Madalyn Murray O'Hair 

This lady was all over TV during the 1970's, serving as spokeswoman for the atheist community, whether the atheists liked it or not. She was by temperament an irascible sort, like the brittle soul described by the pagan moralist Plutarch:

  • “Now long-continued anger, and frequent giving way to it, produces an evil disposition of soul, which people call irascibility, and which ends in passionateness, bitterness, and peevishness, whenever the mind becomes sore and vexed at trifles and querulous at everyday occurrences, like iron thin and beaten out too fine.”
  • (Plutarch, Plutarch's Morals, On Restraining Anger, A Dialogue between Sylla and Fundanus, Section iii.).

Optimism End Game
School Prayer Problem of Evil
Atoms and the Void Thomas Jefferson
Workers' Paradise Colonel Robert Ingersoll
A Loving God Deity of the Sick
Hobgoblin of Little Minds Old Testament
Adolf Hitler Science and Religion

Listeners to the 1968 radio debate in which Walter Martin kept trying to get a word in edgewise will have detected this hard edge. Dr. Martin quotes from a hand-out sheet he supposed had been left for him by Mrs. O'Hair, and gets the sharp rejoinder:

"No, I wouldn't give you anything, believe me, I'm sure that you got it from the station. . .I never give anything to religious people, it's useless." (Madalyn Murray O'Hair, 1968 radio debate with Dr. Walter Martin, 22:40).

But for all her sharp edges, Madalyn did not hate Christians on the retail level, as do today's 'New Atheists.' The very 'Mr. Murray' to whom she (falsely) represented herself as having been married during this radio debate was a religious person. For reasons of temperament and etiquette, including her propensity to scream at people, she often came across as irrational. So she was, but what atheist is not? Readers of today's 'New Atheists' realize that what these authors know about Christianity could fit within a thimble. They hate and fear their Christian neighbors as the unknown other. By comparison, the sources of information she could deploy on this topic exceeded theirs by a factor of ten. It is odd that they are admired while she is viewed as an embarrassment, for what cause:— lack of a British accent?



Like Richard Dawkins, Madalyn was wildly optimistic about the future of atheism: "'The moral of this is that when the time for an idea has come in history, nothing can suppress that idea. And the time for Atheism is now in human history.'" (Madalyn Murray O'Hair, quoted page 194, Atheist: Madalyn Murray O'Hair, by Brian F. LeBeau). Like him, in order to justify that optimism, she was obliged to usher into her movement all kinds of people who did not want to go, claiming at times to represent all the people in America who did not attend church, even if the vast majority of these people, when asked, refused to identify themselves as atheists.

She visualized a ratcheting mechanism, lifting people into atheism but then not allowing them to leave: "'Once a person is bitten by the Atheism bug, that person stays an Atheist for the rest of his or her life. It is very rare that an Atheist ever lapses back into religion.'" (Madalyn Murray O'Hair, quoted page 144, Atheist: Madalyn Murray O'Hair, by Brian F. LeBeau). Thanks to this (altogether imaginary) mechanism, atheism was to be the wave of the future.

This pattern displays an oft-observed cognitive defect called 'false consensus:' "We often exaggerate the extent to which other people hold the same beliefs that we do." ('How We Know What Isn't So,' by Thomas Gilovich, Chapter 7, The Imagined Agreement of Others, p. 113). We are all familiar with political partisans who are rock-solid sure their man will prevail and inhabit the White House, even if, like Ron Paul, he is presently polling in single numbers. To some extent this seems a function of boosterism or positive thinking; after all, if a political candidate entered the fray lamenting, 'I'm sure to lose,' then what would motivate his dejected foot-soldiers to tramp from door to door passing out leaflets? Atheists are unusually subject to this error in thinking, wildly overestimating the prevalence of their viewpoint in the general population (it's three percent), glomming onto entire alien categories like the 'unaffiliated,' most of whom explicitly deny being atheists, and generally behaving in a monomaniacal, dictatorial fashion as if they were an overwhelming majority of the populace entitled to throw their weight around.

Though the atheists suffer from an extreme case, it is a common malady: "Rather, the false consensus effect refers to a tendency for people's estimates of the commonness of a given belief to be positively correlated with their own beliefs." ('How We Know What Isn't So,' by Thomas Gilovich, Chapter 7, The Imagined Agreement of Others, p. 114). In particular, they suffer from the utter delusion that no one will ever abandon their camp and defect to the enemy: "But with organized religion it is literally the child or nothing, for if it fails to get the child, it will almost certainly never get the adult." (Madalyn Murray O'Hair, 'Freedom Under Siege,' p. 81). '[A]lmost certainly never'? In reality the atheists have a retention rate even lower than that of the Jehovah's Witnesses. In hanging on to one of her two children, Madalyn was doing better than the bulk of her co-religionists. The atheists are convinced religion is a relic of tribalism: "Given the absence of evidence, any belief in how many deities there are, who are their earthly prophets and messiahs, and what they demand of us can depend only on the parochial dogmas of one's tribe." (Steven Pinker, Enlightenment Now, p. 63 of 146, Part III, Chapter 23). If I had accepted the views of my tribe, I'd be an atheist! Thank God I'm not that gullible:


By Chance Complex Versus Simple
Alien God Ancient Error
Declaration of War Hero-Worship
The Binding of Isaac Thomas Jefferson
Judge of the World Retention Rate
Absence of Belief Edgardo Mortara
The First Amendment Adolf Hitler
False Advertising Bigger is Better
Secondary Causes Thy Neighbor
Gospel of Judas Joseph Atwill

Madalyn Murray O'Hair with Jon Garth and Robin

End Game

Though she often voiced concerns that she and her children would suffer violence at Christian hands, the murder and kidnap plot that ended her life was set in motion by a fellow atheist, David Waters, whom she had hired to work as office manager at her American Atheists money plantation. She, her son Garth, her grand-daughter Robin, along with one of Waters' confederates, were brutally murdered after the three were held for a month in a San Antonio, Texas motel, in spite of paying the ransom. There is no honor among thieves, it would seem, at least among atheist thieves. The proponents of the idea that 'you can be good without god' still need work out the mechanics of the atheist argument in favor of the ethical imperative of honoring a legally unenforceable agreement, merely because it is the right thing to do; upon completion of that task it may become a bit safer to be an atheist among atheists.

