I am a slow reader, a very slow reader. In University, I was never one of those students that could blaze through required readings in under an hour and be good to go for a paper or test. I poked along at a steady ten pages an hour through my textbooks, leading to lots of late nights as I traded sleep and money for coffee and the satisfaction of having completed the readings…whether I retained what I read is another story. Of course there are tricks you can do to enhance retention, such as marking up your textbooks with highlighters (the reason all my textbooks look like rainbows), but that doesn’t address the slow reading itself.
With this in mind, it may come as a surprise that one of my life goals has been to read the monstrously large book that is the Bible. Old and New Testament, cover to cover in process that would encompass 3 years of my life (about the same amount of time I have been working on my board game). That is not to say that I read the Bible all at once. There was a couple of false starts, where I got 300 pages in and then put it down for a few months and upon picking it up again, had absolutely no idea what was going on (fans of the game Myst know what I am talking about), forcing me back to Genesis to start over again. I also read a variety of other books during this time, but I was determined to finish the Bible and kept coming back to it.
On one level, I wanted to read the Bible simply because it is so widely referenced, being a defining aspect of Western Civilization as well as popular culture. More than anything though, I wanted to read it because reading such a large book was a challenge given my slow pace of reading. Once I start a challenge however, I am determined to finish it and reading the Bible was no different. This morning, that challenge came to a close as I finished Revelation. Three years of effort, failed starts and interesting discussions later culminated in a small check mark being added to my Life Goals list.
Reflecting on the whole process, I was fascinated by how much of an impact reading this book had on those around me. Over the last three years, on numerous occasions I found complete strangers walking up to me and begin a conversation about the Bible. The conversation would typically go one of two ways, with the stranger either praising me for reading the holy book and lamenting that more people do not read it or they would state that what I was reading was garbage and that Atheism was the only truth. My attempts to derail the conversation from becoming a Teleological throw-down often fell on deaf ears, as despite giving no indication of whether I was Christian or even spiritually inclined, I experienced the full conviction of stranger’s determined to either praise or attack what they assumed were my beliefs.
Normally, I am all for spurring on public debate, but the intensely personal nature of spirituality is such that I usually reserve these conversations for those that I know for say…more than 5 seconds in a cramped bus or cafeteria. Furthermore, what I find interesting is that this stranger phenomenon seems exclusive to holy books. When reading the Tao Te Ching, I experienced similar effects, with complete strangers engaging me in debate around the book. The funny thing is, nobody ever engages me on any other. When I was reading a biography of Karl Marx, I never had a stranger come up to me and say “better dead than red” or launch into a tirade against Conservative sensibilities. When reading a Psychology textbook, I never had a Psychology Major (and there are a lot of them) come up to me and start an argument about the ideas of Sigmund Freud. Crack open a holy book however, and people line up to tell me what to think.
I am not sure what to make of the phenomenon. I suppose that spirituality is a core concept to the identity of many individuals and a topic they are comfortable speaking on. To me, I take this as a sign of engagement and self-reflection that is always good to see, as it shows that we aren’t floating through life on auto-pilot.