Arguably the most notorious atheist of the 20th century, Madalyn Murray O’Hair built a life on boldly challenging any overlapping in church and state. She not only challenged any perceived discrepancies to the 1st Amendment, she viciously attacked all religion and anyone who represented a faith-based religion. Unlike her atheist predecessors who respectfully debated their counterparts, she showed only resentment and contempt for her Christian opponents. She was quoted as describing God as ‘sadistic’, the Bible as ‘nauseating’, and said that the Lords’ Prayer was “uttered by worms.” In a 1964 Life magazine article, she was described as “the most hated woman in America.”
Madalyn Murray O’Hair – Early Life
Madalyn Murray O’Hair was born Madalyn Mays in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on April 13, 1919. She was raised as a Presbyterian, and by some accounts, she began to question the beliefs of the church at a young age.
By the time she was 26 years old, she was married and serving in the Women’s Army Corps during World War II. She met and began an affair with William J. Murray Jr., a married officer. She became pregnant with his child, and when he declined to leave his wife to marry Madalyn on the grounds of his Roman Catholic religion, she divorced her husband, gave birth to a son, named him William J. Murray, and began to call herself Madalyn ‘Murray’ – an apparent act of love for William, and an act of defiance for the church. It is also a name that she kept for the rest of her life, and would be the name that she would also gave to her second son, Jon Garth Murray, fathered by Michael Fiorillo.
All-out war on Catholicism
The rejection of William Murray Jr. on the basis of his Catholicism seems to be the large part of the reason for her all-out war on God, organized religion and any display of faith. Within the next 18 years she would attempt to defect to the Soviet Union because of their promotion of atheism, win a landmark lawsuit filed with the United States Supreme Court banning mandatory Bible reading in public schools (Murray vs. Curlette), and would found the American Atheists. In a pamphlet published by the A.A., she described herself as “The Atheist.”
Madalyn Murray O’Hair – Atheistic Life
Madalyn refused to display any sign of moral decency, not only in her obsessive filing of lawsuits, but also in her public and private behavior. She challenged the wording of “in God we trust” on American currency, “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance, and tried to prevent Pope John Paul II from celebrating mass on Washington’s Mall. She also attempted to block the reading of Genesis 8 on the Apollo space mission. According to Phil Donahue, who had her as his first-ever guest on his new talk show, “She would laugh at people who prayed.” Bert Thompson Ph.d, author of ‘The Many Faces of Unbelief’ stated that while watching a female orangutan on television, Madalyn quipped, “The Virgin just made another appearance.” She seemed to be irritated by anything to with Catholicism in particular.
Madalyn showed very little ability to participate in a debate with any intelligent reasoning, and when debating the Reverend Bob Harrington on the Phil Donahue show, she appeared to be ignorant regarding definitions of atheism and agnosticism. When asked by Reverend Harrington, “What do you have against God, why does He bug you?”, Madalyn’s reply seemed to hint at what might have been an indication of her own personal pain, “The idea which you invented has caused more misery to every human being in all ages of history than any other single idea…Even war hasn’t caused this much misery.” When Donahue and Rev. Harrington questioned each other further about the reason for her contempt of God, Madalyn seems to add a clue, “….specifically, the organized church.”
She got more to the point, it seems, about who and what she was truly angry with, in a 1968 debate with Walter Martin on ‘The Long John Nebel Show.’ She begins to rant, specifically, about the Roman Catholic Church saying, “Adolf Hitler happened to be a Roman Catholic, and to this day, has not been excommunicated by the Roman Catholic Church!” She goes on to say, “And the Roman Catholic Church supported the rise of Nazism from the very inception of Nazism….”
The thousands of rantings that Madalyn Murray O’Hair babbled during her atheistic life will never be psychologically analyzed in order to find any clues to the reasoning process that she had. Did she become the Madalyn Murray O’Hair that all of America will forever know, because of the trauma of a love affair gone wrong? In the end, only Madalyn knows what exactly triggered her vicious and infamous attack on God that lasted until her death.