Madalyn Murray O’Hair’s legacy

Reason‘s Web editor, Tim Cavanaugh, reaches wryly contrarian conclusions in his review of The Atheist: Madalyn Murray O’Hair by Bryan F. Le Beau. Cavanaugh builds his case with such delicious pacing that cutting to his money paragraphs almost demands a spoiler alert.

Consider yourself warned, then.

Cavanaugh drops a good hint of where he’s heading by his fourth paragraph:

By the time of O’Hair’s 1995 murder, the few Americans who noticed seemed to think she’d gotten what she deserved. That we all may owe Madalyn Murray O’Hair a debt of gratitude is a truth rarely acknowledged.

Cavanaugh’s wordplay throughout is rewarding: O’Hair’s elder son, William, is “apostate” because he eventually became a Christian; O’Hair shows a “Miltonic refusal to serve”; and Dante was “the most pope-intoxicated literary genius Europe ever produced.”

At last Cavanaugh delivers the libertarian blessing on O’Hair’s legacy:

She chased religion into the private sector, and there it flourishes, through homeschooling, through church-sponsored schools serving every creed, in overtly religious programming on network TV, in countless “spiritual” bestsellers. Most or all of these would have been anathema in the era of big-tent Cold War liberalism; in an age where the individual’s duty to the state is no longer so clear, we live with them comfortably.

While admirers of G.K. Chesterton may be disappointed by Cavanaugh’s final sentence, the man does know irony when he sees it, at least among humans:

Lately even some atheists have gotten into the act, demanding to be called “brights” and respected for their deeply held beliefs. Such a wild ending could only have been cooked up by a master storyteller, but God, as we know from His published works, has little appreciation for irony.

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  • c matt

    You sure his last part isn’t a little tongue in cheek? Even a casual reader of scripture could not help but see all sorts of ironic twists and turns.

  • John

    It seems that Ms O’Hair is getting the last laugh:

    From the American Religious Identification Survey:

    a. the proportion of the population that can be classified as Christian has declined from eighty-six in 1990 to seventy-seven percent in 2001;


    c. the greatest increase in absolute as well as in percentage terms has been among those adults who do not subscribe to any religious identification; their number has more than doubled from 14.3 million in 1990 to 29.4 million in 2001; their proportion has grown from just eight percent of the total in 1990 to over fourteen percent in 2001