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. i'm just saying

    The beautiful thing about God is that He loves all of us. He created us in His own image, even before we were conceived. I see that many of the people posting here are athiest or agnostic, and have never taken the time to try to learn about God. It is also apparent that even more of you who say the bible is written by man have never read it. I am not here to judge, to send anyone to hell, or to tell you what to believe. I can tell you however that I believe the Bible, I believe in God, I believe Jesus, the bible is the living word of God, and God is an omnipotent, omnipresent God. For those who have wanted to know Him, get a bible and read. For those who dont care to believe, I can't make you believe, you have your own free will.

    April 13, 2011 at 1:13 am |
    • Brent Beach

      It's arrogant to assume that, because someone is atheist or agnostic, they haven't taken the proper time to learn about God.

      In fact, a recent survey showed that atheists were the highest scorers in scriptural knowledge and about other religions too.

      May 22, 2011 at 10:23 pm |
    • Brent Beach


      May 22, 2011 at 10:23 pm |
  2. mgw

    Does anyone else thinks it's ironic that the "atheist Bible" starts using quotes from someone who wrote more about religion than he did in the science arena. Here's a wiki quote

    "Newton was also highly religious. He was an unorthodox Christian, and during his lifetime actually wrote more on Biblical hermeneutics and occult studies than on science and mathematics, the subjects he is mainly associated with."

    Seems to me, you can get your Bible first hand, or recycled.

    April 13, 2011 at 12:42 am |
  3. Tomorrows Blues

    So Hitler, Stalin and Mao are representative of ALL atheists, then?

    I guess that means Rodrigo Borgia (Pope Alexander) and Torquemada are representative of ALL Christians then, right?

    April 13, 2011 at 12:26 am |
  4. B. K. Williams

    This book has generated a lot of controversy I see. I didn't have to get through many comments to start seeing the name calling and the overused word ignorant to describe any given argument that disputes your own philosophy about life. I don't know which side is right. I don't care. I know that with all the ugly in the world there shouldn't be an argument in having another tool for trying to live a better life. For Christians, the book is the Bible. For Muslims it's the Qur'an. And so on and so forth. Who's right? Who knows? What is the big deal about taking some of our greatest writers/thinkers ideas and compiling their information into something that will make us think better of how we see each other. I'm going to read this book. There are horrible people from every religion. Deal with it. The fact that we need to coexist with so many differing opinions is the REAL challenge. We're all unique and that's what makes this life worth living.

    April 12, 2011 at 11:53 pm |
  5. Carnie

    I am sick and tired of reading comments that say, "atheism requires faith."

    No. Just no. Atheist does not require any amount of faith. Atheists observe scientific evidence and the world around them for what it is. Atheism is not a faith, but an observation.

    I had to grow up very desperate and depressed because God never spoke to me or answered any of my prayers (obviously). I have Tourette's Syndrome and had to live through being ostracized by my entire family and entire community. I thought, "how could God make me so defective on purpose? Why is he constantly punishing me?" Finally I realized that I am not some demon that God created, but just human with a genetic difference. Knowing that this did not happen to me on purpose and that it could've happened to anyone made my life so much easier. Realizing atheism has made my life so much more calm, beautiful, and meaningful. Now I live just to be alive, and I try my best to help make other people's lives joyful.

    If I am wrong, then so be it. God has done absolutely nothing to give me any faith. If I am wrong and sent for judgment when I die, I will gladly give God the middle finger and then waltz into hell with my fellow peers.

    April 12, 2011 at 11:34 pm |
    • Tomorrows Blues

      Very well said, Carnie. I was raised Catholic, but there is so much about the Church that I thought was silly, even as a child, that I don't think I can really call myself a Catholic any more. And the Bible is good as a work of fiction, but there is so much nonsense in it. There are so many things in the Bible that are obviously meant as metaphor, that anyone who takes it literally, and believes that it was literally dictated by God Himself, is certifiably delusional.

      April 12, 2011 at 11:59 pm |
  6. Joe H

    Faith is beautiful.
    Religion stinks.

    April 12, 2011 at 9:55 pm |
  7. Joe H

    At any extreme you believe, pick up the Gospel of John and give it a read. Whether it's true or not, I feel I can safely say it's the most beautiful love story ever recorded.

    April 12, 2011 at 9:46 pm |
  8. Muneef

    The intentions are to make a new secular code of conduct for the non religious and religious to follow as a modern masses control...! Rather can call it the global new world secular code of conduct that might become to be imposed to be honored even higher than religion books....? Well might be close....

