Texas Baptist found, embraced reason

tower michaelName: Michael Thomas Tower. I go by “Michael,” never “Mike.”

Where I live: Boulevard, Calif., a small rural community in the mountains 65 miles east of San Diego, on seven hillside acres surrounded by mountains and valleys.

Where and when I was born: Born in Tahoka, Texas, a small farming town 30 miles south of Lubbock, on the last day of 1935. I lived there until I was 12 years old.

Family: Four children (three surviving) from a marriage of nearly 20 years, four biological grandchildren, three adopted ones and two step-great-grandchildren.

My closest “kin” now, however, is my life partner of nine years. He is a native of Hong Kong, 59 years old, and a retired mechanical engineer. I also have an older sister.

Education: Texas public schools; B.A. from California Baptist College, major in religion, minor in English; master of religious education from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth. 

Occupation: My first career was in the Christian ministry, but doubts began forming soon and I left after less than three years of full-time activity. After that I made a career in insurance administration, another in graphic design and typography.

How I got where I am today: Four things come to mind, Agony and Exploration, Enlightenment and Relief. There was enormous misery in my early years because (1) I knew I was a homosexual and believed, as I was taught, that was not just a serious character flaw, but an abominable sin; and (2) the conservative religion in which I was born and raised never, ever proved to be what I was constantly told it was.

To get where I am today, I had to fight my way through all the idiocy and ignorance of anti-homosexuality as well as religion. The first barrier I finally cleared when I was approaching 40, but it would take another 20-plus years to clear away all the religious sewage.

Where I’m headed: I hope I’m headed toward becoming more the person who is honest and genuine, yet respectful, in feeling free to speak up and stand fast when given the opportunity to advocate for reason and reality. I hope to demonstrate that the life of a nonbeliever can be a worthy life, and that what we believe or don’t believe is strength, not fault.

Person in history I admire: Is it strange that I can’t think of some one person to single out in this way? I guess I think of the multitudes throughout history who stood for reason and fact in the face of unyielding emotionalism, especially those whom we will never know by name who lived simple, quiet lives of extraordinary decency with a determination that strengthens us yet.

Favorite quotation: Maya Angelou’s formula for any successful relationship — personal, business, social, whatever — is a valued guide: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

These are a few of my favorite things: Sitting on the couch between my partner and my cat, close enough that I can touch them both. The smell of homemade bread fresh from the oven. The hush that falls over an audience just before the curtain rises. Being enveloped in the quiet glow of a rose-tinted summer dusk.

These are not: The phrases (and those who say them) “slippery slope,” “word of God” and “There’s nothing you can say that will change my mind.” An adult demeaning a child. Strangers who claim they know what’s “right” for someone else.

My doubts about religion started: By the time I was 8 years old, though I tried to push my skepticism down in order to conform to my upbringing. I started dealing with the doubts while in my 20s, but I still tried to hang on to remnants of religion and didn’t completely get rid of the doubts for another 40 years.

Before I die: I would like to be able to effectively and acceptably apologize to my children for having taught them to be religious. I would like to be recognized as a playwright of merit [see MichaelThomasTower.com]. I would like to see an Iranian-American pregnant atheist lesbian elected U.S. president.

Ways I promote freethought: By gathering the courage to speak out when someone needs to do it. By changing one of my frequent expletives to “Dogdammit,” because I do believe in dogs, and I don’t believe in false advertising. By establishing the website ReasonAndReality.com a few months ago where I can share ideas and let off steam.

Life for me today is: I’m nearly 78 years old, and I have never felt stronger or more fulfilled than I do today. There is no misery, no doubt.

I’m never fearful about pleasing some invisible but all-powerful Something whose demands are at best ambiguous and often ludicrous. None of that now! I am happy, as much as one can be in a world torn by so many different voices bellowing “I know the truth!”

What would you do if you were really, really rich? I would bring together a group of freethinking educators to design a program of education of, oh, for lack of a better name, let’s call it “Human Behavior.”

We need to teach, without the intrusion of religion, that decency, kindness and morality are their own reward, that we should “be good” for no reason except that’s what enables human beings to live together peacefully and productively.

Freedom From Religion Foundation