As long as we’re watching movies…

The Most Hated Woman in America is on Netflix today.

It’ll be interesting to see how her story is handled: she was rude, assertive, cranky, and opinionated, and she met a horrible, violent end…but she was principled and right, too. I wonder which side of the story will be emphasized?


  1. markgisleson says

    I met O’Hair in Des Moines in the ’70s. Agreed with her on all the main points, but she was already well into other stuff that was less admirable. Her love of the Soviet Union was bizarre. We talked and she couldn’t get past their official approval of atheism, even tho the Soviets had clearly made a religion out of Communism.

    Her struggle was important but other than that single Court victory, I don’t think she advanced the cause of atheism very much, altho she was certainly blamed for every subsequent court ratification of the separation of church and state.

    The Left’s heroes are always complicated. Best to put your faith in people and the movement, not the leadership.

  2. says

    I thought, “Isn’t it a bit soon to be making movies about Hillary Clinton?”

    O’Hair’s approval of ‘communist’ atheism* seems to me to be one of those mistakes people make when they don’t realize “the enemy of my enemy is not necessarily my friend.”

    (* By the time O’Hair was looking at the USSR, it had about as communist as any other oligarchy, i.e.: not at all.)

  3. thirdmill says

    I knew her slightly from a social club we both belonged to. She was far worse than rude, cranky, assertive and opinionated. She was vicious, authoritarian, nasty, spiteful and, bar none, one of the most unpleasant human beings I’ve ever met. From what I could see, she was physically and emotionally abusive to her children. That said, the court case she won was a very important victory, and it’s a shame someone with her character flaws had to be the person to bring it.

    And I think there’s probably a connection. In that era, in which religious harassment of unbelievers and nonconformists was much, much worse than it is now (I know the younger ones here will find that hard to believe, but it’s true), the only person who was going to launch a lawsuit like that was a person with unpleasant personal characteristics. The nice ladies and gentlemen weren’t going to do it. I think it takes a certain personality type to lead certain types of crusades, and all we can do is be grateful they are willing to come forward.

    It’s part of the reason the GOP keeps cleaning the clocks of the Democrats. The Democrats try to play nice; the GOP is a bunch of bomb-throwing anarchists.

  4. says

    I compare her to Dr. Kevorkian — about the last person you want advocating for the cause. I’m barely old enough to remember when she was in the public eye but she came off as extremely obnoxious and honestly, I think she set back secularism by a decade.

  5. Ed Seedhouse says

    She was right about school prayer, and effective too. I admired her in the early days and then it seemed to me she went off the rails and by the end I thought she was about crazy.

    After 73 years it’s not surprising to me anymore, alas, that many of the people who bring about positive changes are deeply flawed and some even evil. Of course, come to think of it, I myself am deeply flawed but haven’t had any real success in bringing about much in the way of positive change.

  6. says

    That’s what I hope the movie shows: that she might have been an awful person, but the cause was just.

    I worry that it will show she was an awful person, and invalidly, that therefore the cause was wrong.

  7. says

    Alas PZ, it doesn’t have to “show” that the cause was wrong, in the sense of logical demonstration. Most people make up their minds based on heuristics, not logic: one of them being that obnoxious, unpleasant people aren’t to be admired or agreed with.

  8. drivenb4u says

    I remember when she sued NASA because the Apollo 8 astronauts read from Genesis on their broadcast to Earth. That was pretty bold I think. Sure enough tho, NASA handed down the law to later missions and there was no more Gawd-bothering from the Moon.

  9. says

    I worry that it will show she was an awful person, and invalidly, that therefore the cause was wrong.

    This is what I worry about too. SO MANY people (authoritarians, mainly) seem to believe that if someone can be shown to have poor character that this invalidates any argument or claim they present, regardless how much that claim or argument is supported by evidence. It’s why there are endless schemes to personally discredit people who start to become effective at making progressive change. “If they’re a bad person it must mean their arguments are bad too” is the way many, many people think.

  10. markgisleson says

    Catching up on the comments I’m reminded of how counter-intuitive discussions of atheism can be. The less said about God/god/gods, the better.

  11. says

    I remember the pastor of my parents’ parish (a Roman Catholic monsignor) who wished aloud that someone would run “that old bag” down with a car. Right Christian of him.

  12. Ed Seedhouse says

    Excuse me, I am still flushed that the venerable P.Z. chose to respond to your (not so) humble servant.

  13. unclefrogy says

    that is the argument anyway
    though it sometimes turns out that some who use that tactic turnout to be involved with highly suspect behavior and prove to be untrustworthy themselves.
    uncle frogy

  14. militantagnostic says

    In 1973 or 1974 she cancelled a scheduled appearance at the University of Calgary because a Mormon on the Student Union council sent her a snotty letter. That struck me as thin skinned and petty on her part, a bit Trumpish in fact.

  15. says

    Watched it. It wasn’t very good.

    Well, maybe if you’re in the mood for a True Crime drama. It focused mainly on the establishment of American Atheists as a vehicle for this awful woman to embezzle money while her weird family disintegrated around her, leading up to the kidnapping and a lot of entirely dramatized dialog, and then they get to show her anguish when her son and granddaughter are murdered in front of her.

    Only watch it if you’re interested in ugly murder stories.

  16. etchison says

    I agree. It wasn’t very good. The music was so sappy that we almost couldn’t finish it. It did, however, paint her as a pretty awful person, and a bad mom, and it did seem like she was “fighting for what was right.”

    It’s too bad. It could have been a great story about a complicated person, but they turned it into a mashup of a Hallmark after school special and a David Lynch horror.

  17. sprocket says

    It’s not very good. It reminded me of the similar Auto Focus (Bob Crane bio) which went to the True Crime gambit instead of plumbing the depths of the character.

    Only worth watching for Melissa Leo.