Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Controversy about the National Prayer Breakfast: Parallels between The Family and Opus Dei


As I continue reading about that powerful, shadowy group The Family, which was in the spotlight last year due to its ties to those promoting kill-the-gays legislation in Uganda, I’m struck by the significant number of strong parallels between this group and Opus Dei about which I blogged a few days ago. 

The Family is back in the news right now, because it sponsors the National Prayer Breakfast to be held in D.C. two days from now—and which President Obama will attend.  As Adele Stan reports at Alternet, this event is usually the only annual sighting of the shadowy group called The Family, and the by-invitation-only breakfast is not even open to the media, at that.  Stan notes the dominant influence The Family exerts over the U.S. government and its foreign policy: hence the president’s decision to attend the event, though Citizens For Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) is urging Mr. Obama to reject the invitation because of the “cult-like” characteristics of The Family (see also Arthur Delaney at Huffington Post).

Particularly troubling is the secrecy with which the organization surrounds itself—secrecy coupled with strong political influence at the highest levels of government.  As Lisa Miller noted in Newsweek last year, “Nothing about its organizational structure is visible to the public: not its board of directors, nor its executive team, nor its mission statement, nor its 200 subsidiary ministries, nor its national or global membership.”

Which is precisely the case with the very similar (and similarly cult-like) Catholic group Opus Dei.  There are strong parallels between these two powerful groups.  Here are some that strike me as I read about both Opus Dei and The Family:

1. Both choose to pursue their work behind the scenes, in the shadows, without public disclosure and accountability to the public.
2. Both have a clear, overweening interest in determining the course of political events and in influencing top-level legislators and judiciaries in governments in which they gain power.

3. Both have a penchant for secrecy: it is impossible to know who belongs to either group, since the names of members are not disclosed.

4. Both depend on a theology that justifies catering primarily to social, political, and economic elites; both maintain that Western societies need to be re-Christianized from top down, through the influence of elites.

5. Both groups are clearly well-financed, with deep pockets.

6. Both groups are closely tied to the political right, and it would not be a stretch to say that both Opus Dei and The Family are religious front groups for right-wing political and economic elites.

7.  Both are strongly committed to promoting neoconservative economic theory in the political sphere, and in combating the social teachings of mainline churches, with their option for the poor and their analysis of economic structures “from below.”

The powerful—seemingly intractable—influence of these well-heeled right-wing theocratic groups at the highest levels of our government at this point in our history does not bode well for our democracy.  As I’ve stated on this blog before, I am increasingly pessimistic about the future of not only progressive, but middle-of-the-road, political options in our culture.

In my view, we are on the cusp of a reassertion of power by the political and religious right that will be astonishing in its audacity, as powerful elites resistant to progressive change (and increasingly inimical to democracy itself) grabs the reins of power and move our culture to the hard right—much further to the right than it was in the Reagan-Bush era.  And as this happens, I expect groups like The Family and Opus Dei to be pulling many of the theocratic strings behind the scenes, which make that hard-right move possible.