[KB] "Deacon"-structing Burke Part Whatever

Edward C Appel edwardcappel at frontier.com
Mon Nov 3 06:02:47 EST 2014


Great post!  Powerful.  Eloquent.  No need to apologize for nonexistent poor writing skills.  Not that I personally wouldn't want to nuance a few of the points you make.  For one, I have trouble with the claim that my benign and pacific friend is a votive member of so militant a faith community as the "Church" you mention.  But as for your overall indictment---I like it.

A few of your takes I might question further: Is the sex crime "scandal" in public school systems greater, or even a match for, that in the Catholic Church?  And how respectfully are the public schools of the U.S. of A. treated in any case?  In today's rhetorical environment, it seems to me, public education vies for Public Enemy Number One, Scapegoat par excellence. In addition, I like the new Pope, too, but aren't the manifest "entelechies" of Catholicism, still extant in 21st-century catechism and papal pronouncements, like those of Evangelical Protestantism, of concern for communicants in the Church of Burke?

Maybe more on these quibbles later.

One thing I'd like from you as an addendum: some documentation on your claim that the doctrinaire "Academics" you reference are attempting to de-accredit creedal colleges and universities.  I don't doubt what you say.  I'd just like to have a citation handy.

Again, a welcome contribution, from my standpoint.  Thanks a bunch!


On Sat, 11/1/14, Cerling, Lee <cerling at marshall.usc.edu> wrote:

