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"The Unlikely Disciple" - a closer look at living in religion
May 5, 2009 9:49 PM   Subscribe

Kevin Roose leaves Brown for Falwell's Liberty U, for one semester - to take a "term abroad" in an alternate America.

Possibly reminiscent of Jesus Camp, in that it manages to share the fundamentalist experience without judgment. Just intriguing anthropology, for anyone not familiar...
posted by mdn (36 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite

 
Interesting interview, thanks. I was looking forward to reading this book, already have it on my NYPL hold list. I didn't realize Kevin Roose had worked with AJ Jacobs, but it totally makes sense, of course.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 10:04 PM on May 5, 2009 [1 favorite]


One IS able to find a copy of the New York Times (at least as of April 2008) in this part of Rabbi Joshua land.
posted by brujita at 10:45 PM on May 5, 2009


This is not alternate, this is other. Liberty U is the new Communism.
posted by caddis at 11:04 PM on May 5, 2009


I actually hadn't heard of Liberty University until a friend took an online history course there last year. At one point, I came across him doing some work and he told me he was writing a response paper to an essay his professor wrote comparing the pro-slavery movement with the pro-choice movement. As I recall, it was kind of impressively dishonest.

Ok, I just googled it out of curiosity and the search turned up a copy -- A House Divided: Abortion and Slavery in America.
Pro-slavery advocates at the time had an even easier time seeing the slaves humanity than modern Americans do in-utero children; they could look black men and women in the eye, talk to them, and get to know them.
Yeah... I wasn't remembering it wrong then.

Anyway, I like Roose's attitude in the interview. Looking forward to reading the book.
posted by lullaby at 12:17 AM on May 6, 2009


I read this book. It's a pretty interesting read although there are parts that drag a little. It's surprising how people respond after he informs them that he's writing a book.
posted by Waitwhat at 1:47 AM on May 6, 2009


I attended Liberty in 1988. They gave me the greatest gift of all: Lifelong Atheism.
posted by Optamystic at 3:13 AM on May 6, 2009 [10 favorites]


I attended Liberty in 1988. They gave me the greatest gift of all: Lifelong Atheism.
posted by Optamystic


If that ain't eponysteria, I don't know what is!
posted by Pollomacho at 4:37 AM on May 6, 2009


I attended Liberty in 1988. They gave me the greatest gift of all: Lifelong Atheism.

And I suggest you donate a painting or a church pew or something with just that engraved on the attached memorial brass plate.
posted by orange swan at 5:15 AM on May 6, 2009 [3 favorites]


The excerpt with a fellow student stating he hadn't read a book in 6 or 7 years... man, at some institutions you suspect the students aren't doing the reading, but these guys are so honest they admit it!
posted by caution live frogs at 5:18 AM on May 6, 2009


student stating he hadn't read a book in 6 or 7 years

Not even the Bible? Dude's goin' to hell. Also, he should follow Saint Palin's example. She reads ALL the newspapers every day.
posted by DU at 5:25 AM on May 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


Also, he should follow Saint Palin's example. She reads ALL the newspapers every day.

Lucky for her that task gets easier and easier each day.
posted by Pollomacho at 5:57 AM on May 6, 2009 [7 favorites]


That interview was pretty much what I expected. I went to high school with a bunch of kids who ended up in Liberty and places like it. On the whole they were normal people with some strange cultural baggage. I hope that they got rid of their sexual frustrations and resultant cognitive dissonance quickly, because that was the main thing burning them alive. Most were able to compartmentalize away things like mission trips and managed to not learn anything from them, just like he describes.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 5:58 AM on May 6, 2009


Haven't read the book, but the fact that he could write a book about students at Liberty U that they actually, for the most part, appreciated while at the same time keeping his head on straight gives me tremendous respect for him.

Jesus Camp seemed to be a bit more LOLXTIANS.
posted by lunit at 6:13 AM on May 6, 2009


I read about this in my Brown alumni magazine. The reference to the antimasturbation organization, Every Man's Battle, was probably the most interesting item in the article.
posted by jonp72 at 6:54 AM on May 6, 2009


I read the book a few weeks ago, and REALLY liked it.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 7:03 AM on May 6, 2009


I submitted an article to the antimasturbation group called My Own Battle: You're My Penis, We Are At War, and I Plan to Beat You Into Submission.

