Phil Paulson Obituary
For years I was on Phil Paulson's e-mail list. I found the following obituary and thought it would be appropriate to post it here. --Dan
Those of you who attended the FFRF Convention in San Francisco October 6-7 heard a cheerful (though dying) Phil Paulson give a rousing speech. Here is his obituary.
The Despised Hero
By Keith TaylorOctober 27, 2006
When Phil Paulson died Wednesday, San Diego lost one of her greatest heroes. It also lost her most despised citizen. Paulson was a man who didn't believe in God. Neither did more others than will admit to it. Paulson admitted it and stood up for all of us whether we came out of the closet with our secret or not.
We atheists aren't popular in this country. The constitutions of seven states – Arkansas, Maryland, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Texas and Tennessee – prohibit us from holding any statewide office. Of course it's unconstitutional, but it's there, perhaps as a reminder of our place in the hearts of our countrymen.
Not that we are unaware of what they think of it. The Boy Scouts took a case to the California Supreme Court to ban us. The president of the United States is the Scouts' honorary commander. Ask yourself if he would accept that honor if they excluded Episcopalians? Or Jews? Or Presbyterians? Or anybody who simply had one less god than most of the rest of us?
Paulson was aware of all that in 1989 when he filed suit against the city of San Diego to remove the cross from atop Mount Soledad on property owned by the city. He won, but the case was appealed time and again, and Paulson prevailed every time. Now it is probably headed for the U.S. Supreme Court, again.
Through it all Paulson has been assailed from all sides. He was the favorite whipping boy of radio talk-show hosts. Various media stated “atheist Phil Paulson” so many times that he claimed “atheist” was his first name. But he joked they should have at least given him a capital “A.” His humor helped him through a lot of malicious slander.
Of course Paulson had lots of practice at facing down dogma. When he was a child, he asked one question too many in his Lutheran catechism class. “If God created us, who created God?” That's been a question of philosophers and theologians for centuries, but this time it came from a child! The pastor of his parish dragged him from the classroom by the ear. He then called his mom who further punished him and made him pray on his knees every night for forgiveness and enlightenment for two weeks.
He volunteered to take his brother's place in the draft during the Vietnam War. In Vietnam, he served for some 16 months, taking part in some of the bloodiest battles of the war.
Despite being in almost constant danger, he refused to admit to a belief in what he considered irrational. A chaplain told him to go to church. He refused. The chaplain went to the battalion commander, and soon Paulson's sergeant ordered him to go to church.
Freedom of religion didn't include freedom from religion in Company C, 1st Battalion of the 173 Airborne Brigade. But it does to a group based in Wisconsin, Paulson's home state. Two weeks ago, the Freedom From Religion Foundation, at its annual convention in San Francisco, gave Paulson its first “Atheist in a Foxhole” award. He attended although he was barely able to travel.
Paulson was dying. He and I started work on his autobiography last summer. We barely got going when he called with terrible news. A cancer he thought he had whipped a year earlier had returned. The doctor at the Veterans Affairs hospital gave him four months, maybe a little more.
He opted for a little more so we could get his story down on paper. He commenced the chemotherapy that might kill the cancer cells along with much of his huge body.
He persevered with the book with the same dedication he had shown when fighting off an entire city. Still, it was a losing battle. Many days he just wasn't up to talking. On others he had things to do that people with a long time to live can put off.
We didn't get much of his life down on paper, but I will keep working on it. The world, believers and nonbelievers alike, should get to know and appreciate an American who stood up for what he felt was right.
I think I'll call the book Atheist Phil Paulson: An American Hero. It will be appropriate whether you believe in Paulson or not.
Taylor is a retired Navy officer and writer living in Chula Vista. He can be reached via e-mail at http://webmaila.juno.com/webmail/new/8?folder=Inbox&msgNum=00008IG0:0015HsZl000035jo&block=5&msgNature=all&msgStatus=all&amp;count=1163776906&content=central#.