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. Denizen Kate

    While I like Mr. Grayling's idea of compiling great works or excerpts from great works by various scientists, writers, philosophers, and so forth, I'm not sure it wasn't hubris on his part to take on the task of compiling these writings into a secular "bible." The Torah, the Koran, and the Christian Bible were comilations of writings that we amassed, discussed, and agreed upon by like-thinking religious leaders of those times. I would have far more respect for Mr. Grayling's work if he, too, had invited some of the best of today's non-theistic thinkings, writers, and philosophers to agree on which writings to include in a non-theist bible.

    April 11, 2011 at 1:05 pm |
  2. john mercado

    Not hard to right a good book better then the bible or holy book of any other Middle Eastern religion but without the violence and insanity won't it be a pretty dry read?

    April 11, 2011 at 1:03 pm |
  3. revten1965

    Not going to read it . God is very specific about what happens to anyone who adds or deletes anything from the bible.

    Rev 22:18-19
    For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book: And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and [from] the things which are written in this book.

    April 11, 2011 at 1:03 pm |
  4. Sy2502

    The average person on the street, even with low education, could come up with a better moral framework than the Bible and the Ten Commandments.
    Nevertheless, the beauty of being an educated, independent thinker is that we don't need a book to tell us what to do, we can use our reason to deduce it, and do a much better job at it than a bunch of Middle Eastern goat herders did.

    April 11, 2011 at 1:03 pm |
    • Cferb

      Really?? Can do a better job?? Look at the world that we live in... I don't see how we have done any better than those "goat herders" Hmm how many world wars did the goat herders have? How many school shootings? blah blah blah... The fact is, is the world has gotten worse since more "free thinkers" have emerged. Oh and btw before you spout some lame retort, remember this, When King David finally got his rule, there was 20 years of peace. How many years of peace has America or any other nation had? When Katrina happened how many "bible thumpers" were out shooting and looting?? Oh wait I believe it was mostly the ppl who didn't answer to a higher authority. The fact is, is you claim that free thinking and morale compassion makes you different, but you are blind. In fact those "demeaning Christians" are trying to save you from some thing you are blind too, and by you telling ppl that they can believe in whatever as long as it doesn't interfere with YOUR beliefs then are just as bad as the Christians you hate. You are no different.... Worry about the speck in your own eye, before you worry about the log in your brothers eye. – Jesus

      April 11, 2011 at 1:33 pm |
    • A Matter of FAITH

      @Cferb; THANK YOU!!!! You took the thoughts right out of my head!

      April 11, 2011 at 2:10 pm |
  5. C B

    As an atheist myself, I'd appreciate it if ALL SIDES stopped proselytizing their beliefs. Stop shoving your opinions and beliefs down people's throats – and that includes ATHEISTS!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    April 11, 2011 at 1:01 pm |
    • Todd

      Except christ eaters are shoving their beliefs 100 times more than anyone else. Check out the billboards along most interstate highways in the south

      April 11, 2011 at 1:36 pm |
    • A Matter of FAITH

      Um...the name of this blog is "Belief" right? What else are people going to do on this blog. Still amazes me at how many Non-believers are even on this blog. What answers are they looknig for?

      April 11, 2011 at 2:07 pm |
  6. Buster Bloodvessel

    Holy crap. As an atheist, can I say mention what a lame idea this is? The author should probably retrain as a manual laborer.

    April 11, 2011 at 12:59 pm |
  7. Travis

    So for those who do not belive in god look out side at a building did that building have a creator or did it just appear? Of course it had a creator you guys know that your smart people right so what about the world? You telling me it just appeared?

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

      You need to take an astronomy course...

      April 11, 2011 at 1:07 pm |
  8. Larry from San Antone

    Only in the past few years have I become hostile toward Christians. Their hatred and self-rightous behavior made it clear that Christians were nothing special – a big club with a set of man-rules, a super hero who is essentially jeolous and immature in his expectations, and a brainwashed following convinced that the entire world owes you a free pass in influencing their lives. Christians have become the American Taliban, intolerent of other religions or those who have no reason to accept religion. Humanists can be kind and appreciate life without the threat of damnation or the promise of eternal life. Isn't that actually a more pure form of love?

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

      Hello Larry....I want to apologize for all the radical Christians out there....I think what it comes down to is that people become very defensive when they are being put down (doesn't matter what religion)...there are extremists in each religion definitely and it sounds like you might have encountered more of the fanatics...my family is catholic and one of the things I pride myself on (and yes, i know that pride is a sin, wink wink) is that i'm not preachy at all....if someone questions what faith am I, i'll gladly have a conversation with them...we have 2 children and we are teaching them about Jesus Christ and that we believe in Him....nevertheless, i have an inkling, that when they get older (as happened with me) they will stray and choose their own path...all that i can hope for is they have a good, solid foundation (about right vs. wrong) so they can make good choices....i know and am friends with folks from LOTS of religions, including atheists and i love each and every one of them...if we were all the same how boring would this life be?? we can all learn things from each other and hopefully i will always be willing to learn new things....my really long, drawn-out point would be, i'm sorry you have met with some very judgmental people and i hope you don't group the majority in with the minority....have a blessed day....

