While I’ve had a sleepy dude on me, I’ve been able to get some reading done.
While listening to an episode of NPR’s “Religion Podcast” on my iPod, I heard about a book called The Unlikely Disciple: A Sinner’s Semester at America’s Holiest University by Kevin Roose. His interview was pretty sweet so I decided to acquire a copy from Amazon.
The premise of the book is that Roose is spending a “study abroad” semester undercover at Liberty University, the evangelical liberal arts college founded by the late Jerry Falwell. While on a writing assignment with his boss, he visited Thomas Road Baptist Church, the church founded by Falwell, and found that he really could not communicate with the evangelical college students he met there. Realizing that this was a problem, he pondered the idea of spending a semester at Liberty as it was a foreign culture to him. He was able to arrange it and spent the spring of 2007 as a transfer student there. He lives in the dorms, takes part in prayer meetings, takes the core curriculum classes, sings in the choir at Thomas Road Baptist Church, and even goes on a short-term missions trip down to Florida over Spring Break to win the souls of the throngs of college students down there. He even does an interview with Falwell for the college paper and it ends up being the last print interview conducted by Falwell before he died in May of 2007.
I honestly could not put the book down and was forced to do it in order to get some sleep, to get the young prince to stop crying, or to eat — it was really that engaging. Granted, I’m a blog fan so I enjoy reading about peoples’ lives but this was definitely different. Kevin talked about his prep for heading to Liberty (his friend Laura doing a crash course on Evangelical Christianity for Dummies for him) as well as how he dealt with fitting in and not being conspicuous. One of the more interesting things was his attempts at not cursing — a book that had him using religious expressions instead of curse words which made him sound like a dork instead of blending in.
As a convert to Christianity, it was interesting to watch how his perspective on things changed as the semester went on. He doesn’t end up “being saved” but he’s moving toward that direction. He starts praying, he has a newfound respect for the Bible and for the faith, and he does start attending church occasionally. His friend Laura had told him that this semester could change him and I think it was a positive change.
The most interesting thing was his reaction when Jerry Falwell passed away. His interview had actually made him more human and I think having seen that side, Kevin was honestly sad when the news came down. I’m glad that he was there at the time because he talks about the two sides of the death. On one hand, Falwell was a monster to those with whom he disagreed (most specifically the GLBTQ community) and his death was a great thing. On the other hand, he was a person and definitely “not a hypocrite” (according to Kevin) and I think having seen him in person and talked to him, it was a real human being dying instead of this caricature in the media.
This is a book I’d recommend reading if you do want a semi-unbiased view of life in a hyper-evangelical environment. There’s no true way to be unbiased in this situation but Kevin does a really good job of it.