INTERVIEW With GEORGE ERICKSON
George Erickson, pilot, philanthropist and past director of the American Humanist Association, has released his fourth book, “Eyes Wide Open: Living, Laughing, Loving and Learning in a Religion-Troubled World.” Humanist Network News sat down with him recently to learn more about his latest work, his take on America’s troubles, and the strides he hopes to see the humanist movement make in the next decade.
Humanist Network News: Tell me a little about your book, “Eyes Wide Open”, as well as some of your previous work.
George Erickson: “Eyes Wide Open: Living, Laughing, Loving and Learning in a Religion-Troubled World” is an anthology of new and previously published fiction and nonfiction. It includes a few excerpts from my previous books, the first being the pro-science, adventure travel, best-seller titled “True North: Exploring the Great Wilderness by Bush Plane,” which is based on my 38 “summers” of flying in the Far North. My second book, “Time Traveling with Science and the Saints,” is a summary of the long hostility of organized religion to science. The third book, “Back to the Barrens: On the Wing with da Vinci & Friends,” my pro-science, anti-missionary sequel to “True North,” was written in response to hundreds of appeals for a sequel.
HNN: What are the major points “Eyes Wide Open” tries to make? What do you think it has to offer humanists and non-humanists alike?
GE: “Eyes Wide Open,” which is semi-autobiographical, consists of approximately 100 book excerpts, articles, op-eds, poems and stories, most of which are nonfiction, and they cover a wide range of subjects that demonstrate how a person who was once religious can live an ethical, productive, inquisitive, humor-loving and caring life without leaning on supernatural beliefs.
For example, the chapter “Crystals Lite” pokes fun at New Age beliefs, “Off With Their Heads” examines the death penalty, “The Minnesota Trapper” tells of a boy’s first encounter with death, “Satan Update” takes over where Mark Twain ended when he wrote “Sold to Satan,” and “Philosophical Geometry — Solid, Man,” compares the humanist acceptance of change to religionists who cling to dogma. “Trust Me,” which was written 15 years ago, was an early warning about overpopulation and global warming, while “The Toolbox — A Hazard for the Home,” is pure farce.
For physics lovers, we have “Get a Half Life,” and those who care that faith healers withhold medical care from their children will find “Faith Healing — Death Dealing” riveting.
Although many of the subjects are serious, “Eyes Wide Open” is often fun to read, so if you like a good laugh mixed in with subjects that are critical to our lives, “Eyes Wide Open” is for you — and it makes a great gift.
HNN: Your book frequently emphasizes the importance of removing religion from schools. As a parent, did you encounter this issue as your children went through school?
GE: Like most humanists, I object to religious proselytizing in schools. However, if there were a way to teach about religions by an unbiased presenter, that might be a very good thing. Fortunately, Minnesota schools have a good record on that issue, although in the piece “Michael Bristor,” I tell the story of a boy from an atheist family who was ostracized and browbeaten by his Catholic elementary teacher in the Minneapolis public schools.
HNN: In your book you emphasize the importance of comprehensive sex education in schools. How did you approach this issue with your own children?
GE: Readers will appreciate the short story titled “Under the Covers” in which I detail my efforts to educate my sons about the birds and bees, a process that began when they were about three and ended rather hilariously in their preteen years. Fortunately, thanks to the Internet, no young person who hasn’t been locked in a closet will reach puberty with the same level of ignorance that was common before World War II.
HNN: One chapter in “Eyes Wide Open” touches on the issue of immigration. Your book was written before the introduction of Arizona’s controversial SB 1070. How do you feel about this policy?
GE: Immigration and population issues appear in several of my topics, but in regard to SB 1070, I think we need to focus more closely on the people who knowingly hire illegal immigrants because they are the large part of the problem.
HNN: As a humanist, what steps do you think should be taken to combat the economic hardships this country is facing?
GE: This is easy. We need to return to the days of a steeply graduated income tax. Ronald Reagan got rich during those years, and because there are no limits to greed, which is one of the subjects I address, we’ve had so many tax cuts for the wealthy that the middle class is shrinking and many of the poor are getting desperate.
HNN: Your book profits go to various charities. Can you tell me more about those charities and their missions?
GE: There was a time when I was amused by TV programs like “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous,” but I now find them obscene. The widening gap between the rich and the just-getting-by is an indictment of the lack of honor and ethics of politicians, largely conservative, who are out of touch with working class people.
Some would say that the primary focus of Republican leaders has become a search for a way to make greed seem ethical. And because my wife and I are reasonably secure and we are not like those who never have enough, we long ago decided to support a wide variety of charities. The story “Decisions” details the often painful selection process of deciding who will receive free college tuition scholarships and who we must deny.
HNN: In what direction would you like to see the humanist movement go in the next decade? Are there any other areas of advocacy you think we should focus on?
GE: I like the trend that the Association has taken in the last decade, particularly the inclusion on our board of younger people and minorities and attempts to use modern methods of communication. We must make every effort to publicly defend our rational lifestyles and the fact that we are ethical, moral, tolerant and supportive members of society who have never burned a book, fire-bombed a building or shot its occupants — and that the world will be a better place when everyone remembers one the wisest parts of the Bible, that being Matthew 7:20, “by their fruits will ye know them.”
For more information on George Erickson, visit http://www.tundracub.com/index.html. To purchase a copy of “Eyes Wide Open,” please visit the American Humanist Association website at http://www.americanhumanist.org/.