Gaza
and Iran well on its way to enriching enough weapons grade uranium and with long-range missiles already in place, there is going to be an all-out war in the next decade, probably sooner rather than later, initiated by Iran and Israel, if she is going under, will retaliate. So why don’t I want a McCain in office to bomb-bomb-bomb-Iran? Because I know that anything left of the beautiful Middle East would be radiated molecules and more ashes than even the Nazi crematoria produced. However remote the possibility that this can be avoided, we have to take it. And that means a smart President like Obama, with a bright, decent and experienced Vice President like Joe Biden. Not a space cadet like McCain and his amped up but under qualified copilot Palin. It’s hard enough to deal with fundamentalist Moslems who seek death’s paradise rather than life, but it becomes even more impossible to communicate with them if the U.S. leader is either bellicose or a religous fundamentalist.  So I’m doing my best to help get Obama elected. I think he intuitively grasps both the beauty and the very bad in Islam and will act responsibly in the best interests of the U.S., which in turn will be the best long-term interests of Israel. Obama seems perhaps a frail reed on which to hang hopes of avoiding a nuclear catastrophe, but sometimes I do see a bit of JFK in him.

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By Outraged, September 7, 2008 at 10:35 pm Link to this comment

In another post “thebeerdoctor” (thanks) left this link.  It is telling of Sarah Palin’s philosophy.  She’s got that “loyalty” thing going on.  Check out these excerpts:

“Her first months were so contentious and polarizing that critics started talking recall.

Her first months also EXPOSED THREADS THAT WOULD LATER BECOME PATTERNS ? friends become enemies, enemies become friends and questions get raised about why she fired this person or that person.

But the situation calmed, and rather than being recalled, Palin was re-elected.”

>> (Well…who would’ve guessed..?)

And then: “Ten days later, Palin wrote to all the department heads, including Stambaugh, asking for letters of resignation. She said she would then decide which to accept. When Stambaugh declined to provide one ? pointing to his contract ? Palin replied in a letter: “I WILL EXPECT YOUR LOYALTY.”

It continues: “Stambaugh kept the reports coming. But on Jan. 30, he was on the phone with the town’s librarian ? who said she’d just been fired ? when an assistant of Palin’s walked up and gave Stambaugh an envelope. Inside was a letter from Palin, saying Stambaugh, too, was fired.

“I do not feel I have YOUR FULL SUPPORT in my efforts to govern the City of Wasilla,” she wrote.”

And this: “She wrote: “You know when you have SOMEONE’S FULL SUPPORT, and you know when you do not.”

Stambaugh sued Palin and the city, saying he had been wrongfully fired.”

Then: “After notifying the librarian that she was fired, Palin backtracked and decided to keep her on. Palin had twice asked this librarian what she thought about BANNING BOOKS, to which the librarian responded it was a lousy idea, one she wouldn’t go along with. Later, Palin told the local paper that any questions she’d raised about CENSORSHIP were only “rhetorical.”

Palin put in place what THE LOCAL PAPER CALLED A GAG ORDER, prohibiting top city employees from talking to reporters unless she cleared it first.”

(All emphasis mine)  Check out this article, if you haven’t already done so….it’s interesting…  In addition, I still find it odd that supposedly she’s just been sitting there in little ol’ Wasilla all along.  Just like Cheney, out there in nowheresville Wyoming… anyone see a pattern…?  And let’s not forget ol’ Bill out there in Little Rock.

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By Outraged, September 7, 2008 at 9:51 pm Link to this comment

Article quote: “For Sharlet, Jesus plus zero equals power for its own sake, an abstraction with disastrously concrete consequences. Family members are inculcated with the principle of loyalty—“Loyalty to what? The idea of loyalty.” Part of him clearly feels that Coe and his enablers are monsters. But he also conveys that at some level the guys he meets are nice, normal, well-meaning.”

>> If you combine the two ideas, “power for its own sake” and “loyalty to the idea of loyalty” what do you have?  Powerful, thoughtless uncritical obedience. In other words don’t think about it, critique it or in any way decipher the whys and why nots of a situation just do it, which in this case is dubbed loyalty.  This is the Nazi mantra.

