The Agnostic Saladin
Atheism today is widely perceived to be the opposite of spirituality. This assumption is turned on its head when we look at the neglected origins of the Victorian ‘non-believing’ movement, epitomised by the controversial freethinker, William Stewart Ross, says Alastair Bonnett.
William Stewart Ross, who wrote under the name of ‘Saladin’, remains an enigma. The ‘anti-infidel’ lecturer, the Reverend Z.B. Woffendale, declared he was ‘the only gentleman of real genius the Secularists ever had’. Yet historians of Victorian Freethinking, such as Edward Royle, have branded him ‘the self-conscious joker in the pack’. Ross was a maverick. He was also a man of public hatreds who preferred the company of the mystic Madame Blavatsky to that of atheists.