[KB] "Deacon"-structing Burke Part Whatever

Gregory Desilet info at gregorydesilet.com
Fri Nov 7 15:30:37 EST 2014

Thanks to Lee and Stan for additional comments. Both make interesting and challenging points. But I think the response to both is implicit in what they say about the phenomenon of interpretation that in fact takes place in religious circles and theological discussions. To quote Lee, “. . . the history of the Catholic Church is a history of argument about what the Word of God, and other things such as Tradition, actually say.” Here the revealing words are “actually say.” The assumption is that divinely inspired texts have an “actual” or univocal meaning, that God does not speak ambiguously.

Rhetorical scholars have seen the persuasive reasoning for seeing the nature of texts as such that they can and should be read in multiple ways. And here Stan is correct to say this need not imply one interpretation is as good as another. But it should be understood to mean there are two or more interpretations capable of being well supported (though not necessarily equal in everyone’s eyes). Theologians argue about the meaning of a divinely inspired text because they assume it has “a” proper, authoritative meaning to the exclusion of other meanings. On the other hand, secular literary critics may point to a text, a short poem for example, disclose how it may well have multiple meanings (some perhaps even contradictory), and then be content to leave it at that. Theologians, in my experience, are rarely if ever content to leave a religious text undecidable. They seek and argue for an authoritative interpretation and in doing so prop up the authoritarian ethos of religion. Examples to the contrary do not so much defeat my argument as expose the ongoing process of the secularization of religion—a process so slow yet penetrating that congregations of the future will likely wake up one day and find their sacred texts have been moved from the “religion” to the “philosophy” shelf in bookstores and libraries (should these latter institutions survive long enough for this future).

Regarding Stan’s reference to my use of the phrase “what we know about”—this is a good point. And I agree that “faith” is a key term to examine here. Even Sam Harris—he of the book titled “The End of Faith”—must have “faith” in the power of reason and the methodology of science. The difference between the two faiths of science and religion, for example, is the difference between faiths in contrasting modes of evidence—the evidence of an experience that can be repeated (the scientific test) and the evidence of tradition, sacred texts, and transcendent personal experience (sometimes called direct divine communication or DDC). Both forms of evidence require faith in a process and it becomes a question of which process one finds more persuasive as a mode of evidence.

These lines of analysis lead to further layers of distinctions—which take us down many related byways. What Lee proposes—an NCA panel for 2015—is an interesting suggestion. For me, though, it would be difficult to do because I have so many competing projects and a very limited travel budget. Nevertheless, Lee, if you want to draft a question or questions or an outline of the substantive issue of such a panel, we could all take a look and discuss it further.


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