Spring 2001

A Journal of Atheist News and Thought

Murray-O'Hair Commemorative Issue


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Spring 2001

American Atheist
A Journal of Atheist News and Thought

and fully capable of carrying the torch
passed on by his mother, Dr. Madalyn
Murray O'Hair.

In Memoriam
Frank R. Zindler


The Murray-O'Hair Family:
An Appreciation
Ellen Johnson
The president of American Atheists
reflects upon the lives and achievements
of Atheism's "First Family."





Cover art: Portrait of Dr. Madalyn
Murray O'Hair, Jon Garth Murray,
and Robin Murray-O'Hair reprinted from the Twentieth Anniversary
Issue of American Atheist, June,
1983 (Vol.25, No.6).

Volume 39, No.2
Parsippany, New Jersey

Certain Closure
Conrad F. Goeringer
A long-time associate of the MurrayO'Hairs recounts the extraordinary
story of how the mystery of their 1995
disappearance was resolved and reveals
the truth about the horrible fate of three
Atheist heroes.
"School Daze"
Madalyn Murray O'Hair
A reprint of the first
chapter of An Atheist
Epic: Bill Murray, The
Bible And The Baltimore
Board Of Education, by
the founder of American
Atheists Inc., depicts the
beginning of Murray u
Curlett - the case that
outlawed forced prayer
and Bible reading in
public schools.


Essays by Jon Garth Murray
Take a Stand
200 Years of American
A Challenge
The Cancer of Religion
Atheist Paranoia vs,
Empty Pews .
The second president of American
Atheists expresses
his opinions on a
number of important issues and
reveals himself to
have been a leader
of the Atheist
movement constitutionally well
suited for the task

Spring 2001

Editorials By Robin
Magic Words
Why This Issue
The Art of Self-Suppression
Undoing Deceptions
The precocious
"Jailbird Editor" of
American Atheist
shows herself to
have been a woman
of courage and an
analytical thinker
with few equals.


Defending The
Ellen Johnson
A press-conference speech given by
American Atheists President Ellen
Johnson at the National Press Club
Washington, DC, on 19 January 2001
shows what's wrong with superstitionbased "partnerships" between religion
and government.
Serving God and Mammon
Margaret Bhatty
Our Indian correspondent reports
on the religion business in the
and an Atheist Novelist on the
History of Religious Ideas.
Part III.
Earl Doherty
The author of the landmark book The
Jesus Puzzle continues his review of the
monumental 20th-century work THE
TESTAMENT OF MAN, examining The
Valley Of Vision and The Island Of The
Lucretius and the
Ungodly Gods
Gary Sloan
The Roman poet Lucretius mayor
may not have been an Atheist, but he
certainly was important in the development of Atheist philosophy.
Talking Back


Page 1


39 Number

Membership Application for
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Frank R. Zindler
Ann E. Zindler
Conrad F. Goeringer
Ellen Johnson
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Parsippany, NJ 07054·6733
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Spring 2001

American Atheist

Editor's Desk

Madalyn Murray O'Hair
April 13, 1919-Sept., 1995
Jon Garth Murray
Nov. 16, 1954-Sept., 1995
Robin Murray-O'Hair
Feb. 24, 1965-Sept., 1995
How can one find words to express
the enormity of the tragedy that has
been visited upon the Atheist community? How can insentient traces of ink
on paper bespeak the sharp-edged
prick of pain, the throbbing ache of
grief, or the dull and numbing sense of
emptiness felt by those of us who were
close comrades of Madalyn Murray
O'Hair, Jon Garth Murray, and Robin
Murray-O'Hair? It is now more than
five years since the "First Family of
Atheism" disappeared from their home
in Austin, Texas, and at least four
years since most of us drew the intellectual inference that some awful fate
had befallen them. It is over a year
since we learned with near certainty
that they had been kidnapped, extorted, probably tortured, brutally murdered, dismembered, and buried ignominiously in a wild and windswept
grave on a ranch outside San Antonio.
Even so, the passage of time has been
insufficient to strengthen us to withstand the emotional implosion triggered by the recent discovery of their
charred remains. None of the intellectual analyses of the past year could
steel our nerves to the terrible reality
that three brilliant minds have been
extinguished forever; three courageous
hearts shall never beat again; and
three comrades whom we loved and
admired shall never again visit our
homes, offer us encouragement
times of self-doubt, or stir us to action
in imitation of their selfless toil. Nor

Frank R. Zindler
Parsippany, New Jersey

could the passage of time really prepare us for the emotional reality that
we now are on our own in the fight
against superstition
and religious
encroachment - both upon the governmental domain and upon the private
sphere of conscience. Never again shall
we have their animating leadership,
their astute advice, or the example of
their often valiant deeds. We really are
on our own now. It is up to us to continue the struggle against the benighted
forces that
seek to enslave the
American mind, abolish the progress
achieved by science, and return us to
the Dark Ages of Faith.
Murders - especially the violent
and brutal sort - are the type of thing
one sees in movies or on television, the
kind of thing one glances at on the
teasing cover pages of supermarket
tabloids. Murders do not touch our
lives. But to the contrary, murder has
struck down three human beings who
for some of us were practically family.
We yearn to know what their last
hours were like, yet dread to discover
the truth. We struggle to comprehend
how lives so filled with promise and
achievement should be snuffed out like
candles in a sudden draft, how persons
who have done so much to liberate the
minds and elevate the aspirations of
their fellows should come so startlingly
and senselessly to naught. The incomprehensible injustice of these deaths
shall haunt the innermost reaches and
recesses of our minds like a ghost no
exorcist can expel.
Greater even than the dream of
Martin Luther King were the dreams
of the Murray-O'Hairs. Their dreams
incorporated all the laudable goals of
Dr. King, but amplified and extended
them to all of humanity. Beyond that,
they had a dream that no individual
life should ever again be placed in
jeopardy by the reality-testing failure
known as religion, nor should the survival of our species be endangered by
Spring 2001

deluded minds pursuing a cosmic willo'-the-wisp. No one ever again should
be forced to surrender mentally to the
slavery of supernaturalism.
No one
ever again should be forced to pay
taxes to support an invisible kingdom
known only by the say-so of its parasitic ambassadors, the clergy. Never
again should the world be thrust into
the Dark Ages. Never again should
faith vanquish reason. They dreamed
that the divisiveness
and hatred
fomented by religions would be overcome by rational minds no longer willing to do evil when given the command
"Thus saith the Lord." They dreamed
that all of humanity, if they could but
shed the darkling lenses and blinders
of theology, would see more clearly the
path of enlightened self-interest and
would realize that peaceful cooperation is more desirable than warfare
and strife. They held the hope that
humanity would realize before it was
too late that they are one with nature,
brothers and sisters of the humblest
animals, and fellow travelers with
them on this spaceship we call Earth.
Such were the dreams of the
Murray-O'Hair family, and such are
the dreams of those of us who honor
them by carrying on their work. The
world is a measurably better place
because they lived, and America honors the First Amendment
of its
ever so slightly more
because they fought in its defense. The
of Madalyn, Jon, and
Robin is not that of liberated souls
"that naked on the Air of Heaven ride,"
but rather that of perishable mortals
who, "departing, leave behind us /
Footprints on the sands of time." For
more than that they never hoped. For
all of that we pay them tribute. For all
of that we honor their memory and
resolve that the death of their bodies
shall not mark the death of their
dreams. We who carry on shall dream
the dreams they can no longer dream.
Page 3

The Murray-O'Hair Family
An Appreciation
By Ellen Johnson
adalyn O'Hair was born in
on April 13, 1919 to John
Irvin and Lena (Scholle) Mays. She
said that the values she had she had
received from her family growing up
- noting appreciatively, "They were
pretty decent people." She loved both
her mother and her father: "I had a
very pleasant childhood and I have
enjoyed life at every stage."
She attended the University of
Toledo from 1936-37 and the
University of Pittsburgh from 193839. After receiving a B.A. from
Ashland College in 1948, she did
work at Western
Reserve University from 1948-49.
Madalyn spent one year at the
Warren G. Harding School of Law at
Ohio Northern University. Then her
family moved to Houston in 1950
and she attended and received her
first law degree in 1952 from the
then newly opened South Texas
College of Law.
One of her fondest memories of
her studies there was of a professor
who taught a class in legal ethics.


Ellen Johnson is the president
of American Atheists and longtime friend and associate of
Madalyn Murray O'Hair, Jon
Garth Murray, and Robin MurrayO'Hair. During many years as a
member of the Board of Directors
of American Atheists Inc. and its
related corporations, she worked
closely with all three Atheist pioneers and practically became a
member of the family.
Page 4

Decades later she couldn't remember
his name, but she recalled him saying that the only difference between
a man and a hog is dignity, and that
the foremost thing that an attorney
should be is dignified: dignified in
his life, dignified in his ethics, dignified in his profession, and dignified
in his community. She said that he
personified dignity in everything he
did and he was profoundly full of
learning, warmth, and outreach. The
impact he made on her she said was
extraordinary and she loved him for
it. In 1995, when she was invited to
speak at that same school, she hoped
that she would run into him but
unfortunately she did not.
Dignity was an attribute she
insisted that people must have, even
at the very end of life. There was no
need to become sniveling, whining
wretches at the end. She thought
that we must face death the same
way we must face everything else in
life - with dignity.
Most people probably assume
activism began in 1963 with the winning Supreme Court decision of
Murray u Curlett, but it actually
began way before that.
She had very deep roots in a
union family. When she began to
learn about early union movements
in America she said she wept over
what was done to union organizers,
workers and strikers, educators, and
union advocates. She knew then that
she wanted to champion the legal
issues of the American unions to
help the laboring worker.
In Texas at that time one had to
take a god oath to take the bar
exams in Texas or to practice law.
Spring 2001

Being an Atheist at that time precluded her from both. No attorney
that she knew of would take on this
issue because they all had taken that
very same god oath. Consequently,
she took the civil service exam for
foreign service appointment, but
never got an appointment even
though she had one of the highest
scores attained on that test and had
spent three years in World War II as
a commissioned officer in the
Women's Army Corps. In the army,
she principally served with the US
army signal corps as a cryptographic
security analyst officer. Her three
years of foreign service were spent in
Africa, Italy, and France.
Madalyn then obtained work at
the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare as an attorney
adjudicating claims with the Social
Security Administration. Since she
had interest in unions, she was disappointed to find that the only government union at that time was the
attempts had been made to unionize
the Social Security Administration
employees and all three failed. The
previously failed attempts had been
to organize from the bottom up in
grades 1-3 which were clerical. She
figured out that maybe the answer
was to organize them from the top
down and so she decided to try to
organize the lawyers grades 7-11,
and she did it! Thanks to Madalyn
O'Hair, that union is still in existence today. Her union activities
caused her to lose her job, yet she
even tried to organize the agents of
the FBI in Washington, DC!
With her love of learning, she
decided to go for her Masters Degree
American Atheist

in psychiatric social work at Howard
University. With that in hand, she
then became a supervisor in the
of the
Baltimore Dept. of Public Welfare.
On her first day at work she ran into
a picket line and would not cross it.
It shocked her to see so many of her
colleagues who did.
Her social conscience extended
to organizing a Baltimore protest
against strontium-90,
a deadly
radioactive isotope, because there
was atmospheric testing of atomic
devices taking place in the 1950s. Sr90 was even found in milk at that
time - resulting from fallout from
nuclear testing precipitating onto
the grasses that cows ate.
Her social consciousness led her
to help forge an alliance against the
cold war. She was one of eight persons who went to Washington, DC,
and staged a sit-down strike in the
Department of Defense! The protesters were determined to sit in the
officesuntil they ended the cold war!
They stayed for three days before
being carried out bodily.
Madalyn was one of the main
organizers of the picketing of the
White House against the Bay of Pigs
invasion and the principal planner
for the peace marches in Baltimore,
where protesters circled that city to
show how much would be blown up if
a nuclear device were exploded.
She badgered the American
Association of University Women to
hold weekly meetings at their hall
and bring in speakers opposing the
war in Vietnam. She was doing this
before the US had even entered into
the war, when France was still the
aggressor. Madalyn put together the
first experiment in family counseling
involving the mothers of neglected,
delinquent, and dependent children.
She tried to do something about the
living conditions of migrant workers
but the details are not known to me.
Madalyn repeatedly stated that
she was not a communist, quipping
at one time that "They are so rightwing that I cannot stand them." She
picketed the White House Towers in
Parsippany, New Jersey

Baltimore, because they refused to
serve blacks, and the movie houses
there which refused admissions to
blacks. She was there organizing and
picketing during the famous riots in
Cambridge, Maryland, when the US
government brought out army tanks.
She wound up with a very deep
and abiding intellectual hatred for
the lies, deceits injustices, oppressions, cruelties, discriminations,
duplicities, corruption and coercions
in our culture. These were the traits
that she was known to become
and "strident"
Beneath all her activity she encountered a nonacceptance
of her
because, first, she was an Atheist,
and because she was a woman who
was not into sex, booze, or drugs.
It was then that she discovered
the prayer problem in the public
schools in Baltimore, Maryland.
Elsewhere in this issue is reprinted
the first chapter of her book about
that case - An Atheist Epic: Bill
Baltimore Board Of Education.
The American Atheist organization had its beginnings in 1963, after
the United States Supreme Court
ruling in the case of Murray v
Curlett, which she filed along with
her son, Bill Murray, to remove compulsory Bible reading and reverential unison prayer recitation from
the homerooms of the public schools
of our nation. Madalyn Murray and
her son William J. Murray III, who
was fourteen years old at the time
sued the President and Board of
School Commissioners of Baltimore
City, Maryland.
In the Murray v Curlett case, the
Murrays did something unheard of
before then: they declared to the
court that they were Atheists and
they objected to the organized
prayers and Bible readings because
of their Atheism, not because they
were of a minority religion and
objected to the particular deity being
prayed to. They objected because they
were Atheists. In looking back at that
case, Madalyn said that prayers
were irrational and that even if
Spring 2001

there never was an Establishment
clause to the First Amendment, they
still would have sued, because no
child should be taught to engage in
that kind of "insane" activity.
Since this was the basis for the
lawsuit, an explanation of what an
Atheist was was put into the suit. It
is in the records of the Baltimore,
Maryland, Superior Court. That historical reference to the Atheism of
the petitioners reads:
Your petitioners are Atheists
and they define their beliefs as follows. An Atheist loves his fellow man
instead of god. An Atheist believes
that heaven is something for which
we should work now - here on earth
for all men together to enjoy. An
Atheist believes that he can get no
help through prayer but that he
must find in himself the inner conviction, and strength to meet life, to
grapple with it, to subdue it and
enjoy it. An Atheist believes that
only in a knowledge of himself and a
knowledge of his fellow man can he
find the understanding that will
help to a life offulfillment.
He seeks to know himself and
his fellow man rather than to know
a god.An Atheist believes that a hospital should be built instead of a
church. An Atheist believes that a
deed must be done instead of a
prayer said. An Atheist strives for
involvement in life and not escape
into death. He wants disease conquered, poverty vanquished, war
eliminated. He wants man to understand and love man. He wants an
ethical way of life. He believes that
we cannot rely on a god or channel
action into prayer nor hope for an
end of troubles in a hereafter. He
believes that we are our brother's
keepers; and are keepers of our own
lives; that we are responsible persons and the job is here and the time
is now.*

*Despite her ardent feminism and lifelong
fight for women's rights, Madalyn Q'Hair
never adopted the "non-sexist language" now
so customary in this journal and elsewhere. To
the end of her life she adhered to the principle
instilled in her by years of grammatical studies: the masculine gender is the inclusive gender, and the word man can stand for human.

Page 5

After the Supreme Court decided
8-1 in favor of the "Atheist family,"
(and incidentally, that was the
longest written Supreme Court decision ever rendered at that time) it
became impossible for Mrs. O'Hair to
find employment in mainstream
America. Because of the trial, she
was fired from her job as a psychiatric social worker in Baltimore,
Maryland. With the help of five supporters, Dr. O'Hair formed a corporation known as "Other Americans." At
that time there already was an organization known as "Protestants and
Other Americans United for the
Separation of Church and State,"
which was the precursor to the organization known today as "Americans
United for Separation of Church and
Since the six Atheists were not
"Protestants" but still wanted the
church, they called their group
"Other Americans," the purpose of
which was to promote the philosophy
of ancient materialism. This group,
headed by a woman, immediately
came under attack from all the old
freethought, rationalist, and secularist organizations of the time, as well
as religious institutions and the US
government. There were actual
breakings and entries into the
premises of the new group, harassment and physical abuse of real and
personal property, illegal handling of
the mails, boycotting, surveillance by
governmental security organizations, and a general abuse in the
media of the person known as
Madalyn Murray.
The head of the FBI at that time,
J. Edgar Hoover, authorized a counterintelligence operation against
Mrs. Murray. COINTELL was a special policy plan of the FBI in which
that agency engaged in the placing of
deliberately fictitious and defamatory items into the media with the
object of reducing the esteem and
reputation of the person or group
The Murray family was actually
driven from Maryland through physical abuse and assaults. At that time,
Page 6

Bill was dating a Jewish girl named
Susan Abromovitz.Her parents didn't
like her dating Bill and, for whatever reasons, a court ordered her into
the custody of her aunt and uncle.
Unbeknownst to Susan's parents,
she and Bill married. When Susan
didn't appear at her aunt and uncle's
house the police went looking for her
at the Murray home but lacking a

Madalyn receives her BA
from Ashland College in 1948
search warrant
Madalyn, quite
rightfully, wouldn't let them in. The
police charged their way into the
house and when the Murrays resisted they were severely beaten, while
the neighbors egged on the police
shouting, "Kill them! Hit 'em harder!
Get that bitch!" Mrs. Murray's aging
mother was hospitalized with a
brain concussion, and Madalyn was
also hospitalized. The Murray family
was charged with assault and battery of sixteen police officers and
they were sent to jail! They were
released on bail and, fearing a hearing before a hostile court, they decided to leave. Madalyn stated, "If I go
before that kangaroo court, I wouldn't
stand a chance. The police would
Spring 2001

bring in 250 witnesses - neighbors
who hate me." The Baltimore Sun at
that time editorialized on that city's
shameful treatment of the family,
stating that the city had, "treated
Mrs. Murray shabbily." They fled to
the only place in the nation that was
not Christian dominated at that
time, Buddhist Hawaii. That was in
1964. In order to avoid the extradition to Baltimore for which the cardinal archbishop of that city was
clamoring, and unable to restart the
organization in Hawaii because of
the lack of cooperation by the governmental agencies there, Madalyn
Murray went to Mexico where she
got a teaching job through the help
of a friend. The US Department of
State refused to give her a passport
but she went to Mexico anyway. The
Mexican government deported her
and she ended up - in of all places a San Antonio, Texas jail. (It is in
San Antonio that the Murray O'Hair
family were murdered). She successfully fought the extradition
Maryland, and that state gave up its
fight to get her back. The family
remained in Texas after 1965, and
the name of the organization was
changed to "Society of Separationists, Inc." In 1987 the organization
now known as "American Atheists"
filed its Articles of Incorporation
The past 37 years had been anything but easy for the family. The
Murray-O'Hairs faced government
yearly tax audits (even on E-Z
forms), and over a dozen harassment
lawsuits. In one such "harassment"
lawsuit a religious attorney sued Dr.
O'Hair for alienation of affection his affection for "Jesus." He said that
he should have damages because her
speeches had placed doubt in his
heart about this "Jesus."
In all the turmoil and stress following the Supreme Court decision,
Bill Murray was unable to handle
the emotional and physical harassment and he "broke" emotionally. In
1973, Madalyn and her husband
Richard F. O'Hair adopted Bill's
daughter Robin, since he was unable
American Atheist

to care for her himself. Bill turned to
drugs and alcohol, which resulted in
some very serious behavior such as
beating his wife, trashing his mother's home, stealing, and shooting at
police officers. He blames his mother
and Atheism for all of his problems
and to this day he seems unwilling to
accept any responsibility for his own
Setting the Record Straight
The founder of American Atheists, Madalyn O'Hait, her son Jon
Garth Murray and adopted granddaughter Robin Murray-O'Hair, have
been the authors and architects of
modern American Atheism, which
has come into prominence in the last
thirty-five years. Yet, it is almost
impossible to know exactly what the
Murray-O'Hairs accomplished during all those years if you rely only on
what the media printed. There has
been such a lack of information and
so much disinformation out there
that it is time to set the record
straight. So I am going to do it. Bear
with me, because the MurrayO'Hairs accomplished a lot.
Madalyn O'Hair founded the
first American Atheist Library &
Archives to collect, preserve, and utilize Atheist history and publications.
This library
is internationally
known, with an extraordinary collection currently valued at $3 million.
She founded the "American
Atheist Radio Series" in 1980 as the
first - and only - regularly scheduled Atheist broadcasts ever to be
made in the United States and
broadcast over 123 stations for a
dozen years. She also founded the
"American Atheist Forum" in 1980,
the first - and only - regularly
scheduled television broadcasts ever
to be produced, directed, and broadcast by Atheists. It was on the air for
about sixteen years and aired on 130
major cities reaching an estimated
9.3 million homes.
She founded the first local-level
network of Atheist chapters ever
established in the United States. She
worked with one of our early chapter
Parsippany, New Jersey

directors, a prominent businessman,
Lloyd Thoren who is now deceased,
so that he could found the first
American Atheist Museum in the
United States, in Indiana. Later she
worked with Lloyd, who owned several telephone companies, to establish the first Dial-An-Atheist= service.
Madalyn O'Hair founded the
United World Atheists which banded
together Atheist groups throughout
the world and invited a major
Atheist leader to speak at the annual national conventions. Together
with GORA (a compatriot
Ghandi), she founded the system of
World Atheist Meets.
She founded the American
Atheist Press which publishes
Atheist books. In 1987 the Press
obtained press credentials for covering both the Democratic and the
Republican National Conventions.
She founded the American
Atheist magazine, the first openly
outright Atheist journal which has
been published for about thirty years
now. She founded the "American
Atheist International Radio Forum"
which was heard on 2,000 radio
stations worldwide.
She also began the first production of audio and video cassettes of
Atheist materials ever produced in
the world.
She originated the American
Atheists annual conventions, of
which there have been twenty-six.
She was the first person to ever
propose that the United States and
all the governments of the world recognize as celebration days the four
days of natural events which affect
the world: the Vernal Equinox (the
beginning of Spring), the Summer
Solstice (the beginning of Summer),
the Autumnal Equinox (the beginning of Autumn), and the Winter
Solstice (the beginning of winter).
She founded the first Atheist
Center in the world. (The second was
founded in India by a man named
Madalyn O'Hair, Jon Murray,
and Bill Talley of Colorado (who is
now deceased)
Spring 2001