      April 11, 2011 at 1:18 pm |
    • A Matter of FAITH

      "Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ." This is a verse from the Bible. No other book I know has predicted the future human condition so accurately. I suggest you read it to find out what happens next...

      April 11, 2011 at 1:44 pm |
    • Dave J

      Larry, sorry brother. I have been taught at my church to look at myself first before laying sin at any others. I sin and am no better than anybody else in this world. My hope is that Jesus will remove my sin and cleanse me.

      April 11, 2011 at 1:51 pm |
  9. Rex D

    I've never needed a preacher or a religious rule book to tell me to be a good human. Just do the best you can and don't believe in the invisible man in the sky...sounds amazingly intelligent to me. If you choose to follow along with the brain wash of a thousand generations and need the invisible man in the sky to get you through your day...I suppose that is your choice or need...just don't look down on me for not believing in something that there is no proof of.

    April 11, 2011 at 12:55 pm |
    • irongoat81

      RIGHT ON REX!!

      April 11, 2011 at 1:28 pm |
  10. Diana

    I recommend reading: http://www.amazon.com/Dont-Know-Much-About-Bible/dp/0688148840

    Even the bible thumpers should enjoy this book (if they can pull their heads out of their butts long enough).

    I love the commentators who disparage the author for telling them what to believe. LMAO Hey dummies – did you miss the part where he wants people to think for themselves? LOL I wonder what he means! Come on, cattle, yee ha!

    April 11, 2011 at 12:54 pm |
    • Rod C. Venger

      Sure...by quoting dozens or hundreds of "great thinkers" he's going to teach others to think for themselves. Duh. By assembling and editing all of those together, he himself has set himself as the arbiter of what is good and right. The book, written by a human and built from the words of other humans, is nothing more than a reflection of one man's personal bias. How did he decide what to include and what not? What makes HIS vision of the world so special?

      No such bias exists in the bible. Those that believe say that each word, it's punctuation, everything...it's editing, it's leaving off the Apocrypha, was inspired by God. It presents the viewpoint of the ultimate power in the Universe...it's creator. His vision, His hopes, His promises.

      I guess we're talking about who to look to when we're troubled...the expert of all experts or a 3 year old parroting things he's heard from someone else. That's the gist of it.

      April 11, 2011 at 1:17 pm |
  11. CW

    Well...yet another poor person who is soooooooooooo blind they can't see.

    April 11, 2011 at 12:53 pm |
    • Joe G

      If I happen to find a God when I die, the first thing I'll do is give that POS a talking to. He sucks at his job, or is evil. One of the two. No middle ground since nearly all animals lives' require eating of living things.

      Is he evil or just stupid? I'm guessing evil.

      April 11, 2011 at 1:12 pm |
    • CW

      @ Joe,

      I feel for you....you will get to talk to God one day. Don't know why you say the things you do but....you'll have a chance to talk to him. I hope you do a lot more talking to him NOW and let him change your heart before it is to late.

      Peace to you

      April 11, 2011 at 1:34 pm |
    • Raider

      If god does exist, I have no desire to meet him. For a god that controls everything, he sure lets a lot of really, really bad stuff happen. Guess he gets a kick out of it.

      April 12, 2011 at 1:04 am |
  12. bobincr

    It's obvious that no man could have written the Bible since we would have written something far more soothing to our vicious nature instead of confronting us in our sins. Ah, but no matter what is written, we all still have to die and face our creator.
    Hebrews 9:27. It is appointed for man once to die and then the judgment. The truth is what it is and only God claims to have it.

    April 11, 2011 at 12:53 pm |
    • NJ Bob

      First God has to face me, and I intend to hold him accountable.

      April 11, 2011 at 12:56 pm |
    • JohnR

      Oh yeah,, the "tough lessons" of the bible: (1) Go ahead and murder all the Canaanites. You want their land. Take it! (2) Everyone who isn't one of us is going to hell.

      April 11, 2011 at 1:11 pm |
    • irongoat81

      are you sure you'll meet the creator when you die? positive? or is it possible something else happens? man... religious people are SO narrow minded.

      April 11, 2011 at 1:27 pm |
  13. Heath

    Let's see how Grayling’s book sales compare to God's version. I suspect that if he tries real hard and does the best he can, he's still gonna fall short (Romans 3:23). Good luck Grayling ... You're smarter, and you've got it all figured out.

