An Atheist at Liberty University, Part III

When the church service let out, my friends and I toured several other buildings on campus. We stopped by the dorms, which are strictly gender-segregated:

I wonder what mindset lies behind this. Is it because the trustees of Liberty believe it’s indecent for men and women to mingle in public? Then why aren’t the classes and the church services also sex-separated? And why don’t they also enforce the biblical decree that women not wear jewelry or braid their hair (1 Timothy 2:9)? That’s as clear a command as you could ask for, but the administration of Liberty seems to be comfortable allowing students to flout it.

As with many aspects of evangelicalism, I think this rule is more concerned with avoiding the appearance of impropriety than actual impropriety. I mentioned earlier that Liberty’s official policy is that students aren’t allowed to spend a night off campus without prior permission, and even then, they can only stay at the home of a married Christian couple. This, like the segregated dorms, is presumably intended to discourage students from having sex. But it’s not much of an obstacle: after all, there’s nothing to stop two students from checking into a motel just for the day (or availing themselves of a secluded parking spot and the back seat of a car…). And sure enough, one of the first rumors we heard on campus was of a female Liberty student who had gotten pregnant and was being pressured to drop out of school.

The next building we visited was one of Liberty’s academic halls. This was the first place where the true nature of this university made itself unmistakably clear: the walls were lined with displays advocating young-earth creationism and making snide comments about “evolutionists”. I was surprised that they were daring enough to include Archaeopteryx – although, as you’ll note, the model plays up the resemblance to a pigeon, and the card doesn’t include any information about what this creature was or what evolutionists think about it.

But even that wasn’t the height of crazy. At the far end of the hall was a “Center for Judaic Studies”, with a display case filled with replicas of artifacts from Roman-era Palestine. A plaque next to the door announced that one of the offices within belonged to Dr. Thomas Ice, “Pre-trib Research Director”. I took a pamphlet from a box next to the door, which is reproduced in part below.

The sheer, undiluted lunacy of this newsletter goes on and on, blithely presenting ludicrous assertions about how the future will unfold as if they were undisputed facts. One can clearly see just how little effort Tim LaHaye put into fictionalizing these beliefs for the Left Behind series. Note this passage from one of the inner pages, which the author somehow managed to write without irony:

A highlight was the bestowment of the Walvoord award upon Tim LaHaye, John Whitcomb, and Chuck Smith… It was a moving experience to realize that those three men were all over 80 and have served the Lord their entire adult lives. Each man is still excitingly looking for the Lord’s return at any moment.

And Thomas Ice, despite the cheerful, froggy grin in his headshot, is an utterly demented kook, to judge by writings of his like this post:

Brannon Howse reveals the largely unknown story of how the Obamas are taking national their radical, socialist, and anti-Christian worldview training that was birthed through their organization “Public Allies”. The training will include “social justice” training which is code word for Communism, socialism and Marxism.

It’s not surprising that a person of this mentality would believe in the Rapture; this belief fits right into the paranoid mindset that’s constantly jumping at shadows and that sees evil conspiracies lurking around every corner. But it is amazing that such a person could ever be considered qualified to serve as a professor (at the “Pre-trib Research Center”, no less, as if there were were something to “research” about all this, rather than Christian believers telling each other the same fairy tales generation after generation).

At the time I saw all this, I laughed. Can you imagine anyone still believing this nonsense? was my initial reaction. But the more I reflect on it, the more sobering an experience it is. The fact of the matter is that there are people who do believe this nonsense, and are doing their best to broadcast it to the world – and, in large part, they’ve succeeded.

The church service was one thing; no one who attends that should have any illusions about what they’re going to hear or where that information is coming from. But what we have here is ignorance systematically misrepresented as knowledge, virulent religious delusion concealed behind a cargo-cult facade of science. This, perhaps, goes back to what I said before about evangelicals valuing the appearance of the thing more than the thing itself. It’s a strategy they’ve used very successfully here, presenting beliefs that are utterly insane in the manner and the style of academia.

