The Sad Case of Madalyn Murray O’Hair
Why would anyone deliberately turn his or her back on the truth?
I found myself asking this question many years ago, after an encounter with America’s most famous atheist, Madalyn Murray O’Hair — a story that I tell in my new book, The Good Life. You probably will recall that it was O’Hair who brought the court case that eliminated official public school prayers in 1963.
Mrs. O’Hair and I had been invited to debate the topic of Christianity on David Frost’s NBC variety program. I was aware that she knew the subject well, because she graduated from an evangelical college, and she had a close knowledge of the Scriptures. So I decided it would be a good idea to take my Bible with me. It proved handy when Mrs. O’Hair claimed that the Bible “is a brutal, horrible book.”
I held out my Bible and asked her to read to us the passages she was talking about. She backed away as if I held a weapon. All that she would say was, “It’s full of hate and murder,” even though her refusal to defend her views clearly cost her the sympathy of Frost and the audience.
After the debate, I approached Mrs. O’Hair to tell her that I, like many other Christians, was praying that she would find the truth. She retorted, “Well, I don’t pray, but if I did, I’d pray that you will lose. You will lose, Mr. Colson. You will fail.”
The whole experience left me with the impression of an angry, bitter woman. But I found it interesting that she couldn’t just leave me alone to what she thought was my superstition, or even laugh my views off. My conclusion was that Mrs. O’Hair couldn’t leave me alone because she really did know the truth and had turned her back on it.
Sadly, the story of Madalyn Murray O’Hair’s last days illustrates what can happen when someone deliberately rejects the truth. You may recall that O’Hair and her son and granddaughter were abducted and killed by one of their former employees.
When the family first disappeared, many of those who knew them suspected that they were going into hiding to live off illegally funded foreign accounts. O’Hair’s crooked financial habits were well-known to several of her closest associates. She had surrounded herself with an atmosphere of secrecy and suspicion for so long that few were surprised or concerned by her disappearance. The police did little; the organization she had started carried on as usual. Even after her son eventually filed a missing-persons report, it was years before the dismembered bodies of the Murray-O’Hair family were discovered.
Am I saying that all atheists are doomed to be murdered? No, of course not. What I am saying is that Madalyn Murray O’Hair’s willful defiance of God, and her often-mentioned contempt for her fellow human beings, translated into an abrasive manner and a criminal lifestyle that turned people against her and, in the end, caused her gruesome death.
Madalyn Murray O’Hair once said, “I hope I live my life in such a manner that when I die, someone cares.” Tragically, her own rebellious, selfish will led her to a very different fate. The lesson? It is sin to reject the truth, and when you do, you become yourself the very thing that blocks the truth — that is, evil.
- (This update courtesy of the Breakpoint with Chuck Colson.)