[KB] Burke, Deacon, and Theology

Edward C Appel edwardcappel at frontier.com
Mon Mar 16 14:44:17 EDT 2015


	According to Deacon and Cashman, the second of the three “synergies” that accompanied the evolution of language, and that undergird the religious sensibilities of the symbolic species, is the symbol-induced tropism toward conception of “a bi-layered world,” i.e., perception of “a pattern-behind-the-pattern,” an almost compulsive “metaphysical dualism” common to religions in general.”

	At the outset, let me say I tend to read with the cluster/agon procedure at least in the back of my mind.  To some extent, I’m checking the what-goes-with-what, the what-vs.-what, and the from-what through-what to-what.  I did no formal cluster work on “The Origins of Religion,” but I’ve tried to put 2 and 2 together with Burke’s method in mind 

	So, some of the things I’ll say here are “inferences,” as in “Fact, Inference, and Proof in the Analysis of Literary Symbolism” (1954).  Deacon and Cashman nowhere say that religion is a pox on the symbol-using animal.  But I think in this, the second section of the body of their treatise, the authors perhaps hint at a dismissive attitude toward this inevitable---their take---human singulaity.

	Recall what I said in a previous post: The most common scientific explanation for religion references its perhaps once-useful, but now nonadaptive, qualities as a genre of symbolic action.  Religion is a “by-product,” the Goulds, Lewontins, and Dawkinses say, a “misapplication” of a kind.  Deacon and Cashman’s critique is that this notion is way too superficial.  However, D and C allow that their richer and more nuanced treatment can incorporate something of that orthodox view.  In this division of their article, the authors might, in fact, be so incorporating.

	As I infer, reading a bit between the lines, over the course of a long evolutionary history, hominids lost a great deal of the sensory acuity of nonhuman and prehuman mammals, but, compensatorily, acquired, via natural selection, a linguistic facility that overmatched that deficit.  Symbols enabled an exponentially more supple, varied, and potent means of manipulating natural resources in service to human ends than anything that went before.  Along with that new “tool,” however,” came the “by-product,” a terministic link, Deacon and Cashman make, back to the orthodox schema, a reader would presume.

	Another hint of a dislogistic sort in this second section on the symbolic “bi-layered world” is how Deacon, along with Cashman, handle the term “symbolic savant.”  I made reference to this term in a previous post.  Deacon employes it in another of his articles on the “Symbolic Species.”  There, in contrast, the expression stands alone in its grandeur.  Here, “symbolic savant” is explicitly joined at the hip with the analogous term it so readily brings to mind: “idiot savant.”  “Idiot savants” can wondrously perform cognitive feats that flabbergast the rest of us, like solve complex math problems in an instant.  But in most other arenas of life, they’re not so proficient.

	Add to these dribs and drabs of cold water the authors may be splashing on religion two more points: Deacon and Cashman conclude here that the religious sensibility they describe is altogether “natural” in origin.  Nothing “supernatural” is involved.  That’s surely what we would expect.  Deacon adds in his second Ginn Lecture, though, that transcendentalizing “teleology” is “redundant.”  Exactly what Deacon means by that isn’t clear.  But its implication is.

	This intro to the second division of “Role of Symbolic Capacity in the Origins of Religion” took longer than I expected.  I’ll get to the details of the section part of the authors’ argument in the next post.


	P.S. I forgot to mention, in this section of “Origins of Religion,” Deacon and Cashman add “music” as part and parcel of this “by-product” scenario.  “Music,” the authors say, is a “semiotic vehicle able to transport us into a world of fluid half emotions lying behind and evoked by the sounds.”  Interestingly, mega-orthodox evolutionists Stephen Jay Gould and Richard Lewontin add female orgasms to religion and music as “nonadaptive byproducts” of the evolutionary process (“The Spandrels of San Marco and the Panglossian Paradigm: A Critique of the Adaptionist Programme,” 1979).  I’ve always said on this matter, check first with a paid soprano in a church choir.             

