Title: The Year of Living Biblically
Author: A.J. Jacobs
Publisher: Simon and Schuster 2008
Rating: 3 / 5 stars
Reading Challenges: Dewey Decimal — 200s; Mixing It Up — Journalism and Humor; A to Z — Y
How I Got It: Library Loan
Raised in a secular family but increasingly interested in the relevance of faith in our modern world, A.J. Jacobs decides to dive in headfirst and attempt to obey the Bible as literally as possible for one full year. He vows to follow the Ten Commandments. To be fruitful and multiply. To love his neighbor. But also to obey the hundreds of less publicized rules: to avoid wearing clothes made of mixed fibers; to play a ten-string harp; to stone adulterers.
The resulting spiritual journey is at once funny and profound, reverent and irreverent, personal and universal and will make you see history’s most influential book with new eyes.
I read Jacob’s first experiment The Know-It-All about him reading the Encyclopedia. I laughed out loud through most of the book. So I went into this book with high hopes. A secular Jewish man living in NYC decides to follow the Biblical rules. I thought I would laugh at his escapades; at least chuckle.
Unfortunately, I grew more and more angry as the book progressed. Jacobs begins noticing things about life in his episodes. I can appreciate these. For example, he realizes that his life is bombarded with media. Once he turns it all off, he enjoys more life. I can get it. But then he gets way too obsessive over these rules. I just can’t get behind these at all. In discussing parenting, he comes to the conclusion that he must impart religion to his son otherwise he will end up an atheist criminal or a crazy fundamentalist. This seems like a strong either-or concept as opposed to a rational parenting choice. Another point of contention is the whole creationism vs. evolution debate. In discussing he comes to the conclusion:
“I believe that’s a key motivation to creationsim: the need to feel less inconsequential. I remember Mark Looy–the publicist for the Creation Museum–saying, ‘Evolution says that we are the product of random processes. That we evolved via pond scum. When we say that, we’re not applying much value to humanity. If we say we’re a product of accidents and random processes, how much purpose and hope does that give to our youth'” (page 107)
I have multiple issues with this: 1. Evolution is not ‘accidents and random processes,’ it’s adaptation to the purpose for better chances of survival. 2. Why does evolution lead to not valuing humanity? It doesn’t. We can value life for the sake of life. 3. Purpose and hope is a human concept. One that we can consciously impart. It’s these types of discussions that I just had trouble getting through.
In the end, Jacobs ends up as a “reverent agnostic” but one who still plans on observing the Sabbath and praying to God (which God, I’m not sure). At times, I agree with his observations about modern life. I applaud his taking the time to examine his life. I just have issues in some of his conclusions. For these reasons, I gave the book 3 stars. It’s well-written… just not for me.