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  • I thought I'd tell you a little about what I like to write.

  • And I like to immerse myself in my topics.

  • I just like to dive right in and become sort of a human guinea pig.

  • And I see my life as a series of experiments.

  • So, I work for Esquire magazine, and a couple of years ago,

  • I wrote an article called "My Outsourced Life,"

  • where I hired a team of people in Bangalore, India,

  • to live my life for me.

  • So, they answered my emails.

  • They answered my phone.

  • They argued with my wife for me, and they read my son bedtime stories.

  • It was the best month of my life,

  • because I just sat back and I read books and watched movies.

  • It was a wonderful experience.

  • More recently, I wrote an article for Esquire called --

  • about radical honesty.

  • And this is a movement where --

  • this is started by a psychologist in Virginia,

  • who says that you should never, ever lie,

  • except maybe during poker and golf, his only exceptions.

  • And, more than that, whatever is on your brain

  • should come out of your mouth.

  • So, I decided I would try this for a month.

  • This was the worst month of my life.

  • (Laughter)

  • I do not recommend this at all.

  • To give you a sense of the experience,

  • the article was called, "I Think You're Fat."

  • (Laughter)

  • So, that was hard.

  • My most recent book -- my previous book was called "The Know-It-All,"

  • and it was about the year I spent reading the Encyclopedia Britannica

  • from A to Z in my quest to learn everything in the world,

  • or more precisely from Aak, which is a type of East Asian music,

  • all the way to Zwyiec, which is -- well, I don't want to ruin the ending.

  • (Laughter)

  • It's a very exciting twist ending, like an O. Henry novel, so I won't ruin it.

  • But I love that one,

  • because that was an experiment about how much information

  • one human brain could absorb.

  • Although, listening to Kevin Kelly, you don't have to remember anything.

  • You can just Google it.

  • So, I wasted some time there.

  • I love those experiments,

  • but I think that the most profound

  • and life-changing experiment that I've done

  • is my most recent experiment, where I spent a year

  • trying to follow all of the rules of the Bible,

  • "The Year of Living Biblically."

  • And I undertook this for two reasons.

  • The first was that I grew up with no religion at all.

  • As I say in my book, I'm Jewish in the same way

  • the Olive Garden is Italian.

  • (Laughter)

  • So, not very.

  • But I've become increasingly interested in religion.

  • I do think it's the defining issue of our time,

  • or one of the main ones.

  • And I have a son. I want to know what to teach him.

  • So, I decided to dive in head first, and try to live the Bible.

  • The second reason I undertook this is because

  • I'm concerned about the rise of fundamentalism,

  • religious fundamentalism, and people who say

  • they take the Bible literally, which is, according to some polls,

  • as high as 45 or 50 percent of America.

  • So I decided, what if you really did take the Bible literally?

  • I decided to take it to its logical conclusion

  • and take everything in the Bible literally,

  • without picking and choosing.

  • The first thing I did was I got a stack of bibles.

  • I had Christian bibles.

  • I had Jewish bibles.

  • A friend of mine sent me something called a hip-hop bible,

  • where the twenty-third Psalm is rendered as, "The Lord is all that,"

  • as opposed to what I knew it as, "The Lord is my shepherd."

  • Then I went down and I read several versions,

  • and I wrote down every single law that I could find.

  • And this was a very long list -- over 700 rules.

  • And they range from the famous ones that I had heard of --

  • The Ten Commandments, love your neighbor, be fruitful and multiply.

  • So I wanted to follow those.

  • And actually, I take my projects very seriously,

  • because I had twins during my year,

  • so I definitely take my projects seriously.

  • But I also wanted to follow the hundreds

  • of arcane and obscure laws that are in the Bible.

  • There is the law in Leviticus,

  • "You cannot shave the corners of your beard."

  • I didn't know where my corners were,

  • so I decided to let the whole thing grow,

  • and this is what I looked like by the end.

  • As you can imagine, I spent a lot of time at airport security.

  • (Laughter)

  • My wife wouldn't kiss me for the last two months.

  • So, certainly the challenge was there.

  • The Bible says you cannot wear clothes made of mixed fibers,

  • so I thought, "Sounds strange, but I'll try it."

  • You only know if you try it.

  • I got rid of all my poly-cotton T-shirts.

  • The Bible says that if two men are in a fight,

  • and the wife of one of those men grabs the testicles of the other man,

  • then her hand shall be cut off.

  • So, I wanted to follow that rule.

  • (Laughter)

  • That one I followed by default,

  • by not getting in a fight with a man whose wife was standing nearby,

  • looking like she had a strong grip.

  • (Laughter)

  • So -- oh, there's another shot of my beard.

  • I will say it was an amazing year

  • because it really was life changing, and incredibly challenging.

  • And there were two types of laws that were particularly challenging.

  • The first was avoiding the little sins that we all commit every day.

  • You know, I could spend a year not killing,

  • but spending a year not gossiping, not coveting, not lying --

  • you know, I live in New York, and I work as a journalist,

  • so this was 75, 80 percent of my day I had to do it.

  • But it was really interesting, because I was able to make some progress,

  • because I couldn't believe how much

  • my behavior changed my thoughts.

  • This was one of the huge lessons of the year,

  • is that I almost pretended to be a better person,

  • and I became a little bit of a better person.

  • So I had always thought, you know, "You change your mind,

  • and you change your behavior," but it's often the other way around.

  • You change your behavior, and you change your mind.

