Tomorrow is AJ Jacobs’ birthday. I know this because of my trusty stalker friend, Señor Facebook. Though AJ and I will never meet, I will still wish him a happy birthday on his wall and browse through what I expect will be other fans’ salutations and birthday wishes.
Jacobs is best known for reading 32 volumes of the Encyclopedia Britannica and then writing about it in The Know-It-All: One Man’s Humble Quest to Become the Smartest Person in the World. His new book, The Year of Living Biblically: One Man’s Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible, records his endeavor to live for an entire year following all the moral codes in the Bible.
This impresses me, and by that I don’t mean the feats themselves. Reading the Encyclopedias is certainly not something I would do, but I think there are plenty of speed readers in the world capable of the same thing. Living the Bible isn’t impossible either, especially if you do it as comfortably as he did. It is the writing itself I’m impressed with. Few people can make the act of reading the Encyclopedia sound exciting; much less the Bible.
Whenever people argue the existence of God, I find myself trying to doubt Him just to see what it feels like. But it has proven hard to shake. The sky is blue. The grass is green. Dancing leads to sex. And God is God. Everyone is born into absolutes, these just happen to be mine.
My beef is not with TL (the lord) himself, but with those who claim Him. Most sermons sound like commercials to me, and I can’t make out whether God is the sponsor or the product. Moreover, all the phony fluff glossed over Christianity today has left a sour taste in my mouth, especially the overemotional supplements used as a feel better medicine. Jacobs’ Year of Living Biblically makes God sound less confusing, more interesting, and His followers only moderately annoying. But I still don’t feel anything.
I’m pretty sure this is normal, or at least I reassure myself that it is. I’ve grown up in a culture and generation that does not discuss such things. We will exchange political preferences, sex positions, and eating disorders much easier than we will our religious beliefs. God is personal. Ask us who we’re voting for, but don’t ask why.
This morning one of my best friends informed me that he had been unwillingly subjected to a mid morning meditative chapel focused on the nails of the cross. Lots of reading, candles being blown out, and hammering into a cross is how he described it. To top it off, when the final candle was extinguished they had a loud crash of cymbals. Though I poked fun of him for having to endure such an uncomfortable and dramatic service, I was relieved I wasn’t there to take part in it. The crucifixion story makes me nervous. Jesus in general makes me nervous.
The Old Testament I can handle, which is odd considering I’m an enthusiastic pacifist. I enjoy the primitive and simple nature of the old stories. The sex, the gore, and those natural disasters don’t hurt either. God exists there, but he doesn’t walk around in the flesh trying to forgive me. I thought I would outgrow this discomfort with TL once I reached adulthood, but it’s only grown worse. I don’t doubt his existence; I just doubt his modern day implications.
Americans like to treat God like Santa Claus or a product to sell. I see him as more of an inventor whose product malfunctioned. Now he’s just sitting back and watching us spiral downward, killing ourselves, each other, and our home one cigarette, handgun, and gas tank at a time.
I realize that sounds a bit bleak, but if you really read the Bible, God is reasonably pissed off a majority of the time. Jacobs highlights many of these inconsistencies between God’s love and God’s wrath throughout his book. But what I found most interesting is his response, he just accepts it. Though he doubts and grapples and wanders, Jacobs eventually just accepts it and moves on. By the end of the book he considers himself “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. The Sabbath can be a sacred day. Prayer can be a sacred ritual. There is something transcendent, beyond the everyday” (329).
As much as I try to accept God’s apparent eternal love and forgiveness and His anger, hell and damnation existing in the same reality, I cannot. It doesn’t make sense. It’s as if He’s schizophrenic. I envy Jacobs in his new found peace, though I suppose if I tried to follow the Bible for an entire year, I might find a similar conclusion.
Maybe next year.