It tells the story of a Quaker student at Brown who spends a semester at Jerry Falwell's Liberty University in 2007. OK, yes, it's a bit of a stunt, but at least it's an interesting one, and Roose definitely throws himself into the role, a lot more so than, say, Jason Rosenhouse in Among the Creationists. Roose enrolls at Liberty and presents himself as a Christian (At Liberty, "Christian" is synonymous with 'born again Christian') and (awkwardly) fakes up a recent conversion story to explain his presence (and why he has so little knowledge that he would flunk Sunday school for six year olds).
In short he comes to, generally, like the students and staff at Liberty, and a little Stockholm Syndrome sets in I think, and he finds himself simultaneously defending them, and disapproving of their (fairly common) homophobia and the one-sidedness of some portions of the 'education'. He even comes to have some appreciation for Jerry Falwell. And in "you can't make this shit up", he scores a one-on-one interview with Falwell for the school newspaper, gets praised for it by Falwell himself in convocation (I mean, what's not to praise, it was a puff-piece in the Liberty newspaper; the hard-hitting exposé uncovered the fact that Falwell had a peach Snapple every day at 3pm, which he slammed down in 6 seconds). A few days later, Falwell's dead, and this Quaker mole has published the last print interview Falwell ever gave, which comes to have a life of its own as it is reprinted in the memorial for the funeral.
I have once again abused the highlight feature of the Kindle...
From orientation: "Another guy leans over to whisper that Playboy once ranked Liberty’s girls second-hottest among all American colleges, 'right behind UCLA.'"
How to make me suspicious: "Next up is History of Life, the introductory survey course in Liberty’s Creation Studies Department. “My name is Dr. James Dekker,” says the professor, “and I am a real scientist.”"
"All Liberty students are required to take a creation studies course, while only biology majors are required to learn evolution-based science."
Liberty graduates had been barred from teaching high school biology, but this new compromise allows evolution to be taught, but not to the general student body, who might get confused. See also this message from a sermon later in the year: "“I just want to say this, Liberty students. My biggest worry about you, about all of you, is that you’ll become educated beyond your obedience.”"
He does some facebook-stalking: "(Sadly, this Network Statistics page is confirming more stereotypes than it breaks—Liberty’s most listed interest is God, and Brown’s is Ultimate Frisbee.) "
A beautiful analogy: "In Chernobyl, when radioactive material was contained in the reactor, it produced power, light, and heat. But as soon as the reactor broke and melted down, it produced destruction and death. The nuclear reactor that God created is husband and wife, committed to each other in a lifelong commitment. And when sex is contained within that reactor, it produces unity and intimacy. But when it is taken outside, it results in abortion, disease and death, harm and hurt."
No comment: "After he finishes, a hip-hop group composed of Liberty students comes on to close out the concert. They’re not bad either, and they have the distinction of providing my new favorite rap lyric: Tryin’ to find purpose in life without Christ Is like findin’ Wesley Snipes in the dark with no flashlight. "
"What’s sad is that this isn’t even the first time this week I’ve been stunned by overt homophobia in Dorm 22. On Monday, during a conversation with Zipper, my ecstatically happy next-door neighbor, he told me that he respected Dr. Falwell for standing up for the biblical view that “while legally, we cannot throw homosexuals in jail, we shouldn’t tolerate them.” On instinct, I asked if in an ideal society, homosexuals would be thrown in jail. “Hmm . . . Well, I do believe in the Old Testament,” he said. “And in the Old Testament, they were supposed to be killed. And, I mean, we obviously don’t have the same type of system that the Israelites had. But if you look at how God initiated judgment on these people, well, in the ideal society, which is Christ’s society, they would be eliminated from the earth.” "
Atheists armed with logic and reason. You should be afraid, very afraid: "“I think this is the weakest part of my Christianity,” he says, looking up at me with a spoonful of orange sludge in hand. “I honestly wouldn’t know how to respond to an atheist with anything rational. But I really like the fact that Caner is debating them.” His eyes wander back down to the screen. “I’m just glad it’s not me in there,” he says. “That’s all I can say.” "
"Now, there’s another problem. A few days ago, Ryan Malone, one of our hallmates, began criticizing Paul’s new relationship. The issue, he said, is that Lauren is white, and Paul is black, and Ryan is . . . well, how can I put this?" [answer: a racist]
I have to call Roose out for being a bit of a douchebag. He has a few dates with an attractive, slightly independently thinking, girl, and ultimately just sort of stops, without even giving a fake reason for why he's no longer returning her calls. Not that much happened on these dates (other than fascinating conversation)...