For some reason, the article was rejected.
posted by Astro Zombie at 8:18 AM on May 6, 2009 [10 favorites]


Jesus Camp seemed to be a bit more LOLXTIANS.

Yeah, having spent a fairly good deal of time around actual fundie Christians, I can tell you that that film certainly wasn't interested in giving a rounded, objective image of its chosen subculture. (Devil's Playground, while looking at a completely different subculture, does a much better job of letting you imagine why the subjects of the documentary act and think the way they do without necessarily agreeing with them-- Jesus Camp comes off as far more mocking, IMO.)
posted by shakespeherian at 8:27 AM on May 6, 2009


Related:
Bill Maher on the 150 Regent University (founded by Pat Roberston) grads who got important jobs in the Bush administration, including the controversial Monica Gooding:
"Now We Know Where They Get All The Screwups" [embedded video].
Also: Patrick Henry College: God's Next Army.
posted by ericb at 8:43 AM on May 6, 2009


Jesus Camp seemed to be a bit more LOLXTIANS.

Perhaps, though the main woman represented in it said she was happy with the way she was shown. And though I found it very weird, I could sort of see that many people in it were just looking for the kind of communal rituals that tribal societies have. But maybe it isn't a fair comparison - I just watched it recently so it was on my mind, plus plenty of the facts of this book seem pretty wacky too, even if you figure out "we're all human" by the end.

Sometimes I think it's comparable to something like following a sports team - rationally, the game doesn't really make a difference one way or the other (unlike a real war, where the losers would give up land or become slaves or something), but people get very caught up in it and huge amounts of time and money are expended to be involved... Following a religion seems like one of those things that is just not done at the rational level, but not because it's irrational, just because it isn't meant to fulfill a rational need (and I don't know that following a sports team is just entertainment, whatever that is - there's something about believing in something and rooting for them and being part of a fan base etc that people like)
posted by mdn at 8:48 AM on May 6, 2009


Kevin's actually a friend of mine; great guy, great book.
posted by awesomebrad at 10:20 AM on May 6, 2009


If you liked Devil's Playground and Jesus Camp, you may also enjoy Hell House.
posted by box at 11:58 AM on May 6, 2009


Jesus Camp actually seemed extremely objective to me. Yeah, there were those talk radio segments, but otherwise the directors allowed the adults and children to speak for themselves-- and what else can you ask for from a documentary on such a radical subject? I came out of it with a reserved appreciation for the earnestness of the evangelicals involved. I don't think it was meant to be a portrait of Christians in general.
posted by shii at 12:17 PM on May 6, 2009



I attended Liberty in 1988. They gave me the greatest gift of all: Lifelong Atheism.


Hey, I attended Liberty from 2006-2008. I was essentially an atheist going in, but Liberty really settled the issue for me.

Also, as far as the interview is concerned, I don't really think he was harsh enough with some things. Liberty funds some appalling programs, and even just trying to get through classes there can be surprisingly painful for an unbeliever.
posted by thsmchnekllsfascists at 1:42 PM on May 6, 2009


thsmchnekllsfascists, can I ask what made you attend Liberty, if you weren't religious yourself? Did you tell people there what you thought?
posted by mdn at 1:50 PM on May 6, 2009


mdn, it was a combination of financial stuff and my parents. Or more accurately, a misguided desire to please them.

Very rarely, at least in my first semester there, I would tell someone what I thought. I stopped doing that after that semester, as I realized that was the fastest way to end a friendship.
posted by thsmchnekllsfascists at 2:13 PM on May 6, 2009


he was writing a response paper to an essay his professor wrote comparing the pro-slavery movement with the pro-choice movement. As I recall, it was kind of impressively dishonest.
Wait a minute here... am I getting you straight? You're telling me that an essay comparing the pro-slavery movement with the pro-choice movement was dishonest?

Shocking.
posted by Flunkie at 4:12 PM on May 6, 2009


"Jesus Camp seemed to be a bit more LOLXTIANS."

I believe that movie to be a warning. Most people in the 'mainstream' just don't understand what Evangelical Christianity has become the last 10-15 years. Movies like this show the reality. Though the people portrayed seem like caricatures the sad fact is that there are a lot of people like that and who believe like that.
posted by UseyurBrain at 4:44 PM on May 6, 2009


Though the people portrayed seem like caricatures the sad fact is that there are a lot of people like that and who believe like that.

