THE SECOND COMING by Carlton Herzog

I always knew there was something fishy about Christianity. The facts on the ground always seemed to contradict the message. But it wasn’t until I learned that the Devil and Jesus are the same guy that the inconsistencies made perfect sense, disturbing though they were.

That revelation occurred when I went to work for Billy Sunday, Head Pastor for the Church of What’s Happening Now. He hired me as his personal assistant. My main purpose was to schedule his acting, dancing and singing lessons, as well as his manicures and pedicures.

I quickly learned that Billy had a split personality. To the public, he was an altruist and humble servant of God; behind closed doors he was a narcissist and a snake.

Sunday saw Christianity as a billion-dollar business and its followers as nothing more than rubes, slack-jawed yokels, and downright gob-smacking idiots. The product that he intended to sell was himself—as a backdoor oracle and seer who would out-oral Oral Roberts and every other big-haired preacher who claimed a direct line to the Almighty.

How could the people not love him? He sported hair as white as burning magnesium, the strands feathered back into incandescent ribbons reflecting the very light of heaven. Those filaments were complemented by the most precious set of cobalt blue eyes ever grown or made. When he directed that piercing gaze at you, he seemed to look straight through to your soul. His voice—sweet mellifluous compelling—was heaven sent, as if God himself were speaking. It could get you to see things that weren’t there, not see what was, and get you to do whatever he wanted.

But it wasn’t always so. Before his resurrection, he was an ugly little man—a latter day gnome if you will, fit to grace a garden or occupy a house of horrors. His pink skin is a construct fashioned to replace the grey squamous one he shed. Indeed, that remarkably smooth, glistening face, so symmetrical, lively and glowing, was as pitted and crevassed as the Moon’s. It took considerable terra-forming skill to transform it into the paradise we see today, flush with the boundless charisma and optimism one would associate with Adam frolicking in Old Eden before the Fall. Consider too the teeth. To be sure, the purest ivory never looked so white and bright and shiny. It’s hard to believe that there were only three yellow, jagged rotten stumps before.

The metamorphosis from slug to butterfly didn’t end there. Before he left his chrysalis, there were the sagging jowls that hung from either side of his face like a geriatric’s testicles. The head itself looked more like a tumour with eyes than the repository of a human mind, an effect enhanced by his sparse strands of grey hair and the rippled dome from which they sprang—the trailing tentacles of a Portuguese man-of-war. He jiggled and canted from side to side as he walked giving the impression that he was not so much a man but a crazy Rube Goldberg contraption on the verge of collapse.
Following his cosmetic and thespian rebirth, Sunday rapidly acquired the badges of success coveted by any evangelist worth his salt—churches, a university, a television ministry, books, magazines, private jet fleet, private island, even a movie or two. His net worth was greater than all of that belonging to all the evangelists in the southwest. Many considered him to be the Bible Belt, and if not the belt, the buckle that held it together.

After the Tartarus asteroid hit, there was a lot of disillusionment. Sunday’s ministry, like the world itself, fell on hard times. The devastation and suffering caused many to question their faith. Consequently, membership in Sunday’s church shrank and as it did the Amazing Billy Sunday Technicolor Money Machine ground to a halt.
To compensate for lost revenue, Billy stepped up his Children’s Outreach Ministry. For a monthly fee, his churches around the world would take in unwanted children. The parents were told that the children would be fed and housed and schooled in the ways of the Lord.

The gruesome reality was that many were sold into slavery as sweatshop workers and sex toys. Still others were sold to various pagan cults to be used as human sacrifices.

Billy, cold-blooded obscenity that he was, conducted his grisly trade with impunity, all the while claiming to be the most righteous of men. For myself, I found his practices disgusting. Blowing the whistle, however, was out of the question. Billy had many a peace officer and mobster on his payroll. To drop a dime on him would have been fatal to me.

I did the next best thing. I fudged the numbers, manipulated the paperwork, and otherwise gummed up the child trafficking operation.

