100 of Britain and Ireland’s secular thinkers you should know about, who aren’t white men


One of my most prominent blogs in the early part of my writing history was a list of 100 atheists in Britain who weren’t old, white, privileged straight men – atheists, that is to say, who didn’t fit the stereotyped image of atheism. Some months back, I was asked on Twitter to produce an updated version.

The 2013 list has a few key differences. First of all, over two thirds of people on it are new entries, who didn’t appear in last year’s edition, and the list is significantly female-dominated; where last year’s referred just to atheists, this year’s names are ‘secular thinkers’ more widely – atheists, secularists, skeptics, science communicators, humanists, rationalists etc. All of them have something to say, I think, on the kinds of themes we tend to discuss. ‘Britain’ in this context means the British Isles, i.e. the UK and Ireland: My original reason for writing an all-British list was that the names which often appear on lists like these are U.S.-based, and out of travelling range for UK meeting groups, conference organisers and so on – but clearly, this doesn’t apply to Ireland. (My previous reference to Ireland as part of the British Isles ignored that the term is contentious – I wasn’t aware of the objections to it at the time, but have since been informed.) Similarly, one or two people mentioned either reside abroad but within easy travelling distance of Britain or live further afield but are here often enough to be caught during visits. Contact details – Twitter handles, message forms on websites and email addresses – appear by most entries; the latter were all publicly viewable by Google search, and several people’s addresses aren’t listen here but are known to me privately. A few individuals have no contact listings at all, but I’ve a good idea of how to get in touch with them.

Why do we need a list like this? For lots of reasons, but two in particular.

The first is that if the status quo is allowed to persist, we’ll remain as incomplete a movement as I believe we already are. This is true in representational terms as much as anything: if secular discourse (in practical terms, the makeup of speakers at our conferences, writers for our media, figureheads from our organisations) continues to be dominated by figures like AC Grayling, Peter Atkins, Richard Dawkins – people with very similar backgrounds and very similar lives – the stereotypes will not go away: our public image will remain a grey-haired, wealthy, white, straight and cismale one. This isn’t to say there’s anything wrong with being white or male (I should know), but if white men are the representatives of the secular community, it means staying an isolated, largely male, largely monoethnic community where most of humanity is un- or underrepresented. That has serious consequences for our outreach and effectiveness.

It has implications, too, for the theoretical completeness of our discussions. If we want to charge religion with maltreatment of women, we need women to be part of the conversation; if we want to discuss how easy or hard being a UK atheist is, we need not just to consider the lives of middle class, white atheists; if we want to build a politics of church and state that’s thorough and well-conceived, we need to pay attention to secularist issues in Iran, Israel, Pakistan, India, Nigeria. Face it: grasping the topics at hand and building a stronger community which understands them properly requires listening and paying attention to a wider range of people, and that requires not letting our conferences, our magazines, our organisations or our campaigns remain largely the preserve of the same white men. I’ve said this before to friends and colleagues, and seen them shrug off the absence of women or anyone non-white from their proceedings – saying they tried, or that they didn’t know who to consult or invite. That is a single-use excuse. If you’re looking at this page, you’re looking at a list of 100 people who aren’t white men and whom you should read, quote, discuss, consult, recommend or invite to speak to your group. You no longer get to say you couldn’t find any.

The second reason is the more emotional one: individually, everybody on this list deserves your attention. It’s a typical reactionary response to posts like this that making efforts to widen participation means ‘lowering the bar’, letting standards slip to include less qualified individuals for tokenising reasons (because, of course, only white men are ever sufficiently qualified or possessed of real skill). I refuse to accept I’m lowering any standards, because the people listed below all easily meet them: I’m not saying to take notice of them despite them being less interesting or engaging than Grayling or Dawkins – God knows, I think we’ve heard what both of them have to say several dozen times – I’m saying if you haven’t taken notice of them, it’s despite the fact they’re at least as interesting and engaging. This isn’t about ‘special treatment’; it’s about undoing the tunnel vision a movement dominated by the same few recurring pale males creates.

THE LIST (Read the FAQs here.)

1. Mina Ahadi set up the German Council of Ex-Muslims, and now lives under police protection. She’s a campaigner against stoning (with the International Committee Against Executions) and for separation of church and state, given an award by the National Secular Society six years ago. Since then she’s appeared at numerous events and conferences in Britain, especially those organised by One Law For All. [Email her]

2. Tariq Ali is a historian, and writes for the Guardian. He was brought up as an atheist in Pakistan, and his writing should be mandatory for anyone who wants to discuss Islam – either historically or post-9/11, from Obama’s foreign policy to Innocence of Muslims last year. Remember Hell’s Angel too, the Christopher Hitchens documentary on Mother Teresa? Tariq Ali co-wrote it with him, and he put the knife into Benedict XVI for good measure some years later. [Email him]

3. Bisi Alimi was the first person ever to come out on Nigerian television – prompting him to be beaten by police, abandoned by family and made redundant. He now lives in London, where he often speaks publicly (including last autumn at LSE) and writes in various places; last year, he made the Independent’s ‘Pink List’ of influential LGBT figures. While he doesn’t go with the label ‘atheist’, he does support secularism and recorded a non-religious segment for 4thought.tv last month, discussing whether we still need Pride. [Email him] [Tweet him]

4. Jim Al-Khalili, now President of the British Humanist Association, is a physicist and self-proclaimed ‘cuddly atheist’. (I’m perhaps not one myself, but I do appreciate why those people are needed.) See his appearances on The Pod Delusion since being appointed, as well as his interview with Rowan Williams and his Radio Four programme The Life Scientific – or, alternatively, look up his record of anti-creationist campaigning. [Email him] [Message him] [Tweet him]

5. Helen Arney describes herself as a comedian, presenter, songwriter and geek. She’s been on 4thought.tv discussingChristmas, having also performed an ‘animal habits’ love song at the Rationalist Association’s Nine Lessons and Carols for Godless People a year or two back. She’s sold out in the West End and at the Edinburgh Fringe with the science-based comdey show Festival of the Spoken Nerd, and she co-presents the Discovery Channel’s pop science show You Have Been Warned. [Email her] [Tweet her]

6. Gemma Arrowsmith ’tweets about science and science fiction’, and pokes comic fun at woo on YouTube. Along with Arney and several others on this list, she performed at the Central London Humanist Group’s Stand Up For Darwin event. For those interested, she was also in BBC One’s Merlin. (Not a great skeptical or secular achievement, I know – but it’s Merlin, and we’re a geek community, right?)  [Email her] [Tweet her]

7. Clive Aruede is the organiser of London Black Atheists, part of the Central London Humanist Group and a contributing member of the Apostasy Project. He’s written on the Rationalist Association site about his deconversion experience – he trained and served as a Eucharistic minister in the Catholic Church and, challenged by his children, told his entire mailing list about his loss of faith when he stopped believing. [Email London Black Atheists] [Tweet London Black Atheists]

8. Ivana Bacik, Irish Labour Party Senator for Dublin University, prominent abortion rights advocate and feminist – once dubbed ‘Labour’s queen of political correctness’ in her native press – spoke this year at Atheist Ireland’s Empowering Women Through Secularism conference, after laying very publicly into Catholic bishops. As one of their members (the only Irish parliamentarian who is) she was a keynote speaker at the 2011 World Atheist Convention as well as their inaugural meeting, working in her spare time as a barrister and professor of criminal law who teaches feminist theory. Do not mess with this woman. [Email her] [Tweet her]

9. Marianne Baker has a PhD in cancer research; she’s a feminist, and atheist, an intactivist and, according to her Twitter page, other -ists. She’s guest-posted on Martin Robbins’ Lay Scientist blog at the Guardiancontributed to The Pod Delusion and blogs on various skeptical and atheist topics. You’ve heard of Elevatorgate, but have you heard of Liftgate 2013? Her post about it made me think about where boundaries should be set. [Tweet her]

10. Siana Bangura spent time living with the Amish for a Channel 4 series of that name, in which she ended up, in her own words, getting burned and encountering racism from children; she’s written about black atheism, and spoken about leaving religion on 4thought.tv too. On top of that, she’s a hell of a journalist – see her recent interview with Terence Stamp. Beyond secularity, she’s also coordinating No Fly on the Wall, a site for new feminist perspectives – you can find it in my blogroll.  [Tweet her]

11. Adam Barnett is a journalism student, part of the British Council of Ex-Muslims and One Law For All’s Research Coordinator. Earlier this year, he was one of the two men who caused trouble at Hamza Tzortzis’ segregated UCL debate by sitting in the women’s section (Tzortzis’ organisation, the IERA, used private security to enforce the rules). He also routinely battles racists and fascists, having co-authored OLFA’s report Enemies Not Allies: the Far-Right, and blasted Robert Spencer afterward for his response. [Email him] [Tweet him]

12. Alice Bell is a Guardian science blogger. She writes on sciencepolitics and public policy, both there and at the New Left Project, where she’s an Editor. She tweets on atheism and is a research fellow at the University of Sussex; other interests include science online, young people’s relationship with it and children’s literature. (That last theme appears several times on this list – could it, perhaps, make for an interesting secular parents’ panel discussion?) [Email her] [Tweet her]

