German Reporter Goes Undercover at Fundamentalist Christian College

A few years ago, writer Kevin Roose (now a reporter for the New York Times) wrote a fantastic book called The Unlikely Disciple: A Sinner’s Semester at America’s Holiest University. It was about a semester he spent undercover at Jerry Falwell‘s super-Christian Liberty University.

Recently, German reporter Amrai Coen wanted to do something similar — go undercover at also-super-Christian Patrick Henry College. But because the administrators had “bad experiences with foreign journalists,” they told her no. So instead, Coen went to the school on Visitor’s Day pretending to be a prospective student, “Elisha Schaefer.” Her report can be found at the German newspaper Die Zeit. There’s also a good English-language summary at Daily Kos.

Amrai Coen

The most damning part of the article, which should come as no surprise to anyone who knows anything about the school, may be this:

Could these students really govern America some day? I ask myself after a few hours and many conversations on campus. Most of them have only experienced their own living rooms as their classroom and their siblings as classmates. And these are the students who want to into politics, to pursue a career that is involved in social responsibility, to make decisions that impact the lives of millions of people.

The most interesting part of the article? Coen’s encounter with a former Miss America, now studying at the school (my own rough translation below):

Teresa Scanlan wants to have as many children as God will give her, she says. “And I want to adopt at least ten.” She believes children should be taught at home. By whom? “By her mother, of course” says Scanlan. How she intends to combine motherhood with her career, she has no answer. “But God will have a plan for me.” When asked about her role models, she responds, “Mother Teresa and Sarah Palin.” Mother Teresa, because it is the proof that a single person can move the society. Sarah Palin, because she is a woman who combines politics and faith.

In case you never read it, Hanna Rosin wrote an excellent piece (#longreads) on the school for the New Yorker in 2005. It’s required reading for any atheist wondering what goes on in the minds of the Christians so far to the right, they’re no longer even on the spectrum.

(Thanks to Deanna for the link!)

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • ortcutt

    Given the demographic decline that evangelical Christianity faces, what are these kids going to do in 20 years when evangelicals are a fairly absurd insular minority group rather than a politically powerful interest group?  That’s what I don’t understand.  

    • Artor

      They will complain even louder about being persecuted martyrs.

      • chanceofrainne

        I’m tempted to offer to make their fantasy a reality.  But I suppose that wouldn’t be Nice.

      • Christopher Nolte

        While Christianity began with the cries of a oppressed few, so it will whimper away with the cries of a regressed few.

      • julie

        I feel like we should hold onto every instance where Christians insist that they are being persecuted and pass it on to our grandchildren: “See? They complained about persecution when they were in the majority and over-represented in congress. Don’t pity them now that they are a minority.”

        • Robert Freid

          But what of a minority (religious vs. atheist, so in this case we’ll use the atheist as the minority) that comes to power and vitriolically destroys the majority (in this case the religious [Jews, Christians, Muslims, etc.]). Then do you pity them even if you do not believe in their religion, or despite past previous statements, if the persecution became a reality.  Say, if a religious-free utopia backfires.

    • GodVlogger (on YouTube)

      I caution that we should not underestimate our foes in the battle for political influence…

      Your same quote could have been voiced in the 1970′s and would have gotten a lot of agreement, but then religious influence in government grew wildly over subsequent decades.

      We must continue our efforts to create a reality-based society.

      • Anna

        Also, I don’t think the evangelicals are losing numbers. It’s the mainstream, moderate denominations that are dying. Conservative evangelical churches are picking up a lot of those people.

    • SwampYankee

      They will end up on low rent reality show where we can mock them

      • Robert Freid

        Sounds pretty dystopian to me…

  • TheExpatriate700

    A whole college full of deluded people.

  • anuran

    After reading Hanna Rosin’s The New Yorker article, all that I could say was, “is this for real?”. Anyway thanks for the link. The real face of cultural conservatism can take the society back by decades. “We are all called to be lights out there in this world,” some guy in that article says. I would rather throw a rock at that lamp.