    April 12, 2011 at 8:27 pm |
  9. a thinking man

    To question and ponder the unreasonable rather than simply blindly follow or comply is all I would ask of any intelligent being

    April 12, 2011 at 8:21 pm |
  10. M

    Well at least in this book you won't find commandments two own slaves, kill your children if they give you mouth, or kill your relatives if they suggest you follow other "gods". You also won't find crazy stories about men being swallowed by whales or human sacrifices as plea deal between said god.

    April 12, 2011 at 6:14 pm |
  11. Jesus Loves You!

    This is the Good News! The best news you will ever hear! You have a God that Loves you that wants a relationship with you and that blesses you everyday! God Bless You All!

    April 12, 2011 at 6:14 pm |

    This book is ridiculous! Of course all the Liberals in America will probably read it. Just because your life trend agrees with this book more so than the book of Truth! God doesn't care what is cool now his principles and commandments are not like the progressives that change with time! They are for all of our days! One day every knee will bow and everyone tongue will declare his glory! Jesus Christ is King of all Kings!

    April 12, 2011 at 6:10 pm |
    • Ed

      you haven't read it it seem a little judgemental to declare it ridiculous without even reading some of it. What ever happened to judge not. Before you respond know I am christian I just get realy tire of arrogant bully throwing negative comments out in the name of the Christ. I don't think he would approve. You should at least read some of the book before you judge it bad. You should tret to atheist the way you want them to treat you. When we fail to do that we prove them right about us

      April 12, 2011 at 6:22 pm |
  13. sean

    I read the article and posts and can't let this one go without comment. Everyone simply needs to treat others as you would like to be treated. It's that simple. All of the other stuff is garbage. Killing animals and ultimately a human as a sacrice to a god is stupid. This is what people did back then, I get that. But we don't do that anymore and we don't have slaves anymore. But both of these were accepted practices in the bible. Based on these two things alone, I can't believe a word of it. Not to mention the story of jobe (i think that was his name) where god let the devil destroy him and his familiy to prove he was the beloved servant god thought he was. This was a friend of god and he let htis happen (STUPID). i seem to remember anther sotry about a guy who had to go up a mountain and kill his son to prove his love for god. luckily that was halted in the nick of time. another firend of god betrayed by god (STUPID). if i were to write about god he would be all loving and not need all of this believing and praying to him. does he need that much attention. it is as simple as this. if someone was kind to you and everyone you knew all thier lives and they happened to not believe the bible, would you make them burn for eternity? if you say yes, then you need to burn forever. if you are a sane person you would say no, they do not deserve that. the god in the bible would make this person burn for eternity. you can have this god.

    April 12, 2011 at 4:26 pm |
    • Curt

      If that's what you want to believe fine. Most people will think you are a good person. But it won't get you into heaven. And the Bible says it will get you into hell. If you don't want to go to hell, and you are willing to admit you don't know what happens after you die, you might want to read the Bible.

      April 12, 2011 at 9:21 pm |
    • Curt

      And by the way, you might want to find out what the Bible really says because most of what you said is wrong.

      April 12, 2011 at 9:23 pm |
  14. Atheistic Jew

    One serious question for baby jesus. Can someone explain to me how Christianity is monotheistic. Looking at it from either an atheistic view or a religious view, christianity is hypocritical. From the religious view, how can you believe in the ten commandments and the holy trinity. The ten commandments say there is only one god and god is one, then how can you believe in the holy trinity. It also says don't worship idols. Period. So why are christians kneeling before a plastic statue of a tortured man? Which is sadistic in and of it's self, no?

    April 12, 2011 at 3:12 pm |
  15. lanann

    It takes more faith to be an atheist....

    April 12, 2011 at 2:36 pm |
    • JTK

      False. Believers often switch between definitions of "faith" when it is to their benefit to deceive, which is what you are implicitly doing here. If not believing in something took faith then you would require faith to not believe in Thor. That is so obviously nonsensical that if you have a functioning brain you will now realize that you are wrong. Rather than admit it however you will either not respond or respond with more deception.

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

      I think you missed the point of the comment. It takes faith to be an athiest because there is so much evidence that God exists. Since nobody without God can 'know" if God exists or not it is simply a choice if you believe either he does or he doesn't. An athiest is one who chooses to believe God does not exist. There that belief is based on faith because it cannot be proven. You could just admit you don't know, but then you wouldn't really be an athiest.

      April 12, 2011 at 9:17 pm |
    • PeterVN

      Present even one piece of solid evidence that your god exists. So far, no one has.

      April 12, 2011 at 9:50 pm |
  16. Atheistic Jew

    I think I get it now. They're right because they're right. We're wrong because we think. I think therefore I am not. And priests are holy because... well never mind, it's such a sadly ubiquitous phenomenon I don't even have to finish my sentence for each and every one of you to understand where I was going with that pun. But seriously, these are the people who absolve you?

