First aired on Tapestry (13/11/11)
For centuries, people of faith have turned to holy books and documents to help guide them — Christians have the Bible, Muslims have the Qur'an, Hindu followers have the Śruti texts, and so on and so forth. While each religion is unique, these different sacred collections of stories and writings all aim to answer the same question: what's the best way to live?
Author and columnist A.C. Grayling has pondered this question all his life. As a philosopher, he has studied and compared different ethical systems and religions. Earlier in his academic career, he noticed a contrast between ethical systems based in humanism (the view that values should be oriented around human needs and the human condition) and those based in religion (the view that values come from a transcendent source outside our world).
"The religion-based ethics very often seemed to cut across the grain of human nature," Grayling told Tapestry's Mary Hynes during a recent interview. "[They] asked human beings to control all aspects of their natural expression, for example like their sexuality, [and] had things to say about the position of women in society, whereas the humanist ethics seemed rather more generous and rather more understanding of human needs and interest."
A thought struck Grayling. What if all the great humanist philosophies had been incorporated together into a book like the Bible? What if human civilization had drawn inspiration and guidance from such a book instead of (or along with) the Bible? How would our society and values be different?
With this in mind, Grayling began a long journey to distill thousands of years of humanist thought into a single book — The Good Book. His "secular bible" draws from the insight of many of history's great thinkers including Aristotle, Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius. Grayling also "plundered freely" from Indian and Chinese philosophy to produce his guide to the good life.
If you think that Grayling's project is a bit cheeky (the book is designed to resemble the King James Bible in some respects and actually includes a humanist version of the Ten Commandments), well, it's supposed to be, the philosopher said.
"I did some things rather deliberately, not to be provocative, but to sort of assert the right of all these great traditions of thought.
I wanted to show that it belonged on the same shelf [as the Bible]. That these great philosophers and their insights have as much, if not more indeed, to offer than any of the other traditional texts that have been influential in human history."
What do you think the key to a good life is? Let us know in the comments section below.
The Good Book: A Humanist Bible
by A.C. Grayling
Buy this book at:
From the publisher:
"Few, if any, thinkers and writers today would have the imagination, the breadth of knowledge, the literary skill, and, yes, the audacity to conceive of a powerful, secular alternative to the Bible. But that is exactly what A.C. Grayling has done by creating a non-religious Bible, drawn from the wealth of secular literature and philosophy in both Western and Eastern traditions, using the same techniques of editing, redaction, and adaptation that produced the holy books of the Judaeo-Christian and Islamic religions."
Read more at Bloomsbury USA.