If you look at what the top echelons of the Nazi party expected of each other, it was exactly this.  They too were gracious with each other, until the very end.  In their heyday, they were not the monsters we so often associate them with.  But this type of mindlessness, creates this type of monster.  And loyalty FOR ITS OWN SAKE is a dangerous proposition indeed.

I also am the “unlikely atheist”, then again… maybe not..LOL.  While a sincere fundamentalist (back when) I was always considered “not quite there” and somewhat of a black sheep although I’d committed no transgressions to EARN the dubious distinction.  I did ask a lot of questions…. this is not allowed.  Questions are allowed, questions that seek to TRULY understand, especially those which contradict…well ...let’s say they’re frowned upon.  A “rebel” I was, a “not to be trusted”, “questionable”, adherent.  I can say one thing, they were right, THANK GOD. (pun intended)

I’m glad TD reminded me of this book, as I’d forgotten and was interested in reading it.  I finally read John Dean’s “Conservatives without Conscience”.  A very good book.  Anyone who liked “The Family” would probably find this a good one. Of course, maybe your years ahead of me on that deal… but hey, sometimes we forget.  I think this all ties in with some of the articles Chris Hedges has written regarding dominionists.

My experiences within fundamentalism, when I believed, are hard to describe.  However, I will say that there is sanctity to loyalty but also a grave fear, earthly and otherwise for disloyalty.  This includes things for which your better conscience disagrees.  The power wielded by the leaders who manipulate, is without frame of reference to the believer, since the believer sees these things to be directly from god.  A very dangerous proposition.

I’m gauging, since I have not yet read the book, that “The Family” has a slight twist on fundamentalism, but uses it’s techniques.  Although in this case, the believer it appears is more cognizant of reality as opposed to myth.

Article quote: “The Family—which is neither an official organization nor a coherent
conspiracy—enlists only cosmopolitans.”

>> While the organization might not be “official” this is not meant to say it is not highly organized nor powerful.  In fact, to officially organize would be detrimental to the goal.  I believe this “organization” has a goal, and if you have a goal, you most likely have a plan, and if you have a plan, it’s a conspiracy.  So (of course I haven’t read the book yet), I disagree that it isn’t a conspiracy.  But I absolutely believe that not everyone in it is privy to that fact.

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By diamond, September 7, 2008 at 1:45 pm Link to this comment

Everything in this book is true. Everything. You ignore it at your peril. The only reason these misfits have so much power is because Americans don’t vote. If every American of voting age gets out and votes you will get a representative government. People like Palin and McCain wouldn’t stand a chance because they don’t represent the average American in any way shape or form. Ronald Reagan was elected by only 31% of the electorate. That means nearly 70% of the electorate either didn’t vote for him or didn’t vote at all. This is the real problem - the disengagement of voters - and the cure is in your hands. However much you vote you won’t get a perfect government -you will, however,avoid the excesses, lawlessness and chaos of the last eight years. McCain has no plan to change anything Bush and Cheney have done. He intends to carry on their legacy and with Palin as VP the Republicans can only move even further to the right. Think about it. The safest place Cheney can be these days is hiding out in former Soviet satellite states. They definitely WON’T arrest him.

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By Jeff Sharlet, September 7, 2008 at 11:47 am Link to this comment
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Thanks to Christgau for this great review and to the commenters for giving it their consideration. One point from the comments I want to clear up: The Family—the group and the book—aren’t a conspiracy theory. As I emphasize throughout the book, what they’re doing isn’t a conspiracy. It may be anti-democratic, it may not be politically transparent, we may not like it—but it’s not a conspiracy. It’s a form of religious activism, as protected as this forum is under the First Amendment. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t deserve scrutiny, which is what I’ve tried to provide.

Thanks again, folks.

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By steve wexler, September 7, 2008 at 8:23 am Link to this comment
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If you want to see how the confusion of Sharlet’s hapless losers and conspiratorial winners (the Family) can be sliced like a Gordian knot, then read Scamming God. Morgan Ibarra cuts through the human/divine conundrum of Christianity.