The students who pass through these halls, most of whom have probably never been exposed to a contrary perspective in their lives, likely have no idea how contentious any of this material is. They’ll listen, they’ll lap it up, and they’ll believe it – because that’s what they’ve been taught to do. And when people who genuinely believe this go to the voting booth, when they influence the decisions that affect our society and the lives of everyone in it, this isn’t comical; it’s incredibly dangerous. When American foreign policy is based on fever-dream interpretations of the Bible; when research funds for science are allocated based on the myths and superstitions of the Bronze Age; when critical thinking is nonexistent and blind faith rules the day; when extremist religion is merged with politics; and when reason is drowned in paranoia and fearmongering, then our society is in grave danger. Liberty’s malignant fundamentalism, flaunted to the world without a hint of embarrassment, is a lesson for anyone who still thinks that religion is essentially benign.

Coming up: The campus bookstore, plus a visit to Jerry Falwell’s memorial.

About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, Broken Ring, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.

  • Katie M

    This can’t last forever. Our global civilization is coming to rely more and more on science and technology-sooner or later, something will have to give. I predict that the men and women attending Liberty right now will one day come to realize that the Bronze Age is over and the Information Age has begun. It may be a brutal wake-up call, but it is already long overdue.

  • TommyP

    Very scary stuff. These people seem so sure of themselves, but when you read what they say, it’s utter nonsense.

    Having brought up in a Christian household though, I can guarantee that it’s really easy to follow without questioning. It’s such a rush to believe that you’re fighting Satan and preparing for the return of Christ. It’s really funny, the only science I used to respect was the stuff that propped up the Bible. My respect for science grew and grew, until I really had an understanding of the null hypothesis, and the importance of reproducible results. Once I got to that point, I realized that my religion was as far from science as you could get and still be human.

  • http://www.pippinbarr.com Pippin

    Really interesting piece of writing, thanks for reporting on this experience. As you say, it’s definitely a very sobering realisation that people out there don’t just ‘believe’ this stuff in some abstract way, they’re very seriously into it and into perpetuating it.

    The only note that wasn’t particularly to my liking was the slightly back-handed ‘wonderment’ about the segregation of male and female dorms. Seriously, that’s not the world’s most uncommon thing, and it’s not necessarily rooted in some absurd religious doctrine. I’m not saying I think it’s ‘right’ or anything, just that it’s not as surprising as you intimate. Frankly, I hardly think you need any extra ammunition in communicating how odd these people seem to be.

  • CybrgnX

    NEVER!!!! EVER underestimate the absolute power of HUMAN STUPIDITY!!!
    What you reported on is NOT ignorance. Its STUPIDITY!!! and the power of stupidity allows them to believe in the BS but to also ‘reset’ their beliefs when they do not occur. As in ‘rapture is due in 1989′ whoops! I meant 2000! Whoops! I really meant 2011. And the ‘On purpose-trying really really hard to cultivate’ stupid continues to buy into this stuff. I guess thinking hurts too much even in a ‘university’.

  • Valhar2000

    Katie, I think that what will give may very well be science and technology. Not on a global scale, but I do think it is likely that a major economic catastrophe will be required in order for these people to finally wise up: like the 30′s or worse. A lot of suffering will be had.

    Actually, thinking of the situation in many 3rd world countries, it is possible that even the descent into 3rd world level poverty will not disabuse these people of their idiocy, and that instead they will hang on to it even more tightly for comfort.

  • Caiphen

    I’ve seen many people who absolutely lap this crap up. Conspiracy theories and all. These people aren’t stupid and they’re not even ignorant. They’re F*CK*NG brainwashed. It all starts as an infection that is spread by the parents at childhood which completely affects their thought processes throughout life. They can study TOE and know it’s true, but the infection doesn’t move away that easy. Oh no. Its a long and hard task to irradicate it, I can assure you.

    I was 1 of these suckers at 1 stage. For humanity’s sake, never give up working on any YEC as you’d try to save a child from an oncoming truck. What saved me? The scientific method and the patience of admirable rationally minded people.

  • Polly

    Russian-Islamic attack on Israel? They forgot to include China with its 200million man army as mentioned in Revelations. The Tigris and Euphrates are going to dry up any day now so that the Chinese can march, on foot or horseback, across the ME to invade Israel – a nuclear armed nation smaller than Rhode Island; for its vast deposits of…um…and its mineral wealth of…or its access routes to…um…
    Oh yeah, they’re going to invade because those Commie-Islamists hate Jesus…
    …the same Jesus the Jews don’t believe in either.
    My head hurts. I need some 222.

  • http://she-who-chatters.blogspot.com D

    As with many aspects of evangelicalism, I think this rule is more concerned with avoiding the appearance of impropriety than actual impropriety.

    Fuckin’ bingo! Keep in mind how carefully this sort of mindset must be maintained: pretty much all forms of pleasure are withheld until one has paid one’s dues, or however you want to put it. No sex unless you marry, and that motivates people to marry so they can just get laid for fuck’s sake already without anyone giving them shit over it. The alternative undermines the monolith: if people are allowed to do as they please, they’ll find out that they can have fun with pretty much no negative consequences as long as they think their actions through, and God won’t have that. So they have to continuously reinforce their bullshit and make sure that people who do what they like (instead of what they’re told) suffer consequences, otherwise word will get out that you can do what you like and not just what you’re told and things can still work out OK.

    @ Pippin (#3): While dorm segregation isn’t abnormal per se, what is abnormal is the absolute lack of variety. The state university I attended did have some all-male and all-female dorms, one each of which forbade access by the opposite sex after a certain hour. However, in all the other dorms, access was completely open during the day, nobody cared if you spent the night elsewhere, and all you had to do to get someone in your dorm was sign that person in – they were concerned about keeping unwelcome persons out, but it was about who the students wanted in their dorms (or not). What’s weird isn’t that they’re doing this one thing, but rather that there are no other options.

  • Andrew T.

    This is disturbing, but I can’t say I’m surprised: This is exactly the sort of institution I would expect a pseudoscientific, religious “college” run and attended by people who are wholely insane would be. Incidentally, my hometown is about a hundred miles east of Lynchburg, and I’ve known people who have known people who have attended this place. I just hope that their enrollment is going down…

    As a side note, it isn’t uncommon in my experience for small colleges (state and private alike) to primarily (or exclusively, although usually with a common lobby area) offer single-sex dorms. I never understood the point of them, though.

  • Katie M

    Valhar2000-I sure hope you’re wrong :(

  • Penguin_Factory

    Oh man, pre-tribulation nonsense. I read the first Left Behind book when I was in secondary school and up to a point I actually thought it was pretty cool. If you just read the first few chapters, before the book really gets into all of the thinly veiled “Why Christianity is super neat” stuff, it’s pretty entertaining. And the back cover blurbs make them sound like the most awesome thing ever- an elite team assasinating the anti-christ while a hoard of demons rampage through Europe? Hell yeah!

    Then I found out that the books are supposed to basically be non-fiction, and something inside me died.

    I also love the bit about the whole light problem. If direct observations contradict your beliefs, what do you do? Posulate an entirely theoretical phenomenon that has never even been confirmed today, much less during the “creation” of the Universe, to explain it all away.

  • Katie M

    I had an extremely brief flirtation with evangelical Christianity when I was 18 (just goes to show you that I clearly didn’t understand it as well as I thought I did), and I read every Left Behind book that my library had. By the end, I was completely disgusted, and returned to the works of Carl Sagan and Richard Dawkins. And I’m all the saner for it.

  • http://www.essentiallightphotography.com Jim Sabiston

    “When American foreign policy is based on fever-dream interpretations of the Bible; when research funds for science are allocated based on the myths and superstitions of the Bronze Age; when critical thinking is nonexistent and blind faith rules the day; when extremist religion is merged with politics; and when reason is drowned in paranoia and fearmongering, then our society is in grave danger. Liberty’s malignant fundamentalism, flaunted to the world without a hint of embarrassment, is a lesson for anyone who still thinks that religion is essentially benign.”

    Bingo. There it is in a nutshell. Very well said.