13. Sian Berry is a Green Party politician, their candidate for the London mayoralty in 2008, a campaigner for environmentally friendly transport in British cities and an atheist Distinguished Supporter of the BHA. She supported the Atheist Bus Campaign and contributed to The Atheist’s Guide to Christmas the following year, and signed the letter opposing the Pope’s 2010 state visit the UK after that. [Email her] [Tweet her]

14. Susan Blackmore’s name should be familiar. In the UK she’s another of the BHA’s supporters; stateside, a fellow of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry and Consulting Editor at Skeptical Inquirer. See her incredible talks on YouTube about neurologypsychology and memetics, or read her Guardian columns on science and religion. Intriguingly, she also received plastic surgery on her right from Archibald McIndoe as a child, pioneer of facial reconstruction in the Second World War. [Message her]

15. Michael Brooks, a quantum physicist, has a column there too and published a book last year entitled Free Radicals: the Secret Anarchy of Science; some of its ideas on science communication are laid out in his talk at last year’s Learning Without Frontiers conference. He writes regularly for New Statesman and has badgered Britain’s most woo-loving MP, David Tredinnick, really quite admirably. [Message him] [Tweet him]

16. Joanna Bryson works on computer science at the University of Bath. She’s presented talks on ‘The Ethics of Conscious Robots’, both to Bath’s and Cardiff’s branches of Skeptics in the Pub, and similarly asked ‘Can Robots Be Conscious?’ at last year’s Skeptics on the Fringe in Edinburgh. I was busy, at the time, live-blogging from Christian camp; I don’t regret it, but I wish I could have been two places at once. [Email her] [Tweet her]

17. Aroup Chatterjee inspired the Ali-Hitchens Mother Teresa film with his book The Final Verdict: hailing from Kolkata, he and Hitchens were the only hostile witnesses at her beatification. He’s a GP, only too happy to detail the medical and humanitarian shortcomings of the Missionaries of Charity – indeed, he did so on the BBC’s The Big Questions tow years ago. He’s also appeared on 4thought.tv, discussing claims ’faith healing’ can cure cancer. [Email him] [Tweet him]

18. Azita Chellappoo is an Oxford graduate, feminist and atheist, now a Master’s student in biology at UCL. She’s written about the aforementioned segregation fiasco on her blog, which also covers science educationnatural history and animal ethics. (See also her one-shot Guardian piece on race-based access issues at Oxford and Cambridge.) I want to read more from Azita – and apparently we will, once her thesis is done. [Tweet her]

19. Zafar Choudhary, like Clive Aruede, is part of the Apostasy Project – you can read the story of his deconversion from Islam, together with his awe at watching Neil Armstrong land on the moon, at the Rationalist Association site. Originally from Pakistan, he has a chemistry degree, is a qualified accountant and appears to divide his time between lahore and London, where he belongs to the Central London Humanist Group. [Tweet him]

20. Clara Connolly of Women Against Fundamentalism is an immigration solicitor, campaigning against human trafficking, labour exploitation and domestic violence and for migrants’ rights generally; she spoke at the 2010 Protest the Pope rally and has organised both against UK Sharia courts with One Law For All and against Christian fundamentalism in Ireland, due to its effects on abortion availability. [Email her]

21. Moheb Costandi’s Neurophilosophy blog is hosted at the Guardian science network. When he isn’t writing it or authoring books like 50 Human Brain Ideas You Really Need to Knowhe’s talking science communication for organisations like the Wellcome Trust – and specifically, how ‘brand science’ is killing public engagement with the subject. If ever you’re kicked off your PhD programme, as he once was, this is what to do. [Email him] [Tweet him]

22. Sue Cox runs Survivors’ Voice Europe, an organisation for recovering Catholics and victims of clerical abuse. She’s spoken about her experiences in the Church for 4thought.tv and at the 2012 Rally for Free Expression; in addition, she’s the founder (in 1995) and director of the organisation SMART UK, which works to treat substance misuse and addiction. In 2010, she received an award for this work. [Message Survivors’ Voice Europe] [Tweet her]

23. Helen Dale’s a lawyer, qualified both in England and Australia, who lives in Scotland. Her paper ‘A Plea in Law for Equal Marriage’ – yes, I know – won the Law Society of Scotland’s annual essay prize last year, and in 2013 she spoke on a panel at QEDcon entitled ‘Social Media and the Law’; I didn’t manage to get into it, but I now wish I had. You can find her other writing on the SkepticLawyer blog. [Message her (SkepticLawyer Facebook page)]

24. Sarah Ditum (rhymes with ‘item’) will be known both to readers of New Statesman and New Humanist as a feminist, a lefty and a science nerd. She’s written in the latter on forced marriage, 21st century British witch-hunts and the myths of diets and detoxes, as well as in the Guardian on measles and MMR myths, religious bodies in David Cameron’s ‘Big Society’ and, er, Strictly Come Dancing. Honestly, why would any self-respecting, talented writer lower themselves to writing about that? [Message her] [Tweet her]

25. Jane Donnelly is Atheist Ireland’s Education Policy Officer, and has spoken widely on the need for secular education. Recently, at Empowering Women Through Secularism, she also gave a presentation on secularism and human rights. You can find her writing and updates on AI’s dedicated Teach Don’t Preach site, which houses their campaign for fairer and non-segregatory teaching. [Email her] [Tweet her]

26. Pippa Evans, described on her website as a comedian, writer and improviser, set up London’s Sunday Assembly (widely dubbed an ‘atheist church’ in the press – she feels, and has written at the Rationalist Association, that this label acts as a double-edged sword) this year with fellow comic Sanderson Jones. See this piece at the Huffington Post for an outline of one of their not-at-all-religious ‘services’. [Tweet her]

27. Kash Farooq contributes regularly to The Pod Delusion – in fact, he was prompted to make new recordings when this list first went out. He co-runs Nottingham Skeptics in the Pub (he’s also, rumour has it, given talks of his own from time to occasional time) and studies astrophysics with the Open University; his shared blog, The Thought Stash, documents ‘science, skepticism, astronomy and whatever else’. [Tweet him]

28. Sally Feldman serves on New Humanist’s editorial board, and she’s a trustee of the Rationalist Association. (She also writes for the Times Higher Education supplement, teaches at the University of Westminster and used to edit Woman’s Hour on Radio Four.) She’s written prolifically for NH for over a decade – try looking up her posts on the enduring popularity of angels, why New College of the Humanities (AC Grayling’s private university) was a misguided, antihumanist idea and what the story of Snow White says about each generation of women – and on top of all that, she’s a certified humanist celebrant. [Email her] [Tweet her]

29. Jane Goldman wrote the screenplay for The Woman in Black. She co-wrote Kick-Ass and X-Men: First Class and she’s co-writing X-Men: Days of Future Past. (Surely that’s enough?) Having fronted Jane Goldman Investigates for LivingTV ten years ago, examining a range of paranormal beliefs and practices, she was interviewed in a recent edition of The Skeptic, and hangs out at various haunts (ahem) in the UK skeptical community. [Tweet her]

30. Eliza Goroya is an atheist writer, videographer and photographer; her YouTube ‘self-portrait’, detailing the end of her relationship with God, caught people’s attention last year. She’s also an antifascist campaigner, who’s spoken and written widely on the far right, and as a graduate student in film and  theatre at UCL, belongs to the Central London Humanists. Our community needs more artists; we’re lucky to have her. [Message her] [Tweet her]

31. Wendy M. Grossman started The Skeptic in 1987, and remains on its editorial advisory board, as well as that of the Open Rights Group. She’s written in a hundred publications, often on internet culture and online privacy, including Wired, the Guardian and the Daily Telegraph. The courageously retro aesthetic of her personal site, while I wouldn’t dare use it myself, is also to be admired. [Email her] [Tweet her]

32. Victoria Gugenheim dubs herself an anti-theist, atheist superhero and public speaker on art and science: her science-inspired body art is internationally recognised – note for example her transformation of a live human hand into the head of a Caribbean Flamingo, of Lawrence Krauss into a Borg drone or of model Jessica Brown into a tribute to breast health, along with the YouTube videos which showcase the rest of her work. Her professional clients have included London Fashion Week, Nokia and the Black Eyed Peas. [Message her] [Tweet her]

33. Stuart Hall, responsible for shaping current thinking in politics, sociology and cultural theory around race and gender, calls himself a child of the Enlightenment in a 2006 New Humanist interview with Laurie Taylor, crediting it with freeing us ‘from superstition, from religion’ while indicting it for historical racism and bemoaning the lack of an Islamic equivalent. Speaking to Taylor again five years later, he dissects David Cameron’s much-debated multiculturalism speech, and interviewed last year by New Statesman, he takes to task ‘Englishness’ in political rhetoric.

