Over my vacation, I read The Unlikely Disciple by Kevin Roose upon a recommendation by the FriendlyAtheist. Some lighter, enjoyable reading.
First the Book Reviewy Part:
It is a story of a secular student, raised in a Quaker, liberal household with an extremely “general” view of God (what I would call typical Americana) who decides to join Liberty University for one semester and write about his experiences amongst the conservative, fundamentalist Christian crowd.
He begins his tale with how he was accepted in the University, what preparations he did to “bone up” on what he should know, and his family’s initial reactions. He then spends the remainder of the book detailing his adventures, including his internal reactions to people and their statements, his own developing indoctrination into the system, and describing those he met. Including Jerry Falwell himself.
It was easy-reading; the author did a good job keeping the reader interested in what happened next, whether he would be found out as a non-Christian, and what would happen to the students he met. He described the classes he attended, and the social life of the campus.
I would recommend you get the first few chapters to review, or glance through it at a bookstore before buying. The tone and message stays consistent throughout, so if you like portions of it, you would probably like the whole thing. For me—this was a library-loan worthy book, but not something I see reading again.
Now, my individual impression:
First, I was surprised at the lack of educational depth at Liberty University. I understand the author deliberately took introductory Christian-focused classes—but some of his tales were downright surprising. For example, he indicated his difficulties in learning the names of the New Testament books in order.
This is college? I might expect these fundamentalists not knowing Greek—but not even knowing the books of the Bible? I’ve probably had to know that since 3rd grade!
Or he talked about having fill-in-the-blank notes. Where the teacher hands out copies with most of the notes filled in, and the student just fills in the blanks. “Jesus was the _____ of the world” and you write in “light.” I never remember a fill-in-the-blank note in college. I am scratching my head trying to remember one in high school. And apparently this was in more than one class!
Secondly, I laughed as the author was surprised at meeting the variety within Christian fundamentalists. Just as non-theists are lumped together in one concept by Christians—the author commits the same error by assuming fundamentalists would all look and act the same. There were all the familiar characters from my history.
The Rule Enforcer: the Guy (it was always a guy) who insisted on following every single letter of the law, and inevitably reached a point of authority to impose it on others. Mr. Roose wrote on the RA who sat out at the Movie Theater to catch people going into R-Rated Movies. I know him.
The Rebel: the people who watched the R-rated Movies and were considered the “bad crowd.” The author discussed a certain “room” that everyone wanted to be at, because they were the rebels. In my first college—that was our room. Yet underneath, the Rebel was no more rebellious than your average teenager.
The Rule discriminatory. The person who felt some rules were important until it applied to them. The person who never liked others sneaking kisses (apparently kissing was rule violation at Liberty) until they got a girlfriend/boyfriend. Then it became “O.K.”
The homophobe, the prayer, the “Let’s talk,” the sex-obsessed. All from my past; all here.
Thirdly, I was not surprised at how much the author enjoyed the relationship and camaraderie with Christians. When they thought he was a Christian—he enjoyed how supportive and encouraging and communal the society was. When they discovered he was not a Christian, because they already knew him, he became a “potential Christian” and maintained some of the companionship.
Unfortunately, this often ends when the Christian feels like you are no longer one of them, or a potential. Not just in becoming a heretic (like me), but in church meetings when another Christian trounces your idea, or at Church softball games. Its all fun and games until the Christian perceives they are crossed.
Finally, it was a bit scary how easily Average Theist could assimilate into the community. Mr. Roose talked about how it was initially shocking to hear so much “You are gay” and “Faggot” and “Homosexual” all as derogatory talk. Yet after a time, hearing it over and over, it became less so. Soon you could see in the tenor of the book, it became de rigor--accepted for what it was.
In the end, I forget how odd fundamentalism must be to others completely unaccustomed to it. Being raised and living in it for so long, this all seemed like a trip down memory lane.