Playboy Magazine, October 1965
Interviewer: Richard Tregaskis
The headline read: "A candid conversation with the most hated woman in America" -- and she may well have been. Madalyn Murray was the tough, uncompromising woman who challenged organized religion, school prayer, and belief in God, and so became the best-known, most detested atheist in the country. At that time Hefner and the magazine were doing their own questioning of religion, particularly as it applied to legal statutes governing private behavior. So it was not inappropriate that Murray be given her first lengthy interview in Playboy.
Richard Tregaskis, the author of Guadalcanal Diary, was given the assignment, and first encountered Murray in a Honolulu hospital, where she was recovering from what she claimed was a beating delivered by God-fearing police in Baltimore. When the interview was delivered to Chicago, Fisher felt that some added questions were necessary, so he conducted the final portion of the interview himself. "I found her an amiable, plump housewife with a bawdy sense of humor," Fisher said. "She was a woman who took her own liberation for granted."
Indeed, her description of herself as a "militant feminist" came as a surprise to the editors, who thought they were getting an interview about atheism. Her freewheeling, raunchy descriptions of her sex life and her calls for equality at all levels for women may mark this interview -- along with Ayn Rand's in 64 -- as among the earliest such discussions in any mass publication.
The interview drew a near-record response, split predictably between those who thought she was undermining the moral fiber of the country and those delighted to read such radical opinions. But perhaps the most ironic after-the-fact event came in 1979, when Murray's son Bill, whose intellectual curiosity about atheism she credits in the interview with having triggered her own antireligious crusade, announced he had found God and was joining a fundamentalist church to preach the word against his mother's beliefs.
Until June 17, 1963, she was dismissed by many people as a litigious, belligerent, loudmouthed crank. On that day, however, the Supreme Court upheld her contention that prayer and Bible study should be outlawed in U.S. public schools, and Madalyn Murray became the country's best-known, and most-hated, atheist. She also became the churches' most formidable enemy when, undaunted, she promptly proceeded to launch another broadside at religion: a suit aimed at eliminating from tax exemption the churches' vast nationwide property holdings -- a case which many lawyers concede she will probably win if it gets to the Supreme Court, and which, if she wins it, may be what one attorney has called "the biggest single blow ever suffered by organized religion in this country." Organized religion could hardly have an unlikelier nemesis.
Playboy called the embattled 46-year-old atheist (and onetime socialist) at her home in Honolulu with its request for an exclusive interview. Consenting readily, she invited us to meet her at Honolulu's Tripler Veterans' Hospital, where she was being treated for nerve injuries which she claims were inflicted by the beating she says she sustained at the hands of the police during a melee that precipitated her departure from Baltimore.
Our first two tape sessions took place at her hospital bedside, where she proceeded to hold forth on her various suits, trials and tribulations, on church and state, and on sex and marriage, with a pungent, four-letter vehemence undiminished by her bedridden condition. Our conversations continued some weeks later in the modest frame house which she shares with her mother, her brother and her 11-year-old son Garth on Honolulu's Spencer Street.
No one can predict what the next chapter in the continuing melodrama of Madalyn Murray's life will be; but at this juncture, we feel that an exploration of her intransigent convictions, and of her continuing confrontations with the church, the law and the public, may shed some timely light on the issues involved in her private war on religion.
PLAYBOY: Why are you an atheist, Mrs. Murray?
MURRAY: Because religion is a crutch, and only the crippled need crutches. I can get around perfectly well on my own two feet, and so can everyone else with a backbone and a grain of common sense. One of the things I did during my 17 years as a psychiatric social worker was go around and find people with mental crutches, and every time I found one, I kicked those goddamn crutches until they flew. You know what happened? Every single one of those people has been able to walk without the crutches -- better, in fact. Were they giving up anything intrinsically valuable? Just their irrational reliance upon superstitions and supernatural nonsense. Perhaps this sort of claptrap was good for the Stone Age, when people actually believed that if they prayed for rain they would get it. But we're a grown-up world now, and it's time to put away childish things. But people don't, because most of them don't even know what atheism is. It's not a negation of anything. You don't have to negate what no one can prove exists. No, atheism is a very positive affirmation of man's ability to think for himself, to do for himself, to find answers to his own problems. I'm thrilled to feel that I can rely on myself totally and absolutely; that my children are being brought up so that when they meet a problem they can't cop out by foisting it off on God. Madalyn Murray's going to solve her own problems, and nobody's going to intervene. It's about time the world got up off its knees and looked at itself in the mirror and said: "Well, we are men. Let's start acting like it."
PLAYBOY: What led you to become an atheist?
