The bible for the non-religious
Atheist-humanist Anthony C Grayling's The Good Book mimics the Bible right down to language and its use of books, chapters and verses.
But its sole message, the author insists, is to think for yourself and dictate your own good life.
Grayling was in Washington DC Thursday night to talk about his latest work at an event co-sponsored by the Center for Inquiry. He said he modelled The Good Book: A Humanist Bible after the structure of the Bible because of its effectiveness.
"Part of the success of the religious Bible is the function of the way it's organised, the way it presents itself," said the professor of Philosophy at Birkbeck College. "When you print something double column, chapter and verse, it's a very accessible, very inviting format."
The Good Book takes great pains to appear similar to the Judeo-Christian Bible, the bestselling book of all time. Judging from the exterior, the book has been constructed to have a similar size and weight as the Bible. The humanist bible even takes on a moniker commonly associated with the Bible.
Inside, it contains several books (including Genesis, Wisdom, Parables, Lamentations, Consolations, Proverbs, and Acts) which are edited to have numerical chapters and verses and the text has been printed in two columns with a white dividing line down the middle.
The language of the humanist bible is also similar to that of the King James Version, which he said is "outstandingly beautiful" and has contributed to the longevity of the Bible.
However, the resemblances stop at appearances. This is, after all, a non-religious Bible.
The book of Genesis in the Bible illustrates God as Creator of the universe and of mankind. In The Good Book, its book of Genesis states, “All things take their origin from earlier kinds: Ancestors of most creatures rose from the sea, some inhabitants of the sea evolved from land-dwelling forefathers.”
The Bible’s first book also includes the story of Adam and Eve eating the forbidden fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Meanwhile, at the front of The Good Book is the story of an apple falling on philosopher Isaac Newton's head.
In other direct contrasts, the Bible tells of God giving Moses the Ten Commandments which include laws forbidding idol worship, killing and stealing and mandating loving your neighbour. In the secular alternative, Grayling gives readers commandments such as love well, seek the good in all things and think for yourself.
Humanity begins with God's command, "Let us make man in our own image," in the Christian good book, but humanity begins with man thinking and becoming self-aware in the humanist bible.
And while the Bible establishes that humanity, by nature of Adam and Eve's actions, is innately sinful. The Good Book establishes that everything and everyone is innately good.
Addressing a packed house, Grayling said that his decision to write the humanist bible came to him while conducting an academic study of the Bible. While studying it, he learned that it was made through an editorial process called redaction where texts are formed from source documents. In his words, the texts were "woven into one another, modified, arranged [and] organised" into what is now the Bible.
In the course of his study, he came to the conclusion that the Bible was "clumsily edited".
"The patchwork of the Bible becomes apparent when you step aside from its religious message and just look at it as a historical work which emerged over a long period of time by many hands," he explained.
He thus decided to create a more philosophical bible using source material from the likes of Aristotle, Confucius, Darwin, and Lord Chesterfield. He reasoned, "If they (the writers of the Bible) had gone to those sources and put them together, they would have made a different book and maybe there would have [been] a different history as a result."
During his talk, he faulted the Bible and the spread of religion for humanity's strife. He asserted that the fanatical study of the Bible and other religious texts prompts followers to commit acts of violence in the name of God. He denounced the Bible as false because it holds itself as being the sole source of truth.
By contrast, Grayling argued that The Good Book, which he compiled over the course of 30 years, embraces plurality. He believes study of his humanist bible will promote free thinking because his bible is not about rules or deities. "There's no command there to believe, to accept, to obey. There's no promises of rewards or threats of punishment," the 62-year-old said.
In fact, morals and ethic should be negotiated among free thinkers, he contended. He brushed off the golden rule of doing unto others as you would like to have them do unto you because "they may not like it". Humans must, through a free exchange of ideas, create their own good lives, he asserted.
Urging readers to see the humanist bible as a resource to cultivating one's own thoughts, he stated, "Thinking about life is a process and it requires materials, it requires resources. This book, The Good Book, is an accumulation of resources from some of the greatest minds in history."
Grayling's plan is to make sure his book becomes a long-lasting resource available to all. During the talk, he vowed to have the book printed in a pocket-sized version as well as a picture version for children.
He joked, "If it does last a long time, let's say 500 years or something, I've got a very good [chance] at being a god." He quickly added that this was not his aim and that he would likely be "a lousy god".