A lot is an understatement.
posted by thsmchnekllsfascists at 4:58 PM on May 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


Most people in the 'mainstream' just don't understand what Evangelical Christianity has become the last 10-15 years

Most people outside of the Bible Belt have truly no idea what the "average citizen" of these areas believes, and would be shocked and depressed if they did.

It is not fringe. It IS the mainstream inside the Bible Belt.

Jesusland is a real place.
posted by Ynoxas at 7:25 AM on May 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


Jesusland is a real place.

Somewhat.

I grew up in the "Bible Belt", as did many, many MeFites and I frankly don't appreciate the broad brush with which it is painted. My family, my friends, my schools, my hometowns were not did not fit this definition. They weren't Fundamentalist "Jesusland" cesspools of nuttery. Sure, fundamentalist Christianity was certainly something I encountered and endured, but it never restricted me from taking up pre-marital sex, public drunkeness, smoking, atheism, dancing suggestively, growing my hair long, playing D&D, "playing" in a Death Metal band, "skating", reading Marx in public, actively campaigning for Bill Clinton, attending drag shows at gay bars, actions that could have lead to micegenation, or any other "un-godly" acts that I performed as a youth in Alabama and Tennessee. I can most assuredly tell you that fundamentalism, while quite common, is still an extreme end of the spectrum even in places like Alabama. This is particularly true when you move to the larger, less homogenous towns throughout the Bible Belt, though I didn't move out of quite rural towns until I was older.
posted by Pollomacho at 9:56 AM on May 7, 2009


Pollomacho:

I'm not going to deny anything you say, but I'm curious to where all these gay bars are in rural Alabama? I can't say I've ever seen a town in Tennessee with less than 100,000 residents with obvious, open, advertised gay bars.

And as you know, youth is not the problem. I expect that youth even in Kabul find all sorts of ways to get into mischief and things that annoy and horrify the city elders.
Evangelical and Fundamentalist are not necessarily the same, although there is of course significant overlap. I think it would be fair to say all Fundamentalists are Evangelical. But I'm not prepared to say that Evangelicals are necessarily Fundamentalist.

I would guess Baptist, Church of Christ, Church of God, and Pentecostal/Charismatic/Non-Denominational churches outnumber Catholic, Episcopal, and Lutheran by 25:1 in Tennessee, and that's probably still underestimating it.

It cannot be both "quite common" and "an extreme end of the spectrum".

Evangelical Christianity in the American South is the rule, not the exception. Just because it is not a full-on theocracy does not mean it is not the prevailing cultural reference point.

As I remember, in 2008, almost 90% of whites in Alabama voted for McCain/Palin. Think about that for a moment. 9 out of 10 white people you know in Alabama wanted Palin to be President (which is what a vote for McCain/Palin really meant).

Conservatism, both political and religious, is the order of the day.

I was lucky enough to grow up in a small town that was also a college town. So people skating and wearing black eye makeup were well tolerated. But still, EVERYONE loved Jesus. A good portion of my friends growing up had faculty for parents, and I cannot think of one family that didn't go to church services regularly.

Some of the nicest people you will ever meet are religious nutjobs. Just because you weren't oppressed doesn't mean you weren't right there in the thick of Jesusland.
posted by Ynoxas at 1:36 PM on May 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


I can't say I've ever seen a town in Tennessee with less than 100,000 residents with obvious, open, advertised gay bars.

Murfreesboro. There were at least two when I left there for DC. There was a country/cowboy/linedancing one up in Smyrna too.

But I still disagree with you strongly. Evangelicals, members of the Evangelical Movement are by definition Fundamentalist. They adhere to set fundamentals. Churches that believe in evangelism (with a small e) can include virtually all Christians. But I digress, we all know who we're talking about here, and I still disagree. Evangelicals, Fundamentalists, whatever you wish to call them may be a vocal, annoying and politically powerful minority in the deep south, but they are still a minority.

Conservatism, both political and religious, is the order of the day.

Political conservatism does not equate religious conservatism nor vice versa. 90% of the white population voted for Palin, true, but what does that have to do with religiom? 90% of the black population voted for Obama, and they are even more likely to self-identify as "born again." Presbyterians are both about as mainstream and non-charismatic as a group gets and at the same time they voted for Palin in droves.