American Atheists Alcohol Recovery
Group which was able to have the
Veteran's Administration rule that
veterans in veterans' hospitals must
be provided secular services as an
alternative to the Christian Alcoholics Anonymous and Palmer Drug
Abuse methods.
Madalyn O'Hair and Jon Murray
worked with Arnold Via of Virginia,
to create the first Atheist cemetery
in the United States. (It is no longer
in existence.)
They worked with a former
Texas chapter director to begin a
one-hour, once-a-week serial program, the "Atheist Hour," on the
Pacifica station in Houston which
ran consistently for over nine years.
They assisted in the creation of a
similar program in New York City.
They worked with a number of
leaders in the Gay movement to
assist them to set up the first Gay
Atheist League ofAmerica, and later,
a separate national American Gay
Atheists organization.
American Atheists opened the
first full-fledged, all-Atheist book
store in the United States in Denver,
Colorado, and the second in Austin,
Madalyn O'Hair was able to
obtain a ruling from the Veterans'
Administration to add to the grave
markers in veteran's cemeteries the
symbol of American Atheism.
The Murray-O'Hairs and American Atheists organized and carried
out the first Atheist picketing of any
pope in the western hemisphere, in
Chicago, Illinois, in 1979.
They organized and carried out
the first Atheist picketing of the
White House in Washington, DC in
Madalyn O'Hair was arrested
and jailed in November 1977 for
objecting to prayers at a city council
meeting, and Robin Murray-O'Hair
was arrested and jailed in December
1988, rather than take an oath "so
help me god" in order to serve as a
Madalyn O'Hair and Jon Murray
have been the Atheist leaders who
have filed literally
scores of
Page 7

state/church separation cases in city,
county, state and federal courts
throughout the land over a period of
thirty years. The most notable case
of course is Murray v Curlett.
Another notable case, O'Hair v
Pain, in 1969 by the publicity it
aroused, caused the United States
government to abandon its plans to
carry religious programming into
space in U.S. NASA operations. This
was the Apollo 7 Mission, which was
sent to circle the moon and look for a
landing site and take photographs.
The Mission was .code named
"Experiment P-1" and the astronauts
were given a military order to have a
"spontaneous manifestation of religious awe" at 7:31 pm - plus ten seconds, when they came out from
around the back of the moon and saw
the planet earth. They were then
ordered to recite from memory the
1st ten verses of genesis (which were
conveniently printed into the flight
plan). The purpose of all that of
course was to show the communists
at that
time that
the good
"Christian" United States would be
better at space flight than the
Atheistic and "communistic" government of the old Soviet Union.
In 1977 the nation-rocking case
to remove "In God We Trust" from
currency and coins was filed by
American Atheists titled (O'Hair v
In ruling against
O'Hair, U.S. District Judge Jack
Roberts agreed with a federal
appeals court which said that the
use of the motto on coins "has nothing to do with the establishment of
Supreme Court refused to review the
case on appeal.
In another case, O'Hair v
Wojtila, Madalyn, Jon and American
Atheists challenged the right of Pope
John Paul II to give a full Roman
Catholic mass on the Washington
Mall in the District of Columbia in
Murray v Goldstein attempted to
stop the tax exemptions of church
O'Hair v Briscoe attempted to
remove a creche from the rotunda of
Page 8

the Texas capitol building
O'Hair v Hill fought the exclusion of Atheists from public office.
Collins v Chandler attempted to stop
prayers at high school commencement exercises.
Reed v Ingham County was
fought over the firing of a policeman
in Michigan because he was an
O'Hair v Nixon attempted to
stop full scale church services in the
White House.
Murray v 27 radio stations and
Society of Separationists, Inc. v FCC
both concerned the demand for equal
time for Atheists under the "Fairness
Doctrine." Madalyn O'Hair appeared
on almost every major television and
radio talk show in the United States,
and she wrote dozens of books, booklets, pamphlets, magazine articles,
etc., all on Atheism and state/church
Ifit is tiring to hear this long list
of accomplishments, and it is by no
means complete, imagine what life
was like for the Murray-O'Hairs for
over thirty five years. Youwon't hear
about these accomplishments from
the press.
Of the three family members
whom many of us knew and
admired, Madalyn O'Hair was the
one given the most attention by the
media. Her son Jon and adopted
granddaughter Robin devoted their
entire adult lives to the cause and
the organization their mother and
grandmother also gave her life to. All
three made their mark on Atheist
history with their impressive contributions and years of dedication to
the cause.
Jon Garth Murray (1954-1995)
John Garth Murray was the
President of American Atheists from
1986-1995. The management of the
multimillion-dollar American Atheists General Headquarters
under the management of Jon since
he graduated form the university of
Texas in 1975. He attended public
schools in the United States, graduating from McCallum High School in
Spring 2001

Austin, Texas, on June 7, 1972 at age
seventeen. He immediately enrolled
in the University of Texas, at Austin,
majoring in American Literature
and American History. He obtained
his Bachelor of Arts degree on May
17,1975 at the age of twenty.
Whereas he had been a volunteer worker for the organization,
after graduation
he became a
salaried officer with the Society of
Inc. His creative
writing abilities quickly established
him as Associate Editor of the
American Atheist magazine. Some of
his articles from the magazine
appear in a compilation in his book
Essays Of An Atheist Activist. He
also authored a two-volume set of
Essays on American Atheism. He also
authored many essays and speeches,
as well as the books All The Questions You Ever Wanted to Ask American Atheists
and Atheism
He co-edited the monthly American Atheist Newsletter. He also coanchored the American
Television News Forum, which was
American Atheists' first CableAccess TV program which then aired
on over 200 cable television networks across the United States. As a
co-author and rewrite editor, he collaborated on fourteen books issued
in the name of Madalyn Murray
Jon Garth Murray was a colitigant in lawsuits to remove the
phrase "In God We Trust" from the
nation's currency and coins; to halt
prayers in governmental institutions; to prohibit the display of religious artifacts in governmental
buildings (particularly the creche or
nativity scene during the Christmas
season); to force the governments of
five Southern states to accept
Atheists and agnostics for jury service; government offices or positions
of public trust; to stop the pope from
holding a Roman Catholic mass, at
taxpayer expense, on the citizenowned Washington Mall; to enjoin
the Texas courts from requiring
prospective jurors to be sworn into
office with a god oath; and to remove
American Atheist

the tax exemption from church and
Southern states to accept Atheists
religious institutional real estate.
and Agnostics for jury service, gov- described the effect of Christianity
on the Western culture as "the
Jon was also the coordinator of ernment offices or positions of public
plague of unthinking belief." Holding
the first-ever picket of a pope in
trust and to stop the Pope from holdreligion as totally irrelevant
world history, in Chicago, Illinois, in
ing a Roman Catholic mass, at taxhuman life, he excoriated the use of
payers expense, on the citizen-owned
He was co-sponsor of the World Washington Mall in the District of such "nonsense" words as "soul, uniAtheist Meet in collaboration with
verse, prayer, god, heaven, hell,
Lavanam, Director of the Indian
Jon was also the coordinator of angels and the like." He emphasized
that all religions are an accident of
Atheist Centre ofVijayawada, India.
the first picketing of a Pope in world
place and time and pointed out that
He co-chaired that event in India in
history. He was, himself, at the head
December 1980. He also coordinated
of the picket line in Chicago's "Loop" anyone born in the United States as
several World Atheist Meets, in one
during the Pope's visit to that city.
late as 500 years ago "would proba-------.•.••..
....--.......,,......---bly be worshipping a dead
of which the then US.S.R.
participated for the first
Indian spirit."
time. In the course of the
In an editorial in the
business of the related
June 1983 issue of the
Atheist organizations, he
American Atheist magazine
traveled extensively
he said, "We have not run
most countries of the world
from the system and we are
and, of course, to every
not freaks who are deterstate in the United States.
mined to overthrow the
Jon was a recognized
entire system that discrimtelevision personality and
inates against us. We are
the veteran of hundreds of
instead reformers who feel
radio talks show. Beginning
that our continued tenain 1976, he was called upon
cious participation within
to make appearances on
the system will serve to
behalf of American Athereform the system as a
ists throughout
whole, thus making it betCanada, the Scandinavian
ter for all concerned. When
one is confronted with a
Jon assisting his mother in getting the message of
India. He organized interbigot blocking the path, it is
Atheism out to the radio public
not proper to get. off the
Rationalist and Freethought organiIn 1991 Jon presented written
path and give way. The bigot must
zations in most Western nations:
testimony to Senator Paul Simon,
yield. If everyone placed in such a
England, France, Italy, Germany,
Chairman, Subcommittee on the
position would make the bigot yield,
Norway, Belgium, as well to those in
Judiciary of the Senate Committee
there would soon be far less of them
Egypt, China, Japan, Australia, New
on the Judiciary titled "State/church
around to block paths."
Zealand, and Canada.
separation and the civic ghettoizaOn a number of occasions he was
tion of Atheists in the United
asked to address the Congress of the
States." He was the coordinator of
Robin Murray-O'Hair
United States in respect to state/
the annual
church separation concerns and he
Atheist conventions, held at different
met with federal and state legislalocations throughout the United
Robin Murray-O'Hair was born
tors individually to educate each on States, as well as two Regional
to William J. Murray and Susan
the issues.
Atheist Meets ™ held in Boston, MA, (Abromovitz) Murray on February
Jon and Madalyn O'Hair, were
and in Meriden, Connecticut.
24, 1965. She was adopted by
co-litigants in lawsuits to remove the
Jon never married and found
Madalyn and Richard F. O'Hair in
phrase "In god We Trust" from the
this to be a regrettable consequence
1973. She graduated
from high
nation's currency and coins, to stop
of his involvement in the hectic life
school in 1981 at age sixteen and
prayers in government institutions,
of leading a cause organization. He
attended the University of Texas,
to prohibit the display of religious
had always hoped to marry and have
having attained a National Merit
artifacts in government buildings
a family.
(four year) Scholarship. She obtained
(particularly the creche or nativity
At a lecture given at Indiana
her Bachelor of Arts degree at the
scene during the Christmas season),
University in Pennsylvania, sponage of nineteen, after only three
to force the governments of five
sored by the Philosophy
years of study.
Parsippany, New Jersey

Spring 2001

Page 9

She immediately began employment with the Society of Separationists, Inc. as a salaried officer.(S.O.S.
is an organization founded by
Madalyn O'Hair and dedicated to the
protection and promulgation of the
principle of separation of state and
church and the protection of the civil
rights of Atheists.)
Robin was trained in all areas
relating to publishing - including
phototypesetting, the use of production cameras, print production art,

very serious search for additions to
the book collection, regularly attending many Book and Paper Shows
throughout the nation and working
with booksellers in Europe, Canada,
the United States, Australia, and
New Zealand. At the time of her
death the library that she managed
contained 20,000 mostly antiquarian
books, 75,000 mostly antiquarian
magazines, and 500,000 collector
items - principally leaflets, booklets,
brochures, pamphlets, and throw-

Robin and Madalyn at the Sacramento Convention in 1993
design, graphics, layouts, and editing. She attended numerous seminars on publishing. With this knowledge she then took over the production of the American Atheist magazine. This led her to begin reviewing
the history of state/church separation and freethought philosophy.
In the meantime, Madalyn's
acquisition of Atheist and freethought books that she had been collecting over a twenty-five year period was beginning to outgrow the
7,000 sq. ft. building that the Society
owned and occupied. Robin convinced the family to purchase a larger 17,500 sq. ft. building so that she
could unpack, shelve, and begin to
catalogue the enormous collection.
To facilitate the preservation effort
she began to learn about the care
and handling of antiquarian books,
their preservation and their marketing. It was then that she began a
Page 10

aways. The library contains the
largest collection of HaldemanJulius "Little Blue Books" in the
world. With the exceptional efforts of
Robin Murray-O'Hair the library
now known as the Charles E. Steven
American Atheist Library and
Archives, for which she was president of at the time of her death, has
become in her own words, "A most
for modern
Atheism and freethought."
With her deep interest in antiquarian books, and her knowledge of
computers, she became involved in
the Collectibles Forum of CompuServe, an international on-line service. She was the Sysop of the Books
Section there since February 1993.
In 1987 Robin had the unfortunate distinction of being the only
person jailed in America for refusing
to take a god oath. This oath was
required of her when she was called
Spring 2001

for jury duty at the Travis County
Courthouse in Austin, Texas. The
Texas Rules of Civil Procedure
regarding the taking of oaths for
jurors in Texas was specific: Before
the parties or their attorney begin
the examination of the jurors whose
names have thus been listed, the
jurors shall be sworn by the court or
under its direction as follows: "You
and each of you do solemnly swear
that you will true answers give to all
questions as propounded to you concerning your qualifications as a
juror, so help you God."When Robin
notified the judge that she could not
take that oath, he offered her an
affirmation which she also declined
to take since it is more religious than
an oath and equally offensive to
Atheists. The judge then tried to
offer an alternative which she could
not take because the law said that
the jurors "shall be sworn by the
court under its direction as follows....." The judge could not change
it even if he wanted to. This riled the
judge (for those of you in Texas his
name is Judge Guy Herman, in case
you ever appear for jury duty with
him) so much that he found Robin in
contempt of court and ordered her
committed to the Sheriff of Travis
County for a period of three days,
"and thereafter until you purge yourself of the contempt by taking the
She spent six hours in jail and
was released on a personal recognizance bond of $1,000.
Few people in American had the
strength of character to stand up for
their principles in the face of a jail
sentence as Robin did, and she
exhibited that character throughout
her life.
On January 1, 1994 she opened
the first Atheist Computer Bulletin
Board in the world. This was an online service offering book sales, informational files, discussion, and a
match-making service.
Since her principal interest in
the organization was in information
services, she also became involved in
the organization's television production. She produced and directed the
American Atheist

American Atheist Television News
Forum, which was American Atheist's weekly cable access TV program
which aired in over 200 cities in the
United States, reaching 5 million
homes. She occasionally appeared on
the program as a hostess, but preferred to produce and direct the
Robin also assisted Jon with the
programming of the American Atheist Conventions, working in the
areas of advertising, registration,
the development of informational
packets, computer management and
all food event planning.
She was the person who did the
layouts and copywriting for all the
direct mail advertising relating to
the sale of the American Atheist
Press books.

In the last few years she began
to do more radio talk shows and
major television news programs.
Nevertheless, her major activities
were usually behind the scenes. A
gourmet chef, she saw to it that
Madalyn had tasty food compatible
with her diabetes mellitus. Her gardening skills were exercised both at
home and at the Atheist Center in
Austin. Like Madalyn and Jon,
Robin was a lover of music.
Unfortunately, the constant press of
deadlines and crises left no time for
her to play her viola, an instrument
she had learned to play while in high
Her outstanding
work for
Atheism is something that will live
on for the benefit of us all.

The death of the Murray-O'Hair
family - Madalyn, Jon, and Robin leaves a great void that no one is
likely to be able to fill. Their intelligence, zest for life, and inimitable
style made them a unique trio. Their
kind we shall not know again.
Nevertheless, in death even more
than in life, they inspire us to take
up where they left off. They challenge us to devote even halfthe time
they spent in the fight for the liberation of the mind and the setting free
of religion's prisoners. The pain of
their loss is still acute after five
years have elapsed; but that pain
prods us on - resolved to assure that
they did not live and die in vain,
resolved to push on to the victories
that eluded them during their lives.

For Cyber-Skeptics!
American Atheist Press is proud to carry the CD-ROMs being produced by "Bank of Wisdom," the "labor of love" of Louisville
Atheist Emmett Fields, who is trying to safeguard the literary heritage of Atheism and Freethought by recording it in computeraccessible form. Most of these treasures are now very rare - having been destroyed by religionists who stole them from public
libraries (those works that managed to get into libraries at all!), inherited them in estates, or in other ways succeeded in eliminating the printed products of the great skeptical minds of the past. Employing Adobe Acrobats' PDF format, the discs work on
both IBM and Macintosh computers. Considering the enormous amount of priceless material on each of these discs and the ridiculously low purchase price ($30.00), these discs should be in the library of every Atheist.

The Works of Robert G. Ingersoll

An Introduction to Freethought

The 18 volumes contained on this CD include the 12-vol. complete works plus biographies and tributes to Ingersoll
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The 26 volumes contained on this CD include 400 years of
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The 21 volumes contained on this CD include the collected
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The 14 volumes contained on this CD include many classics of
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Parsippany, New Jersey

Spring 2001

Page 11

A Certain Closure
By Conrad F. Goeringer


helicopter circled as the photographer snapped the pictures of the stark, rural landscape. Below, you could make out a
small army of men and women, most
of them clustered around an area
measuring just a few feet on each
side. They all represented an alphabet soup of government agencies,
from the FBI to the Texas State
Rangers. Some were digging with
shovels. Off to the side, there was
another group, fewer in number, one
man in a light coat. The photo would
run on a national wire, but it was not
at all apparent what was going on.
You had to read the story to understand what had brought all of these
people there, to a ranch in southwest
Texas, what they were doing, and
who they were looking for.
It had all begun in the fall of
1995.The O'Hairs had returned from
a vacation in the eastern United
States. It had included a walking
tour of civil-war battlefields, and a
jaunt to the space science center in
Hampton Roads, Virginia. It was
"business as usual," the long hours
and frenetic pace. Robin MurrayO'Hair anticipated the delivery of a
new state-of-the-art Epic typesetting
Conrad Goeringer is Director of
American Atheists On-Line Services and a Contributing Editor to
American Atheist. He surfs the
Web and writes about the world
from his home on the South Jersey
coast. For many years he was a
close friend and associate of the
Murray-O'Hair family.
Page 12

system which would handle the
growing volume of publishing projects. Madalyn O'Hair had finished a
nine-page article for the upcoming
issue of the American Atheist magazine, "The Matter of Prayer," which
was both a biographical account and
defense of her 1963 Supreme court
case to end organized prayer and
Bible verse recitation in the public
schools. The magazine was behind in
its publishing schedule, but the
O'Hairs had spoken of re-doubling
their efforts, and getting the monthly
journal back on a regular production
In the same issue, Jon Murray
wrote his regular column, "Director's
Briefcase," which for that issue was
"The Task Before Atheist Activism."
It was a summation of Murray's
thoughts on the tricky issue of injecting Atheist opinions into the cultural
mainstream, and the problems the
movement faced. He spoke of the
"nonofficial undercurrent of systemic
discrimination against the Atheist
viewpoint," then outlined the goals
for "the Atheist activist" - a phrase
he employed frequently.
"Many Atheists seem to miss the
boat on gaining respect for their lifestyle," Murray .wrote. "We cannot
simper, whine, or beg for respect. It
must be earned by Atheists coming
out of the closet and making their
position known for all those with
whom they associate, while making
it clear to one and all that they shall
not compromise on their Atheism
but demand to be dealt with as they
are ..."
"We can do this thing, provided
we do it together with patience and
perseverance ... But the outcome will
Spring 2001

be worth more than a thousand fold
every drop of blood or sweat it takes
to achieve."
Then, they simply vanished.

The scene at the ranch marked a
tragic ending to a mystery that had
begun over five years earlier, in the
fall of 1995. Madalyn Murray O'Hair,
her son Jon Garth Murray and her
adopted daughter and granddaughter, Robin Murray simply disappeared. It was a story that made
headlines, and generated a good
amount of speculation and conspiracy
theorizing. O'Hair had been a plaintiff in the historic 1963 US Supreme
Court case which helped to strike
unison prayer and Bible verse recitation from the public schools. During
the tumultuous period ofthe late 60s
and 70s, she emerged as an
American political icon, aggressive,
and fervently
defending the principles of her
cause. The work of building an
passed to her son, Jon Garth Murray,
and yet another generation joined
the movement when Robin Murray
stepped in as Editor of American
Atheist magazine.
are part of
American history and our popular
culture. Even the word itself is
evocative and compelling, and conjures images of what might have
been. One can vanish, vanish from
sight, "do the vanishing act," or simply "be gone." Those who disappear
"become lost to sight," according to
Roget's Thesaurus, or they "fade out
or away."They "vanish into thin air,"
American Atheist

or perhaps in more sinister fashion
simply "perish, die, die out or away."
They leave no trace, and as
Shakespeare said they "leave not a
rack behind."
The names of those who disappear do inhabit one area of collective
consciousness, though, in our popular legends and discourse. "Disappearing acts" are the ingredients of
mystery, and hence speculation.
When Judge Joseph Force Crater
vanished in August, 1930, his case
became the archetype of those who
simply vanish. On August 6, 1930,
Crater, a justice on the New York
Supreme Court, climbed into a taxi
and was never seen in public again.
His case was unsolved, and he was
declared legally dead in 1937.
Money and subterfuge are often
elements of classic vanishing acts.
Amelia Earhart is likely the century's most well known disappearance.
The famous aviatrix took off with
navigator Fred Noonan from California in May, 1937 to be the first to
circumnavigate the globe on an
equatorial route. On July 2, the pair
were slated to land at Howland
Island in the South Pacific; Earhart
and Noonan were never heard from
again after making a radio transmission. Books, documentaries
Internet Web-sites raise any number
of exotic theories, including the suggestion that Earhart was on a covert
spy mission on behalf of the US government.
Other names reside in the Who's
Who of the missing and vanished.
Teamsters leader Jimmy Hoffa disappeared in 1975 on the way to a
meeting with two alleged mobsters
at a suburban Detroit diner.
Disappearances have a way of
igniting a tinderbox of speculation,
all the more heated when there is
any hint of celebrity. The O'Hairs,
and especially Madalyn O'Hair,
made an irresistible target, and
would provide good copy for anyone
covering the story. After thirty years
of being a social rabble-rouser and
advocate of an unpopular idea, the
disappearance of Madalyn O'Hair
and her family - whatever the outParsippany, New Jersey

come - was sure to provide a ready
morality tale for whoever told the
story. There was also no dearth of
former employees, associates, and
casual acquaintances who, for whatever reason, had grist for the media
Over the decades, it's easy to
assemble a circle of loyal friends and
disgruntled enemies.
The Vanishing
Sometime in late August, 1995,
the O'Hairs disappeared. The precise
details remain locked away in investigative files and in the memories of
the men who later emerged as the
principals in a plot to kidnap, extort,
and murder the members of the family; but some facts are known.
In the midst of whatever was
happening, the family appeared to be
in a rush. It was odd for all three to
go away on any sort of businesses,
and they had just returned from a
vacation. It would soon emerge that
there was no sign of forced entry or
violence at either their home on
Greystone Drive in Austin, Texas, or
at their offices. Adding to the mystery was a note taped to the front
door of the American Atheists offices
which appeared to be signed by Jon
Murray, advising employees that
paychecks were being mailed and
that the family would return on
September 15.
Along with the many indications
that it was all "business as usual" at
the American Atheists headquarters
when the family left, there was also
another development that would
deepen the mystery. Plans had been
underway to. organize a picket in
protest of the visit of Pope John Paul
II to the United States in midOctober.
When phone calls and e-mails to
the O'Hairs went unanswered,
efforts were made to contact the family on Jon Murray's cell phone. There
between the O'Hairs and officers of
the organization, including Ellen
Johnson and Conrad Goeringer. Mr.
Spring 2001

refused to discuss the specifics of
why the family had suddenly left
their home and office.
"It's too complicated to explain
right now," Murray would say. "I'll
tell everyone about when we get
In conversations
with Ms.
Johnson, Murray discussed business
and political affairs involving the
organization, including the upcoming pope picket in New York. The
family had made reservations at a
hotel. All of this convinced officials
that while whatever was going on
was certainly unusual, there was no
reason to believe that the family was
in danger. Still, there were disturbing signs.
A man who identified himself as
"Mark Anderson" answered one call
to Jon Murray's cell phone during
this period.This was perhaps unusual,
but did not seem to prevent access to
Murray or the rest of the family.
More disturbing was a call where
Robin O'Hair answered a cell-phone
call from Conrad Goeringer, and
appeared to be highly distraught.
Mr. Murray took over the conversation, and once again reassured his
caller that "everything's all right, I
don't know why Robin is acting this
way" and "We'll tell you all about it
when we get back ..."
The family never made it to the
New York pope picket, and soon,
another event would occur which
raised suspicions and concerns over
the fate of the O'Hairs.
For years, Ellen Johnson - a
board member and former Director
of the New Jersey Chapter of
American Atheists - had worked
with the O'Hairs on one of the affiliated corporations known as the
United Secularists of America. USA
was the depository for a Trust Fund
which, over the years, the O'Hairs
had established in order to provide a
steady source of income during lean
times for American Atheists and its
various activities. There was no mystery about this. Indeed, the newsletter often carried an appeal for members to contribute to this enterprise,
and it was discussed during the bus iPage 13

ness meeting portion of the annual
National Conventions. Much of the
trust Fund had been accumulated
through realized wills and other
gifts. It had been deposited by Mr.
Murray into a New Zealand bank
which had been paying a handsome
interest. Better yet, most of the fund
was in the form of New Zealand government bonds, contributing to its
safety as a financial instrument.
As noted in the May-June, 2000
Supplement which recounted what
was known up to that point regarding the disappearance of the family,
the Trust Fund had even been mentioned in a brochure, "Why Is An
Atheist Organization Needed in the
US Today?" which Mr. Murray had
authored. He had written:
Now Atheists can invest in the
permanent future for their organization ... The Trust Fund is designed to
accumulate working capital from the
rank-and-file supporters - without
dependence on large single sustainers, thus affording the group a wider
latitude of operational options ...

