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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. BENJI

    Hopefully all the athiest will come to know the Lord Jesus Christ one day before they all die and meet Him face to face.

    April 11, 2011 at 7:50 pm |
    • RAS

      Since we are talking fictional characters... it is more likely I might meet Mickey Mouse...

      April 11, 2011 at 8:00 pm |
  2. QPhunk

    This book sounds great!

    April 11, 2011 at 7:48 pm |
  3. eric

    hilarious! Without the existance of a God, there is NO ABSOLUTE right or wrong. That means that right vs. wrong is left up to man who is just another accidental animal created by some ooops of a chemical explosion. Wow how simple is atheism? Think about it.

    April 11, 2011 at 7:47 pm |
  4. but there is

    hey fyi there is no real concrete evidence for God.

    April 11, 2011 at 7:45 pm |
  5. LK

    I am just writing to state what I encountered last week outside my place if work. There were a group of children, aged 8-12 years old, approaching complete strangers saying this and I'm quoting. (While they were holding fake 1 Million Dollar Bills.) " Hello, I have a question for you. What would you rather have? A million dollar bill or a much better option for your life?" I asked, "What is the better option? " The young girl stated, " You can either have the million dollar bill or have an eternity of happiness with God, but if you refuse to accept God you will go to hell and and be unhappy for the rest of time! " At this point I got really offended and walked away! I was so insulted and upset that these young children are being told to go out there to complete strangers and tell them that they will spend the rest of eternity in HELL is they do not accept God as their savior. I don't judge people based on their faith or what they believe in, BUT I do believe that the priest or preacher or leader of their church has gone about his teachings the wrong way. He should not be telling these young children to go out there to strangers and tell them they will spend the rest of their life in HELL is they do not accept God as a part of their life. I thought it was very rude that this little girl could say that to someone. I do not blame the little girl for it though, she does not know any better at her age. But it's is things like this incidence that push me further away from beliefs in God. I wouldn't say I'm a non believer at this point. But I would never go to the church that young girl attends simply because of what she said to me. I think it's sad how powerful of effect the leaders of the teach have on these innocent young children. That is a dangerous thing to say to someone "You'll spend the rest of eternity in HELL if you don't accept God!" Who knows with the crazy people out there, this young girl could of found herself in a dangerous situation if she said this to the wrong person. So leaders of the church, priests, preachers, etc. Please do not tell your young sheep to say this to people. It is insulting and cruel to tell someone they will spend eternity in hell just because we do not have the same beliefs as you do. I'm just saying.

    April 11, 2011 at 7:45 pm |
  6. Orville

    It doesn't matter. The first time people read something they don't agree with or don't understand, they will first try to sue, then if that doesn't work, they'll do something else before they just give up and ignore it.

    April 11, 2011 at 7:43 pm |
  7. james

    Rick

    Atheists are smarter. It's pretty much a fact. Nearly every person who made a scientific discovery to make this world a better place is an atheist. Christians follow an outdated book while acting like they're morally superior.They have allways held back progress. Oh and christianity is nothing special. Religions are nearly all the same. Hinduism and Islam both had a Jesus long before Christianity.

    April 11, 2011 at 7:31 pm | Report abuse | Reply .If the cooments above doesn't prove just how really IGNORANT atheist are ...nothinh will....what a poor message you wrote,,,,not ONE SINGLE FACT..you are either a child or a silly adult...I bet BOTH!

    April 11, 2011 at 7:42 pm |
  8. Helen

    Great alternative for people who cannot accept but pure logics. They should not be condemned. Just the oposite. Most atheists hold high morals, and they should be rather praised not only for their courage, but mainly for their uselfisheness they follow the values with no expectation of "godly" rewards. Unlike .. the rest..

    April 11, 2011 at 7:41 pm |
  9. JDinTexas

    I was reading the quote from the book discussing Newton and the force of gravity. I wonder if this guy knows that Newton was very much a believer in God? I wonder if he knows that Einstein might take issue with him calling gravity a "force? I wonder if this person who has such great faith in mankind is aware of the history of the 20th century and what decidely secular governments, some avowedly aethistic, did to each other as well as their own people? If there is no God, everything is permitted–Dostoevsky, Fyodor.

    April 11, 2011 at 7:40 pm |
    • JesusFish

      If there is a god, then everything is permitted, you are just righteous about it.

      April 11, 2011 at 7:53 pm |
  10. Vincentfloyd

    I feel sorry for the author of this book and for all who reject God's exsistance. You will always have the opportunity to accept Christ as your Savior as long as you're breathing. After this your opportunity has ended, then you will have to stand in judgement, as all us will. We were all born into this life with out us knowing. In the same way, we will die at a given time without knowing and then pass over to the other side, Heaven for those who put their faith in Christ and hell for those who rejected Christ. It's like when you are waking up from anesthesia, it seems like it's been a few minutes and you have no idea what happen. That is an example when we die and wake up in enternity. God loves us and has given us free will.