On Fri, 3/13/15, Edward C Appel <edwardcappel at frontier.com> wrote:

 Subject: Re: [KB] Burke, Deacon, and Theology
 To: "Clarke Rountree" <rountrj at uah.edu>
 Cc: "kb at kbjournal.org" <kb at kbjournal.org>
 Date: Friday, March 13, 2015, 4:36 PM
     On the “synergy” that generates
 narrative, the first of the three ways evolved symbolic
 capacity transformed the pre-human mammalian brain into the
 powerful force for “action,” and theotropic speculation
 and motivation, it is today, according to Deacon and
     All mammals (maybe birds, as well),
 Deacon and Cashman say, possess two mnemonic systems, two
 means of generating the memory that makes for enhanced
 adaptation to an environment and shifting
 circumstances.  One mnemonic agency is
 “procedural.”  The other is “episodic.”  D
 and C label the procedural, seemingly the lower-level,
 apparatus for retaining memory traces,
 “diachronic.”  The diachronic is concerned with, or
 pertains to, the historical DEVELOPMENT of something. 
 It is not of a uniform age or time.  Hence, diachronic
 or procedural memory fixes in the mammalian brain the means
 for rote motor skills, habits, eventually automatic
 responses that become “second nature,” as repeated again
 and again,  Procedural memory particularly enlists the
 basal ganglia, the motor cortex, and the cerebellum. 
 (These would appear to be lower-order
 neuro-mechanisms.  Yet, Deacon has said to me in
 correspondence that he does not hold to any strict notion
  of the tripartite brain.  This stance would seem to
 suggest that the brain works as something of a whole, an
 integrated unit of a sort.  So, I would need further
 clarification from Deacon on distinctions between
 “higher” and “lower” neuro-operations, a distinction
 he and Cashman seem to be making in this article.
     “Episodic” memory, which I will call
 here a higher-order mnemonic system (after D and C, note
 below) is “synchronic,” Deacon and Cashman assert. 
 Episodic memory pertains to “individual events and
 relationships.”  It has to do with the state of
 something at one particular time.  Though “classes of
 episodic memories” can be retained, the “different
 [neuro] structures” involved make for a “different kind
 of redundancy” in respect to the episodic.  “Serial
 redundancy is unavailable.”  The hippocampus is
 integral to the “distributive” nature of episodic
 retention.  “The hippocampus is reciprocally
 connected with many different areas of generalized
 neocortex.”  Nested in the cerebrum, it “correlates
 converging information from higher-order processing in each
 sensory modality.”  Episodic “redundancy” is
 found “in context to other events to which it was
     Now, as already indicated, all mammals,
 maybe birds, also, benefit from both kinds memory, the
 procedural and the episodic.  In those nonsymbolic
 animals, however, the two memory systems are separated, not
 integrated.  The symbolic capacity that the emerging
 species homo sapiens evolved into across the 2-million-year
 Quaternary brought the two mnemonic systems into a
 revolutionary synergy.  It is symbols that integrated
 and integrate the two types of memory.  The following
 is the result:  This is how it is done:
 “        Syntax,” word order,
 “becomes part of our procedural memory system.” 
 “When we produce a sentence, it is a bit like riding a
 bike . . . . It is proceduralized.  But what we are
 doing with it is accessing and ‘downloarding’
 information from episodic memory in order to express an idea
 or accomplish a communicative action.”
         Thus, “the interplay between
 the serial [that is, the procedural] and distributive
 associative [i.e., the episodic] tendencies brought into
 interaction by language provides a way to organize episodic
 memory into sequences.”  And so, “the narrative
 predisposition [that results] can be understood as an
 emergent consequence of the unique mnemonic synergy that
 language has made possible.”
 So aver Deacon and Cashman.
