Sixth place — BIPOC essay contest: Alina Sokolova
A letter to my Christian friend
FFRF awarded Alina $1,000.
By Alina Sokolova
Hello, my religious friend from Kyrgyzstan! I haven’t seen you since I left the village, but it’s no surprise that we still keep in touch. After all, we have a lot in common, despite our different races: We are both Russian, both from single-parent families, both were baptized in the Orthodox Church and both went to a Christian school. It’s been two years since I started to live in the United States, but I still reflect on my memories and the influence of religion on our lives.
My friend, I realized that Christianity did not do me any good. It made me tolerate discrimination, stopped me from reporting abuse and deceived me for years by promising God’s help for my faith. If I was given a choice to be baptized or not, I wouldn’t become a member of the Russian Orthodox Church, knowing how much harm it would cause me.
This reminds me of your words about us being “lucky” to be born Russian, unlike those Kyrgyz girls with Muslim parents who forbid them to attend school. The truth is, both of us are victims of patriarchal religion that has been used to control our bodies and lives.
I evaluated my memories of our school with a morality course, where we were told how to appropriately behave, and noticed that girls received a lot more rules and judgment. Do you remember how a female student was crying after being lectured by a teacher? She got a verbal punishment for simply putting her head on another boy’s shoulder during a prayer. We both saw that the girl was the only one blamed for “inappropriate” behavior. You and I chose to ignore it, believing that she deserved it for her disobedience. Our childlike faith was used as a tool to make us submissive. My friend, I no longer approve of such a religion, where girls like us are raised to be obedient or threatened with shaming for doing otherwise.
In that school, I was taught Christian pacifism and the rule of nonresistance: “If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also.” I consider it one of the most harmful lessons because it prevented me from resisting the obstacles and taking action. My friend, for almost four years of living with an alcoholic grandfather, I never mentioned it to anyone, including you. I did not share my family’s problems because I was afraid of embarrassment and judgment from other villagers. My grandma quietly tolerated my grandfather’s disrespect and never discussed it with me.
As a child, I did not know how to cope with this situation, so I relied on God’s help. Traditional ways and religion silenced me from reporting abuse. It took me years to figure out that turning the other cheek to get hit and praying so my grandfather would stop drinking wouldn’t work at all.
My life improved when I rejected the Russian Orthodox Church. I separated from the abusive environment and moved to the capital to live with my mother. Leaving the village, going to a nonreligious school and not attending church made me too busy doing what I had been praying for. Freedom from religion gave me strength to become an exchange student in the United States, share my story with a human rights organization and apply for asylum. I’ve lived “without God by my side” for three years already, and I am proud to have my life in my own hands.
Alina, 19, is from Eden Prairie, Minn., and attends Concordia College. “I am a half-Russian, half-Korean asylum-seeker from Kyrgyzstan and an undocumented student,” Alina writes. “My major is political science because I plan to work in the United Nations to help Central Asian countries. I used to volunteer in a South Korean organization and helped with creating an annual charity fair.”