Some while after the disappearance, Ms. Johnson received a notice
from New Zealand showing that
approximately $600,000 had been
taken from the account. This information was disclosed to the Internal
Revenue Service in November, 1996
on the annual IRS 990 tax returns.
The news rekindled controversy,
speculation and accusations. Even
more perplexing, though, were revelations that the money had been
transferred into the account of a jeweler in San Antonio, Texas, and converted by Jon Murray into gold coins.
What was happening?
Much of the media and even
some in the "small world" of organized Atheism and freethought were
less than generous in their assessment
of these
Personal animus against the O'Hairs
ran deep in some quarters, fueling
allegations that the family - for
whatever reason, perhaps a medical
emergency - had absconded with the
missing funds for foreign lands. New
Page 14

Zealand, Australia, the former Soviet
Union, and the European continent
were all suggested as probable destinations. Former associates were
unearthed, and gave their speculations
for public consumption.
Another reason for flight was put
forth: that Madalyn O'Hair, 76 and
in poor health, was near death and
didn't want to be surrounded by
Christians praying over her and
seeking the obligatory death-bed
The imaginative accounts of
what was, or might be, going on with
the O'Hairs continued, and ironically
few of them involved the several persons who have been established as
principals in the crime that decided
their fate. It was not until three
years later that the story began taking another strange twist, when San
Antonio Express-News reporter John
MacCormack happened to notice an
obscure wire service report.
MacCormack had already written about the O'Hairs' disappearance, and incorporated the usual
theories and cliches about the family
into his own copy. Most reporters
seemed compelled to describe
Madalyn O'Hair as reveling in her
self-described reputation as "the
most hated woman in America."
(Indeed, among the dozens of news
clippings and other reports from the
period, it is difficult to locate one
that omits this, or does not regurgitate many of the earlier accusations
against the family.) MacCormack
had a nose for a story, though, and
had even persuaded some of the current employees and officers of
American Atheists to provide him
with background. He had also investigated a former employee of the
O'Hairs, David Waters, who had pled
guilty to the theft of $54,000 from
the organization and was linked to
missing bonds taken from Jon
Murray's safe. Waters claimed that
he was in the process of writing a
book, and was free in proclaiming his
opinion that the family had likely
fled with their ill-gotten gains.
MacCormack had earlier written
that a small-time con man from
Spring 2001

Florida, Danny Fry, was an associate
of Waters and like the O'Hairs, had
been missing since the last week of
September, 1995. Was it coincidence?
That link become more tantalizing
when police discovered a headless,
handless nude corpse - later identified as Fry - which had been dumped
along a riverbank in Dallas County.
David Waters was not mum during this period either as media
scrutiny began to slowly turn from
the "take the money and run"
hypothesis toward something resembling a tale of greed, revenge, and
ultimately murder. Waters was in
possession of various items of personal correspondence belonging to
the O'Hairs, and even boasted of the
fact in an October 2, 1998 e-mail to
the editor of the Austin Chronicle
weekly newspaper. In a subsequent
story authored by writer Robert
Bryce, Waters is depicted in one photograph with the caption saying that
he "might have the scoop on
Madalyn Murray O'Hair."
The letter to the Chronicle was
also reproduced, with Waters claiming that he was offering "access to
information that has never been
released to the so-called 'mainstream' media organizations. This
includes actual FAX transmissions
between the Murray O'Hairs and fellow conspirators within their organizations. The documents indicate that
Ms. O'Hairs 'disappearance' was not
at all sudden, but was actually the
culmination of a rather convoluted
scheme carried out over a considerable period of time ..."
There was indeed a scheme, and
a convoluted one at that. As subsequent developments would reveal,
though, it was Waters and a close
ring of associates - not the O'Hairs who were doing the scheming.
Waters did have personal documents, most of it correspondence
between Jon Murray and the late
Don Sanders, who had served as Vice
President of the organization. The
two were concerned about the contents of the Charles E. Stevens
American Atheist
Library and
Archives, and the possibility that it
American Atheist

could be seized as part of a lawsuit
the organizations was involved in.
Waters was taking a gamble,
though. Not only was he admitting
that he seemed to have access to personal, confidential documents, but he
also was producing items from 1993
that by 1995 seemed to have little
relevance, and were not being presented in full context. Murray had
indeed been worried about the possibility of losing the library. What
Waters did not reveal (and others
failed to notice as well) is that the
decision to pack up' and store the
vast holdings of CESAALA was not
about hiding assets from a court, or
preparing to abscond to a foreign
land. It was about moving the offices
of American Atheists.
That fact later emerged in court
with testimony that Mr. Murray had
put the 17,000 square foot building
on the market, and for the next two
years even had key officers of the
organization scouting for a new location. Mrs. O'Hair wanted "some place
where it's green, and they have a
real change of seasons." They had
grown tired of the hot, humid Texas
summers, and said that they would
like to move at least further out in
the country, or the Pacific Northwest
or the East Coast. Mrs. O'Hair had
grown up in the East. They instructed two officers to begin looking for
appropriate facilities somewhere in
the New York-Washington corridor
where they might be closer to major
media and political centers.
Pilfered documents may have
played a crucial role in the
fate of the O'Hairs.
Waters, for instance, had a knack
for twisting facts around, and he
tried just that in explaining how he
ended up pleading guilty to the theft
of money from the American Atheists
offices. He told Bryce a bizarre tale
about actually being asked by
Murray to "clean out the atheists'
bank accounts in Austin and forward
the cash via FedEx to the Murray
O'Hair's motel in San Diego," where
they were embroiled in the legal conParsippany, New Jersey

troversy with a publication known as
the Truth Seeker. Waters spun a convoluted tale about how he was to be
paid $15,000 for his services, and
ended up as the "fall guy" in a plot
that made no sense.
Even investigators
from the
Internal Revenue Service who began
their inquiry into the O'Hair disappearance as a money-laundering
scam and ended up treating it as a
murder case, found Waters' tale
As fate would have it, Waters
seemed to believe that the O'Hairs
had access to huge sums of money.
The Chronicle didn't even get the
story right, at least when it came to
money supposedly "stashed ... in offshore accounts." Waters learned from
another employee that there was an
account held in the New Zealand
Guardian Trust Co, totaling nearly
$900,000. Neither individual was
aware that this money was, in truth,
the "trust fund" that Mrs. O'Hair had
built up for several years in order to
provide a financial security reserve
for the organization. The trust fund
had been public knowledge. As
already noted, every year, the holdings in the account were disclosed to
the IRS in corporate forms known as
990s, and the fund was discussed at
meetings of the Board of Directors of
the organization, and during the
annual members' meeting at the
National Convention.
Why put the money in New
Zealand? One reason, given by Jon
Murray, was that the return was relatively high - nearly 10% - and
secure in that most ofthe money was
in government bonds. As events
turned out though, it was the money,
and exaggerated claims of even more
money - not the location - which created a key motivation for those who
killed the O'Hairs
Breaking the Case
The government investigation
into the disappearance had begun as
a money-laundering
probe, but
quickly turned into a murder case.
Working out of the US Attorney's
Spring 2001

office in Austin, Texas, Ed Martin of
the IRS Criminal Investigation
Division and Donna Cowling of the
FBI began pulling together the small
mountain of circumstantial evidence
that would eventually lead to that
ranch in West Texas. They focused
their efforts on David Roland
Waters, the former office manager
for the O'Hairs, and a small circle of
associates. What soon became apparent was that beginning with the disappearance of the O'Hair family in
late August of 1995, Waters and his
accomplices came into possession of
personal items and money linked to
the missing trio.
Danny Fry was accounted for,
himself the victim of a gruesome
homicide. It was learned that Fry
had spoken to relatives of an
impending "score," the reason why
he traveled to Texas at the behest of
Another principal was Gary Paul
Karr, 52, an ex-convict from Michigan. He was arrested in March of
1999 following a search of his Novi,
Michigan, apartment where an illegal firearm was discovered. The
same day, a search was carried out at
David Waters' residence. The San
Antonio Express-News
noted that
both Waters and Karr "are suspected
by federal authorities of having a
role in the O'Hair disappearance as
well as the slaying of a Florida man
(Danny Fry)." Karr and Waters had
known each other through prison,
and Karr's criminal record dated to
the early 1960s and included convictions for rape and armed robbery. He
had been released from an Illinois
prison in 1995.
Karr was convicted on 2 June
2000 on four of five counts involving
extortion ofthe Murray O'Hairs. The
trial provided the first good look the
public had at much of the evidence in
the case, and revealed that Karr's
involvement included "concealing
property (taken) from the victims
after their death ... acquiring equipment (cargo vans without back
seats) to help the victims be moved,"
and concealing their remains. An
account of the trial, and the developPage 15

ments of the case to that point,
appeared in the May-June 2000
Supplement of the American Atheist
Newsletter, and can be found on the
American Atheists Web-site at
Waters' Indictment,
Plea Agreement
The trial of David Waters had
been scheduled for late January,
2001. On 24 January word broke
that a deal had been reached in the
case, with Waters agreeing to lead
investigators to the site where, he
said, the O'Hairs had been buried.
Two years earlier, a team of over
a hundred investigators and agents
had swarmed over the same desolate
West Texas ranch. It was suspected
at the time that one of the principals
in the case had tipped authorities off
to the grave site. Even with overhead
imaging equipment, earth movers
and special dogs, no remains were
found - despite an initial and followup search of the property.
Following the plea agreement
with Waters in late January of this
year, investigators returned to the
property, where they began digging
in a 15' x 15' section with shovels.
Dirt was carefully sifted, while
Waters, guarded
by two US
Marshals, stood by. At a depth of
approximately two feet, they began
to uncover the remains of bodies,
along with remnants of burnt fabric.
It was nearly over.
The details of the plea agreement involving David Roland Waters
remain "sealed" by the court, but it is
likely that part of the deal involves
Waters' transfer from a state prison
to a federal facility.
Regarding others involved in the
GARY KARR was convicted of
four counts in connection with the
case, and received a life sentence.
OSBORNE, another man involved in
the scheme to defraud and do harm
to the O'Hairs, was convicted of
Page 16

using a false social security number
in order to rent the storage locker
where, according to investigators,
the bodies of the missing family
members were dismembered.
DANNYFRY,according to investigators, was lured to Texas by
Waters as part of the plot to obtain
money and other valuables from the
O'Hairs. Sources close to the case
suggest that Fry, whose handless
and headless corpse was discovered
along the Dallas County riverbank,
was murdered in order to silence
him, since he reportedly was "a talker." Fry also may have had serious
reservations in being part of a
scheme which involved more than
fraud or extortion, and the included
murder as well.
One fact that has emerged in the
public portion of the Waters' plea
agreement was that Waters - who
for so long declared that the family
was alive and well living off ill-gotten gains - was the central figure in
the conspiracy. It had been generally
believed that he became enraged by
an expose the O'Hairs ran in the
American Atheist Newsletter about
his theft of $54,000 from the Charles
E. Stevens Library. In fact, Waters
admitted that he began planning his
scheme months before that, suggesting that money, more than revenge,
was his primary motivation.
There is the disturbing possibility that while Waters and his associates carried out an elaborate and
violent scheme, they did so believing
some of the irresponsible claims and
rumors concerning the O'Hairs and
their wealth. For years, a number of
individuals suggested that Mrs.
O'Hair had "stashed" tens of millions
of dollars in foreign bank accounts,
or that "much more" money had
flowed into the organization than
was accounted for. The back cover of
a sensationalist
"expose" of the
"Over $600,000 from their various
atheist organization accounts was
missing, with millions more in other
accounts overseas." This was after
the disappearance of course, but it
reflected the type of unsubstantiated
Spring 2001

and unfair allegations that had been
spread about the O'Hairs and
American Atheists.
Did these sorts of legends about
enormous wealth in the hands of the
O'Hair family contribute to a climate
that invited extortion? Waters knew
about the money in a New Zealand
bank, although neither he nor the
source of the information seemed
aware that this was, in fact, the
much-publicized Trust Fund account
that had discussed for years at the
national convention. Did this revelation, with the rumors of even more
sequestered money, give Waters and
his associates a sense that the
O'Hairs were worth far more than
they really were?
From the beginning, allegations
that the O'Hairs had "taken the
money and run" seemed supported
by few, if any facts. As their estate
was dismantled - seized prematurely
by the IRS - it was clear that the
most valuable assets controlled by
the family had not been liquidated.
The "flight" scenario could not
explain why they left behind a house
(likely valued at about $200,000 on
the Austin real estate market at the
time," or had not sold off the most
valuable item, namely, the American
Atheists office building on Cameron
Road. We know that in the days
immediately following their disappearance, Jon Murray and Robin
Murray "maxed" out personal credit
cards. Investigators are confident
that this was done under pressure
from Waters and his associates. A
man identified as Jon Murray (but
likely one of the Waters crew) sold off
Jon's 1985 Mercedes at a fire-sale
None of this seemed to fit the
profile of a tight-knit family absconding to a foreign nation after years of
careful planning. And why transfer
money into the United States, then
convert it to about 50 lbs. of gold
coins if one is plotting to leave the
The truth in the O'Hair disappearance comes at a high, and tragic
price. It took literally their violent
deaths to lay to rest the irresponsible
American Atheist

claims of personal critics, at least
regarding the finances and wealth of
found no hidden, overseas loot. One
rumor that Mrs. O'Hair had stashed
up to ten million dollars in a Swiss
bank account turned out to be as
false as the claim of one witness in
the Karr trial, a minister, who said
that he saw O'Hair gorging on a
meal while traveling in Romania. An
"Elvis sighting" style piece even
appeared in Vanity Fair. The writer
told of O'Hair being seen at a
Mexican restaurant in New Zealand,
and doing business at a local bank.
Within the relatively small
world of "organized Atheism" and

freethought, the O'Hairs finally
seem to be receiving a more measured assessment. From some quarters and publications, they were
never given the courtesy of reasonable doubt, and it is fair to say that
at least some people - many former
associates - disliking the O'Hairs on
personal grounds, made a rush to
judgment in pronouncing them
guilty of even more serious transgressions, including theft. As the
focus of the disappearance case shifted from tales of overseas wealth and
flight to the involvement of David
Waters, people may have learned an
important lesson regarding caution,
and the need to suspend judgment

until more facts are available. Many
of those who, over the years, parted
company with Madalyn O'Hair or
members of her family, and who were
brutal in their initial assessments,
have come to be more sparing in
their criticism, and a bit more generous in admitting the positive contributions of the family. There also
seems to be a growing sense that
Madalyn O'Hair, Jon Murray, and
Robin Murray were dedicated to a
cause they passionately embraced,
and contributed much to a movement that is still reaching, growing,
and coming of age.
They will be missed. $

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Parsippany, New Jersey

Spring 2001

Page 17

Madalyn Murray O'Hair
How it all began - how Madalyn Murray O'Hair and her two
sons started down the path that led to
Murray v Curlett, the decision of the
US Supreme Court that outlawed forced prayer and
Bible-reading in America's public schools.

By Madalyn Murray
Chapter One of An Atheist Epic:
Bill Murray, The Bible And The
Baltimore Board Of Education, by
Madalyn Murray O'Hair. Originally published by American Atheist
Press in 1970, the book is still available from
($14.00, Stock #5376). (Books can
also be ordered on-line from the
www.atheists. org)
The bus schedules started the
whole damn thing ... that and city
land taxes.
Bill, my elder son, was in Park
School, one of the best private
schools on the East Coast. But, in
1959 the school had decided to move
from the city proper - where real
estate tax was constantly growing to the county, where a large plant
could be built on more land, with less
outlay to the tax man.
We had two cars, but my brother
used one to drive to work, and I
drove the other to my own job. I tried
several mornings to take Bill to
school, but with the traffic we had to
leave the house at 6:00 AM. in order
for me to get to work by 8:00 AM. I
deposited Bill at the school at 7:00
Page 18

AM. - and he had to wait there on
the school steps until 9:00 AM. I
tried to find a parent near our part of
town who would take Bill to the
school, but almost the entire student
body of Park School was Jewish, and
most of the Jewish community was
in West Baltimore; we lived in the
northeast. The public buses were
impossible. Bill had to leave the
house a little after six, head down
into central Baltimore, that is south,
then transfer west, and then head
back north again, hoping to dash on
to a small shuttle bus and to school.
He spent five to six hours each day
commuting. We endured it from SepSpring 2001

tember to January, attempting
every possible solution.
When we could find none, we
made the move which resulted in
removing Bible and Prayer from
every public school in America.
In January, 1959, an exhausted
Bill and I sat down for a talk. He
had formed the habit of reading his
school assignments on the bus
rides, in the smelling, half-empty
bus, dimly lighted, lumbering
through the dark mornings of the
winter months. No other students
were on the bus at that hour. Of an
evening, coming home, he was too
fatigued to do anything but watch
the array of people specimens shuffling in the constant movements of
boarding or unboarding a bus,
seeking out seats, slumping silently in non-contact with the other
"Let me tell you, mother, what
it's like," he said and then sketched a
dozen sharp Hellinger-type observations. "There was this cat who did
not really want anyone in the seat
beside him ... " or, "These two girls
who giggle got on... " or "That one
stretch is a thousand miles of unrelieved dump row houses ... "
And then, seriously, for a
"Mother, it's dullsville, and I'm
"But I took you out of public
schools because they are no damn
American Atheist

"I can't keep up out there. That
time on the bus plus the social life is
just too much."
"Bill, I know that. That routine
would kill an adult. How many times
have we talked this over now?"
And, then the next evening it
Everyone of the gentle little
flakes drifting down in the softness
of that night helped to make a decision for us. It was 6:00 P.M. and he
was not home. It was 7:00 P.M. and
he was not home. I was on my
sixth trip to the corner, seeing the
haze of snow in the street lights,
watching the cars slip in the
beginning hard slush, peering
down toward the bridge for "bus
lights" as distinguished from "car
lights," feeling the pain of a gulp
of cold air.
It was 7:30 P.M. and he was
not home. It was 8:00 P.M. and as
I peered out the door before
putting on my coat again, he was
there, his head hunched down
into the collar of the coat, fatigue
written in his face - but that irrepressible grin, and "Hi, mother."
I took his books as we went in
the door. He was shaking snow
from his coat, banging it off his
pant legs.
"Boy, I thought I'd never get
home. The buses were delayed.
But, you know, that at least generates some excitement and people even talk to one another,
about how late they are - something."
We went on in to the kitchen
where his supper was set aside on
the stove, tepid rather than warm.
Again, he was eating alone, in the
kitchen, wolfing in his food, too hungry even to talk.
"To hell with this, kiddo." I was
surprised at how flatly decisive my
voice sounded. He looked up at me,
those eyes in a flash move, his head
still partly bowed over the plate.
"I wondered how long it would
take you, tonight," he said, simply.
"Now,listen here, Bill Murray."
"Mother, I can read your mind.
Parsippany, New Jersey

Tomorrow morning it is off to public
school. Right?"
"Wham, barn. Just like that."
"Just like that."
"When we're ready, we move?"
There was an inflection in his question.
''You're not ready, Bill?"
"Oh, I'm ready."
"Then, we move." And, we both
had to chuckle, as he chomped down
on the pork bone to clean it off, then


elaborately licked an index finger
and thumb.
"Finger lickin' good, Mother."
He summed up the meal and the situation as he winked at me.
The next morning he was standing there hand cupped over the
mouthpiece of the telephone.
"Mother, I have to see the principal
and I must be accompanied by a parent."
I continued to butter the toast in
my hand as I moved into the dining
room to talk to him.
Spring 2001

"But, you're 13."
"Mother, I know that."
"Give me the phone."
"Mother, I know what the woman
I waved the butter knife in the
air," All right. All right. Tell her we'll
be up there."
I heard him say merely "Thank
you" and hang up the telephone as I
went back to the kitchen to put the
buttered slice of toast on the stack.
I had to call up my section chief
at the Social Security office to tell
him I would be late. I was an
attorney working in the adjudication center on the claims made by
disabled persons to the Health,
Education and Welfare Department of the United States.
My boss was a congenial slob,
a non-entity of bureaucracy about
as forceful as an egg souffle,
always smelling faintly of cheap
men's cologne. With baby smooth
jowls and bright unintelligent
expressionless eyes he cheerfully
passed down all orders of the day,
manufacturing busyness at his
desk. He would be pleased to have
some one report in late, to
magnanimously count off every
minute from the annual leave. It
would give him something to do.
He was amiable in telling me to
come in when I was done.
Bill and I ate breakfast and
"Bill, you know this whole bit of
how I feel about public schools,
and the slop - the veritable slop,
they program into kids' heads.
You will get an elaborate non-education."
"Look. They can't do much when
I have you for a mother. You will be
programming me against all that
here at home."
''Yeah, utter confusion."
"But look at all the fun you're
having making mistakes with my
rearing." He guffawed.
"All right, wiseacre, how could I
know Park School was really Jewish?
You read that school bulletin and all
their propaganda. How could I know
Page 19

they would move way the hell out
"Yeah, but I'm the one who
learned about Bar Mitzvahs and
Hanukkah, and Passover and antiAryanism, and ..."
"And go to hell," I interrupted
him. "To be exposed to sub-culture
value systems is intellectually
broadening ..."
"So, let's just call this new deal
this morning an experiment in environmental manipulation of an adolescent" he was interrupting me.
"Bill, are you reading my case
notes again?"
"No. I am re-evaluating my past
traumas brought on by your child
rearing theories."
"O.K. Back to the buses for a
little more pain, for decision inducement ... "
"All right, already. All right. So
let's try Maryland's public school
We headed for the hall closet for
our coats, and I scrambled in my
usual search for my car keys. Yet, by
the time we got to the door I was
hustling him.
"Come on. Come on. 'Mommie'
has to take her little six year old
baby and register-wegister him at
the nice big school." He started to
suck his thumb and mince out the
"Not yet. Not yet." I called after
him, "wait till we hit the principal's
office before you go into that routine."
We fell down the steps laughing.
HWBK, as the saying goes ...
Had We But Known ...
Woodbourne Junior High School
was a large, new school built in the
colonial style, with red brick and
white trim. From the outside one
could see the sweep of colonial
America - which I felt was paralleled
by the level of education on the
inside, still dominated by standards
two hundred years old and ridden
with authoritarian
and religious
dwarfs of that prior era. But the real
shock of this realization was not to
hit us for a few more weeks.
Page 20

We entered a side door since the
monster seemed to have no specific
entrance as viewed from the major
traffic artery, and we started a brisk
walk down the labyrinth of corridors.
It was just a few moments after 9:00
A.M. and pupils were in their homerooms. Suddenly, a swell of young
voices engulfed us. As we passed one
open classroom door after another,
we heard the recitation, in unison, of
the Lord's prayer. We were caught up
in a moment that transcended time,
and we seemed to walk forever hearing only the waves of prayer from
medieval ages of man, and the
steady, even-paced click of our
leather heels on the tiled floors as we
walked down another and yet another
The prayer followed us to the
office, and then abruptly there was
silence. We both stopped short outside the office doors.
I turned to Bill. "My gawd, what
was that?"
Of course, I 'knew' but I was really
testing my sanity.
Bill has this grin. It begins in the
corner of his mouth, with a quirk it
spreads into a display of mocking
lips disclosing even white teeth, and
then it gets into his eyes. Those sensitive grey eyes that can twinkle or
shout laughter or blasphemy were
that morning, I thought, poking fun
at his mother.
He said, "Our Lord and Saviour,
Jesus Christ, Son of Mary, sired by
the Holy Ghost, descendant of David,
the bearer of the Holy Word,
Redeemer of Life, and the Gate by
which we enter Heaven and are
saved, in whose Grace we walk, is
praised every morning in the public
Sotto voce I replied, "I ought to
slap your face. Are you joshing them
or me? Did they do this at Park
"Hell no. Jews want education,
not indoctrination."
We went on into the office,and at
the counter it developed that we did
need to see the principal. When it
was immediately arranged and I
Spring 2001

walked into her office, I nearly
laughed out loud. I could not believe
it, for a middle-aged caricature had
come to life. She wore a princess
dress and the diving end of the
heart-shaped neck revealed three
inches of cleft in her breasts which
were tortured
a bodice
brassiere. Her hair was lacquered
into a stiff wooden frame around her
face, chalky white with powder
which was at least eight shades off.
Two spots of rouge flamed in her
cheeks. Her girdle stays could be
seen through the tightness of her
dress, and one knew at a glance that
she wore posture-pedic shoes of what
she thought was haute couture. She
was about as feminine as a locomotive. It did not take Freud to see that
she felt she was seductive to her
young charges. In a Senior High
School she would have been the butt
of jokes.
Rigid, up-tight people amuse me.
I thought immediately that I was
going to have a helluva good time
that morning. Reich calls it 'body
armor'; the man in the street sees a
'stuffed shirt'; that morning we saw a
'foundation garment' filled to overflowing with pink flesh and a structured unyielding mind which could
never even presume to control all
she had to offer.
She turned to Bill and said, "You
may wait outside."
I held up my hand, and Bill
began to grin, as he stopped. I said,
''Why?'' with innocent curiosity in my
"We need to discuss this and the
pupil can not be present." It was flat,
authoritative, final.
"I don't need to discuss anything.
He is transferring to your school. I
presume this is a clerical matter."
She turned to Bill. ''Youmay wait
"I beg your pardon, madam, but
we have nothing to discuss that my
son can not hear. This is a simple
"He is coming from a private
school." She was sitting now even
more upright in her chair. The jaw
American Atheist

was tucked in. She was "in control."
I merely shrugged my shoulders. We
"Why this is highly irregular." It
was a small explosion by her. I could
not imagine what she wanted.
"I really don't have time to sit
here and create a problem. This is
my son. We live in your school district. He is transferring from Park
School today."
She burst out, ''Where
are his psychologicals?"
"His what?" I looked
at her with some astonishment.
"Why, it is necessary
for us to see if he fits in
here." She was now a stiff
pole in her chair.
"You're kidding!" I
Glancing at Bill I could
see he was enjoying it. I
had worked in Baltimore
and in Maryland for many
years as a psychiatric case
worker - in Family and
Agencies, in
Courts, and always with
the public schools. I knew
that there were no regulations governing interschool transfers, and most
of all I knew that "psychologicals" were not a part of
the normal records on normal pupils. I was really
"Is there an implication here
that my son is a mental case, merely
because we walk in here to transfer
him to your school?"
She bristled now.
"Well,"she wiggled her stiffened
"If there is, in a way - I agree.
Both parent and child have to be
mental cases to enter Baltimore public schools, don't they?" I leaned
toward her in a confidential manner
as I said it.
She snapped. "We feel we are
privileged here to have one of the
Parsippany, New Jersey

finest systems in the country. We
need not accept just anyone; we must
see if they integrate."
I interrupted. "Oh, then this is
NOT a public school? You don't take
all comers?"
She was confident now, and
began her stride: "Your son will need
to take a physical examination. I'll
set up an appointment for counseling for both of you. Park School will

