Remembering Madalyn Murray O’Hair, 15 Years Later

It was this day 15 years ago when Madalyn Murray O’Hair, the most famous atheist of her time, was murdered by a former employee.

It’s hard to find people these days who have anything nice to say about her. For all she did — like getting mandatory prayer out of public school — she was rude, unpleasant to be around, and not popular even within a like-minded crowd. The biographies written about her attest to that.

Last week, I asked over a dozen atheists/Humanist leaders of the present day if they had anything to say about Madalyn and her legacy.

I got one response.

And even that person admitted it would be tough to find anyone saying something positive about her.

My responder did give Madalyn credit for one thing, though:

Many people today blame Madalyn’s anger and flamboyance for the negative stereotype of atheists today. If it weren’t for that anger and flamboyance, however, there wouldn’t be an atheist movement today.

There’s some truth to that.

Somehow, the “angry atheists” who are the spokespeople for our movement (whether we like it or not) are much more affable than Madalyn ever was. That combination of fame, a minority viewpoint, and a mass of people eager to follow you is what it takes to build a real movement. Madalyn had the first two, but many atheists didn’t want to follow her. They wanted to get away from her.

From Madalyn, we learned what a true activist was willing to sacrifice. Unfortunately, we also learned how not to spread our message.

I wonder how she would fare in the present environment. Would she be popular? Would she have a strong following in the wake of “New Atheism”? Or would we just get upset or annoyed every time she wrote an article or did an interview?

  • Hitch

    How bad was she really? All that I have seen of her on youtube is not really bad. It’s “bad” in exactly the sense that saying that “religion is bad for you” is “bad”.

    I have no problem with her. We do not all have to have the same approach. She basically went on TV and said things that the religious in the country didn’t want to hear, in a way that was clear, loud, and sometimes abrasive.

    But maybe I’m missing something. Maybe the most obnoxious stuff isn’t yet on youtube? Or I missed it?

    In any case there is this narrative that outspoken atheism hurts us. I doubt that. Where would things have been after the red scare without someone like Madalyn? Would it really have been better to have less visibility in the public eye?

    I don’t think so. Madalyn encouraged people to consider that other opinions on the matter even exist. That is hugely valuable.

  • VXbinaca

    If it weren’t for that anger and flamboyance, however, there wouldn’t be an atheist movement today.

    I disagree. Hermant, you yourself proove though the premise of this blog that you don’t need to be a loud, obese and flamboyant (in a sense) atheist to get your point across.

    As for her extreme nature, TheAmazingAtheist is pretty much a male version of O’Hare. Equally loud, profane and obese, except he’s gotten nothing done at all.

    Now is this universally true? No. Penn Jilette is loud and offensive to some (like the Catholic League) but has gotten things done, namely helping fund lawsuits for causes not directly related to atheism but pertinent to it.

    Should we take after her example? In terms of litigation, yeah. Activism, yeah. Demeanor and treatment of others, hell no.

    Play to win. Don’t play to be noticed or irritate.

  • Roxane

    I’m having a hard time envisioning us being upset because an atheist–any atheist–wrote an article or did an interview. It will be a real luxury when we get to that stage, because it will mean that there are so many of us that we can pick and choose among our spokespeople.

  • OneTrueKinsman

    Should we take after her example? In terms of litigation, yeah. Activism, yeah. Demeanor and treatment of others, hell no.

    I agree. There are times when being ‘angry’ is justified, and there are times it isn’t.

  • John Small Berries

    They even have this debate in other universes: http://amultiverse.com/2010/08/30/science-faction/

  • Ron in Houston

    Honestly Hemant (and I’m not sucking up) a lot of the folks you term “leaders” I often find embarrassing.

    You are one of the few out there who isn’t an embarrassment since you make your points without making as ass of yourself.

    If I could magically turn you into THE FACE for atheism, I’d do it in a heartbeat.

  • http://atheist-experience.com Matt Dillahunty

    I’m curious about who you asked (though I’m not expecting specific names). Did you ask those who knew her and worked with her? Did you ask those who were actually part of American Atheists as it formed in Austin? I didn’t know her, but I work with some people who did…and many of them have had many kind things to say.

