by Sue Farrow.
In a move that has left many of its loyal members outraged, the Spiritualists’ National Union (SNU) has made the astonishing decision to ban the autobiography of its own honorary president from sale at the Arthur Findlay College (AFC).
Eric Hatton’s long awaited book, Taking up the Challenge, was published in December 2010, in response to requests made over many years by Spiritualists and others who wanted him to set down a permanent record of his extraordinary life at the heart of Spiritualism.
Always modest and self-effacing, Eric resisted those requests, but following a long period of serious illness in 2009, reluctantly agreed to embark on the lengthy process of writing his memoirs.
The result is a book which has captivated readers with its dazzling array of evidence gained through all forms of mediumship, including full materialisation in light.
The book also tells the lesser known story of Eric’s career as a successful businessman, alongside an account of his 66 years of service to the SNU. Those years included a lengthy spell as chairman of the Arthur Findlay College – the very place from which his book has now been exiled.
So what is going on? Why would the SNU decide to ban a book by one of its best loved and most respected figures?
Speculation is futile, so I decided to go straight to the horse’s mouth. Current SNU president David Bruton has long expressed his admiration and respect for Eric, describing him as “inspirational”, “so special”, “unique”, “a true pioneer”, and praising his “mighty contribution to Spiritualism”. Surely David would not have sanctioned such an extraordinary act towards a man he has admired for three decades?
I e-mailed David to let him know that I was preparing this article, and, in the interests of fairness, I asked him a number of questions:
Has Taking up the Challenge, the autobiography of the SNU’s honorary president and lifetime achievement award holder, Eric Hatton, been banned from sale in the Arthur Findlay College bookshop?
- Were you – as president of the SNU – aware of the decision?
- Was the decision taken collectively by the SNU’s NEC, or by the new AFC chairman alone?
- On what grounds was the decision taken?
- Why was the book on sale in the College bookshop from its publication in December 2010 until the resignation of Duncan Gascoyne as College chairman on 31st March 2011, yet banned shortly after the new chairman took over?
- How does the SNU justify this decision in light of Eric Hatton’s almost 70 years of service to the SNU, and his chairmanship of the J.V. Trust, which has to date donated in excess of £2 million to the Arthur Findlay College?
I received no reply from David Bruton. I did, however, receive – just hours before our deadline – an e-mail from the SNU’s general secretary, Charles Coulston, who wrote:
“The President of the Union has asked me to reply on his behalf to your email to him of 4th May.
To begin with, the internal decision-making processes within the Union are a matter for the National Executive Committee and its Officers and not for private individuals to question.
Secondly, the Union has exercised its right, in common with all organisations which sell books, to decide what it will stock and what it will not. In the case of Minister Hatton’s book it was discovered late in the day that there were a number of references in the book to the Union’s activities which were inaccurate, misleading and denigratory of the Union: our minutes show the accurate versions of events, which clearly differ considerably from the book. The Union sees no reason why it should stock any book which contains unfounded statements and derogatory innuendoes about the Union: no other organisation would countenance the promotion of a publication which contained such baseless and unwarranted assertions and insinuations against itself and its governing body
SNU General Secretary”
David Bruton has more than once spoken of being his “own man”, yet is apparently not up to the task of answering his own e-mails. So much for leading from the front.
The discerning reader will also notice that Mr Coulston has neatly avoided giving a straight answer to a single one of my questions.
He writes that “the internal decision-making processes within the Union are a matter for the National Executive Committee and its Officers and not for private individuals to question”. What gives Mr Coulston the right to tell me, or anyone else, what may or may not be questioned? I recall similar views being expressed by regimes in the former USSR.
He also states that “the Union has exercised its right, in common with all organisations which sell books, to decide what it will stock and what it will not”. Are we to assume from this that every book sold by the Union has been pored over from cover to cover by some kind of vetting committee? And if so, are SNU members aware that their reading matter is being censored in this way?
