Zindler's Book Blog
ORIN RONALD “SPIKE” TYSON
December 8, 1950—March 1, 2020
Atheist Activist Spike Tyson
Purple Heart Recipient Spike Tyson
(From video program produced by Michigan Atheists)
American Atheists has lost another of its heroes. At the beginning of March of this year, a man known to American Atheists as Spike Tyson succumbed to a cascade of medical disabilities incurred by exposure to Agent Orange during his service during the Vietnam War. Twice the recipient of a Purple Heart, he proved beyond cavil that there ARE Atheists in foxholes. He always delighted in declaring that he had never seen any obvious Christians in foxholes, due to the obvious fact that anyone praying in the heat of battle would be an easy target, and no one would be stupid enough to think that prayers can protect against bullets. With Madalyn Murray O’Hair, he co-founded American Atheist Veterans in 1989, becoming its National Commander in 1991 when Dr. O’Hair passed the baton to him.
Spike enlisted in the United States Army at the age of seventeen, and never tired of showing the dog-tags issued to him after he declared his atheism and wanted the fact recorded on his tags. The tags declared his religious preference (he absolutely had to have one!) to be “EGOMASTIC.” The Christian issuing the tags simply refused to write the word ATHEIST. Whenever possible—and sometimes even when it didn’t seem possible—he would note the during the world wars the belt buckles of German soldiers bore the inscription “GOTT MIT UNS” (“God With Us”). “Either their god wasn’t powerful enough to beat the Allies,” he would chuckle, “or he had no power at all because he didn’t exist.”
Spike’s Atheist activism began in Tucson, Arizona, where he managed street-fair booths for American Atheists. When Dr. O’Hair invited him to join the staff at American Atheists headquarters in Austin Texas in 1993, he assumed the post of Media Coordinator and producer for American Atheist TV programs. He was a member of the headquarters staff during the week that the Murray-O’Hairs were abducted and disappeared without trace. With the help of Joe Zamecki, he kept the organization functioning during their absence and carried out many detective-like errands for the Board of Directors in efforts to determine what had happened to “The First Family of Atheism” and where they might have gone. Had it not been for Spike’s dedicated service during that crucial first month, it is not likely that the Board--working remotely outside of Austin--would have been able to keep American Atheists in operation.
While the Murray-O’Hair home in Austin was vacant after the disappearance of the Atheist leaders, at the request of the Board of Directors serving remotely outside Austin, Spike moved into their home to secure it from possible vandalism at the hands of Christian fanatics seeking to do what their god was impotent to do. Alas, when the home was seized by IRS agent acting on bogus allegations of tax evasion, all of Spike’s personal possessions were seized as well. Not only did they take his precious telescope—he was a very fine amateur astronomer—they confiscated all his medals and military identification papers. With no birth certificate or other acceptable military identification, he struggled for over a year to claim VA benefits to treat the damage done by Agent Orange.
After Ellen Johnson became President of the organization, Spike Tyson and Joe Zamecki were crucial in engineering the removal of American Atheists headquarters from Texas to Parsippany and Cranford, New Jersey. Spike did not himself relocate to New Jersey, as the serious health conditions incurred in Vietnam required his early retirement back to his home state of Michigan.
Spike’s devotion to American Atheists astounded all who knew of his condition when he appeared in a wheelchair at the 2019 Cincinnati convention. Past President Frank Zindler gave Spike a shout-out during his address to the assembly. “Were it not for Spike’s actions back in the autumn of 1995,” Zindler asserted, “we would not be holding this convention here today.” Spike was given a standing ovation from the cheering crowd.
Spike is survived by his wife Davee Sherrill Franz, of Lansing, Michigan, and by a niece Ruth Gehrke.
Welcome back to my book blog, where I’m continuing to write about my last book--CONFESSIONS OF A BORN-AGAIN ATHEIST: The Implausible Lives of a Godless Guy. For newcomers who haven’t yet read my previous five posts, I should mention that there are numerous action buttons on my home page that can take you to a page listing all my previous books, with links to Amazon; a page with links to my YouTube channel and, eventually, to other videos I have produced; a page with links to audio clips from the up-coming audiobook edition of my memoirs (each bog post includes a few more links to audio clips of episodes that one can reach simply by pressing on their high-lighted titles in the blog text); the same page includes a link to a recording of my Valse Mélancholique for cello and piano; a button linked to four pages of some of my poems; a button linked to videos of some of my media and public appearances, such as my harangue at the 2002 Godless Americans March on Washington (more links are expected as searching of The Way-Back Machine continues) the same button has links to transcripts of some of my debates; and a button with links to an ever-increasing number of texts of my most important essays and articles on religions & scriptures (such as “Did Jesus Have a Body?” and “The REAL Bible: Who’s Got It?”), science & pseudoscience, philosophy and ethics, and social issues such as Abortion and Circumcision.
