Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The Unlikely Disciple

une 17, 2009

The Unlikely Disciple is the title of a book by Kevin Roose (Grand Central, 2009) and is his account of leaving Brown University for a semester and enrolling in Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia. A friend sent me this after I had read a review and decided that I was not going to bother to read it. I’m glad he sent it and that I read it. It is not a spoof or a sneer as I had supposed. Mr. Roose is clearly young and does not have much grasp of his own faith, but he enters into life at Liberty with an open mind and an open spirit, always checking his pre-judgments and wondering about how real relationships can be given his subterfuge. In the end he gets inside fundamentalist Christianity. Certainly he comes across creationism and intelligent design in the most unlikely of courses along with abhorrence of homosexuality and gay marriage, abortion and the other planks of the conservative social agenda. He is clear that students at Liberty are being thoroughly indoctrinated in a conscious and sustained way. There is little or not room for discussion or debate on these matters which are seen as essential consequences of being Christian. That said, he makes some friends, begins to enjoy the practice of regular prayer and bible study, discussing things that matter in an open ways, sharing his life, staying sober and so on. He shares stories of how pastorally flexible people can be within a system that is certain that salvation comes from giving your life to Jesus and worrying about the salvation of others above all. He went on a spring break mission trip to a Florida Beach and had to engage in ‘witnessing’ without any success. He shared in the religious life of the campus, singing in the Thomas Street Baptist Church Choir. At one point he interviewed Dr. Falwell for the campus newspaper and became a minor celebrity after Jerry Falwell died at the end of the semester.

In a free country I suppose that it must be alright for a University to establish itself as a ‘conservative boot camp’, but the sneering of the faculty and some students at anything on the ‘other side’ of their agenda and the vain attempt to make things intellectually respectable in order to achieve accreditation and the like left me feeling quite sorry for the students there who are mostly convinced that being Christian entails listening to professors who say that if every single piece of (so called) scientific evidence proved something other than intelligent design without any doubt, that the professor would still have to believe ‘the Word of God’ over the evidence because ‘the Bible does not lie’. Many of the people that Kevin Roose met are clearly people he enjoyed being around. Many of them are admirable in all kinds of ways. But the doctrine supporting this kind of faith is doing them a terrible disservice. This is the hoax behind today’s ‘mainstream’ of Christian expression in this country. We would not be considered Christian by anyone at Liberty, and they are therefore doing Christianity a terrible disservice as well.

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