A reality check is needed here. Eric Hatton is the SNU’s most venerable and respected figure, its only lifetime honorary president, a minister for more than three decades, and its first Lifetime Achievement Award holder. Yet the SNU leadership has not even had the courtesy to inform him of their decision to ban his book from sale. Surely if they had a genuine issue about the accuracy of something contained in his book, they would simply have phoned him to say so. But they have not. Why not?
In describing Eric Hatton’s words as “inaccurate, misleading and denigratory of the Union” Charles Coulston has stepped into potentially dangerous territory. Is he accusing Eric Hatton of dishonesty? I trust not, for if ever there was a Spiritualist universally respected for his integrity, it is surely Eric Hatton. Indeed, in the personal tribute he offered on 9th August 2009, when Eric was presented with a specially created SNU Lifetime Achievement Award for his ‘Services to Spiritualism’, Charles Coulston described him as “a wise man” and “a past master of self-effacement”, adding:
“We all recognise in our lives those who have in some measure imbibed the true meaning of Spiritualism and lived it in their lives, and they act as a beacon to all of us. In the years that Eric was president, that is how I saw him. He was the kind of man you wanted to emulate. You wanted to draw within your own attitude and stance towards the world the qualities and characteristics that Eric brought to the job.”
Over the past two weeks, numerous SNU members – four church presidents among them – have contacted Spirit of PN to express their concern at this latest and most worrying in a long line of decisions taken by the current SNU leadership. One such is Al Potts, president of Bournemouth Spiritualist Church, in Dorset, who told me:
“Whilst attending the presidents’ day at the Arthur Findlay College on May 4, my brother and I called into the book shop to purchase a copy of Eric Hatton’s autobiography. I was made to understand that the book was no longer for sale at the Arthur Findlay College, and have since found out the terrible truth as to why.
“Has the NEC gone mad? Eric Hatton is one of the greatest assets we have in Spiritualism, a man who has served the Union for at least 66 years and whose reputation in our movement is completely untarnished. What is the Union doing to this incredibly compassionate man, whose only intention is to tell the truth at all times? Eric’s experiences are something that we would all like to have been a part of, and it has taken years to get him to write down his wonderful experiences and knowledge.
“The NEC now finds it necessary to remove his book because they think that he has some of his information about the Union wrong. It has taken three months for them to discover this, so why have they been sleeping?
“Many of the books on sale at the College are by mediums who definitely do not agree with Union policy, but they are still offered for sale. I feel ashamed to be a Spiritualist when I hear what the Union does in my name, and without my consent. But still the NEC seems to think that the Class B members’ opinions don’t matter. I wish to remind all concerned that members’ opinions are very important if this Union is going to continue as a viable Union. I beg David Bruton to rethink this terrible decision – that is if he has any influence at all – and to reinstate Eric’s book at once. My brother and I voted for David in the hope that someone at last was going to listen to the members. Please don’t prove me wrong, David. You said at the presidents’ meeting that the NEC was prepared to listen to the members. Please listen now, and stop hurting this wonderful man.“
In David Bruton’s first presidential address, delivered at the SNU’s annual general meeting in July 2010, he pledged to delegates that there would be greater openness and communication with members of the SNU. Assuming that his pledge was delivered with honest intent, I challenge him to communicate openly about what it is that he objects to in Eric Hatton’s book.
Few Spiritualists would dispute that Eric Hatton has been the SNU’s finest ambassador in living memory. Now 85, he has defended, protected and advanced the cause of Spiritualism and the SNU since he was 19 years old. Where on earth is the spirituality in the way the SNU leadership has behaved towards him? For an organisation supposedly dedicated to the promotion of spiritual values, their behaviour can only be described as shocking and disgraceful.
All is not well in the State of Stansted. We don’t always think of history as being shaped by silence, but, to paraphrase the philosopher Edmund Burke: The only thing necessary for the triumph of bad guys is for good guys to do nothing. Perhaps it is time for the good guys to stand up.