         Now, what is distinctive about
 the ensuing “narrative” that nudges symbolizers toward
 religion, or metaphysical speculations?  Narrative is
 not merely the equivalent of the proverbial put-down of
 “history” as simply “one darned thing after
 another.”  Narrative is not just stories about
 synchronic episodes that progress according to diachronic
 habitual sequences.  Narratives tend to be peculiarly
 “directed” sequences, explanations, interpretations,
 allegations, justifications, commentaries, personal or group
 representations of the facts of the matter, made via causal
 connections, with indictment or praise for the parties
 involved (Deacon & Cashman; Shorter OED).  Indeed,
 narratives can generate “a sense of present or potential
 loss” that fuses “present, past, and imagined
 experiences” (Deacon & Cashman) in a way that conjures
 Neo-Freudian Norman O. Brown’s dramatistic explanation of
 how human narration creates “time.”
   In the “id” there is no time, says Freud. 
 In the ego, however, “Time has to be constructed by an
 animal that has guilt [or a sense of loss] and seeks to
 expiate [or redeem or correct that sense of loss].” 
 Such a being must create and dwell on the notions of a
 “past” and a “future.”  “Archaic man [sic;
 and modern man and woman] experiences guilt and therefore
 time” (Brown, Life Against Death: The Psychoanalytical
 Meaning of History, 1959, pp. 274, 276, 278, 87-109).`
         Even more to the point than the
 inherently dramatic nature of narrative plot lines and
 narrative’s temporal fusion of “loss” with a vision of
 something redemptively better, is the stark contrast between
 the “telos” essential to the narrative impulse, and the
 lack of such consummation in many, can we not say all, human
 lives.  The sense of narrative near impels symbolizers,
 Deacon and Cashman contend, toward transcendental plot
 lines.  “They [narratives] do not simply stop
 arbitrarily, as do most lives,” Deacon and Cashman
 observe.  “Instead, in the narrative of a life,
 whether real or imagined, birth and death are events that
 are usually subordinated to some telos, . . . .”  The
 gross narrative of a human life as actually lived, abridged
 of any larger meaning in itself, tends to be “embedded”
 in, or related to, a larger narrative that overmatches the
 glaring limitations of the “brief candle” of human
         “Telos”: “End, purpose,
 (an) ultimate object or aim” (Shorter OED).
         Later, two more “synergies,”
 generated by language, that might well help to explain still
 further the otherwise strange otherworldliness of the
 symbol-using animal.
 On Thu, 3/12/15, Edward C Appel <edwardcappel at frontier.com>
  Subject: Re: [KB] Burke, Deacon, and Theology
  To: "Clarke Rountree" <rountrj at uah.edu>
  Cc: "kb at kbjournal.org"
 <kb at kbjournal.org>
  Date: Thursday, March 12, 2015, 3:53 PM
      At the outset of their article, “The
  Role of Symbolic Capacity in the Origins of Religion”
  (2009), Terrence W. Deacon and his coauthor Tyrone Cashman
  cite polling data that 86 percent of human beings believe
  God or some sort of Supreme Being.  Burke, as I’ve
  argued, gives good reasons why that is the case
  IMPLICITLY.  From a very different academic vantage
  point, Deacon and Cashman do so EXPLICITLY.  Language
  is central in the case they, the three of them, make for
  ubiquity of belief in the god-term, and the case for the
  global occurrence of belief in the Divine, as
  in many variant ways.
      Deacon, the biological
  anthropologist/neuroscientist (I know nothing about
  is coming at the relationship between symbolic capacity
  the religious “predisposition” very much from an
  evolutionary and neuroscientific angle.  One notable
  point needs made at the outset: Forget about homo
  sapiens/homo dialecticus, language in tow, suddenly
  appearing on the scene circa 200,000 years ago.  D and
  C say language development and brain size-and- structure
  development gradually and reciprocally occurred over the
  entire Pleistocene, which is to say, across the whole
  near-2-million-year duration of the Quaternary Period. 
