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The Unlikely Disciple

November 28, 2009

I finished The Unlikely Disciple a week or so ago and have been thinking about it ever since, wondering what I was going to say about such a unique book.  It’s easy to jump to the conclusion that Kevin Roose was making an unfavorable statement about the evangelical community, but the book is much more complex than that.

Kevin is a sophomore at Brown University in Providence, RI who, instead of taking a semester in Italy or Australia, decides to transfer to Liberty University, Jerry Falwell’s college in VA for evangelical youth.  While working with A.J. Jacobs (author of The Year of Living Biblically), Kevin got the idea to transfer and write a book about his experiences.  Raised in a pretty non-religious Quaker home, Kevin was curious and a little skeptical about the evangelical community.

Kevin’s integration into Liberty University, from his homophobic and manic roommate to his attendance at a “Chronic Masturbators” group, is an eye-opening experience, for both Kevin and the reader.  For every “crazy” rule (no hugging for more than three seconds) there is a touching moment and a real understanding and appreciation of the values of his peers.  Kevin develops true friendships with his classmates at Liberty and there is an underlying reluctance for the reader to realize that Kevin is not who his friends think he is.  And Kevin has a hard time coming to grips with this as well.  It’s so sad to watch Kevin “break up” with his Christian crush Anna and essentially lie to his friends, who he is becoming so close to.  We grow to really like Jersey Joey and Zipper, even if we don’t fully understand or agree with their belief system.

Kevin pulls out all the stops in his semester at Liberty – he sings in the church choir, interviews Jerry Falwell for an article in the school paper and goes on a missionary trip to try to convert spring breakers in Florida.  There comes a point when Kevin is torn between the concern of his family, especially his gay aunts, and the friendships he’s formed at Liberty.  But Kevin’s hilarious narrative emphasizes the fact that these worlds can safely collide, with just a little effort from both sides.

Although parts of this book were difficult to read (Liberty kids have no qualms about throwing around the word “faggot” and the double standard between men and women was frustrating), I truly enjoyed reading about Kevin’s journey.  I think tolerance and understanding of others, no matter what their beliefs, are underrated in today’s society.  And I commend Kevin for bringing a new light to a community which I’m sure many of us have only stereotypical views of.  If everyone were as caring as some of Kevin’s Liberty friends, the world world would be a better place.  As long as they stop using the word “faggot.”  🙂

Learn more about Kevin Roose here.

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. November 29, 2009 11:56 am

    This sounds like an interesting read. I have also met people like “Kevin’s Liberty friends” whose ideology doesn’t square with their ability to be compassionate on a personal level. But at some point you have to question the value of their one-on-one compassion when they are actively advocating for public policy that is anything but compassionate.

  2. Kimberly permalink*
    November 30, 2009 10:12 am

    You’re right about the political aspects, but one of the things Kevin learns about Liberty students is they are not as politically involved as he’d assumed. I’m reading “Write These Laws on Your Children” and that is much more frightening on the political side.

  3. December 6, 2009 4:13 am

    I think the interesting thing about this book is that one might expect something like this to turn out horribly offensive (from both ends of the spectrum). Roose might have chosen to dismiss many of the students’ beliefs right off, he might have exaggerated support for them (glossing over the problems in the school), and he could have just written something all over ignorant. The reviews I’ve read have led me to believe that this was not the case, and I have to commend a young writer for that.

    What I’m curious about, though, is if those who do agree with the beliefs expressed here like the book as well. Most of the commentary I’ve seen has come from the other end and I have to wonder how others saw it…

  4. Kimberly permalink*
    December 6, 2009 9:03 am

    Biblibio, I wondered the same thing and did see one review from more of a religious side. Check it out: http://livingcanvas.wordpress.com/2009/07/23/the-unlikely-disciple/

  5. December 10, 2009 12:49 pm

    Just picked this up from the library, thanks for the recommendation Kim!

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