    April 12, 2011 at 2:02 pm |
  17. Matthew

    i was raised with christian values and morales that i ascribe too. I dont steal, murder, try not to lie, do my job as best as i can and act polite. I also reject the idea of submitting to the church or accepting christ as my savior. Am i going to hell?

    April 12, 2011 at 1:44 pm |
    • Gabriel Omokhoa

      Dear Matthew, the truth is, if you fail to accept the Lordship of Jesus Christ as your Lord and Saviour and you die in that state, sadly, you will end in Hell Fire.

      I encourage you to watch these two videos in the link provided below:


      I hope you will take the issue of life after death seriously and focus your life on Jesus.

      God bless you.

      April 12, 2011 at 2:00 pm |
    • Roy

      Of course not. What is true is that the Bible was written by men who "spoke" to God. So in a sense, the Bible could have been twisted by people back in the day to manipulate those who follow it in the future. The whole Christ is the son of God thing is merely a ruse to get people to join the cult that is Christianity.
      BTW, isn't it a convincing argument that everyone is "naturally sinful" and that the only way to avoid burning is by joining Christianity? Kinda bogus, when you think about it...

      April 12, 2011 at 2:17 pm |
    • HomeSkillet

      @Gabriel – you are so brainwashed by religion it's sickening. Believe what you want, but don't shove religion down other people's throats. As fervently as you believe in your God, there are many good, decent and kind people who, equally fervently, do not. Agree to disagree, respectfully.

      April 12, 2011 at 3:33 pm |
    • Ed

      Don't listen to Gabriel only God can decide who goes to heaven or hell the right is his alone. Pope John Paul II stated that some living a good life can get to heaven even if they don't accept Christ as their lord and savior. Basically its dependent on your behavior not your words. If you do as you say you have you may get to heaven. I say may becasue again its not my decesion its Gods. Although I think his more concern with acctions then words. Sorry Gabriel but from your post Matthew may be is better shape then you.

      April 12, 2011 at 5:54 pm |
    • Curt

      What determines whether you go to heaven or hell, according to the Bible, is whether or not you have a relationship with God. Doing good things doesn't get you anywhere.

      April 12, 2011 at 9:11 pm |
  18. Kathy Gibbons

    we are a pathetic,selfish generation. Jesus is God and died an agonising death for us.Hell is real and if we do not choose God we are heading there. Why should we deserve to go to Paradise if we dont even acknowledge God. We cause the dreadful things in this life not God. Stop blaspheming poor Jesus,all of you!

    April 12, 2011 at 1:43 pm |
    • Nonimus

      "Why should we deserve to go to Paradise..."
      Not that they exist, but why should anyone deserve to burn in he.ll for eternity for finite crimes. That seems more than a little unjust to me.

      April 12, 2011 at 3:07 pm |
    • JTK

      You are blaspheming against other religions. Should that mean you don't get the right to speak your mind? Either you get the right to disagree with other religions and everyone else does to, which makes you a hypocrite, or nobody gets the right to disagree with any other religion which is completely impossible.

      You really should think things through.

      April 12, 2011 at 4:07 pm |
    • HomeSkillet

      Kathy, there are many of us who do not believe that there is a heaven nor is there a hell to which our immortal souls shall be assigned for all eternity based on our actions during our physical lives. Likewise, many of us find your inflammatory rhetoric nothing but brainwashing and mind control. You, to those of us who simply do not buy into the premise that "Jesus is the son of God, and was sent here to save believers' souls", seem like a victim of religion. They are two diametrically opposed polarities of opinion – and, who truly know which is correct? Bottom line, many of choose to live our lives accepting responsibility for our own actions, not guided by an invisible being and not tethered to stories that were passed from person to person to person until they were finally compiled into a book as verbatim. We all know how the "Telephone" game turns out. Those of us who don't believe are not bad people. In fact, the good majority of us are upright citizens and compassionate co-habitants of this world. We don't need your prayers, your pity, your condescension or your approval for our beliefs. Please adhere to one of the strongest tenets of your belief system: Do unto others ...

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


      April 12, 2011 at 6:30 pm |
    • Curt

      Kathy, I hope you will keep it up. The truth is the truth whether people know it's thr truth or not. What you said is the truth and people like "HomeSkillet" haven't figured it out yet. Hopefully they will find the truth before it is too late for them. Changing what you believe does not change reality.

      April 12, 2011 at 8:23 pm |
    • Spontaneously Generated

      No one with any ability to use reason believes in your crazy talk.

