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.
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?