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. Jack


    We have to look at the motives here. Jesus, the Son of God who sees the hearts of all men said, "…and this is the judgment, men loved darkness rather than the light because their deeds are evil." That cuts right to the heart of the matter. A.C. Grayling’s motive is that he loves darkness rather than the light because he is an evil man. And anyone who would go to this extent in his love for the darkness is exceedingly evil. Unless he repents, A.C. Grayling will be consigned to a searing place in Hell under the indignation and wrath of a just and Holy God, and he will suffer the excruciating but thoroughly torments of the damned forever and ever.

    April 11, 2011 at 2:09 pm |
  2. conoclast

    A "Humanist Bible"-oh my! How long before Terry Jones sees another light and burns it in order to protect impressionable christian minds?

    April 11, 2011 at 2:08 pm |
  3. god=bigtaint

    capitalizing the word god and bible doesn't make them any more authentic, it simply identifies you as one of the retarded sheep. The bible is a bunch of uncorroborated stories that make no sense at all. At best it is a moral guide; in reality it's just a bunch of bull. No proof that jesus or god ever existed. Big boat = not big enough for all the animals. Resurrection from the dead? Need i go on, this is just pure retardation. If a man walks down the street talking to himself, most would think he belongs in a straight jacket. Put his hands together and head down and suddenly he's talking to "god" lmao do you have any idea how stupid that is? NOBODY is listening. I pity you all, i really do. What a way to spend your pathetic life

    April 11, 2011 at 2:07 pm |
    • Evy

      LOVE U!! LOL....you are on the money!!!!!

      April 11, 2011 at 2:25 pm |
  4. HeavenSent

    I was a large gay woman, but then I learned from the bible that it was a choice.

    So I lost weight.


    April 11, 2011 at 2:07 pm |
  5. Dave

    This book will be a success- it is already getting people to talk about atheism and is ruffling feathers at the same time. I will read this book, and I will recommend if I find it good. The world needs a way to reference the morality of secular humanism, and this book seems to provide that.

    Anyone on here read it yet? Any Marcus Aurelius in there?

    April 11, 2011 at 2:06 pm |
  6. JoeJoe9

    “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.”

    If there is no God and no unchanging universal moral truth, then the statement he made about humanist ethics requiring an acceptance that there's a responsibility each individual has to work out values they live by, etc., holds no truth, no validity, nothing ... if there's no God, anything goes, and I can therefore do whatever I want without care and not be concerned with anyone else but myself and what I want ... atheists that think there are moral obligations, but no universal moral truths, are just spiritual wannabes who decided to believe in nothing, based mostly on anger toward religions, no spiritual basis, and one sightedness toward science and against the possibility of the existence of anything that can't be measured or perceived while in a human body.

    April 11, 2011 at 2:05 pm |
    • Jake

      Human beings doing their best to advance our species into a sustainable world, all the while searching, through logic and reason, for answers to our existence is reason enough. The scariest part of your statements, especially to someone who doesn't believe in a god, is that you basically admit your lack of self control and self worth in the absence of a higher power. Is this all you care to give yourself or any of your religious peers credit for when you speak for them like this?

      April 11, 2011 at 2:15 pm |
    • Dave

      Whoa, whoa. You can't generalize like that and say that every atheist was spurned by religion and decided to believe in nothing out of spite. I grew up as a non-believer and remained one as an adult. I had an 'experimental' phase in my teenage years with religion, and found it stiff, uncaring and impersonal. Religion never made sense to me- but science does make sense. I believe in reason, not the supernatural. Think of how what you'd think if someone told you they saw a ghost, that is how I feel every time someone mentions God.

      I suppose it may be hard for you to grasp, but our morality derives from the fact that we believe that because there is no god to protect his flock, that we are responsible for treating others with respect and benevolence and ensuring that the needs of others are meant.

      Now, as you said, there is no absolute morality- but just because truth is subjective does not mean that people will gravitate toward being antagonistic. There are all kinds of people that are religious, and that are free of religion, and moralities often differ among people with the same 'beliefs'.

      April 11, 2011 at 2:19 pm |
  7. JKB

    I used to be religious. Then I became disgusted by the way so many religious groups condemn everyone who is not like them, or who don't fall into their set of "standards." The God I was taught about when I was younger loved everybody; gay, straight, whether you believed in him or not. Everybody was loved by God.

    As it turned out, I was apparently in the vocal minority. As all I hear about nowadays is various churches telling me how much we should hate other people because they don't know their bible.

    I say let others do as they like so long as they're not hurting you. What happened to the God of my childhood who loved everybody, not just Christians?