MURRAY: Well, it started when I was very young. People attain the age of intellectual discretion at different times in their lives -- sometimes a little early and sometimes a little late. I was about 12 or 13 years old when I reached this period. It was then that I was introduced to the Bible. We were living in Akron and I wasn't able to get to the library, so I had two things to read at home: a dictionary and a Bible. Well, I picked up the Bible and read it from cover to cover one weekend -- just as if it were a novel -- very rapidly, and I've never gotten over the shock of it. The miracles, the inconsistencies, the improbabilities, the impossibilities, the wretched history, the sordid sex, the sadism in it -- the whole thing shocked me profoundly. I remember l looked in the kitchen at my mother and father and I thought: Can they really believe in all that? Of course, this was a superficial survey by a very young girl, but it left a traumatic impression. Later, when I started going to church, my first memories are of the minister getting up and accusing us of being full of sin, though he didn't say why; then they would pass the collection plate, and I got it in my mind that this had to do with purification of the soul, that we were being invited to buy expiation from our sins. So I gave it all up. It was too nonsensical.
A few years later, I went off to college, a good, middle-class, very proper college, where I studied with, and under, good, middle-class, very proper people; which is to say, the kind who regard sex as distasteful and religious doubts as unthinkable; the kind to whom it would never occur to scrutinize the mores of society, who absolutely and unquestioningly accept the social system.
PLAYBOY: What school was it?
MURRAY: Ashland College in Ashland, Ohio -- a Brethren institution, where two years of Bible study are required for graduation. One year I studied the Old Testament and one year the New Testament. It was a good, sound, thorough, but completely biased evaluation of the Bible, and I was delighted with it, because it helped to document my doubts; it gave me a framework within which I could be critical. But I can't deny that I was an intellectual prostitute along the way many, many times. I can remember one examination where they said. "Describe the Devil," and in order to get 12 points on that question one had to say that the Devil was red and had a forked tail and cloven hoofs and fangs and horns on his head. So I merrily wrote this answer down and got my 12 points. I always got straight hundreds in Bible study. My independent study continued for 20 years after this. So I do know the Bible very well from a Protestant point of view -- which is what, along with my reason, entitles me to refute it. You can't rationally reject something until you know all about it. But at this time, of course, my convictions hadn't yet crystallized intellectually. I didn't know where my doubts were leading me.
I recall that I had a terrible struggle finding anything antireligious in the school libraries. But many years later, the family returned to Pittsburgh and moved into a house where a woman had left a box of books containing 20 volumes on the history of the Inquisition.
It was then that I found out there was a word for people like me: "heretic." I was kind of delighted to find I had an identity. And then, as I grew a little bit older and got interested in law, I read that Clarence Darrow didn't believe in the Bible either. So I read everything he had ever written, all of his trials, everything -- to search out the philosophy of his disbelief. But I couldn't find it. Then I went into the Army, and one day, in the middle of a bull session, somebody called me an atheist. Believe it or not, it was the first time I'd ever heard the word. It goes to show you how a person can grow up in America and have a college education and still not know a goddamned thing. Anyway, when I learned that there was such a thing as an atheist, I looked it up -- and found out that the definition fitted me to a tee. Finally, at the age of 24, I found out who -- and what -- I was. Better late than never.
PLAYBOY: Do you think everyone should believe as you do -- or rather, disbelieve?
MURRAY: I think this would be the best of all possible worlds if everybody were an atheist or an agnostic or a humanist -- his or her own particular brand -- but as for compelling people to this, absolutely not. That would be just as infamous as their imposing Christianity on me. At no time have I ever said that people should be stripped of their right to the insanity of belief in God. If they want to practice this kind of irrationality, that's their business. It won't get them anywhere; it certainly won't make them happier or more compassionate human beings; but if they want to chew that particular cud. they're welcome to it.
PLAYBOY: Even as an atheist. would you concede that religion, at its best, can be and has been a constructive force, a source of strength and comfort for many people?
MURRAY: If you're talking about Christianity, absolutely not. I don't think the Church has ever contributed anything to anybody, anyplace, at any time.
PLAYBOY: How about the welfare and charity work to which many Catholic, Protestant and Jewish organizations dedicate themselves?
MURRAY: Oh, they love to point to their hospitals and orphanages -- most of which are restricted, by the way. But what do these "good works" amount to? They're nothing but a sop to the clerical conscience, a crumb thrown to the populace, alleviating some of the miseries which the Church itself -- particularly the Catholic Church -- has helped to instigate and perpetuate. I can't pinpoint a period in history or a place in the universe where religion has actually helped the welfare of man. On the contrary, the history of the Church has been a history of divisiveness, repression and reaction. For almost 2000 years, Christianity has held mankind back in politics, in economics, in industry, in science, in philosophy, in culture. Anyone who has even a surface knowledge of the Middle Ages, when the Church held unchallenged sway, can recognize this. But if any one age could be singled out as the worst in the history of Christendom, it would be the administration of Pope Pius XII, the most reactionary head of the most reactionary single force in the world -- a force that binds men's minds, a force that divides them, a force that chains them so that they are unable to think and act for themselves.
PLAYBOY: How do you feel about Pope John XXIII? Don't you think his humanitarian views, as enunciated in his Pacem in Terris, testify to the fact that enlightenment can flourish within the confines of the Church?