34. Rumy Hasan is a lecturer at the University of Sussex and an author on secularism and Muslim identity around the world, including of the book Multiculturalism: Some Inconvenient Truths. At openDemocracy he’s written on the conflict of Islamism and Zionism along with Western consciousness and Islam, and he’s worked with both London Black Atheists and the Council of Ex-Muslims in the UK. [Email him]

35. Shaheen Hashmat writes a blog on surviving ‘honour’ abuse, post-9/11 Islamophobia and mental health issues – doing so with style and pathos. She’s also written on sex at Alternet (or rather, why she’s gone without it for two and a half years and what she learned from that), and is working on a novel based on her Scottish-Pakistani Muslim upbringing. Look out for it. I know I will. [Email her] [Tweet her]

36. Ruth Haydock is the secretary of the AHS, and the founder of Recovering From Religion’s St. Andrew’s chapter – the second in the UK, as far as I’m aware, and the only one in Scotland. A student there, she’s written on atheism and secularism for university publications, and as displayed on her Twitter page, she does a formidable line in knitted Flying Spaghetti Monsters. No, really. I want one. Now. [Email her] [Tweet her]

Haynes37. Natalie Haynes, comedian and writer, has performed in the past at the Rationalist Association’s Nine Lessons and Carols for Godless People, along with the 2011 BHA conference, the National Federation of Atheist, Humanist and Secular Student Societies’ (‘AHS’ – again, I know) 2013 convention and this year’s QEDcon. She moonlights as a Guardian guest writer on television and popular culture, as well as posting elsewhere. [Email her]

38. Vanessa Heggie is a historian of science and medicine at the University of Birmingham. Topics she’s covered at the Guardian include fad diets, the history behind Todd Akin’s concept of ‘legitimate rape’, ‘Cambridge University’s Victorian prison for prostitutes’ and arguing with science deniers. Conveniently, and perhaps not by coincidence, her writing partner at the Guardian is the next entrant on this list… [Email her] [Tweet her]

Higgitt39. Rebekah Higgitt, also a science historian (in her case at the Royal Observatory Greenwich and the National Maritime Museum), discusses things like Jonathan Swift’s satirising of Isaac Newton, Thomas Jefferson’s love of science, the definition of skepticism and how to debunk astrologers. We sometimes neglect the humanities in skeptical discourse, but both she and Heggie would make fascinating speakers. [Email her] [Tweet her]

Hogge40. Becky Hogge was the Open Rights Group’s first full-time Executive Director, and used to be openDemocracy’s Technology Director. She’s a self-proclaimed ‘freelance optimist’ and keeps a site called The Barefoot Technologist, as well as having written on cyberculture at New Statesman, the Guardian and elsewhere. Nowadays she co-hosts the celebrated Little Atoms podcast on skepticism, atheism, science and other things. [Email her] [Tweet her]

Hoorain41. Sundas Hoorain, another occasional writer here, belongs to the secular student group at LSE which faced student union action for sharing cartoons from Jesus and Mo, and which said union also refused the right – for entirely nonsensical official reasons – to include ‘Ex-Muslim’ in their name. Her segment for 4thought.tv addressed some of this; a human rights lawyer, she’s also campaigned against blasphemy laws in her native Pakistan, and stood in occasionally for Maryam Namazie at speaking engagements. [Tweet her]

Hyde42. Deborah Hyde edits The Skeptic, and has done since Chris French’s tenure ended in 2011. As a lover of both mystical beasts and supernatural horror, she’s aptly named; her personal blog, Jourdemayne, details the mythology of werewolves, vampires and other such things, and her talk on ‘The natural history of the European werewolf’ was well received last year both at QED and Skepticon. Her day job, as a makeup coordinator in the film industry, is equally horrific. [Email her] [Tweet her]

Igwe43. Leo Igwe doesn’t live in the UK, but seems to travel widely and often enough that I include him here. He’s a human rights advocate in Nigeria working with James Randi’s Educational Foundation, with a focus on ending pseudoscience and child abuse based on ‘witchcraft’ allegations, and visited London Black Atheists’ first meeting this March to give a talk entitled ‘Breaking the taboo of atheism in black communities’ (the NSS also invited him to their Secularist of the Year event as a special guest). He was a speaker at TAM 2012 too, and has faced violence and arrest for his past work.

Ilesanmi44. Yemisi Ilesnami – proudly feminist, proudly bisexual, proudly atheist – can be found at FreethoughtBlogs since joining them this May. She’s also Nigerian, now resident in the UK. Beyond her blog Yemmynisting and her book Freedom to Love for All: Homosexuality is Not Un-African, she has a law degree, works occasionally as a plus-size model and has worked in the past for the Nigerian Labour Party and the International Trade Union Congress. Recently she spoke on the ‘Atheism is not enough’ panel at FTBcon, and her YouTube vlog focuses on atheist identity and LGB issues. [Message her] [Tweet her]

Jha45. Alok Jha is a Guardian science correspondent, writing both as a reporter and a commentator on science communication. He presents the Science Weekly podcast there, on which no end of familiar voices – many of them on this list – have been featured, and has authored The Doomsday Handbook: 50 Ways to the End of the World and How to Live Forever: and 34 Other Really Interesting Uses of Science. (He’s now working on a book about water.) [Email him] [Tweet him]

KamaliDehghan46. Saeed Kamali Dehghan is a correspondent for the Guardian on Iranian affairs and political developments. He’s reported on issues like Iranian LGBT activismcharges of sorcery levelled at Ahmadinejad’s allies, Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani’s trial, theocratic law reformed targeting women and the silencing of musician and political dissident Mohammad-Reza Shajarian, to name a few. [Email him] [Tweet him]

Keane47. Jen Keane works as a scientist and web developer. Her blog deals with Ireland’s abortion record and status as a Catholic nation, science communication and the myths surrounding MMR vaccinationpseudoscience and alternative medicine. Earlier this year she discussed religious education on Irish radio alongside Michael Nugent and others; her open letter to the Always company, rejecting any duty to smell of lemon, verbena, roses or aloe-vera all month long, is another gem. [Email her] [Tweet her]

Kendall48. Tessa Kendall used to be a full-time campaigner with the NSS; now she co-hosts London Skeptics in the Pub, and blogs on science, skepticism and atheist strategy. She’s contributed on many occasions to The Pod Delusion, and she’s guest-posted at The Lay Scientist on Frans de Waal’s book The Bonobo and the Atheist. Moreover, she does quite a commendable line in secular snark. [Tweet her]

Kennedy49. Sinéad Kennedy spoke at Empowering Women Through Secularism on politics and acampaigner; she teaches English and Media Studies at NUI Maynooth, and campaigns for access to abortion with Action on X and Ireland’s Abortion Rights Campaign. She drew some people’s ire bycrediting her secularism and feminism to her Marxism (Justin Vacula, predictably, drew great pleasure from this), but personally I’m glad she did. [Email her] [Tweet her]

Khorsandi50. Peyvand Khorsandi’s written for the Evening Standard on Iranian fundamentalism and political Islam, and for openDemocracy on the Islamism of George Galloway and Lauren Booth, as well as multiculturalism and racism in online dating. In the past he’s also written for the Rationalist Association. He and sister Shappi, who made last year’s list, are children of Iranian satirist Hadi Khorsandi, exiled after the Islamic Revolution. [Tweet him]


51. Tracy King thinks of herself as a ‘rationalist with an imagination’. She’s clearly right to as well, having organised TAM London in 2009 and 2010, and produced the much-admired film version of Tim Minchin’s ‘Storm’ in 2011. She works in gaming and animation, consults in PR and writes for Skepchick (apparently as one of their resident Brits – each network has some) and her own blog on topics like Jewishness and gendered engagement traditions. [Tweet her]


52. Manjit Kumar once worked for Wired, and his popular science book Quantum won popular approval in 2009. He’s penned reviews of other pop science books all over the place – if there’s such a thing as a specifically science-communication-based literary critic, he seems like a contender for the title – and appeared several times on the Little Atoms podcast in addition. [Email him] [Tweet him]


53. Iszi Lawrence has skeptical inclinations, a talent for professional comedy and a YouTube channel which never fails to reduce me to a giggling wreck. She’s talked snappily about her non-belief in angels on 4thought.tv, been on The Pod Delusion here and there and also used to host Oxford Skeptics in the Pub, which is where I first met her. Sartorial. Self-declared sartorial influences include 1920s lesbians and Thundercats – as well as, apparently, manga comics. [Email her] [Tweet her]


54. Valerie Levey is a former Christian fundamentalist, who now co-organises Recovering form Religion’s South East London chapter and acts as RFR’s Group Development Coordinator in the UK. (Since we need more of those groups this side of the Atlantic – the London one was our first ever – I’m hoping she has all possible success in the role.) She speaks about her past in an edition of 4thought.tv from this April. [Email her]


55. Liz Lutgendorff is one half of the editorial team at The Pod Delusion, much-mentioned here and probably the UK’s biggest secular podcast. (Beyond her behind-the-scenes role, you can find her personal contributions here.) She’s an experienced Skeptics in the Pub speaker too, an enthusiast for the history of 19th century secularism and one of Chris Johnson’s interviewees for his project A Better Life. [Tweet her]


56. Brooke Magnanti, the artist formerly known as Belle de Jour, has a PhD in forensic science. Oddly enough, she say, people often forgot this when she was a sex worker. Now Magnanti is a Skeptics in the Pub fixture – her talk ‘The Sex Myth’, based on the book of the same name (her first non-pseudonymous title), was a highlight of this year’s QEDcon. She also writes regularly in the Daily Telegraph and sporadically in the Guardian. [Tweet her]


57. Nahla Mahmoud leads the Sudanese Humanists Group; she’s a human rights activist, a conservationist and an atheist spokesperson for the British Council of Ex-Muslims, who’s written for the Economist on apostasy under Sharia and on Sudanese politics for New Internationalist. She’s been interviewed on 4thought.tv and for A Better Life, and she blogs at the NSS website; recently, she’s faced harassment and threats both in Britain and Sudan – follow this link to find more and show your support. [Tweet her]


