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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. Steve Kellmeyer

    Hilarious!
    This guy is so hard up for atheist quotes that he starts with NEWTON!
    Newton was a firm theist who wrote more theology than he did science.

    Here's a couple of quotes from the old Isaac:
    "In the absence of any other proof, the thumb alone would convince me of God's existence. "

    "It is the perfection of God's works that they are all done with the greatest simplicity. He is the God of order and not of confusion. And therefore as they would understand the frame of the world must endeavor to reduce their knowledge to all possible simplicity, so must it be in seeking to understand these visions. "

    How funny that an atheist doesn't know that!

    April 11, 2011 at 5:50 pm |
    • Chris

      Really? You think you just proved some great point? True Christians, muslims, etc would be ok with others not believing because you are supposed to be loving towards all mankind. Instead, christians just think that unless you believe exactly like they do that you're going to hell. Just a really stupid concept. If there was ONE true religion then wouldn't god let us all know which was correct? I'll wait for that answer.......

      ****CRICKETS****

      April 11, 2011 at 6:28 pm |
  2. Jeff

    That's one book this atheist won't be buying.

    April 11, 2011 at 5:48 pm |
  3. Wisdom4u2

    For all those who keep mentioning 'religion', I got to ask, what religion did Jesus preach????

    And when Jesus used the word "whosoever", who was he referencing????

    April 11, 2011 at 5:48 pm |
  4. shawbrooke

    Be kind? Why? Love well – does that include the woman you lived with who thought that the relationship was heading to marriage when you were actually dating someone else? I thought not. And where in secular humanist endeavor has society ever experienced "think for yourself" when secular humanists punish anything other than the command to "think like me"? That includes our high school teachers using social exclusion to punish the dissident and communists using the gulag.

    What utter claptrap. I'll bet the biggest buyers are people of various faiths who want to counter it. The 16% who are unaffiliated mostly don't want to affiliate.

    April 11, 2011 at 5:48 pm |
  5. Vicki Bickford

    I just want to know one thing: can I get it on my Kindle?

    April 11, 2011 at 5:47 pm |
  6. KillReligion

    Only thing the bible is good for is for using it's pages of senseless ramblings as rolling papers to smoke with! Jesus and Santa have a lot in common. They never existed! Any rational human that needs a stupid book to tell them what's right and wrong is deeply confused. Spare me the "holy" explanations. Because if that loser existed I'd rather burn in hell then live amongst cowards.

    April 11, 2011 at 5:47 pm |
  7. saftgek

    Excrement! The "athiests" and "agnostics" of global society are misled, misguided, or just plain out for themselves and their own egotistical drives. Pity, they don't have inside them what is needed to have a truly fulfilled life. Rather, they practice their hedonistic lifestyles – forsaking the very Being that put them on earth.

    Life does go on, for as long as it is allowed to go on. We all make choices – some good, some not-so-good. Life committed to furthering the human cause, caring for each other as He expects us to do, is truly the correct life choice. Sad, so many have no clue!

    April 11, 2011 at 5:44 pm |
  8. chickyd

    That's why I'm Buddhist (not the religion either), Buddha had it right, who cares if there's a God or not, just do the best you can in this present moment and the rest will take care of itself. This means, no wars over who's going to heaven. I'd rather see suffering for what it is and live the best life I can. Maybe that's why I have friends of all religions/beliefs/backgrounds/colors. I never bought into scare tactics (burn in hell if you don't believe). All religions believe they're right and others are wrong and nonconformists are evil. Just realize why Christmas is on the 25th, because that was originally a Pagen holiday. If God can't except me for who I am then it's God's loss.

    April 11, 2011 at 5:43 pm |
  9. Joe

    My attempt at this got bogged down at the first verse...

    In the beginning, the universe (errrr...) created itself (ummmm....) out of nothing (......) for no particular reason.....

    (The original makes more sense).

    April 11, 2011 at 5:41 pm |
    • Bob

      Whereas, God (ummm) is all-powerful (uhhhh) and has always existed (??????). Makes perfect sense!

      April 11, 2011 at 5:49 pm |
  10. Scott

    A Christians only real salvation is that he is slightly more educated than a Muslim. Wonder who he has to thank for that?