MURRAY: There are good, humanitarian people everywhere -- occasionally even in the Church. But John was an amoeba of goodness in a sea of waste, mistakenly believing that the Holy See could or would really change in any fundamental way. He was a tragic figure, for he raised a false hope, cast a brief ray of light that was snuffed out when he died. With Pope Paul in the saddle, the Church is firmly back in the hands of arch-conservative reaction.
PLAYBOY: When you say that organized religion has contributed nothing to human welfare, do you include those many clergymen, such as Reverend Reeb, who have risked, and in some cases lost, their lives participating in civil rights demonstrations?
MURRAY: Of course not. Reverend Reeb, by the way, was a well-known atheist, a Unitarian, and was not even buried with a religious ceremony. But those priests, nuns and ministers who aren't afraid to stand up and be counted are very much in the minority. They're the exception that proves the rule. Archbishop Toolen of Mobile-Birmingham has forbidden his priests to participate in Alabama civil rights demonstrations, and Cardinal McIntyre of California has punished priests in his diocese for getting involved in civil rights. These are the men who represent the Church mind -- not the poor maverick priest who defies them by marching.
But the most heinous crime of the Church has been perpetrated not against churchmen but against churchgoers. With its poisonous concepts of sin and divine punishment, it's warped and brainwashed countless millions. It would be impossible to calculate the psychic damage this has inflicted on generations of children who might have grown up into healthy, happy. productive, zestful human beings but for the burden of antisexual fear and guilt ingrained in them by the Church. This alone is enough to condemn religion.
PLAYBOY: How do you feel about such Catholic canons as the vow of celibacy for priests, and the spiritual "marriage" of Catholic sisters to Christ?
MURRAY: Sick, sick, sick! You think I've got wild ideas about sex? Think of those poor old dried-up women lying there on their solitary pallets yearning for Christ to come to them in a vision some night and take their maidenheads. By the time they realize he's not coming, it's no longer a maidenhead; it's a poor, sorry tent that nobody would be able to pierce -- even Jesus with his wooden staff. It's such a waste. I don't think anybody should be celibate -- and that goes for priests as well as nuns. I don't even like to alter a cat. We should all live life to the fullest, and sex is a part of life.
PLAYBOY: As an atheist, do you also reject the idea of the virgin birth?
MURRAY: Even if I believed there was a real Jesus, I wouldn't fall for that line of hogwash. The "Virgin" Mary should get a posthumous medal for telling the biggest goddamn lie that was ever told. Anybody who believes that will believe that the moon is made out of green cheese. If she could get away with something like that, maybe I should have tried it myself. I'm sure she played around as much as I have, and certainly was capable of an orgasm. Let's face it: If a son of God was ever born, it was because of this wonderful sex act that Joseph and Mary enjoyed one night.
PLAYBOY: A moment ago, you said, "Even if I believed there was a real Jesus..." Are you saying that you don't believe that there was such a person as Christ, or are you denying his divinity?
MURRAY: I'm saying that there's absolutely no conclusive evidence that he ever really existed, even as a mortal. I don't believe he was a historical figure at all.
PLAYBOY: Do you dismiss all the Biblical records of his life?
MURRAY: Those so-called records were written by devout ecclesiasts who wanted to believe, and wanted others to believe, in the coming of a Messiah. Until someone proves otherwise, therefore, these stories must be considered nothing more than folk tales consisting in equal parts of legend and wish fulfillment. But there's never going to be any way of verifying them one way or the other. Scholars have found that references to Christ in Josephus were deliberately planted in the translation long after it was written, and the Latin references to Christ are not to a person of that name. In the Dead Sea Scrolls there was mention of a particular "teacher of righteousness" who had characteristics somewhat like those attributed to Christ, but it might easily have been someone else. About six years ago, Life magazine ran an article on the historicity of Jesus, and I was floored to find that they conceded the only evidence we have for his existence is in the Gospels. But don't take Life's word for it. In his book The Quest of the Historical Jesus, the most definitive study that's ever been done on the subject, Albert Schweitzer admitted that there isn't a shred of conclusive proof that Christ ever lived, let alone was the son of God. He concludes that one must therefore accept both on faith. I reject both for the same reason.
PLAYBOY: Do you also reject the idea of a life hereafter on the same grounds?
MURRAY: Do you know anybody who's come back with a firsthand report on heaven? If you do, let me know. Until then, you'll pardon me if I don't buy it. If a humanist or an atheist or an agnostic says, "We'll bake you a pie," we can go right into the kitchen and bake it, and you can eat it an hour later. We don't promise you a pie in the sky by and by. It's charlatanry to promise people something that no one can be sure will ever be delivered. But it's even worse to offer people a reward, like children, for being good, and to threaten them with punishment if they're not. I'm reminded of the joke about Saint Peter sitting at the golden gate questioning a new arrival: "Well, my son, what good deeds have you done to get into heaven?" Well, the guy casts about for something to tell him and finally remembers that he gave five cents to a charwoman one night, and once he tipped a bootblack a nickel when he got his shoes shined, and another time he gave a beggar five shiny new pennies. And that's all he can think of that he's ever done for his fellow man. Well, Saint Peter looks at him and says, "Here's your fifteen cents back. You can go to hell."
