So you, dear reader, are a reporter (Boo! Hiss!) and you’re interviewing the leader of Church Universal, which has been created by the One World Government to bring all religions together as one.
What would you ask His Excellency Howard Alphonse Bliss?
Here’s the setting for my End Times novel, Torn Asunder, I’m in the midst of writing:
Truth Publications feature writers Darek and Jillian Field and religion writer Ty Cole are in Jerusalem to interview Bliss, who proves a slippery subject when questioned on matters of theology.
Please give the scene a read and let me know how our three intrepid reporters did and if you have a good question or follow-up that they missed. (They’ll take the blame in my stead.) Here goes:
“So glad you came, Mr. and Mrs. Fields. Nice to see you again, Mr. Cole. Please have a seat. Ravi,” Bliss turned to his assistant, “would you have Owandu bring in a tray of coffee, tea and biscuits?”
Chettri bowed. “Yes, your Excellence,” and left the room.
“Well, this must be quite an assignment for me to get three of the world’s foremost reporters,” Bliss remarked, sitting down in one of a circle of overstuffed leather chairs.
Ty lowered himself into in a wide leather chair and Jillian took a seat with Darek in a leather love seat.
Jillian was impressed that Bliss did not take the place of authority behind his desk. She measured the man before them. Taller than Darek by about two inches—probably six-foot-two. Narrow-shouldered. Definitely not athletic. Piercing blue eyes. A narrow mouth with thin lips. Oozing with confidence.
Darek spoke first. “Jillian and I want to look at the cultural impact of Church Universal. Mr. Cole is here to get the religious perspective.”
“Fine. What can I tell you?” Bliss asked. “Fire away.” He sat back, looking comfortable and at ease. A snake in lamb’s clothing.
“Bottom line first,” Darek said, setting down a tape recorder on the table in front of Bliss and clicking it on. “Why create Church Universal in the first place?”
Bliss ran his fingers through his blond locks, then interlocked them in front of him, alternately raising his fingers (the old church steeple game, Jillian thought) and curling them.
“Centuries of disharmony,” Bliss said. “Millennia, actually. Enough is enough. A major barrier between religions is that each has thought, ‘I’m right. Everyone else is wrong.’ This is an old trick of Satan that we first read about in the Garden of Eden. And killing each other in the name of God and ‘what we think is right’ is absurd. I’m sure God would have none of it.
“And we found that there were a number of us—from all religions—who felt the same way. Peace is a universal word, a universal concept, and, we think, the basis for a universal religion.”
“But,” Ty said, “how do you get around the fact that these various religions have, for millennia, worshipped very different gods?”
“Whatever gods they’ve worshipped are enshrouded in myths, fairy tales, and stories written by men and, thus, with man’s errors,” Bliss said. “We feel we can’t truly know God, or the gods if there are more than one, because of our limited minds as compared to the great Mind that created the universe. And if we can’t know Him, how can we define Him? It’s best, we feel, to simply agree on the concept. There is a God, or gods, and He or they want peace for mankind.”
“How do you marry that concept with the Allah of the Muslims ordering the destruction of people of all other religions unless they relent and worship him?” Jillian asked.
“I don’t have to reconcile it,” Bliss said. “I don’t have to reconcile anything any of the religions lays claim to. Truly, I don’t care to debate any point of any religion. My belief—and, yes, my life—are based solely on the idea of peaceful co-existence. A loving God would want nothing less.”
“What of the remark by Jesus,” Jillian interjected, “that ‘no one can get to the Father except through him’?”
Bliss shook his head slowly. “As I said, I care not to debate any particular scripture of any particular religion. What we’ve created here is a universal religion, one that all mankind can believe in and follow without any of the trappings of existing belief systems.”
Ty leaned forward. “I’m reminded of the old saying, ‘If you stand for nothing you’ll fall for anything.’ The leaders of Church Universal are mere men. So how do you expect Christians and Jews to turn away from the teachings they believe came from the mouth of God—or Muslims, Hindus and others who believe in their gods?”
“Mere men, yes. But, we believe, men who are ordained and anointed by God to the task at hand,” Bliss said. “To your point, we believe in unity in cause even if there is not total unity in faith. Unity in cause is central to our duty as the Church Universal. And, again, that cause is peace. Ask any Christian if they want peace. Ask any Muslim.”
“The Muslim might answer ‘yes’ with their lips while firing a bullet into a Jew with the rifle in their hand,” Darek said.
That’s my man. Straight and to the point.
Darek continued, “Isn’t this ‘cause in unity’ too simple for such complex theological and political disagreements?”
Just then the door opened and a dark-skinned woman entered, carrying a tray complete with tea kettle, coffee carafe, and a plate of biscuits. Behind her, a blonde, blue-eyed Norwegian-looking young lady came in, carrying a tray with cups and saucers, cream and sugar. Jillian was startled by their stunning beauty. Setting down the trays, the two women poured what the four people requested.
“Thank you, Owandu, Kari,” Bliss said as they finished. Settling back with cup and saucer in hand, he turned toward Darek. “You mentioned the simplicity of our cause in these complex times, Darek. May I call you ‘Darek’?
