I leaf through the pages of the Bible for a while, then close it once I realize that what I am looking for is not within those pages. I look up at the drone again.
It is still gazing at me, but the smile has been replaced by a serious expression. “I do not understand why you still carry that book.”
Now it’s my turn to smile. “The hell you don’t.”
“Okay, I’ll rephrase that more accurately. I do not understand what good it does to consider a text ‘authoritative’ if WE—‘we’ meaning the selfsystem, either in toto or in part—are the ultimate judge of how the text is to be interpreted and applied.”
“Much more accurately phrased, thank you. I think it’s important to get clear here about the force of that word, ‘ultimate.’”
“Is its meaning not clear?”
“I didn’t say its meaning; I said its force. Maybe I mean something like its weight, or its resonance.”
“What you mean is that you want to tell some kind of story according to which something or someone else shares the authority, something that corresponds to the term ‘church.’”
I nod. “I think so.”
“But the problem with that, dear Leo—quite apart from endless complications that might arise if we ask about the term ‘church’—is that anything you might call church has authority in relation to the selfsystem by virtue of being treated as an authority by the selfsystem. The latter is the ultimate authority.”
“By ‘ultimate,’ you mean something like final, right?”
“Sure, final. Or perhaps fundamental.”
“But how is this a problem? How does it rule out the possibility of authority also being externally invested?”
The drone looks annoyed, but the voice does not change. “Authority that is invested extraselfsystemically is ongoingly invested if it is invested at all, and is ‘revoked,’ so to speak, as soon as it is no longer so invested. Hence, it is never really ‘invested’ at all. There is no sense in which the selfsystem is ever displaced as authority, and no sense in which the authority is genuinely shared. It remains the authority of the selfsystem at all times.”
I remove my glasses and set them on top of the Bible in my lap, then gently massage my temples with the tips of my fingers.
The drone falls silent and waits patiently.
I put on my glasses and open my eyes again. “So, what you are saying is simply that we are autonomous.”
Suspicion creeps slowly over the drone’s face. “Where are you going with that?”
“Suppose we are autonomous. Suppose, that is, that we are always in a position where we must decide, and the norm according to which we will decide is inescapably chosen by us, that we commit to the norm, that there is nothing that can make the norm ours if we do not do so. Suppose it cannot be otherwise when it comes to our acting.”
“Then we are the ultimate authority.”
“But if we are the ultimate authority in that sense, what difference does that really make?”
Uncertainty. “Wouldn’t it make all the difference?”
“Would it be preferable for us not to be an actor or actors at all?”
“Of course not!”
“Then what difference does it really make? It clearly would NOT follow that we cannot genuinely commit to something extraselfsystemic as authoritative. If you say that such a commitment might be withdrawn, how is this any different from saying that we might lose our faith? From the fact that autonomy is inescapable, it does not seem to follow that authority cannot be invested or shared.”
Silence. The drone’s face has gone blank. I would say it has stopped breathing, but I don’t think it was breathing before.
That’s one way to end a “session,” I guess. Now what?
I resume leafing through the Bible. After a minute or so, I glance up, and am not surprised to see an empty chair facing me.
Did I break it, or did it run out of juice or lose its “dilation,” or were we finished without my realizing it? I find myself hoping that I don’t have to fill out any paperwork. My eyes fall on 2 Timothy 3:16.
“All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right.”
I close my eyes again and recite Romans 15:4 from memory (King James Version, of course).
“For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.”
I close the Bible again and mutter, “…and not by sight.”