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April 11th, 2011
11:21 AM ET

Leading atheist publishes secular Bible

By Jessica Ravitz, CNN

The question arose early in British academic A.C. Grayling’s career: What if those ancient compilers who’d made Bibles, the collected religious texts that were translated, edited, arranged and published en masse, had focused instead on assembling the non-religious teachings of civilization’s greatest thinkers?

What if the book that billions have turned to for ethical guidance wasn’t tied to commandments from God or any one particular tradition but instead included the writings of Aristotle, the reflections of Confucius, the poetry of Baudelaire? What would that book look like, and what would it mean?

Decades after he started asking such questions, what Grayling calls “a lifetime’s work” has hit bookshelves. “The Good Book: A Humanist Bible,” subtitled “A Secular Bible” in the United Kingdom, was published this month. Grayling crafted it by using more than a thousand texts representing several hundred authors, collections and traditions.

The Bible would have been “a very different book and may have produced a very different history for mankind,” had it drawn on the work of philosophers and writers as opposed to prophets and apostles, says Grayling, a philosopher and professor at Birkbeck College, University of London, who is an atheist.

“Humanist ethics didn’t claim to be derived from a deity," he says. "(They) tended to start from a sympathetic understanding of human nature and accept that there’s a responsibility that each individual has to work out the values they live by and especially to recognize that the best of our good lives revolve around having good relationships with people.” 

Humanists rely on human reason as an alternative to religion or belief in God in attempting to find meaning and purpose in life.

Determined to make his material accessible, Grayling arranged his nearly 600-page "Good Book" much like the Bible, with double columns, chapters (the first is even called Genesis) and short verses. And much like the best-selling King James Bible, which is celebrating its 400th year, his book is written in a type of English that transcends time.

Like the Bible, "The Good Book," opens with a garden scene. But instead of Adam and Eve, Grayling's Genesis invokes Isaac Newton, the British scientist who pioneered the study of gravity.

"It was from the fall of fruit from such a tree that new inspiration came for inquiry into the nature of things," reads a verse from "The Good Book's" first chapter.

"When Newton sat in his garden, and saw what no one had seen before: that an apple draws the earth to itself, and the earth the apple," the verse continues, "Through a mutual force of nature that holds all things, from the planets to the stars, in unifying embrace."

The book's final chapter features a secular humanist version of the Ten Commandments: "Love well, seek the good in all things, harm no others, think for yourself, take responsibility, respect nature, do your utmost, be informed, be kind, be courageous: at least, sincerely try."

Grayling, reached Friday at a New York hotel just as he began his U.S. book tour, has been dubbed by some a “velvet atheist” or an “acceptable face of atheism,” he says, in contrast to more stridently anti-religious writers like Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins, both of whom he counts as friends.

In other contexts, Grayling - who will soon take over as president of the British Humanist Association - admits he’s written critically about religion. But not in "The Good Book."

“It’s not part of a quarrel,” he says of his latest work. “It’s a modest offering… another contribution to the conversation that mankind must have with itself,” and one he says he wrote for everyone, Bible lovers included.

Given where society is today, inviting that conversation is all the more important, he says.

More than 16% of Americans say they are unaffiliated religiously, according to the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. Even so, Grayling says the hunger for a spiritual connection continues. That yearning, he argues , can be satisfied for many by taking a walk in the country, curling up with a beautiful book of poetry or even in falling in love.

“In all different ways, we can celebrate the good in the world,” he says.

While many intellectual traditions – religious and otherwise – teach that there’s “one right way to live,” Grayling says he hopes “The Good Book” will encourage people to “go beyond your teachers, your text” to understand that “we have to respect and relate to one another.”

Early sales indicate that people are open to what this new "Bible" teaches. On Monday, Grayling’s book was number 41 on Amazon’s UK bestseller list and number 1 in the philosophy and spirituality categories.

- CNN Writer/Producer

Filed under: Atheism • Bible • Books • Culture & Science • Ethics

soundoff (3,021 Responses)
  1. Buster Bloodvessel

    I bet this guy's a lot of fun at parties.