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By WmCobbett, September 7, 2008 at 6:38 am Link to this comment
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This is a very poorly written review.  After reading it, I have almost no idea why these protagonists are considered a family (as in “controlled conspiracy”) or even the depth or breadth of their infuence. Why write such drivel?

The insidious role of the Christian right is an important topic, but this review makes no contribution to exposing it.

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By MAR, September 6, 2008 at 2:11 pm Link to this comment

A good and penetrating book and a good review. Why don’t all Americans read Sam Harris as well and realize how stupid and foolish religion is and come to terms with a reality that is consistent with what science and common sense tells us.

It appears that most of the steady posters here love to pull wings and legs off but can’t see the enormity of your country’s problem with this nonsense.

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By Ted Swart, September 6, 2008 at 12:47 pm Link to this comment

You say: ” Sharlet and Christgau are paranoid conspiracy theorists.  Ga sounds like one also.”
I said right at the the bginning of my first contribution to this discussion that Sharlet’s book (and, by implicationt, Christgau’s review, sounded like a conspiracy theory. So I am in agreement with you on this score.  I am not so sure about Ga who seemed to me to be simply providing information.
What yo say sounds rather defeatist and cynical and you lump a lot of things together which don’t really belong together. Is it not the case tha tour beliefs, attitudes and organizational structures should ultimately be governed by actual reality—the way the world really is. 
If there is no God as conventionally conceived of by Jews, Christians, Muslims and others then it must surely be more healthy and wholesome than living a lie.
I understand that those in power often don’t really believe in the religions they outwardly support and simply parade their religious credentials for tactical reasons. But his is one of several aspects of the current presidential campaign whichare rather nauseating.

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By Ted Swart, September 5, 2008 at 11:36 pm Link to this comment


Your clarification and amplification re individual as opposed to government/social spending noted. But Ga’s comments on dominionism also needs to be noted.
It is unclear to me how comparitive figures reagrding giving by US citizenbs are arrived at. Robber barons in the past (Rockefeller for one) and in the present (Bill Gates for one) do not make up for their greediness by setting up foundations to distribute some of the money they acquired by monolpolistic practices. Yet I presume they get counted.

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By cmhmd, September 5, 2008 at 7:56 pm Link to this comment
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If this where a Regnery Piece of shit book, it would be on the NY Times best seller list from all the convenient bulk sales provided by the wingnut welfare system.

Where is the moonbat welfare? Why isn’t this author on every major talk show?

We are so lame.


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By Ga, September 5, 2008 at 6:27 pm Link to this comment


“Its dangerous to blame the fundamentalists. I see more real problems coming from an engorged, self-obsessed, arrogant elite (by class and/OR race) who feel entitled to ?have it all?.”

But, the former are known and well documented. The latter are largely a fiction created by…. the former.

And, those religious fundamentalists known as Dominionists are the real people who BELIEVE that they are “entitled to it all.”

Those “arrogant elites” are really those “bleeding hearts” (as they used to be called) who actually believe is the public good, i.e. that everyone is equal.

You have been had. (Or you are a troll.)


Rise of Dominionism in America

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By KDelphi, September 5, 2008 at 5:08 pm Link to this comment

Onward Christian soldiers, marching as to war; With the cross of Jesus, going on before.

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By J Hill, September 5, 2008 at 5:05 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

While I hesitate to believe in any intricate conspiracy, I think we have enough to be afraid of right out in the open.  Imagine if a pro-life zealot took it upon himself to assassinate John McCain just to get Sarah Palin in the White House?

Frighteningly possible, which only attests to the success of christian powerbrokers, clandestine or otherwise.  Whoever they are, we must now contend with what exists in public, namely a massive, loyal, ignorant (unfortunate, but true) flock of zealots.

Where is the equivalent progressive philosophy that can woo these same followers into believing in their own self-interest?

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By Marc Schlee, September 5, 2008 at 4:22 pm Link to this comment
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There’s a seeker born every minute.