  • pagansister

    So let’s see if I have this straight —Scanlan wants to have as many kids as “God will give her” plus adopting at least 10!?  Does she plan on feeding these children or is god going to provide that too?  We naturally assume God will give her a husband who also wants a perpetually pregnant wife plus 10 more non-biological ones.    AND to top it off she is going to indoctrinate them at home—no mixing with the real world—public or private school..  What is, IMO, really frightening—she admires Palin!   

    • M. Elaine

      I have a cousin who is perpetually pregnant, married to a guy who is head of a youth outreach program who said to extended family that if he was not meant to have any more children, “God will close the womb.”

      • RobMcCune

        “God will close the womb.”

        Does Todd Akin teach an anatomy class or something?

      • pagansister

         Would that be a Velcro or a zipper closing?   I can’t imagine giving birth all the time!  2 was enough for me. 

        • starskeptic

          Godless commie!

          • Stev84

            The commies actually restricted both birth control and abortion. It was particularly bad on Romania which from 1966 on had a state policy of women being pregnant as much as they could. Not surprisingly, illegal abortions and the maternal morality rate soared.

            • fuzzeh

              “maternal morality rate”; oddly relevant typo.

              • Stev84

                 What typo :p ;)

                • fuzzeh

                  well now i just look like a fibber >.>

            • starskeptic

              Explain that to the tin-hat tea party crowd – not to me…

            • Robert Freid

              Wrong! While in Romania under the long-time Communist dictator Nicolae Ceuseceu made abortions illegal and that women get pregnant because it was “Good for the State.” Communist Russia under Vladimir Lenin became the first major country to legalize abortions. Under Stalin, abortion became illegal in 1936 (with exceptions to health issues). Abortion was relegalized in 1955 in the USSR. 
              As I hope you know, in Communist China they have forced late-term abortions that was implemnented in 1978 and continue to go on daily.

              The fascist-national socialist so-called “Third Reich” had a much more complex view on Life and Abortion.

          • pagansister

             I know—terrible isn’t it?   :o)

      • Survey4kp

        Close it? I’d be more worried about it falling out while she’s just walking across the room. SMH

    • Stev84

       Look up “Quiverfull”. It’s scary.

      • Anna

        Yes, and there’s and excellent book on them: Quiverfull: Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement by Kathryn Joyce.

        One of the scariest things I’ve ever read!

        • pagansister

           Are you trying to give me nightmares, Anna?   :o)  

      • pagansister

         I have a bit of knowledge of the “Quiverfull” folks—and I totally agree—it is scary indeed. 

    • Marco Conti

      You forget the part where, in between pregnancies, she is going to be appointed to the supreme court and then win the presidency.

      • pagansister

         Are there enough bedrooms in the White House or will a wing have to be added?   If she only had 1 term, she could add at least 3 kids to her little family—and another term?  3 more.  What a woman!   Cats have litters—apparently she wishes to follow their example.  After all, God made cats too and apparently he/she wanted many cats!      Also while on the Supreme Court  she will, of course, manage to have all abortions made illegal.   Forget Roe V Wade.

    • berberine

       I work in the school district where Teresa Scanlan is from.  Many of the
      girls look up to her as a role model and everyone in town fawns over
      what a great person she is.  They think she is this great person has accomplished a lot in life while ignoring the fact that she’s famous for how she looks in a swimsuit and evening gown.

       She will, no doubt, find someone who wants as many children as she does.  She was also homeschooled until her junior year, when she went to public school.  Just think of her 10+ kids getting the same education she had.

    • DougI

       I’m guessing she’ll be praying that the godless liberals she hates will provide a good welfare program to enable her to raise her kids on the public dime.

      • pagansister

        I expect that  is a possibility.  

      • Dan Maney

        DougI, how do you know she hates liberals?