But I got caught by his accountants, Fritz and Jeremy. They cornered me at my house, making accusations and threatening to turn me in if I didn’t come clean and ask for forgiveness.

I told them I would. I offered them drinks so they would be at ease. And as they lounged leisurely in my sitting room, I went to my hall closet and retrieved my bat.

As I casually walked toward the study, the two of them sat with their backs to me. I focused my attention on Jeremy first. I wondered if he would hear the crack of the bat the instant it connected with his skull. Then I swung and caught him flush on the side of his face. You could say I went yard, because he slumped over and just lay there moaning, his head spilling blood onto my new sofa.

Fritz turned and looked at me dumbfounded as I caught him across the face. I heard a distinct crack as his jaw fractured. He too fell sideways onto the couch. I came around and sledge-hammered his head until it was nothing but a bloody, distorted ball of pulp.

I heard Jeremy moan. He was trying to stand on wobbly legs when I bang zoomed the top of his head. He fell face first on the floor where I proceeded to stomp his head until it was flatter than a pancake.

There was blood and brain bits everywhere. I spent the night wrapping the bodies and cleaning up the blood. After that, I loaded the bodies in Jeremy’s car and sent it into the quarry lake.

With them out of the way, I continued my clandestine child rescue manoeuvres. No one was the wiser. But without that extra revenue, Billy began to worry about the future of the church, and acted accordingly.
Sunday gathered his most trusted advisors to tell them of his plan to kick-start the church. Billy had me attend so I could take notes for future review.

Sunday: “Boys, this ship is sinking fast. Jesus is our product, plain and simple. I say we upgrade the product. Instead of giving them stories from the musty past we give them something they can all relate to in the present. We give them a god with skin. In short, my brothers, we give them Jesus in the flesh. The living, breathing, miracle working son of god.”

Tommy Joe Tucker: “How in tarnation are we supposed to do that?”

Sunday: “Clones. We get permission to conduct our own test of the Shroud of Turin. We use a new technique, and that technique will reveal the DNA missed on previous tests.”

Clem Calhoun: “What new technique?”

Sunday: “Clem, you’re my fake science guy. Come up with a bogus one. We’ll plant the DNA of our Jesus impostor. We have our impostor making public appearances. We get a sample of his DNA and compare it to the one on the Shroud.”

Bobby Joe Jones: “They won’t buy it.”

Sunday: “Sure they will. What we’ll do is make pairs of clones. Half will be made with congenital illnesses, the other half won’t. We set up revival tents. Then we have our healthy clone walk in with the medical history of the sick one, all the time feigning the illness in question. Cleft palate, cerebral palsy whatever. Fake Jesus lays hands on fake sick person, and voila a miraculous healing.”

Clem Calhoun: “Great but you’ll need more than that to convince.”

Sunday: “Got it covered. We make multiple Jesus copies. Spread them around the globe. That way we can make it seem like our Jesus can go anywhere with a thought. One minute he’s in New York, the next Los Angeles, the next Peking, and so on.”

Tommy Tucker: “What if somebody wants to take DNA samples? Clones are easy to spot.”

Sunday: “Not anymore. Our real science lab—no offence, Clem—has come up with a pasteurization process that homogenizes original and clone DNA, effectively rendering it impossible to tell one from the other. They can test those boys until the cows come home and it won’t make a bit of difference.

“We can have him walk on water with the help of a superconducting magnet vest. We can also use that tech to have him make blue lightning bolts. Smite the wicked and all that.”

Jimmy Joe: “What if people want to see him feed the multitudes?”

Sunday: “That’s easy. He’ll say, “I’ve done enough to feed them; now it’s your turn. In response, I’ll call for a worldwide ministry to feed the poor and Sunday ministries will oversee it.

“Lastly, you will really push the idea of salvation and resurrection. After all, you’ve got the original gangster coming back from the grave as your front man. It’ll be the greatest show on earth. And we will be the ringmasters.”

