Can there be morality without God? Dostoevsky thought not: so too the philosopher, Sir Michael Dummett. Professor A.C. Grayling disagrees. Certain that God is not just dead but was never alive, except in the imaginations of the fearful, ignorant and deluded, he believes the path to the good life can be gleaned from the writings of non-believing humanists; and just as Jews have their Torah and Talmud, Christians their Bible, Muslims their Koran, and the Latter Day Saints their Book of Mormon, so now the secularists have their scripture — The Good Book: A Secular Bible.
It is a brave endeavour that has taken Grayling many years. He has written all the 600 pages — Moses, Isaiah, the Four Evangelists, the writers of the Epistles rolled into one. With no Holy Spirit or Angel Gabriel from whom to take dictation, Grayling has had to study, absorb and digest the works of “many hands, ancient and otherwise, taken, wrought, arranged, edited, supplemented and changed […] to aid, and guide, to suggest, inform, warn and console; and above all to hold up the light of the human mind and heart against the shadows of life”.
The Good Book is not an anthology and there are no references to Grayling’s sources. It is laid out like the Bible with the text, in two columns, divided into Books, Chapters and Verses: thus Genesis 13: 3-7: “Always assign the same effects to the same causes, as respiration in a man and in a beast; as the geological formations of mountains in Europe and in America; as the heat of our cooking fire and the heat of the sun…”
Grayling has said he wants this compendium of wisdom to be accessible to the non-academic reader and so the style is simple, solemn, archaic and gnomic — as if Seneca and Confucius had been asked to collaborate on a pastiche of the King James Bible for a children’s encyclopaedia.
Soon after publication, The Good Book shot to the top of the bestseller list. Clearly, in de-Christianised Britain, there is a yearning for something that can be read at secular weddings, funerals and memorial services: the publishers have even provided a blue-ribbon bookmark. But for the purposes of atheistic proselytism, this gospel according to Grayling may well backfire. By deliberately inviting comparison with that extraordinary compendium of poetry, drama, history and wisdom — the Hebrew Bible and the Christian New Testament — this Secular Bible reminds believers and sceptics alike of how unique and astonishing they are.