    April 11, 2011 at 2:29 pm |
  2. Matt

    CNN moderators- only the blind leading the blind here

    April 11, 2011 at 2:28 pm |
  3. notborncynical

    OK Jack, 4 posts – we get it. I just don't understand how you can see intelligence, reason and wisdom as evil. You remind me of one of those Spanish Inquisition priests that tortured the innocent in the name of God, when in reality it was in the name of ignorance, greed and power. I accept and am not against the original Bible, but I think some enlightenment from this new "Bible" will be a good thing, not an evil one.

    April 11, 2011 at 2:28 pm |
  4. Felix

    I find it peculiar that the religious comments son this board seem angry and bitter meanwhile the atheists seem happy and forgiving. Makes me wonder who is right after all. With all of the Hell and Damnation often spoken of by these religious people if I had to chose I would choose to go with the people who are obviously not in a hurry to damn you. God is love inst he? So why hell, why damnation? It almost seems like people are the ones with the chip on their shoulder not God.

    April 11, 2011 at 2:28 pm |
  5. warriorpoet

    You know there was a time when the bible, Torah, and the Muslim religious text were tabled as fiction perhaps we should all worship the harry potter series

    April 11, 2011 at 2:27 pm |
  6. A Matter of FAITH

    Well, whoever wrote the Christian Bible is the wisest of all people that I have ever known to exist. This person is able to identify the true hearts of men and pull out the ugliness in his heart and heal it with just words (I've not only seen this but experienced it for myself). I've seen the hardest of men break down at the mention of a name. I've seen lives turned from heading down the path of destruction into lives full of love and compassion because of the words in this book. This is the power of the Bible that you will never get from man's philosophies.

    April 11, 2011 at 2:26 pm |
    • PeterVN

      Enjoy the shade of your mustard tree.

      April 11, 2011 at 2:37 pm |
    • Buster Bloodvessel

      I've seen people roll their eyes and scratch their heads and say "Man, what are you talking about?" and it just makes you guys madder. "You've HARDENED YOUR HEART AGAINST JESUS!!" you scream, like not finding a story convincing is absolute cruelty. Do you believe Mickey Mouse is God? No? Bah, you've just hardened your heart against Mickey etc. The 'magic words' in the Bible won't unlock doors or cure the sick, my friend, and you are delusional if you think they will.

      April 11, 2011 at 2:45 pm |
    • A Matter of FAITH

      Are you saying that you have never read anything that has changed your life or your mind or your heart? I would suggest that you've been reading the wrong material. The specific power in the word of God is undeniable. Just ask the MILLIONS who have been forever changed by it. You cannot dispute that even if you put the words together it does not dispell what millions have experienced for themselves.

      April 11, 2011 at 3:04 pm |
  7. Lara

    Pure nonsense.

    April 11, 2011 at 2:26 pm |
  8. Saint Michael

    Jesus was the first David Koresh.

    April 11, 2011 at 2:24 pm |
    • pockets

      Add to the list, Jim Jones, Heaven's Gate Cult, Reverend Eddie Long, Jimmy Swaggart, Ernest Angley, and all the other snake oil salesman, who have conned millions and millions of dollars from gulliable people, add to the list Joel Osteen and his wife who are con artists in the highest degree. Just turn on the boob tube on any Sunday morning and there they are, shark skin suits and smiling and telling you all about the gates of hell that will open and take you 'forever' unless you pay them to clean up your sins. LOL What exacly is a sin??? Who makes it so? PT Barnum,.... there is a sucker born every minute.

      April 11, 2011 at 2:55 pm |
  9. Wallace

    No other fact is more revealing than the fact that, as mankind became more civilized, "God" had to become more civilized as well, or become irrelevant. Before Jesus, it was all about "an eye for an eye". Then Jesus changed the rules with "turn the other cheek." Only problem: an omniscient, benevolent Creator would have required no such revision.

    April 11, 2011 at 2:22 pm |
  10. Tyler V

    Just a couple or clarifications.

