Monday, June 1, 2009

Bible Camp: An Outsider's Look

A couple of years back, a student at Brown University decided to take a semester off and do a first-hand investigation of one of the most controversial schools in America -- the late Jerry Falwell's Liberty University. Now, the author, one Kevin Roose, has published his diary of the experience called The Unlikely Disciple: A Sinner's Semester at America's Holiest University.

It didn't come quite out as Roose expected. He says that in the end, when he finally fessed up to his fellow students about his ruse, they actually were quite understanding and forgave him. The book clears up some of the more wild misconceptions about Liberty and other ultra right-wing schools.

But there is no question that the discipline codes come out of a Puritan era and are simply out of step. Even students at military academies have more freedom both on and off-campus than "fundies." Consider the following -- I'm not making these up:

  • Possession and/or use of tobacco: 6 reprimands + $25 fine
  • Improper personal contact (anything beyond hand-holding): 4 reprimands + $10 fine
  • Attendance at, possession or viewing of, an R-rated movie: 12 reprimands + $50 fine
  • Spending the night with a person of the opposite sex: 30 reprimands + $500 fine + 30 hours community service

This is truly Bible Boot Camp, to be sure -- and some students are of the kind where they are saving not just sex for marriage, but their first kiss; some men who have no knowledge of the female anatomy and some women who are way too devout. Others, thank God, are far less sheltered.

But everyone does have to take the mandatory Bible courses -- from the Falwell perspective. And courses in creationism, including whether Noah's Ark was big enough to hold the dinosaurs. (One presumes the correct answer on the test was "true," although if one takes the ark's measurements literally it would have been far smaller than the size of a World War II aircraft carrier.)

It's an interesting book, but it does shed light on the fact evangelicalism is a growing force among young people.

And while quite a few evangelicals did vote for Obama last fall (bolstered by a large chunk of the youth vote), four times as many still voted for McCain despite their misgivings about how "Republican" the Senator from Arizona is. The movement not going away any time soon ...

... and it is growing in Canada as well. Graduates of both accredited and unaccredited "divinity" programs are dominating the airwaves more and more, and selling a brand of politics quite at odds with the social consensus that has held Canada together for the past forty years. The conclusion is that we progressives need to sort out which of the evangelicals share our values and co-opt them to "spread the word" about social justice and shared values, before it's too late.

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1 comment:

Skinny Dipper said...

I did leave a comment on someone else's blog that I once got placed on "fire probation" for not leaving my university residence during an early morning fire alarm. I didn't receive any demerit points.

My friends and I did sneak though the pipe section of a tunnel that went from the men's to the women's residence. Later, the university placed a metal barrier to stop the flow of men into the women's sanctuary. No demerit points here either.