To get back to the survey of my autobiography, I had just finished MEMOIR 7—“Annus Mirabilis,” my Wonder Year. My “heart-breaking-but-funny MEMOIR 8” is called “The Tent Meeting.” It’s too long (20 minutes) to include as an audio clip, and so I need to discuss it in more detail than usual. I was 14 and had completed my first year of high school a month or two before the story begins. My high school chum Larry and I had seen an ad in the local paper announcing a revival meeting in a tent outside town where we might “Come! See God move!” I was a wavering Lutheran and Larry (three years older than I) was a never-too-strict Methodist.
We had never experienced Pentecostal forms of religion, and were unprepared for the talking in tongues, holy-rolling, and laying on of hands that awaited us out in the darkling countryside, miles from the nearest phone booth. (Yes, there used to be such things as booths containing pay phones, where anyone could put a coin in a slot and make a telephone call, and Superman could wriggle out of his suit and emerge as a “Man of Steel,” clad in cape and sexually titillating tights.) It would prove to be our first encounter with attempts at faith healing--failed attempts as it proved to be.
We witnessed the deep and desperate faith of a piteously arthritic woman be dashed to pieces by all three revival preachers laying hands on her at the same time—hypnotizing her to dangerously believe she had been healed. Whereas she had hobbled into the meeting on crutches, she had to be carried by friends out of the tent. As for what happened to me, you’ll have to read the book to see why I hit one of the preachers over the head with my King James Version Bible.
MEMOIR 9, “Miss Mary Louise Williams,” deals with my high school English teacher—a woman who would encourage my efforts to become a poet (my poem “Rain Beetles” was written after her lessons on Edgar Allan Poe) and whose social and philosophical idealism would make me an essayist and amateur philosopher. “Driving Miss Williams” is the very funny story of how her devotion to Aldous Huxley’s book Ends and Means led to my spooky encounter with a famous writer and ethicist stoned out of his gourd on mescaline. It was my uncomprehending witnessing of the birth of the Psychedelic Age. Miss Williams also contributed to my becoming a public speaker and debater, by sponsoring me to attend the Summer Institute for Debate and Public Speaking at Northwestern University the summer before my senior year of high school—my first taste of college.
NEXT TIME: I will complete my discussion of MEMOIR 9, telling how Miss Williams re-entered my life decades after high school, and I will explain MEMOIR 10—“My Most Embarrassing Experience”—with Eleanor Roosevelt.
As explained in Post #4, Memoir Seven, “Annus Mirabilis,” tells of my “Wonder Year”—the year I was thirteen years old. That was the year I started to be a scientist, a linguist, a musician and composer, a teacher, and the year I read the entire Christian Bible—experiencing a moral revulsion that led to my rebirth as an Atheist five years later—while simultaneously reading Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species. Oh, yes! Most importantly, it was the year I taught myself to type. “Aunt Lydia’s C-Note and the Typewriter” recounts the amusing circumstances that made that life-changing learning possible.
I had become enthralled with astronomy and astrophysics in sixth grade, when my grade-school Mrs. Purdy passed on to me several paperbacks her engineer husband had read and enjoyed: George Gamow’s One, Two, Three—Infinity, and Birth and Death of the Sun. By the time I was in ninth grade and had started high school, thanks to those books, I had a good grasp of how the sun produced its energy, and thought I might like to become an astronomer. When an older friend in my biology class told me about the Berrien County Astronomical Society, I wanted to join. The society required applicants for admission to deliver a qualifying lecture on some aspect of astronomy. On the spot, I strode up to the black board, wrote “The Carbon-Nitrogen Cycle in the Sun,” and delivered “The Astronomy Lecture,” explaining the astrophysics of solar energy production. More than thirty years later, I learned that astrophysicists no longer consider the Carbon-Nitrogen Cycle to be the major source of solar energy. Blame Gamow, not the Whiz Kid!
My Wonder Year saw my first of many attempts to learn to read Egyptian hieroglyphics. It would lead to trips to the Field Museum in Chicago, a museum famed for its Egyptology research and the museum in which the movie Night in the Museum was filmed. My own “Night in the Museum” tells the amusing story of how I was locked inside a rare-book study-cage in the library of that same museum—and forgotten.