Rejecting the "anti-life, anti-human," 'sick' ideas which had crippled human life up until her advent, Madalyn's better idea was, what? Bearing illegitimate children deprived of any possibility for a real relationship with their fathers? This is good for whom, and why? Stashing all the loot she realized from American Atheists in foreign bank accounts? This is good for whom, and why? Hiring a murderer (though she did not know him to be such), David Waters, an amoral sociopath whose anti-religious views were not readily distinguishable from her own? It seems as though the trap these people ended up in was one which they had set for themselves:


Karl Marx V. I. Lenin
Bhagat Singh Mao Zedong
Pol Pot Enver Hoxha
The Derg Che Guevara
No True Atheist Why?
Tu Quoque Prince of Tyre
Atheist Armies Jim Jones
The French Revolution

School Prayer

Madalyn Murray O'Hair was successful before the U.S. Supreme Court in her case contesting school prayer, the opening salvo of her life-long legal jihad against organized religion. Her son's case was one of two bundled together and addressed by the Supreme Court, whose decision effectively banned school prayer, even voluntary school prayer.

The First Amendment lays out two clauses respecting religion: the non-establishment clause and the free exercise clause: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof. . ." In considering school prayer, both are involved, and yet in these historic cases the free exercise clause got short shrift:

"Of the seven participating members of the court, only Justice Potter Stewart dissented. 'I cannot see how an "official religion" is established by letting those who want to say a prayer to say it,' he argued. 'On the contrary, I think that to deny the wish of these children to join in reciting this prayer is to deny them the opportunity of sharing in the spiritual heritage of our nation.'" (Atheist: Madalyn Murray O'Hair, by Brian F. LeBeau, pp. 82-83).

The government may not compel anyone to pray, and yet the government cannot forbid those who wish to pray from so doing. Those children who wish to pray should find protection under the shelter of the free exercise clause, which may in some cases be in tension with the establishment clause: ". . .'there are areas in which a doctrinaire reading of the Establishment Clause leads to irreconcilable conflict with the Free Exercise Clause.'" (Justice Potter Stewart, quoted in Atheist: Madalyn Murray O'Hair, by Brian F. LeBeau, p. 102). The Supreme Court erred in throwing the children's free exercise rights under the bus, ostensibly to preserve the non-establishment clause.

The worst aspect of the school prayer controversy was the insistence of some governmental participants in playing the prophet. If there is one thing the First Amendment prohibits the government from doing, it is from dictating the beliefs and practices of churches. And yet here is Supreme Court Justice Tom Clark, doing just exactly that:

"On December 23, 1962, 'This Week' magazine published an article by Tom Clark, entitled 'A Supreme Court Justice Speaks of God.'. . .Clark was one of the nine justices who issued the unanimous opinion in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas, which marked the beginning of the end of racially segregated public schools. He was also, the following year, the justice assigned to present the court's 8-1 decision in Abington School District v. Shempp. . .
"Justice Clark's article went straight to the heart of why demands for state-sponsored prayers in public schools are dangerous to faith and morals. He first noted that 'The Bible tells us "When thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are. . .standing on the corners of the streets that they may be seen of man. . .when thou prayest, enter into thy closet and when thou hast shut the door, pray to the Father."' Acknowledging that there had been 'quite a crusade recently for public prayers by our children' he added 'little has been said in support of prayers by our children at home. I submit that private prayer in the home would be much more effective." (p. 57, Who's Afraid of Madalyn Murray O'Hair by Siarlys Jenkins).

The name for this is 'Caesaropapism,' it's the idea that it is up to Caesar to tell the church what it believes, which the church has somehow mistaken. It can be done with the best intentions in the world, as when Constantine convened the bishops at Nicaea. It is nevertheless always and inevitably unconstitutional under the First Amendment; it isn't the government which defines church doctrine. If this Supreme Court justice did indeed think the churches erred in encouraging public, corporate prayer at the inauguration of new activities such as a school day, he is not entitled to bring these insights into his day job.

Those Christians in government who disliked the civil religion and perceived it as a revival of the outward observances of the Pharisees of old ought, if anyone must, to have kept their religious views private. They may well have had a point; a driving force of this mandated Cold War piety could easily be heard as, 'We're holier than thou, Commie Pinko.' That there was an undeniable note of self-celebration in this species of piety provoked a reflex in Bible-literate observers. But it's the very establishment clause, which they claim to uphold, which will not allow them to impose their perceptions, right or wrong, upon their co-religionists: "The law knows no heresy, and is committed to the support of no dogma, the establishment of no sect." (Watson v. Jones). Would that it were no, not in theory but in fact! Unfortunately this kind of Caesaropapism is all over the school prayer dispute; it is the main reason why there is no objection to Muslim children praying in schools,— because in the Muslim tradition, verbal, rote prayers are mandated at scheduled times, it is a religion of outward observance— whereas, they believe, Jesus discouraged such observances. 'Prophets' like Tom Clark are without honor in their own country, and ever will be so long as it lives under the First Amendment.

In reality the Supreme Court cannot tell a religious establishment that its views are in error. This is the crux of the free exercise clause: the government is helpless to determine whether a given religious belief is true or false. This is so even if the religious tenet in question is so dubious as to excite allegations of fraud:

"The leading case on the subject is United States v. Ballard (1944), which involved a prosecution for mail fraud. The indictment charged that the defendants, organizers of the 'I Am' cult, had mulcted money from elderly and ill people by falsely representing that they had supernatural powers to heal and that they themselves had communicated personally with Heaven and with Jesus Christ.
"The Court held that the free exercise clause would be violated if the state were allowed to seek to prove to a jury that the defendants' representations were false. Neither a jury nor any other organ of government had power to decide whether asserted religious experiences actually occurred." (The First Amendment, Selections from the Encyclopedia of the American Constitution, edited by Leonard W. Levy et al, Religious Liberty, p. 448).

