My Mother, Madalyn Murray O’Hair, and Me

That SNL skit isn’t wrong; I wish Adele could fix my Thanksgiving angst.

Madalyn Murray O’Hair came up. For those not in the know, she’s a dead atheist activist who won a Supreme Court case that banned  school sponsored Bible readings, Murray V. Curlett. She was the founder and president of American Atheists. She, along with her son and granddaughter, were brutally murdered.

My mom thinks it’s great that this woman was, “Sliced up, like she deserved.”

I said the first thing that came to mind, “That is disgusting.”

If I had different DNA, she’d want me dead because of what I believe.

A few weeks ago when my hometown received a complaint from the Freedom From Religion Foundation. I could tell something rough was coming. I wrote an piece for my opinion column at the Daily Mississippian and it got a larger response that I ever expect.

People in Collins saw it. Some reached out to my mother. Some think I’m the one who issued the complaint.

I didn’t, but it doesn’t matter even if I did.  In a way, its better everyone thinks I did it. I’m fine being the big bad long-distance villain that they can hate but not touch. I’ve got a bit of a martyr complex anyway.

I have a theory about why people get so angry at non-believers. In my mind, Islam, Christianity, Hinduism, etc. are all on equal footing. They are just various religious traditions. Islam and Christianity are sort of similar because they’re Abrahamic monotheisms, etc. etc.

As a student of religions, in my academic work it isn’t my job to make judgment calls on the morality of different faiths. I have no hierarchy of faiths in my mind. I have a personal favorite, but I am taught to not make moral judgments. As religious studies scholars, that isn’t our job.

To many believers, to say that Islam and Christianity are equal isn’t saying: “These are both religions and there isn’t a hierarchy.” It says: “Christianity is lesser because it’s equal to something. If it’s not on top, you hate it.”

That’s why I keep getting accused of hating Christianity. Because I don’t find it the most superior religion, because I grant it no special privilege in my heart or mind, I must hate it.

When the FFRF reprinted my article on their Facebook page, I told her about it. I’m at the stage of my life where I’ve realized my mother will probably get mad anyway, and I might as well make her made with my achievements. I received more support than I ever expected from her: “I’m glad your writing is being recognized, I just wish it were something better.” She eventually asked what the “evil people” were going to do with my writing next.

I don’t want to call my mother evil, but she has some cruel, disturbing opinions right now. She  is joyful at a family’s brutal murder.

My mother went from fairly left wing, to an avid Trump supporter who is going to buy guns this Friday because: “The world is going to hell. It’s coming.” This is the same woman who made my stepdad sell his gun a few years ago because she thought it was dangerous. This same woman has said she’d take out Obama personally if she could.

Yesterday she told me that she ruined me. For years she told me that I was exceptional, and that I now think I’m better than everyone. I can’t even begin to go into why that statement hurts me so much. I still deal with so much self-hatred, if I think I’m better than everyone, I must truly hate everyone.

To say, “I don’t even know who she is anymore,” is an understatement.

My sister is a kind child. I was a kind child. I try to be a kind adult, but my mother is no longer dealing in kindness or grace.

The same faith she uses to justify her hatred of people is the same faith that supposedly proclaims radical kindness.  That was my favorite thing about Christianity. The idea that, above all else, we owe it to ourselves, God, and humanity to be as kind as possible, even in the face of evil.

What do you say when someone you’re supposed to love and respect reaches this point? What do you do?

Mom may see me as a corrupt sinner who thinks I’m better than everyone. Maybe she’s right; maybe I am just mean and hateful. But at least I don’t revel in people’s death. At least I don’t want to kill our president, or any political person I detest.

I may hate Donald Trump, but I would never, ever wish pain or death on his or his kin.

I may be evil, but at least I’m practicing some of the baseline kindness her Jesus asks her to practice.

4 thoughts on “My Mother, Madalyn Murray O’Hair, and Me

  1. Holly, thank you for writing. This post really resonated with me. I ‘came out’ to my mother earlier this year regarding my non-belief and while that went okay in person, the facebook posts and chain letter emails I still receive say something else. The hateful rhetoric of fundamentalists in general is frightening.


  2. Holly, I love your writing! But I have to ask…why not just cut mom out of your life? She seems incredibly toxic and injurious and I don’t understand how you could want that in your life. Just curious why people put up with that.


    1. She has some good qualities, I swear. They just don’t make for good writing material. The bad qualities are mostly avoided except when I go home sometimes.

      Even if I did decide to cut her out, that would limit my access to my sister, and I cannot risk that–ever.


  3. 73 year old, almost lifelong atheist, from Kansas City. My mother taught Methodist Sunday School in Lacey, Iowa, six miles north of Oskaloosa and I got to her class when I was seven. I had spoken up in earlier classes about things I could not believe but mom did not find out until I was seven in 1949. My brother joined the Marines right after high school in 1958 and left me home on the farm so I bought a notebook and went systematically through the Bible and took notes. I knew mom did not read the Bible with a critical mind like I did but we still had discussions about what it said, I was surprised at how little knowledge she had about the book she had read through numerous times! I worked at an auto assembly plant on the Kansas side of Kansas City and was invited into a Christian study group but was expelled on Genesis 3! About a dozen years later I was invited in another saying they were open minded and would not kick me out. Well I was kicked out at Genesis 26! I have helped maintain numerous freethought and atheist type groups in the city for over 40 years. The internet really allowed our groups to take off and expand. Read about you in Freethouight Today. I have an anonymity in the city that allows me a freedom that you and many others do not enjoy. Things are changing, but like most things, slowly! I have lived through a lot of changes ! Another happy atheist! All my days are good!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s