God reading

Everything You Know About God Is Wrong: The Disinformation Guide to Religion
Edited by Russ Kick
The Disinformation Company

The End of Biblical Studies
Hector Avalos
Prometheus Books

The Year of Living Biblically: One Man’s Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible
A.J. Jacobs
Simon & Schuster

Forget everything you learned in Sunday School. The Bible is not a nice book. Serious students of it quickly become aware that it takes a great deal of gnat-straining and camel-swallowing to make coherent sense of the Bible.

The recent spate of books with titles like God Is Not Great and The End of Faith might lead one to believe that we’re approaching, at last, a real Age of Reason. No such luck. Polls continue to report that an ungodly (pun intended) percentage of Americans not only believe in God with a capital “G,” but also in a literal hell presided over by the Devil. They also believe that the Bible is the literal word of God, which raises the question of whether they’ve actually read the whole thing through.

Since reading is hard work, the friendly folks at the Disinformation Company have put together an anthology that covers the high points of religion. Everything You Know About God Is Wrong starts off with an essay by scientist Richard Dawkins (author of The God Delusion) and includes news items, investigative work (like a Philadelphia grand jury report on the conspiracy to cover up child abuse in the Catholic churches there), and a really gruesome comic.

Neil Gaiman, best known among graphic novel fans for The Sandman, has turned his talents to the story of the Levite and his concubine (Judges 19-20). Similar to the frequently cited tale of Sodom, the men of the city demand to “know” a visiting Levite. The householder placates them with the Levite’s concubine, who is gang-raped and left to die. Upon discovering her body, the Levite orders it be cut into 12 pieces and distributed to the four corners of the land as a grisly newsletter. It’s disturbing, and not just because of the illustrations: The violence is gut-wrenching. What lesson could we possibly learn?

But Hector Avalos, a professor of religious studies at Iowa State University, suggests that reading the Bible “metaphorically” won’t help us learn much, either. The End of Biblical Studies, a cross between a scholarly and general-interest book, suggests that biblical studies—the university’s attempt to elevate discussion of the Bible to academic standards—has done more harm than good. Avalos claims that the respectability and privilege that the academic discipline of biblical studies bestows upon the Bible keeps it from being recognized as the ahistorical mish-mash that it is.

Avalos makes clear exactly who is profiting from granting the Bible such academic privilege—even though, as he ’fesses up, it’s helped his career, too.

And last, from the guy who gave us The Know-It-All, a sophomoric … uh, sophomore effort: The Year of Living Biblically. This time, A.J. Jacobs tries to follow every rule in the Bible for a year. It’s rough giving up shrimp, football and winking, not to mention staying away from your wife when she’s “unclean.” Jacobs is funny—in a juvenile male way. For instance, his vow not to make any more cheap jokes about Jehovah’s Witnesses is promptly, funnily broken.

Jacobs is earnest. Combined with his lack of prior religious training, that gives his writing about religion and the Bible a decidedly calf-eyed gullibility. But he’s also extremely self-involved. Perhaps it’s funnier for people who don’t take the damage done by the faith-mongers quite as seriously.

Or perhaps he just needs to read the other two books in this review.