  Brain evolution gradually brought linguistic facility into
  being, while, at the same time, emerging symbolic capacity
  reciprocally altered the human brain.
      (Sounds a bit analogous to the
  Wallace/Lovelock/Gaia hypothesis on reciprocal changes in
  both life and the nonliving material scene over 3.5
  years, but that’s another matter.)
      At the outset, also, the coauthors
  summarize the three most-cited theories about the origin
  religion via evolutionary change: religion as
  “nonadaptive,” or useless, by-product of formerly
  adaptive changes, “misapplications,” so to speak, of
  evolved tendencies; more or less “adaptive” proofs
  against mortality; and “parasitic memes” concocted
  socially, rather than individually, as oppressive
  of one kind or another.  The first of the above is the
  most favored.  All these explanations are inadequate
  “reductionistic” takes on this universal human
  phenomenon, Deacon and Cashman contend.  
  To get to the pith and marrow of the issue, as Deacon and
  Cashman see it: With the evolution of language, three
  “synergies” emerged that made religious speculation
  belief, as well as the general “metaphysical” search
  underlying “First Principles,” an inevitable
  of biological change  (“Metaphysics” for
  Burke?  “Coy theology,” you will recall).
      “Synergy”: “The production by two
  or more agents, substances [structures, capacities, etc.]
  a combined effect greater than the sum or their separate
  effects . . . Increased effectiveness or achievement
  produced by combined action.”
      “Emergent,” quite similar in meaning:
  “An effect produced by a combination of causes but
  to be seen as the sum of their individual effects”
  (Shorter OED).
      Three “synergies,” occasioned by the
  evolution of symbol use over that long span of time,
  into being this “religious” or “metaphysical”
  the “symbolic species,” making religion, D and C
  humankind’s “synergy of synergies.”  These
  combinations of, or symbol-generated interactions between,
  structures and capacities our mammalian ancestors
  and utilized, are: 
  (1)    “The role of language in a novel
  synergy between 2 previously orthogonal modes of memory
  storage which is the basis for the narrative
  that is distinctively characteristic of human reasoning,
  identity, and culture.”
  (2)    A tropism toward conception of what D
  and C call a “bi-layered world,” namely, an “evolved
  attentional bias toward discerning a pattern
  behind-the-pattern, a bias required for language learning,
  which makes metaphysical dualism intuitively natural, and
  also makes the double-world metaphysics common to most
  religions a likely leap of symbolic imagination.”
  (3)     “The dramatic expansion
  and transformation of the mammalian emotional repertoire
  virtue of the use of symbolic blends to induce
  interactions and novel experiential synergies that we
  describe as emergent emotional experiences.”
  “Orthogonal”: As inferred from Deacon’s work as a
  whole, the meaning here, I would assume, is “straight,
  normal, proper [I think we can add “natural”], without
  external influence,” “completely independent,” which
  is to say, “free” of influence by the “absential
  feature,” or nonsymbolic negative, that nonhuman living
  beings are beholden to.  Hence, we’re talking here
  about the  “orthograde.”  “Orthograde,” in
  Deaconese, serves, it seems to me, as the opposite of
  “contragrade.”  “Contragrade” refers to a force
  that runs counter to mechanical nonliving processes.
      Yet, there seems to me to be an ambiguity
  here with this term.  “Orthogonal,” seen as a
  derivative of “orthograde,” would likely characterize
  nonsymbolic living beings, as well as symbolic.  Lower
  animals and plants appear to be “contragrade,” too, in
  the sense that they uniquely resist entropy by way of
  reproduction and photosynthesis, or by reproduction and
  direct or indirect ingestion of the products of
  photosynthesis.  Maybe I can get Deacon to bring me up
  to speed on the definition “orthogonal,” as employed
  here, when I forward the post to him.
      I’ll try to unpack the three synergies
  in subsequent posts.