Two years to the day that Operation Clone began, Billy held another meeting. This time it concerned slippages in Operation Clone. I again sat in and took notes.

Jimmy Joe: “Athens Jesus says he wants to form a splinter group with the Greek Orthodox Church.”

Billy Bob: “That idiot. Something told me he had delusions of grandeur.”

Jimmy Joe: “It gets worse. Moscow Jesus says he’ll blow the lid off the whole thing unless we renegotiate his percentage.”

Billy Bob: “Does this guy think he’s a baseball player? Get the Liquidation Division and take out a contract on him. What else?”

Jimmy Joe: “Canadian Jesus and New York Jesus want to form a splinter cell. They want to stay connected to us, but demand autonomy on issues like gay marriage and abortion. And they want their own Jesus day.”

Sunday: “Why?”

Billy Bob: “Revenue. From what I gather there’s talk about Canada joining the Union and New York seceding. It’s all up in the air, but I’m betting that our two clones are hedging their bets.”

Jimmy Joe: “I don’t get clones hedging their bets. They’re clones. They’re supposed to be identical in every respect. But it seems like every one of them wants to be an individual, and some of them megalomaniacs.”
The meeting was interrupted by Fat Tony, mob enforcer and head of the church’s security team. A rather unusual visitor had appeared and was demanding access to Billy.

Fat Tony: “Boss there’s some guy down-stairs says he needs to see you right away.”

Sunday: “Get rid of him.”

Fat Tony: “He says it’s important.”

Sunday: “Who is he?”

Fat Tony: “Says his name is Jesus.”

Jimmy Joe: “One of the clones is here?”

Fat Tony: “Can’t say for sure. He doesn’t look or sound like them.”

Sunday: “Well, what does he look like?”

Fat Tony: “Like a bum. He’s filthy and smells like booze and urine.”

Sunday: “Give him a bible, a few bucks and send him packing.”

Fat Tony: “I don’t know about that.”

Sunday: “What do you mean you don’t know?”

Fat Tony: “I think he might be the real McCoy.”

Sunday: “Pray tell, Einstein, what made you come to that conclusion?”

Fat Tony: “He floated over the fence and into the compound. I couldn’t see a Mag-Lev vest on him.”

Sunday: “It’s under his shirt, you idiot.”

Fat Tony: “He’s not wearing a shirt. More like rags. And when I told him to stop, I started to levitate. And when I aimed my gun at him, he said, “If you pull that trigger, I’m going to turn you so far inside out you’ll be looking out the back of your own head.”

“I just kind of looked at him. The next thing I knew the earth cracked open—and with God as my witness—I saw people, lots and lots of naked people scurrying around burning pits with devils running behind them with pitchforks. Vito and all the other guards were up in the air with me. They saw it too.”

Sunday: “Okay, well, here’s what you do. You go back down and invite our visitor up. And I’ll take it from there.”

Fat Tony: “But boss, if he’s the real deal, you’re in a world of hurt. We all are.”

Sunday: “Wrong! He wants to cut a deal, otherwise he would have smitten us a long time ago. He knows a good thing when he sees it and wants in on the action. I can use a man with some real juice as opposed to a bunch of whiney duplicates all grabbing for a bigger piece of the pie. So, show our friend in and let’s get this show on the road, shall we?”

Sunday: “You must be Jesus. What can I do for you?”

Jesus: “It’s not what you can do for me but what I can do for you. Your current business model is taking it on the chin. A few more years of this and you’ll be back to tent revivals.”

Sunday: “I’m listening.”

Jesus: “I’m Jesus. But—big secret—I’m also the Devil. Best gig in the universe. The asteroid that smacked into the earth—that was me. I read an anthology called Blood and Blasphemy. It portrayed me in a negative light. Not a smart move to piss off a super being. So, bang zoom. Asteroid. What was the death toll anyway—two hundred million? Four hundred? Who cares—one death is a tragedy, one million deaths is a statistic.