Bi/l, Madalyn, and Jon. January 1963
need to furnish his psychologicals
and his grade equivalents ... "
The entire. exchange suddenly
seemed to me to be a pointless waste
of time, an exercise in a fantasy. We
had used up some moments of time
now. I was late for work and the
entire scene was patently ridiculous.
. I stood up.
"Madam" I accented the word to
give it the real meaning, but she
missed the tone and the inference
completely. "There is a compulsory
school attendance law requiring my
son to attend public schools. This is
Spring 2001

not a country club. Here he is. He
starts today. The telephone will put
you in touch with Park School to verify his grade attainment, and I will
give birth date, resident and other
information in case you feel that
thirteen year old adolescents are not
mature enough to tell where they
live or when they were born. I don't
want to play games: I'm busy."
"He cannot attend classes until
he has a complete work
up. We must know how he
will fit in here."
Suddenly, I flared.
"Madam. My son is
no problem nor has he
any problems. He is neither
disturbed, nor a disciplinary
problem, nor a scholastic
failure. He is not a mental
defective. His health is
excellent. He is in your
school district. He is age
13 and he is transferring
from the eighth grade of
Park School to your
eighth grade - and he is
doing it today. Here he is.
He is all yours."
I turned and she
rose. "I intend to consult
with Park School and we
will then ... "
Now,I was angry.
"Look, madam, don't
put anything in the future
tense. I do not authorize
any physical examinations, any psychological
nor will
either myself or my son begin any
counseling with you or anyone else."
I turned to Bill and said, "Bill, you
give them your name, rank and serial number. That's all the Geneva
Conference requires of anyone to
give to the enemy. No physicals. No
counseling. No psychologicals." I
whirled back to her. "You have
absolutely no right to greet with suspicion anyone entering 'your' school.
We are here for reasons sufficient to
us and I have no intention of discussing them with you."
Page 21

"I'll call Park School." It was a
"You do that." I was headed
toward the door, and then another
idea came to me. "When my son and
I came in here this morning, we
heard pupils reciting the Lord's
Prayer. What was that for?"
Her mouth popped open as if I
had struck her a blow. "Why that's
our morning devotion." She could not
go on. I said,
"This is 1959 you know, and this
is a public school."
"Why that's why 'we have this
morning exercise." She was thunderstruck.
"It is quite inappropriate. I want
to register my opposition to it."
"It's a rule of the administration.
''You represent the administration, don't you?"
''Youwill need to go downtown to
speak to them."
"I will." I stood up and Bill followed me. I waved him to the outer
desk. "Just fill out the form and get a
class schedule, Bill, nothing else."
"O.K. mother, see you tonight."
The principal was on her feet. I
looked at her and then very deliberately at the deep exposed crease of
her breasts, and slowly brought my
eyes up contemptuously to hers.
"My son is here in your school to
get an education, and although I
doubt that is possible in the
Baltimore public schools - he is all
yours." I paused and directed my
gaze again to the crease. Then, I
slowly looked up her neck to her
eyes, "Madam," I finished the sentence. This time she got it and the
angry flush of her face rivaled the
brightness of the round painted
rouge spots.
I walked out. Students were now
everywhere and as I paced back
toward the car through those long
corridors I damned myself roundly.
"Now, you've got that boy off on
the wrong foot, you fool,"I muttered.
But there was the realization that
when Park School was called, everything would clear up.
Bill's grades were good. He was a
personable and obedient youngster
Page 22

in the school setting. His
outward conformity was
beautiful. I had taught
him to play that game.
Suddenly I was furious, "That old bitch" I
teeth. I realized that I had
lost my cool, that this had
been dangerous for my
son, and that I had made
an enemy.
I was later to find out
how much of an enemy I
had made and just how
much she could hate us.
A month or so later,
Bill was required to write
a paper on Russia. We
were subscribers to the
cultural interchange magazine
released in the United
States, and he utilized this
source among others. Bill
showed me his report. It
outlined the geographical
extent of Russia, its population,
resources, its economic
theory and its government. The number
states were given, the
method of voting was
described, and the central
coordination of the industrial complex was outlined.
It was a very factual paper,
cold and objective. It
described Russia, neither
condemning nor praising ... and was the kind of
required to write at Park
unbiased and
called home from a neighbor's house. He was inside
and outside was a group of
boys who had chased him
and were then loitering
near the house waiting for
him. I left work, got the
car, drove out and picked
him up.
Bill was upset and
Spring 2001

lawyer; b. Pitts., April 13, 1919; d. John Irvin
and Lena (Scholle) Mays; m. Richard Franklin
O'Hair, Oct. 18, 1965; children: William J.
Murray III, Jon Garth Murray, Robin Eileen
Murray-O'Hair. Student, U. Toledo, 1936-37,
U. Pitts., 1938-39; B.A., Ashland ColI., 1948;
postgrad., Western Res. u., 1948-49, Harding
Sch. Law, Ohio No. u., 1949-51; LL.B., South
Tex. ColI. Law, 1953, J.D., 1975, Howard u.,
1952-54; Ph.D. Minn. Inst. Philosophy, 1971.
Psychiat. social worker, supr. family and children's agys., probation dept., psychiat. inst.,
welfare depts., 1948-56, 59-64; atty. HEW,
Washington, 1956-59; founder Soc. Separationists, Inc., Am. Atheist Library and
Archives, Inc., Austin, Tex., 1970, United
World Atheists, 1976, Am. Atheist Women,
1986, Am. Atheist u., 1979; founder, dir. Am.
Atheist Center, 1965-77; dir. Am. Atheist
Radio Series, 1968-77; originated Am. Atheist
mag., 1965, now editor-in-chief. Author: Why I
am an Atheist, 1965, What on Earth Is an
Atheist, 1966, The American Atheist 1967 An
Atheist Epic, 1968, The Atheist Wo~ld, 1969,
An Atheist Speaks, 1970, Atheist Heroes,
1971, Let Us Prey, an Atheist Looks at Church
Wealth, 1970, Freedom from Religion: the
Atheist Plea, 1973, An Atheist Believes, 1973,
Atheism, Its Viewpoint, 1973, Freedom Under
Siege, 1974, Atheism in the United States
1976, The Religious Factors in the War i~
Vietnam, 1976, An Original Theory in Respect
to the Origin of Religion, 1977, Women and
Atheism, 1978; (juvenile) An Atheist Primer'
An Atheist Views: Jesus Christ, Super Fraud:
1979, (with Jon Murray) All the Questions
You Ever Wanted to Ask American Atheistswith All of the Answers, 1983, James LickAmerican Atheist, 1983; adv. editor: The
Atheist Viewpoint, 25 vols., 1972. Served to 2d
It. WAAC WAC, World War II. Prin. U.S.
Supreme Ct. case which removed Bible reading and prayer recitation in pub. schs., 1963.
Mailing Address: PO Box 2117 Austin
TX78768. Life is for living - not to be used to
prepare to die. Therefore, any Atheist seeks
involvement, fulfillment,
achievement. We
honor individualism, self-sufficiency, education, outreach and commitment... in all of
which I am involved.
Who's Who in America.
43rd edition, 1984-1985, Volume 2
American Atheist

completely confused. He had turned
the paper in several days ago, and
felt that he would receive a very good
grade. On this particular day the
teacher had decided to read several
of the papers in class and give recognition to the authors. Each one that
had been read was a flaming denunciation of Russia - all praised by the
teacher, as she noted how discerning
each pupil had been. Except when
she got to Bill's paper, when she
cleverly "exposed" the "Communist"
in the class who had nothing, not one
single thing, bad to say about
Russia. There had been immediate
muttering in the room. After class
Bill had been taunted in the hallways as a "Commie Fink," a "dirty
Red" and that afternoon as soon as
school let out he had been chased on
the streets.
1 thought that Bill was dramatizing, but the green-grey eyes were
serious that night. "That teacher did
not ask me to write a diatribe
against Russia, or a critique. She
asked for a paper on Russia, that's all."
"Well,the trouble came early."
"I would have got an W on that
paper out at Park School."
"Bill, it was a good paper. This is
not your fault."
"That teacher did that deliberately."
"Bill, if you try to be objective, or
rational, or approach things intelligently in this life: you are in trouble.
We have built in biases in our society, and you call this 'running with
the pack'. You make enemies if you
attempt to make your own decisions."
"That teacher did that deliberately."
"Watch out for her. You know
what she is like now; don't fall into
something again. It isn't fair. But she
happens to be in authority and you
can't fight her."
We wound it up only with my
soothing of his hurt feelings.
1 thought about it on the way to
the office, and then, with a count of
how much annual leave 1 was losing
when we could use it for a vacation
for the kids later, 1 called up and
Parsippany, New Jersey

made an appointment with the
When 1 arrived, there was Old
Buxom held in an "at attention" position by that unrelenting foundation
garment. 1 actually thought her
rigidity might be on the side of justice in a case such as this. 1 told her
succinctly that my son's paper had
been read in class and that certain
pupils from this paper reading had
taken it upon themselves to designate my son as a Communist and
attempted to administer a beating to
him after school. 1 said that they had
remained outside of the neighborhood home where he had sought
refuge and that this was extraordinary. 1 asked that the boys involved
be disciplined and the teacher
queried as to what had happened in
that classroom.
She waited through my complaint, and then, she bristled.
''Your son," her lips thinned out,
then, "provoked this attack."
1 don't often get stopped for
words. 1 looked at this woman for
several moments, in amazement.
She mistook my silence for agreement.
"This was a shocking paper he
wrote," she declared. "The boys were
only responding to the provocation
which Bill gave, openly, in his classroom. These are American boys,
defending their country."
1 sat for another moment, evaluating her. She smiled with self-complacency. 1was not quite certain that
1 had the full implications.
"What are you talking about?"
''Your son will be disciplined by
our office. 1 plan to have him in here
today to talk about this with him,
and to chastise him." Her smugness
and self righteousness were a wall
between us and she sat behind the
parapets of that wall as she fired her
. "Well,then - we are in total conflict. My son is not here to be
indoctrinated in accordance with
your concepts of Russia. 1 read that
paper before he turned it in. It was
factual. It was good. It was objective ... "
Spring 2001

"It was pro-Russia," she interrupted me.
"To examine factually is a crime
here in your particular thought factory?"
"Patriotism is a part of every
American school program."
"Are you daring to impugn the
patriotism of my son?"
"The paper was pro-Russian."
She was almost completely rigid
now, a little white, but with a bright
controlled smile on her lips as she
'dealt with this hostile parent'.
"Apparently, madam, your major
was administration, not history or
political science. 1 see we can't possibly discuss the merits of the contents
of the paper, but 1 do intend to discuss the behavior of youngsters who
gang up to attempt personal injury
of my son. Have they been disciplined?"
''Your son provoked this."
"With a private paper written for
a teacher, seen by no one else?" 1 was
coldly furious. ''Your teacher provoked this."
"It was pro-Russian and the
teacher had every right to show this
element in the classroom."
"What 'element'?"
"My son's account is correct
then? A teacher ridiculed him before
a peer group? She tried to arouse
violent feelings against him?"
"Patriotism, love of country, is a
necessary part of the program of all
American schools ... " 1 could not
believe my ears as 1 interrupted her.
"My gawd! You are quite mad!
You countenance this?"
"The boys were defending their
Suddenly, 1 realized my jaw was
hanging open and that 1 had been
quiet for some seconds.
My tone was incredulous, ''You
do approve of the teacher's conduct?
You solve this problem by egging
pupils on against a hold-out? You
approve of students being delegated
the authority to attack their fellow
"Mrs. Murray, this is MY school."
Page 23

Capital letters were in her voice."We
take care of our problems."
"Indeed you do."
She continued in one breath,
''Your son was wrong. I intend to talk
to all of the boys..."
" to them? Don't you mean
give them a medal?"
She ignored my interruption to
conclude, "including your son."
I was completely defeated. I
picked up my purse and said with
sincerity to her: "Have you ever
thought of seeing a psychiatrist?"
and I turned and walked out.
It was one of those conversations
which shock so deeply that it is
never forgotten. This could not be, I
thought, that unreasoning hatred for
country would be so
drummed into the minds and hearts
of children, in public schools, for so
many years, that any factual look at
that country would provoke an
attack of violence. "No," I said to
myself, as I drove reflexively back to
my office, "not in my own neighborhood. Not in our local public school."
Little did I know.
I had had my own philosophy of
education for my sons. It seemed to
me that they had to be exposed to
everything at all levels, everywhere,
all the time.
I expected them to be able to give
and accept love, and to mature. On
that I built the entire program.
When Bill was ten I had expected
him to read and understand
Hiroshima and the Voyage of the
Lucky Dragon and to discuss with
me the implications of both. Our
household gods were Clarence and
Ruby Darrow, Mahatma Gandhi,
Albert Schweitzer, Castellio, and
Paine. My sons were aware of theological differences, or else. When
they were six I started them on chess
and told them how they could beat
me when they were eight or look for
a new home.
Bill could beat me at chess.
Now,at age 14, I expected him to
discuss the nation's budget, the U-2
flight and ramifications of it, the
American Medical Association and
why it was an enemy of the people,
Page 24

even the Krebiozen fight. I expected
Bill to have complete and unabridged information on sex, religion, politics, economics, foreign
affairs (including the latest affair of
Brigitte Bardot), art, literature,
music, beatniks, interior decorating,
cooking, housekeeping, carpentry,
architecture, farming, husbandry,
genetics, and the 'adolescent revolt'. I
would have been revolted if he could
not do it.
He could change a tire or tailor
his pants. He could cross-pollinate
flowers to control colors, or get supper if we were all away from home.
He could help in building cupboards
in the house or take over the making
of the formula for his brother when
he was a baby. He often made the
house payment for me as I had
taught him fiscal responsibility.
And was this normal? Normal,
schnormal. What's normal? I had
struggled with that problem long
enough. He was in Little League for
three years. He loved horror movies
and MAD magazines. He preferred
airplane models and model building
to girls, but oh! could he operate on a
dance floor, or at a party. He teemed
with sibling rivalry, had 'hate mother' days, was often lazy, absent minded, irascible ... and yet, his crooked
grin, his wry sense of humor, his easy
manner, his eagerness to work, to
learn, was always a special delight
for me.
I had taught him to pick up any
book, to question anything, or anyone, especially me. He could ask any
question he wanted to ask and he
knew I would struggle to get the
answer. When what I gave was
biased I was certain that he would
know that too, so that he could grow
up to be an iconoclast, and like
brother, he could out-iconoclast me.
Every vacation I ever got was
spent on dragging the kids to every
spot in America we could see: scenic
beauty, historic, sociological.Once we
started out and came to a river and
he asked me from where the river
came ... and we spent almost a
month tracking it down till we
wound up on mountains above the
Spring 2001

clouds, and saw the rain drop - so
Bill could say, ''Ah! That's where a
river starts!!"
I read every school book he ever
brought home. We talked endlessly
and always.
I taught him to play the piano
and we sang in our house all of the
time. I enjoyed my sons, and they
enjoyed life and living. We simply,
always, had one helluva good time.
The religious community was soon to
change that so that we would have
merely: one helluva time. $

American Atheist

orn in 1954 as the second son
of Madalyn Murray O'Hair,
Jon Murray was swept up and
immersed in Atheist activism from
the time he was barely out of kindergarten. After completing his baccalaureate degree at the University of
Texas in 1975, he took on the
demanding position of Director of the
American Atheist Center in Austin,
Texas. At that time he began to write
editorials and speeches, an occupation that continued up until the time
of his death in 1995. On 19 April
1986, Dr. O'Hair announced her resignation as president of American
Atheists - assuming the whimsical
title of "Founder and President
Emeritus" - and the Board of Directors of American Atheists unanimously elected Jon Garth Murray as
President. Jon worked tirelessly in
that capacity until the bitter end. In
1986, American Atheist Press published a two-volume collection of his
American Atheism (ISBN 0-91030928-0 and ISBN 0-910309-29-9, 2-vol.
set Stock #5351, $19.00). There are
still copies of his book available from
American Atheist Press. (Books can
also be ordered on-line from the
www.atheists. org).
We are pleased to reprint several
of his essays below, so that new members of American Atheists may know
more about a former leader of their
organization and so that "old timers"
may be reminded of the intellect they
once knew and respected.


Parsippany, New Jersey

Take A Stand
(March 1976)


istorically,the Atheist community has had a less-than-sterling representation of itself circulating among the rest of the population
here in the United States; most often
we have appeared
before the
unenlightened majority as communists, heathens, or just the guy on
the block who is downright unsanitary.
Over the past year, however, this
unsolicited black eye given to
Atheists everywhere has lessened in
its intensity. For the first time in
American history, Atheism is being
viewed as at least acceptable if not
yet thoroughly American. This dramatic reversal is due primarily to
the efforts of a few dedicated Atheist
spokespersons who have braved the
onslaught of words that did hurt as
well as did the occasional stick or
Spring 2001

stone. Their bravery has been in the
form of merely speaking up on behalf
of Atheists as upstanding members
of the human community. "Not
hard!" says the armchair agnostic or
Atheist from the comfort of his closet. But hard indeed it was for those
who were willing to stand alone.
As a result of the efforts of a few,
others now casually drop the appellation of "Atheist" at a business
meeting here or a cocktail party
there, forgetting for a moment the
times gone by when such disclosures
reprisals by the score. Now,however,
Atheists are getting away with identifying themselves and going somewhat farther besides. Once identified
as an "unbeliever," the Atheist finds
himself somewhat of a celebrity in
the community, as never before.
Taking an outstanding example,
Dr. Madalyn O'Hair of our staff has
been the recipient recently of many
heretofore strange requests. Mayors,
governors, senators, and even recently
the White House, have issued Dr.
O'Hair invitations both social and
professional. People of prominence
are actually vying for the opportunity to be seen with the village Atheist
as somewhat the social event of the
Why the sudden acceptance in
the face of previous spurning? The
answer lies in the nature of Atheism
itself. Atheism comprises much more
than the disassociation of one from
the "god idea." Atheism is a way of
life, an entire standard of living centered around trust in oneself and
one's own abilities to cope with the
pressures of a modern existence. We
are inner-directed rather than outerPage 25

directed, unlike those of theistic persuasion. This iron-willed ability to
grapple with life unassisted by outside sources places the Atheist headand-shoulders above the rest of the
human community. The root of the
original hatred of the Atheist
stemmed from this ability to face life
head on. The theist has never been
able to muster such a healthy attitude towards life, and has therefore
reacted with envious hostility
toward the Atheist. We have done
what others could not find the inner
strength to do and have been hated
for it for centuries. Now it seems that
the theist has turned from envy to
appreciation. It is beginning to
become evident, in the light of such
debacles as Watergate, that the
Atheist was right all along. Reason
should be one's guide to better living,
along with
a straightforward
approach to the problems that face
us all.
Atheism is the life-style of the
future. It is now only in the primary
stage of recognition, the stage in
which Atheists are accepted as those
of esteem in the community. It will
soon progress to the stage of dominance, as the idea of "representation
by the people" did in our nation's
early history.
We urge you to join the crowd
now while positions of command are
still available, for soon being an
Atheist will make you just one of the
boys. Those of you who are in the
closet have waited too long; now is
the time to move. We stand for the
concerns of health, conservation of
resources both material and human,
peace, and above all the preservation
of human dignity worldwide. Such
forgotten concerns can no longer be
delegated to minority student groups
or those limited few of insight; they
must be upheld by all of us, together,
as cohabitants of a planet in trouble.
The Atheist can be counted upon
for the solutions that have eluded
mankind for so many years. This fact
is only now being recognized, and we
deserve every bit ofthe praise such a
recognition brings along.
Page 26

Those of you who have been
fighting, take a bow; you've earned
it. If not, take a stand today.

200 Years of
American Atheism
April 1976
(Speech delivered at the Sixth
Annual National American Atheist
Convention at the Sheraton Hotel in
New York City on April 10, 1976.)
ur nation is currently involved
in the celebration of its bicentennial, and surely, as you have seen
the array of its heroes paraded
before us in a veritable orgy of
national pride, you must have wondered if there was not at least one
Atheist among them.
We are reminded almost daily
that this is a Christian nation and
that it was founded as such. That
neither statement is true does not
deter the religious community from
asserting them.
President Ford has designated a
national day of prayer and the
Bicentennial Committee a week to
observe religion's contribution to our
nation. I do not feel it inappropriate,
therefore, that we take a quarter
hour here today to honor our heroes.
The American Atheists in our
history have never been identified as
such because these great materialists have been involved with the
most intangible of all things - ideas.
Indeed, as we talk of freedoms
today, and identify Gay Lib, or Black
Lib, or Women's Lib, or even Kids'
Lib, we do not hear of the ultimate
liberation - "Freedom of the Mind."
And it was under the euphemism of
"free thinking"- of "free thought" that these people often tried to make
their contributions.
It began early as our founding
Christianity and opted for deism nature and nature's god - a precursor to the full-blown Atheism of our


Spring 2001

And the American Atheist has
never been a rationalizer - despising
philosophy, disdaining it as an "apology for religion"; he has not steeped
himself in nor followed Nietzsche or
Hobbs, Hegel or Feuerbach. Instead,
he has stood where the action was.
What was freedom of speech if
not the freedom to say something:
and the American Atheist took to his
soapbox, or to his pen, or to the
speaking podium, to right the
wrongs he saw in our culture.
There were no secular schools in
the beginning colonies - so Girard
financed and founded one, stipulating in his will that no clergyman
should ever be permitted to set foot
on the grounds of Girard College, in
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
There was no place to collect and
display for study the spectrum of
nature, and so Smithson financed
and founded the Smithsonian
There was no way to study the
vault of the universe, and so Lick
financed and founded the Lick
And William Haywood, Joe Hill,
and Ralph Chaplin fought for and
won in Spokane, Washington, in
Fresno and San Diego, California,
the right to demand improved working conditions, reduced hours, and
better wages.
Eugene V. Debs determined to
make insurance available to an average man.
And Clarence Darrow brought us
workmen's compensation and unemployment benefits.
decided that any book should be
available to anyone cheaply, and he
founded the paperback book industry.
And Ernst Haeckel coined the
word "ecology"and began the movement for conservation of the world's
natural resources.
Florence Nightingale taught us
the compassion of nursing care.
And Charles Dunant built up the
concept of the Red Cross as a relief
agency for people caught in the cataAmerican Atheist

of wars and natural
They were Atheists all:
Mark Twain, who introduced
laughter into literature;
Thomas Alva Edison, who founded the base of our American technology in his harnessing of electricity
in the common light bulb - in his
development of recording sound - in
the beginning of cinematography;
Henry Ford, who conceived ofthe
production line;
greatest horticulturist;
And even Honest Abe Lincoln,
our most beloved president.
An entire army of American
Atheists gave us what freedom from
censorship we have - they went to
jail in numbers for our right to freedom of speech. Beginning with D. G.
M. Bennett, they fought through
imprisonments and legal harassments
Comstock laws, still imposed against
us today.
There were no schools to commingle blacks and whites, so Frances
Wright founded and financed the
first of them, and she hit the lecture
circuits over a hundred and fifty
years ago to fight for the rights of
women to air their views.
We have a proud heritage, for
without Moses Harmon there could
be no recognition of common law
Without Margaret Sanger there
would have been no birth-control
Without Jane Addams and "Hull
House" there would have been no
settlement houses, no in-ghetto servicing of the poor - perhaps no social
work concepts.
They were Atheists all.
The abolitionists, almost to a
man, were American Atheists.
And every first woman involved
in the struggle for suffrage (we now
call this Women's Lib) was an
Atheist. Noone today stands as tall
as Elizabeth Cady Stanton, foremost
in this fight. The movement was set
back 100 years when Christian
women gained control of it - and
Parsippany, New Jersey

even today ERA, the Equal Rights
Amendment, is not a reality.
Who can forget our very own
Colonel Robert Ingersoll?
Individual Freedom
Individual Rights
Freedom of Speech
Freedom of Conscience
These have been our battlegrounds. This is where we have
shown just how much we have cared.
The rights of human sexuality the right, even now, of the use and
control of our own bodies, lately
being approached, comes from the
basis of the earlier rights won by our
They all contributed as individuals - freewheeling, unattached. And
we have all ofAmerican history upon
which to draw, with their places in
that panorama.
Now, we need to reach out and
grow. We have something new - a
good, stable, viable organization
with educated and dedicated leadership. We have the examples of prior
Atheists and their contributions to
all humankind.
We have a place to put our feet,
and like Archimedes, now there is no
reason we cannot lift the world.

