Name: Brandon ‘mothmantis’ Miller
Born: Oct. 1980
Location: Kerrville, Texas
Former Religious Affiliation: Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, New-Age Hippie, Hopeless Junkie, Wiccan, etc.
Label: Atheist, Secular Humanist, Freethinker, Progressive Socialist, Human Rights Activist, Beast Metal Guitarist
People are, and always will be, people. I need to remind myself of this often. It has always been easy for me to fall prey to the black-or-white, wrong-or-right ideologies that surround us. I know better. People are good or evil. People are people, with all the wonderful, tragic, amazing, inspiring, heart-breaking errata that entails.
In my attempt to keep this essay beneath novel length I will, of course, be leaving many details out. It’s hard to judge which may be important, and I apologize for that.
I was raised, for all intents, to be a ‘default’ Christian. However, through the random events of my childhood I began to doubt, to question, at an early age. Not just faith and the supernatural, but everything.
When I was young (pre-school through the second grade,) I attended a private Christian school. One of my first memories is of being told that Santa Claus isn’t real, but Jesus is. Even at age six I struggled with this apparently basic concept taught as inarguable fact. Had not Santa Claus given me a Transformer (or Ninja Turtle or He-Man or whatever was popular,) last Christmas? How can you tell me that he isn’t real but Jesus is when there is more evidence supporting the existence of Santa?
I was paddled for that incident. A very important lesson it took over 20 years to take to heart: not everyone enjoys having their worldview challenged.
At the end of second grade the first of many events that I view as critical to my development as a skeptic and almost pathological dissenter occurred. My grandfather, who had been footing the bill for the private school and who knows what else, was sent to prison for embezzlement and other forms of fraud and theft. He had owned a bank and insurance company, as well as (I didn’t learn this until much, much later,) being heavily involved in organized crime.
I didn’t grasp all of this when I was eight. All I knew was that Grandad was in jail and we were going to be enrolled in public school. And that was that, at least for a time, of the God I had somehow linked psychologically to the downfall of my personal hero, my grandfather. For the next several years, beyond Easter, Christmas, and the occasional gathering hosted by the more fundamental members of my extended family (who I viewed, even then, as vaguely alien and sinister in some way,) I experienced no further attempts at indoctrination.
I fell in love with science. Dinosaurs, archeology, anthropology, astronomy, biology. No family trip was complete without a trip to every museum in a 50 mile radius. I was fascinated, enraptured, with the idea of Ice Ages, of animals evolving to fit their environment, of volcanoes and continental drift. I stood in awe of the elegance of the solar system, of water tension, of spider webs and magnets, of the possibilities of life on other worlds and the unimaginable diversity of life here on Earth. This was, unlike stories of Moses or Jesus, real magic, available to all.
Unfortunately these few happy years did not last. Around seventh grade my father’s alcoholism had progressed to the point where he was a clear danger to my mother, myself and my brother. I, myself, had begun to experiment with the drugs and the liquor that would control the majority of my adult life. Things became dark, and I began looking for answers. And the more I looked the less I found.
At age 14 my mother moved us in with the man that would become my step-father; an almost comically psychotic and unreasonable fundamentalist.
I hesitate to say that I was abused in that environment. What qualifies as abuse? Was burning my clothes, books, records and movies abuse? Was having me exorcized abuse? Was threatening my with an eternity of pain for looking for answers beyond holy writ? Was blaming me, in the name of god, for all of our familial problems abuse? Probably. Regardless, things can’t unhappen. He wasn’t a bad man any more than I was a bad kid. He was just a man, and I was just a kid. And now I am a man. And as a man I can forgive him.
From the age of 16 to 27 I ran as far and as fast from reality as narcotically possible. I won’t subject you to the unpleasantries. I woke to methamphetamines, crack-cocaine and vodka and went to bed with despair, hopelessness and desperation.
I got, and stayed, clean in July of 2008, with the help of 12-Step programs, counseling and a church-based ministry geared towards homeless drug addicts. I will always be grateful for the help these people provided, long after everyone else had given up on me.
For two and a half years I tried, desperately, so very desperately, to develop the relationship with a ‘god’ or ‘higher power’ that I was told was my only hope of not returning to active addiction. Every book, every ritual, every suggestion, every prayer. From mainstream Christianity, to Islam, to Buddhism, to tribal religions, to personalized new-age beliefs, to the gods of the Norse and Romans; I searched from the top of the world to the bottom of myself for something, anything, that I could call god.
Not only could I not find a god to put my faith in, I found myself at a point where I almost lost all faith in the fellowship of humanity. To move forward was impossible, to go backward was unconscionable. Join the herd or suffer alone was my choice. Believe or die.
One night, in the throes of depression and self-pity, contemplating either suicide or getting drunk (also suicide, as I was at death’s door when I sobered up,) having prayed and meditated (accompanied by the usual shame in thinking there was something wrong with me since it had never worked,) I went outside and laid on my picnic table and looked at the sky. And at that time I took my first step towards true freedom. I remembered a ten year old boy and his treasures: his microscope and telescope, his magnifying glass and globe. I found Orion and the Big Dipper, I saw the moon, pulling the tides behind her. I was an invisible dot on an invisible dot and I had never felt more exhilarated.
A fire had been lit. I devoured new books, new ideas, new ways of thinking and seeing and being. Newton, Einstein, Jung, and Plato. Darwin, Dawkins, Sagan, and Zinn. Chomsky, Paine, Tolstoy, and Nietzsche. I found my ‘gods’ at last: great men, driven to great works in the name of humanity. To love one’s neighbor, to help a suffering stranger, to care when care is not required; these are not supernatural, are not gifts of some Sky Santa. These are the qualities of Man.
Despite all of his arrogance, his cruelty, his hatred and his violence, Man possesses that which allows him to stand up, to look at himself, his world, his society, his friends and family and neighbors, and choose to change it. A man may say “I will do the best I can with what I have for the sake of others. I will be strong for those that are weak. I will give what I have for those that have not. I will better myself so that I may better us all.”
To any of my brothers or sisters struggling with shame or alienation because of your atheism: you are not alone. Never forget that. Never despair and never be ashamed of who you are. We are the candles in the darkness. We are the reason in the madness. We are the stewards of every tomorrow.
Thank you for being,
Tagged with: 1980 • astronomy • brandon • dawkins • dinosaurs • drugs • guitar • hitchens • metal • sagan • Texas