"Black then white are
All I see, in my infancy
Red and yellow then came to be
Reaching out to me, let's me see." - James Maynard Keenan
Many of my atheist friends tell me about the influence others have had on them in regard to atheism. Indeed, the works of Hitchens, Dawkins, Harris and others have been very influential and have been a source of a rise in atheism.
While I've read those men's works, I read them all after embracing atheism and rather than being an influence in my decision, they have been source material to bolster my own arguments. But I would be lying if I said that no one influenced my decision. To be fair even calling my atheism a decision is a bit disingenuous, because all it really was was an acceptance of something I already knew to be true. Like many of us however, it took someone else to open my eyes to what was right in front of me.
The man who influenced me and really made me start thinking is James Maynard Keenan. Many of you have probably heard his music, be it the rocking sounds of TOOL, the more mellow and melodic songs of A Perfect Circle, or the eccentric and eclectic sound of Puscifer, nearly all of us have heard his words. Many of the lyrics of his songs resonate with anti-theistic fervor and call for the listener to question his or her way of thinking.
I'm getting a bit ahead of myself here though, because you need to understand what an important role Maynard's music played in my life.
You see, I didn't just grow up in a Christian home. It's one thing to be raised in a family that simply has always identified as Christian and attends church sparingly and the type of home I grew up in. In my home we weren't just Christians; we were the family of a minister. While not a national celebrity, my grandfather is a minister who is well known in multiple counties all throughout the state. In his early years he recorded radio sermons for an AM radio station that is syndicated throughout the state. This adds a layer to the family dynamic in that our actions have always been seen as a reflection on him as a minister.
The other thing you should know is that my grandfather has always been a minister for The Church of Christ. This particular denomination is a hard line evangelical group and as such has a lot of rules and regulations. Among those are prescriptions against short skirts, women having men's haircuts, dancing, musical instruments in church, and the dreaded rock and roll music. So growing up, from about 3 until I was 12, I never heard rock music. MTV was not allowed and in the car it was gospel or golden oldies. Of course, as any parent knows, you can't shelter your children from everything or shelter them forever.
My first real taste of rock music came in 1992 and as it so happens it was the album Opiate by TOOL that was my first introduction to what I had always been told was a tool of Satan. On a school field trip my seat mate asked if I wanted to check out this new album he had just gotten and in my boredom and curiosity I put on his headphones and listened to the entire album from start to finish. Not once, but three times.
As I listened I was struck with two very clear and succinct ideas. First was to ask myself why none of these things Maynard was talking about never occurred to me before. Secondly I was struck with the feeling that I'd been cheated. That music moved me, and still does, in a way that nothing else can compare to. To be denied that experience for the first twelve years of my life seemed a great cheat indeed.
I was hooked, and my love for rock and metal music has only grown.
The thing about rock and metal that Christians seem to hate most is that it asks the listener to think. When you listen to a song like Judith or Jerk-Off you're left to question long held ideas about religion and society. In today's society however we're bombarded with pop music sung by trained monkeys that offers us "entertainment" with no real substance. We're given Miley Cyrus and Justin Beiber and the like, dancing singing monkeys on a stage meant to pacify and dull the senses. We're given catchy hooks with na-na-na's in between and we eat it up like flies on manure.
Men like Maynard and many others shatter that idea and remind us that musicians are merely philosophers who offer their thesis to a rhythm. They pour themselves out in their music and offer us a look at the world through their eyes. They ask us to question what we are told and taught and to seek the answers for ourselves. A truly great lyricist should be thought of along the lines of Plato rather than Bozo the Clown. They aren't just performers and they aren't just there to amuse us.
The music of TOOL and Maynard in general did not turn me into an atheist. What it did was to open my eyes to a new perspective and over time that perspective has changed my entire worldview. So while I thoroughly enjoy the works of men such as Dawkins and Harris and others, when it comes to philosophy I'll take Maynard over the rest any day because no one speaks to me with the same force as Maynard.
A Note From the Author
I would be doing a great disservice to all the amazing musicians out there if I failed to give them props here as well. Unfortunately there are far too many to list them all. So to all the secular metal and rock musicians who put themselves out there and offer not just entertainment but a piece of themselves, I just want to say thank you and keep doing what you do.
Photo Credits: Jon Iraundegi