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. Just Me

    A.C. Grayling is taking a turn at adding and taking away from God's Bible. Many have gone before him and I suppose many are still to come. Thankfully, God's Word will never change and the true message of the Gospel will always be available to mankind, even with man's futile attempts to re-write it.

    April 11, 2011 at 5:20 pm |
    • Artist

      No that is interesting because it was a few men who chose certain books to be allowed and some not. You book has already been added and taken away. lol

      April 11, 2011 at 5:24 pm |
    • Just Me

      Many writers and religious men throughout time have tried to add books to the Bible, but this has not happened. At the same time, people see this as if books have been taken out, solely because they were not allowed to be added. New Bible's were then created with new names and contain these added books, such as the Catholic bible. The Bible which contains the original 66 books has not changed.

      April 11, 2011 at 6:43 pm |
  2. teepee

    White people aren't happy unless they are causing problems somewhere...They thrive on it.

    April 11, 2011 at 5:20 pm |
    • Molei

      Yah suh bruther, yah suh! You gots that right!!

      April 11, 2011 at 5:34 pm |
    • Sir Craig

      And ironically you don't see yourself doing the exact same thing with this post.

      April 11, 2011 at 5:38 pm |
  3. Kenrick Benjamin

    How old is the DEAD SEA SCROOLS.

    April 11, 2011 at 5:20 pm |
    • Ryan A - Florida

      Google it....nuff said.

      April 12, 2011 at 6:37 am |
  4. tony

    I'm sorry to disappoint, but there is no "top" or even really "leading" atheist. Like "evil", that's a religious concept, in that case, of of having absolute authority trickle downwards. We just are all non-believers. It's a structureless, non-community, just like left-handedness, so no center or point of control. Probably why we can't be as easily manipulated and hence are such an irritation to political leaders and so scary to religious nuts.

    April 11, 2011 at 5:20 pm |
  5. mike

    A British man wrote this book go figure

    April 11, 2011 at 5:19 pm |
  6. GeeksOfChrist

    If the Bible were a collection of morals, comparisons between it and this book would be fair.
    If this book purported to be the most trustworthy account of Jesus Christ, then they could be compared.

    If you want a book that will tell what to do and what not to do, do not read the Bible. All that moralistic stuff can be found in books like the Qu'ran or the one mentioned in this article. The Bible is a collection of books that tell the story of God's love for bad people and the incredible rescue mission Jesus went on for those bad people.

    Whether you believe the story within the book or not, that is what it is about.

    April 11, 2011 at 5:19 pm |
  7. Mickey Haist Jr

    If the Bible were a collection of morals, comparisons between it and this book would be fair.
    If this book purported to be the most trustworthy account of Jesus Christ, then they could be compared.

    If you want a book that will tell what to do and what not to do, do not read the Bible. All that moralistic stuff can be found in books like the Qu'ran or the one mentioned in this article. The Bible is a collection of books that tell the story of God's love for bad people and the incredible rescue mission Jesus went on for those bad people.

    Whether you believe the story within the book or not, that is what it is about.

    April 11, 2011 at 5:15 pm |
  8. LBCSongbird

    As a Christian, I do not see this as an attack on my faith. I see this as an attack upon those who have no faith in the Truth, the Way and the Life. For whether you believe it or not, there is one and ONLY one way to Heaven and that is through the person of Jesus Christ.

    And if you're right, when I die, I won't know the difference. I will have lived a wonderful life of peace and joy doing good works. But when you die, and you find out that I'm right, your good works will be worth nothing. Because God cannot exist in the presence of sin. All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. In your foolish unbelief, you will be tortured with many into eternity in the fires of hell, yet you will feel as if you were there all alone. Either way, I'm still better off than the unbeliever. Praise God!

    April 11, 2011 at 5:14 pm |
    • shens

      Oh, so you're christian as an insurance policy? Just incase gods real, you want to be one of his followers? Also, can you not see how your comment is a clear attack on anyone who isn't also a christian? I'm an agnostic, so really your comment just makes me quietly snicker to myself, but imagine someone of another faith, like a muslim, that read that. That muslim believes with as much, if not more of his being, that his way is correct and yours is wrong. How can either religion be welcomed by humanity when they both try so hard to divide us? We're growing up as a species though finally, starting to wake up to the facts that religion is just a fairy tale, the more science progresses the more people wake up to the truth that this whole god thing is a ruse.

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

      Did you ever think life is a test? The easy way to live is to have a book answer all of your questions and direct your morality. The hard way is to live in a moral way, not because a book tells you to, but beacause it's the right thing to do. Those who pass the test get to move on and those who fail are bound to live again and again. So when I the moral-bound agnostic leaves this world, I will head to a better place. However, you and your hypocritical ways will be forced to endure life again.

