My name is Dean Hall, and, for the most part, I consider myself a seeker of truth. My adventure filled youth in the Kentucky foothills of the Appalachian Mountains afforded me unlimited access to the world of nature.
As a barefoot boy, I seized every after-school opportunity to explore the hills, hollows, creeks, and ponds around my little patch of paradise on this pale-blue dot, with each journey teaming with new wildlife discoveries. Sometimes I can still recall the feel of mid-summer bluegrass under my feet when I would walk the mile through the fields to my grandmother’s house, wondering all the way if she would have a newly brewed pot of iced tea ready.
I think growing up with my feet (literally—my bare feet) planted firmly on that rich Kentucky soil had something to do with my initial introduction to atheism. My vivid imagination was only overshadowed by my curiosity. The phrase “doxastic closure” was not nor has ever been part of my ethos. So when my mother and grandmother started introducing me to the terms God, Jesus, demons, angels, etc., I was curious. Like any investigative child, I went looking for evidence. What I discover was—unlike the naturalistic photos and discoveries in science books and encyclopedias—questions about the existence of these entities were met with emotional wrath and shaming. I learned it was better to discuss the nature of these so-called beings than to inquire into the actual existence of them. Questioning their existence was off limits. Right then, at the tender age of 6, I knew something was up—my childhood bullshit detector was pegging in the red. If I saw a picture of a frog or a bird that was native to my area in a book, I would search until I was pretty sure I spotted one in nature. The search for gods and demons left my mind swirling in a supernatural mental vacuum—untethered from my adolescent worldview of reality.
As a result of my insatiable curiosity in the face of nonexistent evidence, I had to pretend to believe all the gods, demons, angels, and Bible stories until I got out of high school. In a way, I felt sad—not for me, but for the people I thought were being deceived at best, or at worst: delusional. I watched people pray for things that never materialized. For me, the world operated just the way it would without invoking a god. Adding a gods and demons to reality only seemed to complicate it. Doing the right thing in life because a god commands detracts from morality. But if that changes in the near future, I’m open to it—but I’m not holding my breath.
I never think about gods these days, but I consider myself an anti-theist. Not necessarily because I don’t think religious claims are true, but because many times religion is used as a shield for personal bigotry, racism, homophobia, and misogyny. Sometimes the phrase the Bible says is often followed by some hate-filled bronze-age rhetoric.
As a musician, I’ve had the opportunity to travel all over the world, and I’ve been fortunate to work with all kinds of people. And far from the trappings of tribalized, mutually-exclusive religions, I have learned one thing: I see people through the eyes of humanity, and no their skin color, sexual orientation, gender, origin of birth, or even their religion.
Religion is not always the problem (my wife’s a Christian), but false beliefs sometimes are. Here’s an example. Although the numbers are on the decline, we live in a country where over 50 percent of people (people—not just Christians) believe in an anthropomorphic or literal Devil. Education is no deterrent. In a recent interview, Justice Scalia determined that the Devil, lately, has gotten “wilier” and believes the Devil is now working through some people in this class. Here’s his direct quote: “What he’s doing now is getting people not to believe in him or in God. He’s much more successful that way.” That worries me on so many levels; I don’t have room here to go into it.
So there you have it: my brief, truncated journey through life. I wouldn't trade my childhood experience for anything, even if I were given a do-over. I’m still a kid at heart and a seeker of truth. Sometimes I can still feel those childhood moments of bliss—the warm bluegrass beneath my bare feet. And then there are times I’m motivated to write or create—not from beauty or bliss—but as Kurt Vonnegut quipped about his source of inspiration: “It was a disgust with civilization.”
A little love can go a long way.