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Religious tolerance lacking on campus

A Brown University undergrad enrolls for a semester at the world’s largest conservative evangelical college, Liberty University. Sounds like the opening line to a joke, right? It’s actually the premise of Kevin Roose’s book, ‘The Unlikely Disciple,’ published last March.

In ‘The Unlikely Disciple,’ Roose explores the inside and unseen of one of America’s most conservative Christian colleges, a school which prides itself on producing ‘Champions for Christ.’ I admire Roose’s attempt at immersion journalism. It’s one of my favorite ways to examine and editorialize on any given topic.

During his semester at Liberty, Roose sang in the choir, took a course called Evangelism 101, dated Liberty girls and interviewed the late Rev. Jerry Falwell about how he created this ‘Bible Boot Camp.’ His book chronicles his experiences of breaching the ‘God Divide’ as a total outsider being exposed to the conservative lifestyle about which he was clueless. Ultimately Roose’s aim was not to mock the evangelical lifestyle, but to breach the God Divide and discover the true face of what he calls ‘America’s culture war.’

Some days I leave campus thinking I could write a book on the inverse type of experience. I’d call it ‘The Unlikely Scripps Kid.’ Being a Christian in the classrooms at Ohio University, and for the sake of the niche I live in, especially the school of journalism, sometimes feels like I am straddling this fictional God Divide. On bad days, I’d liken it to living in a fishbowl. But instead of being the cute Nemo-esque type, I’m the slimy eel that others are both fascinated and creeped out by. I imagine only the theatre or biology majors have it worse.

I recognize some of my non-believing classmates may see this as a dig, or may even think I’m exaggerating. They claim they practice tolerance and never polarize someone because of his or her religious beliefs. In reality, the frequent and overt digs on organized religion are a dime a dozen.

I chose this world, and I love Ohio University. I could have applied to conservative Christian colleges, ones where I’d live in a religious bubble and my beliefs would be confirmed in the classroom as well as campus life. I could have taken that route, but I turned it down. I’d like to say it was because living in a super-Christianity-adherent environment is not at all what the real world is like; the truth is, I wanted to earn a top-ranked journalism degree and have the state pay for my education.

Another graduate student for my news writing class didn’t assign us homework on Easter weekend because ‘Everyone will be at the bars, anyway.’ Wait, on Easter? Really? I guess the years of the honeybaked ham and plastic eggs are far gone.

The OU experience has been hard, but valuable. I’ve learned how to intelligently respond to skeptics and critics. I’m learning to be real about my failures. News flash: I’m not perfect. I say things I shouldn’t say and I don’t do things I should have done.

Much like Roose, I live fully in the Ohio University world, trying to make sense of my professors’ lectures, meetings in the evening, homework at night, and looking for something fun to do on the weekends. The funny part is, I see the rules by which this ‘OUniverse’ functions, but, unlike Roose, I’m not forced to abide by them – just observe them.’

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