Stacey and a handful of other professors upend the students’ regimented thinking, causing doubts that must be reconciled with their faith. “ ‘The more you know, the more you question,’ one especially astute sophomore told me.” Rosin adds: “If everything your home-school textbook taught you wasn’t true, then everything the esteemed Dr. Farris said wasn’t necessarily true, and what your parents said might not be true either. The hierarchy was starting to unravel.” So, too, was Farris’s faculty, as Rosin reports at the end of her book.
The coverage of religious fundamentalists by mainstream journalists — and many have visited Patrick Henry since its opening — tends to take on the trappings of an anthropological exercise: outsiders arriving to study the rituals and mating habits of a strange native tribe. There is an “us and them” quality that is difficult to transcend. The question must be asked of any writer undertaking this enterprise: Are you trying to horrify your like-minded readers or enlighten them? Rosin clearly intended to enlighten. Her empathy for the students and families she interviews is apparent. But there are suggestions that this is a cultural divide she can’t quite cross (a reference to the “eerily independent and well-behaved” small children at a student event, descriptions of “goofy love songs to Jesus”) and a politics she spurns (George Bush’s “fixed” view of God’s will leads to arrogance; Barack Obama offers a “humbler” version of Christianity).
In the end, Rosin hints at much drama to be mined at Patrick Henry. But in her journalistic telling, the stories of Farris and his students — and their determination to become leaders inside a culture that their belief systems reject — come up short.
Read it all.
Posted September 9, 2007 at 3:18 pm
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