Below is a selection from one of my unpublished novels. It is categorized as Christian Science Fiction. The main character, DeWitt Wynton hears the gospel clearly for the first time. ********************************************************************************************************************** Vitti had an almost impish sense of self-deprecation which was charming. I thought about that as I worked through the tea ritual. After taking a sip I spoke. “I should apologize for being unaware of your role in the church on Albicore. It wasn’t until you spoke at Grandpa’s funeral that someone told me of your reputation as a well known preacher. I wouldn’t classify that as ‘hired help.’” “You perhaps misunderstand, then, Your Majesty,” she said. “The Archbishop hits the approval button on my pay packet each week, such as it is. But I am the hired help for someone else.” I must have looked puzzled, and I certainly felt it. She continued. “Perhaps in the context of this conversation we could say I work for the King of Kings.” “Oh.” After taking another sip I sat the cup down and uncrossed my legs. Then I shifted in the chair slightly. “I think perhaps you have started to reconsider the emotion which drove you out here,” she smiled. I thought about her comment and decided she was right. “It is true things are about as bad as they can get, but… panic doesn’t serve any purpose.” I started to get out of my chair. “I hope I haven’t wasted your time this morning.” “Oh, sit down, Your Majesty,” she said. “I have all of the time in the world. Besides, if you go back to the palace right now, what will have changed?” I stared at her for a few moments and then sighed as I settled back into the chair. “I’m going to lose Stephanie. I know it and I know there is nothing I can do about it and I don’t know what to do. Everyone who I depended upon to make the kingdom work is either dead or dying. We have millions of sick people and tens of thousands are dying. The people are looking to me for answers and… God help me,” I choked, “my children are looking to me for answers. I don’t have them, Deaconess, and I don’t know where to find them.” “Well then, perhaps we should look to these things together.” She leaned forward and clasped her hand, smiling gently. “I do not have all of the answers either; but, I do know where we can start looking.” “How can you have such assurance?” I asked. “We’ve got maybe two hundred religions represented on Albicore and each offers, with absolute confidence, the answers. Some benighted soul, last week, advocated sacrificing a chicken in the yard of Saarbrook Palace as a way to avert the plague.” “And you grew up in the Church of Humanity Realized. How did they deal with that?” “The standard line is All Paths Lead to God and All are Equally Valid.” I’d heard that enough. “Do you believe that doctrine?” Vitti asked quickly. “It’s superficially attractive,” I replied. “But, there are a lot of inconsistencies in the argument. If you look at it closely, you realize most religions tend to be mutually exclusive, some violently so.” “You mean at the point of a gun?” Vitti asked. “Exactly,” I said. I started to don my professorial persona. “History shows when practically any religion becomes ascendant, it attempts to stamp out its competitors or convert them by force. The Islamacists and Kaltanas come to mind.” “But do you believe it?” she asked me again. My mind shied away a bit. I had begun to get comfortable in the discussion because it led away from my trouble. “Forty years of Brother Darren Clybern’s homilies kind of washed the idea out of me.” Vitti gave me a sardonic look, “So he taught you the Church of Humanity Realized is the only way to heaven?” I snorted, “If you knew Brother Clybern, you would know that is emphatically not what he teaches.” The deaconess grinned like the cat preparing to leap on the unsuspecting and hapless mouse. “I know Brother Clybern,” she said. “I’ve probably known him longer than you have.” My worldview shivered as some unexpected pieces dropped into place and stimulated an entirely different line of thinking. “My first visit here,” I asked, “did he give you advance notice of my arrival?” “That would be the topic for another time, Your Majesty. Let us just say that Darren Clybern and I are friends and have corresponded regularly for the better part of forty years. His basic theology differs little from mine.” “Which, of course, has no bearing on the current crisis,” I said. I could feel myself sliding back into the darkness which had been clinging to me when I arrived at the cathedral. “You are perhaps correct on that point, Your Majesty. Shall we discuss the crisis?” “What is there to discuss? We’ve fallen into a plague which seems capable of killing everyone on the planet and all I’m getting from the church are the platitudes about courageously facing what the Tester has placed in front of me. That’s well and good, but the tests seem to be happening to everyone but me, as if I am to blame for all of this.” “So you deny the doctrine of the Test?” she asked quietly. “I don’t know,” I sighed. “It doesn’t seem to be doing me any good.” “Do you remember Brother Clybern speaking about the Test?” she asked. “Yes. No. I don’t know.” I was growing tired of the conversation. We seemed to be talking in circles and I had a sick wife and two children back at the palace. “Let me say this, Your Majesty, and this is important.” Vitti had a tone of command in her voice. “It is not possible to survive a test successfully, or even have a test if you do not know the Tester personally.” “What are you talking about?” I asked. “The Tester sits out there and devises tests for us