Fe en los tiempos de transgenerismo

08/04/2023 Lazarus Saturday/Σάββατου του Λαζάρου, Ninth Hour/Ώρα Ενάτη - What follows is a ranty, nonsensical stream of thought about my personal crisis with religion. It's very long, rough and unpolished, and it makes very little sense. Parts of it are likely stupid. You're welcome to read it or not! But if you want to comment on things or argue about things or ask me about things, please do read the whole thing first. It's all very complicated and I feel like individual parts of it can be really misinterpreted without the context of the whole. Enjoy.

Faith really is a weird one for me. For years I've avoided thinking too hard about my relationship with faith and belief, I think partially because it's hard to shake the feeling that the more you consciously think about this sort of thing, the less authentic your participation in it. I've long held a kind of disdain for people, especially Orthodox people who grew up in the West like me, who engage in a sort of self-exoticisation in the way they talk about our religious and cultural practices - "in MY religion and MY culture we have these ancient mystical rites and beliefs, and we eat this food and look how different and special we are" my friend, you are from Toronto and grew up eating Cheese Sandwich. And so I think a fear of being seen as one of those types has sort of kept me from talking about it, and a fear of doing a little introspection and realising that I actually am one of those types has kept me from even thinking about it.

But honestly I think it warrants thinking about a little bit more. I have what I can best describe as an uncomfortable relationship with Orthodoxy and religious belief more generally. By no means was I raised religious. I was baptised and chrismated as a baby in Cyprus, but since then my only interaction with actual Orthodox religious life has been occasional attendance of Church on Easter at the behest of my grandmother. When I was around a year old, my dad's job had us relocate to South Carolina, where I remained until I was about six or seven years old. This is where my first religious memories take place. Church in the Protestant South was an interesting thing. Just like in Cyprus, it was a very religious society, and most everyone belonged to a church, which served the function of a close-knit community as well as a place for worship. But unlike in Cyprus, where affiliation to a church other than the Orthodox Church was really not an option, and people didn't really change their religious affiliation as it was more a reflection of ethnicity than personal belief, in South Carolina, people could just show up and start going to a Church without necessitating lengthy ritualistic conversion processes. As such, while in Cyprus your religious dedication or lack thereof was typically seen as the primary religious indicator of your personal/political beliefs, in protestant-pluralist South Carolina these beliefs seemed not to be reflected in how religious you were but rather in which church you belonged to.

So I ended up basically going to Episcopal schools for the first six ish years of my life. My earliest memories of religious life are the mandatory chapel services all students at my school had to attend every Wednesday. Even at the time, I could tell that what was going on there was very different from the kind of religious that my relatives back in Cyprus were. I ended up really not liking it (what six year old enjoys church) so when we moved again, this time to Germany, that marked the end of my interaction with the Episcopals.

Germany was once again a different religious context. Church was basically just for the old people. However, while in the US most holidays that were religious in name were really just consoomer fakeries, in Germany these had more authenticity and were more tied to their religious and cultural roots. As a child growing up in Germany, I participated in the festivities for Saint Martin's Day, Karneval, Pfingsten, Nikolaus, and so on. The denominational landscape in Duesseldorf was not super varied, with Catholics and Lutherans, who celebrated these holidays basically identically, being about equally represented in the demographics. At home, we continued to celebrate Orthodox holidays just as Orthodox people would back home - minus the religious observance. Taking part in the fun, celebratory parts of religious culture without any of the other stuff that goes along with it. What we engaged in was Easter-lite: eating lamb and eggs as if we were breaking the fast that we never once considered doing. Crucially, we didn't even think about this as skipping the boring stuff of Lent and Holy Week and going straight to the fun part - rather, the eating, the celebration, the spectacle became completely divorced from its religious substance and became its own empty ritual. We didn't eat lamb because we were breaking our fast, we didn't eat lamb because we were too lazy to fast, we ate lamb because that's just what you do on this particular Sunday.

