Thursday, January 07, 2010

Is Christianity good for Armenia?

Tackling religion, especially in a cultural context is always quite a daunting challenge. Religion, like politics, is a loaded subject. With so many people feeling a deep personal connection to accepting or denying its relevancy in their lives, the discourse is often buried under polite reverence and subjective experience. Introducing religion within the subtext of history and culture however, is even more difficult. It is so intertwined with the cultural experience of a people that an attempt at deconstructing it may leave one frustrated. Yet, it's an entity that's constantly morphing. It isn't just a static force that remains unaltered through time. Although tradition and authority carry great value within religion, the ebb and flow of culturally dominant influences effect the contemporary experience for all of those involved. 

Since topics of religion tend to be so personal in nature, it's difficult to remain objective and distant.  Personal biases will always influence thought and in effect, make it quite difficult to approach the subject in an academic manner.  I'll endeavor to split this extensive topic into a few palatable morsels and shall start this by laying out my own subjective thought pattern, especially as to how I've come to approach this problem of Christianity amongst Armenians.

Many of my previous posts discuss the reasons for my objections towards religion.  These, in turn, dictate how I approach the subject and may lead some to question my motives.  Yet, it's personal motives that lead me to think and ultimately write about this lengthy topic.

As an atheist, the extent to which Christianity is intertwined to Armenian culture is nearly unbreakable.  The fact that Armenia was the first nation to adopt Christianity as a state religion is amongst the most important factors for its current influence.  Because of the lengthy duration of influence, Armenians are often conflicted when it comes to completely disassociating themselves from religion.  In the particular case of Armenians, having been persecuted for nearly all 1700 years of adopting this religion, they naturally feel a protective need to their cultural institutions.  I can't argue that these institutions, though pointless to some, are invaluable to others.  They are as dominant as language and music, if not more so.  Many weddings, which would otherwise be secular are still presided within churches, and the motions many go through during Christmas and Easter may seem laughable, but are justly accepted as culturally important to the preservation of heritage.  Is preserving cultural traditions, including those that involve religious connotations important to embracing one's culture and heritage?  I suppose the easy answer would be yes.  Yet, 70 years of Soviet atheism caused many Armenians in Armenia to release the religious baggage that accustomed their cultural traditions.  The seemingly tight grasp that religion seemed to offer was eased, but at what cost?  Armenians, having lost some sense of traditional culture, embraced Russification, and may ultimately have distanced themselves far enough to completely assimilate within the Russian sphere of influence.  These I guess are unavoidable to some extent.  Armenians in the West are all influenced by cultures that are different and do challenge their understanding in the world.  This, may not necessarily be a terrible thing.  Some of us accept the importance of our heritage, but maintain the need to embrace the freedom involved in Western thought.  At what cost do these freedoms come however?  Surely, there are some benefits worth embracing, but the risks towards the ills that such freedoms may provide are equally worth considering. 

Ultimately, I shall endeavor to address this topic from many different points of view.  The topic at a whole will probably be disjointed and even at times contradictory.  Ultimately though, perhaps a greater picture will develop.

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