In 2006, writer A.J. Jacobs endeavored to spend a year following every rule he could find in the Bible. Yes, even the Old Testament rules about sacrificing pigeons and stoning adulterers. He wrote a book about his experience called The Year of Living Biblically. My friend Julie gave it to me and said, "You have to read this." So I am.
I'm only a third of the way through but I can already recommend this book. It's clever, funny, thoughtful, and honest. Jacobs is an unbeliever from a Jewish family and he approaches his project with no little skepticism and misunderstanding of religious traditions. I find myself reading about his experiences in month three of his experiment and hoping desperately that he'll see the truth of the gospel by month twelve. I have even considered praying for such an outcome, but then I get bogged down in mental back-and-forth about praying for something in the past and God being outside of time and yadda yadda. It's hard to keep from skipping ahead. But the thing I like most about Jacobs and his book isn't his appreciation or affirmation of my beliefs. It's his fairness.
When he's not writing books about self-imposed herculean projects (his first book was about his experience of reading the entire Encyclopedia Britannica) Jacobs writes for Esquire magazine. He's a journalist, even if his current employer is as much a purveyor of entertainment as reporting. His treatment of the biblical texts shows that he's capable of appreciating and presenting disparate beliefs without espousing them. He can think critically without criticizing. He can suspend judgement long enough to research an opposing viewpoint; in this case, an entire year.
It's refreshing and rare to find that quality in today's media. And it's ironic, I think, to find qualities in a writer for a lifestyle magazine that are often lacking in reporters attending "hard news" beats.
But this isn't an article about journalism. A.J. Jacobs isn't just an anomaly in his field, but in his culture. We seem to be losing our ability to weigh arguments objectively.
Donald Miller wrote about this recently.
A few little buttons on the internet have created an entire new way of seeing the world...These days, you can opt in or opt out, agree or disagree, be a follower or an unfollower, a friend or foe. But what gets lost is something dramatic: nuanced thought. We are no longer able to separate the baby from the bathwater. If I write a blog that has one point people disagree with, they unfollow, they are against. It seems in our rush to create tribes, we’ve created exactly that, tribes. But sadly, we’ve created tribes at war with each other.
I think this dynamic was at play in the recent testimony of a Planned Parenthood spokesperson against a proposed Florida statute that would require health care for any infant delivered as the result of a botched abortion. I do not believe that Planned Parenthood is an evil army of Satan bent on killing newborns. But I suspect that Planned Parenthood is an organization so defined by opposition (we will oppose anything proposed by pro-life organizations) that they are willing to literally throw babies out with bathwater. Ask any Planned Parenthood staffer whether it should be legal to kill Americans without a trial and they'll likely say no. Ask them whether they oppose a bill supported by pro-lifers to that effect and they're much more likely to say yes.
The difference is about tribes, and what's missing is fairness.
But before we start to feel too "holier-than-thou" about Planned Parenthood, maybe we Christians should take a look at our own fairness. Do we engage in knee-jerk opposition to anyone not affiliated with our tribe? Do we believe they're not trustworthy if they're not Christian? evangelical? conservative? pro-life? pro-gun? Are we willing to grant that those with whom we disagree can make valid, even strong, arguments? Are we willing to suspend our judgement long enough to explore issues from their worldview? And to do so long enough and with an open mind rather than just as an exercise in rooting out the weakest links in their position? Are Christians known for walking a mile in others' shoes the way A.J. Jacobs did in 2006?
Too often we reflect the culture of the "unfollow generation" when we value tribe over truth.