In MacDonald's novel Thomas Wingfold, Curate, we meet the character of George Bascombe. He is a progressive thinker, and is not about to be taken in by the gospel. The humor revealed in the paragraph below is that while Bascombe is ranting against Jesus and the gospel, and even mildly questioning the very existence of Jesus, he asks the question whether the curate really expects grown men and women in this modern time to believe the "silly words" of the gospel. And because "George liked to be correct," he identifies the current modern moment as "anni domini (the year of our Lord) 1870." Bascome, in "correctly" identifying the date, acknowledges unwittingly that the day in which he lives is historically measured and marked with reference to the Lord Jesus Christ.
"If you MUST go to church, you ought to prepare yourself beforehand by firmly impressing on your mind the fact that the whole thing is but part of a system—part of a false system; that the preacher has been brought up to the trade of religion, that it is his business, and that he must lay himself out to persuade people—himself first of all if he can, but anyhow his congregation, of the truth of everything contained in that farrago of priestly absurdities— called the Bible, forsooth! as if there were no other book worthy to be mentioned beside it. Think for a moment how soon, were it not for their churches and prayers and music and their tomfoolery of preaching, the whole precious edifice would topple about their ears, and the livelihood, the means of contentment and influence, would be gone from so many restless paltering spirits! So what is left them but to play upon the hopes and fears and diseased consciences of men as they best can! The idiot! To tell a man when he is hipped to COME UNTO ME! Bah! Does the fool really expect any grown man or woman to believe in his or her brain that the man who spoke those words, if ever there was a man who spoke them, can at this moment anni domini"—George liked to be correct—"1870, hear whatever silly words the Rev. Mr. Wingfold, or any other human biped, may think proper to address to him with his face buried in his blankets by his bedside or in his surplice over the pulpit-bible?—not to mention that they would have you believe, or be damned to all eternity, that every thought vibrated in the convolutions of your brain is known to him as well as to yourself! The thing is really too absurd! Ha! ha! ha! The man died—the death of a malefactor, they say; and his body was stolen from his grave by his followers, that they might impose thousands of years of absurdity upon generations to come after them. And now, when a fellow feels miserable, he is to cry to that dead man, who said of himself that he was meek and lowly in heart, and straightway the poor beggar shall find rest to his soul! All I can say is that, if he find rest so, it will be the rest of an idiot! Believe me, Helen, a good Havannah and a bottle of claret would be considerably more to the purpose;—for ladies, perhaps rather a cup of tea and a little Beethoven!" Here he laughed, for the rush of his eloquence had swept away his bad humour. "But really," he went on, "the whole is TOO absurd to talk about. To go whining after an old Jew fable in these days of progress!