Does it really fall within the purview of the U.S. Government to tell Christian citizens what Jesus intended their prayer life to be? No, it does not.

"Under the principles of separation of church and state and religious liberty, it [the Supreme Court] held, neither a jury nor any other organ of government had the competence to pass on whether certain religious experiences actually occurred. A jury could no more constitutionally decide that defendants had not shaken hands with Jesus, as they claimed, than they could determine that Jesus had not walked on the sea, as the Bible related." (The First Amendment, Selections from the Encyclopedia of the American Constitution, edited by Leonard W. Levy et al, Religion and Fraud, p. 471).

The government needs to drop its prophetic function, which it cannot lawfully exercise, and stop telling Christians how to be Christians. To be sure, the kind of school prayers they used to have, the prayers addressed 'To Whom It May Concern,' were an unlovely thing. It is a great mistake to think that God delights in any and all prayer: "And when ye spread forth your hands, I will hide mine eyes from you: yea, when ye make many prayers, I will not hear: your hands are full of blood." (Isaiah 1:15). However it is not self-evident that Jesus intended to outlaw any and all audible, corporate prayer; in the Garden of Gethsemane, He asks the disciples to join Him in watching and praying: "And he cometh unto the disciples, and findeth them asleep, and saith unto Peter, What, could ye not watch with me one hour?" (Matthew 26:40). If there should chance to be school-children claiming they wish to pray just these sorts of prayers, however much it may make the prophet hidden within the breast of a Supreme Court justice blaze forth, the voice of the prophet must be stilled and remain silent, as the law commands. The law is the First Amendment.

It is true that Jesus taught,

"And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly." (Matthew 6:5-6).

But the apostles did not understand that Jesus is here legislating against any and all corporate prayer; they themselves indulged in the practice,

"And being let go, they went to their own company, and reported all that the chief priests and elders had said unto them. And when they heard that, they lifted up their voice to God with one accord, and said, Lord, thou art God, which hast made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all that in them is: Who by the mouth of thy servant David hast said, Why did the heathen rage, and the people imagine vain things?" (Acts 4:23-25).

They "lifted up their voice to God with one accord." Were they simply violating the Lord's command of Matthew 6:6? Our governmental 'prophets' are bound to say that they were. But then such commended practices as agreeing in prayer would be left impracticable:

"Again I say unto you, That if two of you shall agree on earth as touching any thing that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father which is in heaven. For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them." (Matthew 18:19-20).

Doing exactly what Jesus here commends would be cumbersome, to say the least, if audible, public prayer is forbidden. People would have to pass notes under the table, or make hand signals. Isn't it easier to agree in prayer when you can hear what the other party is praying for? Therefore it seems likely that Jesus is not vilifying public prayer as evil in itself. Rather it is, or can be, an occasion for sin: if people allow public prayer to become a competitive performance sport, then they are praying from pride and vanity, not to communicate with God. Avoiding public prayer is a strategy to avoid temptation, like detouring around the street where there is a bakery, not because there is anything wrong with that street, but because the bakery with its goodies might prove too tempting. While certainly the center of gravity of the Christian's prayer life is to be the prayer closet, the public square has not been ruled out altogether, if resort can be made there without falling into the sin Jesus condemned: 'Look at how pious I am.' Or so the apostles concluded, in good faith. Certainly the point is arguable. How are cults born? A teacher, a guide, points out with his finger a Bible verse, while blocking with the flat of his hand the remainder of the passage. Our governmental 'prophets' confine their attention to one verse, heedless that Bible-readers who include other verses in their survey may simply not share their conclusion.

Prior to the 1960's, many Baptist churches included in their statements of faith a blurb commending the separation of church and state. Part of the tragic fallout from Mrs. O'Hair's career is that she convinced millions of Americans that separation of church and state was, not a good thing as had previously been thought, but a bad thing, the prelude to the triumph of atheism:

  • "O'Hair claimed credit for helping to bring this new public school environment about, but added she was not done. 'When the Society of Separationists fights to remove prayer from schools or from the public arena,' she explained, 'we are fighting to rescue the children. . .The fight for control of education is the fight to dominate the mind of the rising generation. The fight for liberation of the child is thus a fight for control or direction of civilization. . .This is a fight for the future of civilization.'"
  • ('The Atheist: Madalyn Murray O'Hair,' by Brian F. LeBeau, p. 241).

Once people began to construe 'separation of church and state' as meaning, you aren't allowed to pray even though you want to and are not inconveniencing anyone, the concept began to sound like  oppression rather than liberation. Madalyn Murray O'Hair was an advocate of 'freedom' in theory, but in practice she ran her own organization in style many called 'dictatorial,' and she never understood why many Americans resented her willingness to infringe upon their constitutional right to 'free exercise.'

For Madalyn, Roman Catholicism was the index form of Christianity. If you wanted to know what Christianity looked like in its purest form, you looked to the Dark Ages. Rumor had it that Mr. Murray, the man to whom she was not married, had not married her because he was a Roman Catholic, and they do not permit divorce. This leaves the reader wondering, then why did Bill not leave Hillary to marry Monica; after all, they are not Roman Catholics. But only a fifth of Americans are Roman Catholics. One paradoxical result of her efforts is that Rome's principled opposition to the separation of church and state became a popular view amongst all American Christians, though it had not been previously. A more astute politician would have sought to divide her foes, and they would easily have parted asunder had the scalpel been applied at the right joints; instead, she united them as never before.

One common weapon in the atheist arsenal is to repeat all the historic Protestant arguments against Catholic practice. These are fairly good arguments; the conclusion to be drawn from them is that reformation is required. The conclusion the atheists wish to draw: that Protestant Christianity is refuted, because the Protestant arguments against Catholic practice are valid;— is less obvious.

Many of her principles are surely wrong: tax exemption is not "a subsidy from the state." For the state to allow groups and individuals to hold onto their own money is not the same thing as giving them taxpayer dollars. Allowing the state to tax religious organizations opens the door to excessive entanglement between church and state on a scale not hitherto seen; it places in the hands of the state the levers for disadvantaging, or even destroying, disfavored religious outfits. Her insistence that religious people must sit down and be quiet meant the suppression of the astronauts' ability to engage in any sort of religious speech at all. She was indignant that they had read from Genesis, simply on grounds they were on the government payroll while so doing. This is not to preserve the First Amendment, it is to flout it. There is not one religion clause in the First Amendment, but two.

