2013 Book Report 21: When It Was Dark – Guy Thorne.

I read this book on my Kindle, available here.

I can’t remember why I went out of my way to get this book. I have a feeling that it was mentioned somewhere else, and I made a mental note to get hold of it. I’m glad I did, though I have a feeling that Guy Thorne wouldn’t have approved of my feelings on reading the book.

The book was written in 1902, and it reflects the time when it was written. Summarising the story as bullet points:

  • A respected and well known biblical scholar has a weakness for the high life beyond his modest academic salary to support. He also has an ongoing affair with a lady of the stage.
  • Because of his proclivities the scholar finds himself in serious debt, having already been rescued from ignominy several times by a rich patron who is a member of parliament.
  • The patron offers a way out of debt for the scholar, offering to clear all his debts and to set him up with a regular payment in the future for a simple service. The academic is to travel to ‘The Holy Land’ and set up a tomb with indications that show the tomb to have been the one in which a crucified Jesus is laid. Evidence is then to be added to show that Jesus did not rise, but that his body was removed by Joseph of Arimathea.
  • The protagonist in the story is a young priest working in an industrial town in the north of England. He keeps the faith in the face of the doubts sweeping the world’s Christians. And it is he who eventually finds a way to expose the falsehoods.

Reflecting The Early Twentieth Century Norms.

There are many aspects of the book which look odd or quaint from the early years of the 21st Century. There is clearly an anti-Jewish bias in the book demonstrated by the fact that the rich patron is a Jew. This was quite normal for Christians of the time (a fact which is glossed over by Christians desperate to blame atheism for Hitler and the Nazis). The idea that the loss of faith immediately leads to a break down in law and order is the sort of thing that the more fanciful evangelicals cling to as well.

As an atheist myself, I found this an enjoyable vignette which demonstrated the thought processes of a simpler time. It is undoubtedly a product of its time, something that could never have been written later, at least in Western Europe. As far as I can tell, the Americas could still produce material like this and expect it to sell by the bucket load!

Can I Get A Witness?

Looking out of the window this morning we realised that our road was in for its regular visit from the Jehovah’s Witnesses. I wasn’t really that bothered as they seem to have skipped our house for a while. But today we got a visitation.

I was in the mood for a heated debate. And I quite enjoyed it. I let them know right from the start that I thought that the bible was poppycock. They threw all sorts of stuff at me. The idea that science was confirming bible stories, the world would be a better place if everyone followed the bibles rules etc.

For instance: ‘Do you think the world would be a better place if people followed the teachings of the bible?’. I said that while it was clear some of the moral codes in the bible were useful, most of them were a reflection of the time and place that they were written. It made sense not to eat certain foods in a pre-refrigeration desert society where such foods would make you ill. Just like in Islam, a religion born of an arid region it made sense to have a hand that you kept clean and one you allowed to be less so. But the rules were for a time and place. In a world where we understand germ theory, have disinfectants and access to plentiful water these rules were less useful. But then some of the rules are just bizarre. Does it matter if you wear clothing of mixed fibres? And other rules are just objectionable, especially those around the roles of women.

As to the idea that the bible was being confirmed by science, I gave that very short shrift, pointing out that the bible seems only able to be confirmed by science by a retro-fitting of interpretations. I likened it to the predictions of Nostradamus and how people found indications of events like World War II in his texts, but only ever in hindsight. The bible, like Nostradamus has never had any predictive ability.

I enjoyed the whole thing. But I don’t think I will be hearing from them any time soon. Maybe I should have recommended ‘The God Delusion’ while they were here…