Sir Jonathan Miller CBE

Polymath and Patron of the BHA

Not believing in religion is very widespread and very longstanding but I think this community gets overlooked. There is a large unrepresented constituency of people for whom religion doesn’t enter their heads, or at least they do not employ religious ways of thinking.

Sir Jonathan Miller was born into a Jewish family on 21 July 1934 and grew up in Hampstead. He studied natural sciences and medicine at St John’s College, Cambridge and University College London, graduating in 1959.   He worked as a hospital doctor for the next two years, but is now best known as a writer, performer, theatre and opera director, and television presenter and producer.

He first came to public attention as one of the writers and performers of the Cambridge Footlights 1960 production at the Edinburgh Festival “Beyond the Fringe”. The show, which was a forerunner of the satire boom of the 60s, transferred to the West End, and then to New York, but Miller left to become editor and presenter of the BBC TV arts programme “Monitor”. In 1966 he wrote, produced and directed a film adaptation of “Alice in Wonderland” for the BBC, and in 1968 “Whistle and I’ll Come to You”, an adaptation of an M. R. James’ ghost story. He produced 12 Shakespeare plays for the BBC in the early 80s. In the 1970s, he started directing and producing operas and he has continued to direct opera both in the UK and abroad, as well as plays.

He has also written and presented factual series drawing on his background in medicine. In the early 1970s he held a research fellowship in the history of medicine at University College, London and he was a Research Fellow in Neuropsychology at Sussex University in 1985.

In 2004, he wrote and presented a series on atheism, “Atheism: A Rough History of Disbelief” which explored  his own lack of belief as well as “the hidden story of atheism”. He also appeared on BBC2’s 2004 debate “What the World Thinks of God”. He is an honorary associate of the National Secular Society, and was appointed president of the Rationalist Association in 2006. On his appointment he commented:

I am flattered and honoured to accept the role of President of the Rationalist Association. Not believing in religion is very widespread and very longstanding but I think this community gets overlooked. There is a large unrepresented constituency of people for whom religion doesn’t enter their heads, or at least they do not employ religious ways of thinking. With the rise of aggressive militant forms of belief, whether it’s a crazy form of self-martyring Islam, American evangelicalism or Israelis who believe their land claims are underwritten by God, it seems to me one of the primary functions of this community is to explore religious beliefs and to analyse them with an objective curiosity and a kind of anthropological attitude to what people do.

He has been a vice-president of the Campaign for Homosexual Equality. He was appointed a Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1983, is a Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians in London and Edinburgh, and a Foreign Member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He was knighted in 2002.

His many books include:
Censorship and the Limits of Personal Freedom (Oxford University Press, 1971)
The Uses of Pain (Conway memorial lecture, South Place Ethical Society, 1974)
The Body in Question (Jonathan Cape, 1978)
Introducing Darwin and Evolution (Faber, 2000)
(With John Durrant) Laughing Matters: A Serious Look at Humour (Longman, 1989)

See also
A biography by Kate Bassett In Two Minds (2007)
http://www.newhumanist.org.uk/weblog.php?id=P2119
His wikipedia entry
“The Atheism Tapes” – Jonathan Miller in half-hour conversations with some of the key contributors to his three-part BBC series “A Rough History of Disbelief”

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