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By troublesum, September 5, 2008 at 4:05 pm Link to this comment

They should be given the states of Utah and Navada as a separate country.  Throw in Alaska.  Move them all out there.  It’s the only thing that will work.  They will never stop trying to force their beliefs on the rest of the country.

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By Ted Swart, September 5, 2008 at 3:25 pm Link to this comment


You say that the best measure of the worth of individuals is to check how much money they give away to “non-partisan charities”—which is fine.
But what do you say about the fact that Swedes—who are mostly atheists/agnostics/free thinkers—give away more money (of the kind you recommend) per capita than supposedly god-fearing Americans?


You say “It’s dangerous to blame the fundmantalists” and suggest that the “obsessed arrogant elite” are “more dangerous”. The trouble is that these categories are not mutually exclusive and often go hand in hand. Many fundmentalists hold to the view that they owe their high status and financial success to God’s grace—and that those less successful and more impecunious deserve their fatesince they have (supposedly) turned their backs on God.

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By Virginia777, September 5, 2008 at 1:43 pm Link to this comment

Its dangerous to blame the fundamentalists. I see more real problems coming from an engorged, self-obsessed, arrogant elite (by class and/OR race) who feel entitled to “have it all”.

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By sophrosyne, September 5, 2008 at 11:28 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

The Family is being used by AIPAC.  They are useful fools as Marx would say.  Really sad.  America is in a downward spiral in all respects and the Family applauds it all as evidence of the “last days.”

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By sophrosyne, September 5, 2008 at 11:22 am Link to this comment
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America is in a downward spiral so expect the family to make gains in people’s fear and anxieties.  The AIPAC squad loves these useful fools.  They openly laugh at them but know the Family serves their purpose.

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By KDelphi, September 5, 2008 at 9:54 am Link to this comment

As Sinclair Lewis said (It Cant Happen Here, 1935)“When fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in the flag, carrying a cross”. BOTH parties made extensive “use” (yes, I call it USE) of “their gods” at both conventions. Not only do most peole not object—if you question their attitude towards separation of church and state, they accuse you of “wanting to give away all Chritian voters to the Right”. He is correct that humanists, do give a sortve “special slack” tp African Am and other minority status Christian organizations(SCLC Hispanic/Latino Catholicism). That is because we know that the Churches are much more tham places of worship in these communities, historically.If there were more equality between communities, I think humanists would be much tougher on them. Even this acceptance has its limits, though, and I think that we need to get rid of teh “faith based initiatives”, for the protection of the state AND the church. It is just too convenient for the powers that be to allow peole to think that, although their life sucks now, it wil be so much better in heaven—so who cares? Poverty is “god’s will” right? (The poor will alwasy be among us, stuff) If Jesus were alive today, he would, I think , be appalled at the inequities of American society, along with its emphasis on comsumerism and militarism.

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By Ted Swart, September 5, 2008 at 9:50 am Link to this comment

Sound like yet another conspiracy theory but frightening nevertheless. I don’t know if the McCain/Palin partnership stands a real chance of winning the presidential election but,if it does, it will be a victory for the supposed “family”.  Palin believes in the second coming, denies the occurrence of evolution and regards atheists/agnostics/free thinkers as a curse on the face of the earth. At least Obama has had some personal contact with atheists and knows they are not devils with horns.

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By musik_maven, September 5, 2008 at 9:21 am Link to this comment
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I really enjoyed this book.  I pre-ordered it so had it hot off the press.  To get the most out of this book you should have an interest in fundamentism as Sharlet does delve into theology to some extent.  It was an eye-opener to learn about the people who put on the national prayer breakfast and the extent they have permeated the halls of congress. 

Although it is not a “conspiracy theory” tale it is a warning that the christian right might have more of an influence on our lives than we think.

If you have enjoyed the books by Hedges & Phillips I’m sure you’ll enjoy this one.  I highly recommend it.

