Title: The Unlikely Disciple: A Sinner’s Semester at America’s Holiest University
Author: Kevin Roose
Genre: Non-fiction, journalism
Publication Date: 2009
Purchase Price: $13.99 (paperback)
After experiencing the twenty thousand-member Thomas Road Baptist Church (run by Jerry Falwell) as part of his job as a writer’s assistant, 19 year-old Brown University sophomore Kevin Roose is flummoxed.
Who are these people? Do they really believe everything that Falwell says?
A 15-minute conversation with several college-aged kids does nothing to answer Roose’s questions. How do they navigate through the real world, Kevin wonders. Are they really as full of faith as they seem?
This leads Kevin to Liberty University, a Christian liberal arts college founded and presided over by Jerry Falwell himself.
Roose is intrigued, and wants to know more. But asking questions of Liberty’s students (and the likelihood of receiving honest answers) doesn’t seem possible…at least, not for a student at Brown University.
But a new Liberty student…now, there’s a much better chance that HIS questions would be answered. So being the journalist that he is, Roose puts himself (and his faith, it turns out) on the line.
It is thus that The Unlikely Disciple finds himself enrolled at Liberty University, the most conservative Christian college in the United States.
Caught up together
I wasn’t entirely certain how I was going to like Roose’s book. As I mentioned in my review of “Easy A,” there is some concern amongst the people I know that popular culture tends to depict Christians as….well, jerks.
So I was a little worried about Roose would handle this topic — I didn’t want to read 315 pages of mockery of faith.
Fortunately, my concerns were unfounded. Roose handles some fairly touchy scenarios with considerable gravitas for a 19 year-old. Although he is perplexed by most of the students’ faith and behavior, he does not poke fun at them for it — and sometimes he finds himself getting caught up in all the fervor as well.
Stranger in a strange land
The genders are kept pretty separate at Liberty. The reader gets to experience detailed descriptions of life in the men’s dorm; I just wish I could have seen this same book written from a female’s perspective.
The guys Roose spends his semester with are generally pretty vulgar, and seem a lot like some of the guys I know/went to college with. The boys are able to get away with breaking some of the “softer” rules: it makes me wonder if the girls on campus could get away with the same things.
I also think it’s interesting that these kids are Christians, and yet the concept of homosexuality is so repugnant to many that they truly believe gay people are going to hell. A lot of the insults the boys direct at each other are things like, “gay,” “fag,” etc. I just wonder how an evangelical would explain how he or she could be a Christian and simultaneously say and do such un-Christlike things.
Overall, I enjoyed The Unlikely Disciple. Some parts of the book made me cringe with awkwardness, and other parts made me very envious of these kids’ faith. And that seems to be the way that Roose felt sometimes, too.
To learn more about Kevin Roose, The Unlikely Disciple, and his upcoming writings, check out his website.
“At first, I was almost offended by the nonchalance with which people probed my soul. Within five minutes of meeting a hallmate, I’ve been asked how often I pray, which is not something I’m used to. But after answering enough of these questions, I’m starting to realize that the evangelical world, prying can be an indicator of compassion. In Liberty’s theology, there are only two categories of people: believers and nonbelievers, people headed to heaven and people condemned to hell. So Rodrigo’s attempt to suss out my faith isn’t intended to be obnoxious. He just wants to make sure I’m safe.” (p. 73)
“The trick to being a rebel at Liberty, I’ve learned, is knowing which parts of the Liberty social code are non-negotiable. For example, Joey and his friends listen to vulgarity-filled secular hip-hop, but you’ll never catch one of them defending homosexuality. (On the contrary, Joey’s insults of choice are ‘queer’ and ‘gaywad.’) And although they might harass the naïve pastors’ kids on the hall by stealing their towels from the shower stalls–leaving them naked, wet, and stranded–they’d be the first people to tell you why Mormonism is a false religion. In other words, Liberty’s true social code, the one they don’t put in a forty-six page manual, has everything to do with being a social and religious conservative and not a whole lot to do with acting in any traditionally virtuous way.” (p. 91)