Barbara Smoker

Comprehensive biograpical details on Wikipedia 

BARBARA SMOKER was born in 1923 in London into a Roman Catholic family, and had a convent education.   As a girl she was torn between the ambitions of becoming a nun or a writer - in either case for the greater glory of God; but with wartime service in multi-credal Ceylon in the Women's Royal Naval Service as a wireless telegraphist she began to re-think her religious assumptions.     

On 15 August 1945, on the forenoon watch, she sent out her own signal to the ships at sea so as to avoid unnecessary deaths through servicemen not knowing the war against Japan was over, and it was repeated in other countries of S.E. Asia.

Back in civilian life, she thought and read a lot about religion - and the more she thought and read the less she found it possible to believe. In 1949 she finally renounced Christianity and joined the secular humanist movement.

She also became active in various social campaigns - abolition of the death penalty, nuclear disarmament, radical alternatives to prison, the legalisation of abortion and voluntary euthanasia, the squatting movement, and Bernard Shaw's alphabet reform - and she served on a large number of committees.

As president of the National Secular Society from 1971 to 1996, she represented the atheist viewpoint in print, on lecture platforms and soap-boxes, in speaking tours, in debates, and on radio and TV, and in 1981 gave spoken and written evidence on religious education to the Parliamentary Select Committee on Education and Science.      She also officiated at non-religious funerals, wedding ceremonies, gay and lesbian commitments, and baby-namings, and trained other secular humanists to do so.

In 1984 she undertook a five weeks' speaking tour of the United states, and in 1990 a similar tour of India; and. in 1998 visited India again to inaugurate a mass atheist rally.

She was chairman of the Voluntary Euthanasia Society from 1981 to 1985, and compiled a book on that subject (Peter Owen, 1985).  Her other books include Humanism, for use in secondary schools (Ward Lock Educational, 1973), with revised updated editions (National Secular Society 1984, British Humanist Association 1998 and South Place Ethical Society 2005); a book of satirical verse, Good God! (1977); and a collection of her articles, Freethoughts (2002). She also scripted a playlet, Atheism on a Soap-Box, which was both cassetted and published (1985).

Her pamphlet Eggs Are Not People was distributed to all MPs in 1985 to dissuade them from voting for a ban on embryo research; and in 1986 a letter she had drafted on the dangers of segregating children in religious schools was endorsed by 22 distinguished signatories and published in the Guardian and elsewhere.

On 27 May 1989, standing with a homemade banner proclaiming "Free Speech" beside the route of the big Muslim march that demanded the death of author Salman Rushdie, she survived a physical assault by a surge of demonstrators.

In 1985 she recorded a radio talk, "Why I am an Atheist", for the BBC World Service, and in 1999 featured in the BBC1 TV documentary "Living With the Enemy", for which she spent a week with a group of fundamentalist Christians. She also took part in the 2005 BBC Radio 4 programme "Losing My Religion", a portion of her interview being selected for "Pick of the Week".

The International Humanist and Ethical Union honoured her in the Sorbonne in July 2005 with a "lifetime achievement" award for Distinguished Services to Humanism.

"Distinguished Services to Humanism" See her typically modest acceptance speech here

Barbara Smoker's books - old-fashioned printed and bound books -  can be ordered from her direct see 'Publications'.