  On Fri, 3/6/15, Edward C Appel <edwardcappel at frontier.com>
   Subject: Re: [KB] Burke, Deacon, and Theology
   To: "Clarke Rountree" <rountrj at uah.edu>
   Cc: "kb at kbjournal.org"
  <kb at kbjournal.org>
   Date: Friday, March 6, 2015, 8:57 PM
   Thanks for your extended and
   insightful reply to my post.  Hey, thanks for even
   my long rant!  You certainly make some good points,
   I would interpret the "potentiality" claim in RM
   as making our emergence out of a "wordless" Ground
   as maybe "more complicated" than that.  Following
   Burke, I could quote Scripture here, a passage in
   one in Hebrews on how the visible things of this
   adumbrate a reality that is beyond.  I'll let
   expand on the matter in his own way in a subsequent
   (Not that Deacon is
   necessarily a theist.  The religious sensibility
   so "naturally" to the "symbolic species"
   is, for Deacon, just that: inevitable, yes, but
   "Teleology" is real, one of the last frames in his
   second Ginn Lecture proclaims, but to
 transcendentalize it
   is "redundant, Deacon avers.  An unsatisfactory
   denouement for the "symbol-users" or the
   "symbolic species," i.e., coming at the matter
   from either Burke's perspective, or Deacon's. 
   That's why 86 percent of Americans believe in God,
   some such figure, as Deacon and Cashman note at the
   beginning of their journal article.)
   By way of illustration, I offered in one of my
   posts to Deacon the characters in Samuel Becket's
   comedy, "Waiting for Godot."  At the end of the
   play, they are still waiting, and the implications
   Godot is not going to show up, yet these forlorn
   will continue to wait . . and wait . . . and wait . .
   never stop waiting.  
   the symbol-user's tendency to "see" drama in,
   or superimpose drama on, the supposedly blind motions
   universe---Deacon has a powerful explanation for
   I'll get to eventually.
   Thanks again for replying---and rebutting!
   On Fri, 3/6/15, Clarke Rountree <rountrj at uah.edu>
    Subject: Re: [KB]
   Burke, Deacon, and Theology
   "Edward C Appel" <edwardcappel at frontier.com>
    Cc: "kb at kbjournal.org"
   <kb at kbjournal.org>
    Date: Friday, March 6, 2015, 12:23 PM
    Dear Burkelers--
    My good friend Ed obviously
   has a passion for seeing Burke as a theologian
    (coy or otherwise), despite Burke’s
   insistence that he
    isn’t a believer in
    Of course one can get around the
   problem of Burke not
    actually believing in
   God through the
    Spinozan strategy of making
   God equal to Nature, so that the
    GROUND of
    itself is equivalent to God. And,
   notably, if verbalizing is
    in or implicit in that GROUND,
   then, Ed reasons, that is an
    at least a God principle at work. Even
   an old atheist like
    me will admit that
    we humans, surprisingly, arose from a wordless
   world, that
    post facto we know carried the
   potentiality for
    creating wordy
    creature. Note, also, that Burke insists that
   when humans
    are gone it will go
    back to its wordlessness. (I’m speaking of
   Earth only, of
    course; I think it
    perfectly obvious that there is sentient life
   elsewhere in
    the universe.)
    Last year
   my son John and
    I published our essay from
    Burke conference in Belgium where we
   argued about the
    potentialities and
    dangers of the motivational bias of humans.