Inventor Spin
Dominion Founding Fathers
Lost Liberty Madalyn Murray O'Hair
Encroachment Breach the Wall
Looming Threats Essential Church
Nay-Sayers Smith Act
Pearls Before Swine   

Sometimes people with really aberrant views can be forceful defenders of the First Amendment. The Jehovah's Witnesses, for example, have made no contribution to Christian theology, but have contributed to First Amendment case law. However it is really not possible to describe Madalyn Murray O'Hair as a civil libertarian at all. Had things gone the way she wanted, the state would have declared war against the churches, under the banner of the First Amendment, which not only requires no such assault but actually forbids it:

"The First Amendment to the Constitution states specifically that 'Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.' Yet a radio or television station owned by a religious organization and using the public airwaves surely represents an 'establishment of religion.'" (Madalyn Murray O'Hair, Freedom Under Siege, p. 144).

The state is not 'establishing' a religion by licensing a radio station owned by a church, any more than it establishes a religion by registering a vehicle operated by a church. This interpretation of the First Amendment,— that it requires wanton disrespect for the rights and interests of those citizens who band together into churches,— is in no way tenable. Recall, there are two clauses to the religious component of the First Amendment; the non-establishment clause in no way requires silencing the churches, and the free exercise clause positively prohibits the government from trying.

Madalyn was aware of the free exercise clause, but interpreted it in a cramped manner: "The 'free exercise' clause of the First Amendment protects the rights to prayer, mass, sermons, sacraments, and other such practices and credos." (Madalyn Murray O'Hair, Freedom Under Siege, p. 264). That's it: the free exercise clause allows you to hold church services! Where did she get such a crippled understanding of what 'free exercise' entails? To speculate, I would suggest she borrowed her understanding from contemporary practice in the Soviet Union, a country whose constitution guaranteed religious liberty, which however was never interpreted as permitting freedom to share one's beliefs, even with the believer's own children, or to state or even covertly signal them in public. To this socialist paradise, whose Gulags still contained incarcerated believers who had stepped over these tightly drawn lines, she made a serious effort to defect, with her two children in tow.


Problem of Evil

Like most atheists, Madalyn professed concern about the problem of evil:

"'After all,' she inquired, 'if god is omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient, omnibenevolent. . .how could he permit evil.'" (Madalyn Murray O'Hair, quoted p. 188, Atheist: Madalyn Murray O'Hair, by Brian F. LeBeau).

'Evil' means several different things: misfortune, immorality, human rebellion against God's law, sickness and suffering. There is nothing in the world, not even the sparrow's fall, outside of God's will; all that happens God permits, if He does not ordain. Does the occurrence of unwanted and unwelcome outcomes prove that God does not exist?:


Atoms and the Void

Mrs. O'Hair was a materialist, who justified her views by citing the ancient atomist Democritus, who propounded the precept that there was naught but atoms and the void:

  • "Everything traced has been found to be materialist (i.e., comprised of matter). The physical laws of nature are always in operation. They do not step aside even for a moment to permit anything else, such as spirit, to rule. The materialist holds that there is no spiritual existence apart from the material body."
  • (Madalyn Murray O'Hair, 'Why I am an Atheist', quoted p. 182, 'The Atheist: Madalyn Murray O'Hair, by Brian F. LeBeau).

She sought to vindicate the ancient Greek hedonists, like Epicurus:

"The ancient Greek philosopher, Epicurus, a disciple of Democritus and revered by the ancients for having liberated man from fear of a god and for asserting the validity of science, was for two thousand years anathematized by leaders of the church who falsely depicted him as an enemy of morality and a disseminator of vice." (Madalyn Murray O'Hair, Why I am an Atheist, 1991, American Atheists).

It is distinctly strange to realize that, even after it has been discovered that there is a genetic 'code' within our cells, a language in which ideas can successfully be expressed, namely a 'blue-print' specifying a living creature, people are still trying to sell ancient materialism, but so it is. This discovery of this natural language is the smoking gun in favor of the idealist view of life. If you need a language to define and specify what a living thing is to be, then that living thing is not just an agglomeration of matter, even if matter is the substratum out of which it is constructed. The missing piece, for whose expression a language must be sought, is the 'idea:' Far from an alien importation from the human mind, these are the building blocks of nature.

The Whale's Pelvis Useless Excrescences
Periodic Table Rewind Button
The Author of Life

Like Ayn Rand, she had difficulty wrapping her mind around theistic arguments in favor of an uncaused cause, demanding instead to know what caused God! But in reality, the argument from 'First Cause' does not need to prove, twice, that God exists, but only once. What I mean is that, the traditional theistic arguments purport to show that, in order for anything to come into being, there must be a necessarily existing being behind the universe. Alerted to the existence of such proofs, the atheists demand that the existence of a such a necessarily existing being be proven, but on independent grounds! This is not a rational response to a proffered proof. To prove 'there must be an uncaused cause' suffices. To assert to the contrary 'there cannot be an uncaused cause; even God must have a cause' is gainsaying, not refutation. Under the terms of the argument, this leads to the conclusion, 'therefore there is no universe,' a false statement. They would do better to engage with the proof, instead of failing to get it.

The theistic argument she means to refute does not begin with the premise, 'everything must have a cause,' the premise from which the atheist extracts the conclusion, 'therefore God must have a cause.' It begins with the premise, 'everything which can be or not be, everything which comes into existence and passes away, every contingent thing, must arise from a cause external to itself.' A moment's reflection with validate this rule; if a moment ago this thing was not here, then how can it be self-caused? Why was it not here before, if it exists necessarily? Adding an ancillary premise, 'everything which is is contingent and came into being' leads to the perplexity, then why is there anything rather than nothing? The solution, 'there must then be one necessary being,' is in no way arbitrary or irrational, nor is it so much as touched by 'what caused God?'

