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. PRISM 1234

    Here is a look at Jesus Christ , God's gift of salvation to all mankind, to whoso ever would recieve Him and believe in His Name....


    He was born in an obscure village
    The child of a peasant woman
    He grew up in another obscure village
    Where he worked in a carpenter shop
    Until he was thirty

    He never wrote a book
    He never held an office
    He never went to college
    He never visited a big city
    He never travelled more than two hundred miles
    From the place where he was born
    He did none of the things
    Usually associated with greatness
    He had no credentials but himself

    He was only thirty three

    His friends ran away
    One of them denied him
    He was turned over to his enemies
    And went through the mockery of a trial
    He was nailed to a cross between two thieves
    While dying, his executioners gambled for his clothing
    The only property he had on earth

    When he was dead
    He was laid in a borrowed grave
    Through the pity of a friend

    Twenty centuries have come and gone
    And today Jesus is the central figure of the human race
    And the leader of mankind's progress
    All the armies that have ever marched
    All the navies that have ever sailed
    All the parliaments that have ever sat
    All the kings that ever reigned put together
    Have not affected the life of mankind on earth
    As powerfully as that one solitary life

    Christianity is about a relationship with a risen saviour

    Jesus has had more impact on mankind for good than any other person ever born on the face of the Earth....

    And this man with his humanist bible thinks he's got something !

    April 11, 2011 at 4:10 pm |
  2. Nurse Lisa

    you can read some facts and some theories or ideas and poetry – or you can just read the truth

    April 11, 2011 at 4:10 pm |
  3. Caribe~a

    I rather read this book than the Bible

    April 11, 2011 at 4:09 pm |
  4. Nurse Lisa

    If earth were all there was, and yet I live in protection of my Savior Jesus with the hope of eternal reward to only get met by nothingness at death, not only couldn't it be proven but who on earth did it hurt if my life was lived happily.

    If however, I am right and yet you deny Christ, you believe you live in self-satisfied superiority on earth but will spend eternity in Hell separated by your own choice.

    I believe we are eternal beings and I choose to spend mine not in the smoking section.

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

      yeah ! smoking area is totally injurious to our health. so lets avoid goin there 🙂

      April 11, 2011 at 4:23 pm |
  5. Caribe~a

    Finally some sense!!

    April 11, 2011 at 4:08 pm |
  6. Sheila

    Sounds like a good book, I'll likely get a copy.

    April 11, 2011 at 4:08 pm |
  7. Happy Atheist

    Prove to me God or god exists..... I am not opposed to changing my mind.

    April 11, 2011 at 4:07 pm |
    • Jon

      Prove to me that you were actually in your mother's womb for a few months, and just a tiny invisible sperm & egg prior to that. Prove it to me !!!

      April 11, 2011 at 4:22 pm |
  8. Isabel

    JPopNC, I was reading everything you wrote. The bible is the inspired word of God. Don't bend truth to appease the blind.
    They are blind. But, on the last day, they will all fall down to their knees and bow down to Jesus. Then, it will be too late.
    Pray for them. Engage them in love but dont deviate to the right or to the left.
    God bless you.

    April 11, 2011 at 4:07 pm |
  9. Happy Atheist

    Christians, is the god of the Holy Bible omnicient, omnipotent and omnibenevolent? If yes, then why? Let's talk. 🙂

    April 11, 2011 at 4:05 pm |
  10. The Word

    Why write about something people are doing out of instinct anyway. Humanity would not know the difference between right and wrong without Gods word.There would be no knowledge of Right or wrong without Gods word you could do what ever you wanted without fear of eternal death. Yes there have been some who have Used Gods name to their own evil purpose but the lions share have been faithful. Just tell me what kind of world we would have without real Christians. Think of all the small and great things going on every day, a small gift, a kind word, encouragement, No! it would not happen without Gods spirit on earth. my friends you take too much for granted the grace and gifts of God on earth, these are brought about by God. The real reason secular people do nice things is they have a form of godliness but deny the power it is from, they want to do things their way not Gods. If there were no God and things were in fact survival of the fittest the world would be a very different place my friends. Please read the Holy Bible, new testament first, ask God to show Himself to you He is not silent or powerless He is more than able to speak to you if you want to hear.

