Madalyn’s Message

What’s happened to Madalyn Murray O’Hair, America’s most famous atheist? Nobody knows for certain, but the evidence suggests that she’s in New Zealand, living off the money she stole from her supporters. When the news of O’Hair’s disappearance became public, I expect many Christians couldn’t resist a cynical smile. For three decades we have had to listen to O’Hair accuse Christians of every crime in the book—for being responsible for most of the world’s problems. Following O’Hair’s mysterious disappearance—not to mention all that money—Christians could hardly be blamed for calling Madalyn a hypocrite. Well, Madalyn Murray O’Hair may be a crook—but she’s no hypocrite. In stealing her follower’s money, she simply followed her own philosophical beliefs to their logical conclusion. And that’s a telling commentary in itself. Americans first became acquainted with O’Hair’s beliefs in 1963 when she became the plaintiff in the famous Abingdon case—the decision in which the Supreme Court outlawed prayer in public schools. In the aftermath of the ruling, O’Hair became the public face of American atheism, a role she relished. She loved conflict and didn’t even pretend to be tolerant of anyone’s religious beliefs. I experienced her combative style firsthand a number of years ago when O’Hair and I debated the role of religion and the truth of Christianity on the David Frost Show. O’Hair craftily attacked Christianity, using Scripture passages out of context and subtly rearranging words to change their meaning. She made it clear that she believed people would be far better off without the “oppression” of Christianity. In response, I argued that the best guarantor of human decency is belief in a transcendent God who will judge our actions. O’Hair not only scoffed, she made obnoxious gestures at me while I was speaking and she was off-camera. She was vicious afterward when I told her that I was praying for her. But it turned out O’Hair harbored her own secret religious beliefs: She worshipped at the altar of the almighty dollar. Mimi Schwartz, writing in Vanity Fair, described O’Hair’s motivation as the desire “to acquire wealth, comfort, and power... to leverage her way out of an empty life filled with anger and hate.” Over the years, O’Hair set up several atheist organizations not to promote atheism but, Schwartz said, “to milk donors.” O’Hair’s apparent actions beautifully illustrate the point I made on David Frost’s show: that the best assurance we have of human integrity is belief in a God who will ultimately judge us. Since the Enlightenment, people have said that we can get rid of God and still have an objective basis for morality—that we could keep a rational, healthy social order. That’s the kind of atheism O’Hair propounded. But her own life shows what really happens when you get rid of God. There’s no basis for ethics. The absence of the fear of God removes any incentive for right living. With no fear of judgment, what is there to stop us from acting on our worst impulses? America’s most famous atheist would hate me for saying this, but she has become a perfect illustration of our culture’s need for the self-discipline of religious faith. When she disappeared down under with thousands, perhaps millions, of dollars in other people’s money, she became Exhibit A in the case for Christianity.


Chuck Colson



  • Facebook Icon in Gold
  • Twitter Icon in Gold
  • LinkedIn Icon in Gold

Sign up for the Daily Commentary