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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. J.R.

    I like the humanist approach, like the teachings of John Stuart Mills "On Liberty", however all those who who stand in their ivory towers who have not taken the leap of faith have nothing to fear. Surely if God does exist then in his mercy he will look upon you as non believers and still provide a place of residence for your non believing spirits to go. I would think it would be like in the Vestibule Described in Dante's Inferno where all the Angels in heaven who could not decide to follow the teachings of God or to follow Gods most precious Angel Lucifer who's pride stood against God were thrown out of heaven for their Indecion, and who in Dante's Devine Comedy were seen chasing a banner for eternity for their non decision. You will also find a great sculpture devoted to the Expulsion of Lucifer from heaven built in 1874 by Duke Fenan Nunez in Retiro Park, Madrid Spain. A little faith is good for the Soul.

    April 11, 2011 at 3:56 pm |
  2. Jack

    Humans do not know what is good for them if it is not for God's teachings. I mean, what the Nazis did was logical for them: let's create a superior race. If you have a genetic desease, let's kill you or eliminate your ability to procreate, and let's kill the jews which brought "conciense" to the world. Any horrible action can be justified with some logic. You cannot leave to humans to decide what is good or bad. The so called "humanistics", whether they want to admit it or not, have been influenced by the teachings of the bible in one way or another. If you follow "Nature" to learn what is good or bad, then killing the weak and taking their spoils is totally acceptable, just as a Lion kills its prey, and even the cubs of other lions, or as fish kill other fish. As much as they want to hide it... any knowledge of good really comes originally from the bible. Nature does not teach you to be nice to your kind, except when it is good for your own benefit. Is this how humanists feel? being good to others is best because it is convenient for ourselves? a bit selfish, these humanists...
    Just because some people used religions in the wrong way, does not mean that religions are bad, or that they are all wrong, or that there is only one that is truth.

    April 11, 2011 at 3:56 pm |
    • Amused

      "a bit selfish, these humanists" ? Based on what? You clearly have No comprehension of Humanism! You act as if the bible WASN'T actually written by human beings! Indeed ALL books of the bible were written by human beings! Every single concept in the bible was conceived by people! So, how is your "bible" any different than a "humanist" bible? Please explain this nonsense...

      April 11, 2011 at 4:14 pm |
    • John3

      Hitler was a devote roman catholic till the day he died....just saying. Bad examply for your post haha

      April 11, 2011 at 5:30 pm |
  3. Big~Smelly~Tuna

    @Mary Beth

    I used to quite a lot as a youngster but hitting 70 slowed me down in the cherry-picking area.

    April 11, 2011 at 3:55 pm |
  4. chistiansarenotlikechrist

    Reading these threads is further proof of the self-righteous, narrow-minded, ignorant bible thumpers. They are on here screaming for respect? Get off this forum and let people discuss the article in question. Atheists are not wanting to convert Christians. They can stay where they are. Christians are nothing "like Christ." (If he actually existed). If you Christians are so respectful of other's beliefs, why are they on here?! I haven't even told you what I believe and don't believe, but I bet you will be quick to assume (wrongly).

    April 11, 2011 at 3:53 pm |
    • airwx

      Bear with us...some of us are at least trying to be like Him.

      April 11, 2011 at 3:57 pm |
  5. Dudley041518

    The Bible and portions thereof have been under scrutiny by the finest minds of the time for perhaps 10,000 years and it still exists as a belief and a faith. This clown doesn't have a prayer of this happening to his.

    April 11, 2011 at 3:52 pm |
  6. Iwantthisbook

    I want this book. I've always had great respect for the humanitarian, enlightened, and open-minded thinkers and speakers of humanity, religious or otherwise.
    No offense to Christians or biblical literalists, but if I had to choose in having kids read a book that emphasizes good relations within humanity with sayings by scientists, artists, and philosophers, than humanity with their creator as taught by priests, prophets, and holy men, I'd much prefer the former.

    April 11, 2011 at 3:52 pm |
  7. Rob

    As I read the comments in this thread, I become more and more concerned for the future of humanity. There's so much inhumanity in these comments - people calling each other names, assuming the worst of one another, ripping apart each others' beliefs, misrepresenting each others' beliefs, etc. I really hope that the ugly, hateful, and ignorant comments are simply a product of internet anonymity. I really hope that, if everyone here were to get together in a room, a conversation could happen without being reduced to a fistfight.

    We have to accept, without judgment, the fundamental fact that the world (and the United States) consists of a plurality of religions. No matter what religion or belief you sustain, the vast majority of the planet disagrees with you. Accepting disagreement and moving on is what it means to be a civilized adult. Even if we don't share common beliefs, we nevertheless share a common humanity. Maybe we should focus on that a bit more.