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By felicity, September 5, 2008 at 9:18 am Link to this comment

Seems that we need to take the ‘family’ very seriously.  Ralph Reed, the first executive director of the Christian Coalition during the early 1990s told a reporter, “I do guerilla warfare…I paint my face and travel at night.  You don’t know it’s over until you’re in a body bag.”

The only provision unique in our Constitution - everything else was lifted from other documents etc. - is the requirement that there be a separation of church and state. Slowly but most assuredly we have seen an erosion of that separation.  (The recent Q&A;led by Warren?) 

Reed’s remark to the reporter can only be called a brag.  The fact that it elicited no more than a ho hum from reporter and public alike indicates that we don’t take the Reed(s) of this country seriously to our peril.

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By analogkid, September 5, 2008 at 9:17 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Why do we keep taking serious people who think sky fairies are real?  If we want a different path we need to stop coddling the sky fairy supporters.  They belong with the santa clause and unicorn supporters.  If someone told you they had faith that santa clause was real you would laugh.  You laugh because there is no evidence for santa clause, nor for sky fairies.  People keep wondering why nothing ever changes.  Well that is because we keep doing the same thing and expecting different results.  If we keep pretending that faith in a sky fairy is as good as objective truth, then nothing will change.  Let’s put sky fairies on the heap of bad ideas with astrology, numerology and pseudoscience.  Power will then have to be subjected to objective truth that it can’t hide from.

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By Gloria Picchetti, September 5, 2008 at 6:34 am Link to this comment
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I am reading two books. There are four more on the to-read-stack. Ten more books on a website’s MY Wish List. I subscribe to Vanity Fair. There is a second hand bookstore that has three carts of books next to the bus stop. So sometimes I wait for the film rather than read the book. “The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power” by Jeff Sharlet would be great directed by the Coen Brothers. My first choice would have been Robert Altman but the dear gentleman passed away. We havent’ had enough of Johnny Depp in Chicago yet. Please let’s cast him and film here. Is Natalie Portman available?

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By Fahrenheit 451, September 5, 2008 at 5:37 am Link to this comment

@ Big B;

Timothy McVeigh

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By Big B, September 5, 2008 at 5:28 am Link to this comment

I look forward to reading this. It seems to build on the same premise as Hedge’s ‘american facists” or Phillips “american theocracy”, that we should be wary of violent christian fanatics, especially in an america on the wane. I have always thought that future threats to the US lay not in mosques in the middle east, but in the independent, radical christian churches that dot the countryside, preaching the gospel of hate, awaiting the coming apocolypse so that their armed minions can assume control. “Onward christian soldier” is not a song to these nuts, but a lifestyle.

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By Purple Girl, September 5, 2008 at 4:25 am Link to this comment

Is this not the same DC Group Who follows the concept that ‘God’ has given Us All stations in life and we are to honor his ‘wishes’ by remaining there?
Of course there are only weathy Powerful/Influenetial people who are ‘members’
Are these the Ones who hold that ‘God’ has given Them this Higher status as a reward, and those in lower status’ are being punished…So it is best not to mess with ‘God’s Design’?
Their Idea of serving ‘God’ is to remain as wealthy/powerful/ influential as possible and Not allow the ‘Unworthy’ access to anything that could raise them out of their intended Hell?
So helping the Rich get Richer and the Poor Get Poorer is ‘Doing God’s Work’?
Thus legitimizing their greed, oppression and undermining of the lower classes?
Of the majority of who you listed, I’m sure it is. It would have made the book more alluring had you at least added the Ideology they follow.
Obviously Jimmy did leave this ‘faith’ long ago- when it was taken over by Corporationists.It should be called the’Church of Corp.’, “Fellowship of the Inc.”
Just another group trying to disguise their motives behind a Holy Book. Picking and choosing passages which serve their purpose but failing to take them in totality, and understanding or heeding the Entire messege.

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By Dennis J. Edwards, September 5, 2008 at 4:04 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Funny, but my view is that Christ can’t get his
name mentioned by anyone..Right, Left or in-between.
Satan, Lucifer, Antichrist and the Devil seem to have a lock on the media-promotion biz….

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