58. Kenan Malik writes a blog called Pandaemonium, often addressing race, religion and politics – if you’re looking for someone who knows how these things interact, keep looking at him. His books include From Fatwa to Jihad: the Rushdie Affair and its Legacy, and he’s appeared on The Big Questionsworked with the Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain and serves as a BHA Distinguished Supporter. [Email him] [Tweet him]


59. Zoe Margolis is a girl with a one track mind, or so she named her much-noticed sex blog. (The phrase was a pseudonym before her eventual outing.) She’s also a BHA Distinguished Supporter, having spoken at their conference this year, and she’s written on sex education in ‘faith’ schools and sex-negativity in politics as well as contributing to The Atheist’s Guide to Christmas. Not wholly one-track, then. [Message her] [Tweet her]


60. Christina Martin is a former stand-up comedian, writer for New Humanist and the Guardian. She’s an expert in religion-based parlour entertainment, including most famously God TrumpsTop Six Jesus Sightings and the Which Pope am I? personality test. See also, appropriately, her discussion on 4thought.tv of whether anything is sacred in comedy – no prizes for guessing what her answer is. [Tweet her]


61. Aoife McLysaght is a geneticist at Dublin University. She’s appeared twice on The Infinite Monkey Cage, and given a talk at Tedx Dublin on ideas and where they come from. A friend of Alom Shaha, she’s also spoken at Dublin Atheists in the Pub about his book, creationism at the Giant’s Causeway, how and why we leave religious belief and its relationship with science. [Email her] [Tweet her]


62. Anthea McTeirnan is a feminist and advocate of reproductive rights in Ireland, who spoke at Empowering Women Through Secularism about Irish abortion rights. She’s written on the same subject at the National Women’s Council of Ireland, and possesses a noted dislike of religious fundamentalism – as, you would think, might any major supporter of abortion in the Irish political and social context currently. [Tweet her]


63. Terri Murray teaches A-level philosophy at Hampstead College of Fine Arts and Humanities. An ex-Catholic, she won CFI’s international essay contest on free expression three years ago, had had work appear in Philosophy Now and writes for the Rationalist Association site on veiling in Islam and Ann Widdecombe’s Christian persecution complex – the latter post, with over thirty thousand hits at present, is the RA’s most popular column of the year so far.


64. Maryam Namazie heads the One Law For All campaign, is a spokesperson for the Council of Ex-Muslims, writes at FreethoughtBlogs and campaigns internationally against Islamism and religious law. Look up her contributions from QEDcon 2012, the 2011 World Atheist Convention or Protest the Pope in 2010 – in fact, just keep an eye out for her. She’s everywhere (including on this site) and she deserves to be. [Email her] [Tweet her]


65. Elizabeth O’Casey is an NSS vice-president (she blogs on their website) and human rights lawyer who’s also worked with the Center for Inquiry. She’s discussed child marriage and slavery at the United Nations, and chaired One Law For All’s conference on religion and the law in 2011. Back in 2012, we were also on a panel together on the aims of secular activism – for her, it’s strictly about church-and-state separation.


66. Musa Okwonga is a poet, musician and commentator for the Independent, the Guardian and the Huffington Post. When not writing about female genital mutilation or religious communities’ role during the 2011 riots, his passion is sport – read his interview for New Humanist last year with John Amaechi, first NBA basketball player to come out publicly, and, as it turns out, also an outspoken atheist. [Message him] [Tweet him]


67. Alice Onwordi has written shockingly and extensively on female genital mutilation practices, including their increasing frequency in the UK, at the Rationalist Association; over on the pages of the New Statesman site, she’s also blogged on body culture and British (anti)secularism. Beyond that, she’s worked behind the scenes in television as an assistant producer and in theatre as a playwright.


68. Pragna Patel co-founded Women Against Fundamentalism, on top of being Director of Southall Black Sisters (campaigners for secularism and against forced marriage and domestic violence) and a supporter of the NSS. She spoke at their Secularism2012 conference and that year’s Rally for Free Expression, has written at openDemocracy on ‘honour’ violence and gender equality and worked with One Law For All. [Message Southall Black Sisters]


69. Tannice Pendegrass runs Guildford Skeptics in the Pub and is The Skeptic‘s assistant editor. She spoke on the SitP panel at this year’s QEDcon, giving practical tips for setting up, running and maintaining a local forum, and has given talks at a range of groups on good, bad and ugly treatments currently on offer for autism. Additionally, she’s part of the South East Skeptics umbrella group. [Email her] [Message her] [Tweet her]


70. Fariborz Pooya, head of the Iranian Secular Society, campaigns in exile against blasphemy laws around the world and for the safety of atheist bloggers faced with threats or violence in theocratic states. He’s part of the Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain, has spoken previously on religion and radical Islamism and presided at the 2012 Rally for Free Expression, managing a really quite expansive range of speakers.


71. Aarathi Prasad has a molecular genetics PhD, and writes on the science of sex: beside her book Like a Virgin: How Science is Redesigning Sex, her Guardian columns have explored what might cause a virgin birth; on Radio Four she presented The Quest for Virgin Birth, and on Channel 4 she fronted the documentary Is It Better to Be Mixed Race?, also appearing in the science series Brave New World and discussing mixed race marriages on 4thought.tv. In Prospect magazine, she’s also written on the history of slavery. [Email her] [Message her]


72. Hassan Radwan was once a teacher at Islamia Primary School in North West London, founded and run by Yusuf Islam (formerly Cat Stevens). While there he witnessed Salafist members of staff dominating the school, banning music and various books and letting out school premises to Mujahideen supporters. Now he’s a member of the Council of Ex-Muslims, who speaks and writes about his deconversion. [Email the Council of Ex-Muslims]


73. Farah Rahman is a socialist, a feminist, and a blogger on secularity and religion at Farahtasia. Her post about the death of her nephew and the media storm which followed the Woolwich attacks is worth looking up, as is her discussion of Amina Tyler and FEMEN‘s nude protest earlier this year. She’s yet to write much more, it’s true – but when she does (and it seems like after being on this list, she will), I want to read it. [Tweet her]


74. Saif Rahman, author of The Islamist Delusion: from Islamist to Cultural Muslim Humanist, identifies as a secular and cultural Muslim. He’s written for the Rationalist Association, and as part of the Apostasy Project, on the issues this raises and why he finds it preferable to ‘ex-Muslim’. He nonetheless belongs to the Council of Ex-Muslims and has founded the Humanist and Cultural Muslim Association. [Email him] [Tweet him]


75. Alice Roberts is Birmingham University’s Professor of Public Engagement in Science, raised Anglican but now an atheist – she’s not dismissive of the possibility of God, but sees no evidence that any exists. Her Guardian columns have involved scientific approaches to childbirth – she and Aarathi Prasad might have an interesting conversation – and she’s a BHA distinguished supporter. [Message her] [Tweet her]


76. Sid Rodrigues was the founder of London Skeptics in the Pub – which is to say, the original SitP group – and continues to run it. Way back in September 2005, he appeared as a panellist on the first ever edition of Little Atoms and has worked on its production team, organises the parodic Ig Nobel awards in London and contributed to The Atheist’s Guide to Christmas. Bets are being taken currently on what he’ll found next. [Tweet him]


77. Gita Sahgal left Amnesty International acrimoniously in 2010 over its relationship with Moazzam Begg and his Cageprisoners organisation; she’s written about it since for openDemocracy, and about religious demonisation of Bangladeshi bloggers. She’s an atheist and the founding director of the Centre for Secular Space, and has worked previously with the Council of Ex-Muslims. [Email the Centre for Secular Space] [Tweet her]


78. Angela Saini is a science journalist. She’s written for the Rationalist Association about Indian religious consciousness and other topics, and is the author of Geek Nation: How Indian Science is Taking Over the World, which subsequently she turned into a Skeptics in the Pub talk. Nerd culture, it turns out, has gone global at this point – now, wouldn’t that make an interesting discussion? [Email her] [Tweet her]


79. Sarahlicity, considered ‘someone reasonable’ by P.Z. Myers (high praise indeed) is a student at Leeds University and vice-president of their atheist society. She keeps a blog on godlessness, feminism, trans* and other LGBT issues and politics. If you’re not aware of it, see her post on the UK Same-Sex Marriage Act’s treatment of trans* people, as well as her commentaries on cartoon censorshipatheist infighting and the Suzanne Moore/Julie Burchill transphobia debacle earlier this year. [Tweet her]


80. Alom Shaha, when he appeared on last year’s list, was quite a new name to me and probably a fair few others. Since then, helped largely by a whistle-stop tour of just about every Skeptics in the Pub forum in the country, he’s developed a much larger profile after his memoir The Young Atheist’s Handbook caught popular attention. Now he runs the Apostasy Project, is a trustee of the BHA and has appeared all over the media. [Email him] [Tweet him]


81. Rose Shapiro used to be a health writer for women’s magazines – that’s when she got interested in alternative medicine, later writing Suckers: How Alternative Medicine Makes Fools of Us All. This year, she spoke at more than one event during QEDcon, and got a pretty warm reception judging from the tweets I saw. Listen to her on a recent edition of The Skeptic Zone podcast, or read her guide to quack-spotting from a few years back.


