His reason: He doesn't drink, doesn't smoke, and doesn't sleep around, turning what he sees as the depravity of contemporary culture on its head.
Staying away from behavior that harms him, he said, offers him clarity and freedom: "At least I can f------g think."
McTernan, now 23, is part of a large segment of the punk-rock scene which calls itself "straight-edge," adhering to a strict moral code that stands in stark contrast to the hard-partying image of the hard-core rocker.
Many straight-edgers are also devotees of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON), also known as the Hare Krishnas. A few others are evangelical Christians, and still others, like McTernan, do not mix their chosen lifestyle with religious beliefs at all.
"People who were committed to living clean -- it added a whole new dimension to punk," said Daisy Rooks, who wrote, edited and produced a 'zine about the hard-core scene and is herself straight-edge.
Straight-edge music, she added, tends to be slower and less harsh musically, while its lyrics speak about friendships, betrayal, animal rights, and the like.
In addition, so-called "Krishna-conscious" bands with names such as Prema, Shelter, and 108 -- terms which all have special meaning within ISKCON -- sing about their beliefs, relating in song traditional stories of Krishna and other deities, and espousing ISKCON beliefs, such as sobriety and vegetarianism.
Lyrics are sung at a virtual shout, accompanied by pounding, unrelentingly hard-core music.
In the song entitled "Shelter," for example, the group Shelter sings to Krishna: "Thinking that this world revolves around me with myself at the center, I'll never see what is illusion and reality." And in the song "Slave," the band 108 sings: "Lust: this is your God. Greed: this is your God. Sex: This is your God. And he wipes the floor with you, slave. I reject this whole charade."
"Sound vibration is powerful. It can change the consciousness," said John Porcelly, a longtime member of hard-core bands, including Shelter, and himself an ISKCON devotee. "The sound of a babbling brook can make us peaceful, whereas the sound of roaring raucous death metal can bring out violence in us. Likewise, spiritual sound vibration, such as mantras or even modern music with a spiritual message, has the potency to make us more spiritually minded."
ISKCON was founded in New York in the late 1960s as a Western interpretation of orthodox Hinduism. ISKCON devotees venerate the deity Krishna through exuberant dancing and singing, while leading chaste, sober, vegetarian lifestyles.
With their shaved heads, bright-colored robes, and ubiquitous proselytizing, ISKCON devotees left an indelible image on the '60s counterculture but have taken a more low-key public role as the movement has matured and developed in the decades since.
"Krishna-core" albums generally are produced and marketed by companies catering to straight-edge and Krishna-conscious music, such as the Hudson, N.Y.-based Equal Vision Records and the Huntington, Calif.-based Revelation.
But fewer active bands sing about their ISKCON beliefs or use the stage to proselytize than in the early and mid-'90s, although non-religious straight-edge bands are still as active as ever. And, according to Rooks, many straight-edge bands were directly influenced by Krishna bands and incorporate some of the movement's ideals into their lyrics.
While not using the stage as much to proselytize, the albums of 108, Shelter and Prema continue to influence young people and help attract them to ISKCON temples.
"The straight-edge scene is bigger than ever in America and Europe," Porcelly said. "And kids in that scene seem to be naturally attracted to spiritual life since they already follow a lot of the basic tenets, like no intoxication and no meat eating."
Porcelly, better known by the nickname Porcell, himself came to ISKCON through the hard-core scene. When he became an ISKCON devotee, he said, "It wasn't that I had to give up what I liked to do and came naturally to me -- music -- but I just had to spiritualize it."
As a result, he was among the founders of Shelter, one of the most well-known and popular straight-edge Krishna-conscious bands. Although he lived as an ISKCON monk in a temple for several years, he now lives outside the temple and, while still a committed devotee, has opted against the monastic lifestyle and plans to get married.
By all accounts, the combination of Krishna consciousness and the hard-core scene was not an instant hit, with many in the scene wary of the explicit proselytizing, the busloads of robed devotees at concerts and the sudden, newfound religiosity of "typical" hard-core teens. In addition, some in the scene assailed what they considered to be ISKCON's homophobia and misogyny.
"You get people at a vulnerable point in their lives," said Rooks, who was among the most vocal critics of the ISKCON presence in the music scene. "It's a lot of white kids dressing up in saris. When it's done well, it can be okay, but when it's not, it's offensive."
Rooks, who distributed anti-ISKCON material at concerts, said she was a "prime recruitment target" for ISKCON, and admits she occasionally felt tempted to join. In years since, her criticism has subsided, partly because a close friend of hers is an ISKCON devotee. The music, she added, was great, despite her differences with the devotees playing it.
Annuttama Dasa, ISKCON director of communication, said that Krishna conscious music is a grassroots phenomenon, but one that mirrors the commitment to music that has for ages characterized Krishna worship.
"The music carried a message of some anti-materialism, which is part of the whole Indian tradition," he said. "The music reaffirmed or touched some deeper quest for knowledge in these young people."
McTernan sees a more direct link between hard-core music and straight-edge values, whether secular or religiously motivated.
"People looking for aggressive music are looking for release," he said. "I think it's the same with a lot of religions or value systems. You find a lot of these kids are very intense."
As for himself, McTernan certainly did not plan his "rebellion." But growing up in the Washington, D.C., area, McTernan got caught up in the punk-music scene and began to meet, and play music with, some of the local straight-edge bands. Years later, the music is his livelihood and straight-edge still his lifestyle.
"My friends who didn't go to school and didn't get out of D.C. are all screwed up," he said. "Hard-core has really given me a life."