A Challenge
(July 1979)


he position ofAtheism as a viable
lifestyle alternative is unique
among causes celebres in America.
Unique because it is rooted in a freedom that is the prerequisite of those
around which other causes have
grown. That is: freedom of the mind.
Unique as this aspect of Atheism
may be, however, the cause surrounding it holds certain similarities
in store in terms of pitfalls for those
who espouse it. These pitfalls rest
historically upon the shoulders of
the cause leadership. Their duty is to
place before society a new concept for
expansion of the allowable limits of
Spring 2001

activity or expression. These notions
are opposed (as all change is
opposed) initially. The cause leader
must bear the indignity of being for
that which the majority is against,
and must stick that position out to
the end result of its acceptance by
the whole. This tenacity must be
If the cause leaders allow any
majority dissatisfaction, in whatever
form it may take, to sway them from
their position, they have lost it at
that point. Should they give any credence to the opposition, it would evidence their weakness. Should they
compromise their technique, it would
evidence weakness. Should they
agree on collateral issues with the
opposition, ignoring even for a
moment their faulty premise, the
cause is disserviced. Should personal
discomfort force the leader into lessening the pursuit of the ideal, the
ideal is lost.
Few have the determination necessary for such a career. Those who
do act alone act partially out of the
lack of dedication in others, but
mostly out of a desire not to form a
tie that could hold future interference with the cause as a trump card.
This solitude of purpose is often
labeled as dogmatism or elitism or as
Worst of all is the fact that a
great deal of the labeling, negativism, and pessimism thrown in the
path of the leader is thrown by those
they lead. This unfortunate fact is
caused by the failure of followers to
understand that any cause leader is
pleading a case of first impression to
the world. He stands for what has
not been stood for before. He champions the unchampionable.
Nature itself evidences a system
of evolution where the mutation is
the catalyst for the required change
to perpetuate the species. Causes
provide that mutation for the evolution of thought. Cause leaders are
the first to evidence the change that
all will come to embrace. Their precocity breeds their opposition. What
others fail to understand or find
strange they resist, not realizing the
Page 27

benefit of ideas strange at present,
but common in the future.
Given, then, the experimental
nature of the beast, cause leaders
fail as experiments fail. Each failure
brings another experiment to determine the cause of that failure and to
continue until success is realized. In
nature, many mutations must die
before the most sturdy remains.
Thus successions of leaders are
needed to perpetuate the experiment
to fruition.
Every cause shares the failing of
not recognizing this chain. A single,
fearless, uncompromising leader is a
necessity. But an irreplaceable one is
dangerous. The chain of experimenters must remain unbroken
until the goal is realized. The chain
is only as good, however, as its weakest link.
We encourage Atheists to come
out of the closet. That mere act is
only the beginning. For those who
come out of the closet today are the
potential leaders of tomorrow - leaders needed to maintain the chain,
with each link growing fainter until
the end disappears into the commonplace.
I am asked many times by religionists what the purpose of life
without god is. I know that purpose
now: to strive to meet the qualifications to become a link in the chain of
Ida Husted Harper, in her biography of Susan B. Anthony, lays
those qualifications out as follows:
During the fifty years which
have wrought a revolution, just one
woman in all the world has given
every day of her time, every dollar of
her money, every power of her being,
to secure this result. She was
impelled to this work by no personal
grievance, but solely through a deep
sense of the injustice which, on every
side, she saw perpetrated against
her sex, and which she determined
to combat. Never for one short hour
has the cause of woman been forgotten or put aside for any other object.
Never a single tie has been formed,
either of affection or business, which
would interfere with this supreme
Page 28

purpose. Never a speech has been
given, a trip taken, a visit made, a
letter written, in all this half-century, that has not been done directly in
the interest of this one object.
In those years of constant
aggression, when every step was an
experiment, there must have been
mistakes .... Future generations will
read [her history] through tears, and
will wonder what manner of people
those were who not only permitted
this woman to labor for humanity
fifty years, almost unaided, but also
compelled her to beg or earn the
money with which to carryon her
work .... Let it be remembered that ...
Miss Anthony was in advance of
public sentiment ... , and that the
radicalism which we reject today
may be conservatism at which we
will wonder tomorrow.

I challenge you to meet those
qualifications. Your freedom depends
on it.

The Cancer of Religion
(August 1979)


he American people have always,
in the melting-pot environment
of our nation, been imbued with
patriotism. To some extent, this has
been so more than any other nation
in the recent historical past. It is
that melting-pot nature of our country that has led to the individual
need for a common bond beyond that
of ancestral pride. Religion in
America has also faced the unification challenge among a diverse people. Unlike the rallying point of the
flag, a pledge, a slogan, a motto, or a
uniform, the church has gathered its
flock around common icons and
sacred words.
A Marine dress uniform symbolizes pride in the United States. The
flag. symbolizes a unification of
states under a common governmental principle. The pledge to that flag
speaks of unification for the common
good. The national motto (prior to
1954), E Pluribus Unum ('out of
many, one'), spoke of the unification
of diverse peoples. Our currency carSpring 2001

ried that Latin banner of unification
into every home and business.
A cross, however, symbolizes personal salvation, the route to escape
personal torment. A statue of Jesus
Christ points your way to personal
happiness through a personal relationship. The Christian doctrine of
imputation is a selfish one. The savior imputes his personal goodness to
you, not to your neighbor. You must
have a deep personal faith in this
transfer of goodness, as in the transubstantiation of wafer into flesh
and wine to blood. Or, as in the effect
of the voodoo artist's pin, personal
faith is of the utmost importance.
God is responsive to your individual
needs. He (or she) is omnipotent,
able to respond to all personal situations at the same time. The Bible is
your personal guide through life. It is
open to your interpretation, generating denominationalism.
What have we, then, with the
union of a philosophy of self-preservation with a government based on
unification and cooperation? We
have two inimical systems struggling for control. Democracy speaks
to the whole; theocracy speaks to the
salvation of the individual. How,
then, can the churches survive within a host nation of mutually .exclusive goals? They can capture unification symbolism to weaken the catalyzing of democracy, implanting
their self-centered salvation symbols
wherever they can.
Our national motto is now "In
God We Trust." No longer is it "out of
many, 'one." A solution to human
problems out of many minds working together has now become one
omnipotent solution - take it or
leave it. We pledge not to "one
nation, indivisible," but to "one
nation, under God." The combined
strength of the people has been
replaced by the false security of faith
in a single power. Our currency proclaims a devotion to subjugation for
personal salvation. The collective
power of many minds is no longer
good enough. We must be "one
nation" trusting
in one "God."
Trusting one "God,"we can survive.
American Atheist

Our children were led each day,
captive, in salute to their personal
salvation in public schools. The challenge to that was successful, but now
Congress is encouraging that practice to be renewed.
All along this road, while democracy stood weakened day by day, the
Atheist stood by and said: "That
can't hurt"; "Who cares about a
phrase on our money?"; "A little
prayer can't hurt"; "The pledge
doesn't bother me; I never say it
anymore anyway"; "Christian symbols are insignificant." I hear these
statements every day, while the
cancer of religion eats away at its
host democracy. I don't hear them
from the religious community. It
knows the value of symbols. The
churches capture them while we
sleep. When we finally awaken, the
damage has been done.
We are always too little, too late,
reacting to what we perceive in hindsight as the inevitable initiative of
religion. After the blow has been
struck we act in defense or not at all.
Religion implants its symbols into
prominence first and then defends
them from objection. If you value the
sword with which you maintain your
liberty, don't give it over to be
implanted in the stone. We have
fought for reversal of precedent,
when we should be establishing our
As an Atheist, I refuse to be
responsible for the consequences of
losing a principle to the egotistical
hand of religion. I prefer to maintain
already sound principles and to
move, through offensive action,
toward the establishment of new
ones. Former President John F.
Kennedy summed it up in a very
famous phrase, "Ask not what your
country can do for you, but what you
can do for your country." Even from a
Roman Catholic, the theme of unification rings true. Hang in there, for
the here and now, for all of us. The
nation needs every head it can get,
and the more independent the better.
Through its preservation of independence of mind, Atheism is the keeper
of liberty in each of us. If you've got
Parsippany, New Jersey

it, flaunt it. The melting pot that
runneth over has been for the
Christians alone for too long.

Atheist Paranoia vs.
Empty Pews
(September 1979)
s a spokesperson for American
Atheism on a national level, I
have occasion to travel extensively. I
have been involved with the media
in almost every major city in the
United States. As I meet groups of
Atheists in each of these cities, I
meet with a recurring theme which
says something about the position of
Atheism in America. That theme
usually comes out of a statement
like, ''Youhad better watch what you
say in this town; this is the Bible
Belt," or,"Youare in the buckle of the
Bible Belt; we have a lot of fanatics
These quotes just don't happen
where stereotype
dictates. You
Would expect such a reaction in the
"Deep South" land of Alabama,
Mississippi, Georgia, or Louisiana.
This area has been characterized
over and over again as backward,
uneducated, and a breeding ground
for prejudice. The "sophisticated"
East Side of New York, Washington,
Newark, Boston, Philadelphia, and
the like have been billed as above
Where am I told I am in the
Bible Belt? In "sophisticated" New
York, "liberal" Los Angeles, "flowerchild-anything-goes" San Francisco,
"bedrock-middle-America" St. Louis
and Kansas City, "corporations-onlycount" Dallas .... The Deep South and
the mountains ofVirginia, Kentucky,
and Tennessee never enter into the
What this points out is that
Atheists everywhere feel that they,
wherever they are, are in the middle
of the worst organized religion has to
offer.They see the church surrounding them in every direction like some


Spring 2001

blob out of a late-night horror rerun.
They are terrorized by every new
Church that goes up in town, driven
further and further into the closet
until they may never again see life
not framed by a coat hanger.
Although I feel that a great deal
of the closet nature of Atheists is
needless paranoia, they do have a
point. Organized religion is on the
move with an unprecedented fury, or
so it seems. What fearful Atheists
don't realize is that what they see as
a move by all the churches to swallow them up is only a move by a very
few. The evangelicals make noise to
fit twice their size. With the help of
slick ad agencies and religious radio
and TV station owners, they can
blow up god much bigger than he has
ever been blown up before.
While the evangelicals howl, the
mainline churches sit in dismay at
empty pews and schisms. They are
split over such issues as women in
the clergy, homosexuality, abortion,
relations with Israel, and interpretation of doctrine. They have much
more to worry about internally than
just spreading the word. Remember,
only one out of every four Americans
attends church regularly. There are
over 91 million persons in our population who have never even entered
a church. In that total population of
some 105 million churchgoers (that
is, assuming church figures only
after deducting the 18 percent puffing they do according to the US.
Census Bureau), average attendance
is three to five times a year - usually
on major religious holidays.
What the Atheists must realize
is that the church is just as scared of
them as they are of the church.
Organized churches in America
know the statistics as well as we do.
They know how many persons no
longer believe or have become disenchanted with particular doctrines
and no longer attend. They know
how many closet Atheists and agnostics exist across the country. They
are scared of the horrible fact that
some day those Atheists are going to
come out of their hibernation and
realize they are not alone and put an
Page 29

end to religion once and for all. They
also know that if they can keep them
in their closet and make sure they
don't let others know that they are
similarly negative toward religion,
the churches are safe.
As long as Atheists continue to
feel that they are alone and fail to
come out even enough to let their
family and close personal acquaintances know of their distaste for religion, the church will continue its
course unimpeded. If Atheists will
identify themselves, they will find
that others will identify as well. This
is what the church is afraid of.
Identification and organization
are the key concepts for Atheists
toward the downfall of organized
religion. If you identify yourself as
an Atheist and then organize with
others who have done the same, you
can easily keep religious dictates

and moral patterns out of your life. If
you don't identify, you can't.
Religion has always taught the
[1] Your worthlessness as an individual - you must be part of the
whole, one of god's children.
[2] The futility of individual effort you must have god as your copilot in
[3] The necessity of giving up those
things that you enjoy as a human
being for an opportunity at life after
death - you give up a list of every
human and pleasurable endeavor as
"sins" as the purchase price for life
after death in a never-never land.
[4] Apathy for the world of here and
now - concern only for the ephemeral.
[5] Predestination
- you cannot
change the present to make the
future better because the future is
already made.

The opposition, in an organized
manner, to these ideas has been seriously deficient. Countless individuals have come to the conclusion that
these are not good concepts for
human behavior, but they have
failed to gain the needed support to
do something about them. We must
all realize that we are not alone in
our distaste for these concepts.
Others, too, are of like mind. We
must speak out, so that they can find
us, ally with us, and generate an
organized resistance movement.
American Atheists has initiated
that step. It is now up to all of you
out there to cast aside your coathanger manacles and join in the
fight. You have nothing to fear.
Religion has more to fear from a
freed mind actively engaged in resistance than it does from all the empty
pews in the world. $

L.OOk.. A LIi7'I-E. CAA~Y ... l...IiTL..e CRAZY ...
UITU CRA2..Y •.••

Page 30

Spring 2001

American Atheist

Robin Murray-O'Hair


obin Murray-O'Hair was the
biological daughter
of the
wife of William
Murray, the plaintiff of record in the
case Murray v
Curlett. Abandoned in infancy by her
parents, she was adopted by her
grandmother, Dr. Madalyn Murray
O'Hair. Thus, legally she became Dr.
O'Hair's daughter. Very precocious as a child, Robin graduated at the age of sixteen from
Jefferson School, a boarding
Missouri. Armed with a full
National Merit Scholarship,
she immediately
enrolled in
the Honors Program at the
University of Texas - graduating with her B.A. after just
three years of study, on May
19, 1984, when she was nineteen years old.
Nearly a year earlier, in
July of 1983 when she was yet
eighteen years old, Robin
became the Editor-in-Chief of
this journal. In that role she
composed a number of editorials, several of which we reprint
below. The first one, "Magic
January, 1988, on the occasion
of her being jailed by a Texas
judge the preceding December
for refusing to swear or affirm
the religious oath required of
jurors in that state. She had
been strip-searched, forced to shower
in a cold, drafty environment, and
made to suffer the humiliation
being a political prisoner in a selfstyled Christian nation. Although
she was later released on bail, the
legal issues in the case were never

(January, 1988)
By Robin Murray-O'Hair


n December 15, 1986, a Travis
County judge announced to me
that he would swear me in as ajuror.

announced that he was going to
administer the oath to me.
I immediately thought, "How?
Are you going to put a burning coal
to my tongue to make me cough up
the magic words?" A lingering
respect for the American legal system made me hold back my
thoughts, however. I was curious as
to how a judge could force me,
in this modern age, to make
words cross my
Apparently, the methods
are the same as that used during the Inquisition: force and
fear. The twentieth century
process. The rats have been
removed from the cells, but
the cells have not been
removed from the punishment
for dissent.
I have, since that day,
often reconsidered the question of oaths and affirmations,
their necessity and origin. I
have often had to explain to
the curious why anyone would
object to the words "I swear"
or "I affirm." After all, in an
age of prevarications
"clarifications," what matters
the meaning of particular
words? Why object to "swear"
and "affirm" but not "promise"
or "pledge"?
The more I have thought
about the issue, the more I
have became convinced that this is
not a problem of wording, but a problem of meaning.
As explained in the July 1987
issue of the American Atheist, the
oath originated as a plea for a "higher power" to punish the oath-taker if
he (for women generally could not

American Atheist



Parsippany, New Jersey

He and I had already had three
"discussions" concerning my unwillingness to swear or affirm. He had
learned that I was an Atheist, and he
had already announced that he
"resented" my determination not to
swear or affirm anything. But now,
in our fourth encounter, in front of a
Spring 2001

Page 31

take oaths) broke his pledge. It was a offense of lying. They need not call
self-imprecation. That is the way upon any private asset - J.C., Allah,
adults in our society describe this
or their integrity.
The only reason to have individChildren, honest creatures that
uals take oaths is to have them call
they are, have a more straightforupon a deity. The secular solution is
ward way of expressing their oaths:
easy, simple, and draws no distinc"Cross my heart, and hope to die."
tion between brands of religion, as
In our society,rather than abandoes the oath. The courts need only
don childish habits, we justify,
announce: ''Youwill be held accountexplain, and whitewash them. Thus
able for the truth of all you say in
the part of the cannibalistic ritual of this court." There simply is no need
the Mass known as transubstanfor a list of available statements for
tiation, rather than being called
use in courts, all of which pinpoint
grotesque, is called symbolic.Thus in the religious ideas of the speaker.
the last one hundred years, real- 1---------------------,
izing that an oath makes as

A s this issue was going to press, a
slightly past retirement age
visited our offices. His delight at
finally meeting other Atheists was
evident, and he joyfully talked to
members of our staff in our bookstore. He signed the register with
a flourish. He was finally here, in

much sense as chanting "Step on
a crack; break your mother's
back,"we now claim that the oath
submits the oath-taker to the
laws of perjury.
I fell for that line myself I
thought, "Golly gee, people lie all
the time, but we don't go around
arresting them unless they have
promised not to fib. That's the
point of asking witnesses, jurors,
and such to promise not to lie." I
agreed that some sort of attestation or pledge is necessary to the
legal system.
But that's nonsense.
I know of no other law than
that of perjury that requires that
one "submit" oneself to it. At the
age of eighteen, when I reached
my majority, I didn't have to
promise not to rape, murder,
steal, or commit treason. Yet if I
performed anyone of those acts, I
would be liable for punishment. My
defense could not be that I didn't
"swear" or "promise" that I would not
commit that crime.
Why then does the crime of perjury only apply if one "swears" not to
perjure oneself? Could it be that the
oath-taker is not calling upon the
law but taunting a god?
The laws governing perjury, like
those governing any other criminal
act, should be able to stand with only
the aid of a legal system, without the
aid of a theological system. If they
can, witnesses and jurors need only
be advised of the punishment for the

the home of American Atheism.
When the woman who for so long
was simply known as "The
Atheist" paused to talk to him for
a few minutes, his enthusiasm
doubled, for he had finally met
that one person he knew from
shared his opinions on religion.
Throughout his stay, his eyes
rested hungrily on our books,
pamphlets, and magazines. He
was from a little northern town,
in which the librarian would
faint if she ever saw an Atheist
magazine. Ifhis town had a bookstore, it would have been run out
of business if it had ever dared
stock a freethought book. And
could you imagine what the guys
down in the Elk Lodge would
have said if the very idea had
been brought up? But here,
spread before him, was a banquet
of Atheism. Original HaldemanJulius booklets. Reprints of Robert
G. Ingersoll, the Great Agnostic.
Bible-bashing books the likes of
which he had never even imagined
but which he had always hoped to
see. Reprints of books by a Southern
Atheist who had lived a hundred
years before his time. Pamphlets on
topics of the day and on topics that
never seem to go away. Issues of the
American Atheist that stretched ten
or fifteen years back, with articles on
creationism, and Bible origins, and
Supreme Court decisions, and religious holidays, and on all the glori-

Page 32

Amerl-can Athel-st
'" ,





I ~ ~u



c: 'I"nt' """-,









As Atheists, we should not seek
Godless invocations, priestless christenings, and spookless oaths should
not be our goal. Superstitions should
not be continued in any form just
because they are traditional.
I know that some Atheists will
gladly affirm as long as they are not
required to affirm with the help of a
god. But I think that it is time for us
to purge ourselves of religious ideas
and practices - they can be habitforming.

Spring 2001

Why this issue
(September, 1989)

American Atheist

ous deeds of Atheist activists around
the nation.
But he didn't take a single thing
Not one little paperback. Not one
two-buck booklet.
Not even the free magazine and
pamphlets we press on every visitor.
Nothing, but his memories.
You see, he was married. And his
wife had taken to religion a few
years ago. He hadn't noticed at first,
really, but now that he was retired
and at home all day it had dawned
upon him how deep and fervent was
her commitment to theism. I do not
remember if it was a televangelist,
fundamentalist preacher, or plain,
old-fashioned minister to whom she
was devoted. But he knew that if he
ever took a little evidence of his disbelief home, there would be hell to
pay. No, he had never discussed the
matter with her, had never told her
his own honest ideas on religion. But
he knew hers, and that was enough
to kill any intention of taking a single word of Atheism home into his
own house, the one that he had
worked for his entire life. He could
not trust the woman with whom he
had lived a lifetime to tolerate his
ideas on the subject of religion.
Thinking about this man on my
way home in the black Texas night,
rushing through the highways that
make every American city seem the
same, I realized the true importance
ofthe Rushdie case.
I had worked on this issue for
months, negotiated for and edited
articles from the United States,
Great Britain, Austria, and West
Germany, researched illustrations,
contracted for photographs, doublechecked facts and statistics. I could
recite the number of people killed
over Rushdie's book, list the cities in
which the hundreds had been
wounded, enumerate the countries
which had banned it. I had read hundreds of newspaper articles which
dealt with the importance of the controversy for the issues of freedom of
speech and the press. Our own
authors dwelt on the geo- and
theopolitical importance of the conParsippany, New Jersey

flicts which arose from Rushdie's
But what does freedom of
speech, and the First Amendment,
and the need of religion to define its
rights within society, and last-ditch
efforts of the churches to save their
place in the world mean to our visitor? Whether two hundred poets
read The Satanic Verses aloud in unison or not in some big city, he will
still be without the right to freedom
of thought in his own home.
The fact is, the Rushdie case
occurs millions of times every day in
these United States. Every time
someone goes home and has to keep
his mouth shut tight to avoid upsetting a spouse, or parent, or sibling, or
child - the Rushdie case occurs.
Every office coffee break at which
someone bites his lip rather than
anger his religious coworkers - the
Rushdie case occurs. Every time an
Atheist gets married in a church
rather than simply saying to his
beloved that he knows a wedding
mass is nonsense - the Rushdie
case occurs. Every time a city council
convenes, and a citizen bows his
head rather than announcing that
he knows prayers are nonsense the Rushdie case occurs. Every time
a parent who rejects religion enrolls
his child in a youth group that
requires obedience to god - the
Rushdie case occurs. Each time a
nonbeliever swears to a god rather
than admitting in a court of law that
he is divorced from religion - the
Rushdie case occurs. For we all in
the Western world live in fear of
what religionists might do.
Yes,Americans made fun of rioting Moslems in London and Tehran,
in all their funny costumes, burning
effigies of Rushdie. But every day,
Atheists shut up and let their freedoms be burned as effectively as if
fire were used by people in business
suits, judges' robes, house-coats, and
jogging pants. We shouldn't call it
the Rushdie case; we should call it
the Rushdie syndrome, for just as
dozens of publishers and distributors
self-censored rather than face an
argument, so do we. We are afraid to
Spring 2001

exercise our rights, and this inducement of fear is a far better control
mechanism than actually outlawing
dissent. Atheists and other dissidents have no thought-patrol to fear;
instead we fear the reactions of our
spouses, children, bosses, and best
friends. And as long as any man is
afraid to bring a book to his own
home, the Rushdie issue will be

