A. J. Jacobs’ The Year of Living Biblically: Should We Bother?
“The Bible may not have been dictated by God, it may have had a messy and complicated birth, one filled with political agendas and outdated ideas—but that doesn’t mean the Bible can’t be beautiful and sacred” (316).
This quote perfectly sums up A. J. Jacobs’ experience following the Bible literally for a year. It also more or less sums up my experience reading the Bible. I found that, contrary to what I thought I would discover, my issue has never (or at least rarely) been with what the Bible says; rather, my issue has been with how people have chosen to use the Bible for their own personal (and in a number of cases, political) reasons. The important word here is choice. Reading Jacobs’ book has reinforced this feeling for me.
Jacobs wraps up his experience by looking at this idea of choice, with regard to what people choose to follow from the Bible. For, obviously, if you elect not to follow the Bible literally, you are then selectively choosing what to adhere to.
He discusses “cafeteria Christians,” a phrase that refers to those who pick and choose which rules to follow. Although this term has been used derisively by Fundamentalist Christians to describe moderate Christians, as Jacobs’ experience illustrates, this type of selectivity makes sense in our modern era. However, he does point out, in staying with the cafeteria metaphor, that a portion of these “moderate” Christians will select “a nice helping of mercy and compassion” yet have no problem doing anything about the ban on homosexuality (327). He is also quick to point out that EVERYONE who follows Christianity exercises their own type of choice about what to follow. They have to, as he states, because if they didn’t, they would have to “kick women out of church for saying hello” (328).
He recognizes that there’s nothing wrong with choice, and he even praises cafeterias, saying he’s had some great meals in such establishments; however, the key is making the right choices. He suggests embracing the nurturing and healthy ones—avoid the bitter ones (328).
As he suggests with this last point, is there a better guide for deciding which parts of the Bible a person should follow? I would add that the criticism of this type of decision-making would be that a person only selects the ones that are convenient; however, compassion can be a difficult, and often inconvenient pill to swallow. So those who practice it routinely deserve praise.
Jacobs’ journey ends by stating he has become a reverent agnostic, and that’s as compassionate as you can become without changing your belief system: he respects what others believe without telling them they are wrong. This experience has made him more respectful of different belief systems and ways of life. That’s the best lesson to learn from his journey, and one of several reasons that I enjoyed reading his book.
If only everyone were so open minded and tolerant, the gay community would have an easier time with our lives in society.
Next up: I plan to read and discuss the Gnostic Gospels, by Elaine Pagels