AC Grayling: 'Work was my way of dealing with my sister's murder'


Religious morality cuts across the grain of human nature It tends to ask us to deny things that are natural to us: restraint in sexual matters, fear of the body. In the humanist tradition, the way we think about flourishing lives has to be premised on facts about what it is to be human, rather than needing to pass some kind of purity test for an eternal afterlife. You can be a moral person by simply recognising the responsibility you owe to other people.

We are a very credulous species for good evolutionary reasons In order to survive, evolution has programmed into us the capacity to trust what authority tells us; as children we have to believe everything grown-ups say: that fire burns or that there's a tooth fairy. As we mature, a lot of these beliefs drop away, unless they are reinforced by society – which religious beliefs are, through churches, mosques and temples, religious instruction at school and religious programmes on the radio. If we reinforced the Father Christmas story, everyone would keep on believing that.

I don't feel vengeful for the murder of my sister I've always been against the death penalty; it's a very primitive way of dealing with problems. But the terrible thing about having someone in your family murdered is that it leaves such a horrendous legacy for those left behind. My mother had a heart problem and the stress of the event gave her a heart attack and she died too.

Work is our great salvation My way of dealing with my sister's death was to become the most terrific workaholic. If you dedicate yourself to something you believe in, you forget yourself – it takes up the whole horizon.

Sympathy is hard-wired into us If someone is walking down the street and you see a pile of bricks about to fall on their head, you instinctively shout: "Look out!" There's a biological social bond between us that underlies all our moral thinking; we're in connection with people all the time and we need one another.

My house looks like a library My office has so many teetering piles of books you have to squeeze your way around them and there's room for just one person. My wife [the novelist Katie Hickman] complains that I buy too many books, though as a bestselling author, she produces as many as I buy.

Humanity has been misled throughout history through the falsehood that there is only one right way to live. The great totalitarianisms – whether religious or Stalinism – all say: "We know the answer, everybody has to obey." That's a falsehood worth fighting against. There are many kinds of good lives out there and as many good things to do as there are human beings.

We should be more honest about our conduct in the Second World War It was a just war, but there was one aspect in which we didn't do ourselves any favours: the indiscriminate bombings of civilian populations. We haven't discussed it because we won. And even though it was right to defeat Nazism, the fact there was war at all was bad: there's no such thing as a good war.

There is as much depth, wisdom and inspiration in the secular tradition as there is in any religious tradition – if not more, because it doesn't demand, threaten punishment or ask to obey, but [asks us] to reflect, to take lives seriously and act with responsibility. If the Bible-makers had turned to all the secular literature philosophy and letters, the world would be a different place. Once that thought occurred to me, I thought I'd try to write [secular bible] The Good Book myself.

AC Grayling, 62, is an author and professor of philosophy at Birkbeck College, University of London, and a supernumerary fellow of St Anne's College, Oxford. 'The Good Book' (Bloomsbury, £25) is out now

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Save the Tiger: Meet the hunters tasked with protecting Russia's rare Amur tiger

    Hunters protect Russia's rare Amur tiger

    In an unusual move, wildlife charities have enlisted those who kill animals to help save them. Oliver Poole travels to Siberia to investigate
    Transfers: How has your club fared in summer sales?

    How has your club fared in summer sales?

    Who have bagged the bargain buys and who have landed the giant turkeys
    Warwick Davis: The British actor on Ricky Gervais, how the Harry Potter set became his office, and why he'd like to play a spy

    'I'm a realist; I know how hard this business is'

    Warwick Davis on Ricky Gervais, Harry Potter and his perfect role
    The best swim shorts for men: Bag yourself the perfect pair and make a splash this summer

    The best swim shorts for men

    Bag yourself the perfect pair and make a splash this summer
    Has Ukip’s Glastonbury branch really been possessed by the devil?

    Has Ukip’s Glastonbury branch really been possessed by the devil?

    Meet the couple blamed for bringing Lucifer into local politics
    Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

    Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

    Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
    Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

    Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

    When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
    5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

    In grandfather's footsteps

    5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
    Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

    Martha Stewart has flying robot

    The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
    Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

    Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

    Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
    A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

    A tale of two presidents

    George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
    Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

    The dining car makes a comeback

    Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
    Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

    Gallery rage

    How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
    Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

    Eye on the prize

    Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
    Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

    Women's rugby

    Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup