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. Happy Person

    Funny Thing is that on the day the atheists is dieing in a hospital and the doctors have not answers, they become believer of Jesus Christ the lord and saver of this world.

    April 11, 2011 at 4:32 pm |
    • Up Your Rear Admiral

      Can you reference even once case of that?

      April 11, 2011 at 4:34 pm |
    • Wisdom4u2

      @Happy Person:

      I work in a hospital, the ER to be exact, and I hear "Oh, Jesus, help me!!" everyday!!!!

      April 11, 2011 at 5:43 pm |
  2. Patty


    April 11, 2011 at 4:32 pm |
  3. Al Stefanelli

    Hey, don't overlook MY book! "A Voice Of Reason In An Unreasonable World – The Rise Of Atheism On Planet Earth"

    April 11, 2011 at 4:28 pm |
  4. John777

    As I my wife and I were feeding our newborn twin daughters the other night I pondered Gods existence. They have been focusing on object for a couple weeks now. Most of the time they sleep through the feedings but sometimes at night she will just stare into my eyes. I cannot read her my mind but I assume she is trying to convey to my wife and I that they love us and the world revolves around us. Now this might be in my head but then why do I think this why? It is because we have such a tremondous amount of Love that we feel for our daughters. I have heard some say feeling love is a chemical response in the body. If that all love is then why has not it been sythesized? Love cannot be explained by math, science or philosophy. Love is a feeling God created and is to be shared. Unfortunately, many people do not.

    April 11, 2011 at 4:28 pm |
  5. Bobb

    Oh good grief, the same Biblical tales are little removed from Bulfinch's Mythology. Both are interesting reading.

    April 11, 2011 at 4:27 pm |
  6. DoodleSheep

    Bibles are good for toilet paper.

    April 11, 2011 at 4:26 pm |
    • Up Your Rear Admiral

      Better as door stops. The paper isn't very soft.

      April 11, 2011 at 4:35 pm |
    • beelzebubba

      The pages are full of crap. Wiping with them can't be very hygenic.

      April 11, 2011 at 4:40 pm |
    • Lycidas

      You know, there is this Pastor down in Florida you all would like. He is as open minded and tolerant as you. You'll know him by his little book burning bonfire he has going. Go see him, he is your kind of ppl 😉

      April 11, 2011 at 5:36 pm |
  7. al

    Fact: US prisons are disproportionately populated by "christians"...atheists make up less of the prison population per capita than they do the general population.

    April 11, 2011 at 4:25 pm |
    • vbscript2

      Source? Didn't think so.

      April 11, 2011 at 4:45 pm |
  8. Get over it

    How about we all just stop caring who is or is not religious and just get over it? Everyone can live their life the way they see fit, and if you don't like it then turn the other way and keep walking. Just shush and get over it. Be happy and live your life how you want. All the arguments on this post are pathetic.

    April 11, 2011 at 4:25 pm |
  9. brad

    I can see it already. A tent revival. Lots of contemporary music. Hozannahs will be sung to Newton, Pascal, Russel, Nietzche. The preacher will inform the enthusiastic atheist crowds that they are the enlightened ones. (Never mind whether the sheep understand Darwin, Plato, can solve a calculus problem, or use a microscope.) The music will work up the atheists into a frenzy and they will come away having had a spiritual, er, rational experience.

    April 11, 2011 at 4:25 pm |
    • vbscript2

      Except, of course, they'll overlook that Newton believed that it could not reasonably be denied that God created the universe.

      April 11, 2011 at 4:50 pm |
  10. beelzebubba

    RE: "Lycidas @beelzebubba- Am I suppose to?"
    Unless you held captive by a cult that tells you what to believe, what to read, what music to listen to, that is up to you. Joining a cult (like believing Glenn Beck's 'wisdom') makes things all black and white and simple though. I understand the temptation.

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

      No, I make up my own mind on what I belief and put my faith into. As any sane person should.

      April 11, 2011 at 5:32 pm |
  11. Johnson

    There are over 1,000 comments on here. Wow........

