My Mother, Madalyn Murray O’Hair, and Me

My Mother, Madalyn Murray O’Hair, and Me December 5, 2015

[Please welcome Holly Baer, who I hope will become a regular contributor to Godless in Dixie]

That SNL skit isn’t wrong; I wish Adele could fix my Thanksgiving angst.

MMURRAYOHAIROver Thanksgiving break Madalyn Murray O’Hair came up. For those not in the know, she was an atheist activist who won a Supreme Court case that banned  school sponsored Bible readings, Murray V. Curlett. She was the founder and president of American Atheists. She, along with her son and granddaughter, were brutally murdered. My mom thinks it’s great that this woman was, “Sliced up, like she deserved.”

I said the first thing that came to mind, “That’s disgusting.” Evidently if I had different DNA, she’d want me dead because of what I believe.

A few weeks ago when my hometown received a complaint from the Freedom From Religion FoundationI could tell something rough was coming. I wrote a piece for my opinion column at the Daily Mississippian and it got a larger response that I ever expected.

People in Collins saw it. Some reached out to my mother. Some think I’m the one who issued the complaint.

I didn’t, but it doesn’t matter even if I did.  In a way, its better everyone thinks I did it. I’m fine being the big bad long-distance villain that they can hate but not touch. I’ve probably got a bit of a martyr complex anyway.

When Equality Is Treated Like Oppression

I have a theory about why people get so angry at non-believers. In my mind, Islam, Christianity, Hinduism, etc. are all on equal footing. They are just various religious traditions. Islam and Christianity are sort of similar because they’re both Abrahamic monotheisms, etc. etc.

As a student of religions, in my academic work it isn’t my job to make judgment calls on the morality of different faiths. I have no hierarchy of faiths in my mind. I have a personal favorite, but I am taught to not make moral judgments. As religious studies scholars, that isn’t our job.

To many believers, to say that Islam and Christianity are equal isn’t saying: “These are both religions and there isn’t a hierarchy.” It says: “Christianity is lesser because it’s equal to something. If it’s not on top, you hate it.”

That’s why I keep getting accused of hating Christianity—because I don’t find it the most superior religion. Because I grant it no special privilege in my heart or mind, I must hate it.

When the FFRF reprinted my article on their Facebook page, I told her about it. I’m at the stage of my life where I’ve realized my mother will probably get mad anyway, and I might as well make her mad with my achievements. I received more support than I ever expected from her: “I’m glad your writing is being recognized, I just wish it were for something better.” She eventually asked what the “evil people” were going to do with my writing next.

Family Changes Post-Deconversion

I don’t want to call my mother evil, but she has some cruel, disturbing opinions right now. She is still joyful at a family’s brutal murder.

My mother went from fairly left-wing to an avid Trump supporter who is going to buy guns this Friday because: “The world is going to hell. It’s coming.” This is the same woman who made my stepdad sell his gun a few years ago because she thought it was dangerous. This same woman has said she’d take out Obama personally if she could.

Yesterday she told me that she ruined me. For years she told me that I was exceptional, and that I now think I’m better than everyone. I can’t even begin to go into why that statement hurts me so much. I still deal with so much self-hatred, if I think I’m better than everyone, I must truly hate everyone.

To say, “I don’t even know who she is anymore,” is an understatement.

My sister is a kind child. I was a kind child. I try to be a kind adult, but my mother is no longer dealing in kindness or grace.

The same faith she uses to justify her hatred of people is the same faith that supposedly proclaims radical kindness.  That was my favorite thing about Christianity. The idea that, above all else, we owe it to ourselves, to God, and to humanity to be as kind as possible, even in the face of evil.

What do you say when someone you’re supposed to love and respect reaches this point? What do you do?

My mom may see me as a corrupt sinner who thinks I’m better than everyone. Maybe she’s right; maybe I am just mean and hateful. But at least I don’t revel in people’s death. At least I don’t want to kill our president, or any other political person I detest.

I may hate Donald Trump, but I would never, ever wish pain or death on him or his kin.

I may be evil, but at least I’m practicing some of the baseline kindness that her Jesus asks her to practice.

[Image Source: Sojourners]


hollyHolly Baer grew up in Flowood, Mississippi. An alum of the Mississippi School for Math and Science, she studies religion and gender studies at the University of Mississippi and writes her own blog at Feel free to contact her by emailing You can also follow her on Twitter @hawlibear.

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