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

      Wow. Don't believe in God because he is just and righteous, but because you will burn in Hell for ETERNITY. Strike one, you're out! So sin all you want while you're alive, just make sure to acknowledge Jesus as your savior and ask for forgiveness in the end and you'll be st for life. But lead a good life, hell, a great life of selfless giving and love toward humankind, then don't acknowledge Jesus and you are done. Makes sense to me. How about this... I don't CARE for your god, if he does exist. I will not be extorted into following a god who is obviously cruel and insane. You want me to believe in you? Show yourself in some obvious way. You want me to follow you? Do some good on this earth. Otherwise, go to Hell where you belong.

      April 11, 2011 at 6:43 pm |
  9. Chuck

    My beliefs are enhanced by knowledge and I feel it is another of God's gifts. I am certain that we are expected to listen to all logical speculation and search for the answers to things that contradict what our religion expouses. Religion has been interpreted by man not God and man is fallible and prone to interpretations that comfort them or make them feel more powerful. I assume that each translation of the the bible has compounded the inaccuracy of the previous and reflects the heart and mind of the interpreter. I also feel that ulitmately God has given each of us the ability to see through the alterations and to feel the direction of his will. We instinctively know the law of God by the compassion in our hearts and the logic of our minds. We are able to know that taking the life of another is wrong, and treating others badly is shameful. Why, because our instict is that part of God that is unchanged by the work of man.

    April 11, 2011 at 5:07 pm |
  10. Allan

    To all those Christians who see this as an attack on their faith, you only have to look to Brennan Manning, a Franciscan friar to see the true cause of all of this "The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today is Christians who acknowledge Jesus with their lips and walk out the door and deny Him by their lifestyle"

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

      Well said, Allen, thank you.

      April 11, 2011 at 5:19 pm |
    • Zahara

      I wish I had written that. I can't say I am an atheist, but I have become so turned off by religion, specifically Christianity, for just the reason you quoted.

      April 11, 2011 at 5:40 pm |
    • Someone

      "The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today is Christians who acknowledge Jesus with their lips and walk out the door and deny Him by their lifestyle"

      A quote of specious (deceptively attractive) nature. Hypocritical Christians are annoying, certainly; but this is not the reason for my atheism/agnosticism... it's lack of evidence for a "God" and lack of evidence that Jesus was one.

      April 11, 2011 at 5:57 pm |
  11. Mustafa

    We don't get disturbed when a blind man insists that there is no sun in the sky. God's there, but it's not their eyes that are blind, but the hearts in their chests.

    April 11, 2011 at 5:04 pm |
    • Sir Craig

      1. I have never encountered a blind person who wasn't fully convinced the sun existed, if for no other reason they can still sense it via heat. So poor analogy.

      2. "God" on the other hand has presented no such evidence: empirical, testable, or otherwise. In this case you are like the blind men who feel the different parts of an elephant and come up with very different ideas of what an elephant is. Religion is the same way: Each person comes up with their own definition based on what they feel, but they are still wrong.

      April 11, 2011 at 5:34 pm |
  12. EuphoriCrest

    I have read what others have written about Jesus (too bad he didn't leave any of his own writings) and he seemed like an intelligent fellow, though perhaps a bit outspoken for his own good. So I would have to say he would agree with the evidence regarding evolution as any reasonable person of intelligence would.

    April 11, 2011 at 5:03 pm |
  13. Jordan

    The ironic thing about beginning with Isaac Newton is that he was was a Christian who wrote more on theology than he did on science...

    April 11, 2011 at 5:02 pm |
  14. Mary

    Typing this is futile. Nobody's going to read it. It will have no impact on anyone whatsoever.

    April 11, 2011 at 5:00 pm |
    • Mike

      How true. Resistance is futile. Give up.

      April 11, 2011 at 5:33 pm |
  15. Keith

    Why the fk is there a "leading atheist"?

    April 11, 2011 at 4:59 pm |

      exactly what i was thinking – why do atheists need a leader to help them continue to reject a belief in a diety? wouldn't that go against the whole "free thinking" claim they make.

      April 11, 2011 at 5:23 pm |
  16. nino

    Finally!!!! Sanity return!

    April 11, 2011 at 4:59 pm |
  17. Vigilant

    The Atheist "moral code" is simple logic. We use logic to analyze our world and determine what we could do to make it better for everyone. By following this logical conclusion we in ascribe to the basic tenants of "the golden rule" which predates any modern religion. Treat others as you wish to be treated. It is simple game theory, if everyone cooperates then the end result has the highest utility. That is where a logical, thinking atheist obtains their "morality".

    April 11, 2011 at 4:58 pm |
    • superpaul3000

      I prefer the negative platinum rule

      April 11, 2011 at 5:06 pm |
    • SPA Knight

      Guess where the Golden Rule comes from? The Holy Bible...inspired by God the Creator.