    1. Christian (or even generally theistic) conceptions of morality DONT place punishment/reward as the basis for moral obligation. Just because moral action has certain outcomes does not mean that they are the basis of such actions. To cast Christian morality as "do right to get rewarded and dont do wrong to avoid punishment" is just a dishonest representation. Christian conceptions of morality have God's ontology as the basis for morality – thus we ought to do good because it actually is good.

    2. When atheists say that they do "good" just because it is "good" miss that a naturalistic worldview cannot actually account for a transcendent standard of "goodness". So when they say they do "good" my question is what basis they have for assuming that certain actions are actually good and not just subjectively preferred.

    3. As for the comment that one must beg for forgiveness according to Christian theology. Just a total misrepresentation of what repentance and the acceptance of forgiveness entails. Imagine you cheated on your spouse and she had every right to be angry and leave you. Would you say that acknowledging your sin and asking for forgiveness (especially considering that if the analogy were exact, the wife would have done something to her own expense to gain forgiveness FOR you)is somehow absurd precisely because you had to ask for forgiveness? It's not that God is sitting off aloof making your beg and work for forgiveness. Remember, Christ died to pay the penalty due to our sin and thus we repent and ask for forgiveness but God himself has actually done all the work.

    4. I think I saw someone else say this... but leading atheist? Does atheism now have leaders?

    April 11, 2011 at 2:21 pm |
    • BubbaMac

      Very well stated. I wonder why you have had no reply to your post????

      April 11, 2011 at 2:36 pm |
  11. God

    I do not exist. That is all.

    April 11, 2011 at 2:20 pm |
    • tom

      I knew it!!!!! ...now can I say I told you so?

      April 11, 2011 at 3:23 pm |
  12. Meanwhile, back to the article...

    I am appreciative of the fact that Mr. Grayling chose to create what he feels is an alternative, rather than a confrontation, to the Christian Bible. I haven't read it yet, but I may give it a look. Perhaps people of faith may wish to read it as an accompaniment to, rather than a replacement for, the Bible. For instance, his "commandments" to me sound too "nice;" they lack the authoritativeness of the original. But as a complement, a filling-out if you will, they seem to do quite nicely. Maybe believers should read the Good Book with an eye toward the humanism of the Renaissance, a humanism which still allowed room for God, rather than today's humanism which seeks to replace God with humanity.

    April 11, 2011 at 2:19 pm |
  13. Man created God

    I would respectfully remind all of you believers that
    Niether God, nor Jesus Christ wrote the bible.
    The bible was written by man.

    Also interesting that when i dont believe in your god
    the first thing most people do is to start
    quoting scripture to try to convince me.

    Your religion should be private between you and your god.
    Please keep it that way.

    April 11, 2011 at 2:19 pm |
    • Epidi

      I'm Pagan and the same thing happens to me all the time. As soon as most people find out I am Pagan they either gasp in fear (no, gentle readers, I do NOT worship Satan) and/or try their best to convert me with such annoying ferver that I feel more like a trophy is being sought instead of concern for my soul. Pagans, Athiests, Humanists, Shamanic, etc, persons are NOT the demons you overzealous (and you know who you are) Christians are seeking. Look within and you will find plenty enough for your own soul to grapple with instead of looking for them in every other person or using politics to further your agendas!

      April 11, 2011 at 2:37 pm |
    • C. Ickes

      Are you really so narrow minded that only your own opinion matters? You want me to keep MY beliefs private, but you are free to post your opposition to said beliefs? Now how is that freedom? Democracy, even? Aren't those humanist? That all men can speak their minds? Why, this man wrote a BOOK to promote his viewpoints. As a Christian, I don't oppose his right to be wrong. lol And, without spouting scripture at you, just to be clear, Christians do not believe that "men alone" wrote the scriptures, but that they are God-inspired.

      April 11, 2011 at 2:47 pm |
    • Ed

      @Epidi
      As a catholic get thee behind me satan! Just kidding. WellI said must of us needs to clean our own house before looking to our neighbors. Thats true of most of us regardless of are faith.

      April 11, 2011 at 5:47 pm |
  14. Andy

    A Bible written by an atheist? I don't believe it even exists. Double atheism.

