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Why I am an atheist – Krasnaya Koshka

From Krasnaya Koshka – an American living in Saint Petersburg, Russia — and Professor Myers, you are better than pelmeni! I thank you for being you.

My grandparents on my father’s side were “lapsed” Mormons but they were very adamant I–being the first grandchild–be unlapsed Mormon. Maybe to make up for their unbridled smoking, drinking and gambling. I so loved playing craps and poker with my 21 great aunts and uncles and my grandparents I had no choice but be plopped into Primary. They made it sound great!

My mother is from Germany and was lapsed Lutheran. She told me when I was quite young that it was all stories but maybe I should adopt it to make my father’s family happy. “Gemütlichkeit.” I was mostly concerned with Mom’s feelings. Okay then, off to Primary I go! By myself.

It was strange being four/five years old and in church alone. I got my PTL ring and was really quite proud. I was a lonely “sunBEAM” but there are worse things to be. I saw popcorn poppin’ on the apricot tree. Lead me, guide me, walk beside me, help me find the waaaay, teach me all that I may learn to live with Him one day. Mormons have super catchy children’s tunes, I’ll admit.

I was honestly quite bewildered by the Mormons but I loved the attention. A small child dumped off alone is bound to cause a stir. One day, Bobby Ball smashed my face into the drinking fountain and I bled all over my yellow dress. It was the day after someone ran into the fence of the Temple so I went home with bloody dress, spouting, “That drunk who hit the sacred Temple is going to hell!” My mother yanked me right out of Primary. I never went back. I traded my PTL ring for a Dolly Madison chocolate pie.

I never understood what religion was for. My mom told me when I was 12 and curious, “Go to all the churches nearby and see if anything fits.” So I did. It was all very interesting but still made no sense to me. That’s when I first read the entirety of the KJV. I read it the same time I read “Roots” by Alex Hailey. I must say, the two side by side made me sick. I was horrified.

So religion never made any sense to me. It made me a post-kindergarten bigot and made me ill, but it never made sense.

The Church of Latter Day Saints being right across the street from my high school and the fact that they had basketball tournaments for young women and the fact that I was a jock in high school brought me right back to the place where I’d ditched Primary, ten years earlier. All my friends were Mormon. I was in the church more in high school than I had been ever before.

I was asked to be a “Special Counselor” (“special” meaning I was half-born Mormon but horribly lapsed) at Camp LoMia the summer of my sophomore year, and I agreed. Camp LoMia was the all girl Mormon summer camp and my humongous crush would be there (who was a notorious lesbian) so I’d be idiotic to refuse. (I was also quite a notorious lesbian at my high school at that point.) Before I could go, however, there was the necessity of a private counsel with Deacon Bigler. Okay.

I was very familiar with Deacon Bigler because he had lived across the street from us since I was two years old. He was the rat bastard who beat my little brother with a baseball bat (plastic, but still) for accidentally knocking over a cat litter box. I had babysat his five children many, many times. The last time I had not gotten paid because I’d brought a Coke can into his house. I’d forgotten about his “root beer only” thing. I disliked the guy. Well, no, not really “dislike”, I just thought he was a hot house flower (my mom’s term for anyone who can’t make it outside of their own controlled environment).

I met with Deacon Bigler in a tiny office at the church after school. He asked me, “Why do you want to be a Special Counselor?” I was not daft enough to answer, “Because Marla Denim will be there”, of course, so I said, “To commune with nature.”

“I presume you mean ‘to commune with God’.”

“Oh yeah, sure.”

“I’ve heard things about you. Maybe you’re not on the righteous path. Maybe I shouldn’t let you go.”

Criminy, hot house flower, do you know what high school lust is? Marla will be there! I just remained quiet.

He then proceeded to tell me the story of his deep love for his deacon, as a teenager, and how they slept together many times, in really vivid detail. (This was not a first for me–after coming out, I was inundated with adults spilling their homosexual exploits out to me. Deacon Bigler’s “news” to me was really old news.)

“But I chose God’s path. I think you will, too.” So I was allowed to go.

If I’d ever fancied a god of any sort, it was knocked out of me by the rampant hypocrisy all around me.

