Monday, March 1, 2010

The Unlikely Disciple by Kevin Roose

The Unlikely Disciple: A Sinner's Semester at America's Holiest UniversityI loved this book, but I hate the author.  Why, you ask?  Because the little bastard hadn't even graduated from Brown when he wrote this, and its a damn sight better than anything I could do at the age (or now, for that matter).  God, I loathe natural talent.  Anyway, its still a great read, and if you aren't the jealous type I'm sure you'll like it just fine. 

In addition to people who are more talented than I, I also hate religious fundamentalists - and that's what the book is about, from the perspective of a secret infiltrator - Roose himself, who took a semester off from Brown University to enroll in Jerry Falwell's Liberty College.  Liberty, as you may know, was started several years ago, during the heyday of the Moral Majority, to educate good Christians, while still maintaining their insulation from climate of foul sin that surrounds most Liberal Arts schools.  (I went to UC Santa Barbara, by the way, and majored in beer bonging.)
Recently, though the school has enjoyed a surge in notariety and popularity, largely instigated by the fact that the Bush Administration chose a large number of Liberty graduates as Executive Branch personnel (often despite their tender age and total lack of experience, or in many cases competence).  Roose, the son of Quakers, decided to spend a year among the faithful to observe and comment, quite objectively, on the experience.

And Roose is objective.  In fact, for diehard athiest like me, he is almost too understanding of some of the wackier students and faculty at Liberty.  But his understanding seems to come from a genuine sense of open-mindedness, as well as a responsibility to be journalistically fair (a responsibility much abused these days by many of his soi disant elders and betters).  Roose also successfully leavens the facts with trenchant (though never mean-spirited) humor, and refreshingly authentic and mature reflections on his beliefs as they compare to the often rigid orthodoxy he finds himself surrounded by.

Finally, Roose delivers the most important information to the reader - the inside scoop.  Are girls (or guys)who pledge virginity more likely to be extra-kinky when they fall?  (And they do fall.)   How exactly do you teach Creationism without laughing uncontrollably? (It helps if you cheat.)  What is Dr. Falwell (or Jerry, as he is known to the students, really like?  Theis last question is pivotal, because Roose, through an accident of fortuitous timing, wound up getting the last personal interview Jerry Falwell gave before his sudden death of heart disease in 2009, an event which shocked the campus to its core, and which gained the author a singular insight into the schools and its students.
I have read a lot of books on Christian Fundamentalism.  Some have been clever, some have been angry, some factual and others pure polemic.  This one was uniquely personal, moving, honest and fair, and, despite my envy, I give great credit to Kevin Roose for doing the necessary research, and for pursuing objective and engaging journalism.

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