Thursday, 22 March 2012

Rationalists in Bishopsgate

Another day, another meeting. This time it was a gathering of the Rationalist Association in the Library of the Bishopsgate Institute. On show was a display of some items from the archives of the RA and its predecessor the Rationalist Press Association and its publication the New Humanist magazine.

Also in the programme were brief talks from Caspar Melville, the RA chief executive, who looked back at the history of the Association, from Laurie Taylor, the RA President, who introduced the main speaker and mused on his own rationalism, and lastly David Aaronovitch, the journalist who had been invited to speak on "Why I am a Rationalist" but turned out to be more of a Sceptic. It seems that he is as bemused to find himself recognised as a Rationalist, as much as he is to be recognised as a Jew (he contributes to the Jewish Chronicle) without ever stepping inside a synagogue.

Finally Jim Herrick was given an award (a first edition of George Orwell's Essays) for long service to the cause of rationalism in all of the UK organisations devoted to freethought (RA, NSS, Freethinker magazine, BHA, SPES).

I was disappointed that there was no opportunity for a question and answer session with the speakers. The lack of such a session is a serious failure in any rationalist meeting in my view.

Much of the evening was devoted to networking or mingling among those members attending. Besides Jim Herrick and Bob Churchill (who is now working for IHEU) I spoke to representatives of West London Humanists and a Philosophers in the Pub group in Saffron Walden.

The work of Charles Albert Watts, who was the main founder of the RPA in 1899, and his publishing company which produced the series of cheap reprints known as the Thinkers Library is worth remembering. The RA however now has a presence more on the web than in print. Where it goes from here no-one can foretell. No mention was made of who might be its next President.

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