Since then, religion makes me laugh, except when it pisses me off. That the Mormons forked so much money over to “defend marriage” when I know of two gay Deacons in the church really fucking infuriates me. Maybe Deacon Bigler wasn’t gay? I ran into him in the airport of my hometown not one year ago. This is what transpired:

“I see you haven’t changed.” His words to me.

“I am who I am.”

“I regret everything.”

“Okay.”

“No, I regret it.”

“Okay. I have to pee before I get on my plane.”

“I made a mistake.”

“I understand. We all do at many points in our lives.”

“My… friend Deacon __________ died.”

“Ah, I see. I’m so very sorry to hear that. I know how much he meant to you.”

“And… I think you know, I think you understand….”

“But you’re still Mormon and still tithing?”

“Of course.”

“I have to catch my plane.”

I’m not sure why NOW, when he’s over 60 and I’m over 40, I should just allow him to be regretful—to me.

Mormons made my being an atheist essential and then ‘sealed’ it many times over. I really feel sorry for the people ambered in religion who cannot break out. You have one life and you live it in regret?

I am proud to be an atheist. To be moral. To be honest. And to have few regrets (my regrets are tiny in comparison). There is nothing better in this world than living true to yourself.

Krasnaya Koshka
Russia

Comments

  1. kevinalexander says

    What a great story, well told and funny.
    I feel sorry for Deacon Bigler though. He had the misfortune of being trapped at a young age and then, even though religion ruined his life, He couldn’t let it go.

  2. says

    tl:dr but, sorry, as an Australian of partial Russian descent… there is no such thing as better than pelmeni. Especially if it’s Siberian Pelmeni.

    Other than bbq pork buns.

    What? My mother was a Chinese born Russian. So sue me.

  3. otrame says

    I love the phrase “ambered in religion”. It is so evocative. And I, too, feel sorry for the Bishop, while at the same time I distain his hypocrisy.

    Great essay. Thanks for sharing it.

  4. Brownian says

    This is a hilarious image.

    It is. The whole thing was. There is nothing I love more in this world than a great rolling story.

    Thank you, Krasnaya Koshka.

    Strange: there’s something about me that makes people—older men, usually—confess their regrets to me as well. By now I can tell when someone is telling me of their affair even if I don’t know the language they’re speaking in.
    And why does it always have to take place at the urinal? I can’t absolve you; not with this full bladder.

  5. kevinalexander says

    Also ‘Hot house flowers’

    It makes me think of home school kids withering in college.

  6. Brownian says

    Brownian: So the myth that men never speak to one another while at the urinal is just that, a myth?

    I wondered that. So I started talking to other people while peeing. They didn’t seem to like it.

    So it’s generally true, I think.

    Just not for old men and me, apparently. I’m like the Kwisatz Havtupis.

  7. Krasnaya Koshka says

    @jjgdenisrobert: Yes, it’s “red cat” in Russian. Though Russians always tell me they don’t ever call cats “krasnaya/krasnii”–only рыжая/рыжий.

    @microraptor: Yes, I only moved to Saint Petersburg in late 2009.

    @grumpyoldfart: That happened repeatedly to me once adults knew I was a lesbian. My aunt told me ridiculously private stories about her own dabble in homosexuality, and one of my teachers in high school did the same. Total TMI. Among others.

    @Ms. Daisy Cutter: Alas, it was never meant to be with Marla, though I did have my first make out session at Camp LoMia, with a girl named Gayla.

    @Brownian: Thank you so much! That means a lot coming from you.

    And thanks to everyone else, too! I was very nervous about sharing but now I’m glad I did.

    P.S. caitlinfegan: I have pelmeni at least three times a week. I absolutely love it.

  8. treefrog says

    Oh, wow…no offense to anyone, but this is my favorite WIAAA so far. So entertaining and so insightful.

    I love that expression, hothouse flower.

  9. IndyM, pikčiurna says

    Loved your story!

    Side note: I have red hair. I lived in Lithuania for 5 years, and was often referred to as рыжая (Lithuanians are fluent in Russian, and use a lot of it in their speech, especially when swearing*). My Russian is limited and rusty, so I don’t know too much about it, but in Lithuanian, we use different words for human hair as well as for animals when describing their fur/skin coloring.

