Thursday, 22 March 2012

From our archive: AJP Taylor explains how he became an atheist

Dear reader, our blog has moved to a new address.

Do come on over (and change your bookmarks accordingly):

The letter from AJP Taylor, dated 17 February 1986,
in the Rationalist Association archive
Last night, we held an evening of "Rationalism Past and Present" at the Bishopsgate Institute in London, which holds our historic archive. As well as a fascinating talk by Times columnist David Aaronovitch on why he's a rationalist (which we'll have a video of in the next week or so), there was also an opportunity for guests to browse some documents from the archive, including old copies of New Humanist and its predecessors (Watts Literary Guide, the Humanist) and, perhaps most interesting of all, correspondence with some famous old supporters. I tweeted a few photos while I was there, including this from Thomas Hardy, politely declining an invitation to write for the Rationalist Annual at the height of the First World War, and one from Annie Besant, the fearless pioneer of secularism and women's rights.

My personal favourite find was a letter from the great historian AJP Taylor, writing in 1986 to Nicholas Walter, then-editor of New Humanist, to accept an invitation to become an Honorary Associate of the Rationalist Press Association. In the letter, he amusingly explains why he became an atheist:
"Dear Mr Walter

I am very pleased to accept your invitation to become an Honorary Associate of the Rationalist Press Association. I am totally detached from religious affairs.

I discovered the release early in life. One day in March 1916 I was looking from a window in Bootham School at York Minster. A voice said 'There is no God'. I thought to myself, 'That lets me out' and never looked back.

Yours sincerely,

AJP Taylor"
If you're interested in finding out more about the history of New Humanist and the Rationalist Association, there's a short article over on our main website.
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