“The man says he is controlled by robots. They tell him what to do and the voices are stronger in some places”.
“Who told you he was schizophrenic?”
“He told me himself that he was”.
“A man who claims that robots are controlling him can diagnose schizophrenia?”
The conversations in our house become more bizarre by the day.
Most people would be disinclined to believe that a man would be controlled by robots but might be inclined to believe that a man claiming to be controlled by robots was showing possible signs of schizophrenia.
It is, of course possible that neither claim is true and that the man is just winding people up. In the absence of any external authority, like the word of a psychiatrist, we have only the man’s word for anything regarding his condition.
The lack of any external authority is a problem for the church in the post-modern society in which we live. In the past Catholics did what the Pope said, and Protestants did what the Bible said, and both sides believed they were under absolute authority, which was probably a wise decision in circumstances where you were burned alive if you disagreed. Now the claims made by churches are no more persuasive to most people than the claims made by a man who says he is controlled by robots.
The church has responded to its declining persuasive powers by becoming even more assertive about its own authority being authoritative. The Pope says that because the church says something it must be so and fundamentalist Protestants say because the Bible says something it must be so, and people say, “So what?”
If we simply do not accept the authority on which someone bases their arguments, then no matter how loud they shout, we will not be persuaded. Sometimes we fail even to realize how circular the arguments of the church sound to people listening on the outside, saying this is true because we say it is true does not convince a sceptical world.
Jesus in the Gospels is surrounded by people making authoritative claims for themselves, the Priests for the Temple, the Pharisees for the Law. All he has to commend himself is himself. All his followers have to offer is the story of Jesus. There is no external authority to enforce anything.
Twenty centuries later we can humbly offer the story to people in our own time. Or we can claim that we have authority, and they can look at us as they would at a man controlled by robots.