Wednesday, April 8, 2015

The Unlikely Disciple: A Sinner's Semester at America's Holiest University By Kevin Roose

Title: The Unlikely Disciple: A Sinner's Semester at America's Holiest University
Author: Kevin Roose
Released March 26th, 2009
Bought on Kindle
Rating: 5/5

As a sophomore at Brown University, Kevin Roose didn't have much contact with the Religious Right. Raised in a secular home by staunchly liberal parents, he fit right in with Brown's sweatshop-protesting, fair-trade coffee-drinking, God-ambivalent student body. So when he had a chance encounter with a group of students from Liberty University, a conservative Baptist university in Lynchburg, Virginia, he found himself staring across a massive culture gap. But rather than brush the Liberty students off, Roose decided to do something much bolder: he became one of them.

Liberty University is the late Rev. Jerry Falwell's proudest accomplishment - a 10,000-student conservative Christian training ground. At Liberty, students (who call themselves "Champions for Christ") take classes like Introduction to Youth Ministry and Evangelism 101. They hear from guest speakers like Mike Huckabee and Karl Rove, they pray before every class, and they follow a 46-page code of conduct called "The Liberty Way" that prohibits drinking, smoking, R-rated movies, contact with the opposite sex, and witchcraft. Armed with an open mind and a reporter's notebook, Roose dives into life at Bible Boot Camp with the goal of connecting with his evangelical peers by experiencing their world first-hand.

Roose's semester at Liberty takes him to church, class, and choir practice at Rev. Falwell's Thomas Road Baptist Church. He visits a support group for recovering masturbation addicts, goes to an evangelical hip-hop concert, and participates in a spring break mission trip to Daytona Beach, where he learns how to convert bar-hopping co-eds to Christianity. Roose struggles with his own faith throughout, and in a twist that could only have been engineered by a higher power, he conducts what would turn out to be the last in-depth interview of Rev. Falwell's life. Hilarious and heartwarming, respectful and thought-provoking, Kevin Roose's embedded report from the front lines of the culture war will inspire and entertain believers and non-believers alike (Summary from Goodreads).
Spoilers Ahead!
I don't typically read nonfiction books, but I had to choose one out of six books to write a book report for my World Religions class. I chose this one out of the others because it looked to be the most relatable and funny just by the summary.
I really enjoyed this book for a few reasons. The author, Kevin Roose, is a great writer, and it amazes me that he could write so well when he started this book at age 19. The way he wrote made his experience very relatable, and I feel like his reactions to what he experienced would be similar to my own, even though I am Roman Catholic and go to a moderate Catholic university. Although the lives of Liberty students aren't all that different from the lives of students attending a secular college, I found the differences to be fascinating, such as the strict rules of Liberty and the fact that students pray so often for each other. Although I also disagreed with some of the ideologies of Liberty students and professors, I have to admire how genuinely kind they were, and I like that the students were so supportive of one another. Seriously, I wish students were that bubbly in my university.
I also admired that Roose came into this experience with an open mind. He decided to go to Liberty University just to learn about the life of evangelical students even though he came from a liberal Quaker family. I don't think a lot of people would be able to just give up a semester of their life to blend in with people that differ so much ideologically. Roose didn't always agree with the politics of Liberty, but he made every effort to participate in more activities than I ever would, and he even made some meaningful friendships along the way.

By the end of this book, I felt like I had been there with Roose on his journey, and I could completely understand his mixed feelings on Jerry Falwell and religion in general. I could tell that Roose almost sympathized with Falwell when he received so much bashing from the media after his death. Roose recognized both the good and bad of what Falwell did in his life, which makes it difficult for one to truly judge what kind of person Falwell really was. Roose summed him up nicely as "a complicated man." I think what I learned most from this book was that everyone is human and struggles with their beliefs, even the hardcore Evangelical Christians at Liberty University.

I truly enjoyed every moment of this book. Roose's commentary had me laughing throughout the majority of it. When I finished it, I got that strange feeling that I typically get when I know I've read a good book.

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