That guy didn't know how lucky he was. I agree with Mark Twain, who wrote about the hereafter that there's no sex in it; you can't eat anything in it; there is absolutely nothing physical in it. You wouldn't have your brain, you wouldn't have any sensations, you wouldn't be able to enjoy anything -- unless you're queer for hymn singing and harp playing. So who needs it? Speaking for myself, I'd rather go to hell.
PLAYBOY: Because of your success in persuading the Supreme Court to outlaw school prayer in public schools, many outraged Christians seem to feel that's just where you belong. What made you decide to pursue your suit in the face of this predictable indignation?
MURRAY: I was shamed into it by my son, Bill, who came to me in 1960 -- he was 14 then -- and said: "Mother, you've been professing that you're an atheist for a long time now. Well, I don't believe in God either, but every day in school I'm forced to say prayers, and I feel like a hypocrite. Why should I be compelled to betray my beliefs?" I couldn't answer him. He quoted the old parable to me: "It is not by their words, but by their deeds that ye shall know them" -- pointing out that if I was a true atheist, I would not permit the public schools of America to force him to read the Bible and say prayers against his will. He was right. Words divorced from action supporting them are meaningless and hypocritical. So we began the suit. And finally we won it. I knew it wasn't going to make me the most popular woman in Baltimore, but I sure as hell didn't anticipate the tidal wave of virulent, vindictive, murderous hatred that thundered down on top of me and my family in its wake.
PLAYBOY: Tell us about it.
MURRAY: God, where should I begin? Well, it started fairly predictably with economic reprisals. Now, I'd been a psychiatric social worker for 17 years, but within 24 hours after I started the case, I was fired from my job as a supervisor in the city public welfare department. And I was unable to find another one, because the moment I would go in anywhere in town and say that my name was Madalyn Murray no matter what the job opening, I found the job filled; no matter how good my qualifications, they were never quite good enough. So my income was completely cut off. The second kind of reprisal was psychological. The first episode was with our mail, which began to arrive, if at all, slit open and empty -- just empty envelopes. Except for the obscene and abusive letters from good Christians all over the country, calling me a bitch and a Lesbian and a Communist for instituting the school-prayer suit -- they somehow arrived intact, and by the bushel-basketful. Hundreds of them actually threatened our lives; we had to turn a lot of them over to the FBI, because they were obviously written by psychopaths. and you couldn't be sure whether or not they were going to act on their very explicit threats. None did, but it didn't help us sleep any better at night.
Neither did the incredible anonymous phone calls we'd get at every hour of the day and night, which were more or less along the same lines as the letters. One of them was a particular gem. I was in the VA hospital in Baltimore and I had just had a very critical operation; they didn't think I was going to make it. They had just wheeled me back to my bed after two days in the recovery room when this call came in for me, and somebody who wouldn't give his name told me very seriously and sympathetically that my father had just died and that I should be prepared to come home and take care of my mother. Well, I called home in a state of shock, and my mother answered, and I asked her about Father, and she said, "What are you talking about? He's sitting here at this moment eating bacon and eggs." Obviously, that call had been calculated to kill me, because whoever it was knew that I was at a low ebb there in the hospital.
Then they began to take more direct action. My Freethought Society office was broken into; our cars were vandalized repeatedly; every window in the house was broken more times than I can count, every flower in my garden trampled into the ground all my maple trees uprooted; my property looked like a cyclone had hit it. This is the kind of thing that went on constantly, constantly, over a three-year period. But it was just child's play compared to the reprisals visited upon my son Bill. He'd go to school every day and hand in his homework, and a couple of days later many of his teachers would say to him, "You didn't hand in your homework." Or he'd take a test and about a week later many of his teachers would tell him, "You didn't hand in your test paper. You'll have to take the test again this afternoon." This was a dreadful reprisal to take against a 14-year-old boy. It got to the point where he had to make carbon copies of all his homework and all his tests to prove that he had submitted them. But that's nothing to what happened after school, both to him and to his little brother, Garth. I lost count of the times they came home bloodied and beaten up by gangs of teenage punks; five and six of them at a time would gang up on them and beat the living hell out of them. Many's the time I've stood them off myself to protect my sons, and these fine young Christians have spat in my face till spittle dripped down on my dress. Time and again we'd take them into magistrate's court armed with damning evidence and eyewitness testimony, but the little bastards were exonerated every time.
But I haven't told you the worst. The neighborhood children, of course, were forbidden by their parents to play with my little boy, Garth, so I finally got him a little kitten to play with. A couple of weeks later we found it on the porch with its neck wrung. And then late one night our house was attacked with stones and bricks by five or six young Christians, and my father got very upset and frightened. Well, the next day he dropped dead of a heart attack. The community knew very well that he had a heart condition, so I lay a murder to the city of Baltimore.