    April 11, 2011 at 5:41 pm |
  11. beelzebubba

    Moral rules often attributed to Christianity and the Old Testament existed long before the Ten Commandments 'miraculously' appeared. So did many Old Testament stories like the great flood. So using the tiresome fundamentalist Christian bible-worshippers argument that morality came from god through the ten commandments is dishonest... which of course violates the ten commandments.

    April 11, 2011 at 5:37 pm |
  12. Preacherman

    A.C. Grayling, the first Pope of atheism has completed their first bible and its yours for ten pounds.

    April 11, 2011 at 5:32 pm |
    • airwx

      Actually this is number 3... there is also the Atheist's Bible and the Skeptics Bible already in print.

      April 11, 2011 at 5:40 pm |
  13. And...

    Sounds like an interesting read, but I doubt anyone would sacrifice much to live by its teaching. By contrast, the writings of the Bible have inspired countless billions of lives over six millenia. Nice try, Mr. whatever your name is...........

    April 11, 2011 at 5:31 pm |
    • Bob

      I agree. If it wasn't for the Bible, we wouldn't have te Spanish Inquisistion, Salem Witch trials, the Crusades, etc. Great reason to have it!

      April 11, 2011 at 5:44 pm |
  14. albert

    Atheism is now officially a religion. Someone has written a book they can can follow, and will of course charge money for it. Taking money from the blind basically.

    April 11, 2011 at 5:30 pm |
    • Jaime

      Wait, does that mean that Linux is a religion too?
      http://www.complete.org/LinuxProgrammingBible

      There's a bible for it, so that must mean it's a religion! Golly Albert, you have a great mind to make such spectacular leaps to conclusion.

      April 11, 2011 at 5:38 pm |
    • Bob

      Whereas, you don't buy the Bibles (or any other book) you read. Do you just steal them from hotels?

      April 11, 2011 at 5:41 pm |
    • Jesus

      There is nothing unique about a person or group that preys on its followers for cash. This fellow is trying to make a buck. He is no better than the con artists that sell or preach religious dogma to the weak minded. I am an atheist. I don't need a book to give me a moral direction in life.

      April 11, 2011 at 5:44 pm |
    • Matt Brown

      Yeah, take money for the book, like your church does every sunday when they pass the basket around. Fool.

      April 11, 2011 at 5:44 pm |
    • Amanda

      Yeah, because Bibles are free, huh?

      April 11, 2011 at 5:50 pm |
  15. Anne Chovey

    the bible
    written by man
    edited by man
    proclaimed to be gods word....by man
    I believe no one

    April 11, 2011 at 5:28 pm |
  16. floydfix69

    my question is where is the prehistory in the bible aka 10000bc .now man understands more about that, so man wrote the bible i wonder what they thought about the fossils in the ground the devils work i bet.

    April 11, 2011 at 5:27 pm |
    • SoS

      Many historians believe much of the Greek mythological creatures were thought up after the ancient Greeks found fossil remains of creatures they had never seen in their time. When you see some of these fossilized remains, and then read over the descriptions of these mythological beasts, the resemblance is quite remarkable.

      April 11, 2011 at 5:47 pm |
  17. James

    HAHA at religious people.

    April 11, 2011 at 5:26 pm |
    • Lycidas

      Why?

      April 11, 2011 at 5:39 pm |
  18. Ricky

    All unselfish actions will do good to you, while all selfish actions will bring you misery in some form or the other. As long as someone understands this basic tenant (whether religious or not), there is nothing to fight about. In other words, it doesn't matter how you get to this understanding (through religion, good deeds, etc), the goal is to get this basic fact straight and put it in practice.

    I think.

    April 11, 2011 at 5:25 pm |
    • rachel

      Actually, selfish is good. If you look after yourself, you have something valuable to give away.

      April 11, 2011 at 5:48 pm |
    • Ricky

      Hi Rachel
      Yes, I guess that's a different way of looking at it. It makes complete sense, as long as your goal in taking care of yourself is to be of benefit to others.
      -R

      April 11, 2011 at 5:54 pm |
  19. come on man

    Lol........atheism has all the componets of religion yet its believers claim religion is for the uneducated....you even got your own bible now....for real Lol.............looks like these folks don't realize they are hustling backwards!

    April 11, 2011 at 5:23 pm |
    • Powder

      Except for the small matter of the whole 'deity' thing... you know, this big omniscient, omnipotent, all controlling, all powerthing thing that is going to deal with us in the afterlife. Yeah. Except for that.

