Monday, 4 April 2011

The Good Book

You have to hand it to the philosopher A.C. Grayling, if you are going to make a statement about your work then you might as well aim high. Grayling has produced The Good Book which is described as A Secular Bible. Here is what the blurb about The Good Book says on Amazon:
good bookDrawing on the wisdom of 2,500 years of contemplative non-religious writing on all that it means to be human - from the origins of the universe to small matters of courtesy and kindness in everyday life - A.C. Grayling, Britain's most popular and widely read philosopher, has created a secular bible. Designed to be read as narrative and also to be dipped into for inspiration, encouragement and consolation, "The Good Book" offers a thoughtful, non-religious alternative to the many people who do not follow one of the world's great religions.
Instead, going back to traditions older than Christianity, and far richer and more various, including the non-theistic philosophical and literary schools of the great civilisations of both West and East, from the Greek philosophy of classical antiquity and its contemporaneous Confucian, Mencian and Mohist schools in China, down through classical Rome, the flourishing of Indian and Arab worlds, the European Renaissance and Enlightenment, the worldwide scientific discoveries of the 19th and 20th centuries to the present, Grayling collects, edits, rearranges and organises the collective secular wisdom of the world in one highly readable volume. Contents of this title  include: "Genesis"; "Proverbs"; "Histories"; "Songs"; "Wisdom Acts"; "The Lawgiver Lamentations"; "Concord Consolations"; "Sages"; and, "The Good Parables".
ACGraylingThis morning Grayling and Giles Fraser, Canon Chancellor of St Paul’s Cathedral, discussed the book on Radio 4’s Today programme and it made for an interesting debate. Grayling describes his work as declaring: ‘There are as many good lives as people who have the talent to live them.’  Grayling sees the Bible as being about a deity handing down commands about how to live a good life and he argues there are many other sources and traditions to inspire the moral life. Fraser rightly agreed with Grayling that you don’t need to be religious to be moral, but he then went on to say of the Bible ‘It’s not about being good… it’s about being saved.’ In other words the problem of the human condition, which the Bible addresses, is much deeper than our ability to follow sets of rules. Earlier Fraser had explained that it is the full blooded account of human life, set in the deep complexity of the world, which attracts him to the Bible, and this aspect has been stripped out in Grayling’s work. Fraser contrasts the Bible with what he describes as the tame stoicism and easy going morality of The Good Book.

The Good Book looks like an interesting synthesis of some of the great works of moral philosophy but does it offer an answer for Everyman? I suspect it may be fine for the Oxford don relaxing in his bath while reading Aristotle, however, I prefer a book which is more than a moral self-improvement manual. My problem is not knowing what is right. My problem is doing what is right and in that the Bible seems a bit more realistic, even if it can be dismissed as ‘foolishness to the Greeks’.


Penelopepiscopal said...

Thanks for this - will look up the interview. I love how Giles Fraser is able to articulate so clearly (and without using too many words!) how we live our faith traditions instead of getting into debate about what they are. Incarnational theology being shown, not told.

Anonymous said...

It strikes me that any such work would run the risk of being stuck between a rock and a hard place:

Syncretism on the one hand, and platitudes on the other. I wonder how Grayling played his cards.

Revsimmy said...

I missed this item this morning, so will look it up on iPlayer. Thanks for the heads up and for the synopsis. There are many times when I disagree intensely with Giles Fraser, but there are occasions (such as this, I imagine) when he can really deliver the goods.