The Good Book

3 May

I’ve just begun dipping into The Good Book. It’s a secular bible compiled by British philosopher A.C. Grayling who has, to paraphrase the blurb, distilled the teachings, the insights, the wit, the advice, the human stories, the tragedies, the yearnings, the love, the sorrow and the consolations of over a hundred authors and a thousand texts into a humanist bible. No small task.

I do find it a tiny bit irritating that Grayling references none of these sources, however he seems more concerned with the message than the messenger and the message is that “All who read this book, therefore, if they read with care, may come to be more than they were before…To determine what the good is, and of the best ways to know it, is the most important of all our endeavours, and is truly the master art of living.”

I was initially discouraged by this. It sounds like a Star Wars script. But I will persevere.

The last section of the book is titled The Good. Here we find Grayling’s definition:

“1. The good is two freedoms: freedom from certain hindrances and pains, freedom to choose and act.

2. The first is freedom from ignorance, fear, loneliness, folly, and the inability to master one’s emotions.

3. The second is freedom to develop the best capacities and talents we have, and to use them for the best.”

This short chapter of merely 18 verses contains within it most of what I need to know about the good and it’s relevance to my life. The previous 593 pages will be an interesting long-term read perhaps, but the shortened version is condensed in verses such as these:

“5. There is not one single kind of good that suits and fits everyone: there are as many good lives as there are people to live them.

6.It is false that there is only one right way to live and one right way to be,

7. And that we must obey those who claim to have the secret of a ‘one right way’ and a ‘one true good.’

8. If there are guides to the good, one must eventually leave them behind and seek the good of one’s choice, and which suits one’s own talents.”

Or, if you meet the Buddha on the road kill him, as we used to say back in the day.

I inherited a powerful anti-authoritarian streak from my grandfather that’s made it impossible to relinquish my desire to think for myself. This makes me useless as a follower of just about anything or anyone, with the exception of Leonard Cohen. The faintest odour of theology or crypto theology and I’m on the outside looking in. I don’t believe in a transcendental exteriority.The best experiences in my life have been grounded in the human, as have the worst. I can think of no greater miracle than a human being.

“Chapter 9

1. Seek always for the good that abides. There can be none except as the mind finds within itself.

4. When will you attain this joy? It will begin when you think for yourself,

5. When you truly take responsibility for your own life.”


9 Responses to “The Good Book”

  1. AJ May 3, 2012 at 9:00 am #

    I enjoyed your feedback on the top part of the article on “The Good Book’ I dont understand why you needed to append the second half about the usual political punch ups in the second half though Jen, Could you republish as I would like to comment on the first part please without people interspersing their thoughts on the politics/media dust up?


  2. 8 Degrees of Latitude May 3, 2012 at 10:52 am #

    Thanks for the post Jennifer. I’m with you on Leonard Cohen – and most else too. 🙂 It’s important to learn, especially to learn how to trust your own judgement, and its crucial not to be led by the nose, particularly by Those Who (Say They) Know Best. I’ve always favoured well-mannered anarchy.


    • AJ May 3, 2012 at 11:04 am #

      Im in two minds on this, who hasnt made mistakes in judgement from time to time which suggests an external guide or advisor is warranted. I found the reviewed quotes a little ponderous and self evident but that said it pays to be thoughtful. We all have our influences no matter how independant we think we are. It reminded me of a facebook post full of Do’s and Dont’s about the keys to happiness and a successful life. Some arent universal to everyone and gloss over personal circumstances that may make them irrelevant. My final conclusion is that too many Do’s and Dont’s (ie the rules!) mean you arent living by your own decisions as Jen mentioned….again you are lead by the nose, hence the suspicion I have of dogma (and other hard and fast rules) of any kind be it Catholicism, Feminism, Absolutism etc. Morality like love is a choice, acquisition of wisdom is too but once integrated isnt….and there will always be those that claim a thought as their own original work.


    • helvityni May 4, 2012 at 9:38 am #

      8 Degrees, I agree with you and Jen about Cohen…
      This is what my other favourite man Howard Jacobson says about Leonard:

      “i like it that he doesn’t jig about. Such a change to see someone on a stage, immobile– as still as thought. We have the attention spam of children. A thing will interest us only if it sparkles and moves. Madonna , Michael Jackson–people come back from their concerts raving about how well they move as moving is a virtue in itself”


  3. Darrell May 3, 2012 at 12:29 pm #

    Thanks Jennifer..

