Why and how to read the Bible in modern times.
Wilson (Victoria: A Life, 2014, etc.) looks back on a lifetime spent despising religion only to realize that the Bible itself has some place in human society. He uses as his vehicle a clunky, quasi-fiction/quasi-memoir format in which he re-examines Christian Scripture through various lenses. Along the way, he is led by a slightly older and certainly more mature counterpart, a woman identified only as “L.” Through occasional chance meetings at museums, conversations over coffee, and periodic letters, L. opens Wilson’s mind to see the Bible in a richer light. The author even states that his book is in fact a book that L. had hoped to write but never completed. In the course of this story, Wilson learns to “read” the Bible not as a text to be argued over in terms of historicity and other elements but as a voice of the divine for, and by, the mass of people in any given age or place. For instance, Martin Luther King Jr., “read” the Bible properly by not arguing over the facts of the Exodus but by inspiring African-Americans through that story of freedom. William Blake “read” the book of Job correctly by seeing in it a man who must turn from rule-following to spiritual awakening in order to be redeemed. Wilson finds that for oppressed peoples, especially, the Bible is a source of empowerment. “Those who regard religion as mental poison blind themselves to the forcefulness of religion as a power for good against monstrous injustices,” he writes. Wilson comes off as pompous and arrogant at times, flaunting his intellect and his literary connections—e.g., when he describes awaking early to read Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire in Istanbul. As for his conclusions, they are positive but vague.
A lackluster offering from a literary giant.