    *The worse swears in Lithuanian are “You toad!” or “Go cut some hay!”, so you can see why Lithuanians need rich and colorful Russian to augment our cursing lexicon. The Horde would find it very difficult to smack down trolls and religidiots with Lithuanian. :)

  10. magic pants says

    Great story! Ex-mormon here with those same primary songs stuck in my head. That poor sad old man, “holding to the rod”, as they say.

  11. allencdexter says

    I also like the term “hothouse flower.” It says so much and will become a part of my vocabulary.

    I was intrigued as to what “pelmeni” meant and asked my wife who studied Russian. She didn’t know, so I looked it up on wikepedia and found that its a sort of filled dumpling. It’s basically the same as Pirogi, which Phyllis loves, and I kind of like them also.

  12. carolw says

    Oh, pirogi! I was about to look up pelmeni. My husband’s mom’s family is Ukranian, so we have a pirogi and cabbage roll blowout about once a year. Yum.
    Great story. I love the term “hothouse flower” too. To me it’s very Southern, very Tennessee Williams.

  13. Brownian says

    *The worse swears in Lithuanian are “You toad!” or “Go cut some hay!”, so you can see why Lithuanians need rich and colorful Russian to augment our cursing lexicon. The Horde would find it very difficult to smack down trolls and religidiots with Lithuanian. :)

    That’s why those of us Lithuanians in the Horde know at least a little mat.

  14. says

    That’s why those of us Lithuanians in the Horde know at least a little mat.

    Mat. But what is a “PTL ring”?

    Good entry, Krasnaya Koshka! I kind of figured that the Catholic church had that problem of roping in lesbians and gay men when young into the convents and brotherhoods and repressing them thereafter, but I didn’t know the Mormon church had it, too.

  15. Brownian says

    PTL – Praise The Lord. You can find all manner of examples if you search Praise The Lord Ring.

    Huh? Now Mormons worship Peter Jackson?

  16. jalyth says

    I’m seconding (at least) the praise for the phrases: “hothouse flower” & “ambered in religion”. Delightful language. I’m gonna try to work at least one into conversation.

  17. puzzlecraig says

    Actually, Красная Кошка misremembered the initials for the ring. The rings are actually “CTR” rings, which stands for Choose the Right. You can see some here. They are meant to remind six- and seven-year-olds that they are supposed to be obedient, good, etc. (i.e. choose the right [thing to do]) in preparation for their baptism at age eight.

    My family joined the LDS when I was nine, so I never got one of the rings, although you’ll often see adults wearing grown-up versions of them.

    Oh, and the initials change by language; Russian rings, for example, have ПВ for Правильный Выбор (pravilniy vibor) – the “right choice”.

  18. Ermine says

    Thanks Puzzlecraig, I was just logging in to post this correction myself, but you beat me to it. ;)

    He’s right, the Mormons don’t really get into using PTL (the acronym itself) like some of the protestants do, but CTR (Choose The Right) rings are definitely part of the ritual of growing up in the LDS church. It’s made out to be a big thing when you finally get one around baptism age at 8 or so.

  19. Ermine says

    Yep. Didn’t find anything when looking for images under “PTL Ring” or even “Praise The Lord Ring”, but “CTR Ring” returned a landslide of images and sites, including “ctr-ring.com”, a Mormon knickknack store.

    Likely just a PEBKAC error, right? No worries! ;)

  20. Krasnaya Koshka says

    Re: The PTL ring. I knew that didn’t sound quite right. Thanks for the corrections! I was totally misremembering.

    Re: Pirogi vs pelmeni. Pirogi (emphasis on the last syllable) here in Russia are buns stuffed with cabbage or meat or hard-boiled eggs and are almost always home-made.

    Pelmeni are like over-stuffed ravioli, usually round, that are boiled and served with sour cream and a shot of white wine vinegar. They come frozen, usually. I’ve never seen home-made pelmeni.

    Thanks for such wonderful comments!

    I’ve only met three other Americans here in Saint Petersburg and they were all Mormon missionaries. No wonder Russians assume I’m going to proselytize when they hear I’m American. They’re greatly relieved when I assure them I’m atheist.

    IndyM, pikčiurna @ 19: Yes, Russians have a very colorful arsenal of curses, though I generally hear, “goat!” It cracks me up when my girlfriend says “fuck your mother” to her twin sister. Рыжий people and cats are supposed to be good luck!