    Of course I am deeply sumpathetic to all kinds of questioning… as I wouldn’t have been drawn to your blog otherwise… And so here I am having just read this blog on The Good Book, that I also noticed earlier as I was just about to start writing my latest blog on the Astrology of Star Wars & the Archetypal Hero’s Journey etc.. taking me back to the classic book by Joseph Cambell on The Hero’s Journey & the work by Jung on the path of ‘individuation’.. ie. the meaning of the Age of Aquarius.. And I also wrote a recent blog on the Global Athiests Convention held in Melbourne.. And how, even though athiests are generally ‘skeptical’ about astrology, just as they are about religion & any mind of mysticism etc.. along with my own strange otherworldly or deeply shocking & or mystical or pschyic experiences which I have also written about in a number of my blogs.. And the astrology chart of the beginning of this convention proves that the symbols of the planets, signs & their aspects in astrology reveal the hidden or deeper meaning in any so-called mundane event…I have spent about 12 years of my life researching, & studying this whole realm.. ie. proving once again.. despite all the protestations of the skeptic.. the truth about the old axiom, “As above.. So below”.. which also translates into “As within.. So without”… While I also wrote about all this too in another recent blog titled ‘Alchemy & Astrology’…..!/2012/04/alchemy-astrology.html .. And the realily of the metaphysical realm.. also at the heart of the film or mythos of Star Wars.. Not to mention that all this ongoing search for “truth” driven by the skepticism & deep criticism.. & rightly so of much the dark side of the religious impulse & the abuses of power & distortions that have come with the major established religions etc.. Yes.. like the well-known song said, this is the dawning of the ‘Age of Aquarius’…. although it really began with the beginning of ‘the Enlightenment’ of course…..

    So well might we say.. “If you see the Buddha on the road, kill him”…… And astrologically.. or I should say archetypally & synchronistically……. we are all now moving further & further into the Age of Questioning.. ie. Aquarius.. the Age of the Mind.. replacing the last great ‘Age of Pisces’.. which began around the time of the birth of Christianity etc.. the age of feeling like we are all one & there is no seperation etc etc.. ie. having faith’.. in all the age old assumptions & beleifs of the past.. without questioning etc…… And so now.. here we are.. in full blown Aquarian rebellion all over the place.. especially signified by the current transit of Uranus in Aries.. applying to a first quater square to Pluto in Capricorn.. creating a major aspect known as a square… a major growth aspect.. taking us back to the last major aspect between these two major out planets of immence change & total transformation back in the mid 1960’s, when these two slowly moving outer planets formed a New Phase conjunction!!!! With Uranus being the archetype of absolute independance & individualty.. As the ruler of the sign of Aquarius, & the Promethean Spirit that is driving us all into this New Age… as also suggested by Richard Tarnas in his book ‘Prometheus, the Awakener’.. along with his latest work.. ie. … ie. On the evidence of the promethean or astrological understanding of life as a whole… And that takes me to the subject of that great archetypal modern film that was Star Wars.. as a kind of great modern fairytale…. And as astrology & Jungian analyst Liz Greene would say.. & which she also writes about in the book ‘Dynamics of the Unconscious’.. myths & fairytales that emerge into the world are not something to be cynically or lightly dismissed as mere fantasy etc.. but on the contrary carry deep archetypal truths or messages for us all… ie. Showing us what needs to be brought forth out into the realm of Collective Conscious awareness…… ie. What is ‘the Force’.. what is the rational mind to be used for.. And what is the purpose of the non-rational dimensions of the mind or should we say Consciousness….. even if the majority misunderstand this deeper truth.. as we are all affected by the dominant Consensus worldview etc.. unless we look more deeply into the ancient truths & do our own investigations & or are lucky enough to find the right teacher etc.. While all this too while also listening to a fascinating episode of The Spirit of Things program recently titled ‘Carl Jung: Regaining Religion’….. discussing his magnus opus that was The Red Book.. along with his dream of God shitting on the church etc…… And all this also rather synchronistically at this time with the relese of the film ‘A Dangerous Method’ emerging into the world on the battle between Freud & Jung.. between the rationalist Freud.. & the Mystic Jung….. Freud seemed to be stuck in his original ideas.. yet Jung was able to move & embrace a much wider & more in depth view of the great mysteries of existence.. that was the difference.. although he was crucified by the dominant scientific worldview that still dominates the world today.. but is the pendulum starting to slowly shift the other way again, embracing a much wider & perhaps more wholistic or all encompassing view of life & “reality” as we know it……