    I’m not trying to put any spin on this, they’ll also say that she was rude, unpleasant, etc. – but it hasn’t been difficult finding people who also have positive things to say.

    A lot of the anti-Madalyn talk in the atheist community is, I suspect, similar to things we see today. Different views over strategy and what is or isn’t acceptable or strategically wise.

    Madalyn pushed back and was brutally (and, I’d argue, beautifully) honest. While she and I wouldn’t have seen eye to eye on everything, I am grateful for the work she did and I’d have been honored to have her on our show…a show which exists, in part, because of the public access show she used to do.

    Once upon a time, you couldn’t discuss atheism in the United States without mentioning American Atheists and Madalyn. She clearly had supporters (admirers and donors) who helped build that organization and helped change the landscape.

    While she may have been unpleasant, rude, abrasive and spiteful – she was also a product of a world that so despised what she stood for that she was constantly under attack. I think a bit more nastiness than normal is understandable in that situation.

    As to how she’d fare today…read some of the essays she published and I think you’ll see that her actual commentary is still pretty much spot-on and a lot of it is no more abrasive than many of today’s most respected atheists (gnu or otherwise).

  • Heidi

    I disagree. Hermant, you yourself proove though the premise of this blog that you don’t need to be a loud, obese and flamboyant (in a sense) atheist to get your point across.

    Any more. And why is that? Oh, right! It’s because she already did that for us.

    And as for your slam against her weight? Eff. Right. Off. You totally shot your own point about not being rude in the frickin’ foot. Or are you saying it’s ok to be condescending and make personal attacks, as long as you don’t perceive yourself as angry, and fit into an approved weight category?

  • Meanie

    I just had a conversation that may be pertinent to this one. Was talking about an incredibly mild mannered, sweet, caring person who is a member of a certain religion. Came to the conclusion that these characteristics are probably a part of this person’s inborn nature, and she would be that way regardless of religion or lack thereof. The same may be said about MMO’H. She was labeled abrasive and loud, stood up for what she believed in and would have been that way regardless of her beliefs. That was her nature, not a result of her being atheist. Some of how she was perceived, however, may be the societal bias against outspoken women. You know, if we women speak our mind plainly and don’t back down, we’re bitches. Whereas a man with the same demeanor is simply assertive.

  • VXbinaca

    Oh, outspoken women are awesome, Meanie. I see no issue with them. I like a woman who speaks her mind. Effectively and with tact.

    Being a dick just to be a dick isn’t constructive. It’s one thing to slip in a snide comment every now and then but to base yourself on being that way is another thing all together. Herman’t shtick is his kindness. He’s gotten snippy and, he’s human and thats what I like about him. He’s not perfect. He doesn’t turn mean on all the time.

    Now, Meanie, you make a point on nature. Do you think we as a community should hold up those who exemplify those positive traits?

    Of course no ones perfect. I don’t expect them to be. Myself included.

    It’s like the practice in the rock world of cranking up the volume during mastering on an album, specifically Metallica’s last abortion of an album. You miss he fine detail and it just become s a wall of loud and hurts your ears. Not very enjoyable to listen to.

    Hermant, to an extent Thunderf00t, Tool Time, ZOMGitsChris and RKwatson and all of Skepchick do a great job. TAM I don’t like at all.

  • http://thelifeofmanquamanonearth.blogspot.com/ Mark Plus

    Madalyn wrote an interesting description of the types of atheists she encountered in her life, most of whom she didn’t care for.

  • http://www.banalleakage.com martymankins

    Someone this last week looked at my Religious label on my Facebook profile. Their response to me was “I don’t believe it for once second… you are so nice and never angry”

    I’m not sure why people associate anger with atheist. But maybe it’s years of seeing Madalyn in the press.

  • Hitch

    We still have a rather lopsided situation. Anybody who hangs on YouTube knows a guy called ShockOfGod. But there is virtually no discussion how his quite obvious abrasiveness hurts Christianity.

    But to bring it more to a mainstream conservative christian angle, how much discussion has there really been about someone like Phyllis Schlafly being too abrasive (and she is!). In fact I think these two women are really in some sense comparable. Both public advocates and involved with legal and political advocacy, coming from a not a typical celebrity position and having many enemies. But if you look at the conservative movement Schlafly is not outcast as too much.

