The Atheist-Only Town of Liberal, Missouri September 16, 2009

The Atheist-Only Town of Liberal, Missouri

I don’t remember learning about this in U.S. History…

In 1880, a man named George H. Walser bought some land and created an atheists-only haven in Liberal, Missouri.

“[He] found a town without a church, [w]here unbelievers could bring up their children without religious training,” and where Christians were not allowed. “His idea was to build up a town that should exclusively be the home of Infidels…a town that should have neither God, Hell, Church, nor Saloon.” Some of the early inhabitants of Liberal even encouraged other infidels to move to their town by publishing an advertisement which boasted that Liberal “is the only town of its size in the United States without a priest, preacher, church, saloon, God, Jesus, hell or devil.”

Christians were drawn to the town for obvious reasons — and residents of Liberal responded by building a fence made of barbed-wire. It didn’t help, though it makes for an amusing anecdote.

So how did the grand experiment end?

Ziztur puts it bluntly:

Essentially, Liberal was doomed to failure due to the constant barrage of Christians trying to destroy the town or at least look on as if Liberal was some kind of godless freak show. The authoritarianism probably didn’t help either, and one can expect that if you attempt to erect a town based on an unpopular philosophical worldview in a country whose inhabitants believe you are one of the root causes of all social ills, your town is pretty much doomed before you break ground.

Of course, the founder eventually converted to spiritualism and then Christianity before he died. Figures.

In any case, the idea is a bad one. Even if religion isn’t the big problem anymore, then something else will just take its place. You start getting into a Unified Atheist League versus United Atheist Alliance sort of battle. To try to eradicate the problem by isolating yourself won’t solve anything. You have to face them head-on.

Not only that, you need to provide a safe forum for dissent. I’d hate to be the child raised in that community who thinks there’s something to the whole “god” story…

(A more detailed history of the city can be read here.)

"Yep. That's all it's about. When someone asked him what a muslim teacher should do, ..."

Quebec’s Bill 21, Now a Law, ..."
"Blasphlegmy is a medical condition. It requires treatment, not incarceration."

At Long Last, Greece Will Finally ..."
"And so is Trump, favored and become the US President."

Newly Elected California State Senator Holds ..."

Browse Our Archives

What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • JJR

    This later Missouri experiment fared far better:

    The Rationalist Society of St. Louis (RSSL)

    This society of Rationalists was formed in 1948. Of the more than thirty people in attendance at the first meeting, many were also members of the German Freethought society Freie Gemeinde. A dozen or so members were actively involved in holding the Rationalist Society together during its first few years. The Rationalist Society is still in existence today, making it the oldest autonomous Freethought organization in the United States. The membership of the Rationalist Society is larger now than ever before. They have their own meeting hall in south St. Louis, and have sponsored several national meetings of Freethinkers. The Society has published a monthly newsletter continuously since its founding in 1948.

    The Freie Gemeinde
    The “Free Community” was founded in 1850 in St. Louis. Some of the original founders of Freie Gemeinde were intellectuals who were fleeing from the failed Revolution of 1848, which took place in Germany and other European countries. These immigrants were known as “48er’s”. In 1950, members participated in the 100th anniversary celebration of the Freie Gemeinde as well as attended several national conventions held in other cities in the Midwest. The society had it’s own spacious facility in North St. Louis (now a community center) located at Dodier Street and Florissant Avenue, which housed libraries and meeting halls. The main focus of the society was promoting Freethought.

    http://freethought.mbdojo.com/germanhistorymissouri.html

  • MaleficVTwin

    You start getting into a Unified Atheist League versus United Atheist Alliance sort of battle.

    Are you the Judean Peoples Front?

    F— off! We’re the Peoples Front of Judea!

  • @MaleficVTwin
    well played!

  • Aj

    Even if religion isn’t the big problem anymore, then something else will just take its place. You start getting into a Unified Atheist League versus United Atheist Alliance sort of battle.