   (We called it a
    guide. I don't have the citation handy,
   but I can get it
    if anyone's
   interested.) That is, building on my
   “Dramatism as Literal” essay in KBJ (2010), we
    noted that it is intrinsic to humans to see
   the world
    through the grammar of
    motives, and that this grammar becomes a
    terministic screen. (It
    also is a wonderful thing, of course, as it
   makes us
    recognizably human—my point
    in the 2010 essay.) After mulling over that
   issue, I have a
    new appreciation
    for Burke’s suggestion that toddlers may
   learn the idea of
    “No” before they
    learn the idea of “nothing.” The
   implication is that
    “scientific” or
    understandings of the world
   are an add-on—something
    secondary we have
   to learn,
    while the search for motives is
    Now, early humans learned
   search for motives in prey and
    in animals
   that preyed on them. Scientists may tell us now
    that animals don’t
    have the
   capacity for the kind of actions we may attribute
    to them, but
    thinking that
   way may have been beneficial in making us wary
    of what animals
    are doing
   when they run or attack. Of course, walking around
    with a “pentadic”
    set of
   glasses on the world undoubtedly gives rise to
    animism and, later, more
   complex forms of religion, with gods in the river,
    the sky, etc.
    (Let me
   add quickly as
    well, that the dramatistic
   screen did not handicap humans
   developing technology and improving their lot;
    just that every agency
   connected to a human purpose, every scene implicitly
    asked “what can be
   [for humans] with this?” Indeed, that's one of
    the warning John and I make--that we have
   trouble seeing
    anything except as it
   relates to us.)
    When scientists look at
   world as objects, they blind
    themselves to
   this primary way of thinking (though, as Burke
    says, not so much that
   don’t know to treat their fellow chemists
    than the chemicals
    with which
   they work). When people want to look at more than
    investigating the
   human and the social, wearing these
   blinders threaten to make
    them miss the
   FUNCTIONS of pentadic screens in human
    Now Burke, looking at
   religion, would be missing much if he
   so blinded; but of course he is not. He not only
    accounts for the key term
   ACTION in human relations (while excoriating those
    on MOTION), but he
   investigates the potentialities of symbolic action.
    this leads him to find
   particularly potent (and “perfected”) symbolic
    religion is
   unsurprising—religion is one of the oldest, most
    scrutinized, most pervasive,
   most defended, most argued over, and (thus) most
    symbolic systems we
    Ultimately, I believe that
   the perfectedness of religion as
    a symbol
   system has nothing to do with its intrinsic truth
    (except as, perhaps, an "end of the
   line" human
    truth, an implication of
   our terminology). It does have much
    to do
   with its relation to power, making it a key bone of
    contention for those
   would rise to prominence in social systems. And
    Burke’s focus on religion
   has more to do with the fact that, given its intense
    scrutiny by some of the
   brightest minds for millennia (at least since
    is the most thoroughgoing
    symbolic system around. However, as I noted in
   a QJS
    article on the construction of George
   H.W. Bush in the
   presidential elections (1995), there are other well
    developed symbol systems that have
    pushed the envelope of what is “thinkable”
   through our
    dramatistic grammar—my key
    example, criminal law, where hundreds of years
    Anglo-American law (and
   earlier law as well) helped to refine the
    guilt and
   Had Burke spent more time talking to law folks,
    maybe he would have
    landed on
   criminal law as a perfection of symbol systems
    (though, note, he does
   a lot of time with constitutions!). That wouldn’t
    make him a lawyer; and
   finding perfection in religion doesn’t make him a
    theologian. Just an admirer
   of what has been wrought.
    That’s my oar in the
   (On a side note, I’m a
    great fan of
   Ed’s explication of
    Deacon’s work and
   its implications for understanding
   Burke’s work. I look forward to the next
    On Thu, Mar 5, 2015 at 2:52
    PM, Edward C Appel <edwardcappel at frontier.com>
            I’ve posted at length here on
    between Burke and Terrence W.