    April 11, 2011 at 12:51 pm |
    • MikeyNYC

      If there is a god, s/he didn't write any holy book or bible. Men wrote each and every word claiming to have been INSPIRED by their god/s. People should believe in whatever they wish, be it in a god or a lack of one, as long as those beliefs don't cause them to demean, degrade, insult and commit violence against those who may believe differently or lack faith entirely.

      April 11, 2011 at 12:59 pm |
    • Rick

      Gog does not have a version, Nimrod.

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

      God does not have a "version", Nimrod!

      April 11, 2011 at 1:03 pm |
    • irongoat81

      your book is virtually worthless when it comes to "figuring things out". youve got a big book of stories just like every other religion.

      April 11, 2011 at 1:21 pm |
  14. Paul

    You can learn a lot from the comments alone...Howard has it right. Do and be good for it's own sake; not to prevent eternal damnation. More people have been murdered by those motivated by religion than any other reason – including plague and natural disasters.

    April 11, 2011 at 12:51 pm |
    • Bill the Cat

      Your claim is without basis in reality.

      April 11, 2011 at 12:54 pm |
    • Tekshepherd

      Christ isnt followed out of fear of damnation or as a Kiss up. He's followed out of Love and Awesome awareness of who he is, who we are , what he's done, what we've done, and what he's capable of and what we're capable of. Its a relationship with the living God. And yes, he speaks to you. I'm glad someone put together a book of human philosophy. I love that stuff- its interesting to see what men and women come up with. But as a Christian ( mark that as a Follower of Christ.) , I am completely in his corner. And quite sure this book of what Men have thought up over the years is nothing as interesting, diverse, complex and awe inspiring as simply looking out my window right now watching the tree's, the grass, the squirrels , birds and everything else God put into motion. So I'll likely read it, and then forget it when the Final Robert Jordan book comes out. Such is the longevity of mans constructs.
      Love you all and in no way mean offense.

      April 11, 2011 at 1:05 pm |
    • AB Positive

      But many, many, more have been murdered at the hands of 20th century dictators, fascists, and atheistic communist regimes who espouse the very same beliefs of Mr. Grayling, chiefly that there is no God and all of what's good is tied up inside man himself.

      Man is evil, and every thought and intent of his heart is always evil continually. In that I don't mean that he's bad for the sake of being bad. I mean that everything he wants to do is against what God has decreed or His precepts. Do you realize that if we did things God's way, there would be no AIDS, adultery, murder, child abuse, domestic abuse, etc., etc.?

      It seems to me that there's a LOT of goal-oriented atheism going around. That is, for 21st century man, that he has a goal to live in whatever fashion he wishes, and everyhting in our society tellls us to focus on your individual wants/dreams/aspirations. To accommodate said goal (if, say, a man's sleeping around on his wife), he must say in his heart and mind that "I don't believe in God" and he presupposes that he can act accordingly. However, his denial of a final judgement; it merely lets him "play" for a while here on Earth before his life vanishes away like a vapor.

      April 11, 2011 at 1:17 pm |
  15. marsmotel

    It is about time someone wrote book for us free-thinkers out there. Now when is the devils' book being published, because he has to re-tort all the bad things that are written about him in the bible. He seems like the better man. He does not out down any gods.

    April 11, 2011 at 12:51 pm |
    • Todd

      There is a Satanic bible. It actually bites its own tail far less often than the christ eaters' bible.

      April 11, 2011 at 1:01 pm |
  16. Lisa

    Either God is or He isn't...it's not up to debate or popular vote or cute comments on CNN.com. We each get the freedom to choose what we believe but in the end there's only one truth and we can't change it.

    April 11, 2011 at 12:49 pm |
    • radam82

      What about my Gods? I worship Toki and Odin.

      April 11, 2011 at 12:52 pm |
    • NJ Bob


      April 11, 2011 at 12:54 pm |
    • Todd

      I worship Priape.

      April 11, 2011 at 1:00 pm |
    • guest

      yeah, and the truth is god doesn't exist

      April 11, 2011 at 1:06 pm |
    • paganguy

      You don't know if thee is a god and you will never be able to find it ou. You might just as well become a decent pagan.

      April 11, 2011 at 1:07 pm |
    • Tess Stickles

      Long live the One True God....All Hail The Flying Spaghetti Monster

      April 11, 2011 at 1:08 pm |
    • irongoat81

      what about the possibility that things don't end? that we just move to another universe and start over? does that prove god? i don't know.

      April 11, 2011 at 1:14 pm |
    • irongoat81

      you're obviously saying this based on the christian view of god. either there is a christian god or there isn't right? what if "he" is muslim? your cute little comments won't change that either.