    Basically people who understand PR known when to claim ones position as assertive and when to claim victimhood.

    In fact many cultural conservatives celebrate Schlafly as hero. Looking at many comments here, the relationship to O’Hare is describable as uneasy. I actually think there is a positive nugget to this, but also an overreaction, a buy-in into the complaints of detractors and an odd trend to keep people in a certain presentation style.

    Atheists tend to be too honest. We emphasize real victimization and real assertiveness, and we emphasize almost extreme internal debates over “uniformizing” strategy.

    I think the atheist movement in the 70-90 was greatly helped by both Madelyn O’Hare and by Paul Kurtz. This picking and choosing between strategies is really what is silly.

    But even rather mild, though direct and honest things coming from an atheist are deemed abrasive and commented on in this direction.

  • http://seeingthinkingknowing.blogspot.com Rob Schneider

    Hmmmm… why is anger associated with atheism? Let me count the ways:

    1. Training. The religious are told what “atheists” are. I was, by Catholic Nuns. They told me that Madalyn Murray O’Hair was the worst human being in the world. They told me she was mad at God. Etc. I mean, Ratzi only two weeks ago told the world that Atheists are Nazis.

    2. Projection. Like the anti-homosexual right-winger who turns out to be homosexual himself, many religious persons claiming atheists are angry have a bottled up rage based on being angry that atheists “get away” with living how they please, while they (the believers) have to suffer and deprive themselves. (I’m not a trained psychotherapist. :-)

    3. Overgeneralization, fostered by point 1 above. Occasionally an atheist might have a temper tantrum in public. That gets blown up as THE defining characteristic of the group.

    Just a few guesses.

  • Danny Wuvs Kittens

    “As for her extreme nature, TheAmazingAtheist is pretty much a male version of O’Hare. Equally loud, profane and obese, except he’s gotten nothing done at all.”

    I disagree that the amazing atheist has done nothing. He helped me reaffirm my beliefs when I was newly deconverted, and he’s provided some strong insights that I think have helped people.

    Just because he didn’t get any legislation passed doesn’t mean he hasn’t done anything. If anything, he’s put pressure on Christians, being a large, anti-christian presence on youtube. There’s no way to know how many people he’s deconverted.

    Also, I think meanie’s sexism observation is pretty accurate. While the times were different, they weren’t that different, and abrasive women are generally regarded of less than abrasive men, at least in my own personal feelings that I’ve noticed and what I’ve noticed from others.

  • Hitch

    I don’t generally watch the amazing atheist, but I have seen clips of his that I found both be very well put together and very strongly and soundly argued. For example I’d mention his clip on the “Ground Zero Mosque” debate.

    Yes he has a loud voice and a certain personality. Is that what the hangup is? I certainly do not have to like his presentation style to form an opinion about his content.

    It’s a fallacy to dismiss people’s concerns because of their demeanor. I like sound discussion, and so shouldn’t we work against this fallacy being employed rather than try to dodge it?

  • Heidi

    Being a dick just to be a dick isn’t constructive.

    Then quit doing it.

  • http://atheist-experience.com Matt Dillahunty

    VXbinaca: “Hermant you, yourself proove though the premise of this blog that you don’t need to be a loud, obese and flamboyant (in a sense) atheist to get your point across.”

    As a somewhat loud, borderline obese and occasionally flamboyant atheist I feel compelled to point out that you’re an oversimplifying, myopic buffoon.

    Seriously. Not only do you oversimplify the point (ignoring times when it may be beneficial or neutral to be loud or flamboyant) but you also demonstrate a particularly ignorant bigotry by raising the largely irrelevant issue of the individual’s weight.

    Something to note:

    You also don’t have to be capable of spelling, typing or putting together a coherent thought in order to get a point across…but as you adroitly demonstrate, it may not be the point you intended.

  • OneTrueKinsman

    In support of Madalyn, here’s a quote from an interview she gave to Playboy back in 1965:

    “But people … don’t even know what atheism is. It’s not a negation of anything. You don’t have to negate what no one can prove exists. No, atheism is a very positive affirmation of man’s ability to think for himself, to do for himself, to find answers to his own problems. I’m thrilled to feel that I can rely on myself totally and absolutely; that my children are being brought up so that when they meet a problem they can’t cop out by foisting it off on God. Madalyn Murray’s going to solve her own problems, and nobody’s going to intervene. It’s about time the world got up off its knees and looked at itself in the mirror and said: “Well, we are men. Let’s start acting like it.””

