Margaret Knight
November 23, 1903 - 1983
"Ethical teaching is weakened if it is tied up with dogmas that will not bear
- Morals Without Religion, 1955

"Gentle Jesus"

Morals Without Religion (Exerpt)


On Other Subjects:-

Christianity: The Debit Account

Historical Christianity

Intolerance and Persecution


Asceticism and Otherworldliness


The Establishment

BORN IN HERTFORDSHIRE, ENGLAND, Margaret Horsey attended Girton, Cambridge, receiving her Bachelor's degree in 1926 and her Master's in 1948.

"I had been uneasy about religion throughout my adolescence, but I had not had the moral courage to throw off my beliefs until my third year at Cambridge," Margaret wrote in the preface to Morals Without Religion.

 After reading philosophers such as Bertrand Russell: "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."

From 1926-1936, Margaret worked as editor of the journal published by the
National Institute of Industrial Psychology, and also as their librarian and infor-
mation officer. She married Arthur Knight, a professor of psychology, in r936,
and moved to Aberdeen, Scotland, lecturing in psychology at the University of
Aberdeen from 1936-1970.

She wrote several textbooks with her husband, including Modern Introduction
to Psychology, first published in 1948, which went into a seventh edition in 1966, and William James: A Selection from His Writings, 1950. Margaret became a celebrity across Great Britain when she achieved the freethought coup of giving a series of freethought lectures on the BBC radio.

"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 .... Today, the position of the doubter is in some respects more difficult than it was in my youth," pointing to the stereotype of "atheistic communism."

"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."

In 1953, several years after the Corporation had announced that it affirmed
the need to broadcast differing beliefs, even unbelief, Margaret submitted a draft script. It got into the hands of a Catholic in a key position, and "was rather forcibly rejected, "she recalled. She did not give up, and in July 1954, was invited to Broadcasting House to discuss her proposal, which centered on criticism of the idea that moral education for children must be in the context of religious instruction. The BBC suggested that since she was a psychologist, she could broaden her approach to include "positive advice to nonChristian parents on the moral training of children."

Her goal was "to show the intellectual weakness of the case for theism, but
my 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."

She gave her first talk on January 5, 1955 to uneventful press, but soon the
fireworks began. The Daily Express wrote an accurate account of her lecture,
headlined: "Woman Psychologist Makes Remarkable Radio Attack on Religion for Children." A Daily Telegraph columnist demanded that God and the BBC forbid a second broadcast. The Sunday Graphic ran a snapshot of Margaret next to a headline with two-inch letters, "The Unholy Mrs. Knight." It began, "Don't let this woman fool you. She looks-doesn't she-just like the typical housewife; cool, comfortable, harmless. But Mrs. Margaret Knight is a menace. A dangerous woman. Make no mistake about that."

After her second broadcast, the uproar continued, although she simply issued
solid, humanistic advice to parents, such as "to provide a firm, secure background of affection so that it never occurs to the child to doubt that he is loved and wanted." Parents can help curb aggressive tendencies, without setting impossibly high standards of unselfishness. The problematic act, not the child, should be condemned, she said. Despite hyperbole and condemning headlines, the accurate news reports conveyed her message to an even larger audience. Following her final broadcast, she returned home to Aberdeen to find five hundred letters awaiting her.

Her BBC lectures appeared in her 1955 book, Morals Without Religion. She
compiled a Humanist Anthology in 1961 which was revised in 1995 by James


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