Caught in the middle

I’ve read a couple of really thought-provoking (and funny) books lately: The Year of Living Biblically by A J Jacobs and America Unchained by Dave Gorman.

Jacobs’ book centres around him living by the Bible for a year – eight months of living by the Old Testament, four of living by the New. Along the way he meets lots of interesting people and makes a lot of thgouhtful insights. It’s well worth reading, whether you care about religion or not.

Anyway, there were a couple of things about this book that really struck me. One of them was the notion of being ‘moderate’. It seems moderation is the key to living in harmony in the West at the moment. Coverage of religion, particularly Islam, pitches the ‘moderate’ followers against the ‘fundamentalists’ – but it’s something that we also see extended to politics in all its forms – to be a bit of this, a bit of that, but not too extreme is apparently the best thing to be.

Now obviously, there are huge problems some people will have with this – not everybody IS moderate, whether that’s in their politics, their religious beliefs, their dress, their personality or whatever. Yet, the older I get, the more I learn, the more I experience, the more I think that moderation is probably a good thing. In terms of thinking theologically, I always felt more of a moderate than a ‘liberal’ or an ‘evangelical’. If liberal – evangelical is a spectrum, I’d be close to the middle, I think. Politically I am much more left/liberal leaning than right, but nationally, we seem to be a middle/moderate people. Labour as a party is essentially the centre/moderate one these days whatever they might pretend to be – and over 10 years of success because of it (whatever you think of them).

Several people would argue if you’re sitting on the fence you’re not ‘for’ anything and would see it as a negative, but sometimes being in the middle is about weighing things up, considering the options, seeing the positives and negatives in two sides of a debate and not being convinced either is right. I don’t think that’s a cop-out, I think that’s just common sense. Jacobs’ book points out that the different groups of people he meets interpret the Bible differently, yet they can’t all be right. He himself tends to keep an open mind through his experience and, as such, probably gains a lot more from it. I’m not in any way knocking people’s right to take an extreme opinion on things, and I do think sometimes we demonise people who are extreme unfairly, but I’m standing up for the people in the middle. Sometimes it seems it might be a healthy place to be.

Gorman’s book sees him travelling coast to coast across the USA, attempting to only spend money in independent businesses. Those who’ve seen the More4 documentary he did a few weeks ago will have seen some of the detail, although there is plenty more revealed in the book. This, and Jacobs’ book have got me thinking more about ethical living.

One of the points Jacobs makes is that people often become like the things they read/believe/do – His trying Bible principles, reading it, praying etc was partly to see if those things became nature to him and if belief developed (obviously I’m not going to tell you what happened). And I’ve noticed over the past few years I have been changing a lot in my lifestyle – sometimes deliberately, conscviously, other times less so. Not only was I involved in a church for a long time (and whatever my spiritual state right now, I still try to live by what I see as Christian principles), I watch a lot of documentaries and food programmes, I read lots of books and newspapers (most often The Guardian and The Observer) so I come across a lot of messages about being anti-corporate, supporting local businesses, causing fewer drains on the environment etc.

Although I am hardly Barbara Good, I am trying to avoid Tesco as much as possible (a lot harder than it sounds, and I’m not doing as well at this as I’d like), and to at least get fruit and veg and a few other things from independent stores rather than supermarkets, to recycle, to reuse and so on. A lot of those decisions were conscious ones. Yet, I now find myself, amongst other things, checking country of origin on my veg and also trying to buy more seasonal stuff – in fact my body is beginning to crave the seasonal stuff when it’s in season. And I’m pretty sure that’s the result of all the TV watching and reading and whatnot. This of course, raises the issue of media effects, a hot topic in our discipline, but it would be so boring to talk about that here.

Anyway, there are probably lots of other things to say about those books, and I’m sure they’ll come back to me in time. But both are highly recommended.


One thought on “Caught in the middle

  1. Great post, I was given A year of… for my Birthday and am enjoying reading it (so thanks for avoiding spoilers). Had a few chats with my friend about the becoming what you read/believe/do thing. I think he calls it cognitive dissonance, but then he likes to call things big words. Its interesting.

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