"epistemology and morality is a game you play for unimaginably perilous, eternal stakes"

April 21, 2018
Was fear of burning in hell forever a big part of your childhood? My church wasn't particularly fire-and-brimstone but I remember being scared witless at some point as a 10- or 11-year-old. It really set me to be uptight in certain ways - even after I gave up the supernatural belief, I think subconsciously the "do right or face the most dire imaginable (actually, literally unimaginably awful) consequences." sunk in deep. And in some ways its kept my behaviour on some good straight and narrow paths but, man, what a cost!

Anyway. I had a dialog tonight that reminded me "fear of eternal hellfire" isn't a universal feature of childhood / tween years, so now I'm wondering how many of my online buds had it?

I want to reiterate that my church didn't hammer hell home, or at least not frequently, and I'm very sure I didn't get it from my folks. (Though on a visit to DC I had a Sunday School class taught by my Aunt that emphasized the Tribulation, complete with a Christian in front of a firing squad, that seized my imagination. A terrifying pile of bullshit for a child. Not sure if that kind of scare is morally better or worse than "pre-tribulation" thinking (that uses a dubious reading of scriptures and a more optimistic and selfish view of God's protection for his flock to presume good Christians have a "Get Out of Jail" free card and will be whisked off before the excrement hits the ventilation system.))

One of my frustrations with my conversation last night was my discussion partner, who was blessed with a more wholesome set of one on one religious instructions as a child, kind of flaunted that wholesomeness over what I had picked up then, but as if my view then was what I overtly believed now, and as if I hadn't matured my own view. I have, but am aware that there's a subconscious underpinning - or even undermining - and that "epistemology and morality is a game you play for unimaginably perilous, eternal stakes" drives even my secular view (where the preponderance of SO MANY DIFFERENT faiths and corresponding supernatural explanations leads me to believe that none of them are as true as they claim, unless they go down a non-exclusive "many paths to the same destination" approach.)


It's funny how many years I ran from having a conversation about this with my Preacher Lady Mom. I mean, I still do. I see now that given my views about "Objective Truth that you can know but never be certain of your knowledge of, but other people's beliefs are important signposts as to the most likely Truth" I had a lot of anxiety about us not being able to pay attention to each other's signposts.

At one point maybe ten years ago when we had part of that conversation, she came back to a "and when I have doubts, I just realize that it's not such a bad way to live anyway." At the time I thought it was just a recapitulation of Pascal's Wager, but I realize now she might have been referring in an understated way to a lot of richness the Christian Preacher life has provided for her, really given her purpose and community and with all The Salvation Army's charity, many tangible and real-world proofs of the good she has done.

I shared my religious skepticism with Mr. Johnson (the man, a pharmacist and my part-time employer, who came closest to stepping as the father figure after my dad died during the beginning of my time in high school, and had many great man-to-boy talks over dinner - now he's up in Heaven too, to quote Vonnegut) and he said he was pretty assured I'd come back to religion/church some day. And now I wonder if the community and richness I find in activist bands counts - the parallels with my church upbringing (in particular with School of Honk - marching outside Sunday afternoons and constantly inviting people to join in) are tremendous, and I'm thinking I get many of the church-y benefits sociologists talk about through my 4 or 5 bands...