A Note on The BCSE's Membership
This article was first published on my blog in December 2006, and details the failure of the BCSE in its drive to attract members - as it had to scrap its policy of asking would-be members to pay a fee, and open it up to anyone who would simply e-mail and ask to become a member.
How The BCSE De-Cloaked
In the first phase of its existence, the BCSE kept very tight-lipped about who its members were; nevertheless, it insisted that it had a considerable number of them - numbers from 80 and increasing. The BCSE revealed an early sensitivity to the charge that its essential membership contained little more than a handful of atheist activists.
However, "BCSE Revealed" shed some light on how the BCSE was obtaining the numbers it was boasting for its "membership" - it simply included everybody who had ever joined its e-mail or web discussion forum. This number included various people who were posting in order to strongly disagree with the BCSE, some obvious pseudonyms - and a significant proportion of people who had never posted and single message and could not be identified at all.
Moving on from there, "BCSE Revealed" then identified who the core members really were. And for the next two months, that was all the information the outside world had available. But in early December, the BCSE finally succumbed to the pressure to name some of its official representatives (beyond the single figure of Roger Stanyard, its "spokesman"), and named a leadership of seven on its website.
Vindication for "BCSE Revealed"
Despite the BCSE linking back to my former article from two months previously with the words "the information is wrong" ( http://www.bcseweb.org.uk, as at date of publication), the BCSE's list instead gave a boost to "BCSE Revealed" by establishing the accuracy of the identification which I had made two months earlier: all seven of the BCSE's named committee were on the list of ten core, generally religiously motivated activists who I had named, giving my readers a satisfying proof of just how on track I have been.
I found this "list of seven" pleasing for another reason - it meant that the BCSE's efforts to recruit credible and qualified authorities to represent and work with it had failed. Whether this was due to the light shed by "BCSE Revealed" in dissuading any prospective individuals who had been wondering about doing so or not, I do not know - but I can always flatter myself!
Problems Attracting Real Members?
I want today to point to some evidence that the BCSE are having continuing problems in attracting real supporters - supporters, that is, who are willing to do more than just allow their name to boost the purported membership, but to actually do some work.
This is not a new problem - you may remember that back in August, Roger Stanyard, whilst boasting in public that his organisation had 50 members, was saying something quite different in private. Here's what he said in public (from the front page of the BCSE's website on the 18th of August):
"The BCSE has about 50 international members..."
(http://www.blackshadow.me.uk, then the BCSE's official website)
And here's what he said in private:
''... there are about 10 active, participating members in this group. (http://groups.yahoo.com/groups/BlackShadow/message/2198, since removed by the BCSE from the Internet)
Well, after "BCSE Revealed" exposed what was going on, the BCSE announced a new policy. From now on, members would only be defined as those who were willing to make a financial contribution.
Now, frankly I think that's a fair policy. It would be a lot better if a minimum contribution was specified, as knowing that someone is willing to back the BCSE with at least 1 penny of their cash doesn't tell us a lot. But it's a start. (There may of course have been a minimum contribution that was just not publicised).
Here's what was said by at least the 6th of November (and possibly earlier) on the BCSE's website about their new rule:
However, BCSE has now dropped the definition as we now have a written Constitution which, of necessity, requires people to vote on key issues. We now define members as people who are able to vote within the framework of BCSE. Voting entitlement is dependent on a financial contribution to BCSE.
The key thing to note in that quotation is that membership was made "dependent on a financial contribution to BCSE".
However, by the 12th of December, something changed. Because on that date, BCSE Committee Member Ian Lowe announced a new policy:
"Joining the BCSE ... There is no membership fee this year, so if you wish to join, all you have to do is send an e-mail to [email protected] including the following information..." - http://community.bcseweb.org.uk/viewtopic.php?p=3525#3525
What is more, at about the same time, Lowe set up a page on the BCSE website soliciting donations, which was then linked from every page on the BCSE website (http://www.bcseweb.org.uk/index.php/Main/MakeADonation).
Evaluating This Change
Now, what should we make of this change in policy?
Of course, I don't have any of the BCSE's internal records, but I think it's pretty clear that the "you must give the BCSE some money before you can join the membership" policy was not working.
If the BCSE was successfully recruiting members who were willing to pay a subscription, then why would the subscription fee be dropped? If people were signing up in good numbers to the BCSE's agenda and providing money to forward it, then why would they stop asking them to?
There is only one obvious reason why the BCSE should perform a U-turn and announce that membership will, after all, be free. The people who were willingly to support them on any other terms simply didn't exist in sufficient numbers to make the BCSE viable. Hence a new method of raising money had to be found - such as providing a link to solicit donations from every page of the BCSE's website.
If this is correct, then it provides further evidence (on top of that from the eventually announced committee) that the BCSE is failing to persuade outsiders of its credibility. No matter how much protestation it adds to the front page of its website that its leadership are not religiously motivated, it is not managing to be convincing. (And those who share their religious motivations are apparently not willing to bet on the BCSE's competence to help forward them).
And how could the BCSE be convincing, when "BCSE Revealed" keeps showing them up? Let's remember again the words of two individuals who the BCSE previously claimed amongst its membership, but who have since distanced themselves:
"I am against fighting alongside other members of BSCE who are, themselves, religiously motivated" and "One of the reasons I distanced myself from the BSCE is for the very reason you have pinned that they are ... a small number of individuals claiming to be something bigger than they are." - see here.
"I am fed and bored with the strident tones of BCSE.
...many posters prattle on about Dawkins' nonsense about religion being a virus and faith contrary to reason (and moderators delete my posts if I challenge them) and adopt this view with no understanding and less tolerance.
I expect BCSE (BSE?) to be fatal and soon disappear.
Many of their articles are both shoddy and strident.
I was fed up with atheistic bigotry." - see here.
I have three final thoughts:
Whatever happens, one thing is clear - all is not well for the BCSE.
(Some of the links above refer to pages which existed previously but which the BCSE have removed - I have archives of all cited evidence and am willing to provide copies to any researchers who wish to verify my accuracy).