A.N. Wilson

When wailing is appropriate

This is a strange exercise. It is a commonplace book of quotations from great authors, assembled by the philosopher A. C. Grayling. The extracts from the great books, how- ever, are provided without attribution.

This is a strange exercise. It is a commonplace book of quotations from great authors, assembled by the philosopher A. C. Grayling. The extracts from the great books, how- ever, are provided without attribution. Furthermore, they are arranged in numbered ‘verses’, like the divisions of the ‘texts’ in the Bible. The Bible was thus divided for ease of reference when the Rabbis and the Christian Church — in separate exercises, obviously — decided which books should appear in the canon of Scripture. Why Grayling has numbered his collection of quotations is anyone’s guess. The title is slightly cringeworthy. Those who call the Bible ‘the Good Book’ are likely to be the same as those who refer to ‘the Bard’ when they mean Shakespeare.

The book is described as ‘A Secular Bible’, which is baffling. For a start, what is secular about a book composed of, among others, Aristotle, Chaucer, Cicero, Euripides, Herrick, Milton, Seneca, Sophocles, and Vergil to name a few, all of whom were notably religious in outlook? And secondly, who, apart from the Mormons, needs a pretend Bible when there exists a real one? To use the word Bible is to make the rather babyish assumption that freethinkers need some ‘guide to life’, and this, I suspect, is what Grayling is offering.

He is an odd figure, Grayling. Perfectly amiable. Those who live in London, and catch glimpses of him at parties, will sometimes think of Belloc’s lines about ‘Algernon, who won’t admit/The truth about his curious hair’. Voraciously sociable, and a good broadcaster and journalist as well as an academic philosopher, Grayling likes the great freethinkers. He wrote an excellent book about Hazlitt. For some reason he has an absolute bee in his bonnet about religion. At a house-warming party one evening in Chelsea, I spotted him standing on the pavement outside our host’s tiny dwelling.

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