The Art of SelfSuppression
(1991, Vol. 33, No.4)


his issue includes an article
which every Atheist in America
would find chillingly familiar.
"Dressed in Sheep's Clothing" by
Lane Parker is the story of an
Atheist who, as part of his career as
a reporter, moved to a small
California town. During his residence there, he found himself weighing and watching his words and
actions carefully to never betray his
Atheism. He acquiesced to government acts he knew were wrong prayers at city council meetings and
hid his disbelief for fear of what
might result from his dissent.
Though he was a professional and a
respected member of the community,
he was as effectively silenced as an
Atheist as if the town had outlawed
This article took on a special
importance to me recently, as I
helped prepare a white paper to be
presented by American Atheists to a
member of the United States Senate.
The paper dealt with what we
termed the "civic ghettoization" of
Atheists in this country.
In our presentation, we largely
dealt with the more blatant violations of the civil rights of Atheists
and of the First Amendment to the
Constitution. Preferential treatment
of religious persons and entities,
exclusion of Atheists from patriotic
and civic organizations and from
public office,distinctive treatment of
Atheists in many areas of public conPage 33

cern, forced involvement in religious
exercises, denial ofjobs and advancements to Atheists, censorship of
Atheist literature - all these were
covered. Also emphasized was the
effect of the establishment of a civic
religion - the relentless emphasis
that this is a religious nation. This,
almost more than anything else,
leads to the exclusion of the Atheist
from full citizenship.
Many of the civil rights violations facing Atheists in these United
States depend upon our admitting
our Atheism. If we Atheists pledge
allegiance without complaint, leaving the bitterness of "under god" to
lie only in our hearts and never leave
our lips, no harm comes our way.
Oath laws, which American Atheists
is fighting so hard to eradicate, exclude only those who refuse to say
"So help me God" from public office,
the witness stand, and the jury box.
As long as an Atheist is willing to
mouth words that are meaningless
to him, he may enjoy all his rights as
a citizen - except, of course, freedom
of conscience. If an Atheist stands
with respect during prayer, how can
the lynching squad tell that his head
is not filled with thoughts of reverence? It cannot. A network of discriminatory laws and policies discourage the acting out or expression
ofAtheism - but such prior restraint
is difficult to eradicate or even
demonstrate as harmful. The situation is difficult to explain to a protege of the prevailing culture - someone who fits in, someone who will not
cringe when hearing "god bless" from
an officer of the law. It would never
occur to the typical congressperson
to cross the line, to disavow the
expected public declarations and
assumptions of belief - how could he
imagine the results of such action?
Too often we Atheists are so
effectively cowed by the fear ofretaliation that we make no such act at
all. But stop to think - what act is it
that we are so afraid to make? The
crime of honesty - not of being offensive. In "Dressed in Sheep's
Clothing," the writer does not
recount restraining himself from
Page 34

shouting "Jesus is a d- khead" at the
city council meeting. Rather he was
simply afraid to say to anyone at
any time, "I am an Atheist," words
that should be no more offensive
than stating "I am a Catholic" - in
my view, less so. Atheists sponsored
no crusades, no Inquisition, no
witch-hunts. Our patron saints, if
such we have, are scientists and
humanitarians - not missionaries
and massacrers. Our crusades have
been for knowledge and liberty, not
ignorance and bondage.
The author of "Dressed in
Sheep's Clothing" was never told by
anyone that he would be punished
for being an Atheist. At most, he was
asked which church he would be
attending in that tiny California
town. A product of Christian civilization, the end of a thousand years of
bloody repression, he knew without
explanation, almost instinctively,
what might be the punishments for
his sin of dissent. So he self-censored, self-suppressed. How much
more an effective mechanism of
repression that is than the rack and
the stake - not even the example of
the existence of a heretic remains to
encourage heresy!
Not all American Atheists, of
course, find themselves so firmly,
consistently, or easily corralled back
into the closet. There are many acts
of bravery large and small, from
telling a Merry-Christmasing clerk
"No thank you, I celebrate the
Solstice" to challenging a governor to
dechristianize his administration. It
is these acts which the American
Atheist seeks to celebrate so that stories such as "Dressed in Sheep's
Clothing" become rarer and rarer. We
can never be fully free from religion
while the only difference between us
and the majority is the thoughts concealed in our heads. We must win the
right to dissent openly, honestly, and
as we think appropriate without fear
of repercussions or exclusion from
civic life.
Atheism is, after all, the most
honest and honorable position there
is. We do not have to pretend that
virgins can be mothers, that one plus
Spring 2001

one plus one equals one, or that the
earth is flat. This makes it all the
more urgent that we work for the
right of all Atheists - not just a fearless few - to live out their lives in
their communities without fear of
injury for the articulation of their
thoughts. Atheists need not teach
their children the art of subterfuge
("Just don't move your lips during
that part of the pledge, dear") or
practice it themselves, if we work
together in a focused and dynamic
effort to attain our rights. Let us
make "Dressed in Sheep's Clothing"
a thing of the past - in the near

Undoing Deceptions
(August, 1991)

purpose of the American Atheist
is to present the history, views,
personalities, positions, heroes, and
goals of Atheism as the mainline
media cannot and will not. Simply
put, if we expect the story ofAtheism
to be fairly told we must tell it ourselves and not rely upon those blinded by religious dogma or harnessed
by the demands of the commercial
In some issues of the American
Atheist, this purpose is even more
compelling. Events which gravely
concern us as Atheists are ignored
entirely by the outside media - for
instance, Bush's comment that
Atheists cannot be considered citizens of the United States. If such
incidents are to be discussed at all,
they must find their forum within
these pages. At other times, Atheist
happenings or issues are indeed
handled by the mainline media - but
in a distorted or malice-filled manner. It is the task of the American
Atheist to paint a truer picture of
Though my work involves righting these journalistic wrongs of
omission and commission, I am
rarely angered by them. As a member of America's most written-about
Atheist family, my hide has grown


American Atheist

somewhat thick. I have seen our
best spokespersons
treated by the media with more contempt and less objectivity than
would be accorded a confessed child
molester. But then stories both subtly and overtly hostile are what one
may expect from a culture saturated
in a viewpoint opposed to one's own.
One might as well expect Iran's state
press to carry fair coverage of the
Methodist church.
The most unfortunate aspect
of this tainted media handling is
the tendency of the American
public - even those persons sympathetic to or in agreement with
Atheism - to lend credence to
any media report. We all know
the old canard "Why would they
print it if it weren't true?" but
rarely realize the extent to which
people believe that. They give
the reporter the benefit of the
doubt, rationalizing
that his
story perhaps has a grain of
truth ("Well, he is tall, though I
myself wouldn't have called him
a 'genetic freak' ").
But would the media disseminate deliberate lies? That is a
notion from which all of us in the
United States try to avert our
eyes. It is unthinkable. In our
nation the press is a sanctified
Clark Kent and Lois Lane, overseen by selfless though demanding
editors. Its goal is to serve the public
and present the truth; it is protected
by and protects the First Amendment. It act in malice? It be motivated by "market economics"? Perish
the thought; we Americans know
that the press serves the people.
The fact is that it does not. Our
newspapers, radio stations, and television networks are owned by corporations devoted to profit, not charity
- to stock holders, not truth. And
Superman, in the guise of mild-mannered Clark Kent, isn't in the press
pool. Instead it's an ordinary human
being, with ordinary biases and ignorance and the usual concern for
retaining his job.
Nonetheless one media story
Parsippany, New Jersey

into an extensive description of the
smashing success of the religious
booths at the Fair. The Los Angeles
Times article was not run as an opinion piece but a news report. "These
were the facts, ma'am."
That at times the American
Atheist Press booth was so crowded
we couldn't move wasn't part of the
story. Or that once, when we were
passing out literature and free pens,
Noel Scott and I were almost
trampled by the eager crowd
didn't make it into print either.
That our two translators were
exhausted by their work at the
end of the day also slipped
the cracks of fair reportThe
I have thought that perhaps
the article should have had a
caption stating that it was proI Whatplac:e
vided as a free service for
Christian fund-raisers, for it
f Atheism
havejn the
served that purpose. Even before
I Soviet
American Atheist Press repreUnion?
sentatives were back in the
States, Christian fundlIfheisf Pres!!
raising letters had been sent out,
using the article as a source for
uhil1iting i~s
wares in the
the information that given a
head of
choice of god and godlessness,
Soviets went en masse for religion.
But, as I said, I have grown
accustomed to misstatements
and misrepresentations concernThe stand was only identified as
ing Atheism from the press corps.
"Madalyn Murray O'Hair's booth" What shocked me about this article,
this is the standard media game of what I had not fully understood
pretending that there is no American
before, is the ease with which the
Atheist movement, that there is only press can, if it wishes, deceive us
one lone Atheist in the United
concerning events in foreign lands.
States. (A mistake on the reporter's
For who is there back home to conpart? Signs announcing ''American
tradict the reports? The truth is
Atheist Press" in five languages
inaccessible, isolated across borders
appeared prominently on the exhiband language barriers.
Because of production problems
From the first line, of course, the
and scheduling delays, this issue of
article portrayed
the American
the American Atheist has long been
Atheist Press exhibit as a failure.
postponed. But even wrongs on the
The reporter authoritatively stated
back burner eventually come to boil
"no one stopped to browse through
and the needed correction is now
her [O'Hair's] literature." Our transbeing issued here in August of 1991.
lator "intended to help Soviets with
questions, sat idly." Having laid this
groundwork, the article launched
about American Atheists shocked me
- and that was a Los Angeles Times
report on the American Atheist
at the Moscow
International Book Fair in October
1989. The story was also sent on the
wire service, appearing in many
other papers.
As part of the usual bit of
misrepresentation, the article never
mentioned the name of the press.

American Atheist


Spring 2001

Page 35

A Press Conference Speech Given by American Atheists President Ellen Johnson
At the National Press Club Washington, DC, on 19 January 2001
ood morning! I'd like to thank
everyone for coming.


My name is Ellen Johnson and I
am the President of American
Atheists. Our organization was
founded by Madalyn O'Hair, who
was a plaintiff in the historic 1963
US Supreme Court
case Murray v Curlett,
which helped to end
mandatory prayer and
Bible verse recitation
in our nation's public
schools. Today, our
organization addresses issues of Atheist
civil rights and First
I'd like to take just
a few minutes to tell
you why we are participating, along with so
many other
organizations, in this
We have noticed
with growing alarm
policies being
articulated by the two
major political parties
and their candidates
in the 1999-2000 election campaigns. Both
Democrats and Republicans were going out of their way to
employ religious rhetoric and belief
as a credential for public office.Both
Mr. Gore and Mr. Bush constantly
spoke of their religious faith, and
both candidates pledged that if elected, they would aggressively pursue
efforts to give organized religion a
greater voice in the public square
Page 36

and in the affairs of government. I
want to point out that we weren't the
only ones noticing this. This isn't
something that only Atheists were
aware of, or uncomfortable with.
More than a few political pundits
wondered "What Would Jesus Do?"to borrow a phrase from pop-culture

- if he suddenly
returned to earth to discover that he
had been unwittingly enlisted in the
service of partisan politics. Political
discourse has assumed a divisive
religious character - one need only
look at the controversy surrounding
the appearance of president-elect
Bush at Bob Jones University, or the
Spring 2001

comedic proceedings some months
ago during the attempt to name a
congressional chaplain.
Worse yet, both candidates proposed legislation which threatens to
effectively demolish the "wall of separation" between church and state in
America. Let me say, up front, that
this a non-partisan
protest. If this were
Mr. Gore's inauguration, we would still be
here in Washington,
DC. Both Mr. Bush and
Mr. Gore supported the
Liberty Protection Act,
which would have
established a discriminatory
restrictive means" test for
government whenever
it dealt with sectarian
groups or practices.
When concerns were
raised about the "unintended consequences"
such as the special
rights entitlements of
this legislation, a hurried and watered-down
version was passed
President Clinton as
the Religious Land
Institutionalized Persons Act.
To his credit, Vice President
Gore did not support vouchers and
other schemes to funnel public
money to religious schools. George
W. Bush did, and this is one reason
why we are here in Washington.
American Atheists takes the position that vouchers under any name American Atheist

you can call them "opportunity
scholarships," or "tax credits" or anything else - amount to a public policy
which directs taxpayer money into
the coffers of religious schools, which
without question are extensions of
churches. Voucher experiments in
Texas, Ohio, and Wisconsin show
that the major beneficiary is the
Roman Catholic parochial school
system. There are many groups and
individuals who support vouchers
for a variety of reasons, but the bottom line is this: the real purpose of
voucher programs is to use public
money to sustain and increase the
role of religious indoctrination of our
nation's youth, with no government
standards relating to teaching credentials, health, and safety.
I want to make one thing clear.
Despite their faults, the public
schools of our nation have done a
wonderful job. Unlike religious and
private schools, the public schools
cannot "pick and choose" who will
walk through their doors to get an
education. If you're interested in
educating all classes and colors of
youngsters, quality public schools
are the way to do it.
We also noticed that during the
recent election campaign, both candidates embraced dangerous proposals to expand so-called "charitable
choice" and so-called "faith-based
partnerships," which would further
involve sectarian groups - funded by
the American taxpayer - in the operation of social services. Our organization has always opposed any government aid to religious groups
engaged in social services. We have
repeatedly stated that guidelines
which stipulate that any public moneys not be used for sectarian proselytizing and religious exercise cannot be rigorously enforced. One problem is that when you start trying to
monitor how religious groups spend
the public coin, they resist accountability and inevitably end up invoking a legal shield of freedom of religion to justify such resistance.
Mr. Gore paid lip service to the
idea that these faith-based partnerships should not be used to promote

religion. In practice, though, we con- and other programs being administinue to monitor cases of abuse
tered by religious groups using pubwhere religious groups taking public
lic money, or a combination of public
and private grants. We hope to
money inevitably link that resource
to their sectarian mission. The bulk
release our results in the next few
of funding for the nation's largest so- months, but I can share with you
called "religious charities" already
some of our preliminary findings.
comes from government grants, and
there is no supervision of this fund• The first is that many of the
claims being made about the efficacy
ing. The situation will only get worse
of these programs are self-serving.
as "faith-based partnerships" and
other schemes expand. Mr. Gore was
Often there is little or no outside
somewhat vague about his vision of monitoring to confirm the success
religion-based social services, but
rates. One good example comes from
Mr. Bush and his major policy adviTexas, where under Governor Bush
sors are not. They clearly want relireligious ministries and faith-based
gious groups to be lining up at the
programs have become the rage in
public treasury, taking public money, the state's prison system. We find
and using it to administer social prothat the claims of rehabilitation
grams with a distinctly religious and
rates and other alleged successes for
sectarian character - in other words,
similar programs are made without
to indoctrinate and recruit under the
the benefit of third-party confirmaguise of "humanitarianism."
tion. Also, general studies that claim
With government money should
high rates of success for faith-based
come government supervision; that
programs are often based heavily on
would be only fair. We point out that
anecdotal evidence, and we find that
this would add to the cost of these
those who make these claims simply
programs, and this added cost of end up citing each other as sources
oversight would undermine the very
of confirmation, rather than using
argument offered by churches that
good,raw data. The bottom line is we
they would administer these prodon't know if these programs work,
grams more cost-effectively than
and there seems often to be very litgovernment.
tle effort made to confirm the claims
One of the signs we have carried
of high success rates. But success of
in our protests at the Republican
these programs is not the issue:
National Convention in Philadelphia
American Atheists still opposes
and the Democratic Convention in
these programs because they violate
Los Angeles reads: "THEIR RELIthe constitutional
separation of
GION - OUR MONEY - NO WAY!" church and state.
This pretty much sums up our position on "charitable choice" and
• Another finding is that as gov"faith-based partnerships." These
ernment loosens the regulations for
programs amount to a "Religion Tax" religious groups to receive public
on the American people. They com- money for the administration
pel millions of Americans who are
these programs, abuses seem to
Atheists to open their purses and
grow - and there is little or no thirdwallets to organizations that engage
party administrative oversight. It's
in blatant proselytizing, that attack
very clear to us that religious groups
and demean the nonreligious, and
that want taxpayer money have
are exempt from civil rights legislaevery intention of using it primarily
tion - all under the veneer of giving
to facilitate their sectarian message.
religious groups an opportunity to
The first court test of this involves a
administer welfare programs.
case from George W. Bush's state of
Let me just segue here and disTexas - which should give all
cuss these programs. Right now, Americans pause - which on the surAmerican Atheists is conducting a
face may appear very innocent and
study of "faith-based" social services
prosaic. It involves a job-training
Spring 2001

Page 37

program administered by a coalition
ofneighborhood churches. Court documents already reveal that clients
were pressured to change their
views about religious faith, that the
program included Bible study and
other religious materials and taxpayer money was used! Clearly, this
violates the constitutional separation of church and state.
We believe that these faithbased programs constitute what is,
in effect, a "Religion Tax" on the
American people. It violates the constitution, and it also violates one of
the building blocks of the American
Revolution, which was the disestablishment of religion. This process of
ended a policy
where often an official religion was
supported by the government. It
effectively compelled people to promote sectarianism. In our view, this
disestablishment has been eroded
over the years by laws and government programs which seek to funnel
aid to religious schools, hospitals,
and other institutions, under the
excuse that it supports a neutral or
secular activity rather than the
propagation of a particular faith.
Whatever you think of that claim,
though, it is clear to us that what
Mr. Bush is hoping to achieve doesn't
even rest on such a disingenuous
argument. This is clearly the public
funding of religion. It compels all
Americans, including Atheists, to
support whatever religious group
steps up to the public trough. It compels all Americans to support a religion they would support neither
individually nor voluntarily. It compels Americans to support a religion
that would be clearly at odds with
their own religious convictions. It
would compel Atheists to support
those organizations that condemn
them. This clearly violates our intellectual freedoms.
It is interesting to note that one
of Mr. Bush's closest policy advisors,
Marvin Olasky who is the pied piper
of'faith-based partnership programs,
has even suggested, "maybe disestablishment wasn't such a good
idea ..." He has spoken in favor of
Page 38

multiple establishments of religion,
which means that any and all religious sects and faith-based comers
will be free to seek our funding for
their religious activities, as long as it
is all done under the veneer of providing social services.
We are also alarmed over the
fact that George W. Bush declared
April 17, 2000, as "Jesus Day," to
honor that non-historical religious
character. That declaration was
clearly an unconstitutional endorsement and promotion of religion.
We are also in Washington to
speak out against Bush-administration appointments and the policies
they will inevitably reflect. This
includes Sen. John Ashcroft as the
nation's next Attorney General. We
noted that Mr. Ashcroft was the primary architect behind the so-called
"charitable choice" provision of the
1996 welfare reform act, and it's
worth noting that "charitable choice"
enjoys wide bipartisan support. I
know that many groups are justifiably concerned with Ashcroft's nomination, and the effect he would have
on issues like abortion rights, gay
rights, and civil liberties.
From our perspective, Ashcroft's
appointment is a signal that the full
resources of the government will be
used to defend any legal challenges
against "religion-friendly" legislation, whether it is a law trying to
sneak prayer or Bible study back
into the public schools; display of
unconstitutional religious symbols
on public property; or efforts to
expand government aid to sectarian
We publicly wonder if Mr.
Ashcroft would choose his Christian
flag over our American flag.
It took a battery of Supreme
Court cases to stop, in theory anyway, the practice of compelling
youngsters to engage in religious rituals in the taxpayer-supported public schools. It still requires considerable legal efforts to challenge the
display of religious symbols on public property. We look at disingenuous
efforts to promote different forms of
coercive religion - sneaking creSpring 2001

ationism into the public schools, for
instance, or promoting the illusion of
so-called "student led" prayer or
"moments of silence." All of this was,
and is, bad enough. But now, this is
going far beyond just demanding
that Atheists in America stand
silently by while prayer or other religious activity takes place in our public institutions. Now,they want us to
pay for their religion.
We feel that the civil liberties
achieved by and since the Murray v
Curlett case and other court decisions are in jeopardy with a
President George W. Bush. We look
with serious concern at the possibility that his appointments to the US
Supreme Court and the rest of the
Federal Judiciary will reflect, at
best, a weak, if not totally skewed,
Amendment's Establishment Clause.
I want to say something about
the Establishment Clause and this
recent election campaign. It seemed
that nowhere on the political landscape was there a candidate - especially one running for the nation's
highest elected position, that of
President of the United States - who
unambiguously and unequivocally
said, ''Yes, I proudly and firmly support the separation of church and
state." The First Amendment was
really the orphan child - make that
the rhetorical punching bag - of this
election. Both freedom of expression
and state-church separation were
under constant attack. We had the
spectacle of the Democratic Vice
Presidential candidate Joe Lieberman behaving like some wrathful
and intolerant
Old Testament
prophet, excoriating Americans for
their choices - or the fact that they
even had a choice - in the entertainment marketplace, constantly distorting the alleged role of faith in the
history of the American experience.
There were days when Al Gore and
Lieberman spent more time in
churches, mosques, and temples
than in the secular public square.
Bush and Cheney were no different.
All of these candidates, and many
others, felt it necessary to explain
American Atheist

their policies by saying, "I'm in favor
of the First Amendment, BUT... "
"1 support the separation of
church and state, BUT... "
Not one elected official of
national stature had the integrity,
the vision, or the courage to state to
the American people, "1 support the
separation of church and state; 1
support the freedoms of the First
Amendment, and that's that!"
Finally, let me tell you something about Atheists. Surveys have
shown that somewhere around 10%
of the American people describe
themselves as Atheists, or freethinkers, or people who have no use
in their lives for religious creeds
and organized sectarian movements. That's approximately 27 million people, if the census isn't glutted with chad. We are part ofa much
larger number of Americans branded with the religiously pejorative
label, "unchurched."
1 realize that not everyone
agrees with all of our message; but
there are concerns here that affect

many, if not all Americans. Other
groups that focus on other issues rights for women, gay rights, good
public schools, you name it - have
reason to be concerned about
George Bush, and the groups and
individuals who backed him. We
consider many of Bush's appointments and promises to reflect the
well-known fact that he now must
pay back the lOUs from religiousright extremists like Pat Robertson,
James Dobson, and Jerry Falwell for
their support in the recent election.
We are concerned when his closest
advisors suggest that the "disestablishment of religion may not have
been such a good idea ... "
For once, American Atheists
would like to see a President who
swears his or her oath of Office with
the right hand on a copy of the US
Constitution. We would also like to
see other public office holders as
well - from federal judges to our
local elected official - swear their
oaths upon this secular document,
not upon a sectarian tract.

An Introduction to
Stock #4501


The 26 volumes contained on
this CD are:
The World's Sixteen Crucified Saviors, or Christianity

Before Christ,
by Kersey Graves
400 Years of Freethought (Illustrated), by Samuel P. Putnam
The Four Gospels, by Marilla Ricker
The Truth About Jesus: Is He a Myth?, by M. M. Mangasarian
The Age of Reason, by Thomas Paine
An Analysis of Religious Belief, 2 volumes, by Viscount Amberley
(father of Bertrand Russell)
My Beliefs, by Luther Burbank
I Am Not Afraid, Are You?, by Marilla M. Ricker
The Origins Of The Christian Church, being a Candid Examination of
the Materials out of which Historic Christianity is Built, by
The Pledge of Allegiance, before its perversion in 1954

So, we are demonstrating in our
nation's capital first and foremost
as Americans. We are "American
Atheists," but like every other group
- including religious people, gays,
private business owners, organized
labor, or anyone else - we are exercising our First Amendment rights
to be heard.
We are aware of the fact that
many people in America are part of
organized religious sects. We simply
want - no, make that demand - the
same right they enjoy, to quote
Ralph Reed, the former director of
the Christian Coalition: "a seat at
the table in the great conversation
we call democracy."We feel that the
issues I've touched upon deserve to
be discussed and considered. These
are issues of great concern to us,
and we intend to speak out about
them whether it's peacefully, in the
streets tomorrow, or in front of congress, or in letters and other outreaches to our public officials.
Thank you very much. $

The Jesus Problem: A Restatement of the Myth Theory,
by J. M. Robertson
The Religion of Science; or The Art of Actualizing Liberty ...,
by Calvin Blanchard
The Struggle Between Science and Superstition, by Arthur M. Lewis
The Origin and Nature of Secularism, by George Jacob Holyoake
The Bible a Dangerous Moral Guide, by Marshall J. Gauvin
An Open Letter to Jesus Christ, by D. M. Bennett
I Don't Know, Do You?, by Marilla M. Ricker
The Essence of Religion, by Ludwig Feuerbach
Flowers of Freethought (First Series), by G. W. Foote
The Historical Jesus: A Survey of Positions, by John M. Robertson
The Non-Religion Of The Future: A Sociological Study,
by Marie Jean Guyau
Sixteen Saviors Or None, or, The Explosion of a Great Theological Gun,
by Kersey Graves
The Christ: A Critical Review and Analysis of the Evidence of His
Existence, by John E. Remsburg
Views of an Agnostic, by Ross E. Browne
Eight Lectures by L. K. Washburn delivered before The Ingersoll
Secular Society, Boston, Mass.
A Biographical Dictionary of Freethinkers of All Ages and Nations,
by J. M. Wheeler

Employing AdobeAcrobat= PDF format, the discs work on both IBM and Macintosh computers. Considering the enormous amount of priceless material on each of these discs and the ridiculously low purchase price ($30.00), these discs
should be in the library of every Atheist.

Parsippany, New Jersey

Winter 2000-2001

Page 39

Serving God and
Margaret Bhatty
ne of our newspapers, reporting on the UN's great
Conclave for
Peace and Reconciliation in September 2000, commented on India's significant contribution as a "super-spiritual" nation.
At that level of religious development, we ought to be the most highminded people on the planet.
Regrettably, we aren't. The practice
of piety is an elaborate charade in
which rites and rituals so clutter
religions that there isn't any space
left for true spirituality - that
aspect of our inner selves which
places humanity at the center of our
As a journalist, I keep clippings
and tear sheets on every imaginable
subject. The thickest file is labeled
Turning over the
material I see the most awful evidence of implacable hatred in pictures taken over the past decades orphaned children, widowed women,
ravaged neighborhoods, looting and
arson. Nothing in the hideous car-


Margaret Bhatty comes from a
Christian missionary family. She is
a free-lance journalist and author
of books in English for Indian children. She lives in Nagpur, India.
For many years a columnist for
American Atheist, she is the
author of the AAP book An Atheist
Reports From India, which is available from American Atheists.
($9.00, ISBN 0-910309-42-6, Stock
#5026) E-mail: ferozebhattY@hotmail. com

Page 40

nage of religious riots suggests a
super-spiritual nation.
Today the politics of hate is
destroying whatever semblance we
had of secularism in a multireligious
society. And the destroyers are the
very people who kept a high profile
at the peace Summit with a large
number of sadhus and members of
the Vishva Hindu Parish ad (VHP).
In October, a month later, the
supreme commander of the fascist
Hindu RSS addressed a huge gathering of the organization's rank and
file. He warned Christians they must
now sever all connection's with
churches and missions from abroad,
stop taking funds from Western
churches, finance their own work,
sink their differences, and all unite
to form the Christian church of India
- like the Christian Church of
China. For Catholics this would
mean dumping the Pope! The implication was that Christians are subversive and less than loyal. Muslims
were given the same advice for their
extraterritorial loyalties, but in a
less forthright manner. The Christians are a soft target. The Muslims
are not so amenable to threat.
Super-spirituality is actually a
thriving commercial venture here.
Historically, kings and emperors
have endowed mosques and temples,
and this wealth was a way of gauging how potent the presiding deity
was. The opulence of Indian shrines
astonished ancient visitors to the
country. Diamonds, rubies, pearls,
and tons of gold were always on display.

