A "secular Bible" draws readers, controversy

"The Good Book" – intended to serve as a secular Bible – focuses on ethics but not religion.

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"The Good Book: A Humanist Bible" is British academic A.C. Grayling’s effort to codify human ethics without making any reference to deity. The book is also a red-hot bestseller, reaching the top of Amazon's bestseller list and heating up online discussion boards just as the Easter season approaches.

What Grayling has done is to blend together thousands of texts from hundreds of different authors, collections, and traditions – a compilation which he calls “distillations of the wisdom and experience of humankind.” Grayling, who is an atheist, says his intent was to craft a book of ethics by relying on the wisdom of philosophers and writers rather than that of prophets and apostles.

The almost 600-page "Good Book" is arranged, like the Bible, with double columns, short verses, and chapter headings with some very Biblical resonance: "Genesis, Wisdom, Parables, Concord, Lamentations, Consolations, Sages, Songs, Histories, Proverbs, The Lawgiver, Acts, Epistles, The Good."

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"The Good Book" also includes a secular 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."

What are readers saying? Most haven't yet had a chance to see the newly released book but that hasn't stopped them from discussing it. Multiple comments on CNN's Belief Blog range from "I haven't read it yet but I will and, if it is as rich as it sounds, I will be the better for it" to "Twill be another colossal flop from the silly atheists who try to imagine away the logical reality of God."

Grayling himself says he does not see his book as "part of a quarrel." Sometimes called a "velvet atheist" because his rhetoric and stance are gentle compared to those of popular and vocal atheist-authors like Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens, Grayling says he sees his book as "a modest offering … another contribution to the conversation that mankind must have with itself."

Marjorie Kehe is the Monitor's book editor.

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Review: "12 Steps to a Compassionate Life" by Karen Armstrong"

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