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The Unholy Mrs Knight: Margaret Knight and the BBC in the 1950s

margaret-knight

In 1955 Margaret Knight became the most hated woman in Britain. She was vilified and demonised in virtually every British newspaper, and thousands of letters attacking her were sent by ordinary Britons to the BBC, to the papers and to her personally. Parents wrote fearing for the safety of their children, bishops and priests criticised her impudence, whilst well-known authors like Dorothy L Sayers castigated her ignorance. Hounded by journalists and pursued by photographers, the smiling image of Mrs Knight in her ‘Sunday-best hat’ and coat appeared in most newspapers. She was the nation’s number one ‘folk devil’ of 1955. What had she done to deserve this? Had she molested children? Was she exposed as a spy and a traitor? Had she sold secrets to the Russians? None of these. What she had done was broadcast two thirty-minute talks on the BBC Home Service in January 1955 in which she called for children to be educated about morality without religion.

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God vs. Superman

I came across this passage today from my interview with one of my humanist, atheist and agnostic oral-history respondents, Julia Stuart from Dundee:

“What I wonder about now is how children, really me, how can you believe this indoctrination god thing, and yet at the same time, one of uncles was a great Marvel Comics fan, and I loved all that. The Superman, the heroes, loved it all. But how do we decide that the god thing is ‘real’, but we know that Superman ain’t? So I wondered how you decided that as a child – why you kept on believing in the dogma but you knew that Superman was play?”

I found this very striking – on two levels.

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Why do Humanists join Humanist organisations?

What attracts people to become members of humanist organisations? I have interviewed 80 humanists and atheists in Scotland, England, France, Estonia, Canada and the United States. Not all I interviewed were members of humanist organisations; some were members of atheist and secularist organisations only, not an organisation with ‘humanist’ in the title, and a small number (four) were past members of humanist organisations. Even then, a proportion of those people still responded positively to the term ‘humanist’.

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Anders Breivik and the Culture of Islamophobia

I have just been reading an excellent  study of the Norwegian mass killer Anders Breivik. In this, a social anthropologist, Sindre Bangstad, argues that the scary thing about this man’s murder of 77 people on 22 July 2011 was not the capacity for a single human being to turn hatred of a religion and immigrants into a perverted action of murdering those who fell into neither category, but that it emerged from a society where Islamophobia was becoming normalised.

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Can you believe it? Prof Jane Mair on The state of legal definition of religion and belief.

Glasgow Humanist Studies Hub

Research Seminars 2014-15

These research seminars bring together prominent academics in a variety of disciplines and stakeholders from the humanist, secularist, church and religious studies sectors, and from central and local government, public agencies and others. They focus on practical, conceptual, legal or theoretical issues facing the development of modern societies in regard to the changing nature of life stances, religion and secular society. The Seminars are open to all free of charge.

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Problems for the non-believer? Defining religion and non-religion

Various legal definitions of belief have emerged recently from parliaments and at least one law court in the UK. Each causes problems, especially for many of those with no religious belief. These definitions have been undertaken in good faith (a surprise use of the term, perhaps). The wish is to extend and better protect the legal rights and openings of those who hold religious and non-religious positions. This is completely commendable as an aim. But, problems may lurk beneath.

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Christian Country – yes or no? Ten seconds to make up your mind…

A lot of air, and sometimes a bit of light, have been shone on the issue that David Cameron triggered two weeks’ ago. Demands for definitive statements on whether UK (or a part of it, usually England) is a “Christian country” have been rather insistent from media callers. Statistics are being bandied about from all sorts of unlikely sources (as well as the usual ones). The scholar must resort to a twofold approach. (Note to my numerate friends in the academy: the figures below are rounded on the side of generosity to the case for the religious, so as not to be too deflected from some crude argument.)

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Christian country? Or does Britain just talk about it a lot?

David Cameron seems to be taking a bit of a surge towards Christianity. Several years ago, he reported his Christian faith as being a “bit like the reception for Magic FM in the Chilterns: it sort of comes and goes”. In his recent article in the Anglican-aligned Church Times, he still says: “I am a member of the Church of England, and, I suspect, a rather classic one: not that regular in attendance, and a bit vague on some of the more difficult parts of the faith.” But he is talking up the role of Christianity in the nation, in its moral position and in the country’s social policy.

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Selling Humanism

I have recently joined a small group developing teaching materials on Humanism for Religious and Moral Education (RME) teachers in Scottish schools. I had my first meeting with the group of fellow Humanists from the Humanist Society of Scotland (HSS) last Sunday as we discussed how to go about this. An immediate sensation is that we are, of course, re-inventing a wheel that has been developed over many decades by Humanist around the world. But perhaps we have something distinctive to “sell”.

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