  • http://reasonvsapologetics.blogspot.com jim

    ‘A highlight was the bestowment of the Walvoord award upon Tim LaHaye, John Whitcomb, and Chuck Smith… It was a moving experience to realize that those three men were all over 80 and have served the Lord their entire adult lives. Each man is still excitingly looking for the Lord’s return at any moment.’

    I live in SoCal, and happened to attend Calvary Chapel a few times in the 1970s- Chuck Smith’s church. He was always on about ‘Jesus is coming this year, fer sure! All the signs…’yada, yada, yada. They’ve been repeating this for decades, but you’ve got to wonder if they’re being completely honest about their ‘assurance’ regarding Jesus’ return after being wrong year, after year, after bloody year. Reality MUST seep into some of the cracks in their cognitive dissonace, eventually. Mustn’t it? In my case, it surely did.

    Then again, when I finally rejected the bible, I remember there being a period of time when I didn’t even know who I was. I was so used to interpreting everything in light of scripture, that it seemed something integral to the person I really was had been squeezed out. And when you’re ensconced in an institution like this, where you live, eat, and breathe a literal fantasy, it must be even tougher to recover any sort of intellectual integrity. What a waste of youth. Makes me very sad.

  • http://she-who-chatters.blogspot.com D

    Jim,
    Some of the guys out front don’t actually believe their own bullshit. Many who are in charge of such institutions are cynical opportunists who just want to have power over others, and they’re willing to say or do whatever they have to in order to get that power. And what do you know, there’s a tremendously authoritarian institution all ready to go, accorded automatic respect in the minds of most, claiming that those who are in charge were put there by no less a figure than Imaginary God himself.

    What power-hungry, morally bankrupt manipulator wouldn’t go for such a deal? “You mean I get unquestioned authority over people for just going along with some silly song and dance? Where do I sign up?!” These types don’t want to get along with each other, but rather to get ahead of each other – and a whole load of nastiness and misapprehension of reality goes with it, such as the idea that you can’t win at life unless someone else is losing at it, that wealth is a static quantity, that morality is only for the masses and not for those in power, and so on. It’s a scary picture, and I wouldn’t believe it myself if I hadn’t read The Authoritarians.

    Critical thinking, in all its forms, is a direct threat to what makes their way of life possible. All they have to do – indeed, all they can do – is engage in some outrageous demagoguery in order to hold on to their own power as long as they can. But then, this is what would inevitably happen when you get unquestioning followers together with unconscionable leaders.

  • KShep

    At the time I saw all this, I laughed. Can you imagine anyone still believing this nonsense? was my initial reaction. But the more I reflect on it, the more sobering an experience it is. The fact of the matter is that there are people who do believe this nonsense, and are doing their best to broadcast it to the world – and, in large part, they’ve succeeded.

    Even more frightening: that goofball institution has a law school. And a good number of its’ graduates were duly ensconced in the Bush administration. Safe bet some of them kept their jobs when Obama came along.

    Makes the hair on the back of your neck stand up, doesn’t it?

  • KShep

    And D, you’re absolutely right–more than anything else, it’s power they’re after. Too bad too few people can’t tell the difference between a leader and a megalomaniac.

  • http://generalsystemsvehicle.blogspot.com Mandrellian

    Unbelievable that Christian Right Republicans were the ones talking ominously of Obama’s alleged education in a “madrassa”! As if this propaganda & ignorance-factory isn’t a madrassa run by Christian mullahs. It all goes hand-in-glove with that special brand of American militarist exceptionalism and “us vs them” vengeance fantasy which masquerades all too often as simple patriotism.

    They talk in paranoid rants about being persecuted from all sides; however if this kind of institution existed in a country where Christians actually *were* an oppressed minority, this “school” would be shut down in about five minutes and its leaders imprisoned or deported (or worse). They should look around and acknowledge how fortunate they are that their nation not only permits their existence but approves of it by doing nothing to counter their flagrant disregard for real education (I guess when less than half the people vote, every vote counts).

  • http://uncyclopedia.wikia.com/wiki/User:Modusoperandi Modusoperandi

    “Dr. Ice”? Sounds like the bassist in a funk band.

