This is the first installment of a new weekly series on this blog, called “Meet Jerry’s Kids.” Every Monday or so, I’ll be posting an interview with a different Liberty student about their experiences at Bible Boot Camp. (”Jerry’s Kids,” which you may know as an advocacy group for muscular dystrophy, doubles as the name of a popular Facebook tribute group to Jerry Falwell, Liberty’s late founder.) Some of these students I knew while I was at Liberty, some I didn’t. Some are pious pastors-in-the-making, some are one reprimand away from expulsion. All will be interesting.
This week, I’m talking to Steve Buchanan, a junior Philosophy major. Steve, like most of the students I met during my semester at Liberty, spends a lot of time studying the core doctrines of conservative Christian faith. Unlike most Liberty students, though, Steve says his studies have brought him “more and more towards agnosticism.”
Name: Steve Buchanan
Why/how did you end up at Liberty?
My grandparents would often take me to church growing up. On March 12th, 2000, I became an evangelical at an altar call at the Warrenton Assembly of God. I don’t even remember the exact contents of the sermon. Even though I was only 11, what I do clearly remember is how skillfully the pastor was able to build up a profound sense of despair, meaninglessness, and an emotional guilt about wrongdoing in the minds of the audience. I wanted more out of life, something that the pastor said he could give.
I was an Evangelical all throughout middle and high school. I took my new faith seriously: I still have quite a stockpile of books and pamplets and concordances with such names as Jerry Falwell, D. James Kennedy, Ravi Zacharias, John MacArthur, James Dobson and so on from those years. I witnessed to friends on many occassions. After high school, Liberty was my first (and only) choice, I wanted to be a part of Falwell’s movement to restore America to what I then saw as its former glory.
The real doubts about my faith began after the end of my first semester there. There was no eureka moment or sudden realization or anything like that. Doubts about the plausibility of Evangelical teaching (especially on creationism) and on the validity of the Old Testament began the downward spiral.
What’s your favorite thing about Liberty?
There are good people here. Most of the faculty are driven by a strong work ethic and even stronger convictions. The entire campus has a pulse, every person is part of the larger living movement that is dedicated to remaking America and restoring what they see as Christian values in society. I miss having that same clarity of purpose and zealousness for the cause that I once had.
Your least favorite thing?
The mission of the school is clear: To produce “Champions for Christ.” Even the mere thought that a core doctrine of the Evangelical movement is false is a Satanic attempt to cause doubt and distress in the mind of a believer. The texts used are often written by Evangelicals for Evangelicals. Alternative points of view are considered only to show the student how to dismantle them. In all classes the infallibility of the Protestant Bible is taken as a given fact, as something that is self-evident.
Many of the students here have been involved in Christian education circles since pre-school. Having never heard an alternative point of view offered, it’s easy to see why most here accept wholesale the fact that the Universe is less than 10,000 years old. Any item of evidence that contradicts the scriptures is disregarded as false, and the views of the ‘evolutionists’ are misguided at best, subversive at worst.
What’s the best Liberty class you’ve taken? The worst?
I will say that there are excellent professors in the philosophy department who know something of epistemic humility, many hold degrees from prestigious state institutions. Having heard the arguments against conservative Christianity, they aren’t intellectually threatened by fairly presenting other systems of thought on their own merits. I’d say my best course so far was an investigation of Eastern philosophies, which was taught very fairly by a superb professor.
The worst, without question, was a course I took on world religions whose primary purpose was to train students for missionary work. We would learn about Hinduism from a “Biblical” perspective, meaning that the faith of nearly a billion minds (that predates Christianity by at least fifteen centuries) was pagan and false. Then we would learn how to present the gospel to a Muslim or a Catholic or whatever. Courses taught like that should not be accredited, it was an academic disgrace.
If you could say one thing to a high school senior considering attending Liberty, what would it be?
If you are a conservative Evangelical then Liberty is probably a good match for you. If you’re looking to be challenged academically or want to learn the wild diversity of alternative human thought on its own merits, don’t come here. U.S. News & World report ranks Liberty as a Tier 4 school (the lowest quality). Your undergraduate years are a critically important time for personal development in all areas of life. Liberty will stunt your growth, I strongly believe that.
When’s the last time you prayed? What did you pray for?
My personal prayer life is now mainly centered on quiet meditation, sometimes consciously reflecting on the meaning of dreams or religious issues. At other times I empty my mind of all content, save a sensation of calm. I consider this a form of prayer that has been rather neglected by the Semitic traditions. I do practice prayer as it is usually viewed in the West, though I often recall Kierkegaard’s famous quote: “Prayer does not change God, but it changes him who prays.” Whether or not my prayers for the health of family and friends are heard, I don’t know.
What’s an unexpected fact about yourself?
Just five years ago, never in my wildest dreams would I have thought I would be heading more and more towards agnosticism. I will say that I am driven to know the truth, and I will ruthlessly pursue it to the limits of human endurance.
(Please feel free to post more questions for Steve in the comments. Liberty students: want to be interviewed? Shoot me an e-mail.)