    April 11, 2011 at 4:05 pm |
  11. Aaron

    God created man with the option to love Him. Havent any of you got any kids... dont you want them to love you? But would you force them to love you? The Bible and God do not force us to love him. God loved us enough to give us that option. Unfortunately, some would rather worship nature and believe we came from NOTHING. How is it that nothing could explode and make all of this? That is exactly what evolution believes. That nothing made all of this and man is ruler of all. Evolution is embarrassing to its believers.

    The Bible has scientific unknowables... things that were written in its pages thousands of years before science could confirm or validate them. How is it the Bible's authors could have known there were mountains under the sea, predicted the rise of a nation called Israel which did not even exits in the past, and there are countless more... the Bible mentions the Chernobyl disaster in Revelation Trumpet number 3 and calls it Wormwood. Chernobyl is Ukranian for Wormwood.

    Let's all just read the Bible a little more and do some research and then see how things stack up. If everyone had the love for one another that Jesus had for us, the world would be a better place.

    ppsimmons on youtube has some videos that will blow your mind. Check them out for the truth behind creation, revelation, and Jesus.

    April 11, 2011 at 4:04 pm |
    • Good Atheist

      I couldn't get past your first paragraph without the urge to respond. Please do not try to understand evolution, because your mind is obviously not ready. You still believe that santa/god/tooth fairy and his followers, who are everywhere at the same time, noting who is behaving and who is being naughty, creating rewards out of nothing, loves everyone without asking anything other than unquestioning devotion, and its only believers can't agree on what he looks like or exactly what he says to believe. I think the biggest issue with my acceptance of people and religion is how foolish the whole premise is and yet the dedication to the point of killing to support your beliefs.

      April 11, 2011 at 4:13 pm |
    • fsmgroupie

      love me or burn in hell for all eternity

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

      """Chernobyl is Ukranian for Wormwood."""

      Wrong answer. Silly, silly person.

      It astounds me how many people post here who have demonstrated a total lack of knowledge about evolution or biology yet have a strong (and ignorant) opinion about them.

      April 11, 2011 at 4:41 pm |
  12. uos_spo6

    The only reason any of you believers give a crap about whether or not there is a God and following his "word" is because supposedly god has something to offer you. What if there were a God as laid out by the Abrahamic lineage and he revealed himself and let you know that there is no reward or punishment in the after life, but he still wants you to follow his laws and be good just because he doesn't like drama. .

    ..then what? When god has nothing to offer you as a reward for your praise, then how concerned are you with worship and obedience to his desires?


    Your faith is conditional on a benefit. Atheism has no reward other than freeing ones mind from the bondage of religion.

    April 11, 2011 at 4:04 pm |
    • Antares

      Why dont you just go kill yourself and everyone else then? What moral standard are you living up to? Why wouldnt you want to go kill everyone if there is no authority to answer too? Why even hang on to this dreadfull existence if you are just going to return to the sludge you believe you were spawned from? What makes your life happy? Where do you think your consciousness comes from and your ability to reason? God is upholding all of it! You couldnt have reason and logic or even trust your own ideas and observations without the laws and upholding of the universe. If you spawned out of nothing and your brain is an accident of chemical recations and 'oopsies' then why do you choose to keep living? What drives you to be nice/mean/friendly? Just trying to make you think a little becuase being brainwashed by evolution and nature is sad when it blinds you from eternity with your Creator, God.

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

      "Why dont you just go kill yourself and everyone else then?" dude how unstable are you? holy cow

      April 11, 2011 at 4:39 pm |
    • Searching for the Truth

      It is true my friend that many of us do things because we are out to get something. And perhaps there are many people who call themselves Christians hoping to get eternal rewards for professing their "faith". However, your viewpoint doesn't take into consideration concepts such as altriuism, compassion toward are fellow beings, humility. These are traits that have been demonstrated by many people throughout the ages. From what you are saying, there is no such things as these concepts based on the fact that we only do things to get something out of it.

