Veteran UK atheist Barbara Smoker, 95, publishes a memoir

Veteran UK atheist Barbara Smoker, 95, publishes a memoir December 29, 2018

WHEN I received Barbara Smoker’s 2018 year-end “egotistical” newsletter a couple of weeks ago – she has been sending them to her family and many friends and fans for almost 30 years – I was delighted to see it contained a leaflet publicising her latest book, My Godforsaken Life  which is now available from Amazon.

The publisher of the book – Thornwick Press from which the book is also available – has this to say about the memoir:

“Barbara Smoker has been at the forefront of radical movements for seventy years. Against religion, nuclear weapons and illegal wars. For humanism, abortion, prison reform, freedom of speech, voluntary euthanasia and LGBT rights.

“At ninety-five she is still campaigning. Throughout her life she has been twenty years ahead of her time in promoting the causes many of us now take for granted.

“Barbara’s autobiography is a compelling account of her intellectual journey, her ruthless focus on ethics and principles, and her eccentric bloody-mindedness in challenging the accepted and wrong wisdom of the day. She  has encountered many intellectuals – Bertrand Russell, Michael Foot, Jonathan Miller, Sir Michael Holroyd – and contributed to literary life through her work for the Shaw Society, her books on Humanism and Voluntary Euthanasia, and her verse, innumerable articles and pamphlets.

“For radical reformers Barbara Smoker’s life is a lesson in perseverance and principle …

“[She] was born into a devout Roman Catholic family. As a girl she was torn between being becoming a nun or a writer. At the age of 26, after war service in Ceylon, she renounced Christianity and joined the ranks of the secular, humanist army.

“During her long life she has campaigned against the death penalty, nuclear weapons (with Bertrand Russell) and the Vietnam war; and in favour of voluntary euthanasia, prison reform, alphabet reform, legalized abortion and embryo research.

“For 25 years she was President of the National Secular Society and led speaking tours in the USA and India to promote atheism.

“She is vice-President and one of the longest serving members of the Shaw Society.

Barbara, centre, pictured in this vintage photo marching for humanism

“Barbara has written books on Humanism for Inquiring Minds, voluntary euthanasia, a book of satirical verse Good God, a collection of essays, Freethoughts, and innumerable articles in journals and the press.

“For many years she was editor of The Ethical Record and she appeared often on TV and radio to explain why she is an atheist and why segregation of children in religious schools should be abolished.

“She was among the first to officiate at gay and lesbian marriages, and at humanist funerals.

“On more than one occasion she has been arrested, and in 1989 was attacked by a mob of Muslim extremists when she held a banner for free speech in support of Salman Rushdie.

“In her early years she described herself as an anarchist. Latterly she prefers the term ‘radical liberal’.

“For anyone who wishes to campaign effectively against social injustice Barbara Smoker’s life has been a blueprint based on logic, ethics and bloodymindedness.”

I have known Barbara for nigh on 40 years – she was a meticulous proofreader for the print version of the Freethinker for a decade – and while I was enormously pleased to learn that she has finally published the memoir she’s been talking about for years, the sad news in her newsletter is that she was diagnosed earlier this year with advanced breast cancer, but cancelled an operation scheduled for May, 2018.

She said her decision to back out of surgery was:

As rational and irrevocable as the one I made on the 5th of November 1949 when I renounced religion.

She added:

In my opinion, medics give far too much priority to prolonging human life, irrespective of its quality – especially for oldies.


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