Even though I’m a Muslim, I spent my childhood at a Christian school in the U.K., where reading from the Bible was mandatory. Each morning, we’d sit in a cold sports hall, silently reading passages from the Bible. Reading was the important part, insisted my school master, who was also a priest. After all, the Bible is the written word of God.
So, to truly understand His message, one had to read it in a particular way: deliberately, carefully and — because this was England — with an emphasis on the Latin.
Twenty-nine-year old Ben Miller, an analyst at National Bank of Australia, stands on the total opposite end of the spectrum, however. He believes that the Bible can be understood in half-hour increments — and without reading a word of it.
In particular, he spends every morning listening to the Bible at double speed, while completing three-mile runs through the Helena Valley near his home in Perth. He says that its recitations (especially those from the New Testament) provide him with valuable life lessons that he can reflect on and implement during his day. This morning, for example, he listened to passages from the Gospel of John that focused on the virtues of forgiveness and patience — something he feels is important when working in a fast-paced office environment.
“It’s not really about completing the Bible in the shortest time possible,” explains Miller, who became a practicing Christian in 2015. “I can just understand it more easily [via audiobook, at double speed], and when I’m out running, I’m not focused on anything else.”
As audiobooks have grown in popularity, so has the phenomenon of listening to them at double speed. The reason why: Many people believe that we talk too slowly and pause for too long between sentences. It does, though, have the potential to fundamentally change our relationship with books. “It suggests that a book exists not primarily for pleasure, but rather for being sucked of its precious information as efficiently as possible,” Megan Garber writes in the Atlantic. “It suggests that digital advances can help make an extremely old activity — reading — newly transactional.”
This might make sense in the realm of self-help, personal development and “CEO mindset” books (a la Ryan Holiday’s The Obstacle Is the Way, Dave Ramsey’s Total Money Makeover and Jordan Peterson’s 12 Rules for Life) that often top the Amazon best-seller list and are referenced on The Joe Rogan Experience. But should religious texts like the Bible, bound by centuries of interpretations, and millions of texts on Biblical exegesis be treated in the same way?
Like with all other technological innovation, it really comes down to how open you are to change. “People live faster now, and they have more responsibilities in their life,” says Martin Arrabite, the Rome-based founder of BIBLIA, which allows people to listen to portions of the Bible and share it on social media. (There are also numerous BIBLIA competitors: Dwell, Daily Audio Bible and High Speed Luke, a service that will read the Bible to you up to five times faster than a standard reading pace.) “In Christianity, we’re taught to spread the message of God and Jesus Christ to the masses in any way we can. The problem is that many people now always walk around with [headphones, staring at their phones], so they cannot hear you preach in public.”
BIBLIA uses the King James Bible, probably the most traditional version. It’s the one typically found in divinity schools, monasteries and the Diocese, where people train to become ordained priests. Arrabite says that since launching BIBLIA last year, tens of thousands of people have downloaded it, and that its target audience are people like Miller: young professionals with a renewed interest in religion and for whom podcasts and audiobooks are simply part of life.
That’s a big reason why, as he developed BIBLIA, it evolved from a sped-up nine-hour audiobook to an app that also neatly lists Biblical passages, provides written transcriptions of the audio and includes a sharing function. It’s the latter, Arrabite says, that’s really popular: “Because you can send soundbites over Twitter, WhatsApp and Facebook.”
“The Bible will always be a written text,” Arrabite ensures, adding that scholarly work on it will also always continues. But here’s something else he’s equally sure about: “There are more and more people searching for a path and finding Jesus Christ. And they want to understand his teachings in their own way. For some people, that might be through Kanye West. But for a lot of others, it’ll be through audio books.”