Spring 2001

In 1972 it was estimated that the
cash wealth in Hindu temple trusts
was around Rs 200 crores. (A crore is
10 million). Muslim trusts had Rs
100 crores. and Sikh shrines 25
crores. When the government floated
a Gold Bond Scheme in 1965 it had
hoped to get an investment of Rs.
500 crores only from religious
shrines. All it got was a measly Rs. 2
At one time Western economists
estimated that India has the largest
reserve of hoarded gold in the world.
If it were flushed out, the international bullion market would crash!
In 1976 a marble temple to Lord
was opened
Hyderabad. Its 1,000 tons of marble
cost Rs 5 million, and the total
investment was Rs 8 million. Later,
gold, gems, and jewelry were bought
for the deity.
In 1971, the chairman of the
temple in India at
Tirupati announced they were to buy
Rs 1.6 million worth of diamonds for
the deity. At the time there were
10,500 kg of gold in the temple vault.
In 1970, devotees pooled money to
buy more diamond-studded ear and
head ornaments for the god, valued
at Rs 500.000, and to have a second
gate to the inner sanctum gold-plated for Rs 300,000.
The Digvijaya Dwar, an entrance
to the Somnath temple in Gujarat,
was built at a cost of Rs 500,000.
Also constructed was a huge dance
hall for Rs 3 million, built only
because dancing-girls used to perform there in ancient days.

American Atheist

The government of Kerala state
pays an annuity of Rs 1.5 crores to
temples in the Malabar region. In
addition to temple grants, there are
hordes of employees and hangers-on
whomust be paid. Over 1,200temples
in the region need more than Rs 3
million annually to carry out rites
and rituals.
The Meenakshi
Madhurai installed air-conditioning
for the inner sanctum sanctorum of
the deity - and for the presiding
priest. The Nathdwara temple in
Rajasthan has an income of over Rs
1.6 million a year. The Sikh gurudwara of Sisganj in Delhi earns over
Rs 3 crores. The Sri Krishna temple
at Guruvayoor lined the entire sanctum sanctorum with gold at a cost of
Rs 5 million.
In April of 1975, a grand mausoleum was raised in Bombay to the
late chief of the Dawoodi Bohra sect.
The cost of the building was Rs 10
million. It has 772 slabs of marble
with verses
from the Koran
engraved in gold. Between the verses
there are 113 bismillahs all inlaid
with rubies and diamonds. The 12foot finial crowning the 50-foot dome
is encrusted with gold. The 200-lamp
chandelier, made in Czechoslovakia,
is said to be the largest in the world.
Catholic cathedrals and shrines
are garishly decorated with gold leaf,
and gold and silver crucifixes along
with sacred vessels of gold are common in Goa. Charity boxes placed
outside shrines of every faith rake in
money. Often the takings run into
millions. In Rajasthan, on Mt. Abu at
Achleshwar, an imposing temple has
been built around the big toe of lord
Shiva. The region was often rocked
by earthquakes, so the pious prayed
to Shiva in the Himalayas. He
extended his foot to steady the earth,
but his big toe fell off and was
embedded in a rock. A shrine was
put up around it, and money flowed
A very small percentage of temple wealth is spent on the poor, or on
schemes likely to improve their lot.
However, many do dole out free
meals on special occasions in order
Parsippany, New Jersey

to acquire merit. Today, the profits
raked in by religion are a fair indication of how much money is floating
around, generated by a growing
economy.Thousands set out on arduous pilgrimages, and the government
must make suitable arrangements
for transport and accommodation. In
Kashmir the problem of protection
against Islamic attacks is formidable. Last year, many Hindus were
gunned down.
Devotees flock to places of worship. On a working day, the Tirupati
Temple in Andhra Pradesh has
40,000 lining up for darshan. Temple
employees herd them along like cattle, and they get only a glimpse ofthe
god, Balaji. For a fat fee, one can
jump the queue and also stand a
minute longer in front of the god. In
1999 the offerings totaled Rs 400
crores. In 1999-2000 the sale of hair
alone fetched the temple Rs 14
crores. Devotees who have made a
special vow, or had prayers supposedly answered, donate their hair.
These are chiefly women. The hair is
sold abroad to wig-makers, etc.
Over 30,000 Sikhs, Hindus, and
others pray daily at the Golden
Temple. Pilgrims trekking up to the
Badrinath temple in Garhwal number well over 250,000. This huge
influx is threatening the fragile
ecosystem of the region.
There is probably some connection between the need for religion
and security when good governance
is at an all-time low. Maybe people
feel the gods are a better bet than
our breed of politicians when it
comes to delivering the goods.
However, the current resurgence is
undoubtedly due to the politicizing
of the Hindu identity and neofascist
definitions of patriotism.
Super-spirituality is a middleclass phenomenon. Eastern religions, even while insisting on rigorous self-torture and penance in the
practice of piety, have never disdained money and the material benefits that come from its possession.
Prof. Makarand Paranjpe of Delhi's
Jawaharlal Nehru University, who
has researched India's spiritual traSpring 2001

ditions, says, "A new feel-good spirituality is booming in our affluent
urban society. A celebratory, almost
carnivalesque religiosity. And it's
very different from spirituality, as
we have known it. Forget taking
sanyas, one does not even have to opt
out to practice such piety. It's very
much a spirituality
that helps
achieve mainstream aspirations."
[Outlook magazine, August 2000]
The electronic media are doing a
booming business with TV programs
staging ancient myths in serials,
which run on and on. Religious
heads deliver lectures, expound texts
and hold pujas with bhajans and
religious rites. The old fraud,
Maharishi Mahesh, has his own
channel. Here the talking heads are
chiefly white devotees, because nothing cheers us more than to see westerners endorsing our beliefs. There
are at least 75 Web-sites on religion.
Many larger places of worship beam
on-line rites and pujas. Devotional
music presented by some of our best
classical singers is quickly sold out.
Gurus and god-men, who had to
go West to make good, are now into
megabucks in their own country.
Ashrams are no longer hermitages
in forest retreats, but five-star establishments for food and comfort. A
god-man's public image depends
much on the rich elite who patronize
him - film stars, beauty queens,
fashion models and clothes designers, industrialists, and liquor barons.
Leading the field at this point in
time is Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, who
had such a high profile at the Peace
Alternate therapies are much in
demand, with the emphasis on
"holistic" systems.
(Poona) is Atmasantulana Village,
where Ayurvedic music, meditation,
and other therapies combine to form
an environment for the ailing body
and spirit. Dr. Balaji Tambe, founder,
declares that curative powers are
found in everyday things. Healing
music uses ragas to produce vibrations in the brain. "When combined
with medicine and therapies, healing
music is effective in cases of cancer,
Page 41

bone marrow disorders, and other
chronic diseases. Also, sleeping disorders, blood pressure, stress, and
depression. Disease sets in when the
four vital elements become unbalanced: earth, water, air, fire - and
space within the body."
Tambe claims the diagnosis of a
disease from reading the patient's
pulse proved more effective than the
Western system at the Expo 2000,
the "biggest-ever fair held in Hanover. Germany," where his project
"Vedic Community Health Initiatives" was selected as the award-winning project. He recommends crystal
therapy, aroma therapy, and magnetic therapy. The kitchen at his Center
is planned around each season of the
year to balance the body's vital elements. It maintains agni, the digestive fire, and caters to six different
rasas (tastes), to the seven dhatus
from blood to vitality. On his staff is
a former Austrian Olympic javelinthrower, Elisabeth: a one-time air
hostess is head of the kitchen;
Barbara is in charge of the manufacturing department; and James, a former airlines pilot, looks after the
physiotherapy. Gaumann, a Swiss,
conducts music classes in healing.
The presence of so many whites
impresses Indians no end. Tambe
has several health centers m
"If you have the money, we have
the right spiritual package" is the
message of countless tourist resorts.
Kerala is being advertised as God's
Own Country, with hotels offering
in-house Ayurvedic therapies, oil
treatment, and massage. One motel
group has 33 such "religious destinations." Centers in the Himalayas
charge exorbitant rates for packages
for jaded executives looking for peace
and tranquillity.
Instead of Disneylands, we are to
have our own essentially Indian
parks called Ramaland. Durgaland,
Gangaland, etc. It is difficult to see
how they will keep out Coca-Cola,
unless they come up with Ayurveda
equivalents. However, Mac's chicken
is definitely out.
Page 42

For busy executives who can't
get away but still need the blessings
of the gods, pujas are now available
on-line for the god of one's choice,
with all the paraphernalia, music,
and mantras. No sweating it out in
queues jostling with hoi polloi, risking having one's pocket picked, or
having some less pious nut make off
with your' shoes.
Piety is no longer a matter of
sack-cloth and ashes. Monasteries
are centers of rich living. No need to
repair to the Himalayas to find your
god. Our most famous woman saint,
Mirabai, was a 16th century Rajput
princess, who angered her husband
by claiming she was the bride of the
god Krishna. She finally left home
and wandered as a mendicant, composing hymns about her lover.
Preceding Mirabai by some centuries
was Andal, who saw herself as the
beloved of the god Vishnu and sang
verses on her love for the god. Today
we have a more modern version of
these saintly women in 26-year old
Aradhana Madan who "married"
Lord Krishna three years ago, complete with invitation cards and festivity. Albums of photographs fixed
the occasion for posterity to marvel
at as she posed in her bridal garb in
front of kitsch calendar art prints of
her "spouse" hung on the wall
behind. It is unthinkable that she
should take to the road to prove anything. She is Hospitality Manager of
Le Meridian Hotel in Delhi. She
claims she has spent nights of love
with her husband. [Outlook magazine, Aug. 21, 2000] Perhaps readers
will recall how saintly nuns of
medieval times in Europe, as brides
of Christ, claimed they felt pierced
by shafts of divine love!
Shortly after I write, Bombay is
to play host to members of the Hindu
Diaspora coming from 35 countries.
The 550 delegates will be part of the
Vishwa Sangh Shivir (World RSS)
Camp. They will come from the
USA, UK. Europe, South Africa,
Guyana, Mauritius, etc., and they
will discuss various problems facing
Hinduism abroad. One item will be
Spring 2001

the deposing of the Indian PM of Fiji
simply because he was "alien."
(When it seemed likely that Sonia
Gandhi might move into the Prime
Minister's post here the RSS wanted
the constitution amended to keep
her out because she is an "alien"!)
The thrust of this meeting will be to
counter the general attitude in the
West of sneering at Hindu gods and
looking down on Hindu culture. It
will also plan strategies for its
activists to further the cause oft
Hinduism abroad. This is a follow-up
on the Millennium Peace Summit
and the appearance of the VHP
there, who were least interested in
peace or reconciliation.
It is ironical that the RSS is now
concerned with winning friends and
influencing cultures abroad when it
advises the country's own minorities
- Muslims and Christians in particular - to cut themselves off entirely
from outside affiliations to prove
they are more loyal even than the
loyalists. ~

Facts of Freethought
Stock #4502


The 14 volumes contained on this CD are:
Freethinkers' Pictorial (2 volumes)
by Watson Heston
A History of the Warfare of Science with
Theology in Christendom (2 volumes)
by Andrew D. White
Censorship of the Church of Rome
(2 vols.) by George Haven Putnam
Henry of Navarre and the Religious Wars,
by Edward T. Blair
The Massacre of St. Bartholomew,
by Henry White
History of Sacerdotal Celibacy in the
Christian Church (2 volumes),
by Henry Charles Lea
Autobiography of Andrew D. White
(2 volumes)
The Future Prospects of Christianity,
by Francis William Newman
Thumbscrew and Rack,
by George E. Macdonald

American Atheist


An American and Atheist Novelist
on the History of Religious Ideas
This series of articles on Vardis Fisher's TESTAMENT OF MAN is adapted from an unpublished work written in
the late 1980s, titled A Journey Through History in Fiction: A Reader's Guide to History and Historical Novels. Earl
Doherty will continue in the next issue of American Atheist with a review of the pivotal novel of the TESTAMENT,
Jesus Came Again: A Parable, about the figure of Jesus as the root of Christianity and the question of this figure's
historical existence.

By Earl Doherty
In previous installments of this
series on Vardis Fisher's eleven-volume work of historical fiction, the
examined the first five novels dealing
with the prehistoric period. He moves
now to the next two novels of the TESTAMENT, set within historical preChristian Israel.

Earl Doherty is a member of the
Humanist Association of Canada,
with a degree in History and
Classical Languages. As a longtime researcher into the subject of
Christian origins, he supports the
position that no historical Jesus
existed. His own contributions to
that theory have been embodied in
a Web-site that has gained worldwide attention and in a recent
book called The Jesus Puzzle: Did
Mythical Christ? published by
Canadian Humanist Publications.
The book is available from
American Atheist
$14.50, product #5599. For information, visit the Jesus Puzzle
Parsippany, New Jersey

Abelard Press, New York,
1951 (426 pages)
After five prehistoric novels, the
TESTAMENT OF MAN vaults into his-

tory, to that critical moment when
the concept of a single God was
beginning to take shape. The Hebrew
tendency toward monotheism had an
antecedent in the Egypt of Ahknaton, but it was the particular set of
conditions around the time of the
monarchy of David and Solomon,
when monotheism first took root in a
rude, semi-desert nation on the
fringes of civilization, which would
determine the future course of western history. This pivotal sixth novel
looks not only at the birth of One God
but at the mentality that surrounded
and resulted from it.
Solomon, after murdering a rival
claimant to the throne, his brother
Adonijah, inherits a fledgling backward kingdom from his warriorchieftain father, David. To that kingdom he brings a vision: to propel
Israel into the ranks of the great
nations. For this, he needs to tax, to
build, to create a certain splendor the standard by which other states
will judge and accept Israel as one of
Spring 2001

themselves. With those foreign
nations he must have trade and
diplomatic relations. Above all, he
must bring to his country of shepherds and squalid farmers - for
much of the land is miserly in its
fruits - a more cosmopolitan outlook,
a broadening of customs, an acceptance that there are other beliefs and
ways of life in the wider world
besides its own.
The god of the Israelites is Yah,
which Fisher, following a prominent
line of scholarly thought, sees as
derived from a desert tribal god, possibly of the Kenites of Sinai, carried
into Canaan during the course of
Hebrew migrations. (Today, much of
the Israelite make-up is regarded as
having been of the same racial stock
as the Canaanites, inhabiting the
same general area.) This deity, as
reflected in much of the Old
Testament, is harsh, demanding,
vengeful. He commands that in war
his conquering people must slay
man, woman, and child; he forbids
any indulgence in luxury, sensual
pleasure, wealth, and ostentation.
Rebellious sons are to be stoned.
Women will have few rights compared to men. Yah is the god of pastoral patriarchs with their rigid
mores and austere lifestyles, carried
uneasily into a land promising more
Page 43

of the fruits of life, inhabited by an
older, softer, agricultural people with
their more tractable gods and their
hedonistic lifestyles and fertility rituals. By the time of the Davidic
monarchy, belief that Yah is the
mightiest of the gods is beginning to
evolve toward belief that he is the
only god, a process that will take
centuries to complete.
Inevitably, the Israelites are
absorbing many ingredients of the
wider Canaanite culture. Just as
inevitably, this process is hotly
resisted by a conservative element:
the prophet who claims to speak for
Yah. Ahijah stands in direct line
from Yescha of the preceding novel,
The Divine Passion. He is Solomon's
personal nemesis, a fanatic visionary
who condemns all the king's changes
and ambitions. This war between
prophet and king will become the
central thread of Israel's history.
Solomon accuses Ahijah of wanting
to lead the people back into the
desert. But the prophet fears the loss
of ancient virtues; the distinctive
Israelite integrity he believes in can
be maintained only by remaining
"apart, aloof, and unmixed." Consequently, the laws handed down to
Moses are unchangeable and must
never be compromised. And to provide a philosophical underpinning to
this immutability and separateness,
Ahijah proclaims the concept of "the
chosen people." Upon the children of
Israel Yah has set a special task of
righteousness which will lead them
to ascendancy over all the nations.
To Solomon, such ideas are
anathema, and ominous. "If we were
to isolate ourselves in aloof and
haughty superiority ... other kings
would march in and exterminate us."
He fears that men like Ahijah
promise Israel a joyless existence, an
eternal slavery "to the tribal laws of
Solomon had his way, he would
introduce a Mother figure like
Astarte, the Phoenician fertility goddess, to his people's worship. In the
ancient world, one of the marks of a
powerful god was thought to be the
liberal bestowal of water on his peoPage 44

ple's land to make it rich and productive; yet Yah's Judah is largely a
waterless wilderness. Reflecting the
outlook of agricultural societies,
Solomon sees women as the womb of
life; goddesses bring rain, fruits and
flowers. He goes so far as to wonder
whether Yah is so angry and unforgiving because he doesn't have a
wife. The Israelite god was perhaps
the only male deity of the entire
ancient world who was not associated with a female consort, even before
he took on a monotheistic character.
Israel had a divine Father, but,
unlike all other nations, never a
divine Mother. Or if it did, she was
later suppressed from memory.
The conflict between Solomon
and Ahijah, and the latter's eventual
triumph, Fisher represents as the
pivotal moment of the long development traced through the earlier novels. Yescha in The Divine Passion
stood at the fork in the road; Ahijah
is leading western man irrevocably
down it. This is the final victory of
the Father figure over the Mother
figure. The desert Hebrews have elevated the Sun god to an unassailable
position. Their primary emotions
toward him are fear and obedience.
In the face of the father's jealousy
and wrath, the son has chosen castration, symbolized physically by circumcision, emotionally
by the
strongly antisexual stance all the
prophets adopted, and their suppression of the female principle in both
deity and the world. Yescha's crisis of
personal isolation has been expanded into the isolation of culture and
belief which Ahijah is urging upon
his fellow Israelites. It is an isolation
which will intensify their sense of
'sin,' enforcing still further the
impulse to critical self-examination
and righteous obedience to divine
Among Solomon's many wives
was a princess of Egypt. Fisher
makes Khate the most interesting
character of the novel. Homely, but
possessing a magnetic intelligence,
grace and level-headedness, she is
the king's refuge and joy - and the
source of much of his wise justice.
Spring 2001

Khate personifies the 'female' input
which the Hebrews so sorely lack,
the lost mother figure. And she represents the influence of Egypt on the
development of Hebrew thought.
Some scholars maintain that the
world's first genuine expression of
monotheism arose from Akhnaton,
that mystic Pharaoh a century or so
before the traditional date of the
Exodus who declared that Aten was
the sole deity. Though his religious
revolution was crushed following his
death, certain of its ideas survived
and produced a stream of thought
represented by Khate's declaration
that God "is in all things, a force for
good,the spirit of compassion, mercy,
forgiveness ... " She tells Solomon
that God is both male and female,
hates war and doesn't want men to
kill one another. God constitutes
Love, precisely because of this
embodiment of the union of both
sexes. The question of how great a
role such early ideas from Egypt
played in the evolution of Jewish
monotheism as well as in the whole
of ancient-world religious and ethical thought (including that of
Greece), is a thorny but fascinating
The Valley of Vision is a novel
brimming with ideas, refreshing in
its unabashed originality and fearless examination of sacrosanct preconceptions. Its content, in 1951, was
more than controversial. It was a
denial, such as no previous fiction
writer had had the audacity to do, of
some of the most cherished beliefs in
contemporary society: the purity of
early Jewish monotheism and the
integrity of the biblical record. Some
of the first reviews were scathing in
their denunciation. Old Testament
scholars had long been making the
same denial, but they were not working in the medium of popular fiction.
They had shown that the early
Israelites were not monotheistic, and
had borrowed much from the
Canaanite surroundings to produce
the Jewish religion of later times.
Solomon himself set up temples to
other gods besides Yahweh, and even
something as simple as the existence
American Atheist

of Hebrew names containing the element -baal indicates a deference to
Canaanite deities.
The novel examines topics like
the origins of Passover and the
Sabbath, circumcision, human and
animal sacrifice. The Israelites as
well as the Canaanites are known to
have offered human sacrifice of firstborn children (as part of the 'first
fruits') to their gods, and although
later prophets did their best to suppress the practice, it continued intermittently right up to the eve of the
Exile. Fisher strives to present a picture of the ethical atmosphere of the
age. There was no belief in life after
death, no punishment for sins in
another world, no resurrection.
Religion was largely a matter of ritual, motivated by fear of the gods,
with little or no moral basis. The
idea that sin against a neighbor was
also a sin against God was as yet
As for Solomon himself, most of
the biblical account is invention and
embellishment, an attempt by later
writers to produce a glorious past to
equal the other great nations of the
Near East. The numbers of his
wives, his sacrifices, the details of his
riches and his victories in war are
beyond possibility. Israel had neither
such population nor resources. Even
the famous judgment later attributed to him as an example of his wisdom, the identification of the disputed baby's real mother, was in circulation in most of the countries of the
East long before Solomon's time.
That he was not a benevolent ruler is
likely: crushing taxes and the forced
draft of thousands of laborers to
carry out his projects are sufficient
attestation; that he was morally
unscrupulous is borne out even by
the biblical record. Yet, as Fisher
points out, all kings of the time were
despots, cruel and barbarous, and in
an ethically primitive age they had
few checks on their greed and ambitions save those imposed by their
enemies. But Fisher chooses to
accentuate the humanity that must
have been in Solomon to some
degree. He may indeed have had
Parsippany, New Jersey

something of the wry cynicism
Fisher gives him, for Israel at this
time would have been a difficult land
to rule in the face of powerful neighbors, fanatical hostility from within,
and the frictions generated by rival
religious tendencies in society.
Fisher concludes his appended
Notes and Commentary to The
Valley of Vision (a practice he had
begun in the previous novel to provide scholarly support for his portrayals) with these observations:
Solomon "precipitated the struggle
between kings and prophets that
was to rend Israel for the better part
of a thousand years, and leave its
indelible mark on the institutions,
customs and religions of the western
world... The rigid way triumphed
under the Maccabees; and the
Christians in taking over so much of
Judaism gave a 'desert psychology' to
agricultural peoples. ... The great
significance of Solomon in world history can be formulated in the question: What would the world be like
today if Ahijah had lost and Solomon
had won?"

