I Found God in Soviet Russia
Chapter 19:The Unquenchable Truth
By John Noble, 1959
For background information go to the Introduction
and read about the arctic Soviet slave-labor camp, Vorkuta
"Well, Amerikanetz, tell us about your rich American workers!”
A ripple of laughter would rise in the locker room as one of the husky MVD [free Russian boss], rubbing himself briskly with a towel after coming out of his shower, would open a typical badgering conversation with me. The men were intensely interested in hearing about America. Although they often ridiculed my answers—especially if other Communists were present—the ceaseless questions which they put to me showed me that they had grave doubts about the grossly distorted accounts of unemployment, race riots, and gangsterism in the United States which the Communist press constantly published. And no phase of American life interested them more than religion.
It was difficult to explain to them about our spiritual life. America’s industrial accomplishments they could understand: automobiles and bathtubs are tangible things. Even though I told them about Detroit in the post-depression years, as I had known it when I left in 1938, a boy of fourteen, their eyes would open wide with wonder at the luxuries of life enjoyed by the typical worker.
When I told I them that the average assembly-line worker had his own automobile to drive to work; his own home with a yard around it, a home containing a radio, refrigerator, and a washing machine, and with an indoor bathroom... these things were difficult for the Russians to believe....
But religion and the intangible spiritual values of American life were much more difficult to explain; when I finally did get the idea across to the Russians of what the... Christian moral code can mean to society, I could see that this had an impact on them even greater than my description of America’s material luxuries.
To convince them of the truth of what I was saying, I tried to be a living Christian example myself there in their midst. They watched every step I took and listened critically to every word I spoke. As it turned out, this was a wonderful opportunity to testify for Our Lord, for these men were nearly all under forty years of age... and were thoroughly indoctrinated with Communism. Some of them had never seen a church building... and very few had ever seen a Bible. ... The Communists confiscated and burned all the Bibles they could find, and such few as remained are worn from use and are kept carefully hidden away by their elderly owners.
In the schools, students are taught that Jesus was a Jewish mystic and religious fanatic put to death by the Roman authorities for radicalism. After His death, his cult was taken over by the Roman Empire to be used as an opiate to drug the workers by promising them a reward in an imaginary spiritual world after death to compensate for the drudgery they suffered here. Students are cautioned that belief in such religious superstition, or practice of its rites, constitutes anti-state activity.
Educated engineers and MVD security men knew no more about Christianity than that. ... They laughed the whole thing off as outmoded superstition. It is no wonder, then, that as I was apparently intelligent and young, they asked me why I believed in all this “nonsense.” Since religion was only a superstition, they saw little point in all the atheistic propaganda with which they had been bombarded at school. Seeing no churches in use in their communities... they were inclined to feel that Christianity was something that had largely disappeared with the advent of Marxism. ... They did not really believe in militant atheism. They had no beliefs at all.
As we sat around the locker room on the late night shift, I could see the effect it was gradually making on them to learn that the ethical teachings of Jesus, as embodied in the Sermon on the Mount, are a central part of the Christian faith. When they first heard some of the words of the Master, they were as little children to whom new wonders are revealed. When they understood that such ideals as love, trust, honesty, idealism exist in the world, they began to hunger and thirst after them. And the slightest manifestation on my part of following these teachings impressed them—as, for instance, the fact that I did not steal their belongings out of the locker room despite the many chances I had to do so...
...they were not my enemies at all but fellow victims of the same system...
Communism seems... to compensate for its lack of spiritual values, and has tried to make a religion out of itself, creating its own gospel, prophets, evangelists, believers, heretics, fanatics, and even (secretly) skeptics. Marx and Engels are its prophets; their writings the gospel; Lenin the chief apostle and, in 1953 when I began to work in the locker room, Stalin was still its undisputed living godhead.
But the communist “religion” has failed so consistently to meet men’s spiritual needs that the temper of the religious climate in Russia today is disillusionment. In the locker room at the time of Stalin’s death, I had a ringside seat to watch the effect upon lifelong Communists of the death of their living god. There was jubilation rather than mourning; they were devoutly thankful that he was gone. There can have been little or no shock when later the truth about the man came to light and he was denounced and discredited....
...among our own ranks there in the room were cases of cruel injustice which must have disillusioned them all. We had one young supervisor, for instance, a completely dedicated Communist and a skillful blasting engineer. One day when something went wrong and a blast did not go off as scheduled, everyone in the mine knew that it was not his fault. He went up into the coal seam to check the cause, and then shouted a warning that saved the lives of several others; he himself did not make it to safety before the blast came and he was killed. Dead, he made a safe scapegoat for the authorities who would admit to no errors of their own: the delayed detonation was called a case of sabotage, and our self-sacrificing engineer called a “traitor” who had blown himself up in his efforts to wreck the mine.
The day after this happened, I was taking a walk around the compound when I saw a sight I shall never forget: the man’s young widow and seven-year-old son trudging down the muddy road, pulling the little boy’s express wagon on which was a rude pine coffin containing what was left of the father’s body. This was the State’s reward for loyal service, and only one of many striking examples open for all of us to see.
Just exactly how interested my friends were in Christianity came as a surprise to me. I wanted a Bible, and had had none since my imprisonment. Some of the Baltic prisoners had been receiving Bibles from their families hidden in food packages, and from time to time the guards would seize them and turn them over to the MVD. One day I found that the MVD were not destroying the Bibles, written in Russian, of course, but were reading them. I finally spoke to an elderly prisoner in charge of sweeping and dusting the MVD rooms, asking him if he could riot get me one of the Bibles.... He refused gently, saying that he did not dare remove one as they would be certain to miss it. “Nonsense,” I countered, “if they miss one they will simply think it has been thrown out.”
“That’s what you think, Noble,” he told me seriously. “They know exactly how many Bibles they’ve got. They come in here at night sometimes and read them when they think no outsiders are looking. I don’t dare take the chance.”
The “Party line” is based upon hate, hate for the old Czarist system, hate for the Trotskyite heretics, hate for the capitalists of the West, hate for the dissident Tito, hate for other nations and other ideologies. Hatred is drummed into the people every day a by incessant propaganda—yet love is what they crave! They are not beasts, but human beings. There is something finer and better in them than organized hatred.
When I discussed religion with the Russian men there in the locker room during the quiet hours of the night shift, I could see that my answers about Christianity had an effect. I could see that they were hungry in their souls for the spiritual bread of life that only Christ can give....
The Soviet system has been trying to turn out by assembly-line methods a nation of twentieth-century pagans. But apparently the theoreticians have miscalculated... I would venture to say that their failure is this: Christianity is intrinsically superior to godlessness and wherever the Christian gospel has been preached in this world at any time in history, it has always defeated its adversaries. ... Where Christianity is preached in Russia today, the modem paganism of Communism melts as does the ice of Vorkuta in the warm rays of the midsummer sun.
"Jesus said to them, 'I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst. But I said to you that you have seen Me and yet do not believe.... For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me.... And this is the will of Him who sent Me, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him may have everlasting life; and I will raise him up at the last day.” John 6:35-40"...our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Spirit and in much assurance..." 1 Thessalonians 1:5
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