I’ve always said that, as a skeptic, I am willing to believe whatever is most consistent with the verifiable evidence, even if it contradicts beliefs I have long cherished. That commitment has probably never been challenged as strongly as it was the day Jesus did come back, as King of Kings and Lord of Lords, and, well, President of Presidents.
That was a shock, I must say, but seeing him on CNN and Fox News (of course) and even Al Jazeera, I had to face the evidence and admit that he was really real. God the Son had come down from heaven to dwell among men, and even the most die-hard skeptics had to agree. Fortunately (as he explained later), the Revelation prophecies were misunderstood predictions about Christian persecution in the Roman Empire, so we didn’t have a bunch of terrible calamities to worry about. But still, just having him be there, and be real, was a great shock.
The Christians, of course, were jubilant, or at least, at first they were. For the first few days, you couldn’t turn on a television or go to a news outlet on the web without some believer or another sitting there smugly wagging their fingers and telling us all, “See? We told you so.” Even people like Richard Dawkins were only on long enough to sheepishly admit they’d been mistaken. The Christians had all the microphones and camera time.
And then came the audience with the Pope.
The Vatican, of course, was a blur of excited activity, preparing for the Visit, as they called it. For some reason, Jesus chose to travel by airplane from Jerusalem, and he didn’t leave at all for a few days after his arrival on earth. No one knows what he was doing inside the magically-restored temple for those first few days, but perhaps he was just waiting for the preparations to be complete.
And then came the Visit. The press was all over it, and billions of people watched it being streamed live over cable, web, and cell phone. There was a tremendous fanfare, and a long cavalcade of limousines with all the famous and important people who managed to insinuate themselves into the entourage. Neither Jesus nor the Pope were wearing microphones, but somebody’s government supplied the remote listening tech so that we could all hear the conversation.
“Thanks for all the hard work. You can go now. I’ll be my own vicar from here on in.”
That was pretty much it. An early retirement, you might say. Or you might say, fired. Laid off. No more Popes.
The Protestants all shrugged and said, “Well, that makes sense. Who needs a Pope when you’ve got the real messiah right here?” But the Catholics were shocked. No Pope? No Vatican? It was like reaching out for a warm handshake and getting your arm yanked off. And then Jesus turned and said, to all of us, “Thank you, you can all go home now. I will be meeting with the World Council of Churches next week.”
After that business with the Pope, you can imagine there were some uneasy, thoughtful expressions on people’s faces over the next few days. To be perfectly honest, I think a lot of us had frankly forgotten that there was a World Council of Churches.
We all watched the second meeting too, of course. This one, though, came with a lot less pomp and ceremony. A lot of the bigwigs who had wanted to be on the bandwagon the first time had pretty much run out of enthusiasm for the second. And like the first meeting, the second was short and to the point.
“Thank you, I’m here now, so there’s no need for cooperation between the denominations. From now on, there won’t be any denominations. My church is the only church there is, and I’m the only one who can declare what the church’s teachings are.” Protestantism evaporated just like Catholicism did. There is no sola scriptura among the people of a living God.
After that, he went back to Jerusalem, and we all saw a lot less of him in public. New bishops began to appear in all the cities. He didn’t spend a lot of time traveling to the major metropolitan areas and holding ordination ceremonies. He was God. When he appointed a bishop, the bishop just knew he’d been appointed, and everyone knew who their bishop was. Even when the bishop turned out to be a woman, nobody doubted. We all just knew.
The bishops went around ordaining priests, of course, but again, there wasn’t much ceremony or deliberation involved. Jesus called those he wanted as priests, and they heard his calling. Everyone heard it, it was an audible calling. He was rebuilding the hierarchy of the One True Church, and we were all eyewitnesses of how it got put together.
Some of the Pentecostals were the first to start grumbling and doubting. They didn’t like the idea of “bishops” and “priests,” for one thing. Said it didn’t “feel right” somehow. It was too “high church” and “traditional,” meaning restrictive and uncomfortable. No freedom of the Spirit. It just wasn’t right.
Then word got out that Jesus was pro-choice. How could he be anything else, when free will was his whole reason for allowing evil to exist in the world? After all, he allowed Eve to make a choice that he knew would result not just in the physical deaths of her offspring, but the eternal damnation of most of her descendants as well. That’s how important freedom of choice was to him.
Once this revelation leaked out, believers started seriously questioning their God. Some began outright questioning whether he really was their God. He wasn’t Catholic, he wasn’t Protestant, he wasn’t Pentecostal. He wasn’t even non-denominational! He didn’t speak in tongues or cast out demons (he mentioned once that they had all been banished the day he came back). He didn’t even heal the sick, though to be honest it was pretty hard to find anybody who was still sick these days.
The full-blown rebellion came when he announced that the laborer was worthy of his wages, and that landowners and capitalists and such would be expected to pay fair market value for the labor of the workers, instead of keeping the lion’s share of the profits for themselves. Complicated taxes were abolished in favor of a simple tithe, which ought to have been good news, but nobody paid much attention because of all the uproar over “wealth distribution” and “class warfare.”
Suddenly, Fox News was home to scores of famous preachers and theologians, all raising the question—only a question, mind you, just saying, not trying to make any direct assertions here, but—could this Jesus be a fraud, a pretender, an imitation messiah come to fool us all into false worship?
The abandoned denominations were reborn as an underground rebellion, shady cells of true believers searching their scriptures for signs that this Jesus, the Jesus who came down out of heaven in the company of angels and acclaimed by the voice of God, was somehow not the real Jesus. The real Jesus would have been on their side, would have championed their church or their denomination above all others. The real Jesus would have instantly wiped out all the Muslims and atheists and skeptics, regardless of whether or not they now believed in him, just for having failed to believe sooner. This Jesus must be an Antichrist.
It was inevitable that they would turn to violence eventually, yet strangely their attacks were most successful when directed against each other. Bombs in public places either failed to detonate, or went off at a time when the surrounding area was coincidentally empty. Firearms failed to fire, or missed their intended targets, at least when aimed at the general public. We all had an inner sense of where not to be, and when not to be there, and none of us were hurt.
But there were casualties—among the true believers. Somehow, they either did not feel or did not heed the inner warnings, and they died, or were wounded, in attacks from other believers trying to build themselves up as the Faithful Remnant. There could only be one, you see, so they regarded any other Faithful Remnant as an evil deception of the Antichrist. They that lived by the sword died by the sword, and the rest of us were saddened by it, but unharmed.
In the end, Jesus went back to heaven. It was the only way to stop the violence, he said. No prophecy ever predicted anything about the Antichrist peacefully ascending to the throne of God, so that, at least, should demonstrate to them that their interpretations were wrong. And it did, kind of. For a few days, at least.
We’ve gone back to trying to rebuild our civilization again after all the commotion. The Christian militias mostly disbanded, though not all, not by a long shot. Catholics are still arguing over whether to bring back the Pope, and whether the new Pope (if any) should be the same man as the old Pope. The simple tithe is very popular amongst the common people, and most democracies are dragging their feet as far as restoring the old convoluted tax structure. A bunch of the old billionaires are working on it though. In other words, things are slowly getting back to normal.
Overall, things are better. Diseases are pretty much gone, and life expectancy is up. A lot of us find ourselves getting hunches about ways life could be made better, and at least most of those hunches are proving to be correct. A lot of us think Jesus is still here, at least in our hearts and minds.
The only real problem we have left are the believers, trying to make life hell for the rest of us. They’re still denying that Jesus was really God. I don’t think they’ll ever admit it.
[The preceding story was fiction. Any resemblance between people in this story, and any persons now living or dead, is entirely their own fault.]