Now deceased Madalyn Murray O’Hair (1919-1995), once known as the most hated woman in America and a title she apparently took great pleasure in (1), fought a war against school prayer and won. It was further ruled in her favor that official Bible-reading in American public schools in 1963 and onward would cease.
Madalyn had a son, William, who too was a convinced atheist who supported his mother’s stance. While still a school pupil William would state: “I am an atheist, and I wish to be an atheist, and I don’t feel it would be appropriate for me to stand up and say the Lord’s Prayer”.
William’s mother founded the American Atheists, a group that is today dedicated to defending the civil liberties of atheists and advocating complete separation of church and state, and sued the city of Baltimore demanding that the state collected taxes from the tax-exempt Catholic church. She sued NASA arguing that public prayer ought to be banned by government employees in outer space. Madalyn also challenged the words under God in the pledge of allegiance as well as the motto “IN GOD WE TRUST” on the currency. But things took a tragic turn when in 1995 Madalyn, her son Jon, and granddaughter Robin were kidnapped and murdered by former American Atheist employee David Waters (1947-2003).
In hindsight, William is willing to look back on these events and describe them in more detail. William distanced himself ideologically from his mother since he denounced atheism and became a Christian, which he speaks about in his book My Life Without God (1982). He is also the chairman of the Religious Freedom Coalition, a group that supports Christian ideals and sheds light on the persecution of Christians in the Middle East and Africa.
William explains the dynamics of his family during his childhood,
“My family was definitely different. My mother tried to defect to the Soviet Union, she was a Marxist leader in the community, our neighbourhood was for the most part immigrants from many of those communist countries like Poland, from Hungary, from East Germany. And to have somebody in their neighbourhood who wanted to make this country like that one [resulted] in pretty much a lot of animosity towards the family and toward me.”
William grew up an atheist and Marxist, and was part of his mother’s plan to get schools to give up prayer.
“They think it is about separation of church and state and it was not about separation of church and state. There were many other issues particularly from my mother who filed the lawsuit the issue was a hatred for God and a hatred for capitalism. She was a utopianist, she was involved in magic thought when it came to economic matters and religious matters. She thought that a human condition could be created on a utopian condition where the most intelligent, namely her and her friends, could devise a system that would equal God’s system in heaven. And that there was no need for God, no need for capital, there was no need for any kind of competition [and] that all the needs could be supplied. Her actual, original reason for bringing this lawsuit was to get God out of the picture because she thought that the church was one of the three legged pillars that supported capitalism. And by eliminating prayer out of schools, getting God out of the public, that that would eliminate the capitalist system… she was basically an avowed Marxist, utopianist, and this is why I understand that issue so well having been brought up in that type of environment.”
But he changed his mind,
“I was raised in that atheist and marxist existence primarily because our family was so dysfunctional nobody could hold down a job. [However], I didn’t end up having that problem and I wound up being very successful in business [but] unfortunately although I got rid of the Marxism the atheism stayed with me, and instead of being an atheist Marxist I became a libertarian atheist and lived that libertarian lifestyle of thinking the only thing that is important is me and that everybody that can’t make it should just starve to death. The problem with that is that that lifestyle is destructive and nearly destroyed me, and when you get down to the point of destruction there is that one who is willing to lift you up out of your much and that one is Jesus Christ.”
“Going back to that horrible lifestyle of thinking that you’re the centre of the universe and that the only thing important to you is booze, food and sex, that led to near self-destruction. Finally I turned to a 12 step programme in order to get out of it and I was getting out of it, and there was this mysterious God getting me out of it, and I wanted to know who that God was. I went on a search for him but there is that eternal resistance [saying] that it cannot be that God my mother hated so badly, but the reality was that that is who that God was, and that is who that God is. It was he who was willing to reach down and grasp me up.”
William’s 1980 conversion to Christianity happened while his mother was still alive. It did not go down well. Speaking of William, Madalyn would state: “One could call this a postnatal abortion on the part of a mother, I guess; I repudiate him entirely and completely for now and all times… he is beyond human forgiveness”.
These are undoubtedly harsh words from a mother, so how did William take them?
“Oddly it didn’t hurt that much because of how dysfunctional the home was that I was raised in. The number of times in which I had done something that was perhaps wrong in her eyes as a child and [after which] she looked at me and said “I wish abortion had been legal when I was carrying you”… she told me that to my face when I was younger. So this [statement] was nothing more than a continuation of that. But that is the type of home where the only thing that is important is are those material things, those material philosophies, or government or statism. When only those things are important to you the feelings of people, of individuals aren’t that important to you.”
1. Rappoport, J. 1998. Madalyn Murray O’Hair: Most Hated Woman in America.