      April 11, 2011 at 1:16 pm |
    • Thomas

      And, perchance, what would that "truth" be?

      And what would be the supporting data on that?

      April 11, 2011 at 1:34 pm |
  17. Ken

    I can always count on CNN's Belief Blog being dominated by posters who don't believe in anything.

    Except themselves, of course.

    April 11, 2011 at 12:49 pm |
    • NoGodHere

      Then you should probably check out fox news. You will find all of your fellow fairytale believers there.

      April 11, 2011 at 1:03 pm |
    • A Matter of FAITH

      @NoGodHere... Can you tell me why you are here on this blog called "Belief" if you don't believe? I am baffled at the notion..and just trying to understand. I don't go on wicken blogs or even give any thought to those things that I believe are not true...so I'm just trying to understand your motivation...

      April 11, 2011 at 2:17 pm |
  18. Nate

    cljohn: And which "truth" will that be? I assume you mean the Christian "truth", but what if you're wrong? What if it's the Muslim "truth", or the Mormon "truth", or the Hindu "truth", and so on? When you take into account how many religious "truths" there are, it becomes statistically apparent that yours and all the others are probably wrong and there will never be a "Judgement Day."

    April 11, 2011 at 12:49 pm |
    • ScottK

      Wel, they can't be wrong, at least in their own minds. It always comes down to why most American's feel their City is the best, their football team is the best, their food is the best, their religion is the best, and don't you tell them otherwise. It has nothing to do with right or wrong, good or evil, the sinners or the saved. It has everything to do with pride, arrogance & ignorance.

      April 11, 2011 at 1:15 pm |
    • ammofreak

      ..to ScottK: you are absolutely right! Thank you for the enlightenment.....(a canuck speaking from his igloo)

      April 24, 2011 at 3:39 pm |
  19. Truth

    And the personal insults against me are nothing more than ad hominem attacks against my character, none of which address the points. It's pretty typical to atttack the messenger when you can't debunk the message. It's weak argumentation.

    April 11, 2011 at 12:47 pm |
  20. D777

    Grayling boasts of encouraging other to have respect, while his book is totally disrespectful of Christians with its mockery of the terms: Bible, Genesis, 10 Commandments, etc... So many accuse Christians of hypocrisy, while men such as Grayling are praised for theirs.

    April 11, 2011 at 12:46 pm |
    • NJ Bob

      What's this?! More Christian persecution complex?

      April 11, 2011 at 12:53 pm |
    • D777

      NJ Bob... in fact it is. And your mocking use of the term "complex" is as well.

      April 11, 2011 at 12:56 pm |
    • Sam

      Christians do not, and have never owned those terms. I do not see why other christians are so upset about this book, its not a mockery on God. This book is more of a philosophical book than a religious text, I believe Christians and Non-Christians alike would benefit from a text of this kind.

      April 11, 2011 at 12:57 pm |
    • D777

      I never said that Christians owned the term, I simply stated that Grayling's mocking use of those terms is disrespectful. Where is all the respect his book is supposed to promote?

      April 11, 2011 at 12:59 pm |
    • LP

      You accuse Grayling of mockery because he uses certain words? Really?

      "bible" has many definitions, one of which is "any book regarded as informative or reliable"
      "genesis" is of greek origin and means "origin or source"
      "commandment" means "a command or mandate"
      and last I checked the number "10" was just a number

      Christians do not have a monopoly on words simply because they use them a lot and capitalize them.

      April 11, 2011 at 1:00 pm |
    • Maria

      Excuse me, but who's "boasting?" Mr. Grayson, a well-respected academic (despite whether or not you agree with him) has just offered a different perspective on goodness from his non-religious point of view. It's lazy and ignorant to just accuse everyone who disagrees with Christianity of "mocking" the religion.

      Instead of the predictably hot-headed response you offer as a Christian, why can't you just accept the FACT that not everyone subscribes to YOUR religion, and that, of those people, SOME of them offer well thought-out and educated arguments against it?

      April 11, 2011 at 1:06 pm |
    • ScottK

      And I wonder what America might look like today if we had been using this bible instead of having "Their moral cert itude" that got us into the civil war.

      "The war erupted not long after the "Second Great Awakening" sparked a national religious revival. Reform movements spread across the country. Thousands of Americans repented of their sins at frontier campfire meetings and readied themselves for the Second C oming. They got war instead. Their moral cert itude helped make it happen, says David Goldfield, author of "America Aflame," a new book that examines evangelical Christianity's impact on the war." CNN article on Civil War

      And because of that I do not respect most Christians who continue this anti-human rhetoric.

      April 11, 2011 at 1:06 pm |
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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.