Religious Foolishness. May 25, 1923
This rather optimistic account of the effect of a worker propagandist on the faith of villagers was representative of the many such accounts circulated by the central press in their efforts to extirpate the deep faith of the peasantry.
Original Source: Moskovskaia pravda, 25 May 1923.
The Baptists had come to the village not long before the Revolution. Aunt Afinya had sent her three maiden daughters to the big town for service in the houses of rich Baptists, and three years later they had come back to the village as “believers.” Nor was that all. The three sisters succeeded in converting to the Baptist religion their mother, brother, uncle and other members of the family. There were three such “believers” homes” in the village.
Soon, preachers of the Gospel began to come to the village, arranging meetings, propagating their faith among the peasants, and trying to persuade them to “acknowledge faith in Christ.” The conditions were favorable, with the church crumbling on its foundations and the authorities not desiring to mix in religious matters, and the preachers made the most of the opportunity.
“Repent and come to Jesus: Faith alone will save you! Faith alone will redeem you, brothers and sisters.,
They were well fed well and even fashionably clothed, young, wearing on their hands gold and diamonds. They used to come to the village only when the three sisters happened to be at home.
The country women began to mock at it.
“By all the Saints, it’s not for the old that they come; it’s the young girls.”
Even the old women began to be discontented.
“It’s nice work, however, they are doing in our village, these rascals.”
The village youths, also, frequented these religious meetings, indulging in disputes with the preachers, who, however, always proved to be stronger in their arguments, owing to an ever ready flow of expressions and their ability to turn the questions. But the youths did not much mind being vanquished. They knew their ‘turn would come when a certain Zarubin, a native of the village, and now working in a factory, came back to the village.
The village knew him well, this Zarubin; the whole village felt obligated to him. He had done very much for the peasants, and whenever trouble arose, the peasants were sure to have his support. He had interfered in quarrels about the distribution of land, school matters were promptly decided by him, and even the church had had to feel his authority. Popes and the so-called “kulaks” of the village had seen a thing or two. His good turns to the village were innumerable, and no wonder his authority was universally recognized and his opinion respected.
At the time of the emperor Nicholas he had worked in more than one factory, had been put into prison for striking, and been brought many times back to his home under escort. Working now in a neighborhood factory, he often comes home to see his old father, in summer. He knows absolutely everything, foreign countries, the food-tax regulations, why the Soviet regime is better than all other forms of governments; he is versed in religious matters as well, and the popes did not like him much. Briefly, he knows all, explains and promptly settles all matters.
Those who did not like him used to call him: “‘Spin, Gavrila” [Kruti, Gavrila].
And Zarubin came to visit his sick father, again, and by chance, he arrived the day when our preachers from the big town were present in the village and had just arranged a meeting, for the same evening. They had chosen that day the largest room in the village, the, schoolhouse, in order to have more comfort.
Youth came in masses to the assembly. Every one instinctively felt that the decisive moment had come. Long rows of peasants, women, children, girls were to be seen coming slowly, as peasants do, to the school, and even the worn out and disabled old Syoma left his hot corner on the stove bunk. No room at all in the school, nowhere to sit down, to stand up, even the windows did not give fresh air. A throng in the room, near the window, in the streets, a throng everywhere. Well seen by everybody, and ranged according to rank, our Gospel messengers were seated at a large table, where an imposing heap of books was lying. A polished young man, with black moustache and careful part of the hair, making large gestures, was talking with a thin, shrill, noisy voice. He was repeating again and again the same thing, Faith ‘in Christ.
Having finished, he invited the audience, his brothers and sisters in God, to ask questions.
“With your permission!” said Zarubin, stepping forward.
The crowd gave way and he came to the table.
Zarubin talked clearly, putting the stress where necessary, underlining cleverly the significance of certain phrases, pausing at moments.
“You come to tell us that all the wrong in this world, all the vices, everything is to be corrected through Faith. You have blamed the non-believers in your faith for rudeness, ignorance. You pretend to make the world happy only through your faith. But, culture, knowledge, do they mean nothing to you, have they lost all significance? Do they not correct, do they not improve the life of mankind?”
The preacher realized immediately with whom he had to do, and tried to interrupt him.
“We are talking in different languages, brother,” he said.
“I have understood you very well, and you have me,” Zarubin, and continued: .
“I know, you do not believe in your teaching yourself. Nonsense, all that. Cultured mankind will know without your faith that it has not to do wrong. All that heap of books on the table is not worth a single scientific treatise. You have been saying a lot about humility and love. We know what these phrases mean. Look how the capitalists, belonging to your own faith, exploit us workmen. Big houses are built with the profits they get from our work, high walls surround their mansions, and cruel dogs watch them. They watch their property. Humility is only asked of us. Your faith is only to hide the sharp teeth of these ever hungry wolves.”‘
The crowd was listening, holding its breath. Somebody said: “Bravo, Alekha! Go on!”
And Zarubin continued to talk at some length. He mentioned the behavior of the Baptists during the Civil War when they came to the authorities to entreat them to exempt them from military service and from participation in the civil war.
“Is it not however only owing to our victory that the Baptists can exercise their religious rites and profess their faith unmolested?”
Red as a turkey, our preacher, excited and gesticulating, cried:
“We will never understand each other, our discussion is absolutely useless.”
But Zarubin, turning to the peasants, continued and said:
“Peasants! How many hundreds of years have people used their brains and their energy to study the bibles, psalters and ancient books! How many faiths there are! Each of them tries to seduce and to attract people to come to their little church shops, each of them praises its produce, as the Baptists here in our village are now doing. But this produce is rotten, it putrefies. For us workmen, religion, whatever it may be, is nonsense and useless.
“Drive them away, rather; they prevent us from living sensibly. Let them work, these preachers, these popes and all that sort of people. Close up the chapels, the churches, the synagogues! It was time long ago.”
The peasants did not disperse for a long time. They discussed the meeting at some length, this day being a very important one in their lives. And even the religious peasants approved Alekha, wondering how easy it was for Zarubin to settle matters.
After this memorable day our preachers have never come back to the village! They disappeared entirely. They are frightened.
Source: Boleslaw B. Szczesniak, ed. and tr., Russian Revolution and Religion; a collection of documents concerning the suppression of religion by the Communists, 1917-1925 (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1959), pp. 162-165.