    April 11, 2011 at 2:05 pm |
    • Evy

      You're brave to admit your personal disappointments with the church/religion! You are right 100% CORRECT!! The religious masses are usually backwards...i mean even our own government is puppeteered by religion!! Why else would gay marriage and abortion be such congroversial topics...i mean we're in 2011 for gods sakes!!! I say keep your faith in god and look forward to the rest of your life without religion! Clearly, you are now a happier person that you've woken up to the hypocrisy of it all!!!!!!!!!!

      April 11, 2011 at 2:23 pm |
  8. A Reader

    Amazing. CNN apparently has a policy to not show links to offsite locations. An informative link to the guys website or amazon for the book is appropriate. CNN remains a throwback.

    April 11, 2011 at 2:03 pm |
  9. Flipper

    So why doesn't this clown publish a secular Koran? Oh that's right...he doesn't want to have his throat slit.

    April 11, 2011 at 2:03 pm |
    • Exactly

      That should say something about religion in general.

      April 11, 2011 at 2:10 pm |
    • Sarducar

      Well he still can be barbecued..for a witchcraft..or somtin..

      April 11, 2011 at 2:28 pm |
  10. Malaka


    April 11, 2011 at 2:03 pm |
  11. Reason

    Christian world population: 2.1 billion people
    Everyone else: 4.76 billion

    If, in fact, "God" (the Christian God) sent nearly 2/3 of the world population to "hell" for they're lack of faith, what does this say about his intentions in the first place? Taking an argument partly from Richard Dawkins, most of these human beings never even had a chance to read the bible or learn Christian teachings. Moreover, if hell is where I can find the likes of intellectuals and professors of science and reason, I gladly move forward from life without fear.

    April 11, 2011 at 2:02 pm |
  12. Martha

    Thank you, thank you. I've been a slave of religion for too long. (It made me stupid.) Without religion I now feel free and happy and definitely more open-minded . I saw that Amazon.com doesn't carry it. Why?

    April 11, 2011 at 2:01 pm |
    • Evy

      Martha...enjoy your "religious-free" life! There needs to be more people like you! THis world would truly be a better place.

      April 11, 2011 at 2:31 pm |
  13. cnn reader

    Wow... Sad to read such uninformed and misguided comments.. first of all, NO, humans did not evolve from monkeys... how did monkey's get here on earth in the first place.. and how did a male and female get created so they could reproduce? where in history did the monkey's stop climbing trees and eating leaves and say, "mommy, i'm going to stop grunting and actually speak hebrew or latin, start wearing clothes, and go to school to learn"? 2nd, when and if you've read the bible, adam and eve sinned which caused them to no longer have immortality and death is the wages for all sin.. God who created everything, gives us what you are using to rant, rave, complain, gripe, and judge with and that's called FREE WILL... God is NOT a puppit master and he's sitting behind a curtain pulling strings, making people do or say things.. God offers a relationship to everyone, and He offers heaven to all who wish to live in it WHEN you die... God asks you to humble yourself and recogize your selfish, greedy, arrogant, and prideful lives and come to Him to learn, grow up, and share heaven with him.. Christians aren't killing anyone.. and Christians aren't judging anyone either.. Christians don't going to criticize, judge, or condemn you for not follwing their beliefs.. they are merely sharing with you.. you can do what you want with the information.. so what.. the idiots and radicals who kill or protest funerals in the name of God are false "christians" because they are doing those things out of their own selfish gain and recognition.. Jesus isn't an urban legend.. for God's sake. here we are over 2,011 years after His death learning from His life and the miracles HE performed.. last time I checked, NO ONE, man, woman, or child, or even an athiest, could raise someone from the dead or walk on water.. so, those are the facts.... when you die, you'll finally get it. the truth..

    April 11, 2011 at 2:00 pm |
    • toxictown

      I think you are mixing up "facts" and "stories" again.

      April 11, 2011 at 2:07 pm |
    • TL;DR


      April 11, 2011 at 2:08 pm |
    • franks & beans

      wow, people like you scare the crap out of me!

      April 11, 2011 at 2:08 pm |
    • andybud

      You are mistaken.

      April 11, 2011 at 2:09 pm |
    • poe2299

      Proof? (That's all we're asking for, shouldn't be hard!)

      April 11, 2011 at 2:14 pm |
    • RkyMtHigh

      Agreed. Too many people hiding behind the label of "Christian" doing un-Christlike things are driving people in droves away from the most peaceful, loving, compassionate lifestyle. Thankfully, it's not my place to judge them.

      April 11, 2011 at 2:15 pm |
    • MO4

      That whole walking on water thing......good story. I enjoy other fairy tales too.