    Regardless of what type of person she may have come across, I can fully support her argument in the quote above.

  • Peregrine

    I’m Canadian, and I was a teenager when she disappeared, so I don’t have much of an opinion about her. The first I ever heard of her was as a teenage atheist still being dragged to church against his will every Sunday by his parents, and finding a notice stuffed into the church bulletin warning that Madalyn Murray O’Hair was trying to have faculty-lead prayer removed from Canadian public schools, just as she had done in the States.

    This, of course, was impossible, since O’Hair had been missing for a couple of years by that time. But it’s not like the church was very good at vetting their sources, and in their defense, this was while the Internet was just starting to catch on, and before it was widely available.

    Years later, after discovering Snopes, I found another petition revealed to be a hoax that was, go figure, worded almost exactly like the petition I’d found years earlier.

    It’s entirely possible that her brand of “angry atheism” does, as we perceive it to, make contemporary “angry atheists” look like a lovable teddy bear by comparison. But at the same time, it’s also possible that, with the pervasive nature of social media and user generated content, she’d be in a better position to explain herself, without the media filter. It’s hard to tell, looking back, and without the time or inclination to bother researching, if she really was a genuine cold-hearted bitch who gave atheists a bad name, or just a misunderstood pioneer activist.

    Either way, nobody deserves her fate.

  • http://thelifeofmanquamanonearth.blogspot.com/ Mark Plus

    Madalyn said in the Playboy interview:

    No, atheism is a very positive affirmation of man’s ability to think for himself, to do for himself, to find answers to his own problems.

    In other words, she didn’t engage in the current obfuscation of defining atheism as a void like “not collecting stamps.” Instead she argued that atheism has a positive content. And you can most certainly build a positive world view on not believing in something or not doing something. Just look at veganism. The vegan firebrands don’t just argue for the benefits of their lifestyle, but they also argue that carnivory poisons everything.

  • Dormilona

    I don’t care how abrasive or unpleasant she may have been. She changed my life. When I was a child, my family did not attend any church or observe religious rituals. I was shocked when I went to public school and, on Monday, our teacher asked, “How many of you went to church yesterday?” Lots of little hands went up. I was so terrified of being an outsider, of being different, my hand went up too.

    Our teachers handed out Gideon bibles, from which one of us would be asked to read a passage every morning, during the so-called “morning exercises.” I hated this.

    Suddenly it all stopped—thanks, I believe, to Madelyn Murray O’Hair. I thank her on behalf of every child who has ever felt secretly stigmatized, different, out of step.

    I soon became an atheist myself. And altho’ I did not remain one, I will ALWAYS be grateful to Ms. O’Hair.

    Madelyn, may the gods to which you refused to bow, but which you so greatly honored by rebelling against religious cant and compulsory empty practices, shower you with every blessing.

  • w1znerd

    I heard MMoH speak at a small southern college in the early 70s. I can not recall many specifics, but her demeanor was pleasant and the talk was well received by the students & faculty.
    There were several dozen people outside the auditorium to demonstrate against her. I remember one sign especially: “This is God’s Country – You are not Welcome Here!”

  • Trixie

    Thanks for the American history lesson, Hemant. In Canada, we have had no such (that I know of) outspoken atheist who made such a difference. Individual provinces determine the conduct of religious exercises in public schools in their Public Schools Act(s). Even then it is up to individual school boards to decide to comply (or not) with the codes laid out in their Public Schools Act. There are a lot of grey areas. Particularly in the Bible belts, if no one’s complaining loudly, they do as they please. Madalyn Murray O’Hair gave you guys a relatively cut-and-dried approach to legally deal with those school administrators who insist every kid pray.

  • Jude

    I remember watching her on TV when I was a kid and a teenager. She was frequently interviewed. I always found her fascinating. I attended church multiple times during the week, but she challenged what they said in church. She was SO radical for the times. If you do a YouTube search for her, you can find plenty of examples of her interviews. Here’s a good example: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gLyvyQLlodc I was fond of her.

