And now this bulletin from the Department of Irony

Many former theists (like myself) describe their deconversion as a process of ‘illumination’ – reality finally comes into stark focus and you begin to see things that your deity-soaked brain would simply delete from your awareness. Most of the former theists I’ve come across (a ridiculously biased sample, to be sure) describe this as a profoundly liberating experience. After all, the world is freakin’ BEAUTIFUL

A picture of Half Moon Bay on Granville Island

This picture taken in the world

And so it was with more than a little bit of whimsical pleasure that I read this story:

Seventy members of an Islamist sect who have been living in an underground bunker without heat or sunlight for nearly a decade have been discovered living on the outskirts of the city of Kazan in Russia, local media reported. The sect members included 20 children, the youngest of whom had just turned 18 months. Many of them were born underground and had never seen daylight until the prosecutors discovered their dwelling on Aug. 1 and sent them for health checks.


The group—known as the “Fayzarahmanist” sect—was named after its 83-year-old organizer Fayzrahman Satarov, who declared himself a prophet and his house an independent Islamic state, according to a report by state TV channel Vesti.

Now, to be sure, this story isn’t actually funny. This is a clear case of child abuse at the hands of a religious fanatic – an example so shockingly egregious that it beggars belief. These children have been robbed of the opportunity to see the world and learn any version of reality that doesn’t conform to that of their insane patriarch. It is also worth noting that this sect came into existence primarily because of the USSR’s oppressive crackdown on religious expression – a type of state-forced atheism that is wrong for ethical reasons as well as pragmatic ones (clearly).

That being said, now that they’re out of the ground, they’re having a much more visceral and literal version of the experience that many of us felt when we first discovered our atheism: the sunlight and great outdoors of a mind unrestrained by the fear and paranoia of the subterranean prison of religious faith.

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  1. Arakiba says

    It’s a good thing they’re above ground now — they were sick and tired of those rickets!

  2. smrnda says

    Living in the States, plenty of people here think that ‘freedom’ means not having the government not interfere in family or religion, but seriously, families and religions can be about the most tyrannical and abusive organizations around. “Freedom” for this religious nutcase is having children live in, basically, a Soviet gulag.

  3. astro says

    I’m not sure about the state-forcerd atheism. What about all that business with Pussy Riot and Putin’s recent-ish belly-up to the Orthodox church?

  4. says

    Unfortunately, too many of them will see the light of the sun as a new vision of Allah, just as far too many point to waterfalls and butterflies as works of divine beauty.

  5. says

    There’s always that possibility. But when you’ve been told that one man’s word is the inerrant truth, any crack in the armour could split the whole thing asunder.

  6. Robert says

    From what I know of contemporary Russia, there are essentially two standards – one for the Orthodox Russian Church (the real one), and another for everybody else (the fake ones). Sort of the system some folks here in USA would like to see, actually.

    Not to minimize the horror of this story, but it reminded me of Terry Pratchett’s dwarves in the Discworld series. Some of them are so devoutly dwarvish that they wear masks when above-ground, so as to not be distracted by all the icky surface stuff. Less devout dwarves refer to them as ‘the ones who do not get out enough’.

  7. says

    I remember saying that the sky would be bigger if there was no God or gods. I was right (for myself, at least). I cannot imagine the immensity of a sky that you have never seen before.

    And yeah, this is a pretty strong statement against state-enforced atheism. The sanitizing light of exposure to ideas is what will bring triumph to freethought in the end; mandating any religious practice or lack thereof is the death knell of any meaningful skepticism. Of course, it is easy to argue that the fanatical devotion to the State that was required of Soviets is a religion in and of itself; it brings to mind the orientation of “religious but not spiritual.”

  8. kagekiri says

    Nah, that’s because modern Russia has a pretty different government than the USSR, which is WHY there was a public church for Pussy Riot to protest in.

    The USSR’s rules are why these people in the story sequestered themselves away years ago, basically, not that those same rules apply to Russia now.

  9. smrnda says

    Officially banning religion (and I’m not really sure how widespread or pervasive this was – during WWII many churches were re-opened as it was thought it would help morale and the war effort for example) tends to backfire, persecuting religion can easily turn religion into the oppressed underdog and gets it sympathy points, plus, most religions have some kind of built-in belief that persecution demonstrates that they must be right.

  10. carlie says

    I wonder if it’s wrong of me that I wished there had been psychologists/physiologists/doctors/etc. monitoring their first exposures to the outside world – that’s the kind of thing that you could never run an experiment on, but would be fascinating and potentially useful to see what happens without such exposure.

  11. HM says

    That’s what I thought when I first read this story. Although it may only apply to the teenagers than the all of the children. The adults are probably a lost cause as they chose to follow this megalomaniac down into a hole.

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