Thursday, July 2, 2009

A.J. Jacobs - The Year of Living Biblically ***

I picked up A.J. Jacobs' second book during a big anti-religion tear a few months ago, where I had just read Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion, found a Book of Mormon in my crazy aunt's house, and basically lost all faith in everything around me. I'm still not sure where I stand on the whole thing, but what I had hoped to find in Jacobs' The Year of Living Bibically was another indictment of the ridiculous and often horrifying practices we find at the root of so much religion. An outing of the violence and racism and sexism that we take for granted, just because that's what The Good Book says.

There was a little of that, as we follow the Esquire editor through his year of growing beards and wearing tassels, seeing him point out the crazy little things that religion expects of us. Things that we know damn well don't mean a thing, that don't satisfy a maker up on high, but that we do out of respect or reverence or just plain tradition. But that's where it stopped. In fact, in the end the relatively agnostic Jacobs was turned into, at the least, a theist of some sort. And it wasn't after some kind of life-altering epiphany about God(s)/ess--he basically admitted that it was a wearing down, a becoming comfortable in the idea of a higher power. My hope for a fire-and-brimstone denunciation of Christianity in all its forms were dashed.

But I'm a big enough man to admit that I was wrong. It was my expectations of the book that were let down, not the book itself. It's extremely well written and personal. I felt like Jacobs' confidant as I read it, not someone who is just basically paying him to go have hair-brained ideas by buying his books (even though technically that's exactly what I'm doing--and holy hell am I jealous of him for that). In fact, as it seems (unless he's too busy by now) he might even read this review somehow. He's got a thing for scouring the internet, looking after what people have thought of his books.

He's a human, all in all. And maybe that's what I've got against him. I was hoping for an anger-fueled machine like Dawkins or Christopher Hitchens, and what I got was a normal guy looking for some answers, not a fired-up atheist motherfucker with a bone to pick. Even though that's what I totally wanted at the time. Looking back, I think I appreciate the book more. It's a journey, told over the course of a long year in learning. We should all be so open as to do such. Or at least read about it and take in what we can from those who do.

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