Madalyn Murray O’Hair, who led the charge to remove prayer from public schools in 1963, was recently back in the news again. O’Hair disappeared four years ago and her whereabouts are unknown. The most recent speculation, widely reported, is that she may have been murdered.
But when the IRS recently ordered an auction of O’Hair’s remaining property to pay back taxes, a whole new side of the infamous atheist came to light. Among O’Hair’s belongings were several diaries, and they give a glimpse of the inner life of the woman once known as the most hated person in America – an appellation, by the way, she wore proudly.
The diaries confirm that O’Hair was indeed a bitterly unhappy woman, a vicious racist, and an anti-Semite. She was consumed with ambition for wealth and power. In 1973, her New Year’s wish list included a mink coat, a Cadillac, a cook, and a housekeeper. She also wrote, “In 1974 I will run for the governor of Texas, and in 1976, the president of the United States.”
Around that time I debated O’Hair on David Frost’s talk show. For some reason, the segment was never broadcast. At the end of the debate, I told her Christians were praying for her and wished her the best. “And I wish you failure,” she snarled. I can testify, she was a nasty and bitter woman.
Yet a surprisingly different side of O’Hair’s character emerges from the newly discovered diaries. A 1959 entry reveals an almost pathetic despair. “The whole idiotic hopelessness of human relations descends upon me. Tonight I cried and cried, but even then, feeling nothing.” In 1977, she wrote, “I have failed in marriage, motherhood, and as a politician.”
O’Hair clearly sensed that something was missing from her life. One poignant phrase appears again and again. In half a dozen places, O’Hair writes, “Somebody, somewhere, love me.”
How telling that this hostile and abrasive person, who harbored nothing but hatred for God and His people, who believed human beings were merely the product of a cosmic accident, would nevertheless cry out to the great void for someone just to love her.
What a powerful example of the fundamental truth that we are made for a relationship of love with our Creator, and that we can never fully escape from our true identity and purpose. No matter how much we may deny it intellectually, our nature still cries out for the love we were made to share. To paraphrase the famous words of St. Augustine, even the most bitter atheist is restless until she finds her rest in God.
This is a remarkable story that we can use in defending our faith with family and friends. Madalyn Murray O’Hair sought to live her entire life in a manner consistent with atheism. And yet, in the secrecy of her diaries, she admitted it was impossible. If a philosophy is impossible to live out, that’s a pretty good sign it is simply wrong.
Every philosophy or worldview, after all, purports to present a map of reality, a geography of the soul. But if the map won’t show you how to get from point A to point B, or if the roads aren’t connected, the map is not worth very much.
The inside story of O’Hair’s diaries is that atheism is faulty because it cannot be lived out–not in the world, nor in the deepest recesses of the human heart. Not even by its best known proponent.