  • Neon Genesis

    Compared to all the horrible and evil things Christians said and did to O’Hair, O’Hair is practically a saint. I generally try to be nice to religious believers myself, but, which do you think is more offensive? Someone making fun of you for believing in an invisible sky daddy or the Christians who rejoiced when O’Hair was murdered? If every Christian in America was out to murder you or hoped someone else would, would you be friendly to them? I found this really good documentary on the life and murder of O’Hair on youtube called Godless In America that I think is definitely worth watching and is very informative: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U8o8I8kLYSA&feature=related

  • Randall Morrison

    Its a shame Madlyn was murdered.

    But lets not forget that the employee who did it was an ATHEIST.

  • http://friendlyatheist.com Hemant Mehta

    I’m curious about who you asked (though I’m not expecting specific names). Did you ask those who knew her and worked with her? Did you ask those who were actually part of American Atheists as it formed in Austin? I didn’t know her, but I work with some people who did…and many of them have had many kind things to say.

    I asked people who knew her directly and people who were active in the movement when she was around. I may have missed some people, but I got a good number of them, I think.

  • Lamar Hankins

    As a high school student around 1960-61, Look Magazine (or it may have been Life) did a feature on Madalyn Murray. It told about how her kids were beat up going to and from school, how their house was vandalized often, and how she and her children were terrorized, all because of her desire to end the compulsory prayer her kids were subjected to in Baltimore. I admired her courage to stand up for what was right, even though I was a practicing Christian at the time.

    In the late 1960s, after she had moved to Austin, Texas, I attended one of her lectures and saw that she could give as good as she got. She never lost her courage. Around 1990, I consulted with her oldest son (who was also murdered with her) about doing some litigation together with the Texas Civil Liberties Union (which I headed as Interim Director for a time). She and her son were both very suspicious of people they did not know well. Of course, they got this way through lessons learned over the years.

    In spite of her bellicosity and public crudity, which was usually nothing more than tit for tat when she was crudely and rudely attacked by Christians, I admired her until her death – for the courage of her convictions.

    She and I were nothing alike in terms of personality, but I put her alongside other courageous historical figures like Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Mohandas Gandhi. All of them head a sense of morality which could not be driven from them even in the face of death and persecution. Madalyn Murray O’Hair made it possible for me to appear to be a reasonable atheist when compared to her. In spite of her foibles, she should be remembered in the atheist community for the courage all of us should have.

  • littlejohn

    You’re revealing your youth, Hemant. You’ve been told she was abrasive and profane. To some extent, she was.
    But I’m old enough to remember the interviews with her. She was normally polite until the interviewer (or debater) invariably attacked her personally and goaded her into responding in kind.
    She was tough, but she wasn’t mean until she had taken more abuse than anyone should be expected to take.
    In the 1960s, it was considered perfectly acceptable to curse and condemn an openly atheist person in a way that would not be tolerated today.
    We need not apologize for Ms. O’Hair.

  • Richard Wade

    Atheists engage with theists for many reasons, and with many intentions. The two I’ve noticed the most are (1) to influence, persuade, or convince the theists of some point of view, and (2) to vent anger. They are very different intentions, and from what I’ve seen, they are often mutually interfering.

    I don’t know enough about Madalyn O’Hair, but from how it sounds, like many people, she had a mixture of those two intentions. How mutually defeating they were is difficult to assess, since that would require knowing the thoughts of the countless theists who heard her.

    Speculating on whether or not there would even be a present “atheist movement” without her caustic style is, I think, missing the point. I think that she was, as are the rest of us, part of a much larger and longer term change in society and civilization, so large and long term that it is very difficult to see the whole instead of the individuals who stand out. It’s like not being able to see the whole forest because of the close-by trees. The individual character of any particular tree does not really define or represent the character of the forest.

    We are all riding the wave of historical change. No particular individual “star” is going to either single-handedly make it happen or stop it.

  • http://cerebralstardust.blogspot.com Revolver

    I wrote about Madalyn here: http://cerebralstardust.blogspot.com/2010/08/courage-of-woman.html

    I remember when I first heard of her, it blew my mind to see a woman so upfront and courageous about her beliefs. Very inspiring!