      April 11, 2011 at 5:27 pm |
    • Dolphin

      I totally agree! Reminds me of the South Park episode about "Science" replacing "Religion" in the future!

      April 11, 2011 at 5:30 pm |
    • albert

      True, but they think that they are God. That is the sad part.

      April 11, 2011 at 5:32 pm |
    • Bob

      Hate to disagree, but atheism has one major difference. Namely, that it doesn't rely on a mystical all-powerful being to explain what we don't know or to punish you if you misbehave (and the Bible lists quite a few – including but not limited to: eating shellfish, eating pork, wearing clothing of different material, cutting your side burns, etc.)

      April 11, 2011 at 5:37 pm |
    • Ceri

      Yeah, Powder, you are right. The atheists now have it all – except the bits which really matter. Good luck with that!

      April 11, 2011 at 5:38 pm |
    • Dolphin

      Atheists just replace the words "big omniscient, omnipotent, all controlling, all powerful thing" with "science, reason, evolution, quantum physics, nature, all powerful free will...thing"

      Or like Albert rightly pointed, they replace the idea behind the word "God" with an extremely high opinion of themselves.

      Logic: If there is a table, then there must be someone who created it. If there is a universe...then...you get my point. You can call it God (if you are into religion) or Nature/Quantum Physics (if you are not), the point is...Atheists and Non-atheists are just the same.

      April 11, 2011 at 5:41 pm |
    • Glenn

      Wrong. Religion is believing in things without proof. Science demands proof. Therefore science is not a religion.

      April 11, 2011 at 5:53 pm |
    • Dolphin

      With all due respect, who says religion doesn't have proof? Just because you have never been to London, does not mean that there is no place called London. Do you understand all of Einstein's equations? You just take it on faith that some other scientists are smart enough and you trust them. Religion is the same way, except that people who follow religion trust or have faith in a different kind of experience.

      April 11, 2011 at 6:01 pm |
    • Consider This

      So you think you're Self-Created, huh Powder! Sad. Truly sad that in this day and age people can be so misled as to think that way. Truly shocking but apparently true for many.

      April 11, 2011 at 6:12 pm |
  20. Worthless Book

    It is obvious that this book is out just to make money and nothing else. If people were to place any spiritual value on it, their spirit and soul would be imperiled since it obviously would not contain a word about all-important Salvation and how to obtain it. Without Salvation or spiritual keys to doing God's will, life on earth is just mundane and downright sinful with no recourse to anyone except perhaps to what they may believe created them, that being the trees, the rocks, the ocean. But no mention of God is Destructive to any society as any group without God or His values to emulate, Commandments, Laws, and Teachings is worth little. They forgot to include the very One who created them. God. When one forgets their Creator, their Creator will surely forget them at their appointed time if they don't repent now. That is Biblical law and how it is and no one is excused or immune from it just because they don't want to believe in it or believe in something else. Everyone is judged on their own merits and have to answer to God for their shortcomings and sinful actions. Everyone, regardless of social standing, beliefs, or lack of, without exception.

    April 11, 2011 at 5:22 pm |
    • excitizen

      This is your belief – others' belief – not mine. You read your book and believe what you wish and I'll read mine.
      That's the problem with Christianity – they always want to push their beliefs down your throat – just can't live and let live! Kinda like the taliban IMO

      April 11, 2011 at 5:25 pm |
    • God Judges

      You're right in what you say! But let those who do not Believe put it to the real test when they die and are judged. Then, is when they will find out how wrong they were but by then it will be too late. The time to seek Salvation, as you say, is Now. Tomorrow may be too late for many! So, good folks, don't fall into that trap. Others could care less about you being Saved now to be able to enter into God's kingdom of eternal light and experience His love when you pass on. They couldn't care one iota! *You* have to look out for yourself Now and beseech the Lord for the forgiveness of your sins!

      April 11, 2011 at 5:31 pm |
    • Anne Chovey

      says you
      just another man with an opinion
      nothing more

      April 11, 2011 at 5:31 pm |
    • excitizen

      "Without Salvation or spiritual keys to doing God's will, life on earth is just mundane and downright sinful with no recourse to anyone..."

      HOW DARE YOU? We do humanitarian works, fundraising, etc. all the time – who are you to tell other what their life is without YOUR religion – wonder what you actually do – other than ram your beliefs down others' throats? NRA member??? Republican???

