In the summer of 1880, George H. Walser founded the town of Liberal in southwest Missouri. Named after the Liberal League in Lamar, Missouri (to which the town’s organizer belonged), Walser’s objective was “to found a town without a church, [w]here unbelievers could bring up their children without religious training,” and where Christians were not allowed (Thompson, 1895; Becker, 1895). “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” (Brand, 1895). 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” (Keller, 1885, p. 5). Walser and his “freethinking” associates were openly optimistic about their new town. Excitement was in the air, and atheism was at its core. They believed that their godless town of “sober, trustworthy and industrious” individuals would thrive for years on end. But, as one young resident of that town, Bessie Thompson, wrote about Liberal in 1895, “…like all other unworthy causes, it had its day and passed away.” Bessie did not mean that the actual town of Liberal ceased to exist, but that the idea of having a “good, godless” city is a contradiction in terms. A town built upon “trustworthy” atheistic ideals eventually will reek of the rotten, immoral fruits of infidelity. Such fruits were witnessed and reported firsthand by Clark Braden in 1885.
Braden was an experienced preacher, debater, and author. In his lifetime, he presented more than 3,000 lectures, and held more than 130 regular debates—eighteen of which were with the Mormons (Carpenter, 1909, pp. 324-325). In 1872, Braden even challenged the renowned agnostic Robert Ingersoll to debate, to which Ingersoll reportedly responded, “I am not such a fool as to debate. He would wear me out” (Haynes, 1915, pp. 481-482). Although Braden was despised by some, his skills in writing and public speaking were widely known and acknowledged. In February 1885, Clark Braden introduced himself to the townspeople of Liberal (Keller, 1885, p. 5; Moore, 1963, p. 38), and soon thereafter he wrote about what he had seen.
In an article that appeared in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on May 2, 1885, titled “An Infidel Experiment,” Braden reported the following.
The boast about the sobriety of the town is false. But few of the infidels are total abstainers. Liquor can be obtained at three different places in this town of 300 inhabitants. More drunken infidels can be seen in a year in Liberal than drunken Christians among one hundred times as many church members during the same time. Swearing is the common form of speech in Liberal, and nearly every inhabitant, old and young, swears habitually….
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