Wednesday, 10 December 2008

Disagreements over American fundamentalism

Dear reader, our blog has moved to a new address.

Do come on over (and change your bookmarks accordingly):

For our current issue we asked James Crabtree, a senior editor at Prospect who previously worked for the Obama campaign, to review the latest book by Jeff Sharlet, a leading US commentator on religion who you may know as the editor of the excellent Revealer website.

The book was The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power. It's had some very complimentary reviews in the States (see snippets here), but Crabtree wasn't so impressed, calling it a "half-convincing conspiracy yarn". In reaction, Sharlet wasn't impressed by Crabtree's negative review, and wrote us a response which we've just put up on our site.

Have you read the book? Who's right? You can let us know by commenting on this post.


Jeff Sharlet said...

Thanks for calling notice to this, but I'm beginning to be puzzled by the New Humanist's stance here. Whether the book is a good one or bad one, the question about who is right in my argument with Crabtree is simply a matter of fact: I am. Crabtree repeatedly charges me with claiming conspiracy, when throughout the book and as early as page 7 in my introduction, I put it as simply as this: "this so-called underground"--The Family is referred to as such not by me but by Christian Right leader Chuck Colson--"is not a conspiracy."

Crabtree and New Humanist are entitled to their negative opinion of my book, but not this 180 degree misrepresentation of my views. Imagine if I were to write a review of New Humanist, in which I claimed the magazine was determined to prove the truth of Christianity, but failed.

I hadn't realized that Crabtree had worked for the Obama campaign, but it's no surprise. Serious academic scholars, leftist critics, AND many conservatives, especially religious conservatives, have acknowledged the value of the book's exploration of a strain of religious power in America that throughout the Cold War collaborated with hawkish liberalism almost as easily as it did with conservatism. The only odd men out, so far, are those who are actively invested in the new liberal-centrist political establishment about to take power. I support Obama, myself. But nothing is more disheartening than the establishment hacks, whether those of politics or of the press,who seem more interested in their new status than in reckoning with the legacy of empire and the beliefs and alliances that helped make it possible.

I certainly wouldn't have expected New Humanist to be in that camp! C'mon, New Humanist, do the right thing -- regardless of the book's quality, your reviewer made a major factual error. Sort it out, please.