    The training will include “social justice” training which is code word for Communism, socialism and Marxism.
    How much must they hate their “out-group” for them to make “social justice” a bad term?
    I know they’d reply “It’s about personal salvation.”, but none of the Fruits of the Holy Spirit involved screwing over one’s neighbour instead of helping them.
    I know they’d reply “But that’s what personal charity is for.”, but that requires ignoring just how well the State can do when people aren’t trying to break it. Which they do. And they are.

    Valhar2000 ‘Not on a global scale, but I do think it is likely that a major economic catastrophe will be required in order for these people to finally wise up: like the 30′s or worse. A lot of suffering will be had.”
    Um…like now?

    “Actually, thinking of the situation in many 3rd world countries, it is possible that even the descent into 3rd world level poverty will not disabuse these people of their idiocy, and that instead they will hang on to it even more tightly for comfort.”
    They’ll blame “the gays” and atheists and secular humanists and muslims and socialists and…
    It’s never their fault and, if it is, all it takes is a misremembering of history (and a scapegoat, as above) to pass the buck (when the president changed from an R to a D, suddenly it was “Obama’s recession”, for instance, no matter what lead to it).

    KShep “And a good number of its’ graduates were duly ensconced in the Bush administration.”
    I think your thinking more of Pat Robertson’s Regent University School of Law or Patrick Henry College. Same scam, different location.

    “Too bad too few people can’t tell the difference between a leader and a megalomaniac.”
    It’s easy. My leaders are leaders. Yours are megalomaniacs. My in-group is righteous, while yours hates America. My people are right. Yours aren’t just wrong or misinformed, they’re evil. It’s Manichean, baby. True story.

  • Nes

    It’s bad enough seeing this everywhere online, and I mean everywhere, but now having seen someone use “loose” on a printed sign when they should have used “lose” is going to make me lose it!

    Also, how many hours do they think are in a week? One of those pamphlet writers thinks that people watch an average of 20+ hours of TV every day… I wonder when they squeeze in 8 hours for work and sleep?

  • Wilma

    The roots of Christian Fascism are deep and science and technology will not alone eradicate them. This recent WaPo article, ‘God gap’ impedes U.S. foreign policy, task force says, directly links national security strategy with “religion” (read Christianity).

    The political and foreign policy utility of this insanity means that you will be facing this problem for a long time to come.

  • http://uncyclopedia.wikia.com/wiki/User:Modusoperandi Modusoperandi

    No we won’t, Wilma. I have it on good authority that Jesus will be back in my lifetime. True story.

  • Seomah

    Nes: That’s on average. Meaning that if someone watches just 10 hours a day, another one must watch 30. Either there are people watching two or three tvs at once, or it’s a miracle, just like the “bending” of the value of pi.

  • Maynard

    “When American foreign policy is based on fever-dream interpretations of the Bible; when research funds for science are allocated based on the myths and superstitions of the Bronze Age; when critical thinking is nonexistent and blind faith rules the day; when extremist religion is merged with politics; and when reason is drowned in paranoia and fearmongering, then our society is in grave danger. Liberty’s malignant fundamentalism, flaunted to the world without a hint of embarrassment, is a lesson for anyone who still thinks that religion is essentially benign.”

    Bingo. There it is in a nutshell. Very well said.

    I agree. So well said that I made it a status post on Facebook, minus the last sentence of the quote.

    My religious sister hasn’t commented on any of my atheist posts since the backlash she received when she questioned my public (facebook) contempt of Ray Comfort’s Origin give away. This just might get her to break her silence.

  • http://she-who-chatters.blogspot.com D

    @ Wilma (#21): I read that article you linked and came to an entirely different conclusion. It appeared to me that the task force was saying, “Look, other people’s religions are important to them, and we need to take that into account by acknowledging their religions rather than ignoring them. So we should do things like train diplomats on the religious customs of those with whom they’ll be dealing.” As a point of pragmatics, it makes sense to me, although I personally don’t like the idea that leaving religious baggage at the door doesn’t work with a lot of places.