82. Labi Siffre is known for being a musician. You know ‘It Must Be Love’, that hit Madness had, or ‘Something Inside (So Strong)? Labi Siffre wrote those. It turns out he’s also an atheist – a movement atheist, at that. ‘Theism IS extremism: There is no evidence of God’, he writes on his website; ‘With neither my permission nor my understanding’, he told New Humanist in an interview last year, ’I was baptised and confirmed a Catholic.’ But guess which bus campaign he gave £1000? [Tweet him]


83. Vicky Simister is a feminist campaigner, founder of the London Anti-Street Harassment (LASH) campaign (she’s spoken on 4thought.tv about what prompted that) and was raised as a Jehovah’s Witness. At the Rationalist Association, she’s written about being kicked out and made homeless, aged 17, for smoking, having premarital sex and ‘rejecting the Lord’, and laid out the emotional background and consequences as part of the Apostasy Project. [Tweet her]


84. Simon Singh fought to reform British libel law after the British Chiropractic Association sued him for writing that they promoted ‘bogus treatments’. They later dropped the case, only for him to be threatened again with legal action on criticising What Doctors Don’t Tell You magazine. He’s the author, with Edzard Ernst, of Trick or Treatment: Alternative Medicine on Trial, and has given no end of public talks. [Email him] [Message him] [Tweet him]


85. Joan Smith was thrown out of the Brownies aged for being an atheist and a republican. (She refused, when expected to, to swear loyalty to God and the Queen.) Now she’s a columnist at the Independent, an honorary associate of the NSS and a supporter of Republic, the campaign to disestablish the British monarchy; look up her thoughts on genital-cuttingfree expression and shoes, among other things. [Email her] [Tweet her]


86. Kate Smurthwaite packs one hell of an atheist bitchslap – so says the internet, anyway. When not bashing God on The Big Questions (she’s subsequently reappeared there numerous times), she’s a comedian, and political activist; she’s a member of the NSS and the London Feminist Network, and a representative of Abortion Rights UK. See her moving and incisive comments from the Rally for Free Expression last year. [Email her] [Tweet her]


87. Bahram Soroush was a founding member of the UK Council of Ex-Muslims, and is an Iranian-born human rights campaigner. He has directed attention to opposing the existence of the Sharia courts system in Britain, speaking at One Law For All’s 2009 march against Sharia for International Women’s Day in 2009 and its 2010 conference on apostasy, Sharia law and human rights. If you’re looking for ‘grassroots’, he’s a good place to look. [Tweet him]


88. Francesca Stavrakopoulou, as described in outraged tones by the Daily Mail, ‘is a self-proclaimed atheist who claims God had a wife and Eve suffered from sexism’ – and also the BBC’s ‘face of religion’ since 2011, when she fronted the series The Bible’s Buried Secrets. She teaches ancient religion and the Hebrew Bible at Exeter University, and has appeared numerous times on The Big Questions. [Email her] [Tweet her]


89. Samantha Stein directs Camp Quest UK, the freethinking summer camp focusing on critical thinking, philosophy and the scientific method – having set it up in 2009, she’s spoken widely about her experience in skeptical education, including last year at the World Skeptics’ Congress in Berlin, and she also has a master’s in ‘religion and contemporary society’. Beyond that, she writes a food blog in her spare time for fellow coeliacs. [Email her] [Tweet her]

image90. Hayley Stevens is a ghost, apparently – or rather, a skeptical ghosthunter. If you haven’t seen her posts here, listen to the Be Reasonable podcast she co-hosts for the Merseyside Skeptics Society with Michael Marshall, interviewing people with far-out beliefs, or remember the fallout in 2012 when she reported faith healers to the Advertising Standards Authority. She’ll be speaking at this year’s European Skeptics Congress, and she’s appeared before at Denkfest and Centre for Inquiry UK. [Message her] [Tweet her]


91. Lola Tinubu belongs to London Black Atheists and Central London Humanists, and she’s part of the Apostasy Project: read about her leavetaking of Nigerian Christianity and new love of natural science (‘Landscapes, earthquakes, continental drift, all of that – I’m like a little girl in a candy shop’), or listen to her [4]thoughts on the pastoral benefits of ‘atheist churches’ and the Sunday Assembly. [Tweet London Black Atheists]


92. Polly Toynbee’s nothing if not a marmite atheist, with a Guardian column that polarises readers, in particular her claim that atheists are better at politics. She served as the BHA’s president from 2007 through to 2013, spoke at the AHS’s convention this year, helped launch the Atheist Bus Campaign in 2009 and has written previously in objection to ‘faith’ schools and religious belief itself. [Email her] [Tweet her]


93. Salil Tripathi has over two decades of journalism behind him. He’s the author of Offence: the Hindu Case, an exploration of Hindu nationalism’s influence on Indian public life, and a visiting fellow at Harvard. In his columns at Index on Censorship, he’s covered the prosecution of Salman Rushdie’s readers, the blasphemy laws of Pakistan, pressure on the press from Indian religious groups and American shock culture around gay art; elsewhere he’s taken British libel law to task. [Email him][Tweet him]


94. Miss Twist is the cross-dressing ‘poster girl’ of Edinburgh Skeptics, who’s spoken at Skeptics on the Fringe about the purported workings of astrology as well as other matters, and whose blog details religious (and other) attitudes to gendered clothing. Her first name, if by any chance you’d wondered what it was, turns out to be Nanobeans. And there you were guessing at ‘Surprise’ or ‘Olivia’. [Message Edinburgh Skeptics]


95. Anna Vesterinen thinks internationally. She just finished a master’s degree at SOAS in international studies and diplomacy, and it shows in her columns. On the Rationalist Association site, she writes about competing atheist identities, religious censorship and free expression, as well the status of blasphemy around the globe – in countries Greece, Indonesia and Poland, for example. [Email her]


96. Judith Walker is the Rationalist Association’s secretary, but moreover, a cartoonist – both when satirising religion for New Humanist (in addition to her RA post, she’s their magazine’s Business Director) and previously at the magazine Duck Soup (she founded it) as well as the women’s section of The Sun. Her ‘atheist censorship‘ illustration, in particular, is one personal favourite of mine. [Messsage her] [Tweet her]


97. Anne Marie Waters, colleague of Maryam Namazie at the One Law For All campaign, is a human rights lawyer and council member at the NSS, where she blogs regularly. She’s spoken widely (including at Empowering Women Through Secularism and the 2011 World Atheist Convention) on religious practices and human rights, in particular the UK’s Sharia courts, and was physically threatened in 2012 while attempting to do so. [Email her] [Message her] [Tweet her]


98. Elizabeth Wilson teaches cultural studies at the London College of Fashion, and writes for the Rationalist Association; in the 70s, her first published article was for the Gay Liberation Front, and she’s written on feminism and secularity since. Her column on why atheists can embrace the power of Tarot made me think, as did her defence a few years ago of atheist ‘militancy’ and anger. I wonder, on reflection, what she and Greta Christina might say to each other. [Email her]


99. Nira Yuval-Davis is part of Women Against Fundamentalism’s organising group, the director of the Research Centre on Migration, Refugees and Belonging and a professor at the University of East London. She’s joined with a variety of secular figures (including several others on this list) to oppose the use of stoning in Iran, and written for OpenDemocracy, including on religion and women’s rights in Israel and the public rhetoric of the ‘war on terror’. [Email her]


100. Myra Zepf of Northern Ireland is a children’s author, contributor to the Gaelic language magazine An tUltach and writes on secular parenting for the Rationalist Association with talent and style. (Have a look at her atheist survival guides for Christmas and Easter, or find out why she hates the Little Red Hen.) On top of this, her quirky Pinterest page is a delight. [Tweet her]

More creationism at the Keswick Convention

Remember the ‘Scale model of Noah’s ark‘ creationist exhibit, from this time last year in my hometown?

The Keswick Convention is in full swing again, and a friend just linked me to this footage from the local marketplace.

Watch out for more young earth creationism, threats of Hell, the blood of Jesus and salvos against gay sex, unmarried sex and internet porn. (None of these, of course, are any different from lying or stealing.) Richard Dawkins gets a mention, as he always does, and there’s a happier ending than you might expect, even if I’m not entirely comfortable with it.

[Edit: it turns out the preacher here is Dale Mcalpine, who ended up in hot water three years ago over similar events.]

A transcript follows. I’ve done my best to get everything, but there are words I can’t make out; if you catch them, or you spot an error, let me know in the comments.

P.S. I should mention I don’t know if this was official Keswick Convention preaching, or whether (like last year’s exhibit) it was independent evangelism, capitalising on the religious hunting season.

* * *

Audience member #1: How do you manage to live your day to day life without sinning?

Preacher: Sorry?

AM #1: How do you manage to live your day to day life without sinning? I seem to survive.

P: See, this is what happens. When someone is born again, what that means is that someone is changed from someone who loves their sin, their sinful nature, and follows a lifestyle of sin – sin that offends God – to someone who loves God. [Inaudible] …how do I survive?

AM #1: How does the person in sin survive?

P: Well, sinning isn’t a requirement of breathing. [Inaudible] You’ve had your turn.

AM #1: I believe in God!

