Excerpts from

I Found God in Soviet Russia

Chapter 18: Life Among the Godless

By John Noble, 1959

For background information go to the Introduction

and read about the arctic Soviet slave-labor camp, Vorkuta

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After years of slave labor in the icy coal mines of Vorkuta, John Noble was transferred to a job as locker-room attendant for the "free Russian" managers at this infamous labor camp.

"...in the last days perilous times will come: For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying its power. And from such people turn away!
"...all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution. But evil men and impostors will grow worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived. But you must continue in the things which you have learned..." 2 Timothy 3:1-14

Even after I had come to believe that this was part of the job God wanted me to do, I found daily close contact with some phases of Russian communist life was revolting and difficult for me. The first thing that struck me was the language. Naturally, conditions in the mine were such that we could not expect polite language to be used there all the time.... Cursing is to be heard in any language under such circumstances. But to hear the same curses uttered by the Russian professional men, the engineers and supervisors, and even worse language by their wives, was a profound shock.

“You’ve got to learn to speak Russian the way we do, Johnny!” I had often heard from fellow workers. But that I could not do, and I believe that more than a little of the success I later had in gaining the confidence of the “free Russians” came from their surprised respect because I did not intersperse my everyday speech with curses.... I know some of them felt ashamed of their own crudity, for they were very defensive about it and explained again and again that their oaths were not meant to be taken literally.

The rough language used by the Russian people is only the first visible outward manifestation of the inner spiritual decay of a people cut off from Christianity and its moral teachings. Licentiousness is one of the inevitable consequences of atheism in any society. Its impact, I observed, was devastating in personal relationships and in the stability of that basic institution of human society, the family.

As the MVD men and engineers sat around the locker room daily at the change of shift to swap news and gossip, I overheard their conversations and was able to keep pretty well abreast of everything that was going on in their community. This room was the news center of North Vorkuta. There was a newspaper for the Russian residents of course, but it was devoted largely to propaganda—reports on the speeches of the party leaders, tables of the economic statistics of the five-year plan, ponderous editorials on communist philosophy, and the occasional grim warnings that Comrade So-and-so, found guilty by a People’s Court of inefficiency or sabotage, had been sentenced to a term at hard labor....

People cannot with impunity violate the Golden Rule or defy the Ten Commandments. I cannot begin to detail the personal tragedies among these Russian men and their families which resulted largely from the lowered standards of personal morality. Some people in the free world declare that they would like to live in a society where “free love” is practiced and old-fashioned morality, derived from the Bible, is replaced by a “progressive” attitude.

Let the still free agnostic or skeptic who casts aspersions on the work done by the churches, contemplate what happens in a society when the churches are torn down and there is no higher standard than expediency, no God but the totalitarian state!

Stories of sexual alliances were prime topics in the locker room. Marriage and divorce are simple civil ceremonies in the Soviet Union, although the Communists, evidently disturbed by the deterioration of family life and the haphazard upbringing of the young which resulted from easy divorce, have recently made divorce decrees somewhat harder to obtain than in the early years after the Revolution of 1917....

The words “What God hath joined together, let no man put asunder” are unknown in the marriage ceremony, as is the pledge “till death do us part.” This removes the sanctity, the sense of a solemnly undertaken lifelong obligation on the part of the contracting parties... The Russians, despite their cynicism and professed “modernism,” are not without personal feelings in such matters. And for all the emancipation of “free love” extolled by the Communist Party theoreticians, the Marxists do not accept it readily when applied to their own wives.

Once when there was laughter in the locker room, it concerned our chief electrical engineer who had been at Vorkuta for about two years. He had a wife and small child; at least everyone in Vorkuta thought she was his wife. However, one day it developed that some years earlier in his career, while doing graduate work in Leningrad, he had married a fellow student, a young woman who had become a mining engineer. She had gone to Spitzbergen, an island far out in the Arctic Ocean where the Russians mined coal during World War II but from which they were belatedly evicted by Norway which owned the island. Our chief electrical engineer had never expected to see her again and, without benefit of divorce, had taken another wife. One day, he learned that his first wife had arranged to be transferred to Vorkuta and was coming to join him. He went to meet her at the station and tried to explain things, but she was in no mood to hear his explanations.

While neighbors in the apartment house watched with eager interest, the first wife strode into the apartment and told the second wife to pack up and leave. The second, never having heard of the first, refused. Thereupon, the first wife began a violent fight.... The two women fought like tigers.... They knocked out teeth, tried to gouge eyes, and tore out handfuls of hair. At last, the bloody domestic struggle ended in victory for the Amazon from Spitzbergen who then, for good measure, proceeded to beat up her husband who had prudently stood aside during the fray. The vanquished second wife, bearing the marks of her beating, tearfully gathered her belongings, took her child and departed on the train for Moscow.....

I kept thinking of the stunned, evicted second wife taking that dreary train journey to Moscow with her child, a little boy who would in all likelihood never see his father again. What would become of her? Without special training, she would be obliged to find a taxing job in a factory and a room in some crowded apartment which she might have to share with others. And the boy would be relegated to a state nursery school....

One day one of our young work-crew superintendents announced that he had married. The girl and he had been living together in their little apartment for about six months when one evening they invited their friends in and said that they had been married that day at the civil registry. The friends were delighted and broke out bottles of vodka for a celebration....

The young man and his wife were both fanatical Communists, graduates of the Communist Youth Movement where he had been a leader. They had both gone to youth camps from the age of fourteen. These Soviet youth camps are not conducted for recreation but involve hard work by young “volunteers” who harvest the crops in areas where there is labor shortage.

There is marked relaxation of sexual restraints in this atmosphere and many illegitimate children are born from the casual couplings of such summer youth camp excursions. The Soviet state provides for the offspring who are taken into state orphanages where, removed from all modifying influences of family life, the children are raised to be zealous, dedicated Communists. Quite a few MVD agents are recruited from among the graduates of such state orphanages. They have no ties but their loyalty to the State, no allegiance to God or family, no principles to stand in the way of their performing any assignment given them....

Many Russians find relief from the unbearable tension and frustration of their personal lives in alcohol. ...  And the Russians are drinking more heavily all the time, so that alcoholism is coming to be a serious problem in their society. ... The Russians were completely unable to understand my views of temperance although I tried to explain that it was part of a personal moral code, like refusing to swear....

The licentiousness and debauchery which young people in Russia see all around them leads, of course, to juvenile delinquency the extent of which is obviously beginning to worry communist leaders. From the earliest days, the children learn dishonesty. Life is hard... and if the children can obtain a few luxuries from the State stores by petty shoplifting their parents do not reprimand them. After all, they are “only stealing from the government.”...

...children are also taught in school that they must constantly be on the lookout for "reactionaries” and, further, must report any neighbor who talks against Communism or acts suspiciously, even if this may come to involve their own parents. Children see, too, that the way to advancement in the Soviet system is to be ruthless in destroying whoever stands in your way, and to shift the blame adroitly to other persons when you make mistakes. The generation now growing up, which will eventually take over leadership of the country, is inevitably a cynical one deprived of ideals and of scruples.

I would be more seriously concerned, however, about the future of Russia and particularly about the young people coming to maturity in places like Vorkuta, if evil behavior were really “popular.” Actually... [they] are hungering desperately for something better. The Russian people are ripe today for Christian evangelism for much the same reasons that the pagans of Imperial Rome were ready to listen.... The Gospel of Jesus Christ has something to offer them that is far better than the uninspiring and hopeless way of life they have now.

"I now send you, to open their eyes, in order to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who are sanctified by faith in Me.'" Acts 26:17-18

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