    April 11, 2011 at 7:40 pm |
    • Nick

      God sounds like a jerk in your version, thankfully for him you are even wrong about what it says in the christian bible.

      April 11, 2011 at 7:44 pm |
  11. Artist

    One person says they talk to God, they are religious.

    Another person says they talk invisible people, they are deemed insane and locked up.

    April 11, 2011 at 7:39 pm |
  12. james

    Good for him! The fools now can put their lives in MANS hands...mans philosophies....what a comfortable feeliing...Go ahead and buy the atheist rantings... they offer you NOTHNG beyond what you see....only a fool would go that direction....a self righteous fool! Jesus made it clear.I am the Way, Truth and Light...only through ME can you enter into the kingdom of God.....What does the atheist offer??? Arrogant disobedience and self righteousness...yeah...I'll bet on the atheist...will helll freezes over! Wise up folks...Scientist can't guarantee they're right...look at history of their statements regarding...LIFE.

    April 11, 2011 at 7:38 pm |
    • JesusFish

      You seem to be the only one ranting.

      April 11, 2011 at 7:51 pm |
    • Artist

      Some say it would be quite foolish to still believe in Zues.

      April 11, 2011 at 7:53 pm |
    • Thom

      Scripture says WE ARE GODS. Someone told me "thats with a small g. Hebrew has no capital letters.
      John10:33
      The Jews answered Him saying..."For good work we stone Thee not... but for blasphemy.
      And because that Thou... being a man... makest thyself God" Jesus answered them... "Is it not written... in your law,
      I said...YE are... Gods. If 'HE' called 'them'... Gods.... unto whom the word came.
      And the Scripture cannot be broken. Say Ye of 'Him'... Whom the Father hath sanctified... and sent into the World.
      Thou Blasphemest!... Because I said...I AM the Son... of God."

      (Thomas30) Jesus said, "Where there are three Gods, they are Gods. Where there are two or one, I am with him."

      also says the 2nd coming is via a womb.

      April 11, 2011 at 8:01 pm |
  13. mrsmoothalways

    Here's some Logic for you Atheist. Christians believe in GOD by FAITH, therefore they do not have to prove that there is a GOD. The burden of proof is on the so-called logical person. You must prove through logic or evidence that there is no GOD!!!!

    April 11, 2011 at 7:38 pm |
    • Artist

      Nice try Champ, however the burden is upon the person claiming a God exists. LOL Remove assumptions (such as looking around at nature) and remove man made forms of evidence (man writing the bible as the word of god). Okay...now we will review the direct evidence from God...publice appearance, writings etc....... crickets.

      Okay back to you christian.... I expect we will hear the same thing....more assumptions and claiming writings of men are actually god's writings. lol

      April 11, 2011 at 7:47 pm |
    • Artist

      p.s. sorry kiddo but christians are the ones claiming a cartain myth exists then imposing it on others. Your faith works within your group but in the real world it is simply "wishful thinking". You see, the only way around the burden of proof and christians to justify their mythological belief is "wishful thinking". I can walk around saying my faith is how I believe in fairies...that doesnt change anything..except in your mind. You talk to a god and an insane person talks to their invisible friend. Both equally have faith that their creation exists.

      April 11, 2011 at 7:52 pm |
    • Vic

      Actually YOU are making a claim that there's an invisible man looking over all of us, so YOU have the burden of proof.

      Don't hide behind "faith".

      April 11, 2011 at 7:58 pm |
    • mrsmoothalways

      You Atheist are so predictable, we know it just burns you up, just to think that someone believes in GOD. I tell you what, I have my faith in GOD, and you keep your FAITH that there is no GOD.

      April 11, 2011 at 8:04 pm |
    • Helen

      This discussion shows much more hatred by "believers" than by atheists. Atheists are trying to prove their logical points, but it's probably waste of time.. most people who were born into religious families, were conditioned since their early days. Only few had a courage to use their own brains later. It's probably easier to live in a comfort of an idea there is somebody watching over all of us. I can sympatize.. What I don't get are the threats by religious folks that non-believers will be eternally punished.. for what? For logicaly doubting what's seems to be far-fetched? No offense meant, but such interpretation is making Mr. (or Ms..) Almighty quite vain and revengeful.. Also, is it fear of pulnishement then that makes most people believe???

      April 11, 2011 at 11:33 pm |
  14. Mike B.

    This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil.

    John 3:19 The Man with the Plan said this...

    April 11, 2011 at 7:38 pm |
  15. Mike B.

