September 03, 2014

Women of Doubt: Margaret Kennedy Knight felt the fresh, cleansing breeze on her face and never looked back

Margaret Kennedy Knight leaves a brilliantly simple take on deconversion: "I let them go with a profound sense of relief, and ever since I have lived happily without them."

Such a simple thought, but so very true.

What more can we ask for?

Who was Margaret Kennedy Knight?

Knight was born in Hertfordshire, Englad, on November 23, 1983.

She went on to Cambridge University, where she would graduate in 1926.

She held a wide variety of positions, from librarian to editor for a journal published by the National Institute of Industrial Psychology. In 1936, she married Arthur Knight and moved to Aberdeen, Scotland, where she lectured at the University of Aberdeen from 1936 to 1970.

Alongside her husband, she became an assistant lecturer at the university. In 1948, she became a lecturer in psychology herself, a post she would hold until she retired in 1970.

Knight worked with her husband to produce A Modern Introduction to Psychology in 1948, a textbook that would go through several editions.

Knight's lack of religious belief led to her being described as "The Unholy Mrs. Knight" and a "menace". In 1955, she would publish her book, Morals without Religion, and give two talks on the subject to the BBC Home Service radio.

Knight passed on May 10, 1983.

What did Margaret Kennedy Knight have to say?

I have two favorite quotes from Knight.

The first, from the preface to Morals Without Religion:
"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."1
And the second:
"Ethical teaching is weakened if it is tied up with dogmas that will not bear examination."2

What was Margaret Kennedy Knight's influence?

Margaret Kennedy Knight's contribution to the field of psychology in the form of her modernized textbook collaboration with her husband is indisputable.

As far as her religious doubt goes, here's an explanation of her influence by Jennifer Michael Hecht in Doubt: A History:
She became famous when she convinced the BBC to let her do a series of atheist broadcasts, offering advice on how to teach morals to children without religion. The shows were avidly antireligious and argued that secular morality was superior in to religious morality. The texts were later published in a 1955 book, and it is useful to see how she framed the matter: "The fundamental opposition is between dogma and the scientific outlook. On the one side, Christianity and communism, the two great rival dogmatic systems; on the other side Scientific Humanism." Clearly Knight's project is in part the same as O'Hair's, but not only does she separate communism and atheism, she seeks to link communism and Christianity: all the tired old beliefs were going to have to make way for secular humanism and science.3
In a way, Margaret K. Knight wasn't that different from our own beloved Thinking Atheist. ;)

There's also the political connotations--separating the ideas of atheism and communism was crucial at the time, and it is perhaps a testament to the success of those efforts that nonbelievers in Europe have an actual chance in politics...unlike those of us stuck on this side of the pond.


Margaret K. Knight's dedication to the concept of secular morals is an absolutely superb trek down the history of doubt. Her political differentiation has a lasting impact, even today.

She's yet another testament to the idea that doubt can bring, in the end, peace. What's better than that?


"Margaret Kennedy Knight". Wikipedia. <> September 2, 2014.

"Margaret Knight". Freedom From Religion Foundation. <> September 2, 2014.

Jennifer Michael Hecht, Doubt: A History: The Great Doubts and Their Legacy of Innovation from Socrates and Jesus to Thomas Jefferson and Emily Dickinson (New York, New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2003), 468.

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