The Forgotten Gnu

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.

http://crimemagazine.com/murder-madalyn-murray-ohair-americas-most-hated-woman-1

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.”
http://www.ffrf.org/legacy/fttoday/1999/December99/maccormack.html

“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.”

http://www.beliefnet.com/Faiths/Secular-Philosophies/Who-Was-Madalyn-Murray-Ohair.aspx?p=2#ixzz24BkEVLa8

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.”)

http://www.positiveatheism.org/writ/ohairs10.htm

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.

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10 Responses to The Forgotten Gnu

  1. apollyon911 says:

    The Soviet Union had a great constitution that protected civil liberties, religious expression and freedom of speech. Clearly what one puts on paper does not necessarily reflect one’s actions.

    The Soviet Union is really the ‘atheist experiment’ where religion (the ‘opiate of the masses’) was done away with. This mirrors the ‘Age of Reason’ ushered in during the French Revolution. We all know the results.

    This should be sufficient to show how atheists act when in power. Noble ideals rarely, if ever, translate into noble action if there is nothing underpinning those same ideals.

    Atheism inevitably unleashes the worst of humanity.

  2. Ah yes, why give a moderate, balanced critique when you could go bonkers in the opposite direction?

    “Atheism inevitably unleashes the worst of humanity.”

    Response: modern northern Europe. The main thing unleashed seems to be watching soccer on Sundays.

  3. Re: the main post — it’s not clear anyone is getting rich off of New Atheism, except people selling books, and you can’t blame people for making money if they write books that are popular.

  4. Crude says:

    Response: modern northern Europe.

    Like Denmark, where (as of 2005) 80% belief in God or some kind of universal spirit or life-force?

    Re: the main post — it’s not clear anyone is getting rich off of New Atheism, except people selling books,

    Well, Dawkins raked in a bundle in his gift shop until what.. 90% of it was stolen from him by a fellow atheist, and he dropped the charges under questionable cirumstances?

    Madelyn Murray apparently made a bundle. Myers has yet to write a book, I believe, and he’s done well for himself – and please, don’t tell me “well he writes about science” because really, we both know that the man’s fame did not come from his posts about butterfly collecting.

    The Cult of Gnu is getting fleeced. Speaking of the Cult – Are you Gnu+, Nick? Or Gnu Less?

  5. apollyon911 says:

    Nick, modern Northern Europe is not an active reflection of a modern atheist culture. While many Northern Europeans are doubtful about the existence of God, life after death, the Resurrection, etc, the vast majority identify culturally as Christian (while not necessarily accepting the supernatural, they accept many of the principles of Christian morality and laws). They are somewhat like many Jews that may or may not accept the claims of miracles but follow the traditions and (to a certain extent) the values of Judaism.

    A true reflection of atheism is found in those societies that make a point of specifically reject not only the supernatural claims of religion in general (although it is usually Christianity that is targeted), but also tend to reject any of the culture and traditions associated with religion (they may celebrate Christmas but any mention of Christ is excised).

    Most atheists will not simply state they don’t believe in God, but specifically state that religion is, if not completely, then mainly, harmful. Thus a proper reference to the effects of atheism on a society are those societies that deliberately remove religion not only from the public realm, but also the private realm. ‘Science and Reason’ are the replacements for ‘superstition’. Marx was very clear about this and the Soviet Union, China, Cuba and North Korea have deliberately targeted religion as one of the cancers to be removed, by any means necessary, from society.

    Using countries that still are influenced by Judeo-Christian ethics and culture as examples of the positive benefits of atheism is woefully misguided.

    Sorry, but your examples to date for atheism are clear: whenever atheists gain power, they tend to butcher people by the millions. Not even the Taliban can compare.

  6. Michael says:

    Re: the main post — it’s not clear anyone is getting rich off of New Atheism, except people selling books, and you can’t blame people for making money if they write books that are popular.

    I’d say it’s pretty clear that Dawkins and Harris have made themselves rich off New Atheism. And Myers clearly wants a piece of the pie (anyone know how much he makes off his blog?). But I was just pointing out that O’Hair would have fit quite nicely within the Gnu movement. Making money off selling atheism is just one of many shared characteristics.

    Also, I don’t blame people for making a product, selling it, and making profits. It’s called capitalism. Yet I always get the impression from Gnu’s that capitalism is a bad thing. Have any of them admitted to being good capitalists?

  7. “Like Denmark, where (as of 2005) 80% belief in God or some kind of universal spirit or life-force?”

    Meh. Life-force and having a spiritual feeling could be anything. Here’s a 2008 Gallup poll:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Religion_in_Europe#Gallup_poll_2007.E2.80.932008

    ‘”Does religion occupy an important place in your life?” The table on right shows percentage of people who answered “No”‘

    Norway, Denmark, and Sweden are all around 80% answering “no.”

    Yet somehow they haven’t managed to hit “the worst of humanity.” Your hyperbolic rhetoric is just as bad as the extreme Gnu rhetoric, just in reverse.

    “Well, Dawkins raked in a bundle in his gift shop until what.. 90% of it was stolen from him by a fellow atheist, and he dropped the charges under questionable cirumstances?”

    Being a victim of exploitation is different than being a exploiter, which is what O’Hare was accused of. Although given the complete collapse of Dawkins’s lawsuit, it’s hard to tell what happened. I suspect that there was poor lawyering when the contracts were set up, Dawkins’s employee made/spent a bundle and more that Dawkins thought was appropriate but never violated what was probably a vague contract. Academics often aren’t business savvy, what else is new?

