Posted by: amharmon | May 13, 2009

America’s Most Hated (Before Dawkins)

Hey everyone, I know that we didn’t talk much about any other Atheists during the seminar beside Dawkins and his henchmen, but I thought it would be interesting to talk of who led the Atheist movement before Dawkins came into the picture. Madalyn Murray O’Hair was America’s leading and most outspoken atheist and was dubbed ‘America’s Most Hated Woman’. She started the group American Atheists and remained its president for almost 30 years and she is most famous for the lawsuit Murray v. Curlett, in which it was ultimately determined (later by the Supreme Court) that prayer would no longer be allowed in public schools. She was known duirng her life for being extremely brash and tough with others and was known for turning many friends into enemies. Following the ending of prayer in public schools O’ Hair was able to rebuild her life from a life of relative obscurity and poverty to one of national notoriety. She believed that rationality (much like the New Atheists) should base peoples beliefs, not  superstitions or stories. She was noted with saying that for every church built, there should be a hospital put in its place. She apparently enjoyed insulting Christians to unbelievable levels (much like Dawkins) in order to gain public attention. Interestingly enough, her oldest son  Bill, ended up becoming a Christian in the Baptist denomination. This of course, was a huge blow to O’Hair’s public image, as Bill had been the reason she fought so hard to keep prayer out of public schools. She continued on as the head of American Atheists with her younger son and granddaughter to help her in the Atheist movement. She ended up coming to a tragic end of her life, when an ex-con who she hired to do office work killed and dismembered her, her son, and granddaughter.  Her eldest son Bill was saddened by the deaths but has still continued on in his Christian beliefs. He runs a website and organization now that promotes  Religious Freedom ( ) and is even quoted with having called his mother as “an evil person who led many to hell”. In tying Murray-O’Hair in with the discussions of our class, I would be interested to see what Dawkins or any of the New Atheists have to say in regard to her. I believe that they would agree that she was a fundamental person in the Atheism movment and seemed to hold a lot of the same views as them.  Perhaps the New Atheists took a lesson from her in what to do and say to get media attention and gain followers. I would also be interested in how Tina Beattie would respond to O’Hair in the Atheist movement. I know Beattie talk about the sexist rhetoric the New Atheists use and wonder how she would respond to a woman in a position of power within the Atheist movement (granted O-Hair was not a ‘New Atheist’). It is interesting to see the parallels between O’Hair and the New Atheists, while also being aware of her brutal and tragic end. Her son Bill seems to think that she got what was coming to her. I wonder if that is true… Do we really follow and believe in a vengeful, vindicative God who would allow someone to be eliminated from the earth in such a brutal fashion, just to make a point?


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