    @ Nes (#20): By the stars, I’m glad that someone else noticed that! I fuckin’ hate it when people do that! (And I wonder why nobody will play Scrabble with me…)

  • Katie M

    I just followed Maynard’s example and updated my Facebook status with the quote.

  • KShep

    It’s easy. My leaders are leaders. Yours are megalomaniacs…..

    I wonder if any of those idiots even know what a megalomaniac is.

  • btj

    Another article, with insightful comments, that just makes me shake my head with disappointment at my fellow humans. The mindset that considers evolution and global warming to be sketchy “theories” at best, yet considers the resurrection of Jesus to be a perfectly well documented historical fact simply baffles me. I’m not sure how long democracy can survive in an environment where so much of the electorate has willfully abandoned critical thought.

  • Alex Weaver

    Regarding the Pre-Trib Perspectives image…

    I’m torn. On one hand I believe that debates should be focused on substantial matters of proof and personal cheap shots avoided.

    On the other hand, I find it deliciously ironic that this same institution which insists so passionately that biological evolution does not occur, and transitional fossils do not exist, prominently displays, in its own advertising, photographic proof of a transitional stage between primates and matamata turtles.

  • Caiphen

    ‘I’m not sure how long democracy can survive in an environment where so much of the electorate has willfully abandoned critical thought’.

    BTJ

    What the hell is happening in America? How could this have happened? My fear goes well beyong democracy. Since I’ve become an atheist, my fear for our species has multiplied. We have to promote science as much as we can as it’s our only hope.

  • Wilma

    D (#25):

    It appeared to me that the task force was saying, “Look, other people’s religions are important to them, and we need to take that into account by acknowledging their religions rather than ignoring them. So we should do things like train diplomats on the religious customs of those with whom they’ll be dealing.”

    Read Sourcewatch on IGE, go to IGE’s journal, The Review of Faith and International Affairs, and look at these articles:

    “Cashing in on Religion’s Currency?: Ethical Challenges for a Post-secular Military”
    “Ready … or Not?: Equipping the U.S. Military Chaplain for Inter-Religious Liaison”
    “Agents of Peace in Theaters of War: Rethinking the Role of Military Chaplains”
    “An Overview of the U.S. Military Chaplaincy: A Ministry of Presence and Practice”

    They want to spread “religious freedom” just like they spread “democracy”. At point of gun. “Cizik said some parts of the world — the Middle East, China, Russia and India, for example[!] — are particularly sensitive to the U.S. government’s emphasis on religious freedom and see it as a form of imperialism.”

    Freedom as an excuse for intervention. Religion is not the only form of ideological perversion.

  • http://uncyclopedia.wikia.com/wiki/User:Modusoperandi Modusoperandi

    Caiphen “Since I’ve become an atheist, my fear for our species has multiplied. We have to promote science as much as we can as it’s our only hope.”
    I’m less concerned with science and more concerned with the stunning lack of bullshit detectors in common discourse as well as most media (and its watchers).
    BS detectors and science do go rather well together, but without the former the latter ends up including woo and other sciency things. See the hippy chick who knows about and accepts evolution and global warming, but has all of Deepak Chopra’s books and uses crystals to center her shepowers, for example, or Bill Maher* who, right or wrong, tends to be right or wrong for all the wrong reasons, because he can’t distinguish “things I dislike” and “things that are wrong”.

    * I should note that I have trouble listening to anything that Maher says, because he’s so insufferably smug. That I notice I have trouble means that at least part of my bullshit detector (the one that distinguishes “things I dislike” and “things that are wrong”) is at least partly functional.

  • Caiphen

    Modus

    Yep, I can’t argue with you there my friend.

    I have to say, my bullshit detector was working well today. I had to go to church as I was invited by a close family born again christian friend for a certain celebration. It was going beep, beep, beep all the f*ck*ng time!

  • Thumpalumpacus

    It was telling you to reverse.

  • Kennypo65

    All the while that I was reading these posts, I couldn’t stop thinking about that “Campari” ad that ran in Hustler magazine all those years ago.


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