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.
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.