Thursday, May 14, 2009

Paper Chase P. 3 -- The Atheist and Jerry Falwell

This series was not planned. I just happened to read a book about a seminarian. Then, cruising around the Kindle store I saw a book that I thought was something completely different; but it turned out to be another book about someone going through a form of religious education -- Catholic that time. About the same time I ran across a third book with a different twist on the combination of education and religion, and a series was born. Let me introduce you to, The Unlikely Disciple: A Sinner's Semester at America's Holiest University. The author, Kevin Roose, spent his freshman year at the liberal bastion Brown University. He then spent spring of his sophomore year at Liberty University, founded and run by Jerry Falwell himself.

Relevant background on the author is that he was studying English and Journalism at Brown. He worked for the author of a Year of Living Biblically, so this type of experiential, Gonzo journalism was something he had seen first-hand. He was raised by essentially non-observant Quakers, and he says early in the book that before he started at Liberty he could have named the four Gospels -- if you gave him a few minutes.

Frankly, I expected a smear job. Not that I wouldn't have enjoyed that, mind you. I live in the same State with Oral Roberts University. I was surprised. The author made a serious effort to bridge the God Gap, to find out what makes conservative Christians tick and who they really are as people. He claims that he wanted to learn and to understand, not to judge; and as hard as this is to believe, the book does come across that way.

We say that we want to know what non-Christians see when they visit a Church and how they perceive Christianity. Well, this is a good start. The fact that it is a pleasant and easy read doesn't hurt. Oh, and one of the great details in this story, the author managed to talk his way into doing an interview for the school paper with Falwell himself. Falwell died a few days later. That just happened to be the last print interview Jerry Falwell ever gave.

Two days ago John Shuck posted a book review on his blog, Shuck and Jive. He was reviewing a book by a Professor at the University of Texas named Robert Jensen. If the name rings a bell, you might have heard of Prof. Jensen. Several years ago he was admitted to active membership at an Austin PCUSA congregation without making a profession of faith -- because he was an avowed atheist. He was ultimately moved to the Baptized Member roles (a nice usage of that classification that I doubt I would have thought of). He has since written this book reviewed on Shuck and Jive, called All My Bones Shake: Seeking a Progressive Path in the Prophetic Voice. The book review is on Tuesday May 12. On Wednesday May 13 began a discussion, connected to the book, of how we define God and religion and how non-Christians (or at least some non-Christians) perceive that we define God and religion. What caught my attention is that some parts of what I read on Shuck and Jive correlate nicely with a series of discussions I have had recently with a Seeker.

Two very different views of Christianity from the outside. Personally, I prefer the atheist from Brown -- but I'm from Oklahoma, I've never been a Longhorn fan.


1 comment:

John Shuck said...

Thanks for the post and the shout! I will be interested in the Roose book.

Robert Jensen's book is very good and I recommend it.

Just a note for clarification. A baptized member is usually reserved for children who haven't been confirmed. Robert Jensen is a full member of St. Andrew's. The church accepted his letter of transfer from the church in which he was confirmed as a youth as he explains in his book.

It is a good and important read regarding what it means to be a Christian today, and more importantly a human being.

Thanks, again!