The death of Madalyn Murray O'Hair shocked me, but not because it happened: after all, as Lona Manning has pointed out in her thorough, extraordinary article, "The Murder of Madalyn Murray O'Hair," she was, at the time of her death, "America's Most Hated Woman" at http://www.crimemagazine.com/ohair.htm. No, what surprised me was the libelous inuendi flying fast and thick as hurled by the press and other media; that, and the bizarre banality of her murder as illustrated once some truth came out.
I met Ms. O'Hair at an East Texas debate between herself and a cracker evangelist from Bob Harrington, who billed himself "The Chaplain of Bourbon Street" and challenged O'Hair to a debate a la Bryan versus Darrow. The crowd appeared to have been 'bussed in" (progressive code words meaning a claque). They cheered, clapped, and yelped at everything Harrington said and booed, hissed, snickered, and mocked everything Ms. O'Hair said.
New York magazine had sent me to assess the situation on the ground, and it was my opinion that Harrington was banging the pert blonde bimbo who posed as his press agent. After all, when you stroll the saloons in America's most dedicated party city, you get dirty. As the say in Mexico, when you lie down with dogs, you sometimes get fleas. Harrington was a James Garner type who just reeked hypocrisy. This was pre-Bakker-Swaggert, but Harrington talked like they did, smiled broadly like they did, and looked like he stepped right out of the pages of a novel by Sinclair Lewis. I found interviewing him impossible: he was a True Believer and had his own one-woman choir. Think Sarah Palin dyed platinum blonde.
There were times during the one "debate" I sat through when I thought I was Daniel in the lions' den. I was surrounded by slavering herd mentality alpha primate types who would just as soon rush the stage and strangle Ms. O'Hair -- a "Kill an Atheist for Christ" kind of thing -- as listen to her poke fun at the "Good Book" and dare to question the lunatic theory that this planet was created by a supernatural being six thousand years ago, meaning that man once walked with dinosaurs. It occurred to me, Have any of these people studied biology and geology? but I was keeping my opinions to myself as best I might.
((To be continued.))