Friday, February 25, 2011

Book Review - The Year of Living Bibilically

My darling wife picked up the book The Year of Living Biblically because she thought I would like it. Does she know me, or what?

The concept is that the author is going to live a year of his life attempting to follow the Bible as literally as possible. He decides to spend eight months following the Old Testament and four months following the new, coinciding roughly to their respective lengths. The contents were quite entertaining though sometimes irksome.

For example:

Although he was always interested in "religion" his plan is to take this extreme approach to show how silly the Bible can be. He's a self-proclaimed liberal New Yorker (where even their conservatives are liberal by midwestern standards) who has a Jewish heritage and writes for Esquire, a men's magazine (or rather a magazine for adult males who haven't embraced what it is to be a man). So he does stuff like wear all white clothing, won't touch his wife after she menstruates, strictly observes the Sabbath and won't eat fruit if he isn't assured that it's taken from a tree more than four years old. The man was OCD to begin with so all these rules give him more room to flex this muscle.

He also tries not to lie, attempts prayer (which he likes but only really embraces a kind of "continual thankfulness"), and generally tries to be good. He also builds a tent in his apartment and sacrifices (almost) a chicken.

A.J. Jacobs spends 400 pages on the first eight months as he reconnects with his Jewish heritage. He visits many different expressions of this faith and attends a variety of ethnic festivals and celebrations. He is genuinely interested and it shows. Halfway through he wonders if he will come out of this year with a genuine faith, as did this reader, but so far he is clinging to his agnosticism.

He then spends a paltry 150 pages on his New Testament months and of these many pages are spent looking back to the Old Testament. His heart just isn't in it. Instead of the entertaining exploits of his Old Testament excusrions he interviews fringe groups like snake handlers, a group of openly gay yet otherwise conservative Christians, Red Letter Christians and attends Jerry Falwell's mega-church. Apparently even though he could travel to Tennessee to view snake handling and Isreal to visit his a cult-leader-like religious ex-relative he couldn't find time to visit a normal Christian church. Soon into his New Testament writings I lost hope that he would have faith and in the end he consigns himself to being a hopeful agnostic, more thankful for the blessings in his life than he was before but still without belief in God.

All in all, an entertaining read that was a bit rushed and incomplete. I give it four out of five fig leaves.

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