  • So, you know, if you want to become more compassionate,

  • you visit sick people in the hospital,

  • and you will become more compassionate.

  • You donate money to a cause,

  • and you become emotionally involved in that cause.

  • So, it really was cognitive psychology --

  • you know, cognitive dissonance -- that I was experiencing.

  • The Bible actually talks about cognitive psychology,

  • very primitive cognitive psychology.

  • In the Proverbs, it says that if you smile, you will become happier,

  • which, as we know, is actually true.

  • The second type of rule that was difficult to obey

  • was the rules that will get you into a little trouble

  • in twenty-first-century America.

  • And perhaps the clearest example of this is stoning adulterers.

  • (Laughter)

  • But it's a big part of the Bible,

  • so I figured I had to address it.

  • So, I was able to stone one adulterer.

  • It happened -- I was in the park, and I was dressed in my biblical clothing,

  • so sandals and sort of a white robe,

  • you know, because again, the outer affects the inner.

  • I wanted to see how dressing biblically affected my mind.

  • And this man came up to me and he said,

  • "Why are you dressed like that?"

  • And I explained my project,

  • and he said, "Well, I am an adulterer, are you going to stone me?"

  • And I said, "Well, that would be great!"

  • (Laughter)

  • And I actually took out a handful of stones from my pocket

  • that I had been carrying around for weeks,

  • hoping for just this interaction -- and, you know, they were pebbles --

  • but he grabbed them out of my hand.

  • He was actually an elderly man, mid-70s, just so you know.

  • But he's still an adulterer, and still quite angry.

  • He grabbed them out of my hand

  • and threw them at my face, and I felt that I could --

  • eye for an eye -- I could retaliate, and throw one back at him.

  • So that was my experience stoning, and it did allow me

  • to talk about, in a more serious way, these big issues.

  • How can the Bible be so barbaric in some places,

  • and yet so incredibly wise in others?

  • How should we view the Bible?

  • Should we view it, you know, as original intent,

  • like a sort of a Scalia version of the Bible?

  • How was the Bible written?

  • And actually, since this is a tech crowd,

  • I talk in the book about how the Bible actually reminds me

  • of the Wikipedia, because it has all of these authors and editors

  • over hundreds of years.

  • And it's sort of evolved.

  • It's not a book that was written and came down from on high.

  • So I thought I would end by telling you

  • just a couple of the take-aways, the bigger lessons

  • that I learned from my year.

  • The first is, thou shalt not take the Bible literally.

  • This became very, very clear, early on.

  • Because if you do, then you end up acting like a crazy person,

  • and stoning adulterers, or -- here's another example.

  • Well, that's another. I did spend some time shepherding.

  • (Laughter)

  • It's a very relaxing vocation. I recommend it.

  • But this one is -- the Bible says that you cannot touch women

  • during certain times of the month, and more than that,

  • you cannot sit on a seat where a menstruating woman has sat.

  • And my wife thought this was very offensive,

  • so she sat in every seat in our apartment,

  • and I had to spend much of the year standing

  • until I bought my own seat and carried it around.

  • So, you know, I met with creationists.

  • I went to the creationists' museum.

  • And these are the ultimate literalists.

  • And it was fascinating, because they were not stupid people at all.

  • I would wager that their IQ is exactly the same as the average evolutionist.

  • It's just that their faith is so strong

  • in this literal interpretation of the Bible

  • that they distort all the data to fit their model.

  • And they go through these amazing mental gymnastics to accomplish this.

  • And I will say, though, the museum is gorgeous.

  • They really did a fantastic job.

  • If you're ever in Kentucky,

  • there's, you can see a movie of the flood,

  • and they have sprinklers in the ceiling

  • that will sprinkle on you during the flood scenes.

  • So, whatever you think of creationism -- and I think it's crazy --

  • they did a great job.

  • (Laughter)

  • Another lesson is that thou shalt give thanks.

  • And this one was a big lesson because I was praying,

  • giving these prayers of thanksgiving, which was odd for an agnostic.

  • But I was saying thanks all the time, every day,

  • and I started to change my perspective.

  • And I started to realize the hundreds of little things

  • that go right every day, that I didn't even notice,

  • that I took for granted, as opposed to focusing

  • on the three or four that went wrong.

  • So, this is actually a key to happiness for me,

  • is to just remember when I came over here,

  • the car didn't flip over, and I didn't trip coming up the stairs.

  • It's a remarkable thing.

  • Third, that thou shall have reverence.

  • This one was unexpected because I started the year

  • as an agnostic, and by the end of the year,

  • I became what a friend of mine calls a reverent agnostic, which I love.

  • And I'm trying to start it as a movement.

  • So, if anyone wants to join,

  • the basic idea is, whether or not there is a God,

  • there's something important and beautiful about the idea of sacredness,

  • and that our rituals can be sacred.

  • The Sabbath can be sacred.

  • This was one of the great things about my year, doing the Sabbath,

  • because I am a workaholic, so having this one day

  • where you cannot work, it really, that changed my life.

  • So, this idea of sacredness, whether or not there is a God.

  • Thou shall not stereotype.

  • This one happened because

  • I spent a lot of time with various religious communities

  • throughout America because I wanted it to be more

  • than about my journey.

  • I wanted it to be about religion in America.

  • So, I spent time with evangelical Christians, and Hasidic Jews, and the Amish.

  • I'm very proud because

  • I think I'm the only person in America

  • to out Bible-talk a Jehovah's Witness.

  • (Laughter)

  • After three and a half hours, he looked at his watch,