Review of The Good Book: a Humanist Bible / (Society of Friends of Epicurus review)
It’s difficult to do a fair and complete review of a book that will likely take a lifetime to read and is not meant to be read in one sitting or within one week or one month even. But the Good Book deserves some attention, as it constitutes a modern attempt to produce a scripture that fits within naturalist philosophy and, in some ways, continues the work of Epicurus, Lucretius and other Masters of our tradition.
The basic idea of the Good Book is that it celebrates the format of scripture as a means to transmit wisdom and tradition. It imitates the editorial style of the Judeo-Christian Bible and of the Qur’an, but is entirely secular and makes no mention of God. It is, in essence, a philosopher’s Bible. It reads like scripture and contains the philosophical books of Genesis, Wisdom, Parables, Concord, Lamentations, Consolations, Sages, Songs, Histories, Proverbs, The Lawgiver, Acts, Epistles, and The Good.
In it is gathered the wisdom of countless sages of humanity’s history. Like with the Bible, no mention is made of the sources and authors that inspire each verse and chapter and the content is mixed together in such a way that it’s better to simply read the Good Book as scripture without worrying too much about sources and other academic concerns. Similarly, it lends itself for use as liturgy to mark rites of passage, weddings, funerals and so on, as with other scriptures.
The Good Book begins, as it should, with a natural account of the beginnings. This one is not as long as Lucretius, of course, and is shorter than the Biblical book of Genesis. It reiterates important Epicurean adages like “nothing comes from nothing” (Gen. 4:10), in chapter five explains how atoms recombine to form many things in a manner very reminiscent of Lucretius, and even includes praise for atomism:
“The first inquirers named nature’s elements atoms, matter, seeds, primal bodies, and understood that they are coeval with the world; They saw that nothing comes from nothing, so that discovering the elements reveals how the things of nature exist and evolve. Fear holds dominion over people when they understand little, and need simple stories and legends to comfort and explain; But legends and the ignorance that give them birth are a house of limitation and darkness. Knowledge is freedom, freedom from ignorance and its offspring fear; knowledge is light and liberation.” - Genesis 2:7-11
Later, we find mention of the need for a Canon (an “aid” to reason) and a warning against false philosophy :
“It follows that the entire fabric of human reason employed in the inquisition of nature, is badly built up, like a great structure lacking foundations. For while people are occupied in admiring and applauding the false powers of the mind, they pass by and throw away its true powers which, if supplied with proper aids, and if content to wait upon nature instead of vainly affecting to overrule her, are within its reach. Such is the way to truth and the advancement of understanding“- Genesis 14:9-12
Other instances where Epicurean teachings resonate with the Good Book are the mention in Consolations 1:19 that friends are irreplaceable; Cons. 2:2 later advises the grateful rememberance of those who have passed. Cons. 1:5 also praises autarchy and mocks Fortuna, saying “Your wisdom consists in this, that you look upon yourself as self-sufficing, and regard the accidents of life as powerless to affect your virtue“. And there’s this advise against bad association:
Who lies down with dogs will rise with fleas. - Proverbs 34:8
There are many more passages that resonate with Epicurean teaching so that, even if it’s not a specifically Epicurean scripture, it can still be useful in the study and promotion Epicurean cultural memes and doctrines.
The Good Book is, as you may well imagine, not for everyone. It’s likely to appeal to people who love reading, who enjoy philosophy and who hold wisdom traditions in very high regard. It also would be of use to Humanist chaplains. Henceforward, whenever you see mention of quotes from the Good Book or to the Humanist Bible within the Society of Epicurus webpages, it’s A.C. Grayling’s Bible that’s being referred to.
For more Good Book quotes, please visit thgdbk.net