[KB] "Deacon"-structing Burke Part Whatever

Clarke Rountree rountrj at uah.edu
Fri Nov 7 16:13:11 EST 2014

I've followed this thread with a great deal of interest. I just want to put
in my oar on one point Greg made about theologians' unwillingness to leave
religious texts "undecidable."

In April, I hosted Stanley Fish at my institution for a colloquium (with 10
legal rhetoric scholars) that discussed the Supreme Court decision in DC v.
Heller (that guaranteed 2nd amendment rights and made them individual,
rather than militia-related). He soundly criticized Justice Scalia's
opinion for taking the words of the Second Amendment, parsing them, and
searching for meanings of individual words in historical dictionaries
conducive to his own interpretation. Fish complained that this atomistic
approach to meaning left judges to draw out about anything they wanted
from, in this case, the Constitution. He called the method "crumbling." He
contrasted its use in law with its use in interpreting sacred texts, noting
that traditionally crumbling allowed one to draw out a multitude of
meanings from sacred texts, to understand the many ways in which God's
message speaks to us.(We see this in the tradition of preachers applying,
say, the story of the Good Samaritan to OUR story of what we should do for
Ebola victims, immigrants, or people injured on the side of the road.) The
point of this erudite Milton scholar is that theologians have a tradition
of pulling out multiple meanings from religious texts.

Now, it is certainly the case that the vocal, evangelical, "four-corners"
folks evince the kind of "one way" thinking that concerns Greg. And,
generally, I am concerned about the direction such conformist thinking
yields. (For my beef with defenses of a belief in God, see my recent
publication, “Faith, not Reason, Underwrites the Belief in God: A Response
from a Nonbelieving Rhetorician.” In *Is Faith in God Reasonable? The Great
Debate in Light of Contemporary Science, Philosophy, and Rhetoric.* Edited
by Paul Gould and Corey Miller. New York: Routledge, 2014. 136-150. NOTE
that Marty Medhurst was my "believing" counterpart in this book.) But this
is an awfully long tradition, with a lot of faces and approaches.



On Fri, Nov 7, 2014 at 2:30 PM, Gregory Desilet <info at gregorydesilet.com>

> 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.
> Greg
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Dr. Clarke Rountree
Chair and Professor of Communication Arts
342 Morton Hall
University of Alabama in Huntsville
Huntsville, AL  35899
clarke.rountree at uah.edu
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