(Please note that this article contains mockery of sincerely held Christian beliefs, albeit of the flakier variety. If that sort of thing offends you, kindly shove off).
It is interesting to observe how some misguided souls manage to build vast towers of supposition on the shakiest foundations by the power of faith alone. In his book Mr. Pember presented a vision of the world which may sound like fantastic fiction to the sceptic, but which he believed was a literal interpretation of the words of the Bible: the type of interpretation in which any assertion, however mad, however unsupported by evidence, can be 'true' if some Biblical passage can be read as confirming it.
His aim in writing the book was to communicate his views on the connections between the ancient history of the world and the then popular fads of Theosophy and Spiritualism, which he saw as demonically-inspired and liable to bring about the end of mankind. There seemed to him clear parallels between contemporary events and biblical stories such as the Fall of Adam and Eve and the great Flood.
Pember's application of the term 'literal' did not exclude the wildest interpolations between the lines where he felt like it. For example, take the first two verses of Genesis:-
- In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.
- And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.
According to Pember (following the Scottish theologian Thomas Chalmers), there is no indication of the length of time that had passed between the two verses, and so there is no contradiction between the Bible and geological observation: the vast ages of time indicated by study of rocks occurred in the gap. What is more, Pember was inclined to believe that during this time there were in existence numberless 'preadamite' races of man who were each in turn wiped out by God when they proved unable to resist the lure of sin.
In this time, too, Satan got up his rebellion against God and was duly chucked out of heaven (though how he hoped to succeed in overcoming his omnipotent adversary is never explained), to find a new home with his accomplices in the air around us:-
For the whole aerial surroundings of our planet are densely peopled with a hostile race of beings unutterably superior in wisdom and power to ourselves; having had during a vast number of years every conceivable experience of the weak points of humanity ; possessing the incalculable advantage of being themselves invisible, though as spiritual intelligences they are probably able, not merely to judge of us by our words and outward expression of countenance but even to read the innermost thoughts of our heart; co-operating with the most perfect and never-failing organization; and lastly, directed by a leader of consummate wisdom and skill, who is assisted by powerful princes, and finds his subjects so numerous, that, if we are to lay any stress on the word “legion” in the memorable narrative of Luke, he is able to spare some six thousand of them to guard one miserable captive.
(Scary, eh? Satan - the ultimate super-villain).
Pember's version of the Adam and Eve story is a little odd, too. I am not entirely sure what to make of the following passage:-
Yet another and crowning joy was in store for Adam. His benign Creator, knowing that it was not good for him to be alone, determined to bestow upon him a companion and partner of his joy. But first he brought to him the beasts of the field and the fowls of the air, to see what he would call them: that is, to see if he should claim any of them as bone of his bones and flesh of his flesh. Adam gave names to all, but to none that of woman; a result which had, of course, been anticipated by God. Indeed it seems not improbable that He made the trial to stimulate in His creature a desire which He intended to gratify.
Is there not a hint of bestiality here?
Adam and Eve were tempted by a snakeskin-clad Satan, and ate the fruit of the tree of knowledge. Grumpy old God, who could anticipate that Adam would not fancy snuggling up to even the cutest of camels, but somehow failed to spot Old Nick setting up his greengrocer's cart, slung them out of the garden, and in a fit of temper cursed the Earth. Pember cites a nutty Professor Balfour, who believed that the existence of thorns and thistles were 'evidence' of His curse on the vegetable kingdom.
Having dealt with the early chapters of the Bible, Pember turned to the various modern manifestations of sin that would bring down the wrath of God as in the days of Adam. In so doing, he showed that his literalism in the reading of texts was not limited to the Bible but extended as much to the extravagant claims of his foes in the Theosophical movement, such as that mediums, by the aid of demons, are able “to hold intercourse with supernatural beings, to reveal secrets, and in some degree to foretell; can travel in a moment to any part of the world ...”. Furthermore, demonic possession is a commonplace, “a large proportion of the patients in our lunatic asylums” being such cases, and “direct communication with demons ... is now becoming prevalent”. And, proving the advanced nature of North American society even 100 years ago, “the ceremonious marriage of a woman to a demon is a thing not unknown in the United States: whether it has ever happened in England we cannot say”.
Another great evil in the world was Buddhism, which according to Pember had many more adherents than previously suspected: for, “recent investigations have made it probable that Buddha was once the god of Northern Europe, and that his name is philologically identical with that of Woden...”. Not only that, but some fifth century Chinese Buddhists “apparently” reached North America and made converts there. Most astonishingly (except to the most paranoid of protestant fundamentalists), “there can be little doubt that the Buddhist tope is the original of the Roman Church...”.
Like many before and after, Pember believed that the End Was Nigh, though sensibly he refrained from suggesting exactly how Nigh It Was, preferring darkly hinting rhetorical questions: “if the great apostasy, which will at last evolve the Lawless One, be even now spreading; who can be sure of a day or an hour? ... Are we not living through solemn times: is the air not full of warnings: does it not behove every believer to arise, gird up his loins, and trim his lamp?”. How disappointing it must have been to those of Pember's readers who responded to his call and spent the remainder of their days in loin-girding and lamp-trimming, rather than on something they might have enjoyed more, to go to their death beds without having witnessed the second coming nor having the satisfaction of seeing their sinful neighbours judged and sent down into the black and fiery mouth of Hell.
Amusing as this may be, wouldn't it be much more so if no-one nowadays believed this kind of tripe? Sadly the number of misguided loons does not appear to have diminished much over the century since it was published: indeed you can still buy this book, you poor saps.