Darek nodded assent.
“If it were too simple, would some of the great religious leaders of their time sign onto the concept as early on as 1996?”
“Like who?” Jillian asked, edging forward in the love seat, wondering if his response would confirm what she knew to be true.
Bliss did not lie. “From February through April 1996,” he said, “Episcopal Bishop William Swing traveled through Europe, India and the Middle East, hoping for a Church United—a sort of United Nations of Religion. He sought commitment from such leaders as the Dalai Lama, Islam’s Grand Mufti in Cairo, the Sankaracharya of Kancheepuram, Mother Theresa, and the Archbishop of Canterbury. He also sought pledges from people active in interfaith work, including those at a conference at the International Interfaith Centre in Oxford. In July and August 1996, the bishop visited with religious leaders in Japan and Korea.
“In the end, he enlisted the commitment of many of the world’s religions, and that of Mother Theresa.” Bliss looked triumphant, his chest swelling.
“Amazing,” was all Jillian could whisper.
“Do you have records of this trip?” Ty asked.
“Yes, and I’ll provide them to you,” Bliss said. He leaned behind him, pushed a button on his desk, and said into a speaker, “Ravi, please put together a packet of information on Bishop Swing’s 1996 travels enlisting collaboration for the Church United. We’ll need it before our friends leave.”
“Yes, your Excellence,” came the reply.
Bliss turned to Jillian, Darek and Ty and, looking each in the eye, continued, “In keeping with your question, Darek, the same God who made the hands of a Jew, made the feet of a Christian, the eyes of a Hindu, the heart of a Muslim, and the brain of a Buddhist.
“The Bible even says that, in God, there is no male or female, Jew or Gentile. We in Church Universal believe we’re all brothers and sisters in God, created by the same Father (or fathers, or even father and mother, if you prefer).”
Ty interjected, “The Koran declares God has no Son and Mohammed is his prophet, directly contradicting the New Testament.”
“As I said,” Bliss responded, “I will not get entangled in scriptural arguments of the different faiths. That’s not my calling. Peace and unity. Peace and unity. I’ll go on with this refrain until my dying day.”
Bliss’s piercing blue eyes zeroed in on Ty. “We have to love each other as brothers in God the Creator. You and I. Jews and Muslims. Christians and Hindus. Yes, and Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses who, I’m sure you think, are cultists.
“We’re all brothers and sisters in God just as two people born from the same parents are brothers and sisters. We all descend from Adam and Eve. Or, if one still believes in Darwinism—which I, personally, feel has been sufficiently debunked—we come from the parents of the first primate. Whatever we call ourselves today—Jews, Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Bahá’í—we share a common ancestry.”
Jillian began to ask a question, but Bliss held up a hand. “And I might add that whatever the name of ‘God’ may be in different languages—Yahweh, Allah, Dios, Dieu, Dio, Gott, Brahman—he is the same Being.”
“How on earth, Mr. Bliss, can you have a religion, Church Universal, without a specific theology?” Jillian asked.
“My answer, Jillian, is that I do have a personal theology that guides my own life. But Church Universal is just that: universal. We can’t take sides and nit-pick about the particulars, or the semantics, of any single religion. Because of that, though I may have a personal belief on all sorts of topics, I won’t get involved in debates on any of them.
“But I want to emphasize that religious tolerance is not religious indifference. Tolerance values the right of another person to hold beliefs you think are wrong. We are, above all else, tolerant.”
Jillian slumped back in the loveseat. Slippery as slime. This guy could have been a politician of the highest order.
“Well, okay,” Darek interjected. He sipped from his cup and set it down. “I’d like to ask you about the extra-religious activities of the Church Universal.”
“Please do,” Bliss said. He crossed his legs, at ease.
“You have the support of the One World Government and Sardis. How much do you intend to get involved in government affairs?” Darek asked.
“As we’ve stated in an early white paper, we cannot escape, and indeed should embrace, the task history has imposed on us,” Bliss said. Forming his hands as if holding a basketball in front of him, he added, “This is the duty of helping to shape a new world order in all its dimensions—spiritual, economic, political, social.”
“What of Paul’s admonition: ‘A good soldier does not get involved in civilian affairs’?” Ty asked.
“Obviously, I disagree,” Bliss replied flatly.
“What are some of the specifics you refer to when you mention ‘helping to shape spiritual, economic, political and social dimensions’?” Jillian asked.
“We’re establishing priorities right now,” Bliss said. “How do we wrestle with population problems? Can we mediate in conflict resolution between religious groups in regional hot spots? How can we spearhead efforts to eradicate poverty? And climate change? In what ways can we help single mothers with day care, or help young women making the choice for or against abortion, or entire neighborhoods facing extinction because of massive job losses? There is a plethora of issues, of challenges, that Church Universal must discuss and determine the parameters of our role.”
“So, at this point you have no specifics?” Jillian pushed.