and then judges us for our responses.” “The point I would make,” the deaconess said kindly, “and Brother Clybern would make is that without some kind of a personal relationship, all we have is a transcendent god, who is uninterested in what we do.” “Well, that’s what we have, based upon my experience,” I said. “He’s clearly uninterested in the King of Albicore, or in the Star Kingdom for that matter.” “Listen to what you are saying, Your Majesty. You spoke the exact truth, though perhaps not in the way you intended. God has set some conditions on the Test before you even begin. It is not because God is uninterested in you, it is because you want to manage God on your terms, not His.” “So God’s terms are we hit the cathedral every Sunday, be nice to people, and do the best we can with the Test. Yep, that’s about everything on my checklist too,” I said. “I’ve heard the ‘love your neighbor’ ad nauseam. Let me tell you, Marcella, some of my neighbors are pretty hard to love. I’ve even killed some of them!” She looked shocked. “That’s right. It’s not widely known, but some things happened about five years ago where I did some absolutely necessary things and I can’t say I loved them when I pulled the trigger. But the kingdom survived and my wife survived. I would do it again, but I can’t get my hands on something even the doctors can’t identify.” I must say Deaconess Vitti was quick on the rebound. “But what about the other part of the ‘Love your Neighbor’ statement?” “You mean ‘as yourself?’ Well, I’m sorry, but I don’t think too highly of myself right now. I don’t mean to put down your funeral sermon, but my grandfather was not a nice man. He treated my parents shabbily and encouraged me to do the same, which I did. He destroyed his family for the sake of his mission. I believe the Bible has something to say about that too. I abetted him, was profoundly disrespectful of my parents, and can unreservedly say I am no better than Grandpa. And I truly wonder if this isn’t the source of the problems in the kingdom. The Solarians were running a nice quiet little republic when we barged in. People have been dying in job lots since.” “So you think you are worse than most people?” she asked. “Oh, I’m honest enough to admit there are some real swine out there. But, on the other hand, what about the children this disease has felled? What about your Archbishop? He seems to be a decent sort. Stan Schaeffer was one of the kindest men I think I’ve ever met.” “Do you believe men stand equal before God?” “I don’t know, Marcella. It’s fine in theory, but it’s hard for me to put John Burson of Mesanglea into the same class as Stan Schaeffer; or you for that matter.” I thought about it for a moment. “Where are we going with this?” “How do you make that judgment?” she responded quickly. “It’s obvious,” I said. “There are some very evil people out there. Others are basically good.” “What is good and evil? How do you determine such?” She was probing with the questions almost more quickly than I could answer. “Everybody knows that.” I stated. “What’s the measuring rod? What defines good and evil?” “It just is,” I said. “It’s fundamental to the human race.” “How would you determine this in court? Talk to me, Your Majesty. What separates a good man from a bad man?” “I don’t think we have the right to determine,” I said. “That’s the Tester’s job. That’s why there is the test.” “But what determines success or failure? Do you deserve heaven or hell?” “I don’t deserve heaven,” I said. “Who does?” she asked. “Good people. Those who have done good; who have passed the test.” That was easy. “What is good?” “Will you stop it!” I said. “You’re talking in circles.” “What determines good?” “God does!” I was getting exasperated. “Very good,” she said. “Now what does God say?” That stopped me. “I’ve never really thought…” “Exactly, Your Majesty. Now consider what we have established. There are some evil people out there, you mentioned the Mesanglean, who you said clearly does not deserve a reward from the Maker. You have stated that you do not deserve His consideration. Have you tried?” I shook my head. “Lord, how I’ve tried. I just can’t seem to get it right.” “Okay, we need to see exactly what God said.” She tapped some keys on her comp term and turned the screen around to where I could see it. “What do the highlighted words say?” “There is no one who does good,” I read. “That’s a pretty blanket statement.” I looked up at the preceding phrase. “The fool has said to himself, ‘there is no God.’” I had read it aloud without realizing. “Now look at the next part of the section,” Vitti said. “Who is the writer talking about?” I said, “The children of men. But that can’t be right.” “Do you know what you are reading from?” She asked. “The Bible.” “Do you believe the Bible?” “Yes, of course,” I replied. She sat watching me as I wrestled with what I had read. “Marcella, what does this mean?” I thought I would rely on her to tell me. I was tired of jumping through the hoops she had set before me. “It is simple, Your Majesty. We do all stand equal before God.” “But that can’t be. You’re putting somebody like Brother Clybern on the same level as John Burson of Mesanglea…” “…and Darren Clybern would be the first to agree. It’s how we all stand before God.” I was sitting there shaking my head when there was a knock at the door. Before we could react the door opened and Ken Smythe stepped in. “Excuse me, Your Majesty, but I need to interrupt. We have a situation.” My head was spinning as a result of the conversation with Vitti. I managed to stumble out into the hallway. “What is it, Ken?” “We just received word the Prime Minister is dead,” he said.