The Good Book is billed as a "secular Bible". Many people, hearing this, have jumped to the conclusion that it is a Bible with all the bits about God taken out, but it isn't. It is an alternative to the Bible, a tome of wisdom to live by. Nor is it, as some people are assuming, an entirely original work by Grayling, although it seems to contain some of his own thoughts. In fact, he has edited together a collection of texts from various philosophical traditions from many centuries, the common thread being that they do not make reference to the divine, but only to human wisdom. In this respect he is not guilty of misunderstanding the way the Bible was made, but is presenting his book as something "made" in the same way. In a Radio 4 interview he was able to give a clear statement of his aims, but he also got a good savaging from Giles Fraser, who exposes the weaknesses of his approach. Click on the link to listen:
Slightly less illuminating is the Channel 4 interview in which Grayling appears more interested in being rude about the original than in explaining his own version:
I'm not going to read The Good Book. A Bible with God taken out would have been a curiosity worth dipping into, but this is really just a coffee table guide to moral philosophy. Despite the efforts of some people to defend Grayling as a dispassionate and benevolent figure, calling it a "secular Bible" is both an aggressive anti-religious gesture and a publicity stunt to boost sales. And it reveals that he is perhaps not quite the first-class mind that some would have us believe, since he has fallen into an old and very obvious trap.
The Bible has earned the contempt of many very clever people during its long lifetime. And yet, this curious book, which Christians believe to be divinely inspired, has a way of showing its critics in a poor light. In some ways the Bible's meaning is clear, clear enough for Grayling to dislike it. But, taken as a whole, this diverse collection of writings about God and his people is subtle, demanding, at times disturbing, and profound. Its pages are not to be read superficially or negotiated glibly. Because of this, the most reliable guides to the depths of the Bible have shared one quality, that is, humility, which ACG conspicuously lacks in this debate. As he dismisses the Bible's originators as "illiterate goatherds", he doesn't sound clever, but merely arrogant. And did he really intend us to understand that his main preoccupation when he reads the Bible is to do with what it says about his sexual appetites? Because that's what he ends up saying in the Channel 4 clip, sounding more like a frustrated teenager than an eminent scholar. He wants to tell us how to live our lives, but by measuring his contributions against the Bible, he only manages to remind us that he is just as messed up as the rest of us.
As Giles Fraser points out, the Bible is not primarily about how to live your life. Even though it contains pages of laws, proverbs, and instructions, they serve to set the context for something more important - the way in which God redeems his creation through Jesus Christ. If we think we know better than the Bible, we completely miss the point, which only serves to demonstrate how much we need that redemption.