 Subject: Re: [KB] "Deacon"-structing Burke Part Whatever
 To: "Gregory Desilet" <info at gregorydesilet.com>
 Cc: "Ed Appel" <edwardcappel at frontier.com>, "kb at kbjournal.org" <kb at kbjournal.org>
 Date: Saturday, November 1, 2014, 10:16 PM
 I thank everyone--Ed, Carrol, Greg, Bob--for your
 illuminating comments on this discussion.  Greg, your
 response is excellent, and I think I now perceive the heart
 of what is truly a profound disagreement between us, one
 that I don't know how to bridge.
 Here is my sense of things:  Greg, perhaps I am quite
 mistaken on this point, but your language sounds to me like
 the language of a True Believer in the Church of "the
 Enlightenment”—a term that itself was created in order
 to contrast the  illumination
  that we derive from objective reason alone with the
 darkness that supposedly reigned when Divine Revelation was
 given a greater role in human affairs.  As a good member of
 that church, or so I imagine you to be, you wish to continue
 to exorcise the demon of
  "belief in the supernatural" from the thought and
 policy of societies and government.  
 But in my view, the Church of the Enlightenment has
 created its own Authoritarianism, and it is called "the
 University" (an institution which the Enlightenment has
 largely expropriated from the Christian Church, by the way,
 but generally without a word
  of gratitude or acknowledgment).  The University sanctions
 with its Divine Blessing (a degree) all who would seek
 positions of power or influence in the modern world:
  doctors, lawyers, judges, journalists, politicians,
 educators, and even theologians and
  pastors!  (The only exceptions are people like Bill Gates,
 who did not get a degree, but who does have Money; and, much
 more dubiously, Hollywood entertainers, who have Fame.)
  The reverse does not hold:  people in power do not
 particularly need the Divine
  Blessing of a religious institution in order to be
 successful, except in the case of politicians in places like
 Utah, where religion still holds considerable sway; or the
 nominal confession of religious belief that Presidents are
 still forced to acknowledge,
  or perish--to the great chagrin of the true believers in
 the Church of the Enlightenment.
 For the members of the Church of the Enlightenment,
 those who believe in revealed religion are "the
 Enemy," "the Others" who do not follow the
 covenant; who are counter-covenant.  Those who do believe
 in revealed religion are only quite begrudgingly admitted
  a place in the University (though this is currently a
 source of internal division in the Church of the
 Enlightenment; some academics are now lobbying for all
 institutions that require some sort of creedal belief
 statement in revealed religion to be denied
  accreditation).  And believers in revealed religion are
 admitted to this Church, the Academy, under one condition:
  that they keep their sin (of belief in revealed religion)
 very secret, and, whatever they do, they do not let it leak
 out or influence their
 The Church of the Enlightenment also has its ritual of
 scapegoating:  the Catholic Church, in particular, is a
 regular target.  Thus, the priestly pedophilia scandals
 uncovered in the early 2000's were an occasion of ritual
 shaming, humiliation, and scapegoating--Orange
  County alone settled for $100 million to bring an end to
 it.  In this story, pedophilia was a sign of the True
 Nature of the Catholic Church, the Enemy, the Other, that
 must be shamed into public confession of its transgression,
 followed by abject silence
  on social and moral issues.
 This is quite in contrast to the public school system,
 where sexual  scandals involving teachers and students
 still occur nearly every single day, on a level that quite
 eclipses in number and duration the sins that the Catholic
 Church was publicly excoriated
  for.  But in the case of the public school system, these
 scandals are not taken as a sign of its True Nature;
 instead, they are treated as tragic, isolated events
 involving a number of rogue individuals whose idiosyncratic
 behavior should not reflect on the
  beloved Public School System, nor be a reason for it to be
 forced to endure the scapegoating that the Catholic Church
 is regularly subjected to.
 I, on the other hand, am not of the True Faith:  I am
 a Skeptic.  I am doubtful that the story about revealed
 religion told by the Church of the Enlightenment is the True
 Story; in any event, I have a very difficult time believing
 in it.   I don’t believe
  your assertion below, for example, that it was Monotheism
 that escalated Authoritarianism by tying it to a divine
 source.  I think that Pharaonic Egypt, Nebuchadnezzarean
 Babylon, and Rome under, say, Nero—all of which bound
 themselves to claims of divine
  authority—were every bit as Authoritarian as anything
 created by monotheism.
 At any rate, I think it is the Academy which today is
 most confident in, as you say, “the certainty of the
 rightness of its dictates.”  One may find a Jerry Falwell
 here or a Pope there whose dictates have a certain following
 among the benighted religious.
   But at least in the West, it is the Academy and its
 co-religionists in Science and Government that decree how we
 are all to live and whose Divine Imprimatur we must seek.
  It is irksome to this group that anyone still listens to
 the Pope.  
 But I kind of like the Pope.  And I know I like the
 Bible, and its story of the possibility of love and hope and
 beauty, better than I like, say, Darwin and his grim story
 of brutal, purposeless, competitive aggression.  And if I
 were forced into an argument
  about it, I would say:  Yes, revealed religion did provide
 the rhetorical and other resources necessary for Luther to
 de-legitimize the Authoritarianism of the then-reigning
 Pope; and he didn't merely replace one Authoritarianism
 by another; but rather, through
  his rhetorical efforts and those of like-minded
 Protestants, and relying on the resources of texts they
 believed to be divinely inspired, an idea of religious
 Authoritarianism was decisively broken in Christendom.
  (But that idea of religious Authoritarianism
  still exists in Islam.)  
 And one of the key texts for doing so was the text you
 and I both referenced:  Jesus’ disciples were arguing
 precisely for the institution of an authoritarian,
 hierarchical model, arguing amongst themselves as to which
 of them should be considered “the
  greatest.”  And Jesus replied, “You know how the
 Gentiles and their rulers lord it over one another.  But it
 shall not be so among you.  Instead, whoever would be first
 must be last; whoever would be greatest must be the servant
 of all.”  And Luther used that
  language, and similar language, to skewer and de-legitimize
 not only the Pope, but the very way of thinking about
 religious authority that the Pope had come to represent.
 So our disagreement, I think, stems from two
 fundamentally different historiographies:  one that
 valorizes the Enlightenment’s attitudinal stance of scorn
 for revealed religion, and one that regards that stance as
 mistaken in some important respects.  And
  that is why I think we view texts with a claim to divine
 inspiration differently.  What do you think?  Is that a
 genuine disagreement that we have, and an accurate reading
 of its source, or not?
 Many thanks for a helpful discussion; and my sincere
 apologies for being so unskilled a writer as to be unable to
 make my point more concisely.
 Sent from my iPad
 On Oct 31, 2014, at 6:08 PM, Gregory Desilet <info at gregorydesilet.com>
 Good response, Lee. You raise an
 insightful question here: “In your approach to these
 religious texts that you believe authorize Authoritarianism,
 is there room to acknowledge the ways in which they may, in
  actual historical practice, provide the means to resist and
 de-legitimize Authoritarianism?” 
 The examples you give from the
 Biblical tradition seem to be on point but I find them
 troubling when viewed in the broader context of a cycle.
 Certainly divine communications, as you say, can inspire
  to Authoritarianism, but there are many ways to resist
 authority and I would view the Biblical examples you give as
 examples of Authoritarianism vs. Authoritarianism. It is
 more like a way of combating authority with a “higher”
 authority, like fighting fire
  with a greater fire. Or to borrow Lee’s citing of the
 Biblical phrase, “lording it over other people.” My God
 is stronger than your God. 
 But the fire used to fight fire can
 also spin out of control and end up burning those it was
 initially meant to save. This was perhaps the import of a
 lyric from a famous 60s song: “New revolution same as
  the old revolution.” The revolutions just keep revolving
 with no real change in the structure of authority. And I
 would argue, as many have, that it is the structure of
 authority that is the real problem. When we invest too much
 authority at the top and make
  it unaccountable, we are creating the potential for a
 wildfire. And this is exactly what has happened in the great
 religious traditions.
 Furthermore, as the expression
 “lording it over others” suggests, Authoritarianism, in
 the certainty of the rightness of its dictates, opens a
 structure creating the role of “the enemy”—the one who
 in Burke’s
  parlance is “counter-covenant.” The “enemy” becomes
 the “others” who do not follow the covenant, deny the
 covenant, or who are not of the same essence as those of the
 covenant. This structure brings into play all of the themes
 developed by Burke relating to
  order, secret, sin, guilt, redemption, sacrifice,
 scapegoating, victimage, etc.
 In support of what I’m saying
 about Authoritarianism vs. Authoritarianism, Burke argues in
 RoR that no other structure, essentially different from
 this, is possible for human community. The only way to go
  forward peacefully, in Burke’s view, is to work through
 the human “cult of the kill” tendency by re-directing it
 through symbolic scapegoating rather than real
 So in answer to Lee’s question I
 would respond that, yes, religions and religious texts can
 and do provide ways to resist Authoritarianism but they most
 certainly do not, on Burke’s account and in my opinion,
  provide a means for de-legitimizing it. In fact, religion
 provides the means for escalating the legitimizing process
 of Authoritarian structure by tying it to a divine source.
 Monotheism perhaps escalated this process to the nth level,
 in the all-powerful,
  all-knowing unitary Godhead. But as Lee points out,
 Authoritarianism can grow in many different soils and does
 not require this divine source for its legitimization.
 Instead, it can be tied to ideas or ideals, in name only,
 such as Justice, Equality, Freedom—which
  were clarion calls for Authoritarian political regimes such
 as 20th
 century fascism, communism, and totalitarianism.

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