Secular "Bible"

Johnny - posted on 04/16/2011 ( 25 moms have responded )

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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.





What are your thoughts?
Would you read this? Buy this?
How about his using the term "bible"?

MOST HELPFUL POSTS

[deleted account]

I disagree Heather. If I told you I had a full grown male African elephant in the trunk of my sedan, would you believe me? Or would you reject that statement until you saw proof? If I told you that I could fly, would you believe it sight unseen? Or again, would you hold off on believing that until you actually saw me flying about? That is the atheistic stance imo. We are told that god(s) exist but we are rejecting that claim until evidence is presented.

[deleted account]

I would read this. I would buy it. I don't really care if he uses the word bible. Bible means the scripture of ANY religion. That would cover atheism. It is a religious belief system.

Lucy - posted on 04/17/2011

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I actually am religious (though not Christian), but I do get annoyed with the widely held belief that any form of morality and sense of right and wrong can only stem from a religious belief.

I think this book is important, in that it makes it clear that people can be good, caring, responsible members of society without a traditional, moral construct based on an accepted religious text.

I think Humanism has a lot to offer society, and can serve to diffuse the pomposity of some main stream religious folk who think they have the rights to "goodness" cornered.

Krista - posted on 04/17/2011

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That's a fairly narrow definition of atheism though, Heather.

That's what you would call a "hard" atheist, who believes, or asserts, that there is no god.

But you also have a "soft" atheist, who does not believe that there is a god, but does not assert that there is none.

It sounds like I'm playing with semantics, but there actually is a subtle, but important difference between the two statements, mainly because one is an active belief, and the other is a lack of belief.

Lady Heather - posted on 04/17/2011

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No, it's a belief system because it involves a belief that there is no god. I cannot call myself an atheist because I can't personally commit to that belief. Perhaps the system is less complicated, but it is still based on a belief.

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[deleted account]

People who don't believe in god are not necessarily atheists or agnostic. I identify as wiccan, because i believe that we can manipulate our energy and that around us in our favor using numerous different resources. I use tarot cards, read tea and palms among other things. I don't believe a god exists though.

Jenny - posted on 04/18/2011

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It is a narrow definition Heather. I'm a hard athiest but I state it in a very specific way "The current evidence does not support the existance of a god or gods". I feel 100% confident stating there is no god, however that does not mean the evidence could never change and my stance would follow.

I'm going to have to get ahold of this book, it looks very interesting.

Krista - posted on 04/18/2011

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"Positive explicit" atheists assert that it is false that any deities exist. "Negative explicit" atheists assert they do not believe in deities, but do not assert it is true that deities do not exist.

Like I said, it's a subtle difference. It's basically the difference between saying, "There is no such thing as a god", and "I do not believe there is a god".

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Negative_an...

April - posted on 04/18/2011

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I think it's an interesting idea. Nothing wrong with writing a book that teaches people to respect one another and have a more "inner-self" feel about the world. For me the book is kind of saying "you make the most of your world" type of thing. I'd read it just because it sounds good and even though i believe in God and i have my own faith i think it's an interesting idea. Reading texts from philosophers would be good too.

Doesn't matter if they use the term bible. A part of me thinks they only used it to bring in some popularity with the controversy it would bring to some.

ME - posted on 04/17/2011

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I love compilations of great works, this sounds like it might be the most inclusive one of those ever created...I will look for it...probably buy it eventually.

Rosie - posted on 04/17/2011

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i would maybe read it, still have a thousand other books that i would like to read first though. no i wouldn't buy it, and calling it a bible annoys me. it implies atheism is a religion, like we all get together on fridays (the day of sin, lol) and discuss our lack of belief in god. theres enough misconception out there about atheism, i don't know if that word really helps.

Lady Heather - posted on 04/17/2011

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In any case, no matter the definition it could be argued that all options are a matter of belief. You either believe in deities, don't believe in deities or don't believe you can make a decision either way. Whatever opinion you hold, that is your belief and the basis of your belief system, no matter how simplistic. I find a lot of people who don't want to admit to a belief system find that rather offensive, but it's really just the truth.

Lady Heather - posted on 04/17/2011

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Your "soft atheist" is what I would call an agnostic. Those are two very different things. I don't know how you can believe there is no god without asserting it. That is contradictory. But an agnostic can certainly believe that to know either way is not possible. That is my position on things.

Sara - posted on 04/17/2011

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Atheism is a religious belief system? How is that so? It's more a lack of belief system if anything...

Krista - posted on 04/17/2011

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@Cathy:

Avoid loud and aggressive persons;
they are vexatious to the spirit.


So...um....being a mod on DM...how's that avoiding "loud and aggressive persons" thing working out for you?

Tara - posted on 04/17/2011

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I love the teachings in "the prophet" by Kahlil Gibran:
On Children:
Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.

You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them,
but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.

You are the bows from which your children
as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,
and He bends you with His might
that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer's hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies,
so He loves also the bow that is stable.

Also on marriage:
When Almitra spoke again and said, "And what of Marriage, master?"

And he answered saying:

You were born together, and together you shall be forevermore.

You shall be together when white wings of death scatter your days.

Aye, you shall be together even in the silent memory of God.

But let there be spaces in your togetherness,

And let the winds of the heavens dance between you.

Love one another but make not a bond of love:

Let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls.

Fill each other's cup but drink not from one cup.

Give one another of your bread but eat not from the same loaf.

Sing and dance together and be joyous, but let each one of you be alone,

Even as the strings of a lute are alone though they quiver with the same music.

Give your hearts, but not into each other's keeping.

For only the hand of Life can contain your hearts.

And stand together, yet not too near together:

For the pillars of the temple stand apart,

And the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other's shadow.

Sara - posted on 04/17/2011

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I think if you take all the supernatural BS out of the bible, it's a very interesting and valuable thing. Thomas Jefferson did this with the New Testament, took out all of the supernatural elements and made it a "Life and Times of Jesus" kind of thing, and it's a really interesting read, and it's interesting to compare and contrast it with the tradition bible.

Tara - posted on 04/17/2011

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Yes I will read this.
Yes I will buy it.
Don't really care about the use of the word bible, manifesto would sound too crazy. lol

Amber - posted on 04/17/2011

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After reading this, I'm pretty sure I'm going to buy it. I've read a lot of ancient philosopher's writings as well as religious writing, but I'm always interested to learn more.

In fact, in one reading the author refers to Jesus as a wonderful philosopher. It really made me sit back and think about whether he was just that particular modern day's Aristotle or Plato. (It's 4:30am for me, and I can't remember which one. But I'll try to come back to it.)

I'm currently at an odd stage in my beliefs. I've been studying all religions and really trying to figure out where I'm at and what I think. This book seems right up my alley at the moment :)

Sneaky - posted on 04/17/2011

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I would read it, but I'm not sure I would buy it! I do like the idea of a 'gentle' form of atheism and I like that the word 'bible' describes it - who am I to declare that God (if God exists) was not speaking through those ancient philosophers and scholars?

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