      April 11, 2011 at 2:15 pm |
    • AtheistSteve

      @cnn reader

      Just because you believe that doesn't make it the truth. You can keep your god concept if it makes you feel better about yourself but nothing you said means anything. Supernatural hogwash I say.

      April 11, 2011 at 2:16 pm |
    • BoogeyMan

      I need some of those drugs your on!! Share please!

      April 11, 2011 at 2:17 pm |
    • Sarducar

      NO ONE, man, woman, or child, or even an athiest, could raise someone from the dead or walk on water. check this out:
      "raise someone from the dead " cardiothoraci surgery and lung heart transplantation...you are basically dead for a time with no lungs or heart.
      "walk on water."- Yes many people have done it lately Chris Angle did it...o look he has an angle in his name...also David Copperfield flies above the Grand Canyon and walked true the Great Wall of China..and Jesus never did that..

      April 11, 2011 at 2:18 pm |
    • DeepInThought

      Your comment is interesting. But I must say, I disagree with approximately .1 from unity in what you say. Laws formulated by observing natural phenomena can not be broken. Facts are things that can be reproduced time and time again; by anyone, anywhere in the universe. That's logic. Considering something (could be anything) that can't be reproduced as a fact, is faith. A look at history shows that not everyone shares the same faiths, but everyone must obey Newton's 2nd Law. That my friend, is a fact.

      April 11, 2011 at 2:20 pm |
    • kdowg

      Recent research has suggested that in fact you are partially correct in that Humans (modern day) did not evolve from monkeys or even apes, but rather the Apes split from the evolutionary tree on the Human side so technically, Apes evolves from humans. Just to note also, BOTH species are equally as evolved; you would fair vary poorly if you had to live the life as an Ape, likewise, an Ape would not do very well living life as a human.

      April 11, 2011 at 2:25 pm |
    • NC

      Those are "facts" to you, not to many of us.

      April 11, 2011 at 2:26 pm |
    • Evy

      God doesn't say any such things...because NO ONE on this stinking planet has ever talked to him or seen him! God isn't a PERSON...this ist he number one mistake we all seem to make. All of my previous posts have promoted my ideas of anti-religious beliefs but that is not to say that there isn't a "higher power". AS for heaven, hell...there is NO such thing. Whatever you do on this planet you pay for it on this planet...whethere means in your current life or your next life. YES, when you die you reincarnate..you don't go to this FANTASY heaven or hell...if you're brain lacks the capacity of "understanding or accepting" this concept...think of it as "RECYCLING". ALL souls are recycled into new life forms!!!!

      April 11, 2011 at 2:30 pm |
    • kdowg

      As for 'miracles' you or I or anyone else you know were there so how do you know what happened? Before venting about the 'scriptures' keep in mind that they were written at at minimum of 60+ years after these supposed events occurred and that they were written by a bunch of zealots. In bronze age times, 60 years is almost 3 generations old, so it would be like your great grandchildren writing about what you did for a living, having never met you or talked to you. Sort of like what the writings of David Koresh followers would say if they were to write about his life and times (They probably would leave out all the parts where he shot people in the head to 'help them'). They made it up and their is not a single shred of proof to prove otherwise.

      April 11, 2011 at 2:37 pm |
    • SHRIKE

      HAHAHA. What's hilarious to me is that your sound like you actually BELIEVE the crap you are spewing. Your god can s*ck my @ss.

      April 11, 2011 at 3:14 pm |
    • ColdestWinter

      You are confusing you not understanding something with it not being true. Just because you don't understand something doesnt make it not true. There is evidence to support evolution no such evidence for God.

      April 11, 2011 at 9:33 pm |
    • ammofreak

      You should stop using drugs...(a canuck speaking from his igloo)

      April 24, 2011 at 8:41 pm |
  14. Definition

    Because too many of you seem to think that there is but only one bible and not many types of bibles that have nothing to do with religion.

    Bible (ˈbaɪb ə l) [Click for IPA pronunciation guide]

    — n
    1. a. the Bible the sacred writings of the Christian religion, comprising the Old and New Testaments and, in the Roman Catholic Church, the Apocrypha
    b. ( as modifier ): a Bible reading
    2. the English name for Tanach
    3. ( often not capital ) any book containing the sacred writings of a religion
    4. ( usually not capital ) a book regarded as authoritative: the angler's bible

    [C13: from Old French, from Medieval Latin biblia books, from Greek, plural of biblion book, diminutive of biblos papyrus, from Bublos Phoenician port from which Greece obtained Egyptian papyrus]


    April 11, 2011 at 1:57 pm |
  15. Boka

    As an atheist, I just one shred of evidence of a god. Just one before I can take this bible crap seriously. Interesting stories that's all they are. And I reject anyone that says this how I'm supposed to live, that includes "the leading atheist".

