Another week, another book:

If I’m not careful, this is going to become a book-report blog, though I guess there are worse things to do with one’s time…

This week I read “The Year of Living Biblically” by A.J. Jacobs, about his one-year quest to attempt to follow every rule in the bible (though not all at once!).  Mr. Jacob’s book is billed as humor, and there are some funny bits in it, but I didn’t find the book funny so much as thoughtful.  It could be that he found it difficult to really bring the full brunt of his sarcastic style (kind of like Dave Berry, but not so over-the-top) to a subject that is very serious to so many people.  It could be that my sarcasm-impairment prevented me from really appreciating the humor, or it could be that the book wasn’t very funny.  It doesn’t matter.  It’s a good book.

Mr. Jacobs comes to two main insights after his year:

The first is that everyone picks and chooses which rules to follow from the bible.  It is impossible to follow the bible literally, even ignoring the problem of which version of the bible you care to read.  While he didn’t mention any rules that were outright contradictory, there are the twin problems of sheer number (he found some 700) and interpretation.  We have so much now that simply did not exist when the bible was written, how do you interpret the rules in light of new development.  A good example is in vitro fertilization.  This technique was not available until the 1970’s.  It is frowned upon by some groups (including the Catholic Church), but what if it is the only way to fulfill the commandment to “be fruitful and multiply”?  Certainly there is room for both approval and disapproval in the interpretation of the laws and rules of the bible as applied to that technique.

The second conclusion Mr. Jacobs reaches is that life, human life, is full of sacred things.  Religion is there to help us appreciate the sacred in our mundane lives.

Although I am an atheist, I can appreciate his second point – even removing the idea of ‘god’ and all aspects of the ‘supernatural’ does not necessarily remove the idea of sacredness.

Mr. Jacobs works at not just following the rules, but delving into possible reasons for the rules, examining their history, the history of both Judaism and Christianity, and he shares that exploration with us as we read.  We get a lot of interpretation through the people he calls his ‘spritual advisory board’ which included people from all through the religious spectrum.  As Mr. Jacobs is coming from a point of ignorance (he was raised a secular Jew in New York, and was non-, if not anti- religious before the book), he gathers information from a number of sources before coming to a decision as to how to follow a particular rule.  He also makes a strong effort to truly live a religious life, even if he is not completely successful.

I certainly recommend reading this book, though “The Joy of Sects” may be a bit more intellectually educational, “The Year of Living Biblically” is more emotionally satisfying.

ex animo

Post script: I haven’t forgotten about “The God Delusion”!



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