      But history has many examples of people who selflessly helped others in need. Where does this come from? It is impossible for those who only experience the material world, the you scratch my back, and I'll scratch your back world, the "whats in it for me world?", to understand these concepts that is a calling for something higher within ourselves. If we do not have these higher callings, then really, what is the point? Unfortunately, many of us live as if there is no higher calling, no striving to raise the level of human consciousness up a notch or two. We live down in the swamp, so that is all we know. Only a few of us strive to get out of the swamp even while we have the masses trying to drag us back into the mud.

      April 11, 2011 at 4:53 pm |
  13. Kenrick Benjamin

    The Bible was way ahead of the Atheist. It tells us they would say there is no God.

    April 11, 2011 at 4:03 pm |
    • Harry Tuttle

      Epicurus, Diagoras, Democratus, Critias, Prodigus, Protagorus, Theodorus of Cyrene, Strato, Lucretius, Euhemerus... all Atheists. All born long, long before the Christian Bible was collected. Some of them predate the earliest books of the Hebrew Bible. And this is just the western canon. There's an entire ancient school of Vedic philosophy that denies the existence of God as well.

      You know, the Romans had a word for Christians who didn't believe in the divinity of the emperors: Atheists.

      April 11, 2011 at 4:26 pm |
    • TruthSquid

      ...and they would be right! If it helps you sleep better at night, not fear natural death, and deal with concepts your limited IQ and education can't comprehend, then by all means keep being manipulated by the greatest marketing scam in history, reinforced daily by fatcat televangelists and weekly by politician-corrupting lying ministers... but for chrissakes at least start paying your property taxes for those crystal cathedrals of pederasty you deluded leeches.

      April 11, 2011 at 5:45 pm |
  14. Happy Atheist

    You guys all know that "bible" is simply a book of smaller books that is perceived to be authoritative, right? there is a "Vitamin Bible" an "Angler's Bible", etc.... The Holy Bible is what Christians live by and to be honest, most atheists are fine with that as long as Christians don't try to push it on them. Why not let Humanist atheists have their book? After all, both books are written 100% by HUMANS...

    To the person who said the atheists they know are not good people.... how many atheists do you actually know??? I mean, really know?

    Christians, is the God of the Holy Bible omnicient, omnipotent, omnibenevolent? If so, why? Let's talk. 🙂

    April 11, 2011 at 4:02 pm |
  15. thesnideone

    God of the gaps. e.g. people have always inserted "God" whenever there was a gap in their understanding of natural phenomena. In Newton's – and Darwin's – day the gaps were huge. There were no alternate explanations for that which was ascribed to "God". In Newton's day we had barely accepted that the Earth went round the Sun and not vice versa. It was thought that life arose spontaneously from dirt. Diseases were caused by "bad air" or "bad spirits". That the early scientists "Believed" in some kind of divine createor is hardly surprising considering that science itself had barely started investigating and explaining the natural world to us.

    April 11, 2011 at 4:00 pm |
  16. Jamie

    I am a Catholic, and am very interested in reading this book. You can learn so many things from different points of views.

    April 11, 2011 at 3:59 pm |
    • Futon Torpedo


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

      Yea. Like Edison invented bulb on 1000th time, you can have 999 wrong ways and 1 true way to get to God 🙂
      keep trying !

      April 11, 2011 at 4:19 pm |
  17. r2taylor

    So, Atheism IS a religion now, isn't it? You have a Bible and you congregate to share your (lack of) beliefs. Sounds like church to me.

    April 11, 2011 at 3:59 pm |
    • Good Atheist

      Church is where people who can't think for themselves go to be told how to think and live by a person who is interpreting their understanding of a book that is constantly being changed, to "fit an ever-changing society" (the word 'booty' to be removed from the bible. Religious leaders themselves can't even keep your book of stories straight. Once it becomes changeable, it loses its worth.

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

      Atheists usually expose their own hasty generalizations and faulty belief systems when making absurd, unsupported claims about the unthinking congregations that attend church. How many of these so called atheists have actually spent much time in a church as an adult or talking with the people in such congregations? I will not make an unsupported claim about all atheists, but rather raise a specific question that any atheist can reflect upon for him or herself. Like in any other group, my congregation is filled with independent and dependent minds, but what ties them together is their shared belief in Christ. Who was Christ and what did he represent? Certainly, he didn't go along with popular thought at the time. Whether you believe he was the savior or not, you would have a tough time describing him as a follower or someone who didn't think. By following Christ, in fact, Christians should be committing themselves to a highly independent manner of thinking, as this is what Christ himself did. In fact, by devoting their thinking to God (as best they can), they are liberating their thinking from the slavery of consumerism, materialism, and individual selfishness that seem to be the greatest opiates for the current masses (despite what some past commentators may have said about religion).

