Wednesday, April 1st, 2009
The Unlikely Disciple: A Sinner’s Semester at America’s Holiest University is Kevin Roose’s first book. He’s only 21 years old, yet he’s managed to land a spot with a major publishing company, collect tons of press from big names like A.J. Jacobs and Tom Perrotta, and continue to learn full-time as an English major at Brown University.
In 2007, Roose decided to add more flavor to his life, but you won’t hear any tales of quaffing cheap beer in Eastern Europe. You won’t really hear tales of any beer, actually, as he recounts the semester he spent at the late Jerry Falwell’s evangelical Christian place of higher learning, Liberty University. Roose went as an undercover secularist to figure out what makes those Christian kids tick.
He came and went and is back at Brown, but you’ll find he left the place not soured by the religious right, but softened by the different kinds of people you meet in life—and why you should find a way to in the least understand them, and at the best accept them.
I conducted an audio interview with Roose for SMITH on the Brown University campus. Listen to it by clicking play, and read an excerpt from the book below.
From the preface of The Unlikely Disciple:
It’s midnight at Liberty University, and I’m kneeling on the floor of my dorm room, praying.
This is not a particularly unusual event. Any night of the week, a quick stroll through Liberty’s campus would reveal hundreds of students in the same position, making the same kind of divine appeal. At this school, we pray for everything: good grades, a winning football season, religious revival in America, chicken fingers in the dining hall. Our God is a workhorse God, and as the Bible instructs, we petition Him without ceasing. Put it this way: if prayers emitted light, you’d see us from space.
Our Chancellor, the Reverend Jerry Falwell, always tells us that prayer is the key to a productive Christian life. And, well, he should know. In 1971, Reverend Falwell felt God calling him to start a Christian college in his hometown of Lynchburg, Virginia. He answered the call, and over the next thirty-six years, while organizing the Moral Majority, shepherding one of America’s largest mega-churches, and establishing himself as the father of the Religious Right, he found time to transform that Christian college into what it is today: the world’s largest evangelical university, a 10,000-student training ground for America’s conservative Christian youth. “Bible Boot Camp,” he calls it.
It’s a tongue-in-cheek name, but a fairly accurate one. Like a West Point drill sergeant, Reverend Falwell prides himself on discipline. His field manual, a 46-page code of conduct called “The Liberty Way,” governs every aspect of our lives and dispenses concrete punishments when we veer off-course. Such as:
- Possession and/or use of tobacco: 6 reprimands + $25 fine
- Improper personal contact (anything beyond hand-holding): 4 reprimands + $10 fine
- Attendance at, possession or viewing of, an R-rated movie: 12 reprimands + $50 fine
- Spending the night with a person of the opposite sex: 30 reprimands + $500 fine + 30 hours community service
Reverend Falwell envisioned Liberty as a Christian safe haven where young evangelicals could get a college education without being exposed to binge-drinking, pot-smoking, sexual experimentation, and all the other trappings of secular co-ed culture. His plan was to make it the evangelical equivalent of Notre Dame or Brigham Young, a university where every student would be trained in the liberal arts, fortified in the evangelical faith, and sent out into the world as a “Champion for Christ.”
BUY a copy of The Unlikely Disciple
VISIT Kevin Roose’s website
And a special thanks to John McGarry, who helped with audio production at Brown.