   Deacon, Chair of the
    Department of
   Anthropology at Cal Berkeley, you may
   recall.  (Of equal importance, Deacon is a
    as well.)  In response to
   a recent e-mail of mine on his
   described “tour de force,” Incomplete Nature:
    Mind Emerged from Matter (Norton, 2012, 2013),
    Deacon kindly sent me additional
   materials of his: two more
    of his published
   articles, bringing my cache to seven in
   toto; and several series of exceedingly well wrought
    powerpoint frames and other visuals he has
   used in lectures
    at the University of Oslo
   in Norway, in Holland, the Ginn
    Lectures in
   Atlanta, and a couple of presentations to
            As some of you
   will likely suspect, the theology
   immediately piqued my interest.  Here we have, it
    seemed to me, another important point of
   convergence between
    Burke and Deacon,
   adding to the considerable list I’ve
   already outlined.   The focal reference here will
 be to
    Deacon’s coauthored article (with Tyrone
   Cashman), “The
    Role of Symbolic Capacity
   in the Origins of Religion,”
    Journal of
   Religion, Nature & Culture, 2009, Vol. 3 No.
    4, pp. 490-517.
     I want to begin, in this post, with my take on
    Burke’s anfractuous relationship to
   theology, then in a
    subsequent edition,
   summarize Deacon’s position.
     Burke, we know, claimed publicly that his
    interest in theology was entirely secular. 
    the late-Burke title for
   his philosophy looked at as an
   “epistemology,” was solely about the contours of
    symbolic action, its motives and tendentious
   operations, not
    about any putatively
   transcendental reality.  Logology was
   “systematic study of theological terms for the
    they might throw on the forms of language,”
    terms being the most
   thoroughgoing, far-reaching, ultimate
   in language,” language, in Burke’s pat phrase,
    taken to “the end of the line.”  Tim
   Crusius doubled
    down on Burke’s
   affirmation in Kenneth Burke and the
   Conversation After Philosophy (Southern Illinois UP,
    and in his review of Greig
   Henderson’s book,  Kenneth
   Literature and Language as Symbolic Action, in QJS
    (1990), pp. 340-342.
     Add to Burke’s official position on logology
    (was it, or was it not, something of a façade
   that a
    cluster/agon analysis can maneuver
   around?---I ask, and have
    asked) Burke’s
   private claim to have been a nontheist. 
   Wayne Booth  (“Wax ‘N Wayne,” as Burke would
    privately) was a frequent correspondent
   of KB’s.  In his
    chapter, “Kenneth
   Burke’s Religious Rhetoric:
   ‘God-Terms’ and the Ontological Proof,” in
    Invention and Religious Inquiry
   (Yale UP, 2000, pp. 25-46),
    Booth takes
   note of Burke’s demurrer.  (See, also, “The
    Many Voices of Kenneth Burke, Theologian and
   Prophet, as
    Revealed in His Letters to
   Me,” in Unending Conversations:
   Writings by and about Kenneth Burke, Eds. Henderson
    Williams [Southern Illinois UP, 2001, pp.
   179-201], where
    Booth offers a second
   reprise on his 1996 plenary address at
   Duquesne Conference, i.e., the Third Triennial.)
            On his actual belief or nonbelief,
   I think we
    have to take Burke at his
   word.  Let’s assume he was the
   he told people he was.
            That having
   been said, Burke’s demonstrable
   theological obsession cannot be gainsaid.  In
    and Language (1988), Henderson looked behind
   the curtain:
    “For Burke logology is in
   some sense a surrogate
    theology.”  Greig
   added, “The analogies he makes for
   heuristic purposes betray a psychological need for a
    of permanence akin to a religious
   faith in the curative
    power of the word
   made flesh” (p. 105).  That same year,
   at ECA (April 29), Trevor Melia speculated about
    kind of Christian” Burke was, suggested that
   the label
    “secular Christian” can only
   be a starting point, and
    concluded that
   Burke was at least “up to his ears in
            At length, I had
   already corresponded with Burke
    on the
   matter (late 1983, early 1984), my case, “Kenneth
    Burke: Coy Theologian,” later published in
   the Journal of
    Communication and Religion
   (September, 1993).  Burke had
    even allowed
   at the Philadelphia Conference (March,1984)
   that I had made a “powerful argument” that he was
    theologian.  I got that news from Herb
   Simons, who was
    present at the after-hours
   discussion several key scholars
    had had
   with Burke after the first day’s seminars.