“I’m afraid not. But those will come soon enough. You’ll notice a lot of empty space in this building,” Bliss said. “Before long those spaces will be filled—occupied by people handling these issues.”
“What happens,” asked Darek, “if Church Universal is at odds with One World Government on a particular issue?”
“Compromise,” Bliss said firmly. “It’s a wonderful word, a marvelous concept, and a fruitful way of doing business. You’re from America, a great country whose history is defined by compromise. Where would it be without compromise?”
“A whole lot better off, some would say,” Jillian responded.
“Well, I don’t believe it. The opposite of compromise is conflict, and the ultimate conflict is war. What has war ever proven?”
“Without America going to war, Hitler would have conquered the world and then you’d have no chance to compromise,” Jillian countered.
Bliss waved off her answer. “You may argue anecdotally, but compromise is the only answer to the great challenges facing mankind and Mother Earth today. Premier Sardis is a master of compromise; he has to be. I believe I’ve displayed that I’m also adept at conciliation. Working together, we’ll show the world what truly great leadership is.
“Premier Sardis and the One World Government leadership have relentlessly distanced themselves from prejudice, intolerance, discrimination, oppression and hate.” A pained expression filled Bliss’s face and he continued, “Those are five fruits that the world has, too often, witnessed in connection with the various long-time religions. Church Universal has and will continue to distance itself from these characteristics as well. These are fruits of bad religion and bad religious people.
“Yet, we’ve seen them among imams, pastors, rabbis, et cetera, et cetera, for thousands of years. God abhors hypocrites, and that, my friends, we intend never to be.”
With that, Bliss thumped his clenched fist on the glass coffee table before him.
Darek turned to Jillian, gave her a half-smile as if saying, “Watch this,” then faced Bliss. “Back to my question of what happens when Church Universal and One World Government are at odds. You say compromise, but will the two of you compromise on all issues? And, more fundamental to the question: What makes you think Church Universal should have any say at all in crucial matters facing the world?”
Bliss was unflustered. “The One World Government has the final say, of course. But we will be vocal. I have one example for you.”
“That is—?” Ty responded.
“Cloning. Cloning has come a long way in the last couple decades, but no man has, or can, create a human being—or even one small part of a human being—from scratch.
“Because cloning is unnatural, I oppose it. We’re playing God when we create clones to harvest their body parts. We’re playing God by simply attempting this process. But Premier Sardis and others have decided it is not in our realm to stop this science. So—”
“But compromise is not compromise when it’s one-sided.”
Jillian and the others waited for him to explain.
After several moments, clearly no explanation was coming.
Time for the leap.
Jillian pointed toward Bliss. “How do you respond to the people—Christians, I should say—who are declaring that Church Universal, and you in particular, are the embodiment of what was prophesied in Revelation? That Premier Sardis is Antichrist and you are his False Prophet?”
Bliss’s face, for the first time, noticeably reddened. His nostrils flared. An eyebrow jerked skyward. Jillian wondered if he would reach across and slap her and envisioned Darek breaking his arm.
But, no, he remained seated and drew in a deep breath. There was a deathly silence. Jillian, Darek and Ty took a collective breath, Jillian wondering about the answer and knowing they would be ushered out of the office when Bliss was finished with this question.
“I’ll give you a short and a long answer,” Bliss finally replied. “The short answer is, that is absurd. I can not speak to the intent of such people; I can only forgive them for defaming Premier Sardis and me.”
Sidestep number one, Jillian thought.
“The long answer is that these people should be looking forward to the coming of the Messiah, not trying to dredge up some sort of Antichrist or False Prophet. I, like these Christians, am looking forward to the coming of the Messiah. But I believe his coming is being hindered by such people as this.
“The Creator wants His great energies to flow to earth to produce the physical manifestation of the Messiah. But that flow can only happen when mankind raises its collective consciousness to be properly awakened receptors.”
New Age, anyone? Jillian shook her head.
Bliss noticed her response and raised the middle three fingers on his right hand. “I believe there are three types of people on earth: Those whose consciousness has been properly raised so they can readily accept the Messiah; those whose consciousness has been raised somewhat but not so high that they can readily and immediately accept him, but they might be able to accept him after further enlightenment; and those who will never accept him. These Christians, speak as they might about Jesus being their Savior, are deaf and dumb to what he said and stood for while living among us. He spoke of love, forgiveness, sanctification, and accountability.
“As for me, I’m at peace with who I am. And that is not the False Prophet, but the leader of a great movement to reconcile men—” he eyed Jillian, “and women to each other. And if you want proof of the goodness of Premier Sardis and myself, simply check with Owandu if you see her on your way out.
“That young lady had terminal cancer. She was weeks, perhaps days, from death. But we prayed over her, laid hands on her, and today, as you can plainly see, she’s healthy, restored, and happy. Would the Anti-Christ and the False Prophet actually heal someone?” He spit out the question. “I think not!”
With that, Bliss stood. The redness began to retreat from his face, his blue eyes sparkled, smile lines wrinkled alongside his eyes, and his right hand shot out to offer firm handshakes to his three visitors.
Have at it, dear reader.