  • VXbinaca

    “Not stamp collecting” is a way to disarm the ‘athiesm is a religion’ argument. O’Hair’s point about thinking for ones self and not stamp collecting are two different things.

  • http://sassyseminarian.blogspot.com Julie

    I’ll add the disclaimer to the beginning of this post: I’m a Christian who regularly reads this blog. Just wanted to put that out there :]

    In my Liberation Theologies class, we are currently studying feminist theology, and we were reading an early work of Mary Daly, one of the first feminist theologians who really spoke out about her point of view. She has a whole section devoted to the idea of “castrating God.” Some people in the class were really taken aback by her strong language (especially the men, surprise surprise), and also by her overall “angry” tone throughout the chapter. Some of us pointed out that she HAD to say things like that in order to be heard, because her point of view was completely unacceptable in her time. She had to be the most radical, the most outspoken, so that we could get where we are now.

    I know this is a completely different situation (though, interestingly enough, Daly eventually left the church because she felt it was irredeemably patriarchal), but it has the same core truth. If you have opinions and passions that are unwelcome in your society, you have to go beyond what is socially acceptable to be heard and pave the way for others to express their point of view. This sounds exactly like what Madalyn O’Hair was doing for the atheist movement.

  • VXbinaca

    Good to see you commenting again, Julie. Welcome back.

    She had to be the most radical, the most outspoken, so that we could get where we are now.

    Do you need to hit people with a sledge hammer, so to speak, to be heard? Seems like a symptom of another problem to me.

    Oh and no one here seems to credit the lawyers who argue these cases, like the School Prayer case, in front of judges and do lots of research and make creative arguments to get the rulings we’ve gotten. Not to mention, the people who write amicus briefs in some of the Supreme Court cases important to us.

  • http://sassyseminarian.blogspot.com Julie

    Thank you!

    Do you need to hit people with a sledge hammer, so to speak, to be heard? Seems like a symptom of another problem to me.

    I don’t generally endorse the sledge hammer method, because I think that it can create a lot of division and misunderstanding about the issue before it creates awareness and acceptance. But I don’t know how it feels to be so passionate about something that is so disregarded and even despised that it doesn’t even receive a modicum of respect from the wider public. I think that for these two specific women who have been named, they sacrificed quite a bit, personally, to get people to even consider what they had to say. The way that they paved the road for those who came after them may not be the most desirable, but it lets us get similar messages across without having to cause a similar uproar. I guess you could call it a net gain, even though it was probably experienced as loss for both of those women and some of their supporters. It’s a double-edged sword, I suppose.

  • Anonymous

    O’Hair got props from this liberated punk rocker. A strong, outspoken woman, not afraid to go for it? To be a pundit when so many others were doing their quiet scholarly thing? I <3 her.

    VXbinaca, dissing people for being loud and obese is some sorry shit. Just like bashing on Roseanne and Rosie O'Donnell – easy, lazy, and cruel.

  • Hitch

    In a free society we can have diverse expression.

    It’s the same with the gay rights movements. Some wanted to not have too flamboyant public behavior because it was seen as giving critics ammunition.

    Trouble is, the goal is a free and open society. We cannot have that by giving it up.

    This idea of people being sensitive to how thing are said, not what is said is the same. Noone can be forced to listen and frankly even the most soft spoken atheist is ignored and misconstrued.

    And frankly it’s also hypocritical. Where are all these hypoersensitive people complaining about demagoguing and insensitive language by the talk radio and now also TV?

    I guess calling for people to grab arms against “progressives” is not offensive or taking people aback…

    No, people should be people. And if that is misunderstood we have to work to undo the misunderstandings, not try to wedge people into a mold so that they are not misunderstood.

  • VXbinaca

    Anon:

    Just like bashing on Roseanne and Rosie O’Donnell – easy, lazy, and cruel.

    He’s a big (as in grown up), self-centered boy. He can take a little prodding from an equally obese and obscure atheist like me. People go in for the easy kills all the time.

    His style works with like minded people but not me. He caters to an audience I’m not apart of.

  • http://www.coyotecommunications.com/travel/ Jayne Cravens

    This is one of the best posts you have ever done.

