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A Hindu Christmas

As I approach the first Christmas in many years to which I choose not to have any Christian affiliation, I wonder whether I could truly ever be unaffiliated from it and further, whether I would ever want to.

Among my life’s greatest privileges is that it has been immersed within two religions for its majority.

One, Roman Catholicism, has defined hierarchies, laws and traditions. It provides its faithful with dogma and doctrine. It distinguishes for them virtue from vice. It attempts to lead them along the footsteps of Christ.

The other, Hinduism, starts at the breath, an allegory for its divine as eternal and ephemeral. It encapsulates so many meanings that it risks having none. For it, virtue can be vice, and vice-virtue.

For me to say that they are not at odds with one another would be a lie. For me to say that they are not consubstantial would be another.

I was born into Hinduism as a Brahmin. I have a mother who is devout but uncritical of her faith and a father who is neither.

I may have become the latter if he had not lost his job when I was in the second grade. Growing up in Toronto’s poorest neighbourhood to a family that identified as well-educated, my parents did not want to send me to our public school. As my dad lost his job, however, I lost access to my local Montessori and thus, entered it anyway.

After a year, my parents decided that my dad would convert so that I could attend the local Catholic school. There, I was auditioned for St. Michael’s Choir School, which I then attended from grades three through twelve.

I became a devout chorister, singing at weekly services and special festivities, and was rather uncritical of Roman Catholicism. In fact, I often felt disdain towards my family’s Hinduism for its lack of a similarly militant structure.

Moreover, while being a more collectivist experience than any I had encountered in Hinduism till that point, attending Church allowed me to separate from my family on matters of faith and feel more like an individual. I am also grateful to its morality that, while obtuse, provided me with anchors to hold onto amidst a sometimes tumultuous home-life.

Leaving the Choir School was difficult, therefore, because I no longer knew how to identify myself. I was a Catholic at school, given that this was almost a requirement to attend, and a Hindu at home.

Identifying as Hindu was the seemingly obvious choice, but not attending mass each week after having done so for eight years was akin to divorce. I eventually gave up the practise entirely because I did not want to reconcile the two halves of my religious identity.

While this was difficult, I am grateful for this experience. For one, I realized that I was praying for the wrong reasons. While I may have achieved some peace as a by-product of my prayers, my motivation to kneel arose from my desire for material success. If I had not stopped, I may never have realized this.

But I paid a price for this lesson. By letting go of faith, my self-worth become more largely defined by my self-efficacy, which I let others measure. I realized that the intervals between the numbers on their scale increased as my list of achievements grew longer.

My return to religious philosophy (which is to be distinguished from the larger umbrella of faith) arrived when I was gifted a Bhagavad Gita in third year. Its most precious lesson to me, at the time, was to work without expectation of reward.

My journey to my present day relationship with religion, while long, has valued the lack of regimentation offered by Eastern philosophies. The structure that I once admired, I now largely disavow. I say this having practised both faiths side-by-side for a year.

But I do not disdain it. I think that for everyone, there comes a period of time when they cease to question and simply submit themselves to a journey, be it one that has a component of faith or that doesn’t. I do not think that any paths have complete internal validity.

Theirs not to reason why,
Theirs but to do and die.
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.

When can their glory fade?
O the wild charge they made!
All the world wondered.
Honour the charge they made!

Excerpts from The Charge of the Light Brigade by Alfred, Lord Tennyson

Moreover, if there is one truth, that does not mean that I will understand it or come to understand it as another does.

As I approach the first Christmas in many years to which I choose not to have any Christian affiliation, I wonder whether I could truly ever be unaffiliated from it and further, whether I would ever want to.