“At the very least it would mean something about every day, to the best of my ability, resisting being a fake. Resisting the fake answer, the false front, the superficial conversation in favor of something more deeply human, more deeply connected to what really matters about being alive, whether it sounds religious or spiritual or correct or not. It means worrying less about being perfect and being concerned more with being authentic or real with other people. Much of the religion I was schooled in was about putting myself away, aside, behind me in order to become something holier and closer to God. In other words, to draw nearer to the Really Real I needed to be less me. Perhaps it was a mid-life revelation or just wearing out on that that led me to a different understanding that my humanity was God’s chief gift to me and that if I was going to find the Really Real it was going to be within that and not separating myself from that. It meant that the holiest thing I could be was the flawed human being God had made me to be.” (Barbara Brown Taylor)
Would you take a semester off from an Ivy League college to attend Jerry Falwell‘s bastion of conservative education and politics? Kevin Roose did and he wrote about it in detail in his book Unlikely Disciple: A Sinner’s Semester at America’s Holiest University. I wish I could go into detail right now about all the things he gets right about being submerged in the Christian subculture, but I can only say right now is that is it very fair and not at all that different from belonging to an evangelical church. He describes people who are blindingly obtuse and those that are open and loving. As with anyone who subscribes to religious or political ideologies as the whole truth, there are good people and not so good people encamped therein.
Roose’s assessment never hits a false note and his complete openness to the experiment is a credit to his Quaker parents and Episcopalian grandparents. Although they “feared for his life” down there in the bowels of Jerry Falwell’s hell (to hear them tell it), Roose intelligently and compassionately tried his best to experience everything as a new student and newcomer to Christianity. And while he may not have been converted, he came away with a new respect for folks that, while demonized in the press, are not so different as those students he attended Brown with. All of them struggled. There were bigots as well, just as in his circle of friends who wished Falwell dead for his statements about 9/11. No, liberals can also be as un-compassionate as their evangelical counterparts. Sometimes rabidly so. Neither side holds the final majority on compassion.
I’m glad I read this book. The people he describes can be found in any evangelical church in America. I recognized some of my friends in those students. It also gave me hope that those much younger than me are taking openness more seriously than my generation is; that he’s willing to open up a dialogue with those that others have assumed are strange and probably sprouting horns of some kind. My generation has sadly become entrenched and committed to warfare. This book is a very easy and pleasant read and one I’d recommend to Christians and atheists alike who keep an open mind. I admire Roose’s effort to get more constructive dialogue going rather than just rehash all the demonizing and tired old arguments that get us nowhere. We need to start with people not dogma.
- Can a book about Jerry Falwell bring people together? (boingboing.net)