Kevin Roose-liberal, lapsed Quaker and Brown University student-made two very good decisions when he chose to write a book about his "study abroad" se...moreKevin Roose-liberal, lapsed Quaker and Brown University student-made two very good decisions when he chose to write a book about his "study abroad" semester at evangelical Liberty University. First, he chose at the outset to be as honest as possible about his past and identity which, besides making his story easier to stick to, also likely spared him from looking like the asshole of the tale when the book came out. Second, he didn't take the easy route and write a snarky tale about a school full of far-right homophobes who think the Earth is 6000 years old which would have gotten tiresome. While he did encounter fair share of homophobia (the most difficult parts of the book to read) and was required to take a Creation Science class, his experience was more complicated than that. Roose made an honest attempt to immerse himself in the Liberty lifestyle by reading his Bible and praying daily, singing in the Thomas Road Church choir, attending a self help group for masturbators (it's a long story) and going on an evangelizing mission to Daytona Beach for spring break. I found this chapter, "The Workers are Few", to be frankly hilarious which probably means I should work on shedding some layers of schadenfreude one of these days. But, I defy you not to laugh at this exchange between the author and a drunken prospective convert outside of a bar:
"Excuse me, sir. Who is the greatest person you know?" "Hmmmm....gayest person I know....I'd have to say Richard Simmons."
I really like how the author is able to make the reader see and feel events as he saw them at the time. Like Roose, I too found the prospect of a semester in the heart of the religious right fascinating...and terrifying. Then I saw how sweet some of his classmates were. I'd start to think how nice it was that they all cared for each other so genuinely and admired their communal effervescence. Then-bang. There's a sermon about the liberal conspiracy called global warming, someone is fined $350 for being caught with an R-rated movie or one of those nice classmates tells Roose that per the Old Testament all homosexuals need to be cleansed from the Earth. The whole semester he teeters between feelings of being strangely at home and various degrees of dismay and so did I. Roose, who is nothing if not honest with himself and the reader, also realized that as a white, heterosexual male he was certainly getting the best face that Liberty had to offer.
The book gets a bump from two unexpected things that occurred while Roose was a student there: the nearby Virginia Tech shootings and the death of Jerry Falwell, Liberty's founder and pater familias. He also conducted Falwell's final print interview.
I definitely had an idea in my head about what someone who attends Liberty would be like. And some students did fit that stereotype, like the author's roommate, a rage-injected ultra-homophobe who even scared other people in the dorm. But many others were likable, even when I disagreed with them. Very well done and thoughtful. Not what I expected and I liked it all the more for that.
(Roose was a little overly optimistic though when he mentions that Liberty has liberalized since Falwell's death, citing a College Democrat group as an example. That group was closed down by the University in 2009 who said you couldn't be a Christian and a Democrat. Clearly there's a loooong way to go.)(less)