P: The Devil believes in God, so believing in God is not going to help you on the Day of Judgement. You need your sins forgiven-

AM #1: I know but I’ve got to get by before that…

AM #2: The guy’s right. [Pointing to AM #1.) Why would you have to repent if you didn’t sin in the first place?

P: -and the only way that your sins can be forgiven is if you’re soaked in the blood of Jesus Christ because the Bible says that without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sin.

AM #1: …how do I survive until then?

P: What d’you mean ‘survive’? I don’t understand your question.

AM #1: Well how do I live without sinning?

P: You can’t: you can’t do anything but live a sinful life, unless God supernaturally transforms you and makes your spirit that loves to sin – your nature that loves to sin – makes it alive and gives you a new nature. That’s why the Bible says if any man is in Christ, he’s a new creature. So if you’re still… if you’re professing to be a Christian today, and you’re still the same person that you’ve always been, [if] you haven’t been set free from the power and consequence of sin, then you’re not a Christian. You’re not born again, because the Bible says that you should be changed.

AM #1: Nobody [inaudible]

AM #3: You’re really spoiling a lovely day, mate.

P: God saved me-

AM #3: You’re really spoiling a lovely day.

P: God saved me five nine year ago, and he can save anyone out here today. If you’ll humble yourself, and call upon his name.

AM #4: …still say that slavery is okay.

P: …call upon the name of the Lord-


AM #5: Surely there’s a better way of going about it than standing on there and embarrassing Christians? I’m a Christian and I’m slightly embarrassed by the way you are doing this!

P: Okay.

AM #5: I’m a Christian, okay? I’m a Christian… she is my friend… I’m a Christian, okay. There’s a way of going about it-

P: Sure. And the way to go about it is God’s way. If the Bible-

AM #5: I’m not ash-

P: And the Bible says… the Bible says-

AM #5: I’m not ashamed… I’m not ashamed of what I believe in!

P: Well what do you tell people?

AM #5: I do!

P: Do you preach the Gospel-


AM #5: I don’t… [inaudible] God gave us a choice.

P: No, of course not, because you don’t know it. You see you can’t live what you don’t know, and the Bible says there are-


AM #5: So you’re saying I’m not a Christian because I don’t talk… you’re saying I don’t believe that God came down, sent his son down, and he died for my sins? You’re saying that I don’t believe that because I don’t sit there, stand on there, and go ‘Hey everybody! Everybody listen to God’? You’re saying that I’m not a Christian?

P: The Devil believes that God came down and died for people’s sins. The Devil believes that. So you’re still going to Hell on the Day of Judgement. Unless you’re born again you’re not a Christian.

AM #5: So are you…

P: Unless you’re born again you’re not a Christian. Unless you’re changed and set free from the power of your sin, whatever sin that might be, unless you’re changed anew, you live a holy life-

AM #5: Yeah, I do… [inaudible] I live a holy life, and my non-Christian friends around me see me and listen to me, rather than standing on there and being like ‘All Christians are like this!’ Not all of them.

P: But is your nice personality enough to save people from the wrath of God?

AM #6: Is yours… what you’re doing now, are you going to save people by standing up talking?

P: Is your nice personality, the way you live your life, what God says that you must do in order for men and women to be saved? [Continues]

AM #3: …you enjoying it, pal? [Aside]

AM #7: Yeah.

AM #3: I’ve been watching it from the beginning. Here come the police to look after him.

P: -preaching of the Gospel, the preaching of this message, is the power of God.

AM #2: You know you’re not preaching… you’re not opening the Bible once.

P: Well… [Continues]

AM #3: Can you not arrest him for heresy?

AM #7: Yeah.

AM #8: [Inaudible] Do you believe that science and Christianity can coexist?

P: We believe in good science, it’s that evolution and the Big Bang is bad science. Did evolution make a monkey out of you?

AM #8: So the two can’t coexist then? You don’t think that they can just [inaudible] each other and [inaudible] Christian?

P: See, science can’t exist without God. God gave us laws of logic, laws of astronomy, laws of thermodynamics – God set off these laws of science in motion. And when you reject God [inaudible] knowledge. See, because the Bible says the fear of God is the beginning of knowledge. See? So without God you can’t know anything!

AM #8: Do you believe that Christians… there are Christians who can believe in evolution and believe the Bible?


P: …God, and they need to read the Bible, because the Bible says… the Bible says that God created the world in six literal days and he created a man and a woman from dust. He didn’t create a man and a woman from a pond life [sic] that evolved over millions of years. That’s not what the Bible says. So these people there, the theistic evolutionists, are wrong, and they need to read the Bible.

AM #5: But how do you not know… how can you not know… you know the Bible, in Genesis it says it as a poem – if you read it in Hebrew, the creation of the world is a poem – that is not then actually seven whole days. That could be millions of years, so God could… the evolution process that we know of could actually be God’s way of actually making animals? We don’t know that. We won’t know if he existed… so if God could actually have planned evolution, and you know, planned that… [inaudible] …like this, like that, and therefore things evolved…

P: Let me stop you there, that’s a fair question: could God have used evolution to create mankind? Well here’s what the Bible says: the Bible says that death came into the world through one man’s sin. Adam’s. Before Adam sinned, there was no death. So things couldn’t have died out to progress. So there’s a contradiction. Either you believe God’s word, that God created us in six literal days, or you can believe [inaudible] who the Bible says the wisdom of this world is foolishness. See Richard Dawkins and Charles Darwin, according to God’s word, are fools. And the wisdom of this world is foolish.

AM #8: God has never mentioned Charles Darwin! God never mentioned it. He never mentioned him. What are you talking about? Is Charles Darwin in the Bible? [inaudible] That’s not true…

P: Well, I mean we know it’s true because that’s what the Bible says. And the Bible says that death came into the world through one man’s sin. The wages of sin is death. Sin is…

AM #9: Charles Darwin…

P: …before sin came into the world there wasn’t any death. So there couldn’t have been a process of evolution where things die out and progress. And people who teach that are in error, even if they’re you’re favourite preacher and if they’re nice people they’re in error. The Bible says that you can know the truth, and these things are written so that you may know them and have eternal life. How do you have eternal life? Through the blood of Jesus Christ. There’s no other way to peace with God. There’s no other way that your sins can be forgiven other than by the blood of Jesus Christ. Because the Bible says that without the shedding of blood there’s no forgiveness of sin. Your good personality, your good deeds can’t help you on the Day of Judgement.

AM #10: As a Christian…

P: Being baptised and going to church won’t help you on the Day of Judgement, because your good works [inaudible] If you have any problems with that, any questions about the Gospel message being preached today, I’d be very happy to answer all your questions.

AM #10: D’you not think that Christianity or any other religion is just a way of being, basically, scared of dying? D’you not think death is just a black, [inaudible] nothing? And that this has just been put on us, just ‘cause you’re scared?

P: No, I think that atheists are scared…

AM #10: No no no no no, I’m asking, d’you not think you are scared – you are scared?

P: I’m telling you what I think. I think that atheism is a crutch for people who are scared of Judgement Day, and they… they cling to the… the… the ridiculous lie of evolution in order to silence their conscience that tells them they are guilty before God, and that they know that they’re accountable because they’ve lied, stolen, looked at porn on the internet, when they’ve slept around, sinned outside of marriage. All sex outside of marriage of one man, one woman, is a sin against God. That’s what God says. Now that’s unpopular today. People in churches believe and tell us that homosexuality’s okay, they were just born that way – that’s a lie from the pit of Hell.

AM #10: Oh, really?

P: Yes.

AM #10: Really?

AM #5: Oh don’t even start…

P: [Inaudible] They feel in their heart, they’re not born that way. They’re not helpless. Homosexuality is an abomination-


Unknown sources: Shut up! Disgusting!

P: -sin against God! And Jesus Christ said unless you repent, you will perish, so… [Continues]

AM #11: You don’t have a busker’s licence – I am on the town council, listen to me. I am on the town council, listen to me sir. Please… please sir listen to me, please sir… you do not have a busker’s licence. SIR! You are now [inaudible], you don’t have a busker’s licence, you are not welcome in this town, you are a bigot sir. I am on the town council and I think I’m very right in saying that we do not want bigotry in this town.

AM #3: Hurray to the town council! Hurrah!


“May he grow up in Thy constant fear” – on digging up my certificate of baptism

Until last week, I didn’t know I was an Anglican.

In Britain, the Church of England by and large is an object of humour. We joke about its reputation for tea and cake, leaking roofs and village fêtes, its desperate, undignified attempts to be trendy and current, the notion half its members are private atheists. The latter always seemed a comic overstatement, but unearthing my certificate of baptism has made me question its exaggeration.

As long as I was seriously conscious of religious ideas, or indeed much else, I never considered myself an Anglican. While at one time or another I visited most local churches, it wasn’t the Church of England in which I grew up – I’ve only the vaguest memory of visiting its services at preschool age, after which I never went back. By the time I was sixteen, in any case, I was an atheist. It’s uncanny then, almost archaeological, to have found record of my Anglican baptism while rifling through old results letters and legal papers, a yellowing sliver of card from the first months of my life.