I decided that we'd have to take our chances with the law and get the hell out of Baltimore. I thought of seeking asylum in Canada or Australia or England, but I didn't want to leave the United States, because for better or worse I'm an American, and this is my land; so I decided to fight it out on home ground, and finally we hit upon Hawaii, because of the liberal atmosphere created by its racial admixture, and because of its relatively large population of Buddhists, who are largely nontheistic, and might therefore be more tolerant of our views. So we packed up all the worldly possessions we could carry with us and took the next flight to Hawaii from Washington.
PLAYBOY: How many were in your party?
MURRAY: Six of us -- my mother, my brother, my two sons, Bill's wife and me. And I can tell you, it took just about every cent we had to our name just to pay the plane fare. When we arrived, we had about $15 left among us. We were really in pitiful shape. But we were together, and we were alive, and this was all that mattered.
PLAYBOY: How did you find a place to stay?
MURRAY: Well, we were just floored by the kindness of the people here. The minister of the Unitarian Church in Honolulu invited US over to his office the day we arrived and told us to make it our headquarters while we looked for a permanent residence. When we couldn't find a place for about a week, he let us live in the church; that's ironic, isn't it? But it points up the vastly different intellectual atmosphere that prevails here in Hawaii. Anyway, we rustled up some mattresses and put them on the floor and slept there, cooked there and ate there until we found a home. I was overwhelmed by the number of calls we got from people offering to rent us houses, to take us out to dinner, to drive us around house hunting. Everyone was just indescribably kind. Finally we moved into a house offered to us for an incredible $125 a month by a man who feels that the separation of church and state is a valid constitutional issue which should be fought for.
PLAYBOY: Considering the repercussions of the school-prayer case, why did you decide to take on the tax-the-churches suit?
MURRAY: Once involved in the school-prayer fight, I rapidly became aware of, and appalled by, the political and economic power of the Church in America -- all based on the violation of one of our nation's canon laws: the separation of church and state. The churches rose to power on the income from tax-free property. What earthly -- or heavenly -- right have they got to enjoy a privilege denied to everyone else, even including nonprofit organizations? None! My contention is that with the churches exempted from property taxation, you and I have to pay that much more in taxes -- about $140 a year per family, according to a recent survey -- to make up for what they're not contributing. If this exemption were rescinded, our property taxes would be substantially lowered, and those who rent houses and apartments would consequently be able to pass along this savings in the form of lowered rents. It could have a profoundly salubrious effect on the entire economy. I decided that if nobody else was going to do anything to rectify this colossal inequity, I'd have to do it myself. So I instituted a suit against the city of Baltimore demanding that the city assessor be specifically ordered to assess the Church for its vast property holdings in the city, and that the city tax collector then be instructed to collect the taxes once the assessment has been made.
PLAYBOY: Have you made any estimate of approximately how many annual tax dollars the churches will have to pay if you win your suit?
MURRAY: On a nationwide basis, I would guess that the various churches would have to pay annually an amount at least equal to the national debt. But it's impossible for me to make an exact estimate, because the churches hide their wealth in every way they can -- deliberate falsification as to the value of property, registering it under phony names in order to obscure the fact that the Church owns the property. In Baltimore alone, I know that the Roman Catholic Church alone would have to pay taxes of almost $3,000,000 a year. This is why the Roman Catholic Church has become a codefendant with the city in the suit -- an unprecedented occurrence in a case of this nature. I'm going after them where they live -- in their pocketbooks -- and they're fighting for their lives. They have a tremendous amount at stake -- more than any other church, because they're the biggest property owners and they've dabbled in business more than any other church. More than any other church, they've been greedy about grabbing up land and property -- not just in Baltimore, but all over the country. According to a Catholic priest writing in The Wail Street Journal, the assets and real-estate holdings of the Church "exceed those of Standard Oil, A.T.&T. and U. S. Steel combined." I'd make an educated guess that 20 to 25 percent of the taxable property in the U.S. is Church-owned. In a recent book, Church Wealth and Business Income, it was estimated that this property -- all of it tax-exempt -- is worth upwards of 80 billion dollars. I know that's a fantastic, unbelievable figure, but there's every reason to believe that it's on the conservative side; and this amount is increasing yearly at a geometric rate. They're moving into everything -- gas stations, banks, television stations, supermarket chains, hotels, steel mills, resort areas, farms, wine factories, warehouses, bottling works, printing plants, schools, theaters -- everything you could conceivably think of that has nothing to do with religion, they are moving into big. They're even coming in as stockholders in the big oil companies, and the Bank of America is almost entirely owned by the Catholic Church. And mind you -- they don't pay a penny in taxes on any of it, even on the income from rentals. The Roman Catholic Knights of Columbus, for example, pays no income tax on any of its vast rental revenue -- which comes from such sources as the land on which Yankee Stadium stands. Almost every constitutional authority has spoken on this issue, and the overwhelming consensus is that we will win if we can get it to the U.S. Supreme Court. But we won't unless thousands of people help me raise the money to pay the legal fees -- at least $40,000.
