A few days back, apollyon911 made a great point:
I find ‘ethical’ atheists to be ethical theoretically but not practically (there is no motivation to ethical if it isn’t in one’s interests).
Indeed. As many of us know, Gnus can write paragraph after paragraph after paragraph about atheistic morality. They have all sorts of arguments about why we should be moral. But when it’s time to move beyond winning internet debates and actually begin behaving in the real world, we have seen many Gnu atheists have some very serious problems: See here, here, and here, for example.
But what about the first Gnu, Madalyn Murray O’Hair? She too could talk about ethical theories with the best of them. But how did this translate into living in the real world?
Let’s have a look below the fold:
As Travis, a 50-ish former Army sergeant, stood there reading the note, he felt the anger welling up. He couldn’t say he was surprised that his employers were gone, and by the looks of things, so was his job as a proofreader. He’d been suspicious that the Murray-O’Hairs were up to something ever since he had opened a letter from New Zealand last spring and discovered a bank statement for an account he had never heard of, for almost a million dollars. And this was when Madalyn Murray O’Hair, his cantankerous boss, was always crying the blues about money and warning him that she might not be able to meet payroll.
This is a rare case where the accused killer wrote a book about the alleged victim! That would be Mr. Waters. Mr. Waters wrote a 200-page book describing how the O’Hairs were in New Zealand. Of course, if he were right, he’s going to sell a lot of books, and he’s also going to live. But no one found her there. Here’s the beginning of Mr. Waters’ book. It’s called “Good God, Madalyn”:
“To simply label Madalyn an atheist, racist, homophobe, anti-Semite, etc., would be a tremendous misnomer. To her dubious credit, Madalyn Mays Murray O’Hair is an equal opportunity bigot, whose loathing of humanity is evenly dispensed without partiality.”
I’ll give you a little more. Here’s what he thinks of Jon, paraphrased. Jon was a lisping, anal-retentive, foul-mouthed boor. Robin was a screeching shrew. Madalyn was the unquestioned ruler of all that passed beyond the tinted glass windows of the atheist headquarters. This is truly insightful for a guy who never got past high school, and is a sociopath. Listen:
“She was truly an enigma. She would discuss current events, history, law, art, stamp-collecting, literature, and many other subjects, in a most knowledgeable and scholarly manner. Yet she exhibited a profound and almost sadistic glee in using the vilest of language, often making a casual obscenity take on more revolting overtones simply in the way she phrased her words, and in the tone of voice she used.”
“I found more animosity among the atheist community toward her [than among Christians]. They felt like she had a golden opportunity and had blown it,” Seaman said. “She couldn’t delegate authority, she was mean to her followers, she was unappreciative of their sacrifices. They worked for a pittance because they believed in her cause, and she would curse them and write terrible things about them and fire them.
“As time went on, Madalyn got more and more dictatorial, so she made a huge number of enemies in her own camp.”
She was a “deeply corrupt, depraved human being,” wrote Texas journalist Ted Dracos in an email interview. Dracos researched O’Hair’s life for his 2003 book “UnGodly: The Passions, Torments, and Murder of Atheist Madalyn Murray O’Hair.”
“As I was, a lot of people were attracted to Madalyn’s staunch stances–the goodness of her Jeffersonian ideals when it came to religion and governance,” Dracos continued. “Alas, they were taken in by her. Seduced by her brilliance.”
Despite Madalyn’s claims that American Atheists had 50,000 members, it was tiny (it currently numbers 2,400). Lawyers for other church-and-state separatists say its lawsuits fell primarily into the nuisance category and few prevailed. Yet her acerbic, sometimes erudite weekly radio show ran on 150 stations. The group was still the only national atheist organization in America, with more than 30 state chapters. It threw national conventions, which, although “outrageously expensive,” according to Kerns, were “Madalyn’s moment to shine.” Madalyn, who had known poverty in her younger years, began to enjoy the pleasures that money can buy. American Atheists did a healthy business selling godless books, posters, bumper stickers (HONK IF YOU LOVE MADALYN; APES EVOLVED FROM CREATIONISTS) and “solstice cards” for the areligious at holiday times. Perhaps more important, Madalyn, like many of her clerical foes, became adept at persuading elderly members to leave American Atheists their last bequests. In 1986, when she moved the organization into its current red brick headquarters, she claimed to have paid in cash the full cost of $1 million-plus. Jon Murray, her second son and by then her titular successor, told Wright, who later profiled her in his book Saints and Sinners, “We’re accustomed to good food … All of us have nice clothes. My suits cost a minimum of five, six hundred dollars … We have a nice house in Northwest Hills, nice automobiles … We’ve been around the world three times.”
As Jon was boasting, however, Madalyn’s darker traits — and his own — were taking an increasing toll. They did not restrict their belligerence to the political sphere. “The Murray-O’Hairs,” says a movement observer, “were factories of rancor.” Almost from its inception, American Atheists spawned splinter groups, usually led by people Madalyn had wooed, employed and finally alienated, often viciously and profanely. “She went through people like popcorn,” says Anne Gaylor, who in 1978 became head of the Freedom from Religion Foundation, based in Madison, Wisconsin. “People realized, ‘We can do this on our own,'” says Kerns. Madalyn, without irony, told offenders they had been “excommunicated.”
The combination of many enemies, a flamboyant life-style and a nonprofit tax exemption inevitably resulted in charges of impropriety similar to ones she launched against religious institutions. “Madalyn was sort of the Jimmy Swaggart of the movement,” says Gaylor’s daughter Annie Laurie Gaylor, who is editor of Freethought Today. “I’m not implying criminal activity, but they were always bragging about silk suits and Cadillacs. At the same time the roof was always leaking — and ‘Please send money.'” Madalyn, critics claim, like many charismatic movement leaders, had utterly lost the ability to distinguish between herself and her cause. San Diego attorney Roy Withers investigated and repeatedly deposed the Murray-O’Hairs as part of a lawsuit; he claims the cars and the house on Greystone were inappropriately paid for with corporation money. (Spike Tyson replies, “It’s been disproven over and over again.”)
Making money off atheism. Partying at conventions. Acting like a victim. Making money off atheism. Engaging in brutal, nasty arguments with other atheists. Lying about the size of her group. Making money off atheism. Splintering into different groups. Bad blood. Making money off atheism.
Sounds to me like Madalyn would have fit right in with the modern day Gnu atheist movement. The movement is the same as it has always been.