    April 11, 2011 at 3:52 pm |
    • Fuyuko

      We must accept people but no one's 'belief' is above critique. A belief is not a person and isn't deserving of being respected just because someone believes it. Beliefs should be challenged, especially harmful ones.

      April 11, 2011 at 3:57 pm |
    • Rob

      Fuyuko,

      Which is potentially more harmful: allowing a person their belief and leaving them alone, or challenging their belief? If all people were simply accepting that others will have varying beliefs, there would be no harm.

      April 11, 2011 at 4:08 pm |
    • waterman

      No, my religion is right, and the vast majority who does not get that and worships false gods will burn in hell for that. I even have a book that says that 🙂

      April 11, 2011 at 6:31 pm |
  8. adfdf

    for a group of people who claim they aren't a faith they sure have a hard time proving that Atheism isn't one

    April 11, 2011 at 3:52 pm |
    • Rob

      Faith is, by definition, "belief in something for which you have no evidence." For some (not all), atheism is simply a lack of belief in god, founded in the notion that there must be evidence for claims, and extraordinary evidence for extraordinary claims. Atheists find that no evidence exists for the God claim. So atheists are, in spirit, abiding by a principle exactly opposite faith.

      April 11, 2011 at 4:05 pm |
    • ktisis

      The definition of faith has NOTHING to do with "belief in something with NO evidence." Preposterous. I have faith in my wife BECAUSE she has proven herself worthy of my trust by repeated experiences. I have faith (the word means "trust") in my brake pedal because it has repeatedly demonstrated it's usual dependability. The Creator of the universe does not ask for belief WITHOUT evidence, He seeks a relationship based UPON evidence (such as DNA, law of cause and effect, fulfilled prophecy, the resurrection, fossil record, logic, probability, mathematics, morality, design, natural law, specified complexity, irreducible complexity, etc.) I came to "faith" after looking into the evidence, not in spite of it. Read about former atheists like CS Lewis, Anthony Flew, etc. Belief BECAUSE of the evidence.

      April 11, 2011 at 4:22 pm |
    • Rob

      @Ktisis

      First, check out definition 2a from Merriam Webster's below. Secondly, I have a doctorate in Philosophy and Religion - I've read all of the authors about which you speak. There is only ONE religious denomination on the planet that holds reason and faith as consistent from a doctrianal perspective, and that is strict Roman Catholicism. Every other religion regards belief in a divine being as a matter purely of faith. And even the Catholics only hold that knowledge of the existence of God can be known through reason - knowledge of those aspects we regard as the Christian God specifically can still only be known by faith.

      So either you hold some belief system outside of every religion under record, or, more likely, you simply don't understand the semantics of "faith" as such.

      Definition of FAITH from Merriam Webster's
      1a : allegiance to duty or a person : loyalty b (1) : fidelity to one's promises (2) : sincerity of intentions
      2a (1) : belief and trust in and loyalty to God (2) : belief in the traditional doctrines of a religion b (1) : firm belief in something for which there is no proof (2) : complete trust
      3: something that is believed especially with strong conviction; especially : a system of religious beliefs

      April 11, 2011 at 4:35 pm |
  9. Robert

    I think this is a good book for those who are lost today morally or those who are interested in moral for the 22nd century. I have yet to read his book but A.C. Graylings views are much needed in a moral-dwindling planet.

    April 11, 2011 at 3:52 pm |
  10. Dudley041518

    Oh, I see. He publishes his bible so that instead of God, he worships people like Newton. How predictable. Newton said, 'Take away all things and leave me only my thumb. This alone is proof of the presence of an Almighty Creator.'

    April 11, 2011 at 3:50 pm |
    • Rob

      He's not asking us to worship people. He's not asking us to worship anything. He's asking us to have a look at some ideas people have had through the centuries and adopt those ideas that seem like they would do some good. What's the matter with that? Do we have to "worship" something/someone in order to have productive ideas and live good lives?

      April 11, 2011 at 4:02 pm |
    • Megan

      You completely missed the boat. The whole idea of the book is that no one gets worshiped. Maybe your or our tendency to need someone to worship warped your interpretation of the story. It was problematic for me that he felt the need to use the bible format as a template for his secular book. His book should have stood on its own format.

      April 11, 2011 at 4:56 pm |
  11. ktisis

    I love the self-refuting and hypocritical statements the author of this new tome admits to:
    "“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.” Notice all the words that have no meaning outside of an absolute standard: responsibility, values, good lives, good. If we are nothing more than a chance accident of chemicals following purposeless natural law, then all spoken of by him is meaningless. And by the way, true Christians don't serve the Lord out of a fear of Hell (this is a common mis-characterization by those unfamiliar with the Bible) but we serve the Lord out of thankfulness for what He has done for us, and that He died to save us. Ephesians 2:8,9 say that salvation "is the GIFT of God (free), and it is not as a result of good works." First, be saved, then you will do the works out of thankfulness.