        • Stev84

           It’s what they learn in “colleges” like that

        • DougI

          She’s a conservative, she attends a militant christian college that works to undermine the Republic, it’s not hard to put two and two together. 

          • Robert Freid

            What you are saying sounds alot like “engage in activities (religious) that disrupt social order” in China. Hmm.

    • Michelle Bowen-Stamper

      In Scanlan’s case, I can only wonder what it is like to be wrapped in a straight jacket of ignorance living in a padded world of delusion and self assured superior smugness.  Her future aspirations echo the stunted development of a child, the only problem is she is supposed to be an adult.

      • pagansister

        I had a thought—perhaps she will wise up after 5-6 pregnancies!  She might determine she really doesn’t like being constantly pregnant.  One can only hope.  OR another thought—maybe she will not be that fertile and have 1-2 God given children and be “barren” after that.  That makes it easier to adopt those 10 children.   Or the husband that agrees to make her constantly pregnant has a low sperm count.  God can see to that if it is his/her wish. 

  • Sebastian

    So, do you speak German, Hemant?

    • Hemant Mehta

      Sure… I mean… um… Ja!

      • advancedatheist

        A reading knowledge of German comes in handy for English-speaking mathematicians. 

        • 3lemenope

          If for no other reason than to know how to properly pronounce “Euler”. 

        • Coyotenose

           But Germans are all SOCIALISTS, and everything worthwhile is invented by CAPITALISTS.

          Checkmate, atheists!

          • Bailey Bednar

             Monopoly was developed to show how inherently broken capitalism is.

            • Robert Freid

              Ever heard of a State (government)-run monopoly?

  • Raising_Rlyeh

    I have to add that the Unlikely Disciple is a very good read. What is so weird about these fundamentalist schools is that the students don’t seem to understand why they are viewed as eccentric at best. 

    Just as an example, and no I’m not plugging the book, in the Unlikely Disciple Mr. Roose talks about what it was like at liberty right after Falwell  Sr died. The students couldn’t understand why Falwell wasn’t being praised by those that opposed him. To them all of what they deemed “good” outweighed all the of the horrible things Falwell had ever said/done. 

    • Godlesspanther

      I noticed that too. After Falwell died, they really thought that the whole world would mourn their loss of one, who was to them, a great hero. 

  • DougI

    Patrick Henry College, educating the future failures of tomorrow.  A bunch of these grads were hired right out college by the Bush regime to rebuild Iraq.  How well did that turn out?

    • ortcutt

      Or Monica Goodling, Messiah College and Regent Law School grad.

      • allein

        Messiah was our big soccer rival when I was in college. I didn’t realize they were that religious (then again it really wasn’t something on my radar at the time).

  • Godlesspanther

    I am going to have to read Roose’s book. I find infiltration adventures to be quite fascinating. The greatest, in my opinion, is Stetson Kennedy’s infiltration of the KKK. 

  • Robert Freid

    I bet this is to show “how crazy religious schools are” in order to bring them into the “glorious public education system.” That way they can be “properly educated” in the ways of the State desires them to. “Go undercover at a Christian schoool”? C’mon, good thing she is not police because then that would be TOTAL Secret Police activity. How would you guys feel if someone of the religious community “went undercover” at say, the Secular Students Alliance during one of their conferences? I can gurantee there would be some SERIOUS hell raised then if that happened… 

    • W E Fitz

       ummm no one would care, and if you rtfa she wanted to originally go as a journalist, but they didn’t like that.

      • Robert Freid

        Good, you are consistant as well.

    • amycas

       There would be no need for them to go undercover, because the SSA would probably welcome a religious student at one of their conferences.

      • Robert Freid

        I am talking about private conferences.

        • Revyloution

          What private conferences?  Robert,  I think your’e projecting.

          • Stev84

             Aren’t they always?

            • Robert Freid

              Projecting what! Everyone can have a right to predict.

          • Robert Freid

            C’mon, you know what I mean.

            • Anna

              Actually, we don’t. Where are these atheist-only conferences?