It is not a fair complaint to allege that arguments of this type explain the universe, but only by leaving God an unexplained 'brute fact': "God's existence does not lack an explanation. The explanation lies in his own nature as that which is purely actual, simple or noncomposite, and subsistent existence itself. . .The difference between God and the world then is not that one has an explanation and the other lacks it, but rather that one is self-explanatory while the other is not." (Five Proofs of the Existence of God, Edward Feser, p. 168).

Her analysis of the ontological argument, which revolves, not around an island, but around an elf, is likewise inadequate, because there is no coherent definition of an "elf" who cannot not exist. Were one to propose a verbal formula, of 'an elf who cannot not exist,' the rejoinder would still always be meaningful, in discussing an 'elf:' 'Is this one of the elfs who cannot not exist, or the other kind?' 'Necessary existence' is not in fact part of the definition of an 'elf.' Yet if there is an entity whose definition includes, 'this cannot not exist,' as theologians have held of 'God,' then to say 'it exists' is a tautology. Far from being laughable, the only way out of the ontological argument is to deny that language describes reality, a retreat most people would regret having to make.

Readers interested in exploring the ancient materialist viewpoint may enjoy reading Lucretius' 'On the Nature of Things:'


 On the Nature of Things

Thomas Jefferson

Like many atheists, Madalyn Murray O'Hair felt at liberty to rope people into her organization, even if they did not want to be there. The third president of the United States, Thomas Jefferson, spoke fondly of the preaching of Joseph Priestley, a pioneering Unitarian. This is a far cry orthodox Christianity, but it is also a far cry from the atheist free-thinker she portrayed on her radio show:

"Jefferson described Christian revivals as so much fanaticism, and showed himself anticlerical to the extent that he found 'in every age the priest has been hostile to liberty. . .in alliance with the despot, abetting his abuses in return for protection to his own.'" (Atheist: Madalyn Murray O'Hair, by Brian F. LeBeau, p. 199).

Not only the Unitarian Priestley, but every Protestant preacher of the day, inveighed against 'priest-craft;' and now we discover that they all were atheists? When a professed Unitarian says the things a professed Unitarian is very likely to say, there is no great discovery to be made; leave the man to his error, which was not atheism.

Madalyn's misperception of Thomas Jefferson's personal religious views fed her conviction that the intent of the First Amendment was to encapsulate and isolate religion, as a dangerous disease from which the body politic requires protection:

  • "All the violations are vital symptoms of a disease so serious that the wise men who were present at the birth of our nation wrote out a prescription to deal with it. That document named The Constitution of the United States of America calls for an absolute and total separation of church and state. Slowly over the past century and rapidly over the past decade, the churches have begun to break out of this quarantine and infect the body politic. That process has to be stopped now if the nation is to live to a ripe old age as a democracy."
  • (Freedom Under Siege, Madalyn Murray O'Hair, p. 6).

Not only Thomas Jefferson, but virtually the whole crew, the 'founding fathers,' were supposedly Deists, according to Mrs. O'Hair. She states this non-fact over and over again: "Even before the war ended, however, the Founding Fathers, most of them Deists, were looking forward to the new nation that they believed should be guided by an enlightened people, rather than by a people obedient to religious dictates." (Madalyn Murray O'Hair, Freedom under Siege, p. 84):

  • "On the contrary, the intolerance, the repressions, the factional strife over doctrinal differences were so bad that by the time of the Revolution many of the more educated of our leaders had left Christianity and opted for Deism. Unfortunately, adequate information about this is never made available to those who acquire their education in our public schools. . .
  • "Deism was the system of thought that advocated a natural religion, divorced from the Judeo-Christian Bible, based on reason rather than revelation, emphasizing nature's harmony and intelligibility, and rejecting the idea that the Creator could interfere with the laws of nature and the matters of mankind on earth. Simply put, the Founding Fathers believed in nature and nature's God. Among those who disapproved of Christianity as it manifested itself in the Colonies were Colonel Ethan Allen, Thomas Paine, George Mason, Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and john Quincy Adams."
  • (Madalyn Murray O'Hair, Freedom Under Siege, pp. 28-29).

Ethan Allen
Reason the only Oracle
of Man

Of the people on her list, if it is intended as a list of founders who were Deists (notice she is careful enough not to say so directly, though the reader is intended to come away with that impression), two, Ethan Allen and Thomas Paine, actually were that. Thomas Paine is the pamphleteer who produced 'Common Sense,' and who subsequently travelled from England to France to help out with the latter country's revolution, and only narrowly avoided being guillotined. The trouble isn't that this "information" is withheld from school-children, the trouble is that this atheist cant, that 'the founding fathers were Deists,' gets into the information stream when it isn't actually so. She breezes on as if she had carried the point, speaking of "the predominantly deistic national leaders" (p. 32, Freedom Under Siege). You have to wonder why the atheists always have to do this, why Richard Dawkins must make Adolf Hitler into a devout Catholic, and why Unitarians have to be herded into the Deist fold, where they didn't want to go. Unitarian authors of the day, like Joseph Priestley, engaged in polemics against the Deists, feeling there were significant differences between their own view-point and Deism. This "information" about the founding fathers originates in atheist polemics and is substantially less than a half-truth. Thomas Paine, the pamphleteer, to be sure, was a bona fide Deist:


Workers' Paradise

Madalyn's son William, on whose behalf she brought her school prayer lawsuit, jumped ship and became a Christian. She never spoke to him again. One of his most head-turning revelations about his mother is her failed attempt to defect, with her two sons in tow, to the Soviet Union:

  • "As a result of that inability to hold down a job, my mother was recruited by the Communists out of the unemployment lines. . .

  • "The hard-core Communists get all their followers out of the unemployment lines, not out of the college campuses. And my mother was one of those. And by the way, for those of you who think it was such a wonderful non-Communist society back in the 60's, forget it. Baltimore was one of the hot spots of communism. The IWWW basically controlled the ports. . .

  • "And my mother, she drank the kool-aid, to the point that she finally decided that she needed to take her two sons to the Soviet Union, that great workers' paradise. We used to get copies of 'U.S.S.R.,' it was later changed to 'Soviet Life.' It was a big magazine sort of like Look or Life, and it had all the wonderful photographs of the paradise, the worker's paradise, it included all the information about, you know, all the workers got to go to a Black Sea resort for a month's vacation every year. I could go on, but why bother.

