The God Divide: Good or Bad?

May 18th, 2009
While I recognize that the effort by Kevin Roose '09 to bridge the gap between Christians and non-Christians ultimately encourages understanding, I couldn't help but be saddened by the obvious width of the divide ("Crossing the God Divide," March/April). At a place like Brown, an intellectual community committed to freedom, how is it that being a Christian is so unacceptable? As a Christian and a Brown alumna, I am disappointed (but unfortunately not surprised) to see that the open-mindedness so embraced at Brown does not extend to followers of Jesus.

I note Roose's mention of favorite books listed by Liberty students (the Bible, Mere Christianity) and Brown students (the Harry Potter series, The Great Gatsby, Lolita). I love Nabokov and Fitzgerald, wept all the way through the Harry Potter saga and I regularly attend church, read the Bible, and believe that Jesus died for our sins. I am far from the exception. Jesus said it best: "You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind." We believers are not asked to check our brains at the door. I challenge anyone who thinks Christianity is incompatible with intellect to listen to a sermon by Tim Keller (Redeemer Presbyterian, New York City), to watch a movie by Andrey Tarkovsky, or to read a story by Flannery O'Connor. I recognize that Roose has made an important first step in dismantling a stereotype. But are we really still on that first step?

Virginia Todd Burton '99
Austin, Tex.



I was shocked by Kevin Roose's article. It was not because I was at all surprised by what I learned about Liberty University students. I figured they used Facebook, played intramural sports, and were accepting of people they perceived to be like them. I was shocked because Roose forced me to question my own stereotypes, specifically my assumption that all Brown students are critical thinkers.

Perhaps the Brown students I knew on campus had an advantage. We entered college knowing that the world is not black and white, that hatred is perpetuated not by conservative students hatching supervillain-style plans and sewing voodoo dolls, but by everyday people who play pickup basketball and talk about their grandkids. Our Brown education gave us the tools to critically examine these shades of gray.

The very concept of Liberty University raises many issues, and glossing them over with a why-can't-we-all-just-get-along? piece is irresponsible. If Roose's article shows anything it shows that yes, we can all get along, just as long as we hide who we are. While Roose's peers at Brown are writing theses deconstructing gender, his Liberty classmates are listening to lectures about the "evils of homosexuality." Yet Roose marvels that both schools "cultivate real critical thinking" and "foster academic life outside the classroom."

Afraid to make anyone uncomfortable, Roose never gets beyond the painfully basic observation that stereotypes can't accurately describe a group of individuals. While I can't say I gained any real insight into Liberty University from his article, it did reaffirm my appreciation for the people I met at Brown, the ones who showed me that assembling evidence to support an easy answer is not critical thinking. It's not about finding the answers; it's about not being afraid to ask the real questions.

Cecilia Kiely '04



Kevin Roose's account of Liberty University students and Jerry Falwell reminded me of the stories about Bernie Madoff and his investors. Those investors were no less sophisticated, prudent, or credulous than those of us who, for one reason or another, did not invest with him. Yet they were taken in by a master charlatan. He seemed like such a nice man. As Roose observes, the students at Liberty are no less curious, intelligent, or uniform than Brown students. But they study creationist "biology" and, presumably, creationist "geology" and creationist "physics." These are the educational equivalents of Madoff's investments, promoted under the aegis of Jerry Falwell. After all, as Mr. Roose tells us, he seems like such a nice man.

James M. Smith '56 AM, '60 PhD
Los Angeles



It is unfortunate that Liberty boasts its distaste for a Brown education. Though Brown's founders had a Christian purpose for the University, one cannot assume it was "lost" during its change towards providing academic excellence that involved engagement with secular culture. A God-fearing Daniel (of the Old Testament) was educated in secular Babylonian art and literature. The Apostle Paul boasted about his thorough training/education in the Judaic laws and traditions, but he spent his time interacting with not only Jews, but also Gentiles and pagans from all walks of life.

Brown is a place where creative thinking can thrive to the point of encouraging Kevin Roose to venture beyond his comfort zone and experience engagement with a world different from his own. I came from a background of God-indifference and a religious affiliation that only became salient when filling out forms. Amid my feminist writing courses, my battle with organic chemistry, and my creative projects in Barrett Hazeltine's Engin 9 course, I found God at Brown.

Even after twenty-four years of following Jesus Christ and establishing my career as a licensed psychologist at a Big East university, I can say that some of the most enriching encounters for me have been with those of other spiritual orientations. From Bible-thumpers to paganists to anti-theists, similarities do exist, especially an innate yearning for connection to something bigger than oneself, whether it be God, a Higher Power, or an overarching philosophical concept. It is that connection to the transcendent that makes both the mundane and immense concerns of life more bearable. And hopeful.

Kudos to Roose for transcending his own prejudices and putting himself in the shoes of those with whom he did not agree. Hopefully his "weaker virtue [of] tolerance" will rub off onto those on both sides of the "God Divide."

Michelle Fearon Deering '86
Somerset, N.J.



With shock I read Kevin Roose's article. That a Brown student can plead for friendship and understanding for a university that is openly homophobic, and indeed encourages homophobia and the repression of homosexuals, is appalling. That this student would get as his podium the cover article of the BAM is simply disgusting.

We did not appease the ideology of Nazi universities or the South African universities of the apartheid regime. Why then should the BAM call for the appeasement of the homophobic ideology propagated in the universities of the religious right? Surely the fact that the student body in any of these universities is "not as homogenous as it seems from the outside" or that one can befriend some of their students simply misses the point. Students are human and they should be treated as such, but the ideology that their institutions propagate and support is odious and should be opposed, especially by a Brown publication.

Should not the editor of the BAM publicly and in writing disassociate himself and his magazine from the homophobic ideology of the universities of the religious right that Roose thinks should be appeased? Should the editor not also publicly and in writing apologize to all homosexual and lesbian alumni, and indeed to all alumni?

S. Eder '86



I live in a city where the religious right has substantial power and influence, so I looked forward to reading "Crossing the God Divide." Instead of a rigorous inquiry into serious questions about religion in education and society, however, the article relied on stereotypes and simplistic observations. The role of higher education, the problems inherent in creation science, the cult of personality around Jerry Falwell all went unnoticed.

Then I read Mail Room, which is always a rich source of amusement, and saw that the writers grouped under the heading "American Pride" were upset about comments by members of the class of 2009 that Obama's election made them proud of America, perhaps for the first time. One alumnus was so offended he asked to stop receiving the BAM.

There is a common thread here. The young author of "Crossing the God Divide" is just a kid, and if he has not yet thought and lived his way out of the stereotypes he knew as a child, or learned to address serious issues, his Brown education will prepare him for a life of learning. By the time he gets to be thirty-five or forty, he might know enough to have interesting ideas and be able to express them.

To the "American Pride" letter writers, I say, "Hey, guys, lighten up." Remember that the 1970s are ancient history to these kids. Their passion and energy are admirable, and they can learn.

Frederic R. Pamp '68
Colorado Springs, Colo.

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Related Issue
May/June 2009