This is part of the uneasiness of my relationship with the religion. Despite being a fully baptised and chrismated Christian of the Cypriot Orthodox Church who grew up celebrating Orthodox religious holidays through all the cultural practices associated with them, I feel like my interactions with the actual religious life and institutions of Orthodoxy are those of an observer or a tourist. When I'm in Cyprus with my parents, we visit pretty churches and monasteries, we cross ourselves when we enter, I typically kiss the icon as is expected, but I feel like a complete outsider. I know to do these things not because of any actual religious experience with the Orthodox church (beyond an Easter service or two with my grandmother decadees ago) but because I've been taught to do them specifically when executing this kind of touristic visit. It feels not like a reflection of actual faith or religious affiliation but more like something that I do to look like I belong and know what I'm doing. I go to a church or monastery to look at the pretty little frescoes and perform the necessary ritualistic actions associated with piety but without any of the actual real authentic religious practice or belief that goes along with it. Same with the Easter traditions, same with celebrating my name day, same with celebrating the feast of the Dormition of the Theotokos. We weren't some sort of conscientious objectors, eschewing the religious but keeping the ritualistic for some sort of articulable reason, rather we simply were raised without any sort of mention or consideration of the religious aspects of the holidays we celebrated, beyond the vague knowledge that these were religious holidays.

As I got older, I began to feel a new pull towards Orthodoxy. The appeal was initially in the artistic side of the tradition - I came to love Orthodox chant as a musical tradition, I gained a newfound appreciation of the Byzantine art styles behind all the icons that adorned the houses of my relatives growing up. But as it went on, it became more. For the first time in my life I penetrated from the shallow oberflaechlichkeit of the way we observed holidays at my house into the world of religious ritual - prayer, metanoia, attendance of divine liturgy. The initially inexplicable left turn towards piety quickly acquired justification as prayer became a steady, calming force in my life, and I felt a new sense of belonging in the faith - my participation in Orthodox religious life allowed me to feel, for the first time, truly Orthodox.

All of this is all lovely jubbly and smells delicious except for one crucial detail - the fact that I have looked inside of myself, over and over, and I have come to accept the fact that I really, truly, do not actually believe in God. I don't actually believe much of anything in the scripture. My participation in religious life is purely performative, a reflection of my love for routine and for ritual, without any sort of underlying religious conviction. There are, I think, a myriad of factors that cause this to be the case. First off is the disconnect of the world of my childhood from the world of religion, at least once we left the USA and moved to Germany. International Schools are the PINNACLE of shitlib atheism. Nobody is religious, religion is universally laughed at at best, actively frowned upon at worst. It's treated as silly superstition that no longer has a purpose to serve in contemporary society, which I find is a completely despicable and patronising view of what I personally think of as the world's oldest and most quintessentially human cultural practice. But for better or for worse, I've been conditioned to be eternally suspicious and scornful of religious belief, and to associate it with close-mindedness and ignorance. In the face of that, I don't think there's anything in the world that can get me to believe in God.

Secondly, and perhaps most crucially, is obviously the fact that I am trans, I am queer, I am a genderfuck tranny fagfreak who fucks other genderfags exclusively. Nothing makes me want to tear my hair out more than liberal protestant internet posts pointing out how "oh yeah, well look at THIS bible verse, looks like jesus would've LOVED fags, not very CHRISTIAN of you homophobes is it???" "Leviticus is ACKSHUALLY about PAEDOPHILES u can tell bc of this brand new university research on biblical aramaic or whatever and this means that u homophobes are NOT christian" completely taking for granted that their north american, protestant, ultra-scripturalist understanding of biblical meaning and christian belief is universally applicable. NOT the case. in Orthodoxy, the church is more than just a governing institution - it IS christianity, it is belief, it is the authority on biblical interpretation and practice of christianity. Orthodoxy represents 'the correct path', the church holds all the answers, individual Orthodox scholars can disagree but it's through study of these church fathers and saints and monks that you can find salvation. The official position of the Orthodox Church is that homosexuals and transsexuals are sick sinners, "we are all sick a sinner!" they will say to disguise their bigotry but that doesn't change the fact that they consider us to be sick sinners BECAUSE we are faggots, while their straightness contributes nothing to their sinnerhood.. I cannot participate in Orthodoxy, I cannot be an Orthodox believer, while disagreeing with the position of the Church on these things. According to Orthodoxy there is one path to salvation and you need to accept the Church's doctrine into your heart in order to find it. I cannot personally disagree on the basis of scriptural interpretation - that's not a thing you're allowed to do. So I'm shit out of luck if my only counter is "well JESUS would've loved fags" because according to the Church, No. So the fact is, my identity and my personal beliefs on queerness are fundamentally incompatible with Orthodoxy. But it's not uncommon for queer people to be followers of a faith that is nominally hostile to them, usually because of a personal connection with the faith from their childhood, through their culture, etc.