I would guess Baptist, Church of Christ, Church of God, and Pentecostal/Charismatic/Non-Denominational churches outnumber Catholic, Episcopal, and Lutheran by 25:1 in Tennessee, and that's probably still underestimating it.

And you'd be exaggerating by quite a bit. Baptists, Penticostals, Church of God and other Evangelicals make up about 45% of Tennessee's population (that is white and black). Other "mainstream" Chistians make up another 40%. That includes Episcopalians, Methodists, Presbyterians, Catholics, etc. white and black. That makes the ratio closer to 1:1. There are as many people in Tennessee who self identify as atheist as there are Methodists.

I expect that youth even in Kabul find all sorts of ways to get into mischief and things that annoy and horrify the city elders.

But that's just it, I neither did it to horrify the elders nor did it cause me any grief. I got asked by the school officials to run for student council and I had hair down to my butt and smelled like cigarrettes. I won. I was not in an "enlightened" college town I was in a small, conservative town run by a conservative white cabal. There may have been a cabal but it was no Kabul. We moved a lot when I was a kid though, so I got to see many towns in Alabama and Tennessee, none of them were Kabul. In no place was I ever stifled in my belief, appearance, or chosen way of life. There may have been a minority of conservative whites that looked down on me, but they never did anything to stand in my way. In the end I chose to go to college in Mississippi before returning to Tennessee. I studied theatre in Mississippi and would estimate that half to three quarters of my circle of friends were gay. That did not impede my entry into an old south style fraternity or student council or anything else there. I lived with a black guy, shocking I know, and he actually got shit from other blacks for living with a white guy, particularly because he "allowed" me to date a black woman, but it had absolutely nothing to do with religion and no one ever once said a thing to me.

I take that back. One time in middle school a guy who I was friends with and played D&D with told me that he couldn't be friends with us any more and brought us Chick tracts about dinosaurs being "of the devil" and such. We were sorry to see Tony go. I think he works at a Jiffy-Lube now.

A good portion of my friends growing up had faculty for parents, and I cannot think of one family that didn't go to church services regularly.

Again, that does not mean that they were Evangelicals. My father was a fucking priest and you better goddamn believe my rancid ass was dragged to church for every service, but that didn't mean we spoke in tongues, nor witnessed to our neighbors, nor were born again, nor were intolerant bigots, nor republicans.

The white bible thumpers do not rule the Bible Belt. They wish to think they do. They wish to make you think they do, but they just don't. They do make up a far larger portion of the population compared to other parts of the country. They are organized better and are thus more politically powerful, but they are not the majority, never have been, and may god help us if they ever do become such (though thankfully their numbers seem to have peaked).
posted by Pollomacho at 9:11 PM on May 7, 2009


Pollomacho:

Murfreesboro has 100,000 residents in 2008, but I realize it didn't when you were there. But it is a long damn ways from "rural". Smyrna also adjoins the Metro Nashville boundary. Again, hardly out in the sticks.

The Diocese of Nashville says that less than 3.5% of the Middle Tennessee area is Catholic, and everyone knows how incredibly aggressively the Catholic church is in estimating their populations. The true number is probably less than 2%.

And I'm not saying that you were trying to "cause grief". I'm saying youth does what it does, regardless of the environment. Arguing that you were a long hair hell raiser in school says absolutely nothing about the environment you were living in.

Ah, preacher's kid. Now we get it. *smile* You say Priest, so I'm assuming you mean Episcopal. And the Episcopal population appears to be even smaller than the Catholic in TN.

If you had been a Southern Baptist preacher's kid, I think you would have a rather different viewpoint if you had been dragged to church every Sunday and told exactly what Tony in your D&D group told you.

Every Sunday.

Perspective is everything Pollomacho. You were insulated from a great deal BECAUSE your dad was clergy. No one "really" believed you were a hell raiser because you were from good stock.

And how you see no relationship between conservative religious and political beliefs is a total mystery to me. They are inextricably linked. Since the Culture Wars of Reagan they are practically the same thing. Aligning conservative political belief with conservative religious belief was the political coup of the 20th century.

And I stand by my assessment of the number of churches, which while a complete guess is based on something. Most small southern cities will have 1 Catholic Church, 1 Episcopal Church, and a Baptist and Church of Christ church on every street corner.

Let's pretend I was way off and it is "only" 10:1. But 10:1 is still outrageous. 5:1 would still be so incredibly lopsided as to be absurd.