    Holly Near had a one-woman show back in the early 1990s, and one of her lines was, “Hey, if it wasn’t for people like me, you couldn’t be middle of the road!” And I guess that’s what I think about Madalyn O’Hair — her outrageous, abrasive, and often reprehensible behavior not only got teacher-lead prayer out of school, it also paved the way for the “moderate atheist.”

  • Douglas Warren Kinney

    In October 1965 I read a Playboy interview with Madalyn Murray. It was the first time I realized there were people that had reached conclusions I had and were organized. I joined The Society of Separationists. What a relief! I met Madalyn a number of times over the years and have seen her speak. I never found her rude or unpleasant to be around. She certainly could be rude and unpleasant to the religion promoters that worked very hard to silence her. I saw her only become that way when she was attacked. She was absolutely brilliant. She has been extraordinarily important to the publicizing of a rational criticism of religion and belief in god to the average citizen. We need people like her to help people cowed by religion to come out of the closet like I did. With all the time that has passed, the importance of her legacy is very apparent to me. We owe her a lot and should not take some of the criticisms I have read seriously at all. A favorite picture I have on Facebook is of me with her in 1980 in St. Petersburg, Florida. She cared. I miss her.

  • AxeGrrl

    Anon wrote:

    Just like bashing on Roseanne and Rosie O’Donnell – easy, lazy, and cruel.

    VXbinaca replied:

    He’s a big (as in grown up), self-centered boy. He can take a little prodding from an equally obese and obscure atheist like me. People go in for the easy kills all the time.

    His style works with like minded people but not me. He caters to an audience I’m not apart of.

    Uhm, what’s with the ‘he’? Anon was referring to your characterization of Madalyn Murray O’Hair.

    The fact that you’ve responded to that by taking the opportunity to make non sequitur remarks about someone else (whoever it is) is a little odd…..

    though ‘psychologically interesting’ to witness.

  • muggle

    Thank God (pun intended) for that “bitch” as women who speak up and demand rights and fair treatment for themselves and others are still labelled.

    O’Hair killed prayer in the public school just before I started kindergarten. Thank you, Madalyn!

    Because of the shift in my education as a result, I always assumed that in America we were free to believe or not believe in god. Thank you, Madalyn.

    She made it possible for me to be an out Agnostic then Atheist from age 23 on (some 29 years now). Thank you, Madalyn.

    She made it possible for me to object whenever my daughter’s school snuck religion in. Thank you, Madalyn.

    She made it possible for me to get religious postings up to including a poster that read it’s either one nation under god or leave it removed from a State office I worked in. Thank you, Madalyn.

    By shoving religion aside as what the issues should be decided on, she helped the way for women’s progress in everything from working for a living, to leaving a husband, to having a right to choose to terminate a pregnancy or not. Not to mention, how if I were not free to reject religion, a thousand laws freeing me wouldn’t have made me a free woman. Thank you, Madalyn.

    In short, thank you, Madalyn, for having the balls and chutzpah. In other words, the agression. I’ve never found your words as abrasive as is claimed but whatever it took for them to be effective, thank you. I am a freer woman because of your efforts.

    And for that I will always be grateful. Thank you. Thank you. A thousand times, thank you.

  • Valhar2000

    Continuing Muggle’s thought:

    For making it possible for self-righteous windbags to ride around on their high-horses without being pelted by stones cast from angry Christian hands, I thank you in VXbinaca’s name, Madalyn Murray O’Hair.

  • Bobby

    Her son, William J. Murray, actually wrote a book, My Life Without God. The title is misleading, although I knew what it was about before I read it. It tells how everything went down and how he became a Christian. Part of it was the way his mother acted, and how she treated other people. A pretty good read, only the last few chapters or so talk about Christianity.

  • http://www.amazon.com/Hitchens-Dawkins-Harris-Essays-Atheist-ebook/dp/B0041G6MSS G.M. Jackson

    I think she would do well if she were around today. Once a winner, always a winner.

  • RR

    I listened to radio broadcasts of Madalyn back in the 70′s and 80′s where she debated and systematically made fools of priests, christian scholars, etc. She always knew more about their own religion than they did.

    When she spoke at a resort in Scottsdale, AZ in 1990, I was lucky enough to meet her, and she made her way around to each table and talked with us for a few minutes. What a great mind she had.

