It wasn’t until I’d reached the university stage of my life, when we all find ourselves alone, grasping onto who we think we are for dear life, that I realised how much, and how little, religion had to do with my identity. In fact, most of the people that I started meeting were of a specific religious background, one that meant a lot, in most cases – not just a belief, it meant home, family, tradition. And that felt strange to me. God, and everything he had meant to me up to that point, had always come to me in fragments. Growing up, I was split in-between six religions – my mother is Zoroastrian, and her family is Muslim; some of my father’s family is Orthodox Christian, and some of it is Catholic. I also went to a Jewish school for ten years; and, after that, I attended a Protestant one for another four. That is to say, I was anything but religiously choiceless growing up, but I also didn’t have to make a choice. So I didn’t.
For the past couple of years I have been calling myself agnostic – perhaps as a means of celebrating my religiously multitudinous experience, or perhaps because I am just as confused as I was growing up, what had become increasingly clear to me was that there had to be something out there, if there are so many ways to believe in it. Maybe it is just faith in itself. Either way, I had realised that I am as devoid of answers as I am filled with a ridiculous variation of them. Also, importantly, that I hadn’t only been exposed to religions, but also to their political mutations and to the socio-cultural situations surrounding them. I had grown up surrounded by a patchwork of warped beliefs, and soon understood that it is this perverted version of religion that is often popularised. My experience had been religious in the same effect that it had been political and socio-cultural, and that took a while to come to terms with.
My experience had been religious in the same effect that it had been political and socio-cultural, and that took a while to come to terms with.
Zoroastrianism tends to be the one that people are the most intrigued by. It is also my ‘favourite’ one, essentially because of how non-intrusive it is (and the reason for that is its rarity). My mother practices it, and so it reconnects her to her home-country of Iran, as well as to Iran’s pre-Islamic roots. It not only serves as a reminder of her inherited identity – it is a reminder of her grandparents’ and her ancestors’ identities all at once, too. Judaism taught me the most about community, incontestably. Everything was done together, and this tightness was, perhaps, also partially the solution of an otherwise persecuted group. Still, in my ten years of celebrating Hanukkah along with Christmas, or Pesah along with Easter, I nonetheless had the lingering feeling that I couldn’t get too close, because I had a ‘duty’ to my other religions.
My most unpleasant religious experiences were associated with Orthodox Christianity. Memories of endless swarms of people clamouring, eager to get into some building in the dead of night and listen to a man speak into a microphone. It wasn’t Christianity itself that I disliked, but the way that it had been put into practice. It prided itself on its dedication to community, and helping one another, yet every service that I attended featured people pushing and shoving each other in order to get closer to the front, swearing (colourfully), as if one’s necessity for solace mattered more than the other’s, or, comically, as if God wasn’t listening if you were in the back of the room. It left me with a disregard for the Eastern Orthodox Church and what I felt was its utter negligence, and with a desire never to attend the Easter Vigil ever again. Maybe it was because I had been exposed to fanaticism in Romania, or because I had grown up in a multi-cultural household, but Christianity quickly left an impersonal mark on me. Yet, I only know Christian prayers, and so, if and when I do pray, and certainly when I used to pray as a child, it was always ‘The Lord’s Prayer’ – it is not the religion, then, which I found to be unfriendly and false, but the way in which it had been applied at home.
The more pressure I put on myself to choose which slice of me I resonate with the most, the more I realise that I relate to all of those faiths to some degree.
The Romanian state/church romance I shall not even elaborate on, but I will say, quite vindictively, that we have more churches than we do schools. This serves to elaborate on my earlier point: the Bible is not supposed to be individually read in Romania – it is, and has been, read out. Protestantism, then, felt all-too-familiar and incredibly strange at the same time. It was more about values than about other aspects of Christianity, which immediately made more sense to me than the other two Christian modes had. But, perhaps because I had already partially grown up at that point, it still never felt like it could be mine. Islam is unfortunately the one I know the least about, and for a time I just associated it with Islamic regimes – once again, its corrupt application got in the way of information.
I can’t choose. The more pressure I put on myself to choose which slice of me I resonate with the most, the more I realise that I relate to all of those faiths to some degree – when I randomly pick a page of Hafez to determine my attitude for the following year on Noruz, I am a quasi-practicing Zoroastrian; when I think about something bad happening and whisper ‘God forbid’, crossing myself, I am a quasi-practicing Christian. It would be unfair to choose. I think that, for a while, I mistook faith for answers. And those lie in a lot of places.