Its centrepiece is a line drawing of the churchyard, a man and woman gendered in 1950s dress outside its gates, arms linked, a boy behind them carrying something – a hymnbook, perhaps? – and two girls skipping in ahead, their angle of approach suggesting a separate family, their parents out of view behind them. The gates have been altered in the years since this was drawn, and I wonder if the artist (their signature only a subtle ‘V.’) is still around: the image speaks of a time when still-young parents brought their children to churches like this, when boys wore blazers and trousers and girls pleated skirts. Even if this was drawn the year of its issue, the artist must have been at least sixty-something – the current age of my parents, till recently some of this church’s youngest members. Asked to think of churchgoers, at least in a parish like this, would anyone born since the war picture such figures?

If you can’t read the text the image contains, the blessing underneath my name and the vicar’s reads as follows:

Almighty God, our heavenly Father, whose blessed Son did share at Nazareth the life of an earthly home: Bless, we beseech Thee, the home of this child, and grant wisdom and understanding to all who have the care of him: that he may grow up in Thy constant fear and love: through the same Thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

The gendered pronouns catch my attention. Did female-assigned babies have separate certificates, worded ‘her’ and ‘she’? Did the blessing’s content change? I can’t see why it would, but nor do I see an existing need for ‘his’ and ‘him’. Perhaps ‘s/he’ just seemed too drily official, but in some ways this is true of the whole document. If only because uncovered among wildlife awards and first aid diplomas, this certificate seems jarringly unprofound next to its subject matter, a collision on bordered card of the ostensibly transcendent with the palpably banal.

What about the hope, then, that I grow up in constant fear? I’m braced for the objection that the full text reads ‘fear and love’, but I’m unsure that’s an improvement: if you live in fear of someone, I worry for you, but I worry much more if you love them as well. It’s certainly revealing though that here, as in this church generally, sinister details lurk in the fine print.

Whatever affectionate fun Eddie Izzard and Rowan Atkinson poke at it, the Church of England does not deserve its mostly harmless image. If its sheen of middle class friendliness has been eroded by its handling of gay marriage and women bishops, its years of misanthropic collaboration through the Anglican Communion have gone largely unnoticed in British media. If Justin Welby cares as much as he claims about gay people’s wellbeing, what does he have to say to the Church of Uganda, supporters by and large of its country’s Homosexuality Bill, smearers of queer men as molesters of infant boys with talk of ‘homosexual disorientation’, excommunicators of pro-gay bishop Christopher Senyonjo, boycotters of the 2011 Primates’ Meeting? Where was he while his predecessor, seemingly comfortable in such churches’ company, spent years appeasing Peter Akinola, former Nigerian archbishop and supporter of criminalising homosexuality – even defending his implied threats toward Muslims?

If this is a church of closet agnostics, it’s also the church of Andrea Williams, George Carey and Lynda Rose; of Nicky Gumbel, John Sentamu and Michael Nazir-Ali. In both confidence and influence, the fundagelical factions are growing – we’re seeing (or almost seeing) ex-gay bus ads and pro-life rallies, watching young Earth creationists gain major politicians’ ears while secular, pro-choice MPs are unseated in smear campaigns, theocrat lobbyists win unjust, unfair legal exemptions for religion. This church’s standards are as hole-filled and unsound as its proverbial roofs, and – thanks to my infant baptism, carried non-consensually out before I could speak, and in terms of figures widely used by the media and government – I’m one of its members.

Time and again the Church of England has brandished favourable statistics, no matter how spurious or unreliable, in attempts to legitimise its privileges.

  • In the decade which followed the 2001 census, we heard over and over that 72 percent of Britons were Christians, despite this resulting from an imprecise leading question and being wildly inflated in comparison with other national surveys.
  • After the 2011 census, despite the figure dropping to 59 percent and ‘no religion’ answers rising from 15 to 25 percent, the Church claimed victory – only for polling to show that out of those who’d declared themselves Christians, half never took part in any religious activity (including church services) and hadn’t read any part of the Bible in the previous three years, with only slightly more saying they explicitly believed in God, almost 40 percent never or almost never prayed, only 35 percent could name the first book of the New Testament and only 10 percent looked most to their religion for moral guidance.
  • This year, perhaps most laughably at all, the Church was roundly mocked for claiming four in five people believed in the power of prayer when most people in an ICM survey answered the question, ‘Irrespective of whether you currently pray or not, if you were to pray for something at the moment, what would it be for?’ (A fifth, as it turned out, were so wholly unspiritual even when pushed that they failed to answer or said they’d never pray for anything.)

I don’t think my anger at being baptised, then, is trivial or insignificant. When next the Church of England lobbies for further control of state-funded schools, the preservation of schoolchildren’s duty to participate in Christian worship and of its bishops’ automatic parliamentary seats, continued status as the country’s established church or any other theocratic entitlements, you can bet its many millions of supposed members – most of them inducted, like me, sans knowledge or permission – will be hoisted in its support. However the data’s used, anyway, isn’t registering non-consenting people as members of your church just wrong? As so many times before, I feel the spectre of the petty, whining atheist being aimed at me, but once again, aren’t atheists as entitled as believers to autonomy and respect?

So while there’s little I can do to reverse its effects, the Church having refused to discount defectors from its membership, I renounce my baptism. Actually, I denounce it. I denounce a theism I’m incapable of holding to be true, and any theism that imports existential fear, guilt or shame; I denounce a church which preaches that fear to infants, commanding them to love its imagined source, and which harbours and appeases those who’d deny me human rights or dignity. In particular, I denounce a church that takes ownership of children’s minds for granted, and which claims them as its members before they can speak.

Since my first months on this planet, to my recent surprise, I’ve been an Anglican – I was made one without my assent, and most likely will stay one forever, at least on paper, against my will. For that reason if no other, I wish passionately not to be.

Man of Steel: you’ll believe this turkey can fly

How unjust it is that a sequel to Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel was announced even before its premiere, while Superman Returns, Bryan Singer’s 2006 effort, spawned none in the years which followed its release.

The failure of Returns is largely mythical, despite fans’ recollection of it as a flop prompting DC’s reboot, as Ang Lee’s dismal Hulk prompted one several years before. While its grosses were modest rather than spectacular, the film made only slightly less than Batman Begins – viewed now as one of the great comic book films, whose sequels broke box office records and no doubt landed Nolan a production role on Man of Steel. On release, too, Singer’s film impressed most of its critics, and holds very respectable ratings at Metacritic (72%) and Rotten Tomatoes (75%). As it turned out, it was Man of Steel which reminded me of watching Hulk, a feat I’m sure no current production hopes to accomplish.

Plenty of substandard comic book films have passed through over the years, from Hulk to Fantastic Four, Green Lantern to Ghost Rider. These weren’t good films, but neither were they terrible films: if they were bad, it was only by dint of not being very good. Man of Steel, on its own terms, is an actively terrible film – muddled, humourless, shallow, unfaithful – toward which I felt not just indifferent or unimpressed, but actually angry. The instant I left the cinema, I determined to write down everything that’s wrong with it. You’ll understand, then, that this is going to be a long post. (If it’s any consolation, it’ll still be substantially shorter than the impassioned, 17,000 word all-caps rant at Film Crit Hulk.)

Perhaps most frustratingly of all, many supremely talented people were involved somehow or other in this film’s production – from Nolan to Kevin Costner, Amy Adams to Hans Zimmer, whose score squelches immemorably along for most of the film, though not without its moments of greatness. (Still, I challenge you to hum his main theme ten minutes after you’ve first seen the film.) It’s hard to know, though I’ll try to dissect as best I can, what went so wrong – and harder still to know where to start, for the problems are legion and many.

In no particular order though, let’s consider some of the glaringest plot flaws.

[Major spoilers, I warn you, from here on out.]

Why does the black hole hovering daintily above Metropolis spontaneously vanish at the right time, and not continue swallowing the city? (Black holes, by the way, are formed by collapsing suns. They are usually much, much larger than this.)

Why don’t Zod and his followers, on retrieving their species’ genes, just terraform an uninhabited planet rather than Earth? Why terraform Earth at all, in fact, when its current atmosphere gives them superpowers?

Why do Krypton’s leaders, faced with impending planetary doom, evacuate only their world’s most dangerous criminals, bizarrely staying put themselves? Doesn’t it occur to them the planet’s destruction will free the prisoners?

Why is a working simulation of Jor-El, up to date with Krypton’s collapse and his son’s history, on a scout ship from millennia ago – equipped, no less, with a form-fitting bodysuit perfectly tailored to Kal-El’s adult physique? Why, when this Jor-El takes control of Zod’s ship to free Lois and Kal-El, doesn’t he programme it to self-destruct or fly into the sun? (Lord only knows what HowItShouldHaveEnded will do with this film.)

Speaking of the Kryptonians: given the scope of their terraforming science, why weren’t they able to fix their planet in the first place? And why does Faora, part of a clearly scientifically advanced society, think natural selection favours ruthlessness and individualism? Come on – this was debunked in The Selfish Gene.

Speaking of Lois, apparently a successful professional journalist, why does she leak her story to obscure conspiracy hacks when Perry White refuses to print it, rather than pitch it to another paper? If she wanted plausible deniability of authorship, why try to print it in the Planet at all? And how does she deduce Kal-El’s identity in a matter of onscreen minutes, simply by asking around? Surely Clark, having sacrificed his father’s life for anonymity and wandered off-the-grid around the world in the years since, would have been more careful?

