Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Always Hope does not review "The Good Book"

This week saw the launch of The Good Book, by (or, as the cover has it, "made by") A. C. Grayling. This, as he no doubt hoped, has triggered a huge reaction, at least if the blogs are anything to go by.  It's difficult to find a Christian blog in the UK that hasn't reacted to this (although I haven't yet found anyone who has read it).  Of all the interesting responses, my favorite is Phil Ritchie's, which really nails the issues from a Christian perspective. 

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. 


Ray Barnes said...

Thanks for this comprehensive coverage of both points of view and the two recordings.
Having read most of the cyber comments on this and added your content to the debate I have satisfied all (what little I had) my curiosity about "The Good Book".
It will be interesting to see how it sells.

Anonymous said...

I am curious. you have not read the "Good Book" by Grayling so where did you get your source of information about the coherence and integrity of the book??

If it is from the blog, then would it again "hear-say"??


Charlie said...

As you say, JC (not "AC", then?) I have not read it. That is the premise of this post. However I find my sources to be reliable enough, including the information from the author which I have referenced. And I actually have not commented on either the coherence or the integrity of the book itself, merely on the concept and on the way in which he has presented it.

Edward Ockham said...

Giles on the Bible and Grayling.

1. "[The Bible] sets our values within the deep complexities of human life". [Don't understand].

2. "The Bible is not about being good, it's about being saved". [But doesn't that mean being good?]

3. Giles says not. "It's a theological heresy that you won't be saved unless you are good." Pelagius about to be mentioned at any moment.

4. Giles mentions Pelagius. Adds "The Bible is not a great moral book" [It isn't?]

angry_liberal said...

Although I like what I have read so far from the Good Book, I would not attempt to defend it. First of all it is a personal thing. Atheists hold no book as special and approve of what they approve. Theory would predict that religious people either ignore the book or feel threatened by it and so denounce it. You are wonderfully fulfilling that theory.

However I feel I must take you to task with your claim that the fact people struggle with the Bible is something in its favour. Yes it is true that the deeper a book is, the more time one must spend grappling with its contents. But the reverse does not follow. What makes the Bible hard to read is that it has simply failed to keep up with developments in morality and science. It fails even to embrace the notion of freedom of belief. Yes one needs to read it in context but that just further undermines its core message.

Charlie said...

Flip. I had to go back and read my post again, it was so long ago. I don't really understand your second point, although you appear to be sincere so I have published it.
Are you perhaps saying that you don't like the Bible because you don't agree with what you read in it? This is a valid point of view, consistent with Grayling's, but I think you can imagine what my response would be to it.

As to your first, I haven't ignored it, so I presume you think I am threatened by it? I can assure you that I am not.