Inventing Secularism

The Radical Life of George Jacob Holyoake


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About the Book

Jailed for atheism and disowned by his family, George Jacob Holyoake came out of an English prison at the age of 25 determined to bring an end to religion’s control over daily life. This first modern biography of the founder of Secularism describes a transformative figure whose controversial and conflict-filled life helped shape the modern world. Ever on the front lines of social reform, Holyoake was hailed for having won “the freedoms we take for granted today.” With Secularism now under siege, George Holyoake’s vision of a “virtuous society” rings today with renewed clarity.

About the Author(s)

The late Ray Argyle was a journalist and media consultant. His articles appeared in such magazines as Reader’s Digest, France Today, and World War II History. He lived in Kingston, Ontario.

Bibliographic Details

Ray Argyle

Foreword by Robert Forder

Format: softcover (6 x 9)
Pages: 273
Bibliographic Info: 17 photos, notes, bibliography, index
Copyright Date: 2021
pISBN: 978-1-4766-8421-5
eISBN: 978-1-4766-4229-1
Imprint: McFarland

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments v
Main Dramatis Personae ix
Chronology xi
Foreword by Robert Forder 1
Introduction 4
Part I—Reform and Rebellion
1. An Inge Street Boy and the Capitalist Who Preached Socialism 11
2. The Roar of the Blast Furnace in a Time of Turmoil 21
3. In Which It Is Hard to Change the Mind of a Midlands Man 29
4. Is It Possible to Be Rational About Religion? 39
Part II—Dare to Be an Atheist
5. An Honest Answer to a Difficult Question 50
6. The Lure of London and a Trial by Tyranny 61
7. How a Prisoner Became the Watchmaker’s Nemesis 72
8. The Light of Freedom Shines on a Liberated Blasphemer 81
Part III—Discovering Secularism
9. Fleet Street Ink and the Fight for an Unstamped Press 92
10. Throwing Bombs in the “Springtime of the Peoples” 105
11. How the Idea of Secularism Came Into Being 115
Part IV—A Respectable Man
12. Finding Yourself in Company of the Famous 128
13. She Heard No Evil, but Saw Much 136
14. A Funeral in Wales and Rallying the Faithless 143
15. The High Cost of a Clash of Ideas 152
16. The ­Co-operative Man Makes a Change of Direction 162
Part V—Goals Gained
17. Charles Bradlaugh, Birth Control and Mrs. Besant 172
18. Going Blind, but Keeping the Vision of a Secular State 183
19. An Innocent in America Finds the Ties That Bind 192
20. “The Queen Is Dead, Long Live the King!” 202
21. A Life, a Legend, a Legacy 211
Epilogue: In Our Time: Secularism Under Siege 221
Chapter Notes 233
Bibliography 247
Index 251

Book Reviews & Awards

• “Ray Argyle is an author who writes exceptionally fascinating stories on social and cultural change.”—Toronto Globe and Mail

• “Holyoake and his influence on the development of almost every modern progressive cause has been a secret kept for too long within the humanist movement. Argyle’s scrupulously researched historical analysis brings this at last to light in both a scholarly and accessible way.”— Andrew Copson, Chief Executive, Humanists UK