    Ok then……


    • Jennifer Wilson May 3, 2012 at 6:26 pm #

      Wow! You are good at this. I’m taken with the idea of moving from the age in which we are all one to the age of individuation in which we challenge authority and refuse gods and leaders.


  4. doug quixote May 3, 2012 at 9:10 pm #

    An interesting exercise by Grayling. One wonders what posterity will make of it.

    ‘Properly read, the Bible is the most potent force for atheism ever conceived.’

    — Isaac Asimov

    ‘A tyrant must put on the appearance of uncommon devotion to religion. Subjects are less apprehensive of illegal treatment from a ruler whom they consider god-fearing and pious. On the other hand, they do less easily move against him, believing that he has the gods on his side.’

    — Aristotle, Politics,


  5. paul walter May 7, 2012 at 2:14 am #

    Priceless post from Doug.
    For my part, have always found issues metaphysical purely fascinating. I love the Classical sages Parmenides and Heraclitus putting up both sides of the coin as to arguments concerning creation in the real sense, as creation of some thing from nothing and as to whether things essentially change or remain the same.
    Aristotle, building on this much later, of course proposed God as the “unmoved mover”, who has somehow sealed off the universe as inhabitable by fleshly creatures and retired to contemplate what happens next, without interfering in consciousness and free will, the hallmark of which becomes located within the activating sense of agency.
    For the above conversation, I’d say Kant’s insight that our very human-ness is defined in, default, “limit”, works for me, is useful if some what back to the era of Pascal and Bayle, which oddly precursed the Enlightenment. The early sources and role of rational thinking studied by the legendary medieval theologian Aquinas, whose interest in Muslim philosophy just penetrating into Europe, mid thirteenth century, allowed access to thinking in a pure line back to Aristotle but set Europe up for seven hundred years of change defined on the challenge of rationality to faith.
    God would be beyond time and space but more importantly and this is where Christianity represented a quantum leap two thousand years ago, also is morally perfect enough not to be a coward or run, as he should have, from the Garden of Gethsemane. Also with early Pauline Christianity, a sense of teleology that secures both literacy and St Paul’s places in history and shows how explosive the move of civilisation was from about 600 BC to Roman times, in the unique stew of Mediterranean civilisation nourished by literacy, technology, for Egyptians, Persians, Babylonians, Jews, Greeks, Romans and so forth.
    Grayling’s name has turned up so many times over the years that you’d tend to think of him, along the lines of Lord Russell, as state of the art, someone who could give some insights into the Good Book, so I may yet have a look.
    But seriously, I no longer find religion a threat. I don’t go out of my way to be an a–hole and if God’s demise has indeed been exaggerated, I’d wish God all the best- true- I appreciate it when others inquire after me and my problems are largely self-constructed anyway.
    Why do people always blame God when things go wrong, too?
    Am presuming that God is not so intolerant as to crucify me in the way those who crucified Christ did so, “knowing not what they did”. Frankly, I’d not persecute someone for not dotting their tees and crossing their eyes; If God is a better individual than me, why should I fear harm unless I’ve really gone feral, on this rationale, anyway?
    The Devil won’t show mercy and just going to sleep are the only other options that I can think of, unless you include reincarnation, but as as some above have said, life’s too short and spirituality is better to aspire to than dread fear and guilt, as with the gloomier and more superstitious versions of religion.
    Am actually thinking of a Roman philosopher who’s name escapes me, from the Republic, who when asked about the prospect of lots more of the afterlife, apparently answered along the lines of, hasn’t this lot been enough already and, I think, hoped people wouldn’t wake him again for more futility.
    Existentialism is probably fair enough for now. It demands accountability of an almost Stoic sort, but in a secular world the closest most of us might ever come to “spirituality”, maybe in the act of helping a crying lost kid, or helping a disabled person across a freeway.


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