    “Madelyn Murray apparently made a bundle. Myers has yet to write a book, I believe, and he’s done well for himself – and please, don’t tell me “well he writes about science” because really, we both know that the man’s fame did not come from his posts about butterfly collecting.”

    PZ made “a lot” from his highly popular blog when it was on ScienceBlogs (I know several sciencebloggers well), but “a lot” in the blogging world is on the order of thousands of dollars, which is not exactly big bucks. And I’ve heard he regularly waves speaker fees. He’s a True (non)Believer with a secure tenured professor job, he’s not in it for the money. I know if you dislike somebody it is appetizing to try and accuse them of the basest motives, but it doesn’t really get you anywhere in the long run. You guys would do well to try to understand your opponents rather than just toss random overwrought charges. There is plenty to criticize without going bonkers.

    I’d say it’s pretty clear that Dawkins and Harris have made themselves rich off New Atheism.

    C’mon, Dawkins was famous and presumably quite well-off decades before New Atheism was a thing. Harris, sure, he’s done well, but he did it fair and square by writing popular books, whatever you think of the books. So why go to the slimepit accusation of comparison to the O’Hare scandals?

    I think the hyperbolic comments you’ve been making (although some comments have been reasonable) have been basically motivated by emotion and hate, just like you accused the Gnus of. Calm, scholarly commentary would endorse the simple points I am making.

    “Also, I don’t blame people for making a product, selling it, and making profits. It’s called capitalism. Yet I always get the impression from Gnu’s that capitalism is a bad thing. Have any of them admitted to being good capitalists?”

    I haven’t got that impression, but who cares? They tend to be politically liberal, sure (except Harris, I think). But you guys were essentially accusing them of ill-gotten gains along the lines of O’Hare. Rolling it back to “Gnus aren’t economic conservatives, but they make money, therefore they are just as nasty as O’Hare” doesn’t really cut it.

    There are all kinds of problems with common Gnu views and attitudes, but comparisons to criminals and dictatorships is just emotional hyperbole.

  8. Michael says:

    So why go to the slimepit accusation of comparison to the O’Hare scandals?

    You are hallucinating, Nick. I made no comparison with the scandals. The simple fact is that O’Hair knew how to make money off of atheism and Dawkins/Harris know how to make money off of atheism. It’s just one of many points of similarity. Are you trying to argue that because Dawkins/Harris have not engaged in scandals that no comparison can be made?

    I think the hyperbolic comments you’ve been making (although some comments have been reasonable) have been basically motivated by emotion and hate, just like you accused the Gnus of.

    I no more hate the Gnus than you hate the creationists and IDers, Nick.

    Calm, scholarly commentary would endorse the simple points I am making.

    What’s your simple point? That O’Hair cannot be compared to Gnu leaders because she was siphoning money from her organization?

    I haven’t got that impression, but who cares?

    I’ll get there someday. For now, consider what Richard Carrier has just written in his effort to define A+:

    3. We believe in personal integrity. That means we believe in being honest and forthright, and consistent in our values. Hypocrisy to us is among the greatest sins, and we will denounce it everywhere, and purge it whenever we discover it in ourselves.

    Since Dawkins, Harris, and Myers are making profits off their writings, they are good capitalists. The consistent, non-hypocritical thing to do here is for them to embrace and celebrate capitalism. Or is this a case of “capitalism is bad, unless it makes me money?”

    They tend to be politically liberal, sure (except Harris, I think). But you guys were essentially accusing them of ill-gotten gains along the lines of O’Hare. Rolling it back to “Gnus aren’t economic conservatives, but they make money, therefore they are just as nasty as O’Hare” doesn’t really cut it.

    Your spinning a straw man, Nick. I have not accused Gnus of “ill-gotten gains along the lines of O’Hare.”

    There are all kinds of problems with common Gnu views and attitudes, but comparisons to criminals and dictatorships is just emotional hyperbole.

    This is not much different than arguing, “There are all kinds of problems with common ID views and attitudes, but comparisons to fundamentalists and creationists is just emotional hyperbole.”

    Sorry Nick, but O’Hair, along with her movement, are the predecessors of the modern day Gnu movement (we might even say that PZ Myers is O’Hair in a cheap tuxedo). They are connected and to understand the Gnus, it helps to understand their history. You do know that American Atheists is her group, don’t you? You do know that Jerry Coyne was recently promoting O’Hair, don’t you?

  9. Crude says:

    Meh. Life-force and having a spiritual feeling could be anything. Here’s a 2008 Gallup poll:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Religion_in_Europe#Gallup_poll_2007.E2.80.932008

    ‘”Does religion occupy an important place in your life?” The table on right shows percentage of people who answered “No”‘

    Yet as we see in America, half of the ‘irreligious’ believe in God, pray, etc. (Hell, even 25% of the atheists do!) Sorry, Nick, you bought the standard line on this, and you’re wrong. “Northern europe” is not atheist-ville, and it damn sure isn’t naturalist-ville. It’s a mix of people with belief in God and the supernatural, along with a heavy dose of Christianity, in the form of out and out state religions. !Christian does not == atheist.

  10. physphilmusic says:

    Indeed, Gnu atheists are only a subset of the group of irreligious people. A government run by people with views and inclinations similar to Myers’ or O’Hair’s would be much more similar in its attitude towards religion as the Soviet Union or North Korea. AFAIK there is little Gnu-style religious bashing going on in the governments of northern European countries.They probably are just indifferent towards religion. And “indifference towards religion” is a term which just cannot be applied to any Gnu, by definition.

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