Thursday, September 15, 2011

The Unlikely Disciple

I got this one, along with a great big pile of other books, very cheaply thanks to the implosion of Borders. Their unfortunate demise was to my benefit I suppose you could say, because this is one of the best books I've ever read about a slice of contemporary culture. Besides the premise and subject matter, what makes this book all the more amazing to me is that the author Kevin Roose was only 19 at the time. He has an incredible talent from what I saw in this book and I hope to see more from him in the future.

The book's premise was very intriguing to me of a Northern secular liberal secretly infiltrating a prominent bastion of the American Religious Right: Liberty University and Thomas Road Baptist Church, the heart of the Evangelical empire of the late Jerry Falwell. Here was the man who for most of my life had been on a crusade of sorts against folks like myself, with such incredibly noxious rhetoric that I certainly had no problems agreeing with Barry Goldwater when he said that "every good Christian ought to kick Falwell right in the ass". Yet what Roose discovered once he was there, really surprised him:

[T]he Liberty students I've met are a lot more socially adjusted than I expected. They're not rabid, frothing fundamentalists who spend their days sewing Hillary Clinton voodoo dolls and penning angry missives to the ACLU. Maybe I'm getting a skewed sample, but the ones I've met have been funny, articulate, and decidedly non-crazy.

I have to say that this is what made Roose's book so compelling to me. By this I do not mean that I was shocked to find out that the people he met didn't fit the stereotype he had imagined, I myself have had similar experiences with a number of Religious Right folks over the years, but the level of detail and description he gave was a good and much needed reminder of this to me. Sometimes we can get so wrapped up in politics and/or our own particular grudges that we tend to forget that most of those we disagree with aren't living personifications of evil but just as flawed and human as we are, trying to make sense of everything the best way they can. This doesn't mean that one should jettison their principles or whitewash their disagreements with others, not at all, only that we need to maintain perspective and not lose sight of the humanity of others. Lest anyone on the Right get cocky, this is something they need to do just as much given their demonization of gays and liberals (no, the terms are NOT synonymous) which has been as bad as what the Left has done against folks on the Right. Besides the story he had to tell, which by itself was fascinating to read, I guess this reminder was the best thing I took from Roose's book. Given the anniversary of 9/11 which recently passed, that is something I know that the late Fr. Mychal Judge would approve of as well.