PLAYBOY: You've been quoted as saying that the Catholic Church in Baltimore was behind a conspiracy to have you and your family jailed on some pretext so that you would be unable to pursue this suit, and that this is why you were subjected to a "campaign of extralegal harassment" by the police, the courts and the citizens of Baltimore. Do you really believe that?
MURRAY: I can't think of any other plausible explanation for this vendetta. But quite apart from the Church's financial self-interest in getting me out of the way, Baltimore is an overwhelmingly Catholic city and like most good Christians, they felt we ought to be punished for our unorthodox views. Intolerance has always been one of the cornerstones of Christianity -- the glorious heritage of the Inquisition. It's no coincidence that most of my abusive mail -- sentencing me to exquisite Oriental tortures and relegating me to hell-fire and damnation -- comes from self-admitted Catholics.
PLAYBOY: Are you still receiving that kind of mail here in Hawaii?
MURRAY: For some reason. the letters we've been getting here have been just a little bit more rational; I wonder what's happened to our lunatic fringe. I kind of miss them.
PLAYBOY: Is it true that you received a letter in Baltimore composed only of the word "Kill" clipped from dozens of magazines and newspapers, and pasted onto a sheet of paper in the style of a blackmail note?
MURRAY: Absolutely. It was from a man who had written to me over a period of about two years. He started out in his first letter with something innocuous like: "You're a damn fool!" But each successive letter got more and more violent, until he came to the point where he was very explicit in his threats. We turned that whole series of letters over to the FBI. One of the things this guy said he was going to do to me was put a gun up my ass and blow the crap out between my eyes. Nice? But that's mild compared to some of them. I've gotten literally thousands in the same vein. Someday I'd like to publish a book of these mash notes. It would be an extraordinary document. I'd call it Letters from Christians.
PLAYBOY: Would you include the photograph of yourself which you received smeared with feces?
MURRAY: That would be the frontispiece. This was a picture of my mother and me coming out of the United States Supreme Court, with fecal matter smeared across our faces. They wrapped it in wax paper so that when I received it I'd get the full impact of the message. Though I haven't gotten anything quite that original lately, there's still never a dull moment in my mailbox. Shall I read you excerpts from a random sampling?
MURRAY: You asked for it. Here goes: "You should be shot!" ... "Why don't you go peddle your slop in Russia?" ... "YOU WICKID ANAMAL" ... "I will KILL you!" ... "Commie, Commie, Commie!" ... "Somebody is going to put a bullet through your fat ass, you scum, you masculine Lesbian bitch!" ... "You will be killed before too long. Or maybe your pretty little baby boy. The queer-looking bastard. You are a bitch and your son is a bastard" ... "Slut! Slut! Slut! Bitch slut from the Devil!" That'll give you the general idea. Oh -- just one more; I love this one: "May Jesus, who you so vigorously deny, change you into a Paul."
Isn't that lovely? Christine Jorgensen had to go to Sweden for an operation, but me they'll fix with faith -- painlessly and for nothing. I hate to disappoint them, but I'm not the least bit interested in being a man. I'm perfectly satisfied with the female role.
PLAYBOY: What is the proper female role, in your opinion?
MURRAY: Well, as a militant feminist, I believe in complete equality with men: intellectual, professional, economic, social and sexual; they're all equally essential, and they're all equally lacking in American society today.
PLAYBOY: According to many sociologists, American women have never enjoyed greater freedom and equality, sexually and otherwise, than they do today.
MURRAY: Let's distinguish between freedom and equality. The modern American woman may be more liberated sexually than her mother was, but I don't think she enjoys a bit more sexual equality. The American male continues to use her sexually for one thing: a means to the end of his own ejaculation. It doesn't seem to occur to him that she might be a worthwhile end in herself, or to see to it that she has a proper sexual release. And, to him, sex appeal is directly proportional to the immensity of a woman's tits. I'm not saying that all American men are this way, but nine out of ten are breast-fixated, wham-bam-thank-you-rna'am cretins who just don't give a damn about anyone's gratification but their own.
If you're talking about intellectual and social equality for women, we're not much better off. We're just beginning to break the ice. America is still very much a male-dominated society. Most American men feel threatened sexually unless they're taller than the female, more intellectual, better educated, better paid and higher placed statuswise in the business world. They've got to be the authority, the final word. They say they're looking for a girl just like the girl who married dear old dad, but what they really want, and usually get, is an empty-headed little chick who's very young and very physical -- and very submissive. Well, I just can't see either a man or a woman in a dependency position, because from this sort of relationship flows a feeling of superiority on one side and inferiority on the other, and that's a form of slow poison. As I see it, men wouldn't want somebody inferior to them unless they felt inadequate themselves. They're intimidated by a mature woman.
PLAYBOY: Like yourself?
