Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Book Review: The Unlikely Disciple

So you might remember I had a huge list of books on hold at the library and needless to say I have added a bunch more to the list since that post. My most recent read was the book entitled The Unlikely Disciple: A Sinner’s Semester At America’s Holiest University by Kevin Roose. What can I say about it?

Let me start off my saying that this is not a “conversion book” as one sister termed it. This is a book of the perspective of an undercover “nonbeliever” who pretends to be a Christian on the goings on at Liberty University (a very conservative private Christian school). This book peaked my interest as I attended a 4-year university that was a private Christian school and wanted to see an outsider’s perspective of a school similar to mine.

Disclaimer: Liberty University was a lot more conservative and legalistic than the school I attended so I could not identify with about half of his stories. That being said, from the other half, what a flood of memories from the strict rules of not drinking or dancing to some of the hokey religious classes to the more rigorous religious classes to floor Bible studies and the mandatory required attendance of chapel. He talks about the community the campus creates and how each member holds the other accountable and is their for moral support, something I completely identify with. The book is filled with the positive and negative experiences on a campus that is focused on having each person believe and live the same way which if you completely agree with makes it easy, but if you don't makes you feel a little guilty for deviating. Example, the role women and men play in the church and in marriage. Whether abortion should be legal or not. Etc.

One of the major themes of the book was the school’s founder, Jerry Falwell, and students reaction and opinion of gays and lesbians. He recounts one instance of a discussion he had with his roommates in which one roommate was so homophobic that he said he “would beat him with a baseball bat.” The story came across in a dramatic way in which his roommate was so homophobic he said he would attack a gay mand if that man had an interest in him. Kevin had to leave the room to walk off his intense emotions, as would I in this situation. (Or rather I would have said something against what his roommate said and then had to leave if that got us no where.) The instance he talked about made me incredibly sad. In my 4 years of college I never once had a person on campus say a negative word about gays. In fact, it was quite the opposite. But then again I am a girl and perhaps this issue is deeper among the male gender. Who’s to say?

Kevin did extensive research of Jerry Falwell, the school’s founder and televangelist. He talks about how others and even he himself, revering Mr. Falwell as a celebrity. I admit, I am not big on televangelists for my own personal reasons and had to look up who he was. (Once again, I guess that stereotype about Christians can be tossed out the window.) Kevin got to have one of the last interviews with the icon in which he humanized the man instead of asking the tough questions that he and others wanted to know. I was a little disappointed in this because I wanted to hear the question and answers that non-Christians wanted to ask. What answers did he and others expect that makes the world pre-judge every Christian assuming it is their opinion?

His use of vocabulary was impressive and expansive, but at times I caught myself thinking, “Are you just throwing in SAT words to assert your position as a legitimate writer? You don’t need to bro.” I guess also that I had a hard time reading this because I did feel he had a bit of an agenda in writing this book and tried his best to win over both “camps” in his writings while still not committing to anything. He recounts a time where he was so spiritually moved and yet never did anything about it. He seemed determined not to let himself be changed that he closed himself off and I felt that hindered his experience a little.

He concludes the book talking about the death of Jerry Falwell and having a conversation with his father the week of the funeral in which his ultra-liberal father asks the loaded question, “So, how do you feel about Jerry Falwell?” and his once again his noncommittal response was, “He was a complicated guy.” I use non-committal loosely as reading this book it is clear that he has a soul in torment that is stuck between two worlds of which he still cannot see either for what they really are. As for would I recommend this book, I would say yes. I have had several conversations about chapters in this book and it makes me look introspectively upon myself, your actions, and consider how the outside world sees you. After all, to quote one of my favorite sayings by Socrates, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” Besides, how else are you exercising your mind?

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