    April 11, 2011 at 1:57 pm |
    • Sarducar

      Well you also have a book of Law...

      April 11, 2011 at 2:13 pm |
    • Leon

      Want proof in God, look all around you. Every invention a human created came from the thought of an idea. If we humans can not create anything with out an idea, what makes you belive that we were not created out of an idea of God?

      April 11, 2011 at 2:22 pm |
    • ColdestWinter

      That was not evidence, Leon. I can look around means that their must be some ocular proof that the world I am seeing was created by God (signature maybe) but you can look around and attribute what you see to anything and any answer you give has equal chance of being accurate. I look around and see everything around and the ideas of man had to come from somewhere so they came from an NYOUTJ, who created everything

      April 11, 2011 at 9:31 pm |
  16. Tom

    If this make believe god of christains and all other faiths made man in his own image, doesn't that make him/her a big friggin underachiever?

    April 11, 2011 at 1:55 pm |
    • Clark Nova

      It would also make him a gaseous vertebrate.

      April 11, 2011 at 2:03 pm |

    Cripes, just a few pages into this discussion and the "Reply" function is sprung already! Ugh!

    April 11, 2011 at 1:54 pm |
  18. RuggedSun1

    aristotle, socrates and pythagoras never existed just like jesus

    just treat people how you like to be treated or have your head cut off

    oh yeah...that will push the crime rates down.

    April 11, 2011 at 1:54 pm |
    • Sarducar

      Well you can read the writing of Aristotle, but I wonder where is the gospel of Jesus...

      April 11, 2011 at 2:12 pm |
  19. Lola


    I wonder where they might have received that idea about "the right thing to do."
    Even our laws are based upon a Christian morality.
    This was the law before we had the law.
    You say?"

    Actually the laws are based on the Athenian democracy created by people such as Kleisthenes. These ideal and morals were around 500 years before the birth of Christ. Don't you DARE try and claim Christians have some sort of corner on the moral market or that all the ideas our founding father's had from this country came from the Bible. In fact, our forefathers were undoing about 400 years of religious madness that the world went through during the dark ages and the days when heretics were tortured and killed for different religious beliefs from within even the same religions!

    April 11, 2011 at 1:53 pm |
    • The Don

      Actually Lola the Word pre-date even the time you speak of. Christanity became after the rise of Christ and the Old Testament is the foundation of what guide christians today and can not be ignored; the Old Testament laws are not dead but fulfilled.

      April 11, 2011 at 2:20 pm |
    • guest

      sorry folks, but you are both wrong. all of the "humanist" philosophies can be traced to early Judaism, long before Christ or the Athenian writers you discuss!

      April 11, 2011 at 2:21 pm |
    • The Don

      guest I guest you do not read the Old Testament much; that where Judaism is located hense the Tribe of Judia along with the other eleven

      April 11, 2011 at 2:25 pm |
  20. framous

    The term "common sense" should not be used while expressing one's belief that the Bible was not physically written by God. Of course, it was not. God inspired Men to write the Bible. That's common sense!

    April 11, 2011 at 1:52 pm |
    • Sybaris

      That's irrational

      April 11, 2011 at 1:56 pm |
    • uso

      How do you know who inspired these men to write the Bible?

      April 11, 2011 at 1:58 pm |
    • mattmchugh

      That's the prevailing wisdom. My question is: Did He also inspire A.C. Grayling?

      April 11, 2011 at 1:58 pm |
    • Clark Nova

      And did your 'God' inspire men to throw away part of what he had previously inspired them to write? How else do you explain the actions of the council of Nicea that resulted in the lessened, edited, bible of today?

      April 11, 2011 at 2:01 pm |
    • Stephen

      Unfortunate for your logic, God also inspired these comments (guess he/she doesn't play favorites).

      April 11, 2011 at 2:02 pm |
    • MO4

      Ever notice god is spelled Dog backwards. My DOG inspired me to write this 😀

      April 11, 2011 at 2:09 pm |
    • adrifter

      Your common sense is not common sense to me. People wrote The Bible. Not God and not with the inspiration of God. It's simply because God doesn't exist. That's common sense.

      April 11, 2011 at 2:09 pm |
    • Evy

      LOL @ "God" inspired men to write the bible...just like JK Rowling was inspired to write Harry Potter...both are works of FICTION! The sooner you recognize that...the sooner you will begin to feel happier and more content with yourself!

      April 11, 2011 at 2:19 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.