      April 11, 2011 at 5:13 pm |
    • Powder

      Actually, it is part of Bhuddist teachings (which pre-date the bible), and possibly come from pre-Buddhist teachings too. Many items in the bible "love one another as you would yourself" come from other philosophies and religions. The Bible or Christianity didn't necessarily 'invent' them, they just incorporated them.

      April 11, 2011 at 5:23 pm |
    • Sir Craig

      @SPA Knight: Ooh, sorry, that is incorrect. In fact the Bible's version is one of the latest incarnations of what is traditionally known as "The Golden Rule", which has its origins in such diverse places as ancient Babylon, Egypt, Greece, and China. (source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Golden_Rule). In short, your "god" had little to do with it.

      But thanks for playing.

      April 11, 2011 at 5:27 pm |
  18. FifthApe

    This book would have to be an improvement over the evil thats contained in the bible (OT). The monster that stalks those pages is one of the most evil characters in all fiction.

    How anyone can think the bible was inspired by a creator capable of creating the 100 billion X 100 billion stars in our universe is beyond me. Read Exodus 21 just to start...

    April 11, 2011 at 4:57 pm |
  19. rivirivi

    Here is the New Bible from genius me: (1) If there is a God who created everything we see and do not see, and this God is a limitless being, surely then everything and everyone from the smallest particle to the biggest clump of Multi-Universes exist within this Limitless God. (2) If this is true, then there is no separation between humans by the color of their skin or the place they were born in this Earth (in this Universe) (3) There is not even separation between humans and what we call animals, which happen to be different beings sharing this Earth with us. (4) Therefore we should ENJOY our gift of live WITHIN the limitlessness of it all. Honor our presence within the limitlessness of it all by helping each other achieve happiness. Not by killing and hating each other about which stupid group of humans "God" loves the most- such an oxymoron to say you love this GOd but hate the rest he supposedly created also. Think Humans THINK WITH LOVE FOR ALL and stop your stupid separatism, which only happens between your ears.

    April 11, 2011 at 4:55 pm |
    • MLS

      I couldn't have said it better. I follow the Bible and Christ's teachings. He didn't feel the need to judge others. Why should I?

      April 11, 2011 at 5:32 pm |
    • @rivirivi

      Why do Christians, or whatever your particular religion is always feel the need to be the authorities on what is right, how it came to be and so forth. I found a little ditty about your kind, it is meant to open your eyes, not to rub sand in them. I hope you take it to heart:

      10 – You vigorously deny the existence of thousands of gods claimed by
      other religions, but feel outraged when someone denies the existence of yours.

      9 – You feel insulted and "dehumanized" when scientists say that people
      evolved from other life forms, but you have no problem with the Biblical
      claim that we were created from dirt.

      8 – You laugh at polytheists, but you have no problem believing in a Triune God.

      7 – Your face turns purple when you hear of the "atrocities" attributed to Allah,
      but you don`t even flinch when hearing about how God/Jehovah slaughtered
      all the babies of Egypt in "Exodus" and ordered the elimination of entire ethnic
      groups in "Joshua" including women, children, and trees!

      6 – You laugh at Hindu beliefs that deify humans, and Greek claims about gods
      sleeping with women, but you have no problem believing that the Holy Spirit
      impregnated Mary, who then gave birth to a man-god who got killed, came back
      to life and then ascended into the sky.

      5 – You are willing to spend your life looking for little loopholes in the scientifically
      established age of Earth (few billion years), but you find nothing wrong with believing
      dates recorded by Bronze Age tribesmen sitting in their tents and guessing that
      Earth is a few generations old.

      4 – You believe that the entire population of this planet with the exception of those
      who share your beliefs - though excluding those in all rival sects – will spend Eternity
      in an infinite Hell of Suffering. And yet consider your religion the most "tolerant"
      and "loving."

      3 – While modern science, history, geology, biology, and physics have failed to
      convince you otherwise, some idiot rolling around on the floor speaking in "tongues"
      may be all the evidence you need to "prove" Christianity.

      2 – You define 0.01% as a "high success rate" when it comes to answered prayers.
      You consider that to be evidence that prayer works. And you think that the
      remaining 99.99% FAILURE was simply the will of God.

      1 – You actually know a lot less than many atheists and agnostics do about the
      Bible, Christianity, and church history – but still call yourself a Christian.

      Please always walk with your eyes wide open.

      April 11, 2011 at 5:34 pm |
  20. meemee

    Ahem, there was no mechanism, no communication available for the possibility of one book containing diverse elements such as AC Grayling imagines. But good for him. I hope he sells millions of them.

    April 11, 2011 at 4:54 pm |
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