Saturday, August 10, 2013

Meaning vs. Discipline

I'm currently reading The Unlikely Disciple by Kevin Roose.  A student at Brown, Roose spends a semester at Liberty University.  Liberty U is the conservative, evangelical Christian, homophobic, creationist school founded by Rev. Jerry Falwell and Roose argued, correctly, that it's more foreign to the average Ivy Leaguer than most European countries.  He pretended to be a freshly converted evangelical in order to better fit in and learn secrets, he also took on various cultural behaviors such as no swearing or sex and joining the church choir - this was both to pass better and to experience the culture more effectively.  His main shock, at least up until page 170, was that nearly everyone at Liberty U was exceptionally friendly while also violently homophobic.

The second Gen Ed course, which he was able to take as a "foreign exchange student," focused on social and political issues and how an evangelical Christian should approach them.  These were largely simplistic and scathing stereotypes on gay people, people who have premarital sex, wives who have jobs outside the home, etc.  One statement by Roose jumped out at me:

"But aside from the patently offensive content, my biggest issue with [Gen Ed II] is the way it bundles political and social issues with religious issues, and what that means for a guy who's trying to give Christianity a fair shake."

This goes along with my previous post about dogma pushing away people, particularly young people, who're looking for personal meaning through religion.  Liberty U and many other religious institutions argue that personal meaning follows discipline.  I'm not saying that they're 100% wrong (mostly because it's not a right/wrong issue), but that argument is a poor way to interest potential peers.  Roose began to reap some spiritual connection through his altered behavior, similar to how his mentor A. J. Jacobs became more spiritual through his year of following Biblical laws (The Year of Living Biblically).

I argue that while it is possible to find spiritual connection through discipline, the process isn't simple enough to teach in a class.  Both Roose and Jacobs CHOSE to alter their own behavior, not because someone told them to, and they didn't do it out of shame.  And both of them explained that the discipline didn't lead directly to spiritual connection: instead, the decision to alter their behavior also included the decision to alter their attitude.  That isn't something that can be taught, demanded or shamed - which is precisely what evangelicals don't understand.

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