George Erickson is a retired dentist with a love for bush flying and a dislike for faith-based religions. In his latest book, Eyes Wide Open, he displays his talents as a historian, philosopher, social commentator, scientist, and overall prolific writer.
In addition to his three previously published books, Erickson has written numerous articles on religion, adventure, satire, poetry, love, sex, politics, and science. This latest is a collection of more than one hundred of these articles, including some book excerpts. Starting with pre-birth, the collection covers almost all aspects of life and death. While entertaining us, Erickson provides insights throughout that help us understand our own lives and our emotions.
Erickson opens with a warning to neocons and religious fundamentalists who cannot abide dissent. “Don’t buy this book,” he warns, and then tells them what to expect if they do:
A few of the tales are fiction;
most of them are true,
but unlike religious stories
I never confuse the two.
So enough for full disclosure,
It’s time to move ahead
With our Eyes Wide Open
And a mind that isn’t dead.
Many of the articles are strong attacks on religion while promoting ethics and rational thinking. Critics may ask, “why attack religion? Can’t you promote ethics and rational thinking without attacking religion?” Erickson responds in “Pushing Back I,” that “religions demand belief without evidence and make supernatural threats and promises that corrupt the mind, diverting it from ethics and rational thinking.”
Several of the essays express Erickson’s concerns with environmental issues and overpopulation, which will result in an eventual depletion of our natural resources. He uses the word “terracide” in condemning “the continued release of chlorofluorocarbons, our profligate waste of energy, the removal of rainforests and mindless reproduction along with the religions that promote it.” Because of the increase in human knowledge, he writes in a piece called “The Truth about Tackle,” we switched from adapting to nature to shaping it to suit our needs. Environmental and population changes, he argues, have already degraded our planet and will eventually destroy it.
Erickson attributes much of the blame for overpopulation to the religious fundamentalists and the Catholic Church’s ban on the teaching and use of contraceptives. He is concerned that religious influences lead to overpopulation and poverty in some countries, causing residents of those countries to emigrate to the United States, resulting in an unnecessary burden on our country. He is certainly not concerned with political correctness when he writes in “Lady Liberty and the Population Bomb” that “illegals and their offspring should be deported. Mexicans should not be returned to the border, but to Mexico City, making it less convenient to return while taking the problem to the seat of the Mexican government.” But upon reading the entire article, the statement appears less inflammatory. Erickson strongly advocates assisting and educating needy countries that want to control their populations rather than accepting all who wish to come here. He clarifies his position in “Rhythm and Blues and Babies” where he again states his concern with accepting immigrants from countries with no access to birth control. Instead of emigrating, Erickson believes they should stay home and work for family planning. He makes it very clear that he favors restriction of immigration but not its elimination.
“Off With Their Heads” is an excellent discussion of capital punishment, presenting fairly the arguments for and against the death penalty. The article’s conclusion is that there may be no need for such a penalty when we reduce poverty and ignorance and provide equal representation for all defendants. But until then there remains a restricted need for racially unbiased capital punishment.
Other very serious issues covered in the book include genetic engineering, public aid to religious schools, school prayer, fear of death, and other philosophical issues.
Erickson’s political opinions are freely expressed in his articles and almost none of the humanist anti-heroes such as George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Glen Beck, Sarah Palin, or John McCain escape his wrath.
Erickson presents his political opinions in a clever and unique manner. In “Why Horses Laugh,” he describes trickle-down economics by having a horse represent the wealthy upper class. The horse is fed oats, some of which pass through undigested and are left on the ground for the sparrows (lower class) to eat. The more the horses are fed, the more the sparrows will have of the undigested oats. The poorer class (as manifested by their votes for Ronald Reagan) accepted this and never asked why some of the oats couldn’t be fed directly to the sparrows.
Some of the material is quite emotional. In “The Minnesota Trapper” (excerpted from his best-selling book True North), Erickson describes the anguish of a young trapper empathizing with the animal he has trapped. There’s also a piece in which the narrator watches a five-year old being treated for cystic fibrosis and realizes that his own personal problems, which previously seemed overwhelming, were insignificant.
History buffs will enjoy the articles covering the history of Islam, secular origins of religious holidays, and U.S. history. And his philosophical commentaries include thoughts on life and death as well as his own wish list for a better world and his thirteen commandments for freethinkers, to replace the Christians’ ten.
This book also contains many humorous essays. “Noah in the 21st Century” is a clever revision of a right-wing Internet piece originally intended to ridicule liberals and restrictive government policies. And in “Salvation for All,” certificates are available (for a slight fee, of course) guaranteeing salvation for the purchaser. One of my favorites was “Satan Update” which is a clever and humorous summary of the relationship between religion and the devil.
Many of the articles in this book are based upon the author’s fascinating and interesting life to date. Erickson shares his experiences eloquently, providing a great learning opportunity for the reader. The variety of topics in this book are too numerous to mention. But behind them all are the concepts of reason, compassion, and truth. And, of course, the author’s wonderful sense of humor.
Erickson’s insightful incursions into religion, politics, philosophy, history, atheism, and social issues are totally enjoyable to read. Some of the chapters might make you cry and others cringe, and some will make you laugh but none will bore you.