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Infidels, Freethinkers, Humanists, and Unbelievers
Knight, Margaret (1936 - 1983)
"One of the best ways to improve men's behaviour is to enlighten their minds: and today, against the strong opposition of the Church and the Establishment, Scientific Humanism is attempting to do just that."

-- Margaret Knight


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 degree.

It 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."

Knight worked as a librarian, information officer and editor for the National Institute of Industrial Psychology.

With 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.

An 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 menace".

Quotations

"I 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."

"It 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."

"I 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 give them."

"[M]y 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."

"At 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 history."

"Jesus, 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."

"There 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."

"During 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."

"One 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."

 
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