Bjorn looked at Thomas with sudden distrust. Why would he bring up the Fifth Empire, he wondered. It had to be some kind of joke.
"You're kidding, right?" Bjorn asked. "You're not one of them, are you?"
"No I'm not," Thomas said, with a smile while shaking his head. "And besides, the empire is not something you accidentally step into. It is not like you wake up one day and suddenly find yourself in the empire."
"No, because it does not exist, right? There is no such thing as a Fifth Empire."
"Well... I'm not sure about that. If enough people believe in it, it actually does exist."
"Oh yeah? Like what?"
"Like Norway. Norway exists, right?"
"Sure... Of course."
"But if nobody ever heard of it, and nobody believed it existed, then it wouldn't exist anymore, would it?"
"No, but now you're being silly... Then we would be part of Sweden... Or Denmark... Or whatever."
"But all those countries also only exist because people believe they exist. All countries are just imaginary entities. And the same is true about the empire. The empire is an idea. But no less real for that reason."
"Oh yeah? So point to the empire. Where is it?"
"Well, wherever there are citizens of the empire, the empire exists."
"So you can't actually point to it on a map?"
"Well, does that not make it less real than a country like Norway, with borders and territory, and all that comes with being a country?"
"But you are making the wrong comparison. The Fifth Empire is a political system. It is a way of life. It is like Socialism, or Christianity, or Islam."
"It is a cult in other words?"
"Yeah... If you like... But a pretty benign one."
Bjorn took a sip of his coffee. Then after some thinking he asked Thomas how it was that he knew so much about the empire.
"I found out about it by looking it up on the web," Thomas explained. "The whole thing is based on an old Portuguese myth, which holds that there will be a fifth and final empire, completely different from all other empires, and that it will be marked by the spirit of the Portuguese."
"That sounds pretty colonial to me," Bjorn remarked. "Does not ring well in my ear. Not a very novel idea either, is it?"
"Sure! And that is why no one took it very seriously until this Frederico came along with his Church of the Golden Rule... He's Brazilian and he pointed out that there is a big difference between being ruled by the Portuguese and to be marked by the spirit of the Portuguese."
"Okay, so now there's some holy spirit mixed up in this thing too... Come on... Explain this to me."
Thomas leant back in his chair, looking for a moment unsure of himself.
"Look!" he said. "I only discovered this thing like a week ago, so I'm no expert. Most of what I know, I've picked up from YouTube. The Church of the Golden Rule has its own channel... If you're curious, you're probably better off listening to Frederico than to have me explain this stuff."
"Okay," Bjorn said, a little disappointed. "But can't you give it a try at least?"
Thomas took a thoughtful sip of his coffee, as if searching for a short concise explanation of what the empire was all about.
"It is a secular religion if you will," Thomas said, carefully choosing his words. "It is open to all, regardless of whether you believe in God or not... That's the beauty of it."
"But I heard somebody tell me it was nothing less than the Kingdom of God on Earth."
"And it is. But only to the Christians among us. The Fifth Empire is a place where everything is done according to the Golden Rule. And such a place is, by Frederico's definition, God's Kingdom on Earth. However, you do not have to be a Christian to accept the Golden Rule as your guiding principle, and hence, the Fifth Empire is open to everybody... I have to admit I find the idea kind of neat... very Christian... Inclusive... I think Jesus would have approved."
"You're Christian?" Bjorn asked, just to be sure of Thomas' position on the matter.
"No... And neither are you, are you?"
"No," Bjorn admitted. "Too much mumbo jumbo. Too much intolerance and narrow mindedness."
"Exactly... But Jesus did make a lot of sense, didn't he? With the Golden Rule and all that, I mean?"
"Sure. But the resurrection and the second coming and... You know... It makes no sense."
"No it doesn't. You're right."
"So, who is he casting in the role as Jesus in his Kingdom of God? Not himself by any chance?" Bjorn asked, suddenly remembering the connection between the second coming and the Kingdom of God.
"No, no. The guy claims that the second coming is a purely spiritual one... He actually has a throne in his church, and it is empty... And no one is allowed to sit in it... Not because it is reserved for Jesus when he comes in as if only away for a short visit to his father, but because the spirit of Jesus is already sitting on it."
"Well, that's kind of weird, isn't it?" Bjorn asked. "Isn't that a bit cultish, if you like?"
"Not as cultish as if Fredreico was sitting on the throne himself."
"No... That's true."
"And Frederico keeps stressing that the throne is purely symbolic. The idea is that a true Christian bows to no rules but those that conform with the Golden Rule. And it follows that anyone pretending to be a ruler over others is a fraud and an evil one to be avoided."
"Sure! Remember, these are citizens of the empire. They do not want to be ruled over by others. They want to take full responsibility for their own lives. Anyone claiming authority over a citizen of the empire is by that very claim breaking the Golden Rule."
Bjorn nodded, not sure if Thomas' argument made sense or not. It had a circular feel to it. And the connection between the empire and God's Kingdom seemed suspect.
"So where does the spirit of the Portuguese come into all this?" Bjorn asked, not seeing a place for that part of the story now that the throne was occupied by another ghost.
"The Portuguese are Europe's gentle anarchists."
"According to Frederico, they are."
"Well, that's a great way to describe a citizen of the empire, isn't it?"
"As a gentle anarchist?"
"Yes! A citizen bows to no one, and honours no rule that does not conform to the Golden Rule. Isn't that pretty much the definition of a gentle anarchist? "