Heaven, Hell, Faith, History

Daily Prompt ______ is the new ______ Click over to your favorite blog, and pick out the 4th and 14th words (that aren’t “the” or “an”). Drop them into this phrase: “_____ is the new _____.” There’s your post title. Now write!

“Security is the new establish” (Blognovic) — yeah, that works (huh?)! But…doing a nounification on the verb “establish?” “Security is the new establishment” is somewhat better and fits (more or less) what I want to write about this morning — my next novel and my philosophical/spiritual problems with approaching my characters, people who emigrated from Switzerland for their SECURITY and to ESTABLISH themselves safely where they could practice their religion unmolested.

I woke up this morning with anxiety for the first time since I moved into my house… It could be that my Samter’s Triad had blocked my breathing passages or I could be scared about adopting a giant dog…

But it gave me time to think about the book that’s kind of hanging around in my future. It’s going to be about immigrants to American in the 18th century, Anabaptist, Mennonite, immigrants.

I got a couple of books from Masthof Press, a small press in Pennsylvania that publishes books related to Pennsylvania Dutch culture. Most people are interested in this subject because of their interest in their family’s genealogy. Me too, in a sense, but not who my forbears were. I’m interested in their beliefs. The Brothers Path was difficult to research because I could not sympathize easily with most of the characters and I despised their world. Those are difficult things to get around. One huge problem for anyone writing historical fiction is finding the imaginative energy to abandon oneself, ones biases, ones beliefs long enough to get into the protagonists’ world. I don’t think people writing fantasy or science fiction have to accomplish that to the same degree. They can create a dystopia or a utopia; it just has to logically follow from the world we know, one of infinite futures that branch off from the present.

The most difficult thing for me to get is the question of salvation. You see, I don’t believe in it. The idea seems completely crazy to me. I can understand intellectually THAT it matters to many people today and even MORE in past centuries. I can understand that it is the ONE important question for many people, “How can I know I will not go to Hell?”

Thinking about this, I realized that is all I’ve written about, a question I don’t understand and yet one that has motivated all kinds of horror for centuries. It hit me that perhaps that’s a wish fulfilling prophecy kind of thing; the fear of hell has impelled people to create hells on earth. The paradox is that the people in my book will be trying to move as far away from that as they can — but motivated by the same question, “How can I know I will not go to hell?”

The different religions inspired by the different sects of Anabaptism evolved to be, for the most part, pacifists. They include the Quakers, the Amish and the Mennonites. Other more mainstream religions have roots in Anabaptism (Baptists, in particular) without having followed two main principles — the refusal to take oaths and the refusal to take up arms against an enemy. I got a book that contains letters and sermons by Menno Simons, the “founder” of the Mennonites. I had some real hopes for what I might find in his words, but so far, I’m disappointed.

It’s the same cant I’ve heard since childhood. Us vs. Them.  I’d rather read St. Augustine.


9 thoughts on “Heaven, Hell, Faith, History

  1. I am somewhat in tune with your questioning of salvation. I belong to a church that looks to find blessed community here on earth, with no promises or warnings about what happens after we die. We are not even technically Christian any more, although our roots are in liberal Congregationalism. In fact, we welcome all people on a spiritual quest, or wanting to be on a spiritual quest, of whatever belief system they have. We have a burning desire for justice and equality. We seek truth where we can. I couldn’t have found a more copasetic community if I tried. But salvation after death? No.

  2. That very question haunted my youth and eventually led me out of religion. That’s what I call salvation!
    The book sounds interesting. I have a Penn-Dutch branch on my family tree.

    • Yeah — it hit me this morning how much of this is in reaction to the all-pervading church of the middle ages that did a pretty good job overall keeping people happy until the end of the 14th century… OH well.

  3. Being a complete atheist I cannot give very much advice on this subject. However, my great, great, great grandfather (or something like that) was a Huguenot from the area around Montpelier in France who left (escaped) the French as the protestants were being persecuted. I believe they killed quite a few. His family arrived in Germany and from there Jean Louis decided to go to London, him being to blame that I grew up in Bethnal Green. I have his wedding certificate (in french) from the french protestant church in Threadneedle street. He also had a few relatives that did not escape and were working on the galleys. Their name was Camroux and I have the complete family tree section of this family from the 18th century.

    • That’s fascinating! At that time my Swiss ancestors were running a mill in Affoltern am Albis and others were getting out of Europe. On the other side (of that side) the patriarch of my grandfather’s family was running away from the authorities in Scotland. As for the rest? I guess they were just trying to earn a living somewhere (Ireland and Sweden). It’s funny but I’ve never regarded myself as an atheist. I’ve just felt for a long time that it’s not my business. I can’t change anyone’s mind about their beliefs and I don’t feel I have the right — that’s also against every doctrine of my forbear’s faith. I may not be able to do this since I can’t respect their beliefs at all.

  4. You have my absolute admiration. I’m fairly sure I couldn’t write convincingly about something I didn’t believe. And I agree about salvation – particularly as those most convinced they’re earning it by their strong faith often treat their fellow beings with such contempt.

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