Would we have a better world if we had followed the teachings of Aristotle, Confucius and Baudelaire instead of the religious teachings of the Koran or the Bible?
British academic A.C. Grayling believes we would, so he’s written his own version of a bible called “The Good Book: A Humanist Bible.” It’s an anthology of hundreds of philosophers and writers organized into chapters and verses.
Now, let me quickly assure religious readers that I haven’t gone to the dark side, and this isn’t a book endorsement. I do think religious people, however, have something to learn from Grayling.
But first you need to know that Grayling doesn’t follow the anti-religious atheism espoused by the likes of Richard Dawkins. Called by some the velvet atheist, Grayling avoids the militant and is more comfortable with the word humanist.
What’s the difference, you ask, between an atheist and a humanist? Well, that’s a tricky question. Most atheists, and certainly all the ones I know, are humanists.Atheism by itself, however, is simply the assertion that there is no God.
Humanists like Grayling take their beliefs beyond that assertion and will become active in their care of people, animals and our planet. Sometimes they can sound downright spiritual when describing their views.
Maybe that’s why Grayling recently told Jessica Ravitz of CNN that “each individual has to work out the values they live by and especially to recognize that the best of our good lives revolves around having good relationships with people.”
Graying believes that the only difference between religious people and the humanist is that “humanist ethics didn’t claim to be derived from a deity.”
Wow. Except for that last sentence, the teaching sounds much like the lessons of the Golden Rule and the Good Samaritan parable I learned as a kid in a Baptist Sunday school.
Don’t get me wrong. I happen to think that looking for your moral compass inside yourself is a good way to find yourself lost in a very deep forest. Nor am I endorsing a pot-luck belief system where you are free to believe a little of this and a little of that.
Nonetheless, I think humanists are right about some things. Years ago, I took a comparative religion class at a Christian university. My professor, while decidedly Christian, believed that each religion, even humanism, has something to teach the Christian.
For instance, the humanist teachings about our planet remind me that God loves all his creation. His creation is the center of his love. When religious people forget that, they tend to become, as the saying goes, “so heavenly minded, they are no earthly good.”
But if there is one lesson I hope the humanist and Christian alike can take away from the Christian Bible, it would be the story in Mark’s gospel about a father who brings his crazed teen to Jesus asking Jesus to help him if you can.
In the Norris paraphrase, Jesus responds incredulously. “What do you mean by, ‘if I can?’ Of course I can.”
Or more respective of the text, Jesus says, “Everything is possible for one who believes.” Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”
These words, “help me overcome my unbelief,” probably characterize the struggle most of us encounter, whether humanist or religious.
For you see, we all have unbelief at some time or another. We can all display an unbelieving streak when we fail to believe in one another, when we fall short of our goals to change, and simply fail to do the human thing.