  • "And so she tries to take me and my brother to the Soviet Union. Didn't have enough money to get all the way to Moscow, figured if she got to Paris, walked in the Soviet embassy in Paris and told them that we were ready to defect and go to the Soviet Union, that they'd welcome us with open arms and get us there somehow.

  • "The first problem was that nobody in the Soviet embassy in Paris spoke English. Why don't you think about that.

  • "OK, so, at any rate when they finally found somebody's wife to do some translating, and they sat my mother down, and said, 'You know, we think you should go back and work for the revolution in America. And beside that I don't think you understand why we have no unemployment in the Soviet Union.' Said, 'We have no unemployment because it's against the law to be unemployed. And considering your work record we're afraid you might spend a good deal of time behind bars.'

  • "So we go back to the United States."

  • (William Murray, speech at Freedom Leadership Conference, VA, 2:18-5:18)

Subsequently she spoke, with apparent sincerity, about kicking the communists out of her organization, so perhaps she later became disenchanted with communism, or at any rate she perceived it to be in her interest to make people think so. One must marvel at the chutzpah of this woman, who on her radio program would wax indignant at the red-baiters who questioned the patriotism of atheists and communists, when her own patriotism was gaping so widely open to question that she had actually made a serious effort to go over to our nation's enemies:

"Nevertheless, she was able to conclude: 'You know, back in 1959 when I started, the word "atheist" was never used, never proposed anywhere except in a derogatory way — "communistic atheism, atheistic communion." I separated communion and atheism.'" (Atheist: Madalyn Murray O'Hair, by Brian F. LeBeau, p. 321).

Would she have been as successful in separating atheism from communism if the public had been aware of her personal history? While Madayn had once served as chairman of the Maryland chapter of the Fair Play for Cuba Committee (William Murray, My Life Without God, p. 68), she ultimately did have a falling-out with the communists:

"Finally alone with my mother, I popped the question: 'What happened to all the Commies, Mom?'
"Her answer was swift. 'They had to go. I've got them all out now. We are American atheists.'" (William Murray, My Life Without God, p. 181).

Better late than never.


Colonel Ingersoll

Madalyn was an admirer of Colonel Robert G. Ingersoll, a man after her own heart and mind, given to one-liners, laugh lines and zingers rather than sustained thought. Though he did not call himself an atheist, she perceived in this anti-theist a kindred spirit nonetheless:

"O'Hair nevertheless recognized Ingersoll as the 'most effective spokesman against organized religion of his time.' 'He stated what 'should be in every man's heart,' she offered, when he wrote:
"Happiness is the only good;
Reason the only torch;
Justice is the only worship;
Humanity the only religion."'" (Atheist: Madalyn Murray O'Hair, by Brian F. LeBeau, p. 218).

However Colonel Ingersoll, who tangled with theist William Jennings Bryan, the perennial Presidential candidate who wanted silver coinage because it was the poor man's money, would not likely have appreciated the would-be Soviet defector's social and economic thought:

"I am a believer in individuality and in each individual taking care of himself. I want the government to do just as little as it can consistently with the safety of the nation." (Colonel Robert Ingersoll, The Best of Robert Ingersoll, p. 39).

Madalyn's own life intersected with some of these issues. She said,

"In October 1965, in her Playboy interview, Madalyn announced that she was a 'militant feminist.' She said that she believed in 'complete equality with men: intellectual, professional, economic, social, and sexual,' all of which, she insisted, were 'equally essential' and 'equally lacking' in American society." (Atheist: Madalyn Murray O'Hair, by Brian F. LeBeau, p. 218).

What did she interpret these desiderata as implying?: "'Sex is where you find it. I say take it and enjoy it. Give and receive freely, without fear, without guilt and without contractual obligations.'" (Madalyn Murray O'Hair, Playboy interview, quoted Atheist: Madalyn Murray O'Hair, by Brian F. LeBeau, p. 219).

The prior social consensus was that child-rearing, an arduous, burdensome, expensive, and lengthy process, should be shared by both genders. Then along came the 'sexual revolution' in the twentieth century, with the liberating message that women should behave in such a way as to ensure, as in Madalyn's case, they were left with sole responsibility for raising out-of-wedlock children, such as is the custom amongst our friends, the house-cats. These innocent and unoffending little ones should, further, be sentenced to starting out life in poverty. Her liberation from "contractual obligations" meant that her sons were liberated from having a father who was involved in their lives.

Fortunately her Christian parents were willing to take substantial responsibility for rearing her two sons, which gave them a measure of stability they would not otherwise have had. The intervening decades have seen vigorous political debate on these points. How fair is it for the tax-payers to get stuck with the bill for raising other people's illegitimate children? What is clear is that something that works has been traded in for what doesn't. There is bound to be a certain amount of misery in life, whether felt by a father enduring daily drudgery at a job he despises, or a mother trapped in an unexciting marriage. The modern insight is that, where there is misery, let it all be draped around the narrow shoulders of the innocent children. If they are not entitled to better things, who is? Why things which do not work are 'liberating' is left unexplained.


Bible Contradictions
Bible Difficulties
Flat Earth
Slavery and the Bible
Wealth and Poverty
Build Upon the Sand
Three Gods
Famine and Flood
Just a Man

A Loving God

Mrs. O'Hair did not believe it was very loving of Jesus to threaten people with eternal damnation in Hell:

  • "Jesus insisted that God be revered, but he also insisted on his own recognition as God. He asked others to love their enemy and forgive, but he threatened 'unforgiving damnation' to those who did not follow him. 'While he preached love, he showed himself as an unloving, threatening, destructive divinity.'"
  • (p. 224, 'The Atheist: Madalyn Murray O'Hair,' by Brian F. LeBeau).

What is more astonishing to the rest of us is the extraordinary price He was willing to pay that we should not go to hell. He shed His own blood and suffered a tortured death upon the cross. What more could love do? He did not leave us to our own devices, He bore our burdens. If that isn't love, then what is?