    April 11, 2011 at 4:24 pm |
  12. ktisis

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

    April 11, 2011 at 4:23 pm |
  13. adams

    Everyone believes on something. An atheist claims that he/she is the judge of truth and morality instead of God.

    That is a funny claim to make since an atheist is an imperfect mortal being…

    April 11, 2011 at 4:21 pm |
    • holly

      nicely put.

      April 11, 2011 at 4:26 pm |
    • Up Your Rear Admiral

      "Atheism is a belief like not collecting stamps is a hobby."

      April 11, 2011 at 4:28 pm |
    • beelzebubba

      If god sent text messages he could clear up all the confusion instead of hiding behind an 'inspired' book that claims he says: "I am not the author of confusion." Use your heads people. God does not exist. If he does, he let Hitler and Stalin and Mao murder tens of millions of people. What would we do to a person who allowed that much suffering?

      April 11, 2011 at 4:37 pm |
    • Tim

      You know nothing of what an atheist thinks. Atheist's do not judge other people, only themselves. And they judge themselves by values of conscience. Christians cannot debate with logic, they can only quote verse written by other men over 2000 years ago. The truth will only be know when each of us comes to the end of our life cycle.

      April 11, 2011 at 4:37 pm |
    • vbscript2

      Atheism is a belief like anarchism is a poltical view. Oh, wait...

      April 11, 2011 at 4:39 pm |
    • MikeAinFL

      Which atheist are you talking about? None that I know of, including me. In general, atheists believe in individual responsibility for one's moral behavior. I'm not judging you, or your apparent lack of accountability because you allow someone else to dictate your behavior.

      April 11, 2011 at 4:41 pm |
    • KTM

      The god of the bible is an angry, vengeful, jealous, spiteful character who kills arbitrarily and asks his believers to do the same in his name. If he were a person, I'd have nothing to do with him. And, I don't.

      April 11, 2011 at 5:11 pm |
    • Craig

      I assume that you are talking about your god. Next you will show how arrogant you are by claiming that your god is better than my gods.

      April 11, 2011 at 5:21 pm |
  14. Lanfear

    Love watching the Christians squirm. I read in my local paper this month that an Atheist is paying for pro-athiest ads to be placed in our transit system. One ad reads something like "Maybe there is no God, enjoy life!" Needless to say, the Christians are running and crying about this, saying the Atheists are threatening THEIR freedom of religion LOL. Face it, people are losing interest in organized religion and there's nothing you can do about it. I'm sorry the reality is so hard to comprehend.

    April 11, 2011 at 4:21 pm |
    • Wisdom4u2

      I don't think the True Believers are squirming at all, because we already know the way, the truth, and the life.
      If anyone is squirming it should be anyone who goes out and buys this 'load of crap' and believes it, for what a hopeless life they'll have!!
      So Sad!!
      And Jesus answered and said to them, "See to it that no one misleads you..."

      April 11, 2011 at 4:37 pm |
    • what in the world is Wisdom4u2 saying?

      @ Wisdom4u2....DUDE! This is the second time I have seen you comment that "scripture" verse on here. Do you know another verse? Look, if you want to support a cause, give money. You're not doing your side justice. You are just inflaming people against religious folk talking like that.

      April 12, 2011 at 1:30 am |
  15. Wisdom4u2

    As sad as this is I can't stop laughing!!!

    'AS IF' we don't have enough HOPELESS people in this world already, now there's a book to show them how to embrace their state of HOPELESSNESS!!?? Really???

    Satan at his best, for sure!!!

    April 11, 2011 at 4:21 pm |
    • D

      You're Satan at his best.

      April 11, 2011 at 4:28 pm |
    • Wisdom4u2

      @ D (Devil)

      NO, that would be yo'mamma!!!

      April 11, 2011 at 4:40 pm |
    • KTM

      You obviously didn't read the the article and didn't pay any attention to what the book was about. If you're going to comment, you should actually know what your commenting on. You only make thoughtful religious people look judgmental and egocentric. You could just start by looking up "humanism," but that might be asking too much.

