Saturday, September 8, 2012

The Atheist: Madalyn Murray O’Hair (2)

As I have other priorities now, instead of turning my notes into a narrative, I will just reproduce my raw notes cum page references. This should at least give you an idea of O'Hair's wildly vacillating, contradictory and unstable self-positioning.

LeBeau, Bryan F. The Atheist: Madalyn Murray O’Hair. New York: New York University Press, 2003.

Order read: chapters 4-7, Introduction, 1-3, 8, Epilogue [disappearance & murder].


2ff: history of atheism

Octavius Brooks Frothingham: Free Religious Association, 1867
Felix Adler: Ethical Culture Federation, 1876
Emma Goldman

American Association for the Advancement of Atheism, 1925
Clarence Darrow
HL Mencken

9: O’Hair most influenced by AHA.

Humanist Fellowship, U of Chicago, 1927
Humanist Manifestos I & II

14-15: O’Hair not modest or low profile.  Also an anarchist, feminist, integrationist, internationalist.

Socially ostracized.


20: changed indelibly by Great Depression
25: marriage to steelworker (1941), WW II
27: William Murray born of another man

32: '50s radicalism.
Rejected ADA, attended meetings of SLP. Feminist, anti-suburban

33: Michael Fiorillo; Jan born
34: her kids & religion
35: against bourgeois morality. Interested in many causes. At odds with humanity.
36: M’s glowing account of domestic life. Wm’s refutation.
37: Sputnik --> socialism -->; SLP --> SWP
38: went to Howard, disillusioned, left. 1959: applied for Soviet citizenship.
39: goes to Paris, frustrated by efforts to emigrate to USSR
40: against prayer in Baltimore schools: 1959
43: 1959—M fights the schools.
ACLU & Baltimore Ethical Culture Society support this effort. (others not)
46: red-baiting, publicity, issue of truancy, ACLU hesitant
50: Jewish parents also stood up. ACLU recalcitrant.
51: M ditched Commie lawyer Harold Buchman, stuck with Jewish lawyer Leonard Kerpelman. Buchman complained about M’s association with anti-semitic Truth-Seeker.
52: Kerpelman bottom-feeder, orthodox Jew
55: Wm in high school. Support. AAAA.
55: Charles Smith (AAAA, Truth-Seeker) a bigot. M disliked fellow atheists as petty people.
56: May 15, 1962 --> Supreme Court

CHAPTER 2: Murray v. Curlett

62: Niebuhr extreme anti-communist propagandist, justified execution of Rosenbergs
legal precendents
72: Jews & others for Engel decision against school prayer
Catholics & conservative Protestants against
75: FBI opened file on M. M signs protest against RFK’s attempt to shut down Daily Worker.
M fired from city social work job.
76: 1962: managed Red bookshop, started nonprofit, newsletter.
78: criticism comes with financial support.
79: other groups hesitant to support her. Only a few supported with briefs.
92: Justice Stewart denied parallel with Brown v Board of Ed.

CHAPTER 3: “The Most Hated Woman in America”

94: Murray/Schempp decision affected 41% of public school districts. Supported by Jews and liberal Protestants.
Huge backlash. Attempts at Constitutional amendment.
Murray vs Schempp: M’s claims of her key role
100-2: M alienated everyone.
103: 1963—M forms organization
104: JFK assassination, Faor Play for Cuba, expunged records of any connection to Oswald. Later boasted about kicking out Marxists.
111: police melee. Arrested.
114: fled to Hawaii
116: troublemaking in Hawaii
117: other atheists fight M
118: fight with Wm (his accusations—mentally unbalanced?).
M in Life magazine.
120: Sat Evening Post article, 1964. M for anarchism, against communism.
120 ff: Post interview.

123: “I really don’t care that much about atheism. . . I’ve always been more interested in politics and social reform.” (Post interview)

124: Liston (Post interviewer): M full of paradoxes.
Robin born. Extradition appeal defeated.
135: Playboy interview.
Fled to Mexico.
126-7: Wm settles case. Distances self from student radicals, mom.
M arrested in Mexico.
129: extradited. Freed.

CHAPTER 4: “The Atheist”

M wanted a real man, but also intelligent and gentle. Married Richard O’Hair.

133-4: AA demographics: 1968: members live mostly in small communities nationwide. Some teens, some real old. Average member: 45 w/ 2 kids.
Mi claims little backsliding. Doesn’t like de-converts from “wild religions”. 10% from atheist homes. 40% Republicans, 10% Birchites, 40% Dems, rest on the left.
M defines freethought as rationalist and materialist.
136: M’s publicity campaign.
5 April 66: Post reports on M at Howard U speaks to 250 on church tax exemptions.
137: More aggressive in tone and on variety of issues
137-40: against Vietnam War, blames churches. Sees is as Christian-Buddhist war. Catholic Church bolstered corrupt rulers of S. Vietnam. Cardinal Spellman and war on godless communism. 1972 revelation of Protestant churches as stockholders in arms industry.
1969: Now on speaking platform with other notables.