Not in thrall to that hobgoblin of little minds, consistency, Mrs. O'Hair also alleged on various occasions that Jesus did not exist. Although Jesus is amongst the best-attested figures of antiquity, some people prefer to dwell in the land of make-believe. If, of course, He did not exist, then the coherence of His teaching is a moot point. Perhaps Mrs. O'Hair's contentious nature is on view in her tendency to hector parties whom she believes not to exist. Those of us with enough sense to know that He exists and enough reverence to know what He did for us, cannot stop singing along with the hymn,

“My Savior's Love

I stand amazed in the presence
Of Jesus the Nazarene,
And wonder how He could love me,
A sinner condemned, unclean.

How marvellous! how wonderful!
And my song shall ever be:
How marvellous! how wonderful
Is my Savior's love for me!

For me it was in the garden
He prayed, "Not My will, but Thine";
He had no tears for His own griefs
But sweat-drops of blood for mine.

How marvellous, etc.

He took my sins and my sorrows,
He made them His very own;
He bore the burden to Calv'ry
And suffered and died alone.

How marvellous, etc.”

Charles H. Gabriel

She is of course correct in her assertion that this purportedly non-existent party taught the real existence of hell, although 'non-existence' and 'teaching the real existence of hell' might seem to dwell uneasily together:

""Indeed, she pointed out, 'there is no doubt at all that Jesus Christ, according to the New Testament and his own words allegedly recorded there, believed in hell.' In particular she cited Matthew 13:42, wherein Jesus described hell as a 'furnace of fire, in which there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth.'" (Atheist: Madalyn Murray O'Hair, by Brian F. LeBeau, p. 234).

Deity of the Sick

Mrs. O'Hair shared German atheist Friedrich Nietzsche's contempt for everyone who was not prospering in life:

"O'Hair reminded her audience that Nietzsche wrote that the Christian God was 'as a deity of the sick, god as a spinner of cobwebs, god as a ghost,' and, thereby, 'one of the most corrupt ideas that has ever been generated on earth.'" (Atheist: Madalyn Murray O'Hair, by Brian F. LeBeau, p. 237).

Thank goodness our God is a "deity of the sick," who doesn't laugh at us or kick us away because our pain and frailty is inhibiting His joy, but heals our diseases:

Nietzsche's scathing lack of compassion is enough to alarm and scandalize anyone. Her admiration for the man draws attention to one of the recurring problems with Mrs. O'Hair: someone who is a doctrinaire Marxist, to the point of making a serious effort to defect to the Soviet Union, would not normally be expected to be a major fan of Friedrich Nietzsche, whose aristocratic contempt for the lower orders of society, not to mention his racism, did not generally resonate with this group. Recall, the Nazis just loved Nietzsche. She is not much for consistency.


Hobgoblin of Little Minds

They used to say that consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds. From this demon Madalyn Murray O'Hair never got around to exorcising herself. What is the origin of the gods? They were men who were deified, she says:

"She [Madalyn] cited Herbert Spencer as contending that every god was once a living being, enlarged in the memory of succeeding generations. That being's deeds were reported from one generation to the next by word of mouth, 'and inevitably elaborated and embellished by the narrators of wondrous tales,' seeking to impress their audiences. Deeds were invested with magic and made to be 'marvelous and supernatural' until they became 'distorted. . .out of resemblance' to actuality."
('The Atheist: Madalyn Murray O'Hair,' by Brian F. LeBeau, p. 235).

Okay, so if "every god" was once a man, that means Jesus of Nazareth, acclaimed as God incarnate by millions of Christians was once a man, right? Oh, no! "Every god" EXCEPT Him:


The Thesis Tacitus
Celsus Suetonius
Mara Bar-Serapion Euhemerus
Talmud Atoms and the Void
Gospel of Thomas Osiris et al
Mutual Annihilation Embarrassment
Jesus Denial Today Little Gods
Adequate Explanation Zeitgeist, the Movie

Old Testament

Like many atheists, Mrs. O'Hair reserved especial scorn for the God of the Old Testament:

  • "'The Jewish god is the most ruthless, sadistic monster ever invented. That anyone at any time accepted or believed in the Old Testament is an irradicable taint against those who did.'"
  • (Madalyn Murray O'Hair, quoted p. 302, 'The Atheist: Madalyn Murray O'Hair,' by Brian F. LeBeau).

She complained about God's liberation of the children of Israel from slavery in Egypt, pronouncing the Egyptians slave-masters 'innocent:'

"During the rally, O'Hair lashed out against organized Christianity's and Judaism's celebrations of Easter and Passover, because they marked the death of Jesus and 'the killing of innocent Egyptians by their monstrous God.'" ('The Atheist: Madalyn Murray O'Hair,' by Brian F. LeBeau, p. 297).

On the one hand atheists condemn God when He is long-suffering and bears with the oppressors; this is a large part of the 'Problem of Evil,' that God does not immediately strike evil-doers down. But then when He does, why, that's even worse in their eyes.


Adolf Hitler

One would like to see progress in our world. But spreading one's gaze across the atheist apologetic enterprise reveals no progress, but rather a stagnant back eddy cut off from moving streams and forward-flowing currents. Mrs. O'Hair's anti-Christian apologetic was 'Inquisition, inquisition, Hitler, Hitler,' and today's atheists have picked her themes up with no noticeable refinement. What is the value of this apologetic? The church of the dark ages, which gave the world the inquisition, had departed very dramatically from the church of the apostles in belief in practice. Its autocratic form of government was the inverse of the early church's democracy. That a given institution displays a persistent pattern of human rights abuses is a severe indictment against that institution; but if a different institution, say for instance the early church and those churches modelled upon it, displays no such pattern, how can the burden of guilt plausibly be transferred away from its proper object, from the guilty to the guiltless?:

