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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. the_dude

    I would bet if mankind didn't have religion to fight over we would find something else to fight over.

    April 11, 2011 at 12:30 pm |
    • jim

      We have found things else to fight over. However unlike the war of religion, most all other fights end at some point because those fights/wars are generally over something tangible.

      April 11, 2011 at 12:46 pm |
  2. JLS

    What a joke people with no direction looking to others with no direction for direction... A match made in heaven, knock yourselves out!

    April 11, 2011 at 12:30 pm |
    • HeavenSent

      Amen JLS.

      Amen.

      April 11, 2011 at 2:55 pm |
  3. Leo D

    This book would've been perfect if the "Ten Commandments" started with "Respect evidence, even if that evidence does not make you *feel* good."

    April 11, 2011 at 12:30 pm |
    • InTheTrenchesOfThought

      Or even something like: "think about what you're about to do or agree with before you blindly follow some guy (or gal) standing behind a podium.". Man, that one would have saved us probably 1,000 of acting like idiots. We'd be so much more advanced by now, probably would have the cure for the cold and figured out a way to turn coal into diamonds in our crock pots. But alas, there were those "cusades", "witch burnings", "reformations", "spanish inquisitions", etc. Too bad, all those years lost trying to read a book and make sense of "don't sleep with men" and "poke the other guys eye out while you turn your other cheek". I agree. Wish this new book went a different direction and didn't try to mirror a bible in look and feel. Just lay it out in 10 simple sentences. Start with "1. Think for yourself" and end with "10. Forgive religious zealots". You fill in the rest......

      April 11, 2011 at 1:05 pm |
  4. Caesar in Atlanta

    Most people forget that the Crusades were organized wars from the Pope and Christians to control Jerusalem. Back then Popes preached: you are here on earth for one reason only...to become a christian soldier and help fight the Muslims and Jews that want to control Jerusalem. The only way to go to heaven is by joining the war and your sins will be forgiven. Any organization, religious leader or prophet that at any point requires that you kill...then they are a scam. When God told us to crucify, nail and torture his son...and that would be a good thing...you must question what kind of creepy barbaric God would ask you to do that and claim it's a good thing by breaking his own rules. How stupid do you need to be to believe he said that. Who stupid are you to believe in the con artists that are in the business of selling Jesus.

    April 11, 2011 at 12:26 pm |
    • Jenn

      Google it silly. God didn't tell anyone to do that. Everyone is given a choice. He prepared Jesus for what was coming but in scripture it is made clear Jesus had the power to say no. It also states that God would think to less of him had he. Judas had a choice, the disciples had a choice. Jesus told him you will deny me 3 times, he insisted he would never, and then he did. Never has anyone been forced against their will in the name of God.

      April 11, 2011 at 12:54 pm |
  5. Dave

    More ammunition for anti-Semites.

    Grayling may or may not be intentional about this–you can never tell.

    April 11, 2011 at 12:25 pm |
  6. Rob

    When you generalize you devalue someones worth, Christian or non Christian the effects are the same.
    I think it is interesting that he used a bible style format. I never thought the bible was an easy book to read. I could say why I think he did it, but since I don't know him personally. That would just be my opinion, which is what the comments are on this board. Others opinions.

    April 11, 2011 at 12:25 pm |
  7. GAW

    Al 'Bible' for atheists? I think not. Often times we use the expression 'Bible' to refer to a compendium of sayings or an official textbook on a given topic. The Bible used by Christians is a collection of texts (books) decided by a committee (Church hierarchy) long ago. In this case there is no official hierarchy of atheists to decide what sayings best express their ideology. They are a diverse group. Plus I don't think that most of them wish to be considered a religion or anything like it.

    April 11, 2011 at 12:24 pm |
    • HeavenSent

      So says the propaganda sites that GAW goes to copy and paste what others that hate Jesus have to write.

      Amen.

      April 11, 2011 at 2:49 pm |
  8. Victor

    Garbage!! – I'll stick to my bible, The one and only word from our creator.

    April 11, 2011 at 12:23 pm |
    • Jonathan

      That's dumb. The book is not an attempt to replace the bible and in fact it espouses virtue and morality. If anything it would be good for you to read. It might even make you a better Christian.

      April 11, 2011 at 12:30 pm |
    • Leo D

      Nice trolling.

      April 11, 2011 at 12:31 pm |
    • HeavenSent

      Jonathan, all you non-believers want credit for what Jesus' had Holy men scribe. That's the thing about your egos, you haven't done anything in life and are always complaining about everything/anything because you didn't get to it first. This joker's book, as with all those that write about Jesus is (are) just making a buck off of fools like you who will buy the garbage he slopped on the pages.

