Margaret Kennedy Knight was a psychologist and humanist. Born
in Hertfordshire, England, Knight went to Girton College, Cambridge
University, graduating in 1926. In 1948 she gained a Master's
was in her third year at Cambridge that she found the "moral
courage", as she put it, to finally abandon the religious
beliefs she had long been uneasy with. In the preface to her book
Morals Without Religion (1955), she wrote, "a fresh, cleansing
wind swept through the stuffy room that contained the relics of
my religious beliefs. I let them go with a profound sense of relief,
and ever since I have lived happily without them."
worked as a librarian, information officer and editor for the
National Institute of Industrial Psychology.
her husband Arthur Rex Knight, who she married in 1936, Knight
wrote A Modern Introduction to Psychology (1948), which went through
many editions. From 1936 - 1970, Knight lectured in psychology
at the University of Aberdeen, Scotland.
advocate of Scientific Humanism, Knight gave two short radio talks
on the BBC Home Service in 1955 under the title Morals Without
Religion. The first talk was broadcast on 5 January and caused
a storm of controversy. The Sunday Graphic headline described
her as "The Unholy Mrs. Knight", and called her "a
was convinced that, besides millions of frank unbelievers, there
are today large numbers of half-believers to whom religion is
a source of intellectual and moral discomfort."
is difficult, none the less, for the ordinary man to cast off
orthodox beliefs, for he is seldom allowed to hear the other side....
Whereas the Christian view is pressed on him day in and day out."
want here to make three suggestions: first, that the doubts the
ordinary man feels about religion are justified, and need not
be stifled or concealed; second, that there is no ground for the
view that Christianity is the only alternative to communism, or
that there can be no sound character training that is not based
on religion; and, third, I want to make some practical suggestions
to the parents who are not believers, on what they should tell
the children about God, and what sort of moral training they should
chief aim was to combat the view that there can be no true morality
without supernatural sanctions. So I argued at length that the
social, or altruistic, impulses are the real source of morality,
and that an ethic based on these impulses has far more claim on
our allegiance than an ethic based on obedience to the commands
of a God who created tapeworms and cancer-cells."
the time of the broadcasts, I held two assumptions that were common
among the more highbrow type of sceptic. These were: (i) that
Jesus, though he was deluded in believing himself to be the long-awaited
Jewish Messiah, was, nevertheless, a great moral teacher, and
a man of outstanding moral excellence, and (ii) that though Christianity
is now rapidly being outgrown, it was a great force for good in
its day. In the light of wider knowledge, both assumptions now
seem to me to be false. I now incline to the view that the conversion
of Europe to Christianity was one of the greatest disasters of
in fact, was typical of a certain kind of fanatical young idealist:
at one moment holding forth, with tears in his eyes, about the
need for universal love; at the next, furiously denouncing the
morons, crooks and bigots who did not see eye to eye with him.
It is very natural and very human behaviour. But it is not superhuman."
is no ground whatever for the claim, so often made by religious
apologists, that these ideals are specifically Christian and originated
with Jesus. What were specifically Christian were some of the
less enlightened teachings, which have done untold harm. Christians
claim that organised Christianity has been a great force for good,
but this view can be maintained on one assumption only: that everything
good in the Christian era is a result of Christianity and everything
bad happened in spite of it."
the ages of faith the Church argued, not illogically, that any
degree of cruelty towards sinners and heretics was justified,
if there was a chance that it could save them, or others, from
the eternal torments of hell. Thus, in the name of the religion
of love, hundreds of thousands of people were not merely killed
but atrociously tortured in ways that made the gas chambers of
Beslen seem humane."
of the most persistent fallacies about the Christian Church is
that it kept learning alive during the Dark and Middle Ages. What
the Church did was to keep learning alive in the monasteries,
while preventing the spread of knowledge outside them.... Even
as late as the beginning of the nineteenth century, however, nine-tenths
of Christian Europe was illiterate."