      April 11, 2011 at 5:32 pm |
    • Get over yourself

      The books is "focused on assembling the non-religious teachings of civilization’s greatest thinkers". What could possibly be wrong with that? Some people just don't like thinking I guess ...

      April 11, 2011 at 5:33 pm |
    • dewrober

      I feel so sorry for you, wasting your life believing in silly fairy tales. I hope it is you who realizes this before it is too late because there likely is most likely is no "afterlife." Enjoy world that you can experience in front of you while you are still able to do so.

      April 11, 2011 at 5:38 pm |
    • arathans

      if this book is about trying to living better
      rofl @ ppl who still need to believe in religion. your god has two very different faces from the old to the new testament. its like someone just made crap up. "you can only get to the father through me" pfft. if your god is that petty, good luck with him then. ill stick to science and trying to do what i think is the right thing. if i end up being judged by some god who doesnt think thats good enough, he isnt worth being called a god.

      April 11, 2011 at 5:42 pm |
    • Trevor

      Do you think publishers print the bible for free? No, so I would guess they print it for a profit.

      April 11, 2011 at 5:42 pm |
    • Jaime

      There is nothing wrong with believing a lie – so long as that belief in the lie makes you a better person. If believing in God means you give to the needy, and work to help others, then great! If believing in God makes your final days on earth less painful, that's wonderful.

      Religion is a great tool for people who are too selfish to be kind to others without the threat of eternal damnation and torment.

      I think it's great.

      April 11, 2011 at 5:43 pm |
    • Anon

      This is the problem with Christianity and Christians in general. If one does not agree with their belief system, you are doomed. I am not sure I would want to be part of a religious society that has no tolerance for other people's belief systems.

      April 11, 2011 at 5:45 pm |
    • Michael

      Without fear, your arguments lose all their strength. That is why people like you crucified Jesus – because he was about love, not fear; about action, not belief; about God, not religion.
      But you will not see this because you refuse to see.

      April 11, 2011 at 5:50 pm |
    • Cassi

      Wow...I really wish you were kidding because you sound certifiably insane. Both of you- "Worthless Book" and "God Judges." You both have an exaggerated sense of your own self-importance. I'm sorry, what was that about pride, in the "good book"? You both sound like you are letting the pride you feel in a blind faith in a god make you believe you are better than everybody else.
      Thank you, "Excitizen" for your input: "HOW DARE YOU? We do humanitarian works, fundraising, etc. all the time – who are you to tell other what their life is without YOUR religion – wonder what you actually do – other than ram your beliefs down others' throats? NRA member??? Republican???" I agree, how dare they?
      They think they are better than the rest of us because of their "belief" in god and what *might* but probably will not happen when each of us dies. That shouldn't matter, anyway. What matters is how you live your life, what you do with the skills and abilities you possess-that should matter. As long as you are a good person, trying to live a good life, to help others and make a difference, it does not matter whether you believe in a god or what religion you choose to follow.

      April 11, 2011 at 5:52 pm |
    • Chris

      So if this book was written just for money then so be it. The author isn't saying it replaces the bible, just his way of throwing out what he believes to be an alternative. What makes me laugh is how upset religious people get when they don't agree with something. There can only be one "correct" religion, right? If Jewish people are right then all Christians are completely wrong and, therefore will go to hell because Jesus cannot be both god's son and merely a normal Jewish man. You can't have both. If the followers of Mohammad are correct then both Jewish and Christian believers are wrong. Do you get where I'm going? Everyone should believe in what they feel is correct but you cannot in any way say that this author, a Jewish person, a Catholic, a Baptists, etc are right.

      For those saying this book is blasphemous or is just about money please stop for 2 seconds and think that YOU MAY NOT BE RIGHT!

      April 11, 2011 at 6:01 pm |
    • Battsman

      That sure does sound like a pretty petty, petulant God you have there. Judging people on the perfectness of their belief vs. the kind of life an idividual has lived. Interesting that said God would damn 68% of all humans (statistical approximate for the number of non-Christians in the world). Based on most of the interpretations that I hear from any given Christian, only their subset is going to not burn in Hell – so that means number would be closer to 90 to 99% depending on how tight your interpretation is of the potential for being saved.

      Wow, I'm guessing God's already lost the battle with evil then huh? Seriously, that's either a very petty or very ineffective creator to believe in. Or to put it another way "Righteousness" is always in the eye of the beholder.

      April 11, 2011 at 6:22 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.