. . .By repeating, along with Roman Catholics, that the church of the dark ages and the early church are one and the same. It is understandable that Roman Catholics say so, but on what grounds do atheists repeat the information, when history and observation fail to confirm it? This is a persistent pattern in atheist apologetic. 'The Bible sanctions slavery;' really? Have you read Moses' provision for the jubilee? 'Oh, but Southern slave-owners claimed that it did.' No doubt, but have you ever read the laughable arguments they advanced to justify their view, such as that the mark of Cain is black skin? Do you really want to take up the burden of defending these arguments? The atheists take up the losing side in a Bible debate, often the side that was obliged to invoke state-sanctioned violence to silence dissent lest it be hooted off the stage, and insist the Bible really does say just exactly what power-hungry usurpers down through history have said that it says. So the Bible really, truly, after all does say that the church is an autocracy governed by a despot seated in Rome. It's good of the atheists to let us know. And was Adolf Hitler really a devout Christian, as they claim?:


  • “Germany was a Christian country down the line. Don't you dare say that Germany was ever dominated by atheism. . . Adolf Hitler happened to be a Roman Catholic who to this day has not been excommunicated by the Roman Catholic Church. . .And the Roman Catholic Church supported the rise of Nazism from the very inception of Nazism up to the point that they saw that they had a rival in Hitler, who wanted to take over that religious fervor.”
  • (1968 Radio Debate between Walter Martin and Madalyn Murray O'Hair, 2:04:55 - 2:05:25).

Science and Religion

Madalyn has a great deal to say about the millenial-long relation between science and Christianity. Unfortunately most of it is fantasy:

  • “For over twelve centuries the sciences were discouraged or perverted by religious orthodoxy. The orthodox held that the end of the world was at hand, that all existing physical nature was soon to be destroyed Therefore, the greatest thinkers in the church poured contempt on all investigators into a science of nature, insisting that everything except the saving of souls was folly. This attitude — and its enforcement — arrested the development of the physical sciences for hundreds of years, because an atmosphere was created in which all seeking after truth in nature was regarded as futile.”
  • (Madalyn Murray O'Hair, Freedom Under Siege, p. 78).

Really, that was what sparked all that trouble about Galileo and heliocentrism, that the church regarded seeking after truth in nature as futile? Quite to the contrary, Thomas Aquinas and Albertus Magnus had not regarded seeking after truth in nature as futile, rather they thought they had got hold of it, and they thought its name was 'Aristotle,' a case of mistaken identity to be sure, but not the kind of mistake she imagines it was. The church would have done better to adopt a more modest and reticent posture vis-a-vis the discoverability of truth in nature, not a more aggressive one. Incidentally, Aristotle was, and was well known to be, an unreconstructed pagan.

The natural sciences in antiquity underwent a development which was precocious, but frustrating. Instead of progressing uniformly, they tended to get 'stuck' with the investigators fracturing into mutually excommunicating sects. Seeing nothing but irreconcilable stasis and confusion, Socrates counselled abandonment of the entire enterprise in favor of ethical studies. Fortunately, his advice was not taken by all: Aristotle, a student of Plato, forged onward. . .but ended, ingloriously, as a road-block, a dead carcass laying in the road. But, before he started stinking up the joint, didn't they just love him, pagan though he was. They still kind of like him to this day, though, not being a Catholic, I couldn't tell you why:

Another excursion Madalyn made into the history of science concerned reproductive biology, where she asserted to students at Harvard that,

"She said people didn't know babies came from intercourse until the nineteenth century and that the mystery of birth was what caused ancestor worship and then all religious beliefs." (William J. Murray, My Life Without God, p. 163).

I don't know what she thought had happened during the nineteenth century,— had she heard or read somewhere some rumor about Karl Ernst von Baer's discovery of the ovum?— but this idea, that no one prior to the nineteenth century knew of any link between sex and childbirth, is of course fatuous. Cicero, in his early work 'On Invention,' a compendium of tips on lawyering and oratory, gives this as an example of a fact so well known it does not require proof: "Those things are demonstrated irrefutably which can neither be done nor proved in any other manner whatever than that in which they are stated; in this manner:— 'If she has had a child, she has lain with a man.'" (Cicero, On Invention, Book 1,  Chapter XXIX). In a famous case involving Athenian citizenship, a white woman who gave birth to a black child was accused of adultery: "Moreover, as the warts and birth-stains and freckles of fathers, not appearing in their own children, crop out again in the children of their sons and daughters; as a certain Greek woman, giving birth to a black child, when accused of adultery, discovered that she was descended in the fourth generation from an Aethiopian;. . ." (Plutarch, On the Delay of Divine Justice, Chapter 21). Why accuse her of anything at all if they did not think there was a link? But obviously, everyone knew what she claims they did not know. Why otherwise would anyone have thought the virgin birth a miracle? Bad things, and only bad things, happen when atheists get their hands on the history of science.

Another testimony comes from the gnostics, who despised the flesh and all that went along with it:

"Now that which changes will decay and perish, and has no hope of life from then on, since that body is bestial. So just as the body of the beasts perishes, so also will these formations perish. Do they not derive from intercourse like that of the beasts? If it, (the body) too derives from intercourse, how will it beget anything different from beasts?" (The Book of Thomas the Contender, p. 202, The Nag Hammadi Library in English, James M. Robinson).

While Jesus and Paul both commend celibacy, the idea that only the celibate have a heavenly hope is not Biblical. Wrong-headed as he is, no one can accuse this gnostic author of being unaware that sex makes babies. So why promote such nonsense?

Readers of the story of David and Bathsheba's adulterous affair will recall that the plot hinges on their effort to make Uriah the Hittite, Bathsheba's husband, think he could possibly be the father of Bathsheba's child, otherwise ruled out by the timing. The two of them understood the link between sex and reproduction well enough.



In a section on feminism Madalyn accuses Christianity of introducing the European custom of droit du seigneur: "By feudal times in Western Europe it was natural that the droit du seigneur would come into being with full sanction of the church." (Madalyn Murray O'Hair, Freedom Under Siege, p. 157). (This was the custom, oddly enough omitted from the Bible, that the Lord of the Manor gets first dibs on all virgins.)

Madalyn complains that abortion, which kills a disproportionate number of female infants, is opposed by most Christians:

"Every phase of the fight against induced abortion is based in theology and is being waged with the full political power of organized religion." (Madalyn Murray O'Hair, Freedom Under Siege, p. 177).