Atheist Children and Fundamentalist Adults

A new law is being prepared, in response to Pussy Riot. Any offense to religious feelings, insult to religious objets, or disruption to religious rituals could lead to a charge of US$ 10,000 or 3 years in jail. This is not a completely new law, neither it would be the last one that has something to do with “religion.”

But I want to write about something else here. How it feels to see this happen in a country where I was born and raised as an atheist.


I had a pen-pal from Poland when I was about 10. Once she sent me a photograph of herself in a special Catholic coming-of-age dress and paraphernalia. I think it was something like being a “Christ’s bride” (I am bad at it, as you can see, forgive my ignorance.) I was just shocked when I saw the picture. I could not relate to any of the objects, to decoration, and especially to the symbolism of her being dressed that way. It seemed to me to be from a child bride paintings by Russian artists of the 19th century, who were trying to raise consciousness about the treatment of poor girls in Russia. I thanked my lucky stars. Of course, I did not write any of that in my reply to her. After 1980 anti-socialist events in Poland, her letters stated to come to me already opened on the border, then less frequently, and finally they stopped altogether.

Ten years later, during Perestroika, I became religious myself (it did not last long, but that’s another story). That period made me understand how people become religious from being atheist, so when I see my family, friends and colleagues, and the country becoming more and more religious, I can relate to that. I know how it feels, where it comes from. It is a process, a decision, a kind of going to school again and learning how to be religious. There are people who will teach you and help you. Just like parents and institutions do in other countries. There is nothing “natural” about that. How one’s religious belief becomes the source of punishing others (religious or not) is also not a natural progression of moving from atheism to fundamentalism. Though I hear otherwise, – that they are two sides of the same coin – they are far from being the same element with a different charge. I am still thinking about it, and will add more in the next post, about mechanisms that are enabling a nation that has been looking for love and peace in Christ, for something better, than they had in the USSR, start sending each other again to Gulags, destroying livelihoods, careers, lives and families.

I should probably be worried that my words could offend, and next time I visit my family in Moscow I could be fined or go to jail. I already warned them, when they cheered at the prison term for Pussy Riot: be careful, I am also a Russian feminist. It happened many times before: family sends family away, in the name of love and peace.