My mother: the most hated woman in America
Interview with William J. Murray
When William Murray was 30 he tried to rid his mother of her bad public image. He told her he couldn’t stand being the son of the most hated women in America.
She was furious. ‘Mom loves being called the most hated woman in America’, William, now 46, said on a recent visit to Australia sponsored by the Festival of Light. ‘She thought up the title herself during a magazine interview years ago.’
He said when his mother speaks at universities, the organizers put out leaflets saying, ‘Come hear the most hated woman in America.’
William Murray’s mother is perhaps America’s most famous atheist—Madalyn Murray O’Hair. She used him, while he was a student in 1963, to convince the United States Supreme Court to ban prayer and Bible-reading in public schools.
She has filed lawsuits against Pope John Paul II and evangelist Billy Graham and has battled through the US courts to try to stop astronauts from praying in space.
William has left such things behind him. He left atheism for Christianity, communism for Jesus Christ, and evolution for creation.
‘Of course, I did believe in evolution’, he said. ‘But now that I look at it, evolution makes absolutely no sense in the face of the Word of God.’
His mother took part in a debate on April 20, 1976, with Dr Duane Gish, from the Institute for Creation Research in California. It was a radio debate on station KTRH in Houston, Texas. She showed her lack of knowledge of science and the Bible when she said on radio that Adam’s skeleton should have been found if he had really existed. She also implied that evolution by chance was possible because the world is like a computer, and that Adam was the creator of fish!
Quotes out of context
‘She does not know the Bible’, William said. ‘She knows certain quotes that she’s mostly taken out of context. But what she did was to pick up literature—for instance a book called Contradictions in the Bible, which has been in print since last century—and learn certain Scripture passages that are supposed to be contradictory.’
He said that the reality was that the Scriptures were not contradictory when you looked at them in context, and put them in the proper time-frame.
William’s mother began to make head-lines in 1960, when he was at high school. He recalls that in Baltimore, Maryland, after the family’s unsuccessful attempt to defect to the Soviet Union, his mother flew into a rage when she noticed William’s school began each day with prayer and the pledge of allegiance to the American flag.
She declared war on the practice. While she enraged many Americans over her lack of patriotism, she finally convinced the Supreme Court on June 17, 1963, to ban prayer and Bible-reading from the nation’s public schools. No Christian group filed a brief opposing them.
In 1979, William had an idea to help get rid of his mother’s reputation as the most hated woman in America.
That fiery radio debate: Is she really an atheist?
Dr Duane Gish remembers his Houston radio debate with Madalyn Murray O’Hair—William Murray’s mother—very well.
‘Being a layman she had little, if any, science to support her position’, Dr Gish said.
‘Her big concern was to keep God out of the public schools. She said that to let creation into the schools was letting the nose of the camel into the tent. She also said that what troubled her was that to accept creation also meant accepting Christ as your Saviour.’
Dr Gish used a wrist-watch during the debate as an example of something that showed complexity, organization and purpose, and which required a creator or watch-maker. Mrs O’ Hair responded, ‘The watch evolved, the watch evolved!’ She also said that Adam had created the animals.
After the debate, Dr Gish shook hands with Mrs O’Hair and told her it was a pleasure to have had the discussion with her. He recalls that she looked at him and said, ‘You frighten me!’
‘I don’t believe it was my looks,’ he said, ‘because she is no better looking than I am and she didn’t frighten me! I believe the reason I frightened her was that I didn’t thump the Bible and tell her she was going to Hell, but I approached her in her own element—secular scientific evidence.’
Dr Gish said he doesn’t really believe Madalyn Murray O’Hair is an atheist. ‘How could anyone hate someone who doesn’t exist as much as she hates God?’ he said.
He told her of a hospital which desperately needed new equipment. He suggested she buy the equipment and put a plaque on it saying, ‘A gift from Madalyn Murray O’Hair—atheist.’
‘I told her we’d call a news conference and get the story publicized all over the United States. Then people would say she’s not such a bad old gal after all.’
She fumed. ‘She said, “Why would I want to take perfectly good money and use it to buy hospital equipment? I could use that money to file lawsuits to bar pastors, priests and rabbis from being allowed to go into hospitals.”’
In what many saw as a bizarre turnaround in his life, William then found God. This son of America’s high-profile atheist, evolutionist and religion-hater, read Taylor Caldwell’s book Dear and Glorious Physician, about Luke, one of the Bible’s Gospel writers.
William rushed out at 3 o’clock one morning in a desperate search for a Bible. He found one in an all-night store. He said that as he read about why Jesus Christ had lived and died, it finally put meaning into his life. ‘I got down on my knees and repented of my sins and asked Jesus Christ into my life as Lord and Saviour.’
Backs creation in schools
These days William Murray has little in common with his mother. He is a Christian, an evangelist, and would greatly like to see creation science taught alongside evolution in public schools.
‘I think it’s imperative that it is, because the kids are being taught some kind of theory that changes every 10 years. I was taught in school one type of evolution, now the children are being taught another type. Creation science has much more credibility.’
He regards as ‘ridiculous’ the idea that an ape-like creature could give birth to a human.
What does he think of church leaders who suggest God could have used evolution as His method of creation?
‘There are some who are extremely liberal. In reality they just don’t believe the Word of God.’
He said his new-found faith has helped him love his mother—but he now rejects what she stands for.