      April 11, 2011 at 4:44 pm |
    • Wisdom4u2

      I don't know who you are addressing, but if it's me then you are correct in your statement here "...thoughtful religious people look judgmental and egocentric." because they are!!!
      However, I stand by what I said, and I am not 'religious', so I don't care what I make them look like, they do a very good job themselves!!!
      And, You are an IDIOT!!
      I did read the article and I stand by what I said!!!!!

      April 11, 2011 at 4:54 pm |
    • KTM

      Yes. I was talking to you. And, thank you for proving my point. If you're not lying, why don't you tell us a bit about secular humanism. Maybe a little Richard Dawkins? Chomsky? Some of the later existentialists? We can start with Sartre. Go ahead, I'll wait.

      April 11, 2011 at 5:03 pm |
    • KTM

      Oh...and I actually laughed out loud when you said you weren't religious. Funny stuff. Couldn't have written that myself.

      April 11, 2011 at 5:04 pm |
    • Wisdom4u2

      @ KTM (short for: colonoscopy scope)

      Thank you for waiting!!
      I wouldn’t dare justify my answer to your humanistic and lack of understanding the ways that spiritual things work – the two are like oil and water – they just don’t mix!!!
      It’s obvious that Jesus the Christ, Himself, could stand in front of you and show you all spiritual truths and your blinded spiritual eyes would never comprehend a thing, for they are wide shut!
      Therefore, I suggest you keep on keeping on with your ‘FOOLISH’ beliefs, which doesn’t appear to be ‘working’ for you, and just maybe when your heart is soften it will be receptive when you come across the TRUTH!
      At any rate, have a good day, KTM!!!

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

      After some consideration, skip the reading on humanism and pick up a book on grammar/punctuation. Ouch. You know, finishing the eighth grade would do wonders for your argument.

      April 11, 2011 at 6:14 pm |
    • Wisdom4u2

      @ KTM

      Well, thank you again for noticing, I do quite well, considering English is my 4th language.
      How many languages do you write??
      It’s obvious that English is not your main one, or maybe you have dyslexia!

      April 11, 2011 at 6:32 pm |
    • KTM

      Fourth language! LOL! Lying is a sin, you know?

      April 11, 2011 at 11:41 pm |
    • KTM

      And, no. You're not "doing quite well."

      April 11, 2011 at 11:43 pm |
    • what in the world is Wisdom4u2 saying?

      @KTM...I heart you. Lol. Please give this lying crazy a mouthful. I don't know what point he's trying to prove, but he's failing.

      April 12, 2011 at 1:27 am |
  16. Chris

    Having read a few threads like this before, one thing is clear to me. The pro-religion side always posts more overzealous and hateful comments. An atheist/agnostic/whatever posts some common sense or real life history, then some Jesus freak answers by spewing bile and schoolyard insults.

    April 11, 2011 at 4:19 pm |
    • holly

      ... and referring to a Christian as a "Jesus freak" isn't a school yard insult?

      April 11, 2011 at 4:24 pm |
    • Wisdom4u2

      Ha-ha-ha!!! Seriously????
      And Jesus answered and said to them, "See to it that no one misleads you."
      I see you've been MISLED, !!!

      April 11, 2011 at 4:44 pm |
    • Happy Atheist

      @ Holly, Didn't DC Talk have a huge hit on the Christian Music Charts called Jesus Freak!?!? Hmmmm.... yep.... I've been to many a christian concerts and seen DC Talk more times than I'd like to admit. I've walked the walk and talked the talk. I've read the "Good Book." I've spent a great deal of time studying, teaching, guiding in the ways of Christianity.... the moment (or shall I say series of moments) that lead me to be a Free thinking atheist have been the best of my life. I've never been more liberated!!! or more happy!!! or more free!!!! Living life believing in fairy tales is a pretty sad existence.

      April 11, 2011 at 4:55 pm |
  17. JanetMermaid

    Finally a bible I'd actually find some value in! And YES, I've read the Christian bible. That's the biggest reason I'm not a Christian anymore. I actually paid attention to what it really said.