  21. Brownian says

    I’ve never seen home-made pelmeni.

    I made some koldunai just before the winter holiday. Not as good as my grandmother’s (I used store bought wonton wrappers), but I’m going to fire up the pasta machine and give it another whirl.

  22. skybluskyblue says

    “I’m seconding (at least) the praise for the phrases: “hothouse flower” & “ambered in religion”. Delightful language.”
    I love when new metaphors are delighted in and not mocked as I see too often [I guess it depends on how fitting they are]. And certainly, I wish to be third in praise of at least two great metaphors! I just hope being trapped in amber, like some 66 million year-old mosquito, is not the reality for most people who yearn to be free thinkers.

  23. Krasnaya Koshka says

    Brownian @38: After I wrote that earlier today, I ended up at a restaurant which specializes in pelmeni. They make it themselves, so I stand corrected. It was fascinating to watch.

    My girlfriend wanted me to clarify that pelmeni is only ever stuffed with meat. If it’s stuffed with anything else, it’s vareniki.

    I’m impressed with your cooking skills! I could not even imagine having the patience for those little wrappers, though I do make semi-famous soups in these parts.

  24. Krasnaya Koshka says

    Okay, I’ve had a second to sit down (my WIAAA was posted at a crazy busy time for me):

    puzzlecraig @ 33: The first ring listed is EXACTLY the ring I had! I mainly remembered the big T in the middle, and the green and the shield shape. I wore it on my thumb. I don’t at all remember who gave it to me because I was solely focused on the first metal ring of my life. Oh, thank you! That was driving me nuts.

  25. clarysage says

    I call BS on this. Deacons in the Mormon church are 12 year old boys. If you had met with a bishop or an elder of some sort I might have bought it.

  26. clarysage says

    I am a woman. I wanted to believe this. I grew up as a mormon and I’m not fond of the religion, to say the least. Fuck off, Aratina.

  27. janine says

    Clarysage, you have not given a good enough case on why this account should not be trusted. Until you do, fuck off. Seriously, just fuck off.

  28. clarysage says

    A big part of this account centers around this person saying “Deacon” So-and-so died. Mormons never use “deacon” as a title. You never ever hear it. Maybe the writer has a poor memory or maybe she didn’t hang out at the Mormon church as much as she says. But if someone was claiming to write a true account and quoted someone speaking to the prime minister of the United States, (and included it as a title in a quoted dialog), all Americans would laugh at it. You could call it “one fucking detail” but it would still not ring true to any American. I resent being called to task by Aratina because the writer is a woman. Someone suggested that PZ print these essays. Fine, but they’re not effective if they are risible to the Christians.

  29. says

    I resent being called to task by Aratina because the writer is a woman.

    *crocodile tears for you*

    Strange how this utter dismissal of a person’s experiences seems to happen to women who tell their stories and not to men…

  30. janine says

    A big part of this account centers around this person saying “Deacon”

    No, it was not. Deacon________ serves the same purpose as Bobby Ball and Marla Denim, it was a place holder, a device so that she did not use their real names.

    Fucking idiot.

  31. llewelly says

    Brownian: So the myth that men never speak to one another while at the urinal is just that, a myth?

    If you worked anywhere where conference calls were common, you would not even ask.

  32. llewelly says

    This is obviously not a person who knows enough about Mormons to get titles and terminology right. The general sense of it does not sound terribly inaccurate, but in most forms of Mormonism, deacons are not particularly important, and do not conduct interviews of any importance.

    It is more likely that “Deacon Bigler” was at the very least a “High Priest” (a 16 yr old) or an “Elder” (a devout Mormon male 18 years or older). Most likely of all would be a Bishop, or a 1st or 2nd counselor.

    Whenever you read stories about Mormons, especially if they’re written by people whose primary familiarity is with other forms of Christianity, it’s important to keep in mind that the same names other Christians use for relatively important positions are used by Mormons for very young boys, or for low level clerics. As a result, such people often fumble the positions of Mormons quite badly.

    Furthermore – Mormon churches in non English speaking areas do not necessarily use the ‘direct’ translations of words like “Deacon”, “Priest”, and “Bishop”. People whose primary experience with Mormons is in a non English speaking area are even more likely to fumble the names of the Mormon priesthoods and their respective positions.