    April 11, 2011 at 2:19 pm |
  15. mike

    Not too late to repent....Jesus is waiting...

    April 11, 2011 at 2:18 pm |
    • PeterVN

      Pascal's Wager.

      Won't you be in a fright when you find out it's actually Zeus that is waiting.

      April 11, 2011 at 2:26 pm |
    • Jose

      Sorry Senor, I told Jesus to stop wasting time with water breaks and what not. I'll be sure to send Hector next week!!

      -Jose
      Owner

      April 11, 2011 at 2:31 pm |
    • Epidi

      Or Hera, LOL!

      April 11, 2011 at 2:39 pm |
    • pockets

      LOL ... if those so called 'believers' only knew how unintelligent they really were they would be embarassed, but because they lack insight, they ignorantly go along like sheep with the fairy tales. Like the Happy Meal at McDonalds, don't tell your kids that it comes from a slaughtered cow, who had a spike diven thru its head to kill it and then make a "Happy Meal' Keep the myth alive, Easter Bunny, Santa Claus, Tooth Fairy, Heaven, Hell, Virgin Birth, shall I go on????

      April 11, 2011 at 2:45 pm |
  16. Barney

    Give your only child to save mankind, then come back and give your blog opinion. If it was possible, would you? And if you did give your only child for that reason, would you accept those who did not believe what you did and marginalize the importance of it simply because they don't understand it? Further, Jesus Christ alone instilled all the morality and more than this Humanist thing speaks of. Why don't people get that. No other figure in history changed mankind like this. None. And, many of us still don't recognize it, and even worse still don't walk the walk even though they do recognize and believe in Christ. Mankind. Wow. Arrogant and foolish. Amazing that God loves us anyways. If that confuses you then you haven't read the Bible and researched it's true meanings.

    April 11, 2011 at 2:14 pm |
    • LiberalAtheist

      Barney no one said the masses werent gullible.

      April 11, 2011 at 2:27 pm |
    • hmmmmm

      i believe that hitler had just as big of an impact......

      April 11, 2011 at 2:40 pm |
    • BradLW

      Well gosh Barney, why don't you explain it all to us? Of course you never have been able to in any of your other posts on various blogs. ROFLMAO!

      April 11, 2011 at 2:43 pm |
    • tom

      Sorry, that fact is that I would have the same morality and decency whether I knew who Jesus was or not. Thats the difference between zealots and atheists. Atheists who are decent human beings are just for the sake of being good. Zealots, on the other hand, need a daddy figure in the sky to offer them reward or threaten punishment.

      April 11, 2011 at 3:02 pm |
    • R.J.

      1) Prove anything you just said.
      2) Mankind is still horribly screwed up, so your savior failed. (or didn't exist...)

      April 11, 2011 at 3:14 pm |
    • Ed

      @HMMMMMM I think Jesus had a little more influence on the world the Hitler and on the other side as well. A better comparison would have been Budda or Mohammed don't you think.

      @Tom this comment proves what I asked above you are linking all of us to the zealots and way over generalizing the relgious. Second you are assuming all relegious are zealots. Finally your are balming the relegion not the individual who has done wrong. Please stop assuming we are all nuts we not. Most of us don't think you have to be relegious to be good. For some it helps for others not. I was basiclly the same person before I became a believer as I am now. Now I just know God is out there and loves me. It doesn't make me be good or make me good that is up to me. I have know many atheist I consider better behaved then many faithful and quite a few that behaved badly, its the individual not the faith or lack of faith in their life. Finally I have a Aunt who is as much of a zealot as any faithful I have ever meet. She hates the idea of God. In fact my grandmother is in poor health and afraid to attend church because in her words it will make my aunt angry. So again its the person not the faith

      April 11, 2011 at 3:41 pm |
    • joe

      Did you think about what you wrote? It's time to grow up. Just for fun, let's try switching a few words you said around:
      From: "If that confuses you then you haven't read the Bible and researched it's true meanings.:
      To: "If the bible doesn't confuse you then you haven't read the Bible and researched it's true meanings."