    April 11, 2011 at 4:18 pm |
    • rainlady9

      Janet Mermaid, I agree, totally, with you.

      April 11, 2011 at 4:30 pm |
    • JC

      And what did it say.......Why dont you summarize what you got out of it since you understand it so well......

      April 11, 2011 at 4:40 pm |
    • JanetMermaid

      @JC, OK, I will

      * People say God cares for those who love him yet he allowed his most ardent follower, Job, to be tormented by Satan in what can be described as a game of "chicken" between God and Satan

      * If Adam and Eve were truly the first people on earth then who did their sons/daughters marry? Either there were OTHER people already here OR the entire human race is the result of some pretty serious incest.

      * God can do anything he chooses yet he cruelly sent his son to be tortured and die. If you view this strictly as a parent and child this is serious and total abuse. There was no reason he had to send his "child" to go through this just to give humans hope.

      These are just a start....

      April 11, 2011 at 6:10 pm |
  18. brad

    I wonder if this book addresses Lawrence Kholberg's hierarchy of moral behaviour. According to Kholberg, the poorest reason for doing the right thing is fear of punishment if we do the wrong thing. This principle will still be operative in human nature with or without religion. When atheists discover this simple principle, they will have to acknowledge that we will at least need civil law. Religion for atheists has been like a curtain. When the curtain is moved aside, the atheist will come face to face with the truth about human nature.

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

      Who ever said that we don't need laws? I've never heard an atheist claim that.

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

      @Brad - the problem with this aspect of Kohlberg's theory is that it has been falsified. Sociological studies have consistently shown that atheists follow laws and mores just as consistently as believers. Kohlberg's hypothesis would predict exactly the opposite. So the evidence really doesn't favor your view.

      Many atheists (if not most) recognize the need for civil law. They just recognize such law as a series of secular agreements, not as a covenant with a divine authority.

      April 11, 2011 at 4:21 pm |
    • Tim

      You have mistaken an atheist with an anarchist. Learn to research before you post.

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

      What about doing what's right because it feels right? Acts of kindness can make you feel better. So, as selfish as it sounds, why not do right feel good about yourself? Sounds like a win-win. Altruism is its own reward.

      April 11, 2011 at 4:32 pm |
    • Nurse Lisa

      if the burden of correctness is just what feels right, then folks who lie and cheat and steal and molest and kill would be correct and moral because those actions felt right to them. Without a moral standard – like Jesus Christ for Christians, we cannot accurately measure right/wrong. Atheism – denying the existence of God – does not mean he doesn't exiist, it just means you refuse to believe in Him.

      April 11, 2011 at 6:23 pm |
  19. Earl

    False prophets shall rise up in the end-times.

    April 11, 2011 at 4:12 pm |
    • Fred Evil

      LOL @ False prophets....that's EVERY DAY. There have been false prophets every year since that phrase was first written, and guess what? No rapture so far!
      Go ahead ond hold your breath for it though, I'm sure jesus is coming, anytime now!

      April 11, 2011 at 4:20 pm |
    • svatoid

      I agree. WE have Billy Graham, Jerry Falwell, Pope John Paul II and the list goes on,

      April 11, 2011 at 4:23 pm |
    • Good book

      He wrote a book not claimed to be a prophet...... so quick with your fire and brimstone

      April 11, 2011 at 4:24 pm |
    • Up Your Rear Admiral

      See you in the rapture capsule with the unicorns. Don't forget to wear your nose ring.

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

      You're RIGHT about that, Earl! Only these ones rise due to rigor mortis!

      April 11, 2011 at 5:38 pm |
  20. svatoid

    You worship christ, you burn in hell. Period. End of story.

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

      Prove it.... one way or the other.

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

      Gosh. I am glad we do not see God the same way.

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

      Insert "laughter" here.

      April 11, 2011 at 4:35 pm |
    • Wisdom4u2

      @ svatoid

      Actually, that is the end of YOUR life story!!!
      Too bad and so sad for you!!!

      April 11, 2011 at 4:47 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.