“I’ll tell you what you did with atheists for about 1500 years. You outlawed them from the universities, or any teaching careers, besmirched their reputations, banned or burned their books or their writings of any kind, drove them into exile, humiliated them, seized their properties, arrested them for blasphemy. You dehumanized them with beatings and exquisite torture, gouged out their eyes, slit their tongues, stretched, crushed, or broke their limbs, tore off their breasts if they were a woman, crushed their scrotums if they were men, imprisoned them, stabbed them, disemboweled them, hung them, burnt them alive. And you have the nerve enough to complain to me that I laugh at you.” — Madalyn Murray O’Hair
When I first arrived at Austin to go to college, I ran across a force of nature named Madilyn Murray O’Hair. At the time she was probably the most famous atheist in the world. She had successfully argued at the Supreme Court that school prayer was unconstitutional. She came to speak at my dormatory, and while much of her speech consisted in insults, there was also much truth in what she had to say. Later I would watch her television show to find what I could learn from her. I would see her at a nearby Mexican food restaurant with her son and his wife, and while I was tempted to approach her and thank her as a person of faith for her defense of the separation of church and state, I never found the nerve. When I heard later that she had been murdered, I regretted my cowardice. I still do.
Obviously, as a minister, I disagree with O’Hair that religion is necessarily the same thing as superstition, but I also hear loud and clear what she said about the danger of unreflective belief. She was quite right, and I would say prophetic, in arguing against the superstitious, hierarchical and sectarian nature of much religion. I think Isaiah would have liked her very much.
(Thanks to Nathan Retelle for quote)