Thirteen was the year in which I began to teach music—accordion and piano—at the Cady School of Music, the year in which I began to compose an opera and a symphony, and the year in which I formed my own polka band—my year for “Music in Earnest”— the episode that tells how my stepfather, Uncle Lloyd, took an ax to my piano when the agony of my composing became more than he could stand. “The Wedding Party” tells how the remarriage of my mother led to the I’m-My-Own-Grandpa-like condition of me becoming my own first-cousin.
Other episodes of “Annus Mirabilis” include “The Lost (Vocal) Chord,” “The Diver and the Cannon Ball,” “Music Teaching,” and “Mother Darwin Knows Best.”
Next time: I will discuss the heart-breaking but funny Memoir 8, “The Tent Meeting,” and begin my discussion of Memoir 9, “Miss Mary Louise Williams”—the English teacher who would inspire my attempts at writing poetry and philosophical essays. Memoir 9 includes the tale of how I tried to carry on a conversation with Aldous Huxley at the beginning of the Brave-New-World era of experimentation with psychedelic drugs.
Memoir Five of CONFESSIONS OF A BORN-AGAIN ATHEIST: The Implausible Lives of a Godless Guy is entitled “Tales My Grandpa Told Me.” How I wish I could remember more of the hundreds of wonderful tales my mother’s father told me about his childhood adventures in “the Old Country”—Austria. Alas, the neuronal circuitry recording those stories was overwritten long ago by memories of carbohydrate stereochemistry, the Bill of Rights of the Constitution of the United States, Italian libretti of Verdi Operas, and grammatical details of Latin and Greek—and probably numerous other things not suitable for confessing in my swan-song blogging!
I retell only a few of those stories in my book, such as how Grandpa Somogi disrupted the Christmas Eve midnight mass in the Hannersdorf Catholic Church—with a sack of walnuts and what happened to a bishop’s miter during a religious procession. The “Two Terminal Tales” reported as complete stories are “Silk-Spinning”—which bears a striking resemblance to fairy tales—and Grandpa’s quest for the “Schleininger Schloss,” the supposed ruins of a lost castle from the days of the Crusades.
Memoir Six is titled “Stump School.” That’s the actual name of the two-room country school I attended for fourth through eighth grade. As I show, what happened to me during those years shaped the entire course of my future life—or lives, as the subtitle of my book proclaims. Because of the extreme bullying I had to endure at that school, I rarely went outside for recess or lunch. (The audio excerpt “Play Ball!” tells what happened one day when I did go outside for lunch.) Instead, I read through the tiny library that contained little more than adventure books for boys and girls and The World Book Encyclopedia.
I’m not sure if I ever finished the entire encyclopedia, but vivid memories are reported about an entry in the volume for entries beginning with the letter M: the illustrated article about the Moabite Stone. Decades later, I would become embroiled in an international controversy over the claim that the Moabite Stone contained a reference to “the House of David,” requiring me to re-decipher part of the inscription for myself.
Stump School would also shape my scientific career as well. Independent of Alfred Wegener, I formulated a theory that the continents had once been joined together. The audio excerpt “I Become a Drifter” tells how that came to pass.
Memoir Seven, “Annus Mirabilis,” tells of my “Wonder Year”—the year that I was thirteen years old. It tells the story of “The Preacher Who Never Was”—how my mother wouldn’t let me leave home to cash in on an eight-year scholarship to be a Wisconsin Synod Lutheran pastor, and how I tried to learn the stuff I imagined my cohorts would be learning in the seminary in addition to all the subjects I was studying in one of the best public high schools in Michigan. “Of Genocide and Jehovah” tells how reading the Christian Old Testament induced a moral revulsion to the genocidal deity described therein—an affront to my sense of decency that would result, five years later, in my becoming a “Born-Again-Atheist.”
Next time: completion of the descriptions of my “Wonder Year,” including an account of the beginning of my life as a professional musician, an amusing account of how my attraction to dead languages led to being locked in a museum at night, and an account of my first public lecture—on astrophysics.
Memoir Two of Confessions of a Born-Again Atheist: The Implausible Lives of a Godless Guy is entitled “Life on the Farm.” It contains my earliest eidetic memories—color “snapshots” of two views of my first birthday party. Really! It contains memories of Adolf Hitler screaming for Lebensraum(living space) on the beehive radio set up in the dining room of the farm house in which I was reared “in the beginning…”
There are many funny episodes, such as “Great-Grandma’s Tunnel Theory of Radio,” “Barnstorming,” “Fun on the Farm” leading into “The Steam Cannon,” “Wenzl and the Skunk,” “Leach-Ranching,” “Vernie, the Little Professor,” and “Of Pigs and Peach Brandy” and “Revenuers!” There also are heart-searing episodes such as “The Tomato Dump” and the environmentally sobering “Plum Trees in a Silent Spring.” Most of the memoir is neither funny nor tragic, of course; hopefully, it’s just, well, interesting.