    April 11, 2011 at 3:50 pm |
    • Dave

      Hey, if it appeared in Ephesians, it has got to be true (at least that's what I always say).

      April 11, 2011 at 4:01 pm |
  12. Godless

    As an Atheist I do find it odd when I see other Atheists focusing so much of their attention to one particular religion.

    April 11, 2011 at 3:49 pm |
    • airwx

      Your comment makes me think that those who attack one religion are not Atheists, but rather anti-theists. One can be an atheist or a person of faith without being cruel to others. I respct your candor.

      April 11, 2011 at 3:53 pm |
    • Fuyuko

      The people who attack may be atheists who don't like religion. Not every atheist is the same.

      April 11, 2011 at 3:55 pm |
    • Sybaris

      Perhaps it is because most of the posters are from the U.S. and detest the continued attempts to weave christian dogma into the laws that govern this country.

      April 11, 2011 at 4:01 pm |
    • Ted

      What is so fresh these days is Christians claiming to be the new victims of society. They have stomped on the rights of others for so long and now cry victim when the mud is slung back at them with the same force that they themselves slung it. This new power struggle with Islam is fascinating and gays seeking civil unions and marriages is so refreshing. I am glad to see people stand up to these faux defenders of morals. I recently heard that if trends persist, the Christian faith with cease to exist in America. I long for the day. Now we will have to contend with the reckless breeding of Muslims, their aversion to science and progress and their tendency to turn back time to achieve a patriarchal state where gays are not welcome, women are objects, children are to be seen and not heard, Allah is to be praised 5 times a day and nothing gets done as far as innovation goes.

      April 11, 2011 at 4:47 pm |
  13. Big~Smelly~Tuna

    I think nurse lisa is posting in the nude ~ i can see in her window.

    April 11, 2011 at 3:48 pm |
  14. Dudley041518

    Am I the only one to seewhat appears to be the completely random positioning of these comments, or is this done on purpose so no discussion actually takes place?

    April 11, 2011 at 3:47 pm |
    • airwx

      This discus-sion system is broken...has been for quite a while

      April 11, 2011 at 3:49 pm |
  15. Dudley041518

    Well, OK, whatever. As a non-cooking person, I think I'll edit a cookbook. I always find it interesting that "Atheism" is called a "religion" by virtue of their having disagreed With religion. Their only belief is a reaction of a religion. That's like calling myself a chef because I don't like broccoli. They have no belief, only UNbelief.

    Who rewrites a book of faith having never had any, themselves? How does that work?

    April 11, 2011 at 3:45 pm |
    • Amused

      You obviously didn't read the article! The article explains it rather well. Just drop your pompus assumptions and actually read it... It makes perfect sense.

      April 11, 2011 at 3:58 pm |
    • Rob

      For the non-believer, atheism is only ONE small particle of the belief system. Every atheist I know has a positive belief system as well - some are Humanists, some are Utilitarians, some are philosophical Buddhists, or some variety of principles. So you're setting up a straw-man. It's not that atheists have no positive beliefs. It's just that atheism itself doesn't describe the belief. Don't mix-up the label for the person.

      I don't think this book is trying to hash out anything by faith. Seems like what I've read is based primarily in reason. And reason has plenty to say about how people should get along in the world.

      April 11, 2011 at 3:59 pm |
    • T3chsupport

      Where did it claim that this book had anything to do with religious faith?
      I think you missed the point of the book, which is that you don't need to have faith in something that has a 50-50 chance of existing at all in order to be a good person and live a happy life.

      April 11, 2011 at 4:02 pm |
    • Carol

      At least if you start with a cookbook, you will have tangible and hopefully tasteful recipes that can be seen, eaten, processed and excreted. The bible does not offer that.

      April 11, 2011 at 4:38 pm |
    • John3

      I think what its going for is the moral teachings that actually are in the bible. Many people who arent religious have the same views of what is good and bad but not because of what the bible teaches or that they are scared to go to hell, because they actually think these actions are wrong. This book uses philosophy and free thinking and offers the same kind of morals, but from an athiests point of view. ive come to the conclusion that these actions are wrong and not because the bible says so, Ive come to these conclusions with out religion. like the article said its not a bash at the bible...its just an alternative for people who see that the bible wasnt written by god, it was written by man. Id put more considertation into a philosipher over a prophet anyday. At least I have the option to think for myself.

      April 11, 2011 at 5:23 pm |
  16. The Jackdaw

    jesus wont mind because he can't read

    April 11, 2011 at 3:43 pm |
  17. VoipOfReason

    Religion & God are things created by Man.