So when I started coming back towards the faith, this problem bothered me extremely, and that's when little 17-ish year old me, in all my Reddit pseudo-intellectual glory, happened upon an essay shat out by Zizek some time before the pandemic. In the essay, he talks about true religious belief being obsolete in the contemporary age of postmodern skepticism. Belief in the 21st century is unimportant, he says; rather, the semblance, the appearance of religious belief has taken the top spot in terms of importance. These empty ritualistic actions I described earlier, according to him, are the new believing. Or maybe that's not what he said. I was 17 and probably completely misunderstood his point, but that's not important, because my takeaway became what I used to of justify my Orthodox identity in the face of self-scrutiny - my faith isn't fake, true belief is outdated! in this day and age, nobody really truly deeply believes, we all just do the performative stuff to signal that we are faithful and that's proof enough. I think that justification has since fallen apart in my head (if I ever even really believed it in the first place; after all, simply acting like I believed it was plenty enough), and once again I am confronted with my non-belief in the face of my religious identity and participation. So all this to say, I've fully accepted that I do not believe a word of this stuff.

But if not for belief, I wonder why I feel the need to feel Orthodox in identity. What exactly am I getting out of this? Well, for one, there's the comfort and stability of religious ritual, of prayer and of the veneration of icons. Also, I'm a fucked up neurotic, generally speaking, and I've found engaging in the religious affectations I picked up from my religious relatives when they're afraid or nervous - e.g. saying the Jesus Prayer (Kyrie eleison) and/or crossing myself - to be the single most effective way to bring myself comfort and soothe my anxiety. I'm extremely prone to panicky anxious spirals, and the Jesus Prayer is the only method I've found thus far that allows me to control it and stop a spiral once it's started. But my biggest concern is that my increased involvement in Orthodox religious life is born out of a self conscious feeling of alienation from any sense of ethnic, cultural, national, religious identity. As you can tell from my description of the presence (or lack thereof) that religion had in my upbringing, I had a strange, fractured childhood. I almost never tell the entire story of my life because there's simply too much for it to be believable - for instance, most of my close friends don't even know that my mother, and thus an entire side of my family, is Slovenian and Catholic. The complicated origins of my parents is further complicated by the fact that I grew up across four countries before I even hit 18; further complicating this is the fact that in most of my living memory I attended International Schools, which, far from allowing integration into the local culture of the place you're living, keep their communities sheltered in an artificial, sterile, anglophone-but-not-nationally-or-culturally-affiliated environment. I think I can be forgiven my ongoing lifelong angsty identity crisis.

I worry that this has led to me subconsciously co-opting the aesthetics of Orthodoxy in order to give myself the outward appearance of a concrete cultural-religious identity, to hide how extremely insecure I am of my cultural alienation. If this is the case, this would make my Orthodoxy as hollow, shallow, performative, and even deceitful as the pale imitation of religious custom observance I was brought up with. Worse yet, on top of all of this it would mean that my religious practice is, at its core, completely self-serving; something I do not because of any deep-seated conviction, not because I gain any sort of spiritual or personal benefit, but because it allows me to hide my insecurity, to conceal through sleight of hand the fact that at my core, I am a non-person, without identity or sense of belonging of any kind. I'm a foreigner in every country, an outsider to every culture, and I exploit the aesthetics of the faith and its associated cultural practices to distract from this.

I don't expect to come to a conclusion here. I think I was just sick of bottling this all in so intensely - I know that I've known all of this deeply for a long time, but I've refused to let myself think about it consciously, out of the feeling that if I didn't, I would be able to act like none of this was happening - if my religious practice is something I do automatically and without deeper consideration, then surely that means it's more automatic, more engrained, more authentic? And with Orthodoxy's most important religious holiday rapidly approaching, I think I just felt the urge to write it all down so I would be forced to articulate it in actual words rather than vague wordless thoughts, and maybe that would allow myself to understand myself a bit better. Maybe it has helped a bit? Who knows. Who cares! Thinking about things is a Jewish conspiracy anyways.


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