So i was thinking about Madalyn Murray O'Hair. I bet most of you are too young to remember her (as i scan the demographics, a significant portion of you are in your mid 20s and younger). And a number of you aren't American.
I hope I'm not repeating a post if any of you mentioned O'Hair already.
Madalyn Muarry O'Hair was the founder of American Atheists. Founded in 1963. When this country was knee deep in Christian dogma. Good grief, in my history class I learned people made a huge stink about President Kennedy being Catholic. We're lucky today that people even openly whisper Obama might be agnostic. We're even lucky to talk about there being an Obama. Yes, people have evolved in their thinking over time. Congratulations America!
O'Hair stuck her little neck out long before any of today's atheist superstars tore their shirts open to reveal the blood red A printed on their wifebeaters (http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=wife+beater). Founding an unpopular club? A woman? You want to talk balls? She had a pair as big as my living room. She was the proverbial salmon swimming up stream. Keep in mind, this was a time of mandated daily prayer in PUBLIC schools, cold war, the red scare, communism, patriotism. Pre sexual revolution, pre woman's liberation.
My only memory of O'Hair was watching a TV show about the end of her life featured on a crime program. Unfortunately her death was that heinous, that it was profiled on a forensics show. And yes, back then when I heard "atheist", the automatic word association was satanist. So sue me.
I know this snippet in Wikipedia doesn't do her justice.
She was a tragic figure on too many levels. If you want to draw a comparison between her and today's prominent atheists, you really can't. She wasn't a scientist or a politician, so naturally she had no clout. She was simply a belligerent citizen who filed lawsuits on a Newdow (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michael_Newdow) scale to draw attention.
The more I read about her though in these unofficial snippets on the web, the words sourpuss, coot, and codger come to mind. Leave it to an atheist to be so divisive. According to some reports, she wore "America's most hated woman" as a badge of courage.
It's easy to say this most opinionated and mean person could have benefited from a public relations class or two. If religious deconversion meant living so ostracized a life as Madalyn Murray O'Hair's, there was no point to join her in her mission. Deconvert to become a crotchety alienated badger? Who would gain from that? That doesn't sound as satisfying as everlasting heaven. So it's doubtful she won over any "converts".
If she had lived just a little longer to see the internet flourish, would she have benefited from a presence on the Web? I don't see how the atheist movement could have gained any traction but for the web. There's no unifying holy book for us to point to, no centralizing prophet to throttle people with, no infallible leader to lionize. We are the sum of our parts.
In spite of the serious flaws in personality, what O'Hair did attempt to do was unionize a class of normally isolated citizens. She lived big through a socially conservative time. And I leave her with the atheist creed of critical thinking. I admire O'Hair to be the David facing down the Goliath theists that ran the country. But she was apparently as nutty as a fruitcake. If that's not an atheist "hero" I don't know who is.