    They were created for & by man to cope with being intelligent enough to know the meaning of mortality, but, yet, not possess the intellect or technology to understand it.

    Additionally, it (religion & god) played a major role in building blocks for social structure. While be it that not one specific set of customs/religion was widely excepted, the adherence to a specific set of rules established by geographical proximity, worked well, prior to the dawn of man’s first steps into the technological future.

    Fortunately, once a Freedom-of-religion based society had been established and the world became a smaller place, due to advancements in technology, a lot of us discovered that we no longer needed to be scared into being decent human beings, we did so, because, we discovered, that a lot more can be accomplished, when not bickering about who's imaginary friend is better than who’s.

    A lot of human beings have an intellect that has surpassed a psychological need for religion and/or god, however, there are still those, who need the idea of a religion to provide a moral compass, and to justify their ideas, motives, and/or existence. I would like to say that humanity would be better without any form of religion or god, however, I look at how awful some people can treat one another. Most of the time, these people are “religious” individuals. Imagine how much worse these people would be, if they you told millions of them, “There is no reason (besides the obvious) to be a good/decent person, nothing you do in this lifetime will be judged”. One can only assume, this may lead to the potential downfall of civilized human society.

    April 11, 2011 at 3:43 pm |
    • Fuyuko

      Gods were created by the priest class in the ancient days to explain everything, and to justify their existance. Afterall, being a priest, requires the tribe to support him or her. To do this you need believers.

      April 11, 2011 at 3:48 pm |
    • waterman

      Good post.

      April 11, 2011 at 6:27 pm |
  18. waterman

    I object to the term "leading" or "top" atheist, because there are none. Atheism is not a religion and has no authority figure that most atheists listen to. Atheism is also not a matter of skill or achievements, so you cannot use the term in the same way as "top basketball player" or "leading scientist."

    April 11, 2011 at 3:42 pm |
    • Bob

      He is a philosopher and college professor who has put into a book his "lifetimes" work. Sounds authoritative to me.

      April 11, 2011 at 4:11 pm |
    • waterman

      You can call him a leading scholar a leading something else, but not a leading atheist. There are no authorities in atheism. Atheists do not look for authority figures to decide what to think or what to believe.

      April 11, 2011 at 6:24 pm |
  19. Andrew

    Q: What do you get when you cross an insomniac, an unwilling agnostic and a dyslexic?

    A: You get somebody who stays up all night tourturing himself mentally over the question of whether or not there's a dog.

    April 11, 2011 at 3:38 pm |
    • LMK

      Perfect! I love it.

      April 11, 2011 at 3:52 pm |
  20. Shawn

    God created man then he wants to be worshipped by those he had just created. What kind of being feels the need to be worshipped? Sounds like he needs therapy.

    April 11, 2011 at 3:37 pm |
    • Fuyuko

      We don't know if that is what he wants, but it surely is what mankind thinks he wants. That is presuming God exists.

      April 11, 2011 at 3:47 pm |
    • Chris

      The kind of servile "worship" you're thinking of, is a human invention. Love, connection or relationship would be better terms than "worship".

      April 11, 2011 at 3:48 pm |
    • Rick

      Forget whether this being needs therapy. What kind of person worships such a punk?

      April 11, 2011 at 3:51 pm |
    • USA401

      Sounds like Congress

      April 11, 2011 at 3:58 pm |
    • regina

      What kind of God would want the cure for cancer to be halted while we stop and worship him 5 times a day. This is why the cure for cancer will never come from Islamic states. This is why the cure for anything will never come from Islamic states. Innovation of any kind will never come from an Islamic state. They are still trying to grasp democracy.

      April 11, 2011 at 4:01 pm |
    • Samuel Raines

      Unfortunately, I feel like most people are religious because they fear death, and I do feel sorry for those people. Just because we want something to be true does not make it true. We are all going to die, and while I can't claim to know the truth, we must all at least be aware that it may just be nothingness in the end. Just like what it was before we were born.

      April 11, 2011 at 4:02 pm |
    • Angel

      You educated idiots never cease to amaze me. If you don't believe in God why don't you just DIE and see if He's real or not. I feel sorry for you. I suppose your alternative hypothesis' rationalizes spirituality to you. God is far too loving to strike fire under your butts!!!

      April 11, 2011 at 4:06 pm |
    • Bob

      As a 65 year old gay man, religion has never done anything for me but thwart my opportunities in life. Young gay people have it better today because they are standing up in mass to Christians, Muslims and other degrading religions who have no qualms at all about stomping on another persons life in order to elevate themselves in the eyes of some invisible deity with brownie points they expect to use later at the imaginary pearly gates.

      April 11, 2011 at 4:08 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.