Even 2:1 would still prove that the South was "primarily" Fundie Land. I think we can get to 2:1 pretty easily. I'm fairly certain I could show you 2:1 just using Baptist and nothing else.

The non-denominational movement is really seeming to pick up steam, and of course those places are all over the map when it comes to beliefs, but my predominate experience with them has been quite conservative. Just because they wear blue jeans to church doesn't mean they are laid back.

I just don't understand what you are even arguing. If you've lived in rural Tennessee and Alabama, you know damn well what we are talking about. The abortion is murder bumper stickers. The church marquees on every street with creepy religious slogans. The casual assumption that everyone you encounter believes the same exact thing as you. The PA prayers before athletic games. The shocking lack of diversity, where since 90% claim to be Christian, the only thing we can even try to find diversity in is to what degree they are fundamentalists!!

As I said before, just because you weren't oppressed does not mean it is still not the predominate religious identity of the region.

Your own statement that they represent a much larger proportion of the population than elsewhere, along with that they are better organized and more politically powerful, means to me they DO rule the Bible Belt, regardless of if you believe it to be a true plurality or not.
posted by Ynoxas at 9:06 AM on May 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


Ynoxas, I find it pretty condescending that you are explaining Pollomacho's own experiences to him and 'correcting' his impression of what transpired in his own fucking life. I've spent a good deal of time in Jackson, TN (population 59k in 2000) which, while not rural, is well below your 100k benchmark, and my experience was much closer to what Pollomacho describes than what you describe-- and I was dating the daughter of an Assemblies of God preacher.
posted by shakespeherian at 9:17 AM on May 8, 2009


shakespeherian: It's either a failure of my writing or your reading then. That's not even close to what I'm doing.

Let's by all means concentrate on actual population figures as opposed to what was MEANT, which was clearly defined as rural. Are there openly advertised gay bars in Jackson? If so, hey, great! I think that is fantastic and a sign of progress.

I asked about what gay bars he was frequenting in rural Alabama. He countered that there were 2 in Murfreesboro, which is not in Alabama and nowhere approaching rural. But whatever.

And I've not described anything, except that religious fundamentalism is not some tiny fringe in the South.

So what's your angle now? Are you going to say that Jackson, TN had no identifiable religious vibe or identity? Are you going to say it was profoundly different from the rest of Tennessee where 90% of people self-identify as Christian?

What is it you are wanting to say? The fact that you weren't straight-jacketed and shipped off to a bible boarding school means it is some paragon of open mindedness and religious tolerance?

I guess because I'm able to find a synagogue somewhere outside of Atlanta proper means the South is just one big delicious diverse religious casserole, isn't it?

Or, does the fact that gay referendums in the South in the last two cycles were voted against by 70% to 90% margins belie that there just MIGHT be some discernible religious root in these states?

I'm not trying to bag on the South. I'm a lifelong Tennessee resident, and I love my state and the South in general. I don't like it when people try to turn it into Jesusland. Many counties in the state have had some sort of "10 commandments" upheaval in the last 10 years. Lebanon schools have been in court continuously over the last several years about whether they can have Bible studies at school and have big GOD posters hanging in the hallways for prayers at the flagpole. And Lebanon is an exurb of Nashville. Again, not the sticks by any stretch of the imagination.

You will be hard pressed to find a nicer people than the average residents of Tennessee. That doesn't mean their spiritual beliefs shouldn't scare the fuck out of you.
posted by Ynoxas at 10:32 AM on May 8, 2009


So what's your angle now? Are you going to say that Jackson, TN had no identifiable religious vibe or identity? Are you going to say it was profoundly different from the rest of Tennessee where 90% of people self-identify as Christian?

I'm not really sure why you're being so antagonistic. Pollomacho's point, as I read it, was that the Bible Belt is not simply a Jesusland of fundamentalist nuts, which is how you characterized it ('It is not fringe. It IS the mainstream inside the Bible Belt.') I agree with Pollomacho's sentiment. I'm not trying to twist logic and reason to argue with you; I don't know why you have that impression of me from a single comment of mine. My experience of Jackson, TN was that it was a pretty typical American town for its size, with perhaps a bit more kudzu.

There are 'abortion is murder' bumper stickers here in Chicago, too.
posted by shakespeherian at 10:50 AM on May 8, 2009


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