MURRAY: Yes, as a matter of fact. I think I actually frighten men. I think I scare the hell out of them time after time. It's going to take a pretty big man to tame this shrew. I need somebody who can at least stand up to me and slug it out, toe to toe. I don't mean a physical battle. I mean a man who would lay me, and when he was done, I'd say: "Oh, brother, I've been laid." Or if we had an argument, he would stand up and engage in intellectual combat and not go off and mope in the corner, or take reprisals, or go to drink. I want somebody who's whole and wholesome and has as much zest for living as I have. But I haven't found one who fills the bill; you can't hardly find them kind no more. And I know many women my size, psychologically and intellectually, who have the same problem.
PLAYBOY: How many lovers have you had, if you don't mind our asking?
MURRAY: You've got a hell of a nerve, but I don't really mind. I've had -- if you count my marriage as an affair, which I would like to do rather than count it as a marriage, because I'm not proud of having been married -- I've had five affairs, all of them real wingdings. I've enjoyed every goddamned minute of them, but sooner or later I've outgrown every one of them, and when I did I got fed up and threw them out. If they can't keep up with me, the hell with them.
PLAYBOY: Suppose a man were to get fed up with you first. What then?
MURRAY: Well, then he should be the one to pick up and leave. No hard feelings. I don't feel that people should glom onto other people. I feel that relationships should be nice and easy and convenient and happy and not strictured with legality or jealousy.
PLAYBOY: When you say "not strictured with legality," are you saying that you don't think people ought to get married?
MURRAY: Well, I've found that most people who are bound together legally would be a damn sight happier together -- or apart -- if they were released from the contract. A man-woman relationship is physical and emotional, not legal. Legality can't create love if it isn't there, or preserve it if it's dying, but it can destroy love by making it compulsory. You don't need a marriage license to live with someone, to have the security of a home, to rear any number of children, to have years of companionship; it's not illegal, but the moment you want to screw somebody, you have to get a license from the state to use your genital organs -- or run the risk of being charged with any number of crimes carrying sentences up to and including death. So sex is really the only sensible reason for getting married. But I'd suggest pulling down the shades instead. In the long run, it's cheaper -- and more fun.
PLAYBOY: How do you feel about the heritage of puritanical sexual guilt which many social scientists assert precipitates early marriages in this country?
MURRAY: It's shit for the birds. When will we grow up? Sex is where you find it. I say take it and enjoy it. Give and receive freely, without fear, without guilt and without contractual obligations.
PLAYBOY: Starting at what age?
MURRAY: Let nature decide. When a cow is biologically ready to have sex relations, she mates with the nearest well-hung bull. When a flower is ready to scatter its seed, it pollinates. It's the same way throughout nature -- except with man, who tries to postpone consummation of his sex drive, unsuccessfully for the most part, for six or eight years after he reaches puberty. By the time it's considered socially acceptable to start screwing, most of us are sexually constipated, and this is often an incurable condition. I think young people should be able to have their first sexual love affair whenever they feel like it. In the case of most girls, this would be around 13 or 14; with most boys, around 15 or 16.
PLAYBOY: What about VD and pregnancy?
MURRAY: They should be taught about sex, sex hygiene and contraceptive methods starting in the sixth grade, and whenever they want to try it, they should be allowed to go at it without supervision or restriction -- in their parents' bedroom, on the grass in a park, in a motel; it doesn't matter, as long as the setting is private and pleasant. If we did all this, our kids would grow up into happier, healthier human beings. But we won't, of course. It would make too much sense.
PLAYBOY: Would you call yourself an advocate of free love?
MURRAY: I'd describe myself as a sexual libertarian -- but I'm not a libertine. "To each his own" is my motto. If anybody wants to engage in any kind of sexual activity with any consenting partner, that is their business. I don't feel that I can sit in judgment on them, or that society can sit in judgment on them. Anybody can do anything they damn well please, as long as the relationship isn't exploitive. And I don't feel that legality should have anything to do with it. There are certain bodily functions of mine which I will not allow to be supervised. One of these is eating. Nobody's going to license me to do this. Another one is bodily disposals. I will defecate and urinate when I damn well please and as the spirit -- and the physical necessity -- moves me. And my sex life is peculiarly my own. I will engage in sexual activity with a consenting male any time and any place I damn well please.
PLAYBOY: Do you have any immediate plans along these lines?
MURRAY: It's none of your business, but as a matter of fact, I do. I've been completely without a sex life for about five years now -- ever since I began the school-prayer suit -- and if you don't think that's a hardship for a hot-blooded woman in her prime, just try it. I'm taking applications for stud service at this address -- care of Good and Haffner, Attorneys, 1010 Standard Building, Cleveland 13, Ohio -- as well as contributions for our tax-the-churches suit. Please enclose photograph, vital statistics, and a check for the lawsuit.
PLAYBOY: Are there any particular qualifications you're looking for?