    • Coyotenose

       I’m very sorry that you don’t grasp investigative journalism, the well-established dangers of insular religious schooling (despite the fact it’s discussed on Patheos daily), the openness of organizations like SSA, or the absurdity of knee-jerk pseudo-Orwellian paranoia.

      Chris Farley in “Tommy Boy” had some good words about “guarantees”.

      • Robert Freid

        And I am sorry you do not grasp how prescious our freedoms are! Mine and yours. As for the SSA, I was trying to make a point. “the absurdity of knee-jerk pseudo-Orwellian paranoia” c’mon, I have read that novel (one of my favortites), Meh. “established Dangers of insular religious schooling” and yet you wonder why I used that (Secret Police example). 

    • Anna

      I don’t honestly think anyone here would have a problem with a religious person going undercover at an atheist event. I know I wouldn’t. If they wanted to write about the experience, more power to them!

      You seem a wee bit paranoid. Has anyone, anywhere, ever suggested closing down religious colleges? I’ve never heard of any efforts to turn them into public universities. They’re private, and they’re free to teach what they want. Of course, that means that outsiders are just as free to criticize their actions.

      • Robert Freid

        Okay good, you are consistant.

        • Anna

          And…? No one on this thread was being inconsistent. You made up a fantasy in your head of super-secret atheist meetings where only atheists are allowed, and then decided that all of us would have a problem with religious people attending and writing about them. None of that is based in reality.

  • T Nick Usalis Knight

    The reporter is smoking hot.  Important no, but just an observation.  

  • Sue Blue

    Bleeding shit – I couldn’t believe Patrick Henry College’s website!  I don’t even know how they can call themselves a college.  Their website reads like a church website…or a cult’s.  If Jim Jones was alive today, I imagine his crazy-ass cult screed would look much like Patrick Henry’s website.  Their entire focus is on forcing religion into every aspect of private and public life.  There are pages of “values statements” and “pledges” for students, but actual information is thin on the ground.  I had to dig hard to find out anything about their actual academic curriculum, which was sketchy, to say the least.  Not a single science or math course to be seen.  It was all “history”, civics, politics, and arts – the christian version of those things, of course.   

    I can’t believe that any parent would waste thousands of dollars to send their kid to this cult camp, but I guess there’s no limit to crazy.  What even bothers me more is the thought that students may be able to get government grants or loans to waste on this place.   If they are, there’s another thing the FFRF might consider going after.  I don’t want tax money funding any kind of religious education.

  • obbop

    Eagerly awaiting an asteroid impact severe enough to obliterate that virus-like plague upon the planet– humans.

  • Rabbit51

    Romans had the right idea, feed them to the lions.

    • Robert Freid

      If that is the case, then you would not mind me saying that the French Deists under the Maxilmilian Robespiere and the Cult of the Supreme Being had the right idea of beheading atheist Hebertists at the guilotine then, huh. Of course if I meant that (which I certainly do not) I would be considered “intolerant.”

    • TCC

      No. Just stop.

    • obbop

       “Romans had the right idea, feed them to the lions.”

      Why do you hate lions?

  • Anna

    Hanna Rosin also wrote a full-length book about Patrick Henry College:

    I’d definitely recommend it to those interested in learning more about these types of colleges.

  • thespiel

    Shubb Niggurath is pleased.

  • TheConservativeJester

    If you really want to know what its like why take someone else’s slanted view and just ask someone yourself or better yet go and see for yourself. Its a shame that people resort to spreading fear and huge exaggerations to sell a story.

  • formerHACgirl

    That college isn’t even that bad!  If you want to see a fundamentalist nut-ball college, go to Pensacola Christian College, Bob Jones, or – for the adventerous only – Hyles Anderson College.  Trust me, Christianity gets far nuttier than Liberty.  If fact, Liberty is so “liberal” our kind won’t even associate with them.  Someone needs to do some undercover in an IFB college – that will open some eyes!