It is the 31st of October 2020. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org. I'm Dan van Voorhis.

The year was 1916.

It was noted at the time that the beginning of the twentieth century experienced a marked change in the world. Virginia Woolf wrote that in 1910, "human nature changed." This was her response to postimpressionism and the art scene. Willa Cather wrote that "the world broke in two in 1922 or thereabouts," and Gertrude Stein wrote that it was the Great War that made the century.

And for all the angst those early two decades caused, it could be argued that the year 1916 was the chief amongst those dark years. The war was raging with this year, seeing both the Battle at Verdun and the Battle of the Somme. The battle of Verdun saw almost a million casualties, and the first day of the battle of the Somme was the day that saw 57,000 British casualties, a one-day record. Our record of the infamous battle was likely helped by the number of British writers who either fought in that battle or were concurrently enlisted. These included J.R.R. Tolkien and A.A. Milne. Robert Graves was injured in the battle, as were poets Ford Maddox Ford and Siegfried Sassoon. Future British Prime minister Harold MacMillan also fought in the battle but was famously pinned in a trench and proceeded to read the father of Greek tragedy Aeschylus in the original Greek.

1916 saw the continuing popularity of modernist literature, from James Joyce and T.S. Eliot to Kafka and Yeats. The year also saw landmark works from Einstein and Madison Grant. Einstein's work was a landmark in that it introduced the theory of general relativity. Madison Grant's book, "The Passing of the Great Race," was a landmark in eugenics, racism, and other trash. It was, unfortunately, quite popular. And despite the giants of poetry and prose, the year saw the continued ascent of spiritualism with works such as William Walker Atkinson's "Clairvoyance and Occult Powers." Spiritualism and science fiction came together in the works of both H.G. Wells and H.P. Lovecraft. It was an era of spirituality divorcing itself from religious institutions. It was the era of new religious movements. On this day, the 31st of October, in 1916, the infamous Charles Taze Russell died. The nonconformist was the International Bible Students Association founder, which would later morph into the Jehovah's Witnesses.

Russell was born in 1852 in Pennsylvania. By the time the Civil War had ended, the young man had left the Presbyterian church in which he was raised and toyed with skepticism before meeting a few devotees of the charismatic William Miller. (You might remember Miller for his spectacularly wrong predictions about the end of the world and his role in forming the Adventist church.) Following Miller's final teachings, Russell taught that Christ and returned "spiritually" in 1874 and would reign in heaven for forty years before coming back in 1914.

Russell became disillusioned with the Millerites and began his own religious newspaper in 1879. it was called "Zion's Watch Tower and Herald of Christ's Presence." It would later be shortened to only "The Watch Tower." He later formed the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society. At the time, Russell believed that he was not starting a new church but rather a society to produce bible study materials. His followers would take his "Studies in Scripture" to other Christian groups to convince them of the truths discovered by Russell. When World War I began, many of Russell's followers became disillusioned with his ideas about the kingdom being manifested on earth. The society would all but shut down, only to be resurrected after Russell's death. It was then that Joseph Franklin Rutherford rebranded the group the Jehovah's Witnesses. The group today resembles Rutherford's theology instead of Russell's. Charles Taze Russell discovered that there were far more than only 144,000 in God's New Kingdom on the day he entered it today, the 31st of October, in 1916.

The reading for today comes from Anna Kamienska, "Lack of Faith."

Yes
even when I don’t believe
there is a place in me
inaccessible to unbelief
a patch of wild grace
a stubborn preserve
impenetrable
pain untouched sleeping in the body
music that builds its nest in silence

This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 31st of October 2020 brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org. The show is produced by a man who loves Christmas, saying the pledge of allegiance, and possible blood transfusions, Christopher Gillespie. The show is written and read by Dan van Voorhis. You can catch us here every day. Remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be ok.