Altogether, “Life on the Farm” paints a warts-and-all-portrait of the world into which I was born, the Plato’s Cave from which I would emerge unprepared into the blinding light of the real world—a three-dimensional world of color far different from the two-dimensional shadow world of my religious childhood.
I hope even city-dwellers will find interesting the many descriptions of old-fashioned farming techniques and Austrian practices employed on my grandfather’s farm—in a world just barely electrified, a world before indoor plumbing, refrigeration, and television. A world before the Internet where news was obtained from newspapers, the radio, and newsreels shown before features at the local movie theaters. Oh, yes. It was a world before supermarkets were common; a world in which we grew and harvested much of our own food; a world in which we raised our own animals to be butchered, cooked, and eaten.
(Although the early episodes in “Life on the Farm” took place during World War II, descriptions of life during “the great war” have been reserved for Memoir 21: America at War.)
Memoir Three, “The Electrocution of my Father,” tells the psychiatrically significant story of how, when I was eleven years old, my thirty-three-year-old father Elmer Zindler was killed in an electrical accident as he was directing the construction of a gas station outside Coloma, Michigan—a village not far from my home-town Benton Harbor. It happened a day after we had had a quarrel and I had shouted at him, “You’ll regret this!” He gave me a thorough thrashing with his belt, and he died before I could beg forgiveness. Was I the cause of his death? I couldn’t be sure—I was quite religious and still believed at least somewhat in the magical force of words: the blessings and curses so important in the Christian Bible.
Memoir Four: “Grandma’s Deathbed Disbelief” tells the story of how Grandmother Somogi—the woman who reared me during the first few months of life after my desperately ill mother had rejected me at birth—became an Atheist one week before she died. Literally, she became an Atheist on her deathbed.
Next: Memoir Five: “Tales My Grandpa Told Me” and Memoir Six: “Stump School.”
I hope everyone was able to view the three videos of my 80th birthday party at which I read aloud the entire first memoir of my autobiography Confessions of a Born-Again Atheist—the actual confessions to which the title refers. Although the sound is fine for all three parts, for the first half of the videos a part of the screen is obscured by the back of a man’s head. (We didn’t have a tripod high enough to see over a man six-foot seven inches tall!)
The first one, about 15 minutes long, deals with introduction of special guests, and ends with my toast “To the Road Ahead”:
I’ve packed up nothing special
For this trip around the sun.
No time for any special plans,
What’s done is what is done.
Some eighty times, I’ve made this trip;
I’ve seen it all before.
This may not be my final trip,
But there can’t be many more!
The second and third ones have already been described in the previous post.
Although I had already published nine books and written at least five more that never were published, my autobiography was the most difficult and painful to write. While writing out a confession of my darkest secrets could be expected to have been painful, writing the memoir “Love’s Death”—a chronicle of the five-year struggle to save my wife Ann from cancer—was almost impossible to write. Again and again, I broke down at the computer and couldn’t resume writing for days at a time.
If it hadn’t been for the prompting and encouragement of my daughter Catherine, the book probably would never have been finished. Again and again, she reminded me of episodes that needed to be included. Most notable of such forgotten episodes is the one about my encounter with Elvis Presley in a gay bar.
Almost every one of the 29 memoirs that comprise my autobiography is different from all the others. Each one deals with one of my many “implausible lives,” or looks at my life from a different perspective. It’s hard to believe that all those lives could have been lived by a single person, but they were—by me. It’s important to stress that the first memoir—the confessions—is not in any way representative of the rest of the book; nor is the second—“Life on the Farm”; nor is any other one of the 29 memoirs. Each one is its own book
Fortunately, the listing for the book on Amazon contains the “Look inside the Book” feature. If you go to Amazon and look inside the book, read through the analytical Table of Contents. It lists all the various episodes in each of the memoirs. You’ll see wildly different things from “Great-Grandma’s Tunnel Theory of Radio,” and “Snow White’s Glass Coffin,” to “Calling Down the Lightning,” “Man Without a Language,” “Losing Someone Else’s Mind,” “D-Minor in the Desert,” “Night in the Museum,” “Messing with the Mob,” “Isaac Asimov,” “Born-Again Atheist,” “Mother Darwin Knows Best,” and “For a Lasting Erection…” to list but a few.
Oh, yes: many of the memoirs contain one or more of my poems in their biographical context.