      April 11, 2011 at 4:48 pm |
  17. Man created God

    Heaven sent says that Jesus died for my sins.
    We are all born with sin.
    How the heck was i born with sin ??
    I may sin after i am born
    but when i came out of the womb the first thing i do is take a breath

    Who came up with this scam, so that the second i am born
    i already owe somebody my soul ?
    Bullgarbage.

    April 11, 2011 at 2:14 pm |
    • my 32 cents

      I agree... If this Jesus guy came and died for our sins... why are we still born into sin?

      It should be like when you go to a nightclub and the person in front of you paid already... lol

      April 11, 2011 at 2:21 pm |
    • C. Ickes

      If you're asking how Christians view it... We are creatures. As in "created". And if God is the Author of Life... well... does He have no say in His "creatures" lives? Does a creator have no claim on the things He created? As in... the Earth is His footstool? Does the God of creation, the reason you're breathing and typing this stuff on CNN... Does He have a claim to your life? If such a God existed, wouldn't He deserve worship? Wouldn't He have the right to judge your soul and your sins as He sees fit? And if He became man, and died so that you would NOT have to pay for your sin... well, that would be pretty cool, wouldn't it? I'm not out to convince you, friend, but if you're looking for the Christian viewpoint... How old were you before you learned, "NO!"?? All men say "no" to God's power over their life. We don't like it. We are born that way because of sin. An

      April 11, 2011 at 2:32 pm |
    • ScottK

      "Does a creator have no claim on the things He created?" You are right, he would have claim to all he created. As soon as he shows up and ask's, I'll give him everything he wants. But as long as he is sending imperfect, greedy s exual deviants to ask for his share I will continue to slam the door in their faces.

      April 11, 2011 at 2:39 pm |
    • Ed

      @Scottk
      He has asked your not listening.

      April 11, 2011 at 6:10 pm |
    • Tim

      Don't judge the creator by the sinful acts of those who have chosen not to follow God's will. God gives us all free choice. You get to choose whether to believe in God or not. You get to choose if you think you can figure out where and why all of this was created. If you think it's from chance go see the Privileged Planet. This did not just happen. If the speed of light, or the force of gravity, or the electromagnetic force, or the location of the earth in the solar system, or the size and position of the moon in relation to the earth, or numerous other observed phenomena of nature were changed slightly...life on earth would not exist. God has created a space for you, He created you, and He loves you. Some people have misrepresented His love but don't let that get in the way of your relationship with Him. He has built a bridge for you to find Him through His Son Jesus. Accept the free gift of God in Jesus, come to know the creator of all the universe, and your soul will find rest.

      April 11, 2011 at 7:33 pm |
    • Ed

      @Tim
      well said

      April 11, 2011 at 7:40 pm |
  18. Jerry

    The Humanist bible, like ethics classes in most universities, are nothing more than an exersize in pragmatism. Good luck with that.

    April 11, 2011 at 2:14 pm |
    • ScottK

      Well, seeing how America apparently gets very little excersise, maybe thats a good thing.

      April 11, 2011 at 2:32 pm |
  19. Ed

    I wondering how long it will take someone to poor through this book or the teachings on some of the people the author used to compile this book with the same scrutiny some of you do the Bible. I also wonder how long before some nut job uses some of the writings in this book as an excuse to behave badly as some do the Bible and other relegious books. Finally I wonder when some one does if all of you will few them as the problem or as you do with the relegious books view relegion as the problem. I think I already know the answer to the third point but I guess we will have to wait and see if I'm write. Of course if I am every one will deny I asked and make all the standard excuses just like WE all do now.

    April 11, 2011 at 2:12 pm |
    • tom

      There are some very important distictions you are not seeing here, Ed. Ill tell what they are if you ask, but lets see if you can figure them out for yourself.

      April 11, 2011 at 2:46 pm |
    • Ed

      Oh do tell Tom what have I missed?

      April 11, 2011 at 3:05 pm |
    • tom

      Well, Ed.

      The Bible claims divine right. And describes some pretty dire consequenses should I not obey.
      This book does not. It does not claim to be divinley inspired and it does not assume the presence of a magical daddy figure in the sky. It makes no supernatural claims.