    This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil.

    John 3:19 From the Masters Mouth Himself.

    April 11, 2011 at 7:37 pm |
  16. kid

    Can scientists and atheists prove anything? not really... the weather scientists are wrong 99 percent of the time and i belive that half the time scientists sit at their labs scratching their butts until they think of a new brainless ignorant theory to deceive and confuse people with. They are just a bunch of nerds playin games with our minds... i have zero respect for scientists... they can take their theories and myths to the planet xy75n3210kk where they so desperately crave to seek more pointless brainless theories. so yeah... thats pretty much all i have to say tonight.

    April 11, 2011 at 7:35 pm |
    • CP

      You say via keyboard (invented by a scientist) connected to a computer (invented by a scientist) over the internet (more scientists) powered by electricity (yet more scientists) from the comfort of your climate controlled (scientists anyone?) home.

      April 11, 2011 at 7:43 pm |
    • QPhunk

      Wow, so, you think "god" created computers? Or antibiotics? Or cars? Or math? Haha... This Sunday, instead of going to "church", pick up a science book and try to better yourself for once.

      April 11, 2011 at 7:45 pm |
    • JesusFish

      Aww, cmon and enlighten us some more. lol

      April 11, 2011 at 7:49 pm |
    • V

      in your case, I weep for the future...

      April 11, 2011 at 7:53 pm |
    • mrsmoothalways

      invented, but did not create. Did scientist create the materials that make up the keyboard, or the metal frame of the computer? NO, these materials were here before scientist. Can scientist created? NO They only find things that were already here. I want to know who brought these things into existence. Scientist will never evidence that one

      April 11, 2011 at 7:54 pm |
    • beelzebubba

      The internet only exists because of computer science. Funny, you seem to embrace it?
      Do you and your family use medicine (created by science) or faith-healing? Think things through before you ridicule those that don't fit into your dogmatic beliefs. If you're honesr, soon you'll have to either live in a world of denial in a cave, or join the modern world. Everything isn't just black and white.

      April 11, 2011 at 7:54 pm |
    • Lycidas

      "..soon you'll have to either live in a world of denial in a cave, or join the modern world. Everything isn't just black and white."

      You do realize that you just gave an "either/or" choice there right? No better than implying such a concept as black and white.

      April 11, 2011 at 7:58 pm |
    • rickinmo

      Your name "KID" seems appropriate. You certainly don't know anything about science or scientists. Scientists are the reason we have antibiotics and other drugs, all types of chemicals, space exploration, intricate electronics, water purification, modern farming techniques, air conditioning, airplanes, automobiles, and indeed discoveries and inventions that make modern life possible. The work of scientists touches every aspect of our lives every second of every day. With regard to theories, it's their job to come up with educated, plausible theories and work to prove them. Years of work go into proving a theory and if not for the dedication of scientists, we wouldn't have the standard of living we enjoy today. As for weather forecasting, it's a prediction based numerous known factors and the probability of certain events occurring. If the wind shifts or changes speed, you may not get the rain you thought you were going to get. And, they are not wrong 99% of the time. A scientist wouldn't make an ignorant statement like that. They would actually study thousands of forecasts to come up with an accurate percentage. Try taking a high level college science course and see how much knowledge is required to be a scientist. Then you may have a little respect for the people who make your life better. I'm personally glad we have NERDS. I'm confident I won't get sick from the food I just ate, my HDTV is working, I can reply to your post and when I go to bed tonight I'll sleep well because my air conditioner will keep me comfortable. Looking forward to my hot coffee and hot shower in the morning. Thanks, Mr./Ms. Scientist.

      April 11, 2011 at 8:39 pm |
  17. SF Aaron

    I have to say, believe in what you want but don't be blind in what you believe. The Bible doesn't have all the answers and it never will, science doesn't have all the answers but at the very least strives to discover them. I, for one, am eager to read this book because for years now I have said the same thing.... If the world's code of ethics were based more in philosophy than on dogma it would probably be a heck of a better place instead of this insatiable thirst to prove which god's ethereal one eyed monster is bigger than the other. That, and overly religious people make my head hurt with the blatant contradictions, circular arguments, and relating to the Bible as if it were a source to argue all logic from.

    April 11, 2011 at 7:31 pm |
    • rickinmo

      Right on! Whenever religious people don't have a reasonable explanation for something, they start quoting scripture and pointing to their god. Religion has set humanity back hundreds if not thousands of years. People of science lived in fear of the ignorant who would not accept the truth. I just have to wonder how many brilliant minds and theories went to waste in fear of religious persecution.