    To paraphrase her most interesting statement from that night: Science is 1500 years behind where it could have been if it weren’t for the interference of religion at every step of scientific discovery.

  • frank

    My recollections from the old days.
    1. verbal abuse of almost everyone.
    2. could never keep an employee for more than two months.
    3. insisted on being called “Dr. O’Hsir” even though her Ph.D. was from a diploma mill.
    4. expelling from SOS-AA anyone who ever mentions another atheist group.
    5. expelling life members from her group with no refund of their money.
    6. was a racist and homophobe.
    7. sued for 16M merely because that dead rich guy was an atheist, and she and her son Jon are entitled to all things atheism.
    8. endless promotion of Jon and Robin, when most outside of Austin knew of them as talentless trolls.
    9. over-reliance on the estates of wealthy freethinkers.
    10. irrational insistence that only the term “atheist” be used (as opposed to humanism, freethinker, agnostic, etc.)

  • Pingback: Daylight Atheism > The Language of God: A Flurry of Fallacies

  • Illprayforu

    I feel sorry for all of you. Believe what u want but living the law of God actually would make this country better. Its bc of you that it has gotten as bad as it has.

    • FSq

      While you pray, I’ll use my intellect, rationality and reason to do good things, advance science and sound policies and welcome LGBT, and other non-religious folks into the fold and let them know we are on the moral high-ground while your types fail to see that you are not moral.

  • Chachi Doringo

    ” To paraphrase her most interesting statement from that night: Science is 1500 years behind where it could have been if it weren’t for the interference of religion at every step of scientific discovery. ” 
    Then she was a dumbass. The correct statement is: Because the Romans burned down the Library of Alexandria, science was set back 1500 years. Roman Catholic monks painstakingly chronicled tons and tons of events, big and small, and kept those documents safe and sound. It’s because of those monks that we have any clue of what happened in Europe before the Renaissance. I’m no Bible thumper but a lot of what O’Hair said was extreme hyperbole, because her uncontrollable hatred towards religious individuals compromised her ability to think rationally at times.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/William-Anton-Walters/1161551266 William Anton Walters

      Really? I’m no expect on O’Hair’s positions, but I will not tolerate the revision of history to cover up the negative influence that theocratic rule by Christians had in the western world. Scientific progress came to a virtual stand-still while the Catholic church ruled peoples’ lives in Europe (I’d put it at closer to a 1000 years rather than 1500, during which limited advancements were made, mostly implements of war and imported ideas from other lands).

      Christianity became the state religion of Rome in the early 4th century. The late part of the 4th century included the edict of Theodosius, leading to the destruction of the Serapeum. While there were at least two previous events that led to damage of the Library of Alexandria, these were collateral damage from warfare, not the targeted destruction of knowledge that the Christian rulers felt threatened by.

      Knowledge became static under the hegemonic control fo the church in Europe following this time. People were not allowed to question the existing knowledge (so biology, physics, and chemistry would have to wait a long time for any real updates) and those who did were persecuted (e.g. Galileo, who’s lucky to have been around towards then end of total Christian control) or executed (e.g. Bruno).

      Do you have documentation of these “christian monks” who preserved the knowledge from the library? Where are these writings? Why are they, and the scientific advancements, hidden away from us and the people of the middle ages? Are you sure you’re not confusing the writings that were copied from the library (before its destruction and the outlawing/persecution of non-Biblically based learning) into other languages, taken into the lands of antiquity, and later “rediscovered” by Europeans?

      Modern day Christians should be proud they aren’t stuck in the same rut that much of the Islamic world is, even though there was much kicking and screaming while they were being dug out of that rut during the past six or so centuries. They should not be proud of their actions and governance during their stewardship of the late Roman empire and the subsequent, stagnant, and brutish middle ages. Anyone who views this theocratic period as being favorable to free thought, scientific progress, and open inquiry is simply not living in a fact-based world.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Franklin-Bacon/1403711134 Franklin Bacon

    I thought she was a living doll. Her candor reminded me of many in my family who minced no words and said what they thought. Though initially brash on any topic, she wasn’t beyond complete reason on anything. She constantly milled over ideas in mind and eventually came around to correct assessment of situations few of us can fathom. The day I met her and had my picture taken with her has become the greatest experience of my life.


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