    That’s a load of shit imagined by douche bags that have an irrational and highly pessimistic view of humanity. Removing religion doesn’t create a vacuum for problems, humans will not create arbitrary conflict to fill the void. It’s a self delusion, because it’s blatently obvious that some crimes are religiously motivated, and could only be religiously motivated.

    Christopher Hitchens states:

    Can you think of a wicked action taken explicitly because of some religious faith? The answer to this question is a definitive ‘yes’.

    or Sam Harris clearly explains:

    “If the Koran were exactly the same,” he said, toward the end of the night, “and there were just one line added to it, and the line said, ‘If you see a red-haired woman on your lawn at sunset, kill her,’ I can tell you what kind of world we’d live in. We’d live in a world where red-haired women would be killed often.

    And then there’s the ability of religion to justify violence, including genocide, demonstrated by George Tamarin’s study referred to in The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins. Sure it’s not the only way, but getting rid of one way doesn’t mean something else automatically takes it place.

    Getting rid of religion doesn’t solve all the world’s problems, but that doesn’t mean it wouldn’t solve a few of the world’s problems either.

  • i have to look this up. i am sure someone wrote a book about this…

  • muggle

    I was going to say that wouldn’t exactly be freedom of religion either but you pointed that out better.

    Now JJR that sounds interesting. Hmmm… I like that better because it wasn’t going off all cult-like like this town.

    At first blush it sounds like Utopia (especially that bit about no churches and no saloons to a disbelieving tea-totaller like myself) but Utopia is just a myth. Anything too rigid and too unaccepting of diversity would be just as repressive as a theocracy or any other brand of repressiveness.

    Besides, far be it from me to deprive anyone else of a beer just because I’ve no interest in one.

  • Demetrius Of Pharos

    Additionally, let us not forget that when Mensa took over Springfield, chaos ensued.

    PS @ MaleficVTwin:
    SPLITTER!

  • Anonymous

    I don’t see your point. It’s working fine for North Korea.

  • Tinna G. Gígja

    Honestly, at first glance the only thing that bothered me was the lack of a saloon. I wouldn’t mind living in a town without a church, seeing as I once lived in a spot where, on Sundays, I could hear the clanging of four different churchbells.

    I’m not sure that banning christians is a good idea though – surely it would be easier to charge them for entry and conduct tours. “And on your left you will not see a church. If you look to your right, you’ll notice that there is no saloon. Right in front of you is the ANTICHRIST – just kidding. Hey, come back!”

  • CAL

    Even if religion isn’t the big problem anymore, then something else will just take its place. You start getting into a Unified Atheist League versus United Atheist Alliance sort of battle.

    Great South Park episodes!

  • While I think you are correct that we need to be open to decent, I think that this idea still has some merit. Not too long ago, I re-watched the film, “Milk” and the idea of an atheist haven in which we could elect officials to the larger community would really help our place in the larger community. While we shouldn’t “ban” Christians, we should certainly discourage them. I think the idea has merit and I wonder if we can resurrect the idea… perhaps after 3 days, lol.
    -Staks

  • little my

    well then. I live in atheist country.. almost. some survey showed that we have approximately 15% of our population who are active christians. others are not.(partly I think it is not the worst legacy from the soviet union). as some kind of a joke I share my dorm room with a baptist and in the next room of my box/flat lives muslim girl and a woman who is going to be a priest… winning a lottery is more likely here than having a neighbours like that 🙂
    (being happy atheist myself)
    (If you did’nt guess, country is Estonia)
    P.S. we still have plenty of churces

  • AxeGrrl

    muggle wrote:

    Utopia is just a myth. Anything too rigid and too unaccepting of diversity would be just as repressive as a theocracy or any other brand of repressiveness.

    Precisely.

    Sometimes I think that the human species’ tendency to create ‘us’ and ‘them’ polarities almost constantly (and in almost any situation) is going to be the thing that leads to our ultimate demise (despite the obvious evolutionary benefits that have come from such a tendency)

  • muggle

    AxeGrrl, I fear you’re right.

  • While I think you are correct that we need to be open to decent

    Hey, I’m open to indecent too. 🙂
    It’s probably more helpful to be open to dissent though.