“Sissy!”—the memoir containing my confessions—contains the episode “Channeling Tchaikovsky,” describing my first attempt at suicide at Kalamazoo College, and ends with my “Apologia,” my concluding excuse for deceiving so many of my friends until I was eighty years old. You can hear those snippets from my up-coming audiobook edition by clicking on the bolded titles above. And of course, you can see me reading the entirety of “Sissy!” in the three YouTube videos hyperlinked at the beginning of this posting.
NEXT: I will discuss the second memoir in my autobiography, “Life on the Farm.”
Franx thanx for visiting my new book blog! I promise, I will do everything possible not to disappoint you in this and subsequent postings. I hope you will take time to explore all the other things linked to this blog. You will find YouTube videos pertaining to the book being discussed, often audio files related to it or other matters, and links to my YouTube channel and other social media.
This first posting deals with my tenth—and perhaps final—book, the story of the many different lives I have lived.
The back cover of my book poses a teaser question:
QUESTION:What do Adolf Hitler, Albert Einstein, Eleanor Roosevelt, Elvis Pressley, J.F.K., George H.W. Bush, Larry Flynt, John DeLorean, Isaac Asimov, Aldous Huxley, Leonard Bernstein, and Madalyn Murray O’Hair have in common?
ANSWER:All their lives intersect the life of Frank R. Zindler in the pages of this book.
Let me let the cat out of the bag right here at the outset, by a further quotation from the back cover:
“CONFESSIONS OF A BORN-AGAIN ATHEIST: The Implausible Lives of a Godless Guy is an autobiography in the form of 29 memoirs, each one focusing on Zindler’s many lives, beginning with his life on an Austrian-type farm in Michigan during WWII (he tried to cultivate with a horse!); his tormented childhood and early college years as a homosexual living in a state where homosexual acts were felonies on par with first-degree murder; his life as a child prodigy in music, science, and linguistics; his life as a demimonde Don Juan; his life as a four-generational pater familiasand his 48-year loving marriage to Ann; his life as a hypnotherapist, scientist, and Atheist activist, educator, and science professor; his life as a close confidant to Madalyn Murray O’Hair, and his efforts to resurrect American Atheist Press after her abduction and murder in 1995. In this intimate self-portrait, an octogenarian public figure at last come out of the closet.”
Back in 2017, I decided I had to come out of the closet before I cash my chips in. Shortly before my 80th birthday in 2019, I finished writing the book, but the paperback edition wouldn’t appear until October of the same year. Feeling that I needed to make a personal, live exit from the closet—a book would have to do it if I didn’t live to do it live—I decided to do it on the occasion of the party celebrating THE BIG 80.
Of the 110 friends who said they would attend the sit-down dinner celebration, 103 actually attended. (Seven were either in the hospital or involved in other serious emergencies.) It was made clear in the invitations sent out to my friends that “the only presents that will be accepted will be your presence,” and that they would have to sit through a lengthy, dramatic reading of the “Confessions” memoir of my book.
I have lived a long life—several of them at the same time—but it is hard to recall any occasion during those eighty years when I have been filled with such intense anxiety as when I began to read. After having deceived some of my guests for over thirty years, I wasn’t sure how many of them would still be my friends after I finished reading. To my great relief, when I finished all who were physically able to do so rose up to give me a standing ovation. It was a wonderful experience.
A video recording was made of the reading, and it was divided into three separate YouTube programs (FRANK TURNS 80): Part One is around fifteen minutes long, and involves introduction of some of my guests, and my toast “to the road ahead.” Part Two is about an hour long, and covers my life from my birth to my first attempt at suicide at the age of eighteen. Part Three is about 45 minutes long and brings my story up to the present.
The Kindle edition of the book came out in January of 2020, and the Audible and CD editions of the book will be out some time this spring.
In subsequent postings on this blog, I will discuss the book’s separate memoirs in more detail. At least initially, I hope to be able to make a new posting every Sunday. Subsequently, it may settle down to first and third Sundays of every month.
For 17 years, Frank R. Zindler was a professor of biology, geology, and psychobiology at Fulton-Montgomery Community College (SUNY), and became Chair of the Division of Science, Nursing, & Technology. For over 37 years he has served as a linguist and editor of scientific literature for a learned scientific society in Ohio. Managing editor of American Atheist Press since the murder of Madalyn Murray O'Hair in 1995, he became interim president of American Atheists, Inc., in 2008, and still serves on the board of directors of that organization. He is a former member of the Jesus seminar, and is an internationally known exponent of the Christ-Myth Theory, the theory that Christianity began without a historical Jesus.