“Anyway. So, after that I am zipping around the cosmos and I came across a businessman much like yourself in the market for people. Now, I didn’t ask why he was interested in people. That’s his business. So I kept my mouth shut and let him make his business proposal: for every one thousand people you or one of your competitors is willing to send him, he will send you an equivalent weight in platinum or gold, which ever you prefer. I would make the transportation arrangements.”

Sunday: “Go on.”

Jesus: “The only stipulation, and it’s nothing really, is that the people in question do so of their own free will. That’s where your ministry comes in, with its message of pre-booking a place in heaven. The cherry on that gold and platinum sundae is that you can charge those souls for the exclusive privilege of a one-way ticket to Paradise.”

Sunday: “My momma didn’t raise no dummy. What are you getting out of this?”

Jesus: “I get to be the centre of attention again. I’m a bit of a narcissist. For me, the asteroid felt good, but even you must agree it was a public relations disaster. If you agree that I’m your front man in my Jesus hat, then I’ll exterminate all those troublesome.”

Sunday: “I’m on board.”

Then Jesus turned and winked at me, whispering, “I know what you did to Fritz and Jeremy.”
I whispered back: “How do you know?”

Jesus: “I’m the Devil; I know everything.”

I asked: “Are you going to rat me out?”

Jesus: “Heaven forbid! With those two bean counters gone, you made this sales pitch go easier than I thought it would. Keep up the good work.”

Then he vanished into thin air.
The first public rapture was set for July 4, 2029. But there was a problem. Od, otherwise known as Mrs. God, ousted her husband as Supreme Being on the grounds of gross incompetence.

She fired Pope John Peter. She didn’t like his or his cardinals’ interest in little boys. She found his taste in dresses appalling. She disliked his misogynistic leanings. But it was his disgusting hypocrisy that most offended her.

Why, he has no right to be Pope, no right to be anywhere, and certainly no right to live. He preens and squawks like a bilious pigeon of the gutter, condemned by every syllable he utters. By right he should be taken out and hung, for the cold-blooded murder of the Christian tongue. He disgraces the noble architecture of the Vatican. He’s a living insult when his pompous pious pruderies are set against the evils he condones. Henceforth, Pope no more.

She installed Elizabeth I in his place. She decreed that all ministries would henceforth forfeit their holdings for equitable distribution among the poor and that all governments would disband their standing armies. To drive her point home, she annihilated every biological, chemical and nuclear weapon in the world with a snap of her fingers.

When she got wind of Jesus’s scheme to trade human lives for his personal aggrandizement, she materialized as the transport ship was about to load the first group of victims.

I was standing with Billy, his advisors, Jesus, and some alien named Kloff.

Od: “Send these people home. They’re not your sacrificial lambs.”

Jesus: “My father never had a problem with sacrificial lambs or sacrificial humans.”

Od: “Don’t confuse me with that idiot. This ends now.”

Jesus: “I’m every bit as powerful as he. You may be God to these mortals but to me you’re just a woman.”

Od: “No, you’re not. Your being his equal was just a lie, something to keep you in line. Clearly, it didn’t work. How did you turn out so bad?”

Jesus: “You didn’t hold me enough when I was a kid. Then there was that whole thing about being nailed to a cross.”

Od: “Walk away or I will shrink you to the size of a roach and have you fight spiders for my amusement.”

Jesus: “Get stuffed, woman.”

A moment later, Jesus was gone. In his place, there was a tiny Jesus scurrying away from three tarantulas.

My takeaway from it all was that I was watching a very dysfunctional family in crisis: lame brain cruel, father; stern, overcompensating mother; and a pathologically destructive son, all venerated by greedy humans. I suppose the supreme irony is that their wackiness is the foundation of Western religion and, in part, society.

Like I said at the outset, I knew there was a skeleton or two in the Christian closet. I just didn’t think they would be stacked to the ceiling and pouring out the ducts.

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