“Timothy Michael Roberts, you stand before me this day accused of the crime of failure to fully follow and obey the teachings of our glorious Conservative Universal Church. Are you ready to confess your sin, repent of this error, and accept the penance ordered by your spiritual leaders?” Archbishop Peter Rand intoned as he looked down on the defiant man standing on the floor some eight feet below his altar seat.
Tim strained his neck to look up at the Archbishop whose magnificent flowing robe and glittering headpiece was designed to suitably impress all who stood before him. “I have done nothing wron--.”
“Are you ready to confess?”
“I have followed the teachings of the Church to the best of my ability. I have nothing to confess. I want the name of my accuser so I can confront him and prove him wrong.”
“The laws of the Church do not permit the release of such information,” Archbishop Rand stated. “Are you ready to confess?”
“I have done nothing wrong.”
“Take him away. Some time in confinement on limited rations with no one to talk to but himself should suffice to bring about his repentance. Meanwhile begin the process to confiscate his property in the name of the Church. Let the records show that on this 4th day of July, in the year of our Lord 2121, Timothy Michael Roberts stands guilty of the crime of being suspected of heresy against the Church.”
Thus dismissed, Tim Roberts was escorted from the church building to the local ‘Rehabilitation Dormitory.’(Jails and prisons had been renamed to show that their purpose was to convert the heretics who strayed from the Faith.) In earlier times, some jails had provided fairly comfortable facilities including access to a well stocked library, computers, the internet, and decent recreational facilities. These comforts were allowed to provide ‘humane’ living arrangements for convicted criminals.
Those familiar with history would have recognized the ‘Rehabilitation Dormitories’ of the twenty-second century as a throwback to the prisons of the middle ages. All creature comforts had been removed. Each detainee was confined to a small cell measuring about six feet by eight feet. Walls, floor and ceiling were of concrete. The steel door had a slot at floor level just sufficient to slide a tray with a couple of pieces of bread and a little water into the cell. The furnishings consisted of a toilet (it would automatically flush once per day), a cloth mat about two cm. thick, and a single threadbare blanket.
As Tim was led to his cubical he could hear moaning, crying, shouting, screaming, and cursing from the cells he passed. A few cells were ominously quite. He later learned this was because the inmate had either died or become too weak to call out.
Reaching the end of a long, dark corridor his guards stopped, opened a door, removed his shackles, and roughly pushed him through. Stumbling, he came up against the opposite wall as the door clanged shut behind him.
Well, now I’ve got myself in a fine fix. A single, bare, dim, bulb high in the ceiling above provided just enough light for him to inspect the grim surroundings of his cell. I wonder how long they’ll keep me here before I get another hearing. Why are they picking on me? I’m just a simple, working class man with a modest income. I can’t think of anything I have that the Church would want. I’ve heard about some rich people being charged with heresy and the Church taking their property, but I don’t have anything but a small, simple house. What could they possibly want from me?
The guards had taken his watch. There was no clock in the cell. No outside light entered to keep track of day and night. The single, dim, light remained on continuously. Meals, if you could call them that, were delivered at unpredictable times. This was all carefully designed to keep the detainee (read prisoner) confused, and bring them to the point of accepting their total dependence on their guards.
Tim was uncertain how long he had been confined when the light in his cell suddenly went out. He was left in total darkness. He had been pacing two steps forward, turn, two steps back, turn, endlessly. With the light out he felt his way to the mat and literally fell onto it. Well, maybe I can get a more restful sleep in the dark.
His sleep was disturbed by dreams of his early childhood. Visions of his parents talking about the Church gaining to much power and of them discussing how things were so much easier in their younger days caused him to toss and turn restlessly.
He did not know how long he slept before a bright light awakened him. The bare bulb was much brighter than previously, but no sooner had he awakened than the light again went out. He was then subjected to first darkness, then light, in an unpredictable pattern. Whether each lasted minutes or hours he was unable to tell and finally gave up trying.
Next, he became aware of a voice, barely audible, whispering, “I will admit I am guilty. I will admit I am guilty,” over and over. The voice seemed to come from nowhere, yet everywhere. It seemed as if his own brain was telling him this rather than some external speaker.
“I AM NOT GUILTY!!!!” Tim screamed. “No matter what they do to me, I will NOT admit to something I did not do! I’ve always been faithful to the Church. Why are they treating me like this? Why? Why? Why?”
The screams gave way to sobs as he sank down on his knees and lifted his eyes upward. “Lord, You know I have always been faithful. Please, Lord, make them understand I have not strayed. I have kept Your commandments to the best of my ability. I am only human. You know that any transgressions I may have committed have not been willful. Lord, give me the strength to endure whatever you have in store for me. Jesus, Lord, no matter what happens to my body, my spirit will always trust in You. Amen.” With this prayer on his lips, Tim passed out and fell to the floor.
A bucket of water being poured on his face awakened him. Gasping and retching he tried to sit up, only to discover he was being held securely by two of his jailers.
“Keep silent! You will speak only when spoken to. You must speak only to answer the questions of the Archbishop. You must fully confess to him. Any delays or denials will be dealt with most harshly!” With this he was forcibly carried out of the cell, down the long hallway, and out into the blinding sunlight.
Tim’s senses were still reeling as his guards led him before the throne of the Archbishop.
“Timothy Michael Roberts, once again you stand before me accused of the crime of failure to fully follow and obey the teachings of our glorious Conservative Universal Church. Are you ready to confess your sin, repent of this error, and accept the penance ordered by your spiritual leaders? You must also provide us with the names of those who have assisted you in your heresy, and those who knew of it, yet did not advise the Priest of this abomination.”
Tim stiffened his back, squared his shoulders, lifted his head and looked defiantly into the eyes of the Archbishop. “I have committed no crime! I have not strayed from the teaching of the Church! I am not guilty of heresy! Those who accuse me are guilty of falsely accusing me and spreading lies. These are actions that are contrary to the teaching of the Scriptures and of the Church. Bring them here to answer to these charges!”
The Archbishop’s expression never changed. “Do you understand that by refusing to confess you are condemning your eternal soul to Hell for all Eternity? Consider your options. Confess and repent and you gain Heaven for your soul. Continue to deny and your soul will spend Eternity in Hell!”
Tim looked again at the Archbishop and in a voice barely audible stated. “You do not control the destiny of my soul. Only God Himself is in control. I put my trust in God and in His Son, Jesus. Do what you will to my body. If I should go to Hell I’m sure I’ll see you there also!”
The Archbishop’s face turned crimson. His entire body shook with anger. “He speaks blasphemy! Take him away. Do whatever is necessary to teach him the folly of his way!” With this he touched a button that turned his entire throne away from those standing before him.
Tim’s two guards grabbed him roughly and escorted him from the Archbishop’s presence. As they reached the door of the Sanctuary, a man dressed in Clerical robes second only to those of the Archbishop in splendor, suddenly approached them.
“I am Bishop Leber. I will take charge of Mr. Roberts. You two may return to your duties at the Rehabilitation Dormitory.” Turning to Tim, “You will come with me.”
Tim’s wanted to flee from this newcomer, but Bishop Leber grasped his shoulder with a surprisingly strong grip. He knew flight would be futile. Almost meekly he accompanied the Bishop, uncertain what fate now awaited him.