      April 11, 2011 at 4:24 pm |
    • Chad

      Darn it: I should have said this particular atheist, Good Atheist as he calls himself, has made an absurd claim... I did in fact make my own hasty generalization here, so my apologies to the more thoughtful, fact driven atheists out there! Always revise before posting (this is what you call a teachable moment, right?)

      April 11, 2011 at 4:29 pm |
    • TruthSquid

      Yeah, maybe... but without the tax-dodging, voodoo, anti-science, hate-mongering, pederastic, "we're #1" BS.

      April 11, 2011 at 5:35 pm |
  18. MisterSnow

    Thomas Jefferson already did this, a long time ago. He was a noted atheist and wrote the Jeffersonian Bible, which presents the same history, but omits all religious context.

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

      He was a Deist, not atheist... big difference

      April 11, 2011 at 4:07 pm |
    • Chad

      Jefferson was not an atheist. In his own words: "The god who gave us life, gave us liberty at the same time: the hand of force may destroy, but cannot disjoin them." And Jefferson may be talking directly to you with this quote: "Say nothing of my religion. It is known to God and myself alone. Its evidence before the world is to be sought in my life: if it has been honest and dutiful to society the religion which has regulated it cannot be a bad one." Since Jefferson asserts that his religion is known to God, then he clearly believes in God. Further clarification may be found in Jefferson's letters to John Adams, if you care to base your claims on facts rather than the whims of your own making.

      April 11, 2011 at 4:12 pm |
    • Drew

      The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth, yeah it's not that bad he just took out all the miracles and the goofy claims of divinity. It's actually a decent read but only if your into that kind of stuff.

      April 11, 2011 at 4:29 pm |
  19. jaysunstar

    I love how this guy feels qualified to liken himself to the level of Jesus. How pretentious and absurd. At least the bible claims it has been written by God so it can justify it's authority over man's behavior. This guy is just coming out of left field and saying "Buy my book, and follow my values for it will make you a better human being." What a set of balls on that guy.

    Yeah, and after all the fighting and wars over the bible, THIS is the book that's gonna change the world. Funny stuff.
    Clever marketing. I am sure he will make millions.

    April 11, 2011 at 3:57 pm |
    • Good Atheist

      Sounds like someone is nervous that his imaginary friend (jesus) might lose some followers.

      April 11, 2011 at 4:04 pm |
    • NOGOD!

      Shut up bible thumper!

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

      "At least the bible claims it has been written by God so it can justify it's authority over man's behavior." And just who has the bigger set of balls?

      April 11, 2011 at 4:12 pm |
    • DUH!

      total fail dude – the bible wasn't written by GOD – it was written by men – a great deal of it hundreds of years after jesus supposedly walked the planet! Get a clue.

      April 11, 2011 at 4:16 pm |
    • Jon

      hahahahaha..thats a hilarious reply Jay !
      there always existed people like this fella. The fallen angels for example. They tried to act smarter than God and you know what happened to them. One joker made a movie and made millions recently, and now here is another. Am glad people are making money in the name of the Lord. Good business. Carry on 🙂

      April 11, 2011 at 4:16 pm |
    • Really

      Jesus didn't write any portion of the bible, so how is he likening himself to Jesus?

      April 11, 2011 at 4:19 pm |
    • Alex Gessong

      Actually, there is no claim (anywhere in the Bible) that it was written by God. The Old Testament attributes the 10 Commandments to God's authorship, but nothing else. The Bible was written by human beings, Jewish people who lived in land in which survival was difficult. There is much wisdom contained in the Bible (treat others as you would like to be treated, honor your parents, etc.) . Lots of good, humanist stuff. Even without the religious passages, the Bible is one of humanity's cultural treasures.