  33. clarysage says

    Thank you, llewelly. Your comments made me realize that translation from Russian could account for this inaccuracy. (Side note: 16 yr olds are just “priests,” not “high priests.”) My comment that I resent being called to task for criticizing an essay because the writer is a woman wasn’t meant to elicit your sympathy, Aratina. My point is that telling people to not think skeptically because a piece is authored by a woman makes feminists lose credibility.

  34. says

    My comment that I resent being called to task for criticizing an essay because the writer is a woman wasn’t meant to elicit your sympathy, Aratina.

    If you haven’t noticed, I am not giving you any. You were cruel and dismissive. You do not deserve sympathy.

    My point is that telling people to not think skeptically because a piece is authored by a woman makes feminists lose credibility.

    What the…? What a wonder it is to see you attempt to twist reality in your favor.

  35. puzzlecraig says

    I had actually written to PZ to suggest that a few of the details were off, viz. the “PTL” ring and the use of “Deacon” as a spoken title, but I was waiting to see if someone like Lynna would weigh in.

    I didn’t mention that the “Church of Latter Day Saints” seemed odd; Mormons are sticklers for the full name. Nor did I note that Mormons don’t say “the sacred Temple”. The temple may be sacred, but the phrasing is uncommon. Nor do Mormons talk much about hell (cf. “spirit prison” and “outer darkness”).

    I considered the Camp LoMia detail to be strongly in favor of the veracity of the piece and figured that the rest might be explained by blurred memories from being away from Mormonism for half of one’s life.

  36. Ermine says

    Yeah, I felt much as Puzzlecraig did. They had a few details wrong, but they were the sorts of things that could easily be misremembered by someone who hadn’t been in an LDS church since they were a child, especially if they were dealing with translation issues as well.

    Clarysage, the problem with your response is that you didn’t just question specific parts of the tale, you “call[ed] BS” on the whole thing – You flat-out called Krasnaya a liar because one or two details were off, even though it was childhood memories being recalled, so errors were likely to happen.

    No one even -hinted- that anyone should “not think skeptically because a piece is authored by a woman”. Janine got mad because you disregarded *the entire story* on the basis of a couple of minor discrepancies, discrepancies that could have been worked out simply by asking about it, rather than jumping immediately to the assertion that it was all bullshit (i.e. lies).

  37. Krasnaya Koshka says

    Um, well, okay, Deacon Bigler called himself Deacon Bigler. I knew him as Deacon Bigler my whole life (until I moved out of the state). And he referred, remember this was only just over a year ago, to his dear departed friend as a Deacon. SO, if the terminology is wrong it’s on them, not on me. I don’t make up the titles. I don’t care about the titles. That’s their gig.

    Yes, I did misremember the ring, but I was four to five years old then. Elders in the church were the missionaries who had on their nametags “Elder Smith”, etc. They were young men. I see elders in Russia who can’t yet shave.

    I say “The Church of Latter Day Saints” because, duh! I don’t want to give away the location. I have changed the last names but I didn’t want to give up too much info on this poor guy.

    Yikes! Do you want me to scan my cram-packed diaries from when I was 4 to 17 and then get my mother’s testimony? Everyone on our street called him Deacon Bigler.

  38. Krasnaya Koshka says

    Also, in regards to “hell” and “sacred temple”, I do not remember what I spouted at 5 years old. So I wrote my mother’s take on it. I probably used different language but my mother is NOT Mormon. She took it as “sacred” and as “hell”.

    Good grief. Are you Mormons or ex-Mormons? Do you still find certain words sacred? I mean, who cares?

    If those things are so important to you maybe you should give up being apostates.

  39. John Morales says

    [meta]

    clarysage:

    A big part of this account centers around this person saying “Deacon” So-and-so died. Mormons never use “deacon” as a title. You never ever hear it.

    I call BS on this.

    You claim to have been a mormon, yet don’t know they use the term deacon?

    (From their site (to which I’ve linked)):
    An office of the Aaronic Priesthood. A boy is normally ordained a deacon when he is 12 years of age or older. Some of a deacon’s responsibilities are to pass the sacrament and collect fast offerings from the members.

    (Gee, how does it feel to be on the receiving end?)