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Living Life by the Rules of the Bible — Every Last One of 'Em

A very large segment of contemporary Christian culture views the Bible as, among other things, a rule book for living a life pleasing to God. They believe that any statement in the Bible is correct, and every directive is to be taken literally and obeyed completely. At one point of my spiritual journey I believed that, or thought I did.
But not even during my fieriest days as a boy evangelist for the divinely-inspired-verbally-inerrant Word-of-God crowd did I ever seriously consider trying to obey every rule and commandment in the Bible.
Oh, I came down heavy for the Ten Commandments, against idolatry, drunkenness and divorce, but managed to pass lightly over some of the lesser-known mandates, particularly of the Hebrew scriptures that Christians call the Old Testament.
Like the prohibition against eating pork. Even as a biblical literalist I was never fully convinced that the Almighty really cared about such trivial minutiae. My ordinary walking-around common sense was in more-or-less constant conflict with my legalistic conviction that no mortal can pick and choose which of God’s laws to obey.
But I don’t remember ever suffering a guilty conscience over eating a ham sandwich.
A.J. Jacobs, a personally non-religious editor for Esquire magazine, got interested in the relationship of religion to behavior in contemporary culture. Two years ago he decided that for one year he would follow all Bible teachings as literally as he possibly could — the whole nine yards.
He got married, was fruitful and multiplied, doing his part to "replenish the earth." He kept the Ten Commandments. He made a sincere effort to love his neighbor, paid a tithe to charity, told the absolute truth in all situations. All the customary kinds of rule keeping.
But he also set out to obey the hundreds of arcane, less-well-known rules.
He discovered that in the Hebrew Scriptures, the same Levitical Holiness Code that contains the Ten Commandments also condemns the eating of shellfish and instructs the faithful not to wear garments made from mixed wool and linen thread.
He cut no hair anywhere on his head, learned to play a 10-string harp, tended sheep in the Israeli desert. He prayed a lot, something he had never done before. He hung out with Samaritans and Hassidic Jews in Israel, snake handlers in Appalachia, Amish in Pennsylvania, biblical creationists in Kentucky, and studied the Bible with Jehovah’s Witnesses.
He decided that stoning adulterers would be a bit dicey and ill-advised.
His book about this most remarkable spiritual journey, The Year of Living Biblically, is irreverent and hilariously funny. It is also profound, thought-provoking and deeply spiritual in the best sense. It is never cynical or supercilious.
He experienced brilliant bursts of nuanced insights into rules which often seemed shallow to the point of being silly, and discovered that some aspects of ancient biblical wisdom are continuously, universally relevant to the human condition for all people at all times and in all places.
He became consciously and ongoingly aware of the ethical and moral dimensions of his actions and developed a serious conscience about such common failings as self-centeredness and disparaging others.
And he discovered the impossibly absurd demands of biblical literalism.
We who teach and preach the Bible and exhort one another to follow its teachings as a part of our own belief in God could not possibly practice what we preach.
To treat the Bible as a rule book is hypocritical; it is to proclaim craziness. To view it as a repository of ancient wisdom and eternal principles to be read, learned and inwardly digested will enrich our souls and enhance our value as creatures of the Creator.
Editor’s note: W. Jackson "Jack” Wilson is a psychologist, an Episcopal priest, a sometime academic and a writer living in Colorado. He writes with humor, whimsy, passion and penetrating insight into the human condition. And in Pushkin, Russia, a toilet is named in his honor.

Editor's note: We welcome and encourage readers to keep the dialogue going by responding to Source commentary. Letters should be e-mailed with name and place of residence to source@viaccess.net.

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A very large segment of contemporary Christian culture views the Bible as, among other things, a rule book for living a life pleasing to God. They believe that any statement in the Bible is correct, and every directive is to be taken literally and obeyed completely. At one point of my spiritual journey I believed that, or thought I did.
But not even during my fieriest days as a boy evangelist for the divinely-inspired-verbally-inerrant Word-of-God crowd did I ever seriously consider trying to obey every rule and commandment in the Bible.
Oh, I came down heavy for the Ten Commandments, against idolatry, drunkenness and divorce, but managed to pass lightly over some of the lesser-known mandates, particularly of the Hebrew scriptures that Christians call the Old Testament.
Like the prohibition against eating pork. Even as a biblical literalist I was never fully convinced that the Almighty really cared about such trivial minutiae. My ordinary walking-around common sense was in more-or-less constant conflict with my legalistic conviction that no mortal can pick and choose which of God’s laws to obey.
But I don’t remember ever suffering a guilty conscience over eating a ham sandwich.
A.J. Jacobs, a personally non-religious editor for Esquire magazine, got interested in the relationship of religion to behavior in contemporary culture. Two years ago he decided that for one year he would follow all Bible teachings as literally as he possibly could -- the whole nine yards.
He got married, was fruitful and multiplied, doing his part to "replenish the earth." He kept the Ten Commandments. He made a sincere effort to love his neighbor, paid a tithe to charity, told the absolute truth in all situations. All the customary kinds of rule keeping.
But he also set out to obey the hundreds of arcane, less-well-known rules.
He discovered that in the Hebrew Scriptures, the same Levitical Holiness Code that contains the Ten Commandments also condemns the eating of shellfish and instructs the faithful not to wear garments made from mixed wool and linen thread.
He cut no hair anywhere on his head, learned to play a 10-string harp, tended sheep in the Israeli desert. He prayed a lot, something he had never done before. He hung out with Samaritans and Hassidic Jews in Israel, snake handlers in Appalachia, Amish in Pennsylvania, biblical creationists in Kentucky, and studied the Bible with Jehovah’s Witnesses.
He decided that stoning adulterers would be a bit dicey and ill-advised.
His book about this most remarkable spiritual journey, The Year of Living Biblically, is irreverent and hilariously funny. It is also profound, thought-provoking and deeply spiritual in the best sense. It is never cynical or supercilious.
He experienced brilliant bursts of nuanced insights into rules which often seemed shallow to the point of being silly, and discovered that some aspects of ancient biblical wisdom are continuously, universally relevant to the human condition for all people at all times and in all places.
He became consciously and ongoingly aware of the ethical and moral dimensions of his actions and developed a serious conscience about such common failings as self-centeredness and disparaging others.
And he discovered the impossibly absurd demands of biblical literalism.
We who teach and preach the Bible and exhort one another to follow its teachings as a part of our own belief in God could not possibly practice what we preach.
To treat the Bible as a rule book is hypocritical; it is to proclaim craziness. To view it as a repository of ancient wisdom and eternal principles to be read, learned and inwardly digested will enrich our souls and enhance our value as creatures of the Creator.
Editor’s note: W. Jackson "Jack” Wilson is a psychologist, an Episcopal priest, a sometime academic and a writer living in Colorado. He writes with humor, whimsy, passion and penetrating insight into the human condition. And in Pushkin, Russia, a toilet is named in his honor.

Editor's note: We welcome and encourage readers to keep the dialogue going by responding to Source commentary. Letters should be e-mailed with name and place of residence to source@viaccess.net.