      April 13, 2011 at 12:17 am |
  19. maria guevara ortiz

    You wrote a book called "The Good Book: A Humanist Bible," that it was published this month. You are so proud of yourself, I can tell. But yet you do not know how ignorant you are. I read somewhere in the news that Humanists rely on human reason as an alternative to religion or belief in God in attempting to find meaning and purpose in life. Therefore the idea of a God who created the heavens and the earth cannot be possible for you. I also read that you are about to become president of that group. Mr. Grayling, I want to ask you if you are real, because to me you are not. I do not even know if you exist, or if maybe some body is making you up. That book that they are saying you wrote, I do not think is true, as a matter of fact I think that book made it self up. All those pages glue themselves together as magic, and yes, those letters on those pages are there because they jumped out of the alphabet and made up all those sentences so you could read them, and find them interesting. So really, there is not a Mr. Grayling. As for the matter of whether there is God, maybe not for you, but for me there is a God, and his name is Jehovah, the same one that that tells us: "The great day of Jehovah is near, it is near, and there is a hurrying [of it] very much. The sound of the day of Jehovah is bitter. There a mighty man is letting out a cry" (Zephaniah 1:14) Let not that man, be you.

    April 12, 2011 at 1:26 pm |
    • Gabriel Omokhoa

      Thank you Maria. God bless you real good for your response to Mr Ignorant Grayling or whatever name he calls himself. It is not too late for him to repent else when he dies, he will find himself in the hottest part of Hell fire for denying the existence of the Great God JEHOVAH.

      April 12, 2011 at 1:51 pm |
    • Boom

      Are christians really so dissatisfied with their lives they can't wait for everyone to die?

      April 12, 2011 at 2:15 pm |
    • ManCreatedGod

      You religious folks are so damn ignorant.

      April 12, 2011 at 3:55 pm |
    • Curt

      It's funny that someone would call religious folks ignorant. That is exactly what God said would happen. I guess that proves that God knows the future. And he knows how ignorant people are when they do not know him.

      April 12, 2011 at 8:18 pm |
  20. Chris

    No argument here. Freedom to write a book remains true in our world. But a fact remains, 10 out of 10 people die, what lies beyond life can be a dice roll for many people, IF atheism is correct with the dice roll then cool, looks like people that truly walked in Godly ways wasted time helping others, but IF the truly followers of Christ are right, and there really is a God that judges as the Bible states, Heaven or Hell & atheism is wrong – wow!
    Everyone has a choice, not my call – only yours. Signed – not a dice roller

    April 12, 2011 at 1:14 pm |
    • RM

      By your logic, you are rolling the dice because you are picking one diety instead of another.

      Atheists don't roll dice because they aren't playing any odds.

      April 12, 2011 at 1:25 pm |
    • Nonimus

      But what if you are wrong about which God is true?
      Enjoy your next life as a grasshopper. I'll try not to step on you.

      April 12, 2011 at 3:03 pm |
    • Maybe


      And if you have chosen the wrong god, (if you are not completely eradicated from existence) you might just end up peeling gra.pes and being a virgin for some Muslim guy.

      April 12, 2011 at 3:12 pm |
    • George W

      That is the arrogance of all faiths. Not one moment do any consider that they could be wrong. It is purely an accident of birth PLACE that makes many in this country Christian and those in other parts of the world Muslims. Now...isn't an ACCIDENT a foolish thing on which to base one's life and eternal hopes? THINK!!

      April 12, 2011 at 5:31 pm |
    • Ed

      @George W.
      You said "That is the arrogance of all faiths. Not one moment do any consider that they could be wrong"

      Read the posts this is just as true of atheist no more but no less.

      April 12, 2011 at 5:48 pm |
    • Ryein

      If the only reason you pick something is because your threatened to be destroyed then I say it isn't a choice at all. Doing good on your own accord would be something any God would be delighted in to me. Doing good because you know God is out there is good, but in a way odd to me. Playing the odds I would say be a good person and spread good will to your fellow man and stand up for people that are in danger is the best advice anything else it just gets to confusing.

      "Choose god or be destroyed!" – I think they said this a lot during the crusades.

      The idea of church is great though. Bring people together with the sole purpose of spreading joy and good will; although some churches don't even do that.

      April 12, 2011 at 8:09 pm |
    • Curt

      Anyone who does not believe in God and the Bible is not really rolling the dice. Rolling the dice implies there is a chance of winning. Without faith in God there is no winning. There is only one God. He controls your destiny, whether you believe in him or not. Getting to know him while you have the opportunity would be a good idea for your own good. No matter what you believe he still exists and he is in control.

      April 12, 2011 at 8:13 pm |
    • Rob

      If you only believe in God for a reward, you really aren't worthy. If God didn't promise you eternal life for playing it his way, would you still do it?

      April 12, 2011 at 9:41 pm |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39
About this blog

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.