"No drinking. No smoking. No cursing. No dancing. No R-rated movies.
Kevin Roose wasn't used to rules like these. As a sophomore at Brown University, he spent his days drinking fair trade coffee, singing in an a cappella group, and generally fitting right in with Brown's free-spirited, ulta-liberal student body. But when Roose leaves his Ivy League confines to spend a semester at Liberty University, a conservative Baptist school in Lynchburg, Virginia, obedience is no longer optional.
Liberty is the late Reverend Jerry Falwell's "Bible Boot Camp" for young evangelicals, his training ground for the next generation of American's Religious Right. Liberty's ten thousand undergraduates take courses like Introduction to Youth Ministry and Evangelism 101, hear from guest speakers like Sean Hannity and Karl Rove, and follow a forty-six-page code of conduct--called 'The Liberty Way'--that regulates every aspect of their social lives. Hoping to connect with his evangelical peers, Roose decides to enroll at Liberty as a new transfer student, leaping across the God Divide and chronicling his adventures in this daring report from the front lines of America's culture war.
Roose's journey takes him to an evangelical hip-hop concert, a Friday night Bible study group, and choir practice at Rev. Falwell's legendary Thomas Road Baptist Church. He experiments with prayer, participates in a spring break mission trip to Daytona Beach (where he learns to preach the gospel to partying coeds), and pays a visit to Every Man's Battle, an on-campus support group for chronic masturbators. He meets pastors' kids, closet doubters, and Christian rebels, and in a twist of fate, he conducts what would turn out to be the last print interview of Rev. Falwell's life."
I picked up this book out of blatant intrigue, but was filled with doubt at what I would find. I expected a bashing of Liberty University and a mockery of their rules and conduct codes. I mean...come on, a 19 year old Brown student decides to just head to one of the most conservative colleges in the country to study it's culture? An extreme liberal going ultra conservative? What I found, was the exact opposite of what I expected. Roose wrote an incredibly mature and open-minded account of the experiences he had, the people he encountered, and the courses/rules/daily life of Liberty without the bashing I had intended to read.
I was completely swallowed up in this book from the very beginning, intrigued by why students decide to go to Liberty, just how many disagree with it's incredibly controversial founder Jerry Falwell, and the level of doubt by some of the students. One would think, having chose to go to Liberty, all of the students would be devout Christians, literally living out God's word, but plenty of them are more liberal than one would believe. And some are definite extremists.
Roose's writing is amazingly mature for his age and I truly enjoyed reading his work. I learned a lot about the culture I suppose I identify with, being a Christian, though I also learned why I would definitely not be the right fit at Liberty (though I would like to take some of the courses offered) and how much I still disagree with the teachings of Jerry Falwell. Watching the author grow into a more spiritual individual was heart warming and I really loved that he questioned constantly, throughout the entire journey. That made his experience feel real and honest.
I love, love, love this book...and not simply because I'm a Christian. This is a sociological study in cultures (which is what my Bachelor's degree happens to be in). Anyone with an interest in religion and how some Christians spend their college experiences should read this. It's interesting, funny, thought-provoking, and informative, all while being well-written and honest.
Overall rating: 5 out 5
My first 5 of the year! I can't wait to see what else Kevin Roose decides to write about in the future. Very talented!
Unlikely Disciple: A Sinner's Semester at America's Holiest University
Grand Central Publishing
Book borrowed from my library
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