      Thats one. You see where I am going with this?

      April 11, 2011 at 3:13 pm |
    • Ed

      yes but I have not read it yet so I don't kniow what it claims and does not claim. I was merely pointing out that people like to go through all the relgious text with a fine tooth comb, some to find excuses to be have badly, some to find exception to the writings. In either case I was wondering how long it would take for someone to do this with this book. I was not loking for a excuse to say something negative about just wondering how long it would take. Can you say you were not looking to level and insult with "magical daddy figure in the sky." also sooner or later some one will likely use this book as a excuse to behave badly. As some many have the verious relegious books of the world when they do will you be so ready to blame the book and look at it with the obvious disdain you do the Bible and other relegious books. Or will you blame the person as you should with them. You may think I am making am unfair assumption about you opinon of the Bible if so I refer you to the statement "magical daddy figure in the sky." At best an extreme over simplyfication of God and at worst just insulting to any one who has faith by suggesting they are to stupid to see past the purple unicorns. Again I think I have a answer though at least for since I can not assume all athiest and agnostic agree with you. But you will likely not blame the book but the person as you should. I would ask you to start doing the same for relegious texts if you do great if not simply start. I personally thinks its great that Grayling wrote or compiled the works. I have read some else where it will make it easier to read more and tie it in to what athiest seem to believe. I hope it will improve understanding of the culture of the aithiest community so we can improve dialogue between the faithful and the none faithful. I plan to buy a copy my self at some point and add it to my collection of books opn philosphy and faith. It is "The Bible" but it is a Bible and hopefully well written. Again I way hopefully simply because I have not read it yet not as an attempt to imply it is not.

      April 11, 2011 at 3:30 pm |
  20. my 32 cents

    Did God have Jesus out of wedlock? (in Maury Povich voice) When it comes to 32 year old Jesus Christ...... You are not the father! lol

    But seriously what is the point of praying and what not if he knows all? Cant he just read my mind and be done with it? Or does he just want you to say it out loud? If that is the case then God is pretty vain. But I can't say that I am Atheist...more agnostic. Because I can't prove how we got here or what created what or what spawned from what. There had to be some sort of intervention from something in my opinion and if that is some "God" then I don't think he is omniscient by no means.

    April 11, 2011 at 2:11 pm |
    • my 32 cents

      Because the easiest thing to do would be to destroy all the none believers now and save some time right... I mean I am not telling god how to do his job, but you can save time by not waiting till "Armageddon"

      April 11, 2011 at 2:14 pm |
    • Li

      Good stuff and right on the money. God is a fairytale.

      April 11, 2011 at 2:24 pm |
    • Pete

      Hilariously on point!!! Still LMAO!!

      April 11, 2011 at 2:28 pm |
    • John

      If your spouse knew all about you would you stop talking to him\her?

      April 11, 2011 at 2:33 pm |
    • my 32 cents

      Worse case scenario for none believers is that we get to the "gates" and say... Well I'll be darn I guess he does exist...repent and get in anyway.

      April 11, 2011 at 2:36 pm |
    • beelzebubba

      The real story of the divine birth: Mary got knocked up while Joe was out of town. When it was obvious she was preggers, Joe said, how did this happen...I was out of town. Mary said ummm, I had a visitation. And what happened? Oh, it was divine! I bet it was.

      April 11, 2011 at 6:02 pm |
    • Ed

      @my 32 cents
      Just so you know Jesus age was unknown some think 27 some 32 some 36 and a few others but it doesn't really matter

      As for praying to God out loud. It is not necessary it is for us not God. God can see into our hearts and minds in fact in mass the part of the Prayer it the preist asking to God to consider the prayers in peoplehearts and minds that were not mentioned. Pray means speak so when we pray were are speaking to God. Just like you with people you know very well sometimes you know what they are thinking without it being said but it gets said anyway. So it is not necessary to pray out loud but it doesn't hurt if it helps the person praying. Prayer is for us not good. Hope this explains how its used.

      April 11, 2011 at 6:05 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.