MURRAY: No, I just want a man -- a real, two-balled masculine guy -- and there aren't many of them around, believe me. But I do want somebody my own age, and somebody who has brains enough to keep me interested and to earn enough money to support me in the style to which I've become accustomed. And I want a big man physically as well as intellectually. l want a man with the thigh muscles to give me a good frolic in the sack, the kind who'll tear hell out of a thick steak, and yet who can go to the ballet with me and discuss Hegelian dialectic and know what the hell he's talking about. I want a strong man, but a gentle one. And, most unlikely of all, but most essential, I want a man with a capacity for love -- to give it generously and accept it joyously. I also want somebody who, when I say, "Let's call it quits," won't hang on; who'll say, "All right, it was fun while it lasted. So long and good luck."
PLAYBOY: Have you ever known a man like that?
MURRAY: No, but there was one who came close, and I loved him madly for some time. I don't think anybody in the world thought he was gentle, but he was gentle with me. And he treated me like a woman, which is all I really ask or want. I felt handled by him, and this is a good feeling. But, unfortunately, he never outgrew his particular intellectual commitment, so I outgrew him. He was an engineer and he was almost totally involved in his work, engineers have a very limited education and background, I think You need to move into the broader humanities in order to become a total person. But I loved him very much.
PLAYBOY: Was he the one you loved most?
MURRAY: I think so. He's a damned Dago. That's a term of affection.
PLAYBOY: Of the men you've had affairs with, how many others were foreigners?
MURRAY: None of them. But they were of different extractions. This particular guy was of Italian parentage; another had English blood; one was a real upper-class Bostonian; one had a Russian background, and one was Irish; he was the one that was best in bed. Did you know that we ladies have bull sessions like this among ourselves, and we talk about which of you fellows are good stud service and which ones aren't? If you boys knew what you sound like when you and your bedroom manners are dissected by a bunch of WACs, it would curl your hair, because we talk about exactly the same things you do among yourselves -- and just as graphically.
Say, I wonder why I'm telling you all this. I know I'm being indiscreet, because this kind of thing could be used against me nationwide; it'll just add fuel to the fire, which is already hot enough for me. But you know something? It just so happens that I don't give a damn. I'm going to be damned anyway. If they haven't destroyed me yet, I'd say I'm indestructible.
Five years ago, before I opened Pandora's box by starting the school-prayer case, I was doing all right financially; I had my health, a good job, a nice brick Colonial home, beautiful furniture, three cars; we were a happy close-knit, well-adjusted family. Well, brother, look at me now, as the saying goes: Here I am in a termite-ridden bungalow in Hawaii; my savings are gone; my job is gone; my health is gone -- thanks to the beating I got in Baltimore, which has lost me almost all the use of two fingers in my right hand. I'm bothered by a continuous low-grade pain in that same hand and arm, which distracts me from my work and keeps me awake nights. My Baltimore home is in jeopardy; I may lose it. I've lost my furniture and my cars. My brother can't find a job, though he's been looking for work ever since we arrived here; so he's just a nice, educated bum at this point. I've lost my father by a heart attack, and my son Bill has broken down emotionally to the extent that he's under psychiatric care. My aged mother is with me, and she can't even be buried next to Dad, whose grave is back in Baltimore. And my son and I are living under the Damoclean sword of imminent extradition back to Maryland, where we are certain to be convicted and sentenced to several years in the state penitentiary for assault -- a crime which we not only didn't commit, but which was perpetrated against us. So my life and the life of my family has been completely disrupted in absolutely every way. But it's been worth it. It's uncovered a vast cesspool of illegitimate economic and political power in which the Church is immersed right up to its ears, and I intend to dive in headfirst and pull it out of there dripping wet for all the world to see -- no matter how long it takes, no matter whose feet get stepped on in the process, no matter how much it costs, no matter how great the personal sacrifice.
PLAYBOY: It sounds as if you intend to make this cause your raison d'être.
MURRAY: No, this crusade to separate church and state is only one expression of my raison d'être. I'm an atheist, but I'm also an anarchist, and a feminist, and an integrationist. and an internationalist -- and all the other "ists" that people seem to find so horrible these days. I embrace all of them.
Long ago, when I was a very young girl, I said that I wanted to go everywhere, see everything, taste everything. hear everything, touch everything, try everything before I died. Well, I've been a model, I've been a waitress, I've been a hairdresser, I've been a stenographer, I've been a lawyer, I've been an aerodynamics engineer, I've been a social worker, I've been an advertising manager, I've been a WAC. There isn't anything you can name that a woman can do that I haven't done. Before they put me under, I'm going to get involved in everything there is to get involved in. That's what I want from life. I don't intend to stand by and be a spectator. I want to be right in there in the midst of it, right up to my nose -- totally involved in the community, in the world, in the stream of history, in the human image. I want to drink life to the dregs, to enlarge myself to the absolute limits of my being -- and to strive for a society in which everyone -- regardless of race, creed, color and especially religious conviction -- has the same exhilarating raison d'être, and the same opportunity to fulfill it. In other words, to paraphrase Jack Kennedy and John Paul Jones, from this day forward, let the word go forth, to friend and foe alike: I have not yet begun to fight.