Mail pro & con
Poor Richard’s Universal Life Church
Against NASA
Expands ops in ‘70s
Protests Pope
Protests FBI surveillance
God on currency

166-7: Interested in atheism in other countries. India. Claims most Indian philosophers are atheists. Quotes Debiprasad Chattopadhya. Enthusiastic about Gora’s atheist center. 1970: Gora toured internationally. 1978: O’Hairs visited India. United World Atheists. 1979: Edamarku visited Austin.

168: in 1976, M claims to have purged her organization of communists. 1976, 1979: Claims to be an anarchist. Interested in disarmament.

CHAPTER 5: “Why I Am an Atheist”

Kantian ethics

173-5: M vs other atheists!
174: against philosophers
175: practical atheism

178: contra agnosticism
178-9: “Humanists”

180: FCC bias
185ff: Radio: prominent freethinkers in history
Paine, Ethan Allen, Lincoln, Jefferson
Separationism: Holyoke, Kneeland
US Grant on taxing churches.
Taxing churches
School release time
200: Bradlaugh
201: Bradlaugh vs poverty of spirit
202-3: Ingersoll a favorite
203: feminism
206: Diderot & nun.
La Religeuse (nun) film

CHAPTER 6: Articulating the atheist position

On holy writings & historicity of Jesus, science & religion, On Catholicism & the rest of Xianity, on taking possession of the young, Freedom Under Siege [religion & social control], church & state, state aid to parochial schools

230-2: feminism. Troubled relation to ‘60s women.
236-7: 1947-54: American civil religion under Cold War/McCarthyism

CHAPTER 7: O’Hair’s Prominence Recedes

William’s messed-up life
1977 debates with evangelist Bob Harrington
1978: divorce case unsettled, M’s husband Richard dies

259-61: Wm loses his mind. 24 Jan 1980: conversion to Xianity

265: oaths—successful lawsuits
268: financial problems
269: anti-Reagan
270: anti-communism reliant on religion
New Right. Aggressive foreign policy, favoring wealthy.
Advocated arms control, sharing wealth.
272: pessimistic
273: visited USSR in 1989, Russians interested in religious literature.
Health deteriorating.
274: 1984—worked for Larry Flynt
275: Flynt went back on deal when released from prison
1984 election—M disgruntled with “ruthless rampant capitalism”
276: no more lawsuits, situation hopeless.

277: diary entry Nov. 1985: “Most persons who think they are Atheists are ass-holes and nit-wits.” We’re probably the only atheists. Temptation to withdraw into self, become rigid & dictatorial.

CHAPTER 8:             O’Hair Retires

281: Wm a rabid right-winger
283: early ‘80s, rebellion against M. 1978, Jon Murray’s anti-semitic outburst.
284: 1978 Lincoln’s Birthday Massacre, war with chapters. FFRF founded.

285-7: M’s anti-semitism, including material in AA magazine. M denied she was anti-semitic. Recognized distinction between religion and ethnicity. Sherwin Wine’s Humanistic Judaism—entertained but rejected idea. You can’t be a Jew and an atheist.
287: anti-Israel, gay-bashing.
288: encouraged gays to form own chapters. Racist remarks about blacks, angry with them as Baptists, subservient. Claims to have made remarks to MLK. But judge people as individuals.

290: plans. AA stats.
290-1: 1990 report, Atheists, the Last Minority.
74% male, 96% white, 52% single, 25 % 1 college degree + 22% more than one; 62% own own homes; 32 % under 40, 32 % 40-50, 36 % over 50; 65% middle class. 83 % vote—35% independents, 38% Democrats, 9% Republicans, 9% Libertarians; 12% would vote socialist if viable option .
See also footnote #46, p. 362, 1981 stats.

291: atheists not rationalists, humanists, etc., but atheists. Liberation of mind more important than black, etc. liberation. God-liberation paramount. But pessimistic.

292: society heading into neofascism

295: 1990 crisis. Fight with Truth-Seeker. Jon in charge, a pain in the ass. AA losing court cases & money.
299: disputes over finances, accounting. Charges of corruption.

302: stats, member share of atheists, impact disputed. Leaders admit atheists are stubbornly independent, fractious.

306: 1993 final interview: pessimistic. Sums up self as “Woman, atheist, anarchist”.

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