      April 11, 2011 at 8:54 pm |
  18. Rick

    Atheists are smarter. It's pretty much a fact. Nearly every person who made a scientific discovery to make this world a better place is an atheist. Christians follow an outdated book while acting like they're morally superior.They have allways held back progress. Oh and christianity is nothing special. Religions are nearly all the same. Hinduism and Islam both had a Jesus long before Christianity.

    April 11, 2011 at 7:31 pm |
    • Nick

      I sense sarcasm but even so it is an idiotic statement.

      April 11, 2011 at 7:41 pm |
    • Robert

      Do a little research before bashing religion on the basis of history. Hinduism is a religion that incorporates the gods of others into its structure – so by your logic, Jesus would have already had to have been known (which means Christianity would have already existed); but perhaps you meant a Jesus-like figure....

      More problematically, Islam came into existence in the early 7th Century C.E. – 600 yeas AFTER Jesus was born. Therefore, it could not, in any way shape or form, have had a Jesus figure centuries before Christianity – it didn't exist yet. You don't have to like religion, but you don't have to be ignorant either. So, about how atheists are smarter.....

      April 11, 2011 at 7:44 pm |
    • Jeremy

      Smarter than who? Christians? Religious people? Religions are not all the same. And Islam did not have a Jesus before Christianity because Islam is about six centuries older than Christianity. Here is a small list of Christians who made important scientific discoveries: Kepler, Newton, Copernicus, Galileo, Descartes, Pascal, Leibniz, Faraday, Mendel, Pasteur, Kelvin, Planck, and Lemaitre. And although Einstein was not a Christian, he did believe in a God.

      April 11, 2011 at 7:46 pm |
    • Grace

      Oh Rick don't be silly. Don't you know that if it wasn't for God, the atheists wouldn't have had any scientific discovery. God is in control and he is the one that gives and takes.
      If people can't fellow the simple 10 commandments, what makes you think this book will be any better. People want to do as they please, when it pleases them and with no rules...fact!

      April 11, 2011 at 7:48 pm |
    • JD

      Christians had Jesus BEFORE Christianity also. Christianity means followers of Christ which means Jesus Christ had to come first. DUH Shows just how dumb you are.

      April 11, 2011 at 7:50 pm |
    • John Pedant

      Actually, Christians (and other theists, including Hindus, Muslims, and pagans) have contributed many scientific discoveries. Astrophysicists to this day (including the atheist Stephen Hawking) credit St. Augustine with the breakthrough insight that the universe came into being with time, not in time.

      April 11, 2011 at 7:50 pm |
    • willy

      Science proved Earth is not the center of the Univers, it proved also that human beings are just mammals among others..Thank you Copernic and Galileo, thank you Darwin to set us free from religions that should have been erased from our planet long, long time ago. Religions never prevented us from killing each others, on the opposite!
      It's high time to eradicate these nonsens books!

      April 11, 2011 at 8:04 pm |
  19. S

    How ironic that he would use Newton as an example in his book since Newton's passion was religion and his faith was the reason for wanting to explore science at all. In fact one could argue that Newton's faith led him to be able to have the revelations regarding math and science that he had.

    April 11, 2011 at 7:30 pm |
    • neverquit

      During a time when one might be hung, drawn and quartered, it's absolutely no surprise that anyone proposing theories that could be in opposition to the concept of an all-powerful God, would also go out of his way to let people know that how much scripture he reads, and how much he believes in God. LIke politicians today, that's an act of survival and certainly doesn't fairly represent his true religious beliefs given that we would likely never had heard of Newton today had he not taken that careful approach.

      April 11, 2011 at 7:39 pm |
    • John Pedant

      Neverquit: "a time when one might be hung, drawn, and quartered . . . "

      Hanged. "Hung" has entirely different connotations (all too relevant to those who suffered the ghastly punishment to which you refer. Google it.).

      April 11, 2011 at 7:47 pm |
    • riz

      I don't think there was any intention of disregarding people of faith from his work. It is meant to include great thinkers/people that had an impact on the world excluding prophets etc.

      April 11, 2011 at 7:57 pm |
    • Newton

      Newton actually doubted the christianity as truth.

      April 11, 2011 at 8:00 pm |
    • willy

      There is a huge diference between Religions and God. Religions are the product of imaginative people while God is beyond the imagination of any human being. Believing in God is natural ( unless you have a better explanation) believing in any religion is just outdated.How is it still possible to believe in myths nowadays, that's the big question!

      April 11, 2011 at 8:16 pm |
  20. Dr Bill Toth

    Sounds a bit like "The Jefferson Bible" Live With Intention, DrBillToth.com/blog

    April 11, 2011 at 7:30 pm |
    • Unaffiliated

      Theists and atheists, two sides of the same coin. Both sides so sure of their stances and oh-so-eager to demonize each other.

      April 11, 2011 at 7:44 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.