6/24/09

A. J. Jacobs - Night at the Royal Ontario Museum

Atheism is Dead previously considered Christopher Hitchens’ and Camille Paglia’s bio-chemical-gray-matter-secretions as part of the Royal Ontario Museum’s lecture series on the question of the Decalogue – the Ten Commandments.
We will now consider A. J. Jacobs’ lecture.[1]

Of all three lecturers A. J. Jacobs is, in a manner of speaking, the most qualified by a vast, vast margin to speak on God’s Ten Commandments. This is because as part of a literary project he “spent one year living the Bible as literally as one human being could” and wrote of his experiences in his book “The Year of Living Biblically: One Man's Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible.”


One caveat is that A. J. Jacobs appears to be a well humored guy. I do not mean well humored in the Michael Shermer sort of way; particularly during debates he insists on telling what are supposed to be jokes but since they are really meant to demonstrate just how pleased he is with his own pseudo-cleverness they just tank time and time again.

As to A. J. Jacobs’ humor,

…he once wrote a story called "My Outsourced Life" in which a team in India “read bedtime stories to my son and argued with my wife.” He also wrote a piece on “radical honesty” in which his brain filtered nothing. It was called, "I Think You’re Fat."

So it seems that he is genuinely well humored although this makes it so that sometimes it is hard to tell when he is being serious and when he is not.
For example, it was reported, as quoted above, that he ““spent one year living the Bible as literally as one human being could…” but the sentence ended thusly, “…even taking time out to stone a passerby.” This may be cute but utterly unbiblical since in order to stone someone the committing of a stone-able offence would have had to have been witnessed by at least two eyewitnesses and then they would have had to have gone to the judges to have the case heard, etc. this was no spur of the moment rock concert but part of a very careful judicious, litigious system.

A. J. Jacobs also,
…painted lambs blood on his apartment door…did not cut his hair or beard. He said the Bible tells men not to cut the corners of their beards. Mr. Jacobs said he could not figure out where the corners were so he just let it grow like crazy.

A mighty beard! My kind of guy!


Again, funny but fallacious. Whence did he get the idea that he had to painted lambs blood on his apartment door? Unless his apartment was in the Egypt of millennia ago the onetime event, the original Passover in Egypt, has come and gone and there is no need for him to do that.
Why did he not cut his hair or beard? There is no biblical mandate against cutting hair; unless he took the vow of a Nazarite and then it would be until the vow was fulfilled. As for the beard; again, nothing about not cutting the beard itself but about not cutting the corners which Jew traditionally interpreted as being just behind the temples what they call the “payos.”

In any regard, what came of his year of living biblically?
His biggest challenges? “That’d be no coveting, no lying, no gossiping. They’re little sins, but they’re killers. My year made me realize just how many of these sins I committed every day. And refraining from them for a year was really hard but completely transforming.”

Biggest lesson? “Your behavior shapes your beliefs. If you act like a good person, you eventually become a better person. I wasn’t allowed to gossip, so eventually I started to have fewer petty thoughts to gossip about. I had to help the less fortunate, so I started to become less self-absorbed. I am not Gandhi or Angelina Jolie, but I made some progress.”[2]

He explained that living in New York and being a journalist meant that following the proscriptions against lying and gossiping (You shall not bear false witness against your neighbour) was particularly difficult…He reduced his gossiping by 35%, he said.

Mr. Jacobs said that keeping the Sabbath holy was the one of the 10 that he found the most profound. He described his life — weekdays and weekends, night and day — as a giant blur.

“The Bible says you have to have the boundary at least one day a week. Someone described it as ‘sanctuary in time.’ Whatever your belief, even if you’re an atheist, the Sabbath deserves a comeback.”

Gratitude: “[My experience] changed my view on that.” He said saying constant prayers of thanksgiving gave him a change of perspective.”[3]

He also offered a few mixed compliments/putdowns in enjoining:
Thou shall not stereotype. Whatever group I went to was more complicated than the preconceived notions — I thought every evangelical was like Sarah Palin.

And,
Thou shall pick and choose. “I tried to follow everything in the Bible and I failed. Fundamentalists will say anything less than following everything is cafeteria religion. What’s wrong with cafeterias? I’ve had delicious meals in cafeterias.”

Again, clever but…I would love to meet any fundamentalists who claims that anyone needs to follow everything: did A. J. Jacobs sacrifice animals in the Temple? No. This is no longer enjoined.
And just what is wrong with cafeterias? Nothing. But we are not discussing cafeterias or food. Perhaps he will take his concept of delicious cafeteria meals to skydiving whilst repairing a refrigerator with a rabid mongoose—what is wrong with that?

A. J. Jacobs is an agnostic and has stated,
I’m Jewish in the same way the Olive Garden Restaurant is Italian.



Moreover,
I started the year as an agnostic. I sometimes believed strongly in God; other times I didn’t believe at all. At the end of the year I was still an agnostic but a reverent agnostic.”

He said he and his wife even joined a synagogue. “We never go but we send in our dues.”

Sadly, if this is true, he has gotten himself stuck in the letter of the law while missing the spirit. This is the true treachery of “religion”: you scratch our financial backs and we’ll scratch your soul’s—capiche?!

I could not help but being reminded of a friend I met while attending private Jewish school: he ended up owning a deli called “Heavenly Ham”!!!!!!!!

A Jew owning “Heavenly Ham”—oi vey!!!!!!!!

[1] Charles Lewis, “Commandments lecture series: Biblical living left a mark on writer,” National Post, June 09, 2009
[2] Carol Memmott, “Agnostic cloaked himself in the Bible for a year,” USA TODAY, Life, Section D, Monday, October 8, 2007, 1D
[3] Charles Lewis, “Commandments lecture series: Biblical living left a mark on writer,” National Post, June 09, 2009

3 comments:

  1. David Pawson mentioned this book a month or so ago at the ICEJ conference and really brought the point of the Gospel home through it.

    Your point about the Nazarite Vow and stoneable offenses is an important one. The Bible isn't as detailed as it is for fun...

    ReplyDelete
  2. "The Bible isn't as detailed as it is for fun..."
    True indeed.

    However, it has been my experience that very many atheists, being pseudo-sketics, only read far enough to take texts out of context to make pretexts for prooftexts and in doing to leave the Bible unscathed whilst discrediting themselves.

    aDios,
    Mariano

    PS: I know that I give them way too much credit in imagining that they read any of it at all.

    ReplyDelete