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.
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.