When bodies fall through the air by the dozen in Metropolis, why does Superman only try to save Lois? Why doesn’t he care about everyone else? Actually, why does this Superman demolish building after building full of people, only to flinch when Zod threatens a family of four – and at killing Zod himself? (And why is he strong enough to break Zod’s neck, but not to break his ribs or inflict bruises in the preceding battle? Either their powers cancel each other out, or each is equally invulnerable to the other, but both can’t be true.)

Plot flaws alone don’t kill a film, by any means; while much discussed, for example, those of The Dark Knight Rises didn’t detract from its good reception. But the holes in Man of Steel are so many and so deep, the makers of Prometheus must feel imperilled. (Don’t worry, though. They’re getting a sequel too.)

These incoherencies, moreover, point to the flaws of David S. Goyer’s script, never fully possessed of its characters. Until Zod’s spine is snapped, the Kryptonians appear immune to each other’s attacks, making any battle between them a guarantee of extended devastation: surely, especially after witnessing this in Smallville – infernos, collapsing power plants and all – the first instinct of Colonel Hardy, or anyone(not least Kal-El himself) tasked with protecting the civilian population, would be to avoid the cataclysmic, city-destroying showdown of the film’s third act? Had the military characters had been written at all thoughtfully, they would have demanded Superman lead Zod and his forces away from Metropolis, to battle him in the desert or above the ocean.

Goyer’s charactering of Superman himself, as evidenced by his indifference to tumbling skyscrapers, lacks even internal consistency. He is the supposedly counter-dynastic heir to a heroic father, wearing his family’s emblem on his chest; the anti-militarist figure embodying U.S. individualism and the American way; the nameless pilgrim travelling the world to hide his superhuman powers, who nonetheless uses them at every opportunity; the noble, serene Christ-figure symbolising hope and optimism, who pummels enemies with hurricane force for insulting his mother. As to the latter, a violent Superman has comic book precedents, but one can’t help feeling producers overcompensated for the controversial punchlessness of Superman Returns. In a film which aspires to rugged realism, it’s a trap to make Superman himself a fist-slinger. A gallant, straight-backed hero figure – like Christopher Reeve’s Superman, a moral rudder in a storm – is if anything more welcome in a dog-eat-dog present day setting, as The Avengers so clearly understood with its out-of-his-time Captain America. When buildings fall and cities burn, Superman should care. To quote the Film Crit Hulk review,


And why did Lois Lane, for her part, have nothing to say so much of the time, despite being a professional commentator? As the alien ship descended upon Superman at the army base, I hung on a Whedonesque quip from Amy Adams, but as with the later truck-in-the-living-room scene, no punchline came – and as the daughter of one general, a fact stressed in her dialogue at one point, surely she’d have words for Zod, another? (A waste, too, that they never had a one-on-one face off. How much more interesting would that have been than the incongruously lurid dream sequence where Cavill’s Kal-El is out-presenced by a pile of skulls?) For all the 9/11 imagery in the film’s climax and its pretensions of real-world grit, it never makes good on its potential subtext of militarism and occupation, due largely to a Ms. Lane who fails in spite of herself to articulate anything.

Say what you like about the casting of Kate Bosworth, but the scripting of Lois in Returns was arguably one of the film’s best features. This was a woman whose journalistic thinking was foregrounded, even one who’d snatched a Pulitzer for a column entitled ‘Why the world doesn’t need Superman’ – who, even while authoring a contrary piece by the film’s conclusion, has moved on from him in her romantic life. He, moreover, actually accepts this, making no attempt to steal her back and respecting, by the time the credits roll, her choice of a new partner. In a film with a retro aesthetic, that’s a pretty progressive gender politic. Certainly, it easily beats that of Man of Steel, where Lois, her journalism restricted to reporting what the viewer already knows, kisses Superman for no apparent reason once he saves her life, and where Jor-El’s wife Lara, whose death seems to be her only role in the plot, loses all will to survive when her husband is killed. (Seriously, though: why are women in films overcome with desire for any man who prevents their death? Isn’t this a pretty problematic trope, the logical conclusion of Nice Guy culture, where women dispense love in exchange for benevolence?)

In a film which seems preoccupied via jolting, ever-intrusive flashbacks with the theme of Superman’s humanity, it’s the Kryptonian elements which dominate the story from its first scenes, their swooping alien lizard-birds as derivative of Avatar as the later kamikaze runs and terraforming Genesis device are of Independence Day and Star Trek II. Unfortunately, while front and centre in the plot, these are its least inviting parts – how much do we honestly care about the details of Kryptonian reproduction or what Jor-El did with his civilisation’s codex? (Why does he even preserve it, anyway, after determining Krypton’s society has met its natural end? I’m sorry. This belongs in the list above.) Michael Shannon’s General Zod is sadly no exception, a dull and pedestrian villain, not least when compared with Terence Stamp’s icy BDSM ruler, for whom the phrase ‘imperial leather’ could serve as a byline; it’s one of the Man of Steel’s ironies that as determinedly uncampy as the film sets out to be, Shannon’s character does nothing even faintly as antagonistic, menacing or downright nasty as when Gene Hackman’s Lex Luthor attempts to drown Superman in his pool, Kryptonite necklace weighing him down, or Kevin Spacey’s stabs him in the side, tossing him into the ocean below. This Zod is as disjointed as his enemies, stabbing Jor-El with a concealed blade and clear, cold-blooded intent, then later claiming this wholly avoidable, deliberate act haunts him – and his dullness, like so much here, expresses the filmmakers’ misguided aesthetic.

The moment I saw production photographs from Man of Steel, Henry Cavill in costume, my hackles were raised. Superman’s literal depantsing suggested an approach to the source material where elements deemed dated, campy or ridiculous were going to be excised, as they were from the Nolanised Batman. But Superman doesn’t suit this approach, as Batman did. Attempting to apply it was a fool’s errand, because Superman, at root, is dated, campy and at least faintly ridiculous, the spandex superhero of underwear-as-outerwear, laser eyes and shiny-green-rock death. To cut the daft parts leaves almost nothing left – or at least, it leaves the joyless, hollow rehearsal that is Man of Steel, aiming for grit but achieving only grime. The trick is to contextualise the campiness so that it works, as did the Reeve films, and here I include Returns among them. Yes, as a love letter to the mythos it was more romantic than Serious-with-a-capital-‘S’, but on its own self-set terms it mostly works. (I still defy fans not to shiver at its teaser trailer.) Singer’s film has meaning, pace and poise; Snyder’s has none of them, and is a film in which little actually means anything.

As Richard Lawson writes at the Atlantic Wire, the director ‘spends so much time grasping for profundity’ with grandiose imagery and allusion, ‘trying to create a towering mood, that he doesn’t actually tell us a story’. Christian imagery abounds – Clark’s conversation with the priest, Kal-El’s crucifixion-pose above the Earth, his father’s salvific (if false) statement, ‘You can save all of them’ – but what does it actually symbolise? In Superman Returns, there’s a point to the Jesus comparisons: Superman is stabbed in the side, falls to Earth in the shape of a cross and rises from his apparent death because in this, a deeply melancholy film, he’s a hero who suffers for the world he saves – abandoned by Lois, forgotten by humanity, beaten, tortured and left to die by Luthor. The religious tropes make sense because there’s a logic to them largely absent from Man of Steel, and the same is true outside its godly moments.

The point in any adaptation when Clark first dons the cape and tights, stepping into his Superman persona, is a crucial moment of becoming – either as an embrace of his alien heritage, a vow to save humanity as he failed to save his father or the first step in a quest of moral leadership, it ought to mean something. In Man of Steel, as far as I can tell, Clark simply finds an outfit on a hanger and puts it on: there seems no clear reason he then makes his first flight, as there later is in Zod’s case, where levitation comes as a symbol of rapid adaptation to Earth’s atmosphere and soldierly prowess. Taught by his mother to focus his Kryptonian senses, as Zod learns to focus his in order to fly, why isn’t Clark takeoff-capable before he meets Jor-El? What this transformation symptomatises is completely unaddressed, and therefore so is the whole business of being Superman, beyond vague suggestions about hope and freedom. Past films have used Lois, especially Margot Kidder’s incarnation, as a lens through which to ask what Superman really embodies – but because the character is so underused here, the meaning of the Man of Steel persona, as opposed to that of Clark Kent, is equally lost.

Nowhere is this lack of depth more evident than in the Metropolis showdown, as tower blocks come crashing down and satellites are smashed. So much pure spectacle is on show here, and so little soul, that the single room of hostages in The Avengers feels more important than the citywide devastation as Kal-El and Zod duke it out. Beyond Laurence Fishburne’s Perry White, conveniently character-shielded, and a single Planet worker trapped under rumble who appeared to have been created for that sole purpose, no one we know or care about is threatened by the Nagasaki-esque destruction; where Joss Whedon showed us the fear-lined faces of the Chitauri’s hostages or the scrambling of the city police, Snyder only shows us the bird’s eye view.

I’m sure that, if I went on, I could write my own 17,000 words on the faults of Man of Steel: it’s a flapping, squawking turkey of a film. Yet as it stands, sequel in the works, the film has already grossed two and a half times what Returns, a far superior film, managed, so it seems we’ll have plenty of time to keep up our complaints and hope the sequel’s an improvement. All this success, frankly, is enough to make me believe a turkey can fly.