flow and the religious upbringing

For my science and spirituality group we are reading Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi's "Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience". I haven't finished the book and am still playing around with tangents of those ideas I have encountered so this might be even more ramble-y than usual.

Some of the book's "autotelic" (activities pursued for their own purpose, vs for some later goal or validation) thinking emphasizes the seeking of challenge for its own sake. Which I'm bad at - my ego and fixed mindset don't encourage me to undertake tasks that risk invalidating my sense of competence. So I often look to be clever with what I can accomplish with the tools I know well rather than pushing my skills. This is probably a big factor both in my programming and my musicianship - the useful or fun programs and websites I like writing, and the kind of music I encourage my bands to pursue (pieces with good energy and audience connection, with a requirement for technical skill being a liability rather than a plus.) This all reflects well on an idea I previously had; "You have to realize that the point isn't necessarily to be good at The Thing, the point is to get better at leaning into challenges" - because life seems to be willing to serve up more challenges than we'd necessarily prefer. (For both programming and music, audience appreciation is important, but maybe more in a sense of affirming my worth in the world objectively rather than for its own people-pleasing sake.)

"Flow" talks about how a family's "autotelic" stance is a huge formational factor, and I'm trying to figure out how my upbringing in The Salvation Army weighs into that - how my family's life was shaped around service to God - half the time our home was literally physically in the church. But more pointedly - how my own youthful sense of keeping in accord with the God's Eye View of things was what was going to keep me from eternal punishment in hell. (Which is kind of the opposite of "autotelic" service for the sake of service.)

So like even if I'm a bit of a skeptic now, having not been gifted faith in the usual sense, should I be grateful for or resentful of the big dose of fear of hellfire I made for myself as a kid? When I compare my emotional stability to some of my skeptic/humanist friends, most of whom weren't quite as swamped by the religious stuff as a kid, I think I'm doing pretty well. (But I dunno, I guess there's more to life than "emotional stability") On the other hands, I take fewer big swings in terms of making a family or curating a career than they do.

More and more I think the single biggest dialectic is this: which matters more: individual's feelings and preferences or the objective truth of things? But the synthesis from that thesis/antithesis is complex; the objective truth of how things should be is an emergent property of how people feel about them.

For me, in the day to day, people's feelings are mostly valuable as signposts to what truth has emerged from everybody's feelings. Other people might be concerned about making others angry or happy, but for me someone's anger or happiness is only valid if it's in line with the objective truth. But that (potentially arrogant) sense of "objective truth" is tempered because A. I really believe no one can be certain they know what the truth is and B. the way that truth (of how things "should be") arises from people's feelings.

I suspect I can trace all that back down to a relatively chill family environment, when I didn't live in fear of my parent's emotions or judgement and instead could look to what I was told was on God's mind.

So I'm left with trying to figure out what recommendations I have for raising young people - how do you thread the needle that there is no single knowable objective truth, but also that the individual's feelings and preferences can be arbitrary and not the supreme arbiter of how things should be? Maybe the liberal wing of UU church, the "multiple paths" approach, has the right idea - you look to various faith traditions with respect and for knowledge, but you don't get too hung up on any one set of supernatural explanations or doctrines. (You might still wrestle with the Paradox of Tolerance, but that seems a bit more manageable than some of these larger epistemological issues.)

the realm of freedom begins when the realm of necessity is left behind.