      Amen.

      April 11, 2011 at 12:39 pm |
    • jim

      HeavenSent
      Those are pretty big assumptions and judgments rendered by you. But, that is the christian way isn't it.

      April 11, 2011 at 12:43 pm |
    • InTheTrenchesOfThought

      Which version do you want to stick to? The one that was compiled by the original apostles (who most likely could not read or write?), the one edited by the romans (400 years later), the one manipulated by the western catholic church (around 700 AD), or one of the "reformation" versions (i.e. after Martin Luther?). You pick whichever one makes sense to you. Funny thing is, to me and others like me, all the different versions have too much junk that simply hasn't applied to our lives in centuries, nor are they accurate on many other counts. Even historically there are all kinds of problems. I bet you're one of those folks that still thinks that Obama was born in Africa too. When all the evidence points towards the same conclusion, "believers" will still stick their head in the sand and call their misguided ranting some kind of sign or word from god and hide their inability to think critically behind those fancy catchphrases like "faith" and "for a $5 donation you will receive". Cool aid, anyone?

      April 11, 2011 at 12:57 pm |
    • HeavenSent

      I do believe by reading what you have posted InTheTrenchesOfThought, you've drank enough of that cool aid yourself.

      Amen.

      April 11, 2011 at 2:41 pm |
    • HeavenSent

      Jim, by writing "But, that is the christian way isn't it." makes you the same thing you complained to me about.

      Amen.

      April 11, 2011 at 2:44 pm |
    • JPopNC

      InTheTrenchesOfThought: "Which version do you want to stick to? The one that was compiled by the original apostles (who most likely could not read or write?)"

      Again (and again, and again) here is evidence that atheist know so little about Biblical history, yet they continue to try to make invalid arguments. At the time Jesus recruited his disciples, they had already read, studied, and memorized what we know as the Old Testament. Of the Apostles, Matthew was a tax collector, Luke was a physician, and Paul was a Pharisee so he was deeply learned. James and John, although just fishermen, were part of the family business so they would have been highly educated as well.

      Just because people then didn't have the technological advantages we do today doesn't mean they were ignorant. As a matter of fact, the Jewish communities then were probably even MORE educated than even the Romans because of their concise record keeping.

      April 11, 2011 at 3:03 pm |
  9. Rick

    Can't we all just get along? As a learned man, the Secular Bible author should know that Newton came up with his theory while in church looking at the chandelier, not in the garden under his apple tree.

    April 11, 2011 at 12:23 pm |
    • jim

      Sounds like Newton wanted to be elsewhere...

      April 11, 2011 at 12:39 pm |
  10. Yankees

    weirdo

    April 11, 2011 at 12:22 pm |
  11. Bob Dobalina

    Coming soon: a book about the importance of superheroes written by someone who hates comic books.

    April 11, 2011 at 12:19 pm |
    • Chris

      Oh, well said!

      April 11, 2011 at 12:29 pm |
    • Kate

      Oh goody, yet another person with no clue about atheists.

      That's a myth that being an atheist means you hate religion or god or morality. Mostly it means you are too moral to pretend something to make yourself feel superior.

      April 11, 2011 at 12:32 pm |
    • Jenn

      ROTFLMAO! That was a good one.

      April 11, 2011 at 12:45 pm |
    • JPopNC

      To Kate: "too moral"???? Atheists are too moral??? You have got to be kidding!!! Have you followed ANY of the ACLU cases? They're a boat load of atheists over there and they support some pretty disgusting things over there, most of which this posting will not allow to be printed.

      MORAL??? Atheist in general support abortion. Killing babies is moral? I can't go on.

      April 11, 2011 at 2:38 pm |
  12. Tha_Truth

    Atheism comes from the hole false religious teachings have left- and that's practically all religions. Except one- the true one. But how to find it? Jesus said by their fruits you'll be able to tell. But everyone would much rather debate and argue just to move the mouth.

    April 11, 2011 at 12:18 pm |
    • Denizen Kate

      Atheism does not come from anyone's false teachings, but simply from a desire to know the truth of things without relying on myths and fantasies. I would never presume to tell anyone else what they should or should not believe.

      April 11, 2011 at 12:43 pm |
  13. Henry Miller

    "Think for yourself."

    Right there, he looses that majority of the human race who find thinking a disagreeable task.