Abelard Press, New York,
1952 (448 pages)
The conflict between Solomon
and Ahijah in The Valley of Vision
has now progressed to the stage of
conflict between whole cultures. The
great philosophical rivalry of the
ancient world was between Greek
and Jew, philosophy and scripture,
enthroned the ultimate capacity of
the human mind, the other the glory
and leadership of a god. Military conflict came with the Maccabean uprising which began in 167 BeE when
Antiochus IV, Seleucid king of Syria
(which included Judea), tried to suppress the practice of the Jewish religion. But while this is often presented as a war of liberation from foreign
oppression - it resulted in an indeSpring 2001

pendent Jewish state which lasted a
century - it can also be seen as a
civil war among the Jews themselves. For many of the Jews of the
time had adopted the Greek outlook
and way oflife and collaborated with
the Seleucids in their attempt to
suppress the revolt.
Fisher illuminates the sharp
division in Jewish society. On the one
hand stood the community of the
Pious, with their adherence to the
Torah (the first five books of the
Hebrew bible, embodying the Mosaic
Law) and their antagonism toward
any assimilation with non-Jewish
culture. Against them stood those
Hellenized Jews who believed that
Greek civilization was the highest of
humanity's achievements and the
path of the future. For them, their
countrymen's fanatical devotion to
ancient, obscure writings created an
oppressive, ritual-ridden society, a
kind of national insanity. It stood in
the way of progress. As one Greek
observer in the novel expresses it:
"Intelligence must be free, but your
people have set everything down in
writing. It is sacred, infallible and
changeless. How do you think you
can progress now that you have sentenced yourselves to the surmises
and guesses and riddles of your
ancestors?" (The same question, of
course, can be addressed to fundamentalists
of all faiths today.)
Moreover, they feared that Israel
would never enter the community of
nations. "All other peoples hate us
for our pretensions and arrogance,
and would destroy us root and
Those fighting for their religious
liberty felt themselves to be defenders of a higher truth than the earthbound Greeks could ever achieve.
"Hellas loves beauty but Israel loves
righteousness." They were convinced
that the Jews were God's chosen
instrument: their suffering was a
sacrificial offering that would move
other nations to moral repentance
and lead them to accept Israel's God.
Such beliefs were rejected by the
Hellenized community as madness
and the height of self-glorification.
Page 45

At the center of the story stand
Philemon and Judith - Greek man
and Jewish woman - a pair of 'starcrossed' lovers caught up in the
philosophical debate and the fratricidal bloodletting. The divided community is represented by Reuben, the
Jew converted to the Greek vision of
freedom and inquiry, and Hosah, the
scholar whose life is spent in meticulous observance of prescribed conduct and a search to glean true
meaning from the sacred writings.
Both are fanatics - and bitter enemies. Philemon stands between
them trying to arbitrate, to see the
positive in both positions. He is a
devotee of Greek philosophy, but he
nevertheless believes that Hosah's
devotion to something higher than
himself, even were it untrue, can be
ennobling and help harmonize the
disorder of the world. Job, Hosea,
and the poetry of the Psalms he considers among mankind's greatest
writings. Desperately
argues for the right of both sides to
go their own way.
This is one of Fisher's conclusions in this novel: that the two
world views are fundamentally irreconcilable. Society,if it does not follow
one way or the other, will live in an
uneasy truce between the conflicting
pulls in its midst. Fisher points out
that with the triumph of the
Maccabees the Jews firmly chose
their particular direction, one that
was inherited by Christianity and
became the dominant philosophy of
the western world until modern
This novel contains more 'history'
than any other in the series, for it
follows in often exciting style the
course of the Maccabean revolt, with
its many battles in the rugged valleys and deserts of Judea. At the
same time it is a true novel of ideas,
and its characters spend a great deal
of time discussing them. Philemon,
Judith, and others may come uncomfortably close to losing their genuineness in the author's need to express
the various viewpoints, but Fisher
succeeds in keeping them human
and sympathetic because of the
Page 46

intense emotion which invests all
and Joshua of the next novel, the
their actions and beliefs, and
popular mind would largely adopt
because the clash of outlooks is
the latter.) To these visions Arniel
brought home so vividly to the reader
adds new beliefs about a resurrecthat we are caught up in seeing it as
tion of the body, about angels, and
a truly fundamental and historyabout a great upheaval on earth soon
shaping question.
to occur.
There are two figures in the
All these ideas entered the broad
swirl of religious thought inhabiting
novel which for Fisher represent the
two furthest poles in the opposition Judea over the next two centuries
of Greek and Jew. One was long dead
and passed, with important transforat the time of the Maccabees, but he
mations, into early Christianity.
is Philemon's guiding spirit: the
Such visionaries as Arniel created a
Hellenistic philosopher Epicurus
'mythical future' toward which peo(341-271). He epitomized the Greek
ple's thoughts and expectations now
tendency toward a realistic outlook turned. However, the delaying of this
on the world: rely on the evidence of Apocalypse (for it never actually
your senses, he said; eliminate any
came) laid an additional emphasis
on the Jewish sense of 'sin.' God's
belief that gods or supernatural
forces care about or intervene in the
withholding of these miraculous
affairs of the world and you free events could only be due to the
yourself from fear and superstition.
people's continuing
This together with a moderate, even
From this it was only a short step which the Christians took - to enviaustere lifestyle brings tranquillity
and thus happiness. In such an
sioning the messiah himself as a sacatmosphere is human progress most
rificial atoning figure, suffering for
likely to be achieved.
the sins of all people, which would
At the other end of the pole allow the new age to be ushered in.
stands the seer-sage Arniel, in direct
The latter was an idea which ultiline from the prophets Ahijah and
mately derived, through channels
Yescha. From Arniel's fevered medi- which will become more evident in
the following two novels, from the
tations comes the Book of Daniel,
vision which
world of Yescha and The Divine
became one of the most influential of Passion. ~
the world's writ- r-------------------------,
ings by bringing
messianism to full
growth. Amiel envisions a coming
king who will lead
Israel to dominance over all the
of the
world. He imagines many signs
and characteristics of this messiah, but he is
what face he will
present: will he be
the lowly symbol
of Israel as the ~If"
"suffering servant"
or a conquering
the time of Arniel L....Spring 2001


American Atheist

Lucretius and the

Ungodly Gods
Gary Sloan
to Madalyn
O'Hair, who admired Lucretius


an Atheist.
Apparently, he wasn't - not exactly but he was the next best thing. His
gods didn't do much of anything
except luxuriate in their own contentment. They didn't create the universe, stage-manage events, answer
prayers, reward virtue, punish vice,
inspire sacred texts, impregnate virgins, or cruise the cosmos. They had
none of the "omni" attributes dear to
theologians. They were limited in
knowledge, power, and inventiveness. They had a fixed, circumscribed
whereabouts. Though Lucretius
doesn't offer a portrait, they were
corporeal beings.
They dwelt between worlds
ensconced in a
Shangri-la of perpetual stasis. They
never felt wanderlust. They lived
lives of ceaseless tranquillity and
repose, unruffled by crass desires
and base emotions. They were inviolably shielded from the thousand
shocks, natural and unnatural, terrestrial flesh is heir to. In his poem
"Lucretius," Alfred Lord Tennyson
describes their idyllic abode:
(BeE) Roman philosopher-poet,

Gary Sloan is a retired English
professor who lives in Ruston,
Louisiana. He is a frequent contributor to freethought publications, including American Atheist.
He can be e-mailed at sloangg@
Parsippany, New Jersey

The Gods, who haunt
The lucid interspace of world
and world,
Where never creeps a cloud,
or moves a wind,
Nor ever falls the least white
star of snow,
Nor ever lowest roll ofthunder moans,
Nor sound of human sorrow
mounts to mar
Their sacred and everlasting
Lucretius scoffed at the anthropocentric fantasy that the gods created the earth for humans. The terrain and climate were woefully
inhospitable, unkind to our mortalities (as Herman Melville might say):
"Of all that the sky covers with its
mighty expanse, a great part is possessed by mountains and forests full
of wild beasts, rocks and marshes,
and seas that keep the lands far
apart. Much of this land is barred to
mortals by scorching heat and constant frost. Of the land that is left,
nature would cover it with brambles
except that man's power resists. He
groans over the stout mattock for his
very life and must cleave the soil
with the pressure of the plow."
Equally implausible was the
proposition that the gods created us
(unless we are prepared to concede
that they are sadists or bunglers).
Look at the plight of infants: "The
child, like a sailor cast forth by the
cruel waves, lies naked upon the
ground, speechless, in need of every
kind of vital support, as soon as
nature has spilt him forth with
throes from his mother's womb into
the regions of light, and he fills all
around with doleful wailings - as is
Spring 2001

just, seeing that so much trouble
awaits him in life."
Other species have a better
claim than we to terrestrial primacy:
"The diverse flocks, herds and wild
creatures grow.They need no rattles,
none of them wants to hear the coaxing and broken baby-talk of the
foster-nurse, they seek no change of
raiment according to the temperature of the season, they need no
weapons, no lofty walls to protect
their own. For them, the earth herself brings forth all they want in
Besides, why would the gods create us? We can do nothing for them:
''What largess of beneficence could
our gratitude bestow upon beings
immortal and blessed, that they
should effect anything for our sake?
Or what novelty could entice those
who were tranquil before to desire a
change in their former life! For it is
evident that he must rejoice in new
things who is offended with the old.
But when one has had no annoyance
in the past, enjoying a life of happiness, what could kindle a love of novelty in such a one?"
Nor do the gods confer a beneficence on us. Had our species never
existed, we would be none the worse:
"What evil had there been for us had
we not been made? He who has
never tasted the love of life, never
been enrolled in the lists, how does it
hurt him never to have been made?"
More, since all knowledge is grounded in experience, how could the gods
even conceive of beings like us?
"Whence was a pattern for making
things first implanted in the gods, or
even a conception of mankind, so as
to know what they wished to make
and see it in the mind's eye?"
Page 47

Though we weren't created by
gods, we should, since we are here,
contemplate their serenity and selfcontainment. When we have banished irrational fears, we "have the
strength to receive with tranquil
peace of spirit the images carried to
men's minds from the gods' holy bodies." These images were transmitted
by finely attenuated particles emanating in all directions from the
corpora diuina.
believed these sequestered gods
existed or was merely deferring to
Epicurus (341-270 BeE), the Greek
philosopher from whom he derived
the concept, is hard to say. In De
Rerum Natura ('On the Nature of
expounds the Epicurean
worldview, wrapping his
mentor's teachings in the
finer breath of Latin hexameters. Perhaps he found
the Epicurean gods poetically serviceable even if
not altogether plausible.
At any rate, he was vastly
more concerned with what
the gods aren't than what
they are.
Above all, the gods
didn't create or intervene
in the operation of the
universe. Nature is selfsufficient, a law unto herself. She is "free and rid of
proud masters, herself
doing all of her own
accord, without the help of
the gods." We needn't
worry that capricious or
inept gods will undo the
orderly motions of the
heavens: "When we look
upwards to the celestial
regions of the great firmament, to the ether studded
when we think ofthe ways
of sun and moon, into our
hearts already crushed
with other woes a new
anxious care awakening
begins to lift up its head,
whether we have to do
Page 48

with some immeasurable power of
the gods, able to make the bright
stars revolve with different movements. For it shakes the mind with
doubt to find no answer to the question whether the walls of the world
are able to endure the strain of restless motion."
Nor should we fear that the gods
will punish us, either here or hereafter. That pernicious supposition
generates mind-crippling fear of
death and natural
Lightning, tempests, earthquakes,
and disease become agents of divine
retribution. When the earth gapes,
the thunder rolls, or the plague
rages, even the educated may "revert
to the old superstitions and take to

themselves cruel taskmasters, whom
the poor wretches believe to be
omnipotent, ignorant of what can be
and what cannot, of how the power of
each thing has been limited and its
boundary firmly fixed." As the wind
blows and the waves mount, even the
doughty warrior may cower like a
frightened child: "When the supreme
violence of a furious wind upon the
sea sweeps over the waters the chief
admiral of a fleet along with his
mighty legions, does he not crave the
gods' peace with vows and in his
panic seek with prayers the peace of
the winds and favoring breezes." All
for naught: "Nonetheless, he is
caught up in the furious hurricane
and driven upon the shoals of death."

Spring 2001

American Atheist

Thunder and lightning bring
whole nations to heel, in collective
prostration for sins real or imagined:
''Whose mind does not shrink with
fear of the gods, whose limbs do not
crawl with terror, when the scorched
earth quakes with the quivering
shocks of a thunderbolt and rumblings run through the mighty sky?
Do not nations and peoples tremble,
do not proud kings huddle up smitten with fear, lest for some base deed
or proud word the solemn time of
punishment be now at hand?"
Lucretius shows the absurdity of
such fears. Take the thunderbolt. If
its purpose is to punish wrongdoers,
why does it strike the innocent? Why
does it strike where no one is? ("Are
the gods practicing their arms and
strengthening their muscles?") Why
do the gods give their target advance
warning by thundering from every
direction? Why, to zap one victim, do
they shoot everywhere? Why do they
shatter their own temples and statues?
Lucretius saw the underworld as
a fiendish projection of earthly travails: "Assuredly whatsoever things
are fabled to exist in deep Acheron
[Hades], these all exist in this life.
There is no wretched Tantalus, fearing the great rock that hangs over
him in the air and frozen with vain
terror. Rather, it is in this life that
fear of the gods oppresses mortals
without cause, and the rock they fear
is any that chance may bring."
When fortune smiles, the educated deride the concept of eternal punishment. The soul, they say, is made
of "blood or air." It must die with the
body. To see what they really think,
"scrutinize them in danger or peril."
The bravado crumbles: "Driven from
their native land and banished far
from the sight of men, stained with
some disgraceful charge, afflicted
with all tribulations, they yet live.
And in spite of all, wherever the
wretches go they sacrifice to their
ancestors and send down oblations
to the departed ghosts, eagerly
directing their minds to superstition."
Parsippany, New Jersey

Lucretius maintained that the
soul, like the body, consists of material particles, albeit of a finer sort.
What he called the soul (or spirit) we
might call sensation or perception.
Thought, or reflection, he called
mind, effected by a third class of particles. Soul, mind, and body were,
via the complex interaction of their
particles, mutually interdependent.
What affected the one affected the
other two. A hard blow to the body
stunned the mind and soul. Mental
depression dulled sensation and
weakened the body. When a person
died, the three types of particles
were irremediably dissevered and
scattered. Every particle went its
separate way, never again to link up
with the others in the configuration
that generated the selfhood of the
deceased. Body, mind, and soul were
thus mortal. The particles themselves, on the other hand, were
immortal, forever reassembling to
create new entities, both animate
and inanimate. (Lucretius doesn't
explain how the constituent particles
of the "immortal" gods retain permanent cohesion, another hint he was
not keenly interested
in the
Epicurean deities.)
Lucretius argued that fear of
death springs from misapprehensions about eternal oblivion. When
people think of themselves dead,
they instinctively imagine they will
retain bodily sensations: "They do
not see that in real death there will
be no other self that lives to bewail
the perished self or stands by to feel
pain that they lie there lacerated,
burning, or mauled by wild beasts."
People imagine they will miss life's
pleasures, forgetting that "no longer
will any desires possess them." What
happens after we die will concern us
no more than what happened before
we were born:
As in time past we felt no distress while from all quarters the
Carthaginians were coming to the
conflict, when the whole world, shaken by the terrifying tumult of war,
shivered and quaked under the lofty
and breezy heaven, and was in doubt
Spring 2001

under which domination all men
were destined to fall by land and sea
[he refers to the Punic Wars]; so, when
we shall no longer be, when the parting shall have come about between
body and spirit from which we are
compacted into one whole, then nothing at all will be able to happen to us,
who will then no longer be, or to
make us feel, not if earth be commingled with sea and sky.

As the American poet Philip
Freneau said in a similar vein: "If
nothing once, you nothing lose / For
when you die you are the same."
For Lucretius, immortality was
reserved for atoms and the void,
empty space both within and
between atoms. The duo had always
existed and always must. Without a
void, the atoms would have nowhere
to move, and without movement they
couldn't do anything. Atoms were
indestructible and indivisible. Were
they infinitely divisible, all macroscopic phenomena would long ago
have ceased to exist. Disintegrating
bodies would decompose forever.
Particles would never reconstitute
themselves to form new entities. The
universe would fizzle into virtual
nothingness. And nothing can come
of nothing - "Nil ex nihilo fit."
Like his Greek predecessor
Democritus, Lucretius was a thoroughgoing materialist.
in the universe - all objects, all
events, including those called mental
and spiritual - is a manifestation of
the interaction of particles. Ultimately, nothing exists but atoms and
the void (corpora et inane). There is
no ghost in the machine. Just as the
letters of an alphabet can be variously ordered to create an infinite
number of words, so diverse combinations of atoms produce an inexhaustible supply of entities. The
movement of the atoms is entirely
behest. No surreptitious teleological
game is afoot. God is a superfluous
Certainly it was no design of the
[atoms] to place
themselves in a particular order, nor
Page 49

did they decide what motions each
should have. But atoms were struck
with blows in many ways and carried along by their own weight from
infinite times up to the present.
They have been accustomed to move
and to meet in all manner of ways.
For this reason, it came to pass that
being spread abroad through a vast
time and trying every sort of combination and motion, at length those
come together that produce great
things, like earth and sea and sky
and the generation of living creatures.

Lucretius wasn't a strict determinist. He attributed to the particles
that constitute the mind unpredictable swerves, causeless motions,
introduced to preserve autonomous
volitions in animals, human and
nonhuman: "Whence comes this free
will in living creatures all over the
world? Whence is this will wrested
from the fates by which we proceed
whither pleasure leads each, swerving our [particle] motions not at
fixed times and fixed places, but just
where our mind has taken us?

Page 50

Undoubtedly it is our wills that
begin these things, and from the will
movements go rippling through the
(It seems not to have
occurred to Lucretius that people
tend to be less concerned with
whether their volitions have causes
than whether they can act on the
volitions, come by them how they
may.) Although the concept of the
swerve may sound gratuitous, it has
some affinities with quantum theories of atomic behavior.
Lucretius contended that belief
in gods - godly gods - stemmed from
human ignorance and indolence. By
treating gods as the causal agents of
natural processes, people spared
themselves the labor of seeking the
real causes: "They observed how the
array of heaven and the various seasons of the year come round in due
order and could not discover by what
all that
came about.
Therefore, their refuge was to leave
all in the hands of the gods and to
suppose that by their nod all things
were done."Humans placed the gods'
abode in the sky because it was the

Spring 2001

locus of impressive and intimidating
phenomena: "Through the sky the
moon revolves, the solemn stars of
night, heaven's night-wandering
torches and flying flames, clouds and
sun, rain and snow,winds, lightnings
and hail, rapid roarings and great
threatening rumbles of thunder."
The ascription of causal efficacy
to the gods was a mistake for which
humans paid dearly: "0 unhappy
race of mankind, to ascribe such
doings to the gods and to attribute to
them bitter wrath as well! What
groans did we then create for ourselves, what wounds for us, what
tears for generations to come!"
Having created the celestial potentates, people then ignominiously
sought to placate them with feckless
rituals and sacrifices: "It is no piety
to show oneself often with covered
head, turning towards a stone and
approaching every altar, none to fall
prostrate upon the ground and to
spread open the palms before
shrines of the gods, none to sprinkle
altars with the blood of beasts in
showers and to link vow to vow."

American Atheist

True piety, according to Lucretius,
consists in the ability "to survey all
things with tranquil mind." Observe
closely and reason carefully, he
advises. Be prepared to discard cherished presuppositions and to defend
novel premises: "Forbear to spew out
reason from your mind, but rather
ponder everything with keen judgment; and if it seems true, own yourself vanquished, but, if it is false,
gird up your loins to fight."
Lucretius' espousal of materialism, personal extinction, and reclusive gods earned him the lasting
enmity of the Christian church. He
was roundly stigmatized. Embellishing an ancient, unsubstantiated
rumor, St. Jerome prated that the
poet "was driven mad by a love
potion, composed books in the intervals of insanity, and committed suicide in his forty-fourth year." He
threw in for good measure that
Cicero had to correct the poet's
botched ravings. Among his own, the
great poets, Lucretius has fared well.
He has stirred the collective poetic
imagination of the West. Echoes of
De Rerum Natura can be found in
Virgil, Ovid, Shakespeare, Milton,
Wordsworth, Arnold, Tennyson, and
other luminous legatees.
In Lucretius, as in all genius,
there was some trash (erroneous
information, untenable hypotheses,
wild surmises), but his conviction
that the universe can be understood
without recourse to supernatural
agencies put him so far ahead of his
time that many still haven't caught
up. If he had some strange gods, at
least he didn't go whoring after

From On the Nature of Things, Book III
No single thing abides; but all things flow.
Fragment to fragment clings - the things thus grow
Until we know and name them. By degrees
They melt, and are no more the things we know.
Globed from the atoms falling slow or swift
I see the suns, I see the systems lift
Their forms; and even the systems and the suns
Shall go back slowly to the eternal drift.
Thou too, oh earth - thine empires, lands, and seas Least, with thy stars, of all the galaxies,
Globed from the drift like these, like these thou too
Shalt go. Thou are going, hour by hour, like these.
Nothing abides. Thy seas in delicate haze
Go off; those mooned sands forsake their place;
And where they are, shall other seas in turn
Mow with their scythes of whiteness other bays ....
The seeds that once were we take flight and fly,
Winnowed to earth, or whirled along the sky,
Not lost but disunited. Life lives on.
It is the lives, the lives, the lives, that die.
They go beyond recapture and recall,
Lost in the all-indissoluble All: Gone like the rainbow from the fountain's foam,
Gone like the spindrift shuddering down the squall.
Flakes of the water, on the waters cease!
Soul of the body, melt and sleep like these.
Atoms to Atoms - weariness to rest Ashes to ashes - hopes and fears to peace!

o Science, lift aloud thy voice that stills
The pulse of fear, and through the conscience thrills Thrills through the conscience with the news of peace How beautiful thy feet are on the hills!

Parsippany, New Jersey

Winter 2000-2001


w: H.


Page 51


uring Robin Murray-O'Hair's
tenure as editor of American
Atheist, a number of engaging
"departments" were added to the regular
format ofthe magazine. One ofthese was
called "Talking Back" and solicited readers and staff to explain how they answer
the various challenges and questions
posed to Atheists by believers. Readers
were promised "scholarly, tart, humorous, short, belligerent, or fun-poking
answers." Typical answers were less
than two hundred words.
In 1996, when Frank Zindler
restored publication of American Atheist
after Robin's death in 1995, it was not
possible immediately to recreate the various departments of the magazine that
his predecessor had created. Due to
crises that threatened the extinction of
American Atheists Inc. itself, publication
of the journal had been halted already
several years before the abduction and
murder of the Murray-O'Hair family. The
active link between editor and readers
had been broken, and the materials
remaining in the editorial offices in
Austin, Texas, were insufficient for
immediate resumption of "Talking Back"
and the other departments. Following
the theft of nearly the entire financial
assets of American Atheists Inc., the fact
that any magazine at all could be resurrected was nothing short of "an Atheist
miracle." The stalwarts who stood by the
organization and supported it financially
during the dark days after the disappearance of the Murray-O'Hair family when no one knew they had been murdered - deserve not only the heart-felt
thanks of the staff and officers of
American Atheists Inc., but also the gratitude of present readers, who would have
no American Atheist to read at all had it
not been for the monetary mercies of
those loyal Atheists.
It now seems possible to reestablish
at least some of the departments that
Robin Murray-O'Hair created, and we
would like to begin by soliciting readers'
responses to questions suitable for discussion in "Talking Back." E-mail contributions can be sent to <editoriiatheists.
org». Hard copy can be snail-mailed to:
Talking Back, American Atheist Press,
PO Box 5733, Parsippany, NJ 07054.
Page 52

should be under 200
words. Please include the full name,
address, phone number, and onesentence biographical description of the

Questions and Challenges
for "Talking Back"

What is Atheism?
Prove there isn't a god.
How did you get here?
How did life originate?
What started the universe?
If evolution is real, how come monkeys aren't evolving into human
7. Atheism is a religion.
8. You have faith and beliefs just like
religious people: you have faith in
9. How does it hurt you to have "In God
We Trust" on your money?
10. How does it hurt you to have prayers
in the schools? You can just not pray
when everyone else is praying.
11. Why are you always insulting religious people and complaining about
12. Atheism is a negative position.
13. Show me where the Atheist hospitals
and orphanages are.
14. Your organization is tax exempt. So
why criticize churches for not paying
tax? (American Atheists is classified
as a tax-exempt, educational
15. If you would accept Jesus Christ into
your heart, your whole life would be
16. God bless you! (In reply to a sneeze)
17. Where will you go when you die?
18. What happens to your soul when you
19. Why don't you go back to Russia?
20. America is a Christian nation.
21. There's no "separation of state and
.church" in the First Amendment.
22. If you're right about god, when we
both die we both just die. But if I'm
right, then when I die I go to heaven
and you go to hell. So why not believe
in god, just in case?
23. The universe must have a cause and
that cause is god.
24. Look at the beauty of the world
Spring 2001

around you, the plants, the sky, the
birds. A planning intelligence must
have been behind it all.
25. I'll pray for you.
26. How can you have any ethics if you
don't believe in god?
27. If people didn't have religion, they
would rape, murder, and steal at
every opportunity.
28. Why don't you believe in god?
29. What made you turn from god?
30. Why did you take prayers out of the
31. You'll burn in hell!
32. Jesus died for you.
33. What do you think about reincarnation?
34. If you don't believe in god, why are
you fighting against him?
35. Are all Atheists Satanists?
36. What is the purpose of our existence,
ifthere is no god?
37. The founding fathers believed in god
and founded this nation on
38. The Ten Commandments are the
foundation of the legal system of this
39. Jesus loves you.
40. God loves you.
41. What's wrong with having a moment
of silence in the public schools?
42. Isn't it only fair to teach both theories
of the origin of life in the public
schools: creation science and evolution theory?
43. Well, I'm an agnostic because you
can't prove there is no god.
44. Atheism is a dogmatic position;
agnosticism is not.
45. If you reject god, do you worship the
46. Separation of state and church does
not mean separation of religion and
47. Where did you come from?
48. What would you put in religion's
49. Why are you an Atheist?
50. There are no Atheists in foxholes.
51. What about near-death experiences?
Aren't they evidence of an after-life?
52. What's the difference between an
Atheist and an Agnostic?
53. What's stopping you from killing
American Atheist



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