"I asked friends at Brown for advice, but they mostly seem interested in how far I’ve gotten with the virginal evangelical girl. (They send notes like, “I hope you go all the way, aka hair tussling.”) "
Douchebag: "I never gave her a real reason for the breakup, so I assume she just thinks I grew uninterested. But since my dorm sits next to hers in convocation, we make eye contact fairly often, and when we do, I always try to give her a look that says both “I didn’t mean it like that” and “I’m attracted to you. Really, I am.” Apologizing telepathically might not be as effective as, say, opening my mouth and telling her I’m sorry, but I’m not brave enough for that yet. "
He goes on an evangelization mission to Daytona Beach Spring Break: "when she tries a more direct approach, saying, “Excuse me, I’d like to talk to you about God,” it’s not pretty. Sorority girls laugh in her face. Bikers stare at her chest, then laugh in her face."
While Liberty takes the honest approach, other Spring Break missions are lying for Jesus: "The other group, which is affiliated with Campus Crusade for Christ, has done something truly brilliant. A well-funded national organization, Campus Crusade rented the ballroom at a hotel next to Razzle’s and set up a fake party inside, complete with strobe lights, a security team, and attractive models paid to stand outside the hotel and gossip loudly about the great party inside. When would-be clubbers enter the room, they quickly realize they’ve been duped—instead of bar specials and trance music, they get gospel tracts and a salvation message. "
Some of the classes at Liberty are not about teaching you knowledge, but telling you what to think. "At first, I couldn’t believe Liberty actually had a course that teaches students how to condemn homosexuals and combat feminism. GNED II is the class a liberal secularist would invent if he were trying to satirize a Liberty education. It’s as if Brown offered a course called Godless Hedonism 101: How to Smoke Pot, Cross-dress, and Lose Your Morals. But unlike that course, GNED II actually exists, so I’ve had to figure out how to process it. "
"After my talk with Pastor Rick on Monday, seeing my hallmates react so negatively to [homophobic] Henry has been slightly reassuring for me. It’s taught me that while being anti-gay is the norm at Liberty, once you start being too anti-gay, people wonder what your problem is."
Roose is shocked to discover that a fair number of Liberty students do more than tussle hair. "About a week ago, she snuck out after curfew to visit the off-campus apartment of a guy she’d been dating. They fooled around a little, lost control, and ended up having sex. When she returned to campus the next morning, she told her roommate about her sordid affair. Her roommate, after much prayer and contemplation, decided to “do the Christian thing”—she turned Samantha in to the dean of women. Samantha was served with the maximum punishment a Liberty student can get without being expelled: thirty reprimands, a $500 fine, and thirty-five hours of community service."
"As Luke and I leave lunch, I ask him if Liberty’s rules on sexual propriety bother him. “No, not at all,” he says. “I approve of all the rules here.” He cocks his head upward and smiles jauntily. “I don’t follow them all. But they have my approval.” "
What feminism is: "“First off,” she says. “I am not a feminist. I don’t want you to think I am.” Hold on. I’m confused. Didn’t she say she was? “No, no. I’m an evangelical feminist. Here’s the difference: Evangelical feminists don’t believe we are better than men. Secular feminists do. They have meetings, and they sit around in a circle and talk about all the bad things men have ever done to them. It’s a male-bashing faith system.” "
"I was nervous about letting [my gay, secular, Jewish friend] David into my Liberty life for obvious reasons. If he did anything outlandish during his visit, I’d be guilty by association. But he reassured me that he would try his best to blend in. “I can pass as straight,” he said. “I’ll just talk about . . . oh, I don’t know, killing animals or something.” "
As it turns out, David's quickly popular with the other bros in the male dorm.
"This semester, I’ve developed a numbness to homophobia. I don’t like it, but it’s unavoidable when you’re in a climate like this, where homosexuality is talked about at near-Tourettic frequency. Every day, I’ve heard someone worrying about gay people, praying for gay people, talking about the scientific evidence against the alleged “gay gene.” I’ve heard ten times as many conversations about homosexuality at Liberty than I ever heard any place where gay people existed in the open. "
And after the secret is out, the epilogue: "The news that I wasn’t an evangelical confused Zipper, and it confused many more of my Liberty friends that weekend. In their mental categories of saved and unsaved, what I told them took me out of the saved category, but it didn’t put me fully in the category of unsaved, either. For a Liberty student, an unsaved person is someone who doesn’t get it, who doesn’t know how to quote C. S. Lewis or sing “Jesus Paid It All” without looking at the words. And for them, the fact that I did know these things, that I had gone through the same Christian gauntlet as them, made my story all the more confusing and all the more heartbreaking. My news would have been easier to swallow if I had been a Jew or a Muslim or a steadfast atheist. But to be this close to Christianity for an entire semester and not have accepted Christ? It killed them."