Friday, November 7, 2008

The Year of Living Biblically by A. J. Jacobs

I remember hearing a couple of years ago about A. J. Jacobs, the guy who spent a year reading through the entire Encyclopedia Britannica and then wrote a book about it. I always sort of planned on reading that book, but I never got around to it. Then a couple of months back, I stumbled across this video teaser for Jacobs' The Year of Living Biblically. For this book, Jacobs read through the Bible (various versions) and wrote down every rule or guideline that he came across. He then spent the next year trying to adhere to this list of rules. Intriguing.

I grew up in a family of religious conservatives who interpreted the Bible literally -- as far as I know they still do. Actually, it wasn't just my family, but many of the people I was in contact with on a day to day basis. Friends. Teachers. Neighbors. Even as a kid, I remember reading specific verses in the Bible and thinking, Okay, this doesn't make sense. If one simply takes the Bible at face value many books pose a lot of problems. For example, just try to follow all the rules laid down in Leviticus. Now some people say that Jesus wiped out many of the Old Testament laws, especially the ones regarding animal sacrifice. But there are a lot of other laws that don't have to do with sacrifices, such as the one is the teaser video, or Deuteronomy 21 which permits the stoning of a son or daughter that is rebellious or a glutton. Hmmm...things like this don't seem to jive with New Testament message of love and peace.

Jacobs comes to much the same conclusion. He prefers "Cafeteria Christianity." This is a derisive name that biblical literalists use to describe Christians that pick and choose from the Bible. I like the term too. There are some good things about the Bible, but you can't delude yourself into thinking that you can follow it in all of its precepts.

I was surprised at the level of respect that Jacobs maintains throughout the book. There are no "David Sedaris" descriptions of the people he encounters, no matter how crazy there beliefs may seem. In fact, Jacobs seems to find the silver lining in most of these beliefs. Not only that, but he does an alarming amount of research, both reading and talking with various religious people. This is not to say that the book is not funny. Jacobs has a good feel for what is funny, and his writing it witty. He just refuses to get his laughs from simply poking fun. Obviously, some of the situations were inherently funny. I particularly enjoyed his description of his trip to the Creation Museum, which is about twenty minutes from where I live.

At times this book reminded me of why I distanced myself from the way I was raised, but most of the time it was just a fun read.

Incidentally, Jacobs contributed an essay to Things I've Learned from Women Who've Dumped Me.


Carlton said...

Jacobs on the Today Show:
Jacobs Today Show Interivew

Brooke said...

I really want to read this book but it is ALWAYS checked out at my school's library.

Carlton said...

Steal one from a bookstore near you.

Kevin said...

I really think you need to read the Texas-Israeli War: 1999 next.

I don't know why, but I think this is pertinent.

Nihil Novum said...

I don't trust Kevin. He sounds like a Zionist.

Carlton said...

The title of one of the Amazon reviews for Texas-Israeli...
2 parts Mad Max + 1 part Yom Kippur War = Good Entertainment