A noteworthy absentee from the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography is Kathleen Nott (1905-1999), who I came across recently. Nott was a poet, novelist, humanist and philosopher, and I think she deserves more attention.
I came across Nott because she wrote the introduction to a rare species of book – the autobiography of a female British humanist and atheist, Yvonne Stevenson, The Hot-House Plant: An autobiography of a young girl (London, Elek/Pemberton, 1976), that I bought (but failed to read until recently) in a second hand bookshop. Nott seems not to have written her own autobiography, but has left a considerable body of work of interest to the historian of humanism.
British adults “nones” (with no religion) are now clearly both non-believers as well as not belonging to a church or religious tradition. The results of a YouGov of 8,455 people, published today, indicate that British secularisation has a comprehensive non-religious character to it.
Whilst 41 per cent of Britons identify as Christian, 38 per cent respond as being of “no religion”. In age groups terms, “nones” are in the majority amongst 18-19 year olds, with 47 per cent amongst those in their 20s, and 44 per cent of those in their 30s. This evidence supports the 2001 and 2011 censuses, and the British Household Survey data since 1983, which show dramatic growth in the proportion of the people not identifying with any religion.
St. Margaret’s Church, Clea-on-the-Sea, Norfolk
This was the view from the front door of a rented holiday home in Norfolk in eastern England that my wife and I stayed at for a fortnight each July for about ten years. The house was nothing exceptional (though at its heart was a two-roomed 17th century dwelling). But the view was stunning. As well as St Margaret’s Church and its graveyard (behind the wall on the left), we could see off to the right in the distance the church at Wiveton and the steeple of a third at Blakeney. In between was a large common which until the 14th century had been the harbour that made Cley a centre of the wool trade. Completing a magical outlook was the roof of the local pub, a mere 45 second stroll through the graves.
Khushi Ram was born in an isolated village in the Punjab in India in 1921. He emigrated to Canada in 1986. Callum Brown interviewed him in his home in Vancouver in October 2009.
My name is Khushi Ram, and I was born in India, Punjab. Social stratification is all over the world, but the peculiarity about the social stratification in India is that it is hereditary, it goes from birth to birth. My family belongs to the lowest strata of society in India. So much so that some people called us outcastes, not within the caste system. We were very poor, my father was a landless agricultural labourer with even no house of his own. The landlord will give him certain land and he will build a hut and we will live there. Somehow I shone in my class and some teachers almost fell in love with me, they tried to support me, up and up. I was working with my father on the farmer’s land but somebody, that seven kilometres school headmaster sent one of his teachers to me, because I was well known in my area by that time as a brilliant student. I broke all their previous record at the entrance into university, we call it high school final. I got very good marks.
Jutta Poser was born in 1925 in Berlin and went to Canada in 1950, settling in Montreal and then later Vancouver where she and her husband Ernest have been active members of BC Humanists for many years. Callum Brown interviewed Jutta in her Vancouver home in October 2009.
My family was a mixed marriage. My father was an assimilated Jew. His parents had been baptised in Germany for reasons that there were very few openings in the profession that my grandfather was in and he was a banker. And this was a private bank in Bonn so in order to get all the acceptance that he needed he became baptised into the German Protestant Lutheran Church along with his wife and their progeny, all three of them, were baptised too so that none of them remained in the Jewish faith.
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.