    April 11, 2011 at 12:18 pm |
  14. joe

    "Teach us to study the works of Thy hands that we may subdue the earth to our use and strengthen our reason for Thy service." – James Clerk Maxwell

    April 11, 2011 at 12:17 pm |
    • Clark Nova

      Maxwell believed in demons.

      April 11, 2011 at 2:41 pm |
  15. Chris

    Doesn't it bother Grayling and his devotees that many of "civilization’s greatest thinkers" that he's quoting from weren't "secular humanists" themselves? Is he aware that many of these great thinkers – such as Plato and Aristotle, for example – were the inspiration behind much of contemporary theology today?

    That's the problem with blind generalizations about religion – they're arguing against a straw man that doesn't exist.

    April 11, 2011 at 12:17 pm |
  16. ldb316

    how do you get to be a 'top/leading' atheist??

    April 11, 2011 at 12:15 pm |
    • Chris

      I suppose the "top/leading" atheists are the most fervent with their unbelief. Or the noisiest. And the most vociferous about foisting their opinions on others. Perhaps the kind that need to put up billboards telling people not to believe in a God.

      And they think that it's religion that makes one a fundamentalist. It couldn't possibly be the human part, could it?

      April 11, 2011 at 12:23 pm |
    • my6cents

      maybe by not believing you can be.

      April 11, 2011 at 12:24 pm |
    • Kate

      You catch the attention of a well placed writer prone to hyperbole

      April 11, 2011 at 12:30 pm |
    • MominMO

      Perhaps by learning about the subject at hand, in this case religeous belief or lack of same, and providing a cogent, coherent point of view on the subject. He doesn't have to be strident – and indeed does not appear to be so – only to be well-informed and able to present his point of view clearly and concisely – which he does appear to be able to do.

      April 11, 2011 at 12:55 pm |
  17. Mott the Hoople

    I'm not an atheist; far from it. But the Bible is the atheists' best friend forever! The Bible is a great tool if you want to kill people. Gays should be executed, saith the Bible. A woman who is not a virgin at the time of her marriage is to be executed, saith the Bible. Collecting firewood on Sunday requires the death penalty, saith the Bible. Many, many, many more examples. Bottom line: there are far more illuminating scriptures out there besides the Bible. Try the Buddha's Dhammapada or Krishna's Bhagavad-gita.

    April 11, 2011 at 12:15 pm |
    • ldb316

      that's exactly right...as long as by 'illuminating' you mean 'supporting what I already think and want to believe'.

      April 11, 2011 at 12:18 pm |
    • Chris

      Um.. please point out where the Bible requires these alleged "executions".

      There's a difference between calling something a sin and requiring that the person be killed for it.

      What do your "far more illuminating" scriptures have to say about lying?

      April 11, 2011 at 12:27 pm |
    • Chris

      Have you actually read the Bhagavad Ghita? I thought it would be more inspiring, The beginning opens up about how these two peoples are about to fight. They don't want to fight it says, they are brothers, the same blood etc. Wonderful I thought, Ghandi reincarnated lol. But then the 'wonderful' Krishna appears and goads Arjuna (the human) to fight his own kin. You don't understand the Torah, unless you study it within the context of Judaism you will not understand the dynamic. Jews never carried out any of those penalties and there was a complex jurisprudence that virtually made those laws impossible to carry out. The prophets constantly stressed mercy etc.

      April 11, 2011 at 12:30 pm |
    • HeavenSent

      Mott, instead of just posting your nonsense of what you think the Bible says. Try posting scriptures that you are complaining about and not just one scripture that takes the lesson to be learned out your complaints.

      Amen.

      April 11, 2011 at 12:31 pm |
    • Jenn

      LOL, Which Bible are you reading that in? If your going to poke fun at it at least put effort forth to be accurate! Lots of things in Bible can be assumed, twisted, or misconstrued. The only points to be made from you statement is you are too lazy to look it up, and may be prone to talking out of your butt.

      April 11, 2011 at 12:39 pm |
    • ReligionIsNotTheAnswer

      @chris try actually reading it yourself. Specific chapters would be leviticus and duteronomy possibly numbers for all the early old testement kill them for any reason rule: Leviticus 18.12 specifically says to kill gays (kill any man who layeth with another man or animal as he would a woman). Just goes to show how ignorant the average christian is, they dont even read their own book. More athiests have a better understanding of the actuall writing of the bible then does the average christian who just listens to their priest and never reads the book themself. Like someone who agrees to a contract without reading the fine print... IGNORANT!

      April 11, 2011 at 12:42 pm |
    • Charles Darwin

      All the way from Memphis....

      April 11, 2011 at 12:49 pm |
    • Mott the Hoople

      Wow, Chris, HeavenSent, Jenn, what Bible are you reading? Or maybe you all just ignore the passages that make you feel uncomfortable. How sad.

      April 11, 2011 at 12:54 pm |
    • Mott the Hoople

      Chris, HeavenSent, Jenn, just Google the phrase "death penalties in the Bible", and weep: 26 offenses. And no, Jesus, in the New Testament, does not claim to disavow these offenses: he claims to fulfill it, and even more: adultery is condemned in the Old Testament, but Jesus says that just having lust in your heart is the same. So stop minimizing the crimes that are called for the death penalty. You are just making yourself look stupid.

      April 11, 2011 at 1:02 pm |
    • HeavenSent

      Mott, you're still writing a lot about nothing. I asked you to write down specific scriptures, not more of your ramblings. Do you know how to write down the name of the book along with which scriptures you are referring to? Do you know that Jesus teaches subject, content then conclusions? Or, do you just take scriptures out of context by reading that one passage without knowing what Jesus is trying to teach?

      Amen.

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

      ReligionIsNotTheAnswer, Leviticus 18:12 Thou shalt not uncover the nakedness of thy father's sister: she [is] thy father's near kinswoman. Where does it say kill in this specific scripture?

      Amen.

      April 11, 2011 at 2:35 pm |
    • max

      Leviticus 20:13 (King James Version)

      13If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them.

      so he had the verse wrong. this is king james but it similar to other translations.

      April 11, 2011 at 9:55 pm |
  18. hannah

    This "bible" sounds interesting and attempts to offer human spiritual teachings which the Torah of course does as well. Whatever valuable thoughts, beliefs and science these humanists contribute to society is already available to anyone who properly studies the holy Torah.

    April 11, 2011 at 12:14 pm |
    • YBP

      Oh, yes, I'll look to the ancient middle east for all the answers to life's questions. Then I'll retreat to a cave, and start stockpiling weapons for the big day. Hideous beliefs. Abhorant people.

      April 11, 2011 at 12:36 pm |
  19. fuzzynormal

    “a very different book and may have produced a very different history for mankind,”

    This quote hints at the fundamental flaw of an Atheist's belief. Many atheists think that if only there wasn't religion that somehow mankind would be more mature, kind, and nurturing to each other.

    Man, humanity doesn't work that way. If the bible didn't exist, there would be some other motivator to and rationale to attempt to control "normal" people by those clinging to power. Religion, political ideology, NRA membership, it's all the same.

    Religion is just a vehicle. It doesn't matter if we're driving a Chevy or a Ford, we're still all heading down the same road.

    April 11, 2011 at 12:14 pm |
    • R

      Sadly true. Religion has always been a means for those in power to control the masses. Unfortunately as we have seen in countries without religion, it is not suddenly a utopian society. Rather the dictators in control fall back on other means of control, usually brutal ones.

      April 11, 2011 at 12:25 pm |
    • Dave, Santa Barbara

      More ammunition for anti-Semites.

      There's no way to tell if Grayling is intentional about this.

      April 11, 2011 at 12:27 pm |
    • mamalina

      beautiful response.

      April 11, 2011 at 12:28 pm |
    • Kate

      Atheists don't think together. They just don't believe in a god. If you don't understand that, you don't have a clue what this is all about.

      April 11, 2011 at 12:29 pm |
    • sarah

      Very true. It's almost as if some atheists forget that a god didn't really write the bible. It wasn't written to explain how people should act. It was written to explain why they act as they do.

      April 11, 2011 at 12:32 pm |
    • YBP

      No. Religion is without question at the crux of all prejudice and strife in this world. And yes, it often finds its way back to the "chosen people," whose absurd beliefs about themselves and the real estate that tey are currently invading are abhorant.

      April 11, 2011 at 12:33 pm |
    • VirulentShadow

      " 'a very different book and may have produced a very different history for mankind,' "

      "This quote hints at the fundamental flaw of an Atheist's belief. Many atheists think that if only there wasn't religion that somehow mankind would be more mature, kind, and nurturing to each other."

      This quote hints at the fundamental flaw in religious thinking: religious people are inevitably drawn to straw-man arguments and fallacies. How did you get from "very different" to "more mature"?

      On top of that, atheists are not a unified group. The only thing they have in common is that they lack a belief in a deity. Sweeping generalizations for a non-identification is a bit silly.

      April 11, 2011 at 1:13 pm |
  20. Fuyuko

    I'd read it. It sound interesting.

    April 11, 2011 at 12:14 pm |
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