Bill Murray Has Stockholm Syndrome
Updated: Dec 5, 2022
“Bill Murray is suffering from Stockholm Syndrome, the psychological malady in which hostages become emotionally attached and sympathetic to their terrorist captives, who, in Bill’s case, were mean-spirited Christians he encountered throughout his life.”
- David Mills
Bill Murray is an amazingly talented actor and comedian. He starred in hugely successful movies – Groundhog Day, Caddie Shack, Ghost Busters, and Scrooged. He was also a star on the TV show Saturday Night Live (when it was at its funniest). But this isn’t the Bill Murray that David Mills is talking about. He’s referring to a different Bill Murray.
The William (Bill) Murray in question is the son of Madalyn Murray O’Hair – the most visible and most disliked American atheist of the 1960s and 1970s. She was responsible for the Supreme Court case that resulted in prayer being taken out of American public schools in 1963. And, it was Bill, a middle school student at the time, who was the plaintiff in the case. Both of them were very unpopular indeed.
David Mills claimed death threats from Christian fanatics caused Bill Murray to emotionally snap, causing him to become an alcoholic, a drug abuser and a fugitive. Then, after destroying his family and marriage, in a Stockholm Syndrome-like twist, he became emotionally attached to his oppressors, accepted their views and converted to Christianity. Murray was like a hostage who succumbed to the psychological pressure of his captors!
David Mills had never met Bill Murray when he made these claims in 2006, though he certainly could have read Murray’s book. It was printed in 1982 and has since been reprinted many times. If he had read it, he would know why Murray changed his mind and realize it wasn’t Stockholm Syndrome.
Are former atheists not rational?
Why does David Mills conclude Bill Murray’s change of mind must have been because of a psychological breakdown rather than a logical conclusion? Could a sane person not reject atheism and rationally conclude God exists?
Antony Flew (philosopher), Edward Feser (philosophy), C. S. Lewis (literature), Allan Sandage (astronomy), Sarah Salviander (astrophysics), Ian Hutchinson (physics), Peter Hitchens (journalism), and Michael Guillen (physics) were all former atheists, rational, and very accomplished in their fields. However, like Bill Murray, they changed their minds. And, they were not psychologically impaired.
But let’s get back to Bill Murray.
What’s Bill Murray’s story?
Bill Murray has quite a story. His mother was Madalyn Murray O’Hair, the founder of American Atheists. She was a Marxist who tried to emigrate to the Soviet Union in 1959 but was rejected. She then focused her considerable energies on promoting socialism and atheism in America.
Bill Murray didn’t really know his father. He was conceived while Madalyn was having an affair with a married-man. (Her own husband was away serving in the war.) Sadly, Bill’s father disavowed him. Madalyn’s solution to the awkward situation was to divorce her husband before Bill was born. To say things were complicated in their home would be an understatement.
After his mother succeeded in dislodging sponsored prayer from public schools, life wasn’t easy for Bill. He suffered bullying at school and a home life that was toxic. He accepted his mother’s ideologies and causes as his own until the late1970s. That’s when they parted ways. He later said “My mother disowned me simply because she could not own me.”
As David Mills claimed, Bill did struggle with alcoholism. He also had difficulty in maintaining meaningful relationships and employment. What Mills got wrong is why Bill Murray rejected the atheism of his youth and changed his mind.
Bill Murray’s turning point
The initial turning point in Bill Murray’s atheism began in 1977 – he was about thirty years old. Cruel treatment from his mother and critical attacks from other fellow atheists caused him to pull away from them. Three years later, he would not only believe in God, he would embrace God. According to Murray, there were four big things that caused him to change his mind – the existence of evil, prayer, a dream and a Bible.
In addition to his mother, whom he described as a hateful person who “seemed to delight in depravity,” Murray had consorted with many unsavory people. Given his long experience with evil people, he concluded, “There had to be a God, because I had held hands with the devil.” This was the first big step in his journey – the recognition of the existence of evil opened him to the idea of a good God.
Now the second step. To get his alcoholism behind him, Bill attended a twelve-step addiction recovery program. In it, participants were encouraged to call on a higher power for help. Bill reasoned, since God probably exists, maybe he should ask for help. So, he prayed and it seemed to work.
This is where Bill’s journey gets a bit supernatural. He had a dream. It was pretty incredible. It featured an angel with a sword slicing the dream in half, an inscription reminiscent of Constantine’s vision at the 4th century battle of Milvian Bridge, and an open Bible. He concluded that his dream was direction from God to go find a Bible and read it.
The final big step for Bill came after found a Bible. He found one at a late-night department store, bought it and, as he read the Gospel of Luke, concluded it was true. So, in 1980, at the age of thirty-three, Bill Murray became a Christian. His decision wasn’t prompted by “mean-spirited Christians” as David Mills suggests. It was quite the opposite.
Bill Murray’s journey toward belief in God actually started with his rejection of the evil he experienced from his atheist mother. In reflecting back on his mother, he said, “My mother was indeed an evil person – not for removing prayer from America’s schools. No, Madalyn was just evil.”
Why atheists change their minds
There are a lot of reasons why people might embrace atheism – pain and suffering in the world, being raised with a worldview rooted in naturalism, the poor example of people who do believe in God, unanswered prayer and Marxism are common reasons. In Bill Murray’s case, he was raised in a Marxist atheist home. He simply embraced what he had been taught by his mother. But he changed his mind.
Bill Murray isn’t alone; a lot of atheists have changed their minds. Some did so because of scientific evidence – others because of morality, the appearance of intelligence in the universe, historical evidence, and personal experience. There are scores of reasons why people have changed their minds.
Why was Bill Murray’s change of mind a big deal?
People who are casually committed to an idea may require very little to change their minds. However, people like Bill Murray who were long-time advocates of atheism and versed in its claims, were not casual about reversing their views. They had rational reasons.
Bill Murray did not reject atheism because of a psychological malady. His experiences and reason caused him to see the case for God as compelling. To suggest that former atheists who change their minds have psychological problems not only fails to rationally engage with the reasons for their decisions; it's belittling to them.
A postscript on Bill Murray’s mother – Madalyn Murray O’Hair, her son Jon Garth and a grand-daughter were kidnapped and held for ransom by a former employee of American Atheists in 1995. $610,000 in extortion was paid. However, according to police reports, they were murdered, dismembered and burned in an attempt to hide the crime. Their bodies were discovered and identified in 2001.
 David Mills, Atheist Universe (Berkeley, CA; Ulysses Press, 2006), 42.  David Mills, Atheist Universe 42. After rejecting his long-held position of atheism, Antony Flew’s mental state was also questioned by atheists. Like Bill Murray, they attributed his change of mind to mental impairment. He responded in his book There is a God that he was quite sane.  William Murray, My Life Without God (Washington, DC: WND Books, 2012), 290.  William Murray, My Life Without God, 311  IBID, 270.  IBID, 270-271.  IBID, 279.  IBID, 279-280.  IBID, 311.  https://www.nytimes.com/2001/03/16/us/bodies-identified-as-those-of-missing-atheist-and-kin.html
Copyright 2022 by Patrick Prill.
Photo purchased from istock.