Intersections: Belief in religion's power, if not its substance

January 08, 2014|By Liana Aghajanian
  • Liana Aghajanian, columnist. Photographed on Monday, August 26, 2013.
Liana Aghajanian, columnist. Photographed on Monday,… (Roger Wilson / Staff…)

Can a person who isn't religious thoroughly enjoy religion? It's a question I've been asking myself since I fulfilled a lifelong desire to attend a midnight Mass on Christmas Eve.

It was raining, but after short walk, I walked in to a packed Victorian church built in the mid-19th century and found myself singing along to “Silent Night” with a smile.

Having been prepped in a diverse range of Mass procedures — from Armenian Orthodox to Roman Catholic, I recited prayers, wished members of the congregation who were seated around me “peace be with you,” and debated going up the pews to receive a blessing, but ultimately instead remained seated and listened to the choir sing.

This week, I eagerly counted the hours until I could wish people a “Merry Christmas” for the second time around in less than two weeks. Jan. 6 is the day when Orthodox faiths like Armenians and Greeks celebrate the birth of Christ with the same fervor other Christian denominations give to Dec. 25.


This all follows a trip I took to Germany to undertake a reporting project on refugees and religion which I continue to reflect on. Of course, this might have to do with the fact that I'm preparing to publish my work, but the subject matter — an intersection between immigration and Christianity and Islam in Europe — is on my mind frequently.

According to data analyzed last year by sociologists from the University of California, Berkeley and Duke University, the number of people who claim to have no affiliation to religion is at an all-time high.

Yet despite this, religion still seems to be such a big part of people's lives. It guides them, gives them ground rules and becomes a source of hope when there otherwise isn't any. It makes people feel part of something bigger, something higher, something worth fighting for and something to hang onto when — as human lives tend to go — things go completely mad.

Organized religion doesn't factor into my life — I don't particularly look to it for guidance, I always found it rather odd that whenever celebrities go up on stage to collect awards they thank God, and it thrills me to know that many of our modern religious traditions have their roots in paganism — from Christmas trees to Nowruz, the Persian New Year.

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