Recovering from the Year of Living Biblically

A. J. Jacobs describes himself as an agnostic Jew. As such, he’s not someone you would expect to find headlining Christian conferences and speaking at local churches. But lately, he’s been invited to do just that. 41IlsFPErjL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA240_SH20_OU01_

Jacobs recently released a book entitled The Year of Living Biblically: One Man’s Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible. Really, as literally as possible for an entire year. Not only did Jacobs take up the more ‘common’ practices, such as tithing, curbing the lust of his eyes, and guarding his tongue, he also took up some of the more obscure customs, such as: not mixing wool and linen, growing a beard that puts ZZ Top to shame, and of course a strict dietary code, which included eating crickets. As an aside, he considered some rules, such as killing magicians, worthy of abstaining from.

I haven’t read the book personally (yet), but it seems that it’s being well-received by parties across the spectrum, which seems due to the respect that Jacobs displayed to everyone involved. In an interview with Christianity Today (from whom I borrowed the title of this post), Jacobs discusses the warm reception he’s receiving by saying,

I’m speculating, but I think part of it is they [Evangelicals] were appreciative that I went in with an open mind and an open heart, and I wasn’t judgmental. I didn’t do a Bill Maher Religulous hatchet job with an agenda. I really did go in to try to just understand and find the allure and what, if anything, I can take from religion.

I’ve also gotten e-mails from Christians who say that they appreciate it because at least in the first half of the book you get to see a really secular mindset. They say, "Thank you for allowing me to see what’s inside of a secular person’s mind."

I think a lot of people, especially in the emergent church movement, like that I took to task too much over literalization or legalism. I do think that if you take the Bible too literally then you get into trouble.

I was very nervous before the book came out about the reaction, because I thought that I had done a fair job and I had gone in open-minded and to learn, but mixing humor and the Bible is a risky proposition. But I think that they go very well together.

And in the end, he says, "I’m now a reverent agnostic. Which isn’t an oxymoron, I swear. I now believe that whether or not there’s a God, there is such a thing as sacredness. Life is sacred."

This is interesting to me for a couple reasons. First, I get intensely frustrated with the Bill Maher’s of the world, who in my view accomplish little more than driving unnecessary wedges between people of faith and secular society.  Jacobs offers a refreshing alternative. In my view, mutual respect and tolerance are the preconditions for any type of meaningful dialogue.

Second, I was reminded of Pascal, who believed (and tried to persuade others) that the Christian life as he experienced it was the most rewarding, fulfilling, and meaningful way to live. Obviously, Jacobs wasn’t that convinced by the lifestyle he lived (nor did he live the Christian life as Pascal would have envisioned it), but the experience did reshape how he thought about life, specifically, he gained a deeper appreciation for the sacredness of ritual and life.

What do you think? Is it interesting to you? If so, why? If not, why not?

10 thoughts on “Recovering from the Year of Living Biblically

  1. It seems like it would be an interesting read. It’s unfortunate that this probably won’t get a whole lot of publicity. A large part of the problem with the “wedges” that exist is the perspective of the two parties involved about the Bill Maher types.

    Often times, people who are not religious tend to think about those that are in the way that Maher presents them. Similarly, people who are religious tend to think about those who are not as though they are all like Bill Maher.

    If the author of this book were more of the standard for comparison, perhaps the perception by both parties would change, and there would be less division.

    • Often times, people who are not religious tend to think about those that are in the way that Maher presents them. Similarly, people who are religious tend to think about those who are not as though they are all like Bill Maher

      Absolutely.

  2. Wow. That took dedication! I’d be very interested in reading this to see just how the thought process went. I think it’s also really good that Christians have found it an insight into a secular mind – something which there could be more of, IMO. Some of the assumptions I have found Christians make about how others must think and feel range from the amusing to the offensive.

    • Some of the assumptions I have found Christians make about how others must think and feel range from the amusing to the offensive

      I think there is a general lack of understanding among us Christians as to why secular people are consciously secular. Too often, such people are to us little more than rebellious pagans who reject the self-evident truth about Jesus. A book like this would certainly help to address that lack of understanding and build mutual respect for each other as rational human beings.

      And as I said in my opening post, I believe that mutual respect is the precondition for dialogue, so if a book like this can help foster that respect, I’m all for it.

      • I suspect there’s a bit too much dismissing on both sides. Are you sure that secular people are consciously secular, though? I would have thought that the vast majority, those who are neither intellectual atheists or deliberate ex-religionists, are secular because that’s what the culture is and they never really think about it. The self-evidence of truths (if any) about Jesus are not that evident to a person who has only heard of Jesus in Christmas carols and news reports of wacky fundamentalists, particularly as they must become culturally abnormal if they are to become sincere believers of any religion. Much easier not to think about it and stay normal.

        Maybe that’s more true outside the US, though – I really can’t imagine what it’s like to live in a genuinely religious culture.

        • Are you sure that secular people are consciously secular, though?

          No, I’m not sold on that, and I really didn’t mean to imply it! I just wasn’t clear in my original statement.

          You make a good point; there are plenty of people who are secular by default (i.e., it’s their culture). I suppose what I had in mind in my original comments were those who are deliberately so (which is what I understand the author of this book to be).

          But you raise a very good point, in spite of my lack of clarity. I would imagine there is just as much to learn from the “culturally secular” (and I don’t mean that as an insult or anything) as from the “consciously secular.” I don’t think one gets to mutual respect without some sort of mutual understanding, so learning about others who think differently (very differently, in some cases) is important.

  3. This seems like a really interesting book. I had a close friend in college who converted to Messianic Judaism (he’s a Jew that believes Jesus IS the Messiah, but he still practices according to Jewish law and holidays). I would imagine Jacobs’ lifestyle would mirror that.

    I’d be really impressed to hear if Jacobs managed to live the entire year without complaining! That would be tough…

    • I am familiar with Messianic Jews; however, I don’t know how their practices compare to other Jewish sects. For example, Orthodox Jews are very stringent in their following of the law, but I don’t know how they compare to Jacobs’ year or vice-versa.

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