      April 11, 2011 at 4:21 pm |
    • Searching for the Truth

      Some may argue that the Bible was written by men and not by God. Well, it was written by men, but not your ordinary person. These were people in touch with the Holy Spirit and inspired by God. God created the Bible through these saints. An artist can also relate to this because an artist is inspired by creativity. They may not call that creative force God, but what else could it be? God is the purest creative energy around. In fact, he is the only creative energy. When we create, in the true sense, not some mechanical imprinting society calls art, we are in fact inspired by God. His energy flows through us and gives us this ability. That is why we can't take credit for our accomplishments. We can only thank God that he has given us a gift to create. Anything else is the illusion from our ego that says, I did this, I did that.

      Atheists will argue this point because they do not have the power to let go of their ego. They can't see it because they have placed all their faith in man. To argue with many atheist about this is futile because their center of existance is misplaced. It would be like describing the sunlight to someone who only sees it on a television. They just don't know. They think they know because the images they perceive come from illusions. One thing is for sure, the more self-righteous atheists get about their being no God, the more I know that they are egotistical. Where does this all lead? For those who know, be humble, have compassion on those around you, and do not be taken by those who profess false teachings and deny their own Creator. There hasn't been one atheist to date that can explain to me how the universe has such intelligence, and how it all started.

      April 11, 2011 at 4:38 pm |
  20. Nurse Lisa

    why are so many professed atheists posting on a spiritual belief blog? Maybe they are seeking more plausible truth.

    April 11, 2011 at 3:56 pm |
    • Good Atheist

      There is nothing more plausible than the fact that religion was created to keep the masses in line by fear.

      April 11, 2011 at 4:03 pm |
    • SoCalDave

      Well said Good Atheist...

      April 11, 2011 at 4:09 pm |
    • Sheila

      Philosophy and spirituality have very little to do with "organized religion".

      April 11, 2011 at 4:10 pm |
    • Bill

      Maybe atheists make comments on articles about religion the same way religious people make comments on articles about evolution. Maybe the religious people are also seeking the plausible truth?

      April 11, 2011 at 4:11 pm |
    • DUH!

      OMG!!! because the article is about an atheist who wrote a book – DUH!!!!!A

      April 11, 2011 at 4:13 pm |
    • Nurse Lisa

      Without God, "good" atheist – how do you measure good? Please don't let your disdain for the religions of men, keep you from acknowledging your loving Father God. You may not believe in Him, but He believes in you. Try the "Godandscience" dot org website – lots of answers for atheists, humanists, evolutionists.

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

      Even in early groups, there was a mystical belief system. This was not brought to control anything, but to understand what was not understood, a hypothesis if you will. I would think that someone who is claiming to disprove what can't be proven or not, would understand how you can start an argument. I do find it simplistic in thought that even when you don't believe in something, your life's work revolves around your disbelief. I would think that a thoughtful atheist would just simply move on, and get on with better things on his mind. In this way, I feel that the author is starting the fights that he insists are made by believers. Maybe that is his game.

      April 11, 2011 at 4:15 pm |
    • Searching for the Truth

      You have to remember that people who have chosen to void themselves of God in their lives can't perceive the truth even if it stares them right in the face. They only deal with the material world or they create a suedo spirituality (new age movement) that satisfies their egos, thinking and believing that man is the ultimate decision maker in the universe. However, this couldn't be further from the truth. True humility lies in the fact that we are to give up our self-will to God for the greater good. How many people in this world, even knows what that means in practice or in theory. We are too self-absorbed and have a need to think we are in control and that we control our destinies. That is what Satan thought, he was better than God. Many people feel the same way, and unfortunately, their are consequences to such beliefs.

      April 11, 2011 at 4:25 pm |
    • Stuey

      Because atheists BELIEVE there is no god.

      April 11, 2011 at 4:26 pm |
    • SoCalDave

      Nurse Lisa, cultures all over the world have been able to figure out what "good" is without having to have been told by the christian god. I believe in something much more powerful than a god. I believe in you and I believe in myself.

      April 11, 2011 at 4:27 pm |
    • beelzebubba

      Religions in the US aren't shy about taking in money. Why aren't articles about religion listed on the business page?

      April 12, 2011 at 1:58 am |
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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.