A song from Modest Mouse begins with these lyrics: “I was in heaven – I was in hell – Believe in neither – But fear them as well.” Subtract the claim of having been to both and just consider the claim, “I believe in neither heaven nor hell, but I fear them.” Further, suppose someone asserts this with the utmost sincerity. Is there anything strange about that assertion? Is it at all like “Moore’s Paradox”: “It’s raining but I don’t believe it.” ?
A person sincerely making the claim about fearing heaven and hell seems to be saying that X doesn’t exist but I fear X. Perhaps that is not strange after all, since we fear things that don’t exist yet, e.g., the last moments of life as we are dying, and things that may never exist, e.g., getting fired from our jobs, going bankrupt, etc. But while those things are feared and do not exist, they are believed to exist in the future (or it is believed that they will exist) or believed to be possibilities. But presumably anyone who doesn’t believe in heaven or hell doesn’t believe that they will come to exist or that they are possibilities in the same way that losing one’s job is a possibility.
Perhaps one could not believe in heaven or hell, but fear them because one fears that one is wrong about there not being either. Insofar as one fears being wrong, one can fear that which one is wrong about.
But I wonder if we couldn’t approach it from another direction viz. looking at the ways in which one might believe in neither. That is, we can distinguish between a mere lack of belief in X and a “positive” disbelief in X. So a person who merely lacks belief in heaven and hell might sensibly fear them in a way that a person who holds a positive disbelief in them could not. I may be building something out of nothing here (or perhaps nothing out of something). But part of the joy of doing philosophy is to start wondering about something and see where it leads, even if it often leads nowhere.