            Other names that can be added to
    speculations about Burke and religion
   include, as per Booth
    in that Yale
   publication, Burks, Carter, Duerden, Durham,
    Freccero, Gunn, Gusfield, and Jay.  And I can
   add Richard
    Thames and Steven Mailloux to
   their number (Steve’s paper
    at the Ghent
   Conference: “Under the Sign of Theology:
   Kenneth Burke on Language and the Supernatural
     I won’t lay out my entire case on Burke as
    “coy theologian.”  But I’ll highlight a
   few central
     The bottom line in my correspondence with KB,
    and in my journal piece, was this: It
   doesn’t matter what
    Burke personally
   believed or did not believe.  When a
   theorist posits that symbolizers are inherently
    “theotropic”---I’m borrowing a term from
    here---that theorist is at least a
    theologian.  A “lure” in
   rhetoric, whether in
    “error” or not,
   strongly nudges homo loquax “Upward”
   not only toward a “god term” in general, but
    the most “perfectly” satisfying
   God-term of all (GM, pp.
    306; RM, pp.
   275-76, 290-91; RR).
            And especially
   when it can be related to extant
   historic theological systems, that generic theology
    on some kind of shape, affords a bit of
   implicit commentary
    this ubiquitous
   attribute.  I’ve characterized Burke’s
   dramatism/logology as a quasi-gnostic (a radical
 sense of
    “Fall” into language, not into a
   lustful body)
    universalism (the quest for a
   “god-term” that unites all
    of humanity,
   and a focal program aimed at “purifying”
    conflict and “war”), friendly to
   Whitehead’s process
    theology (with its
   dialectics, de-perfecting of the Godhead,
   and rejection of a life after death; note what Burke
    the movie shown at Airlie House,
            Add to these pillars of
   support what I would
    conceive as Burke’s
   occasional drift into theological
   principles in the paradigm sense, i.e., statements
    to do with, or surely adumbrate, the
   actual existence of a
    Divine Essence of a
   kind.  When Burke says the
   ground” out of which humans proceeded
   “contains the principle of personality, quite as
    contains the principle of verbalizing,” that
    “’nonverbal’ ground must have
   contained the
    ‘potentiality’ of the
   verbal, otherwise the verbal could
    not have
   emerged from it,” Burke has crossed the line, I
    would suggest, into theology or religion
   proper (RM, pp.
       An analogous proposition is found in the
    Calabi-Yau version of string theory via the
    principle,” the “notion
   that the observed laws of nature
    must be
   consistent with the presence of intelligent life
    and, specifically, the presence of intelligent
    like us.  Put in other terms,
   the universe looks the way it
    does because
   if conditions were even slightly different,
   life would not have formed and humans would not be
    observe it” (Shing-Tung Yau and Steve
   Nadis, The Shape of
    Inner Space: String
   Theory and the Geometry of the
   Hidden Dimensions , Basic Books, 2010, p.
            Analogous, also, as I see it,
   is this quotation
    highlighted in one of
   Deacon’s two Ginn Lectures: “We
    need an
   understanding of nature such that it is not absurd
    to say that it has us as its products,” by
   Belgian chemist
    Ilya Prigogine and the
   physicist Victor J. Stenger. 
   (“Naturalizing Teleology: The Redemption of Science
    Rediscovery of Self and Value,”
   Deacon, 2014.)
            Illustrative of
   what different observers will
    “see” in
   a given statement, question, lacuna, or
   phenomenon, Stenger was one of the “new
    author of God: The Failed Hypothesis: How
   Science Shows That
    God Does not Exist,
   2007.  Stenger, former blogger for the
   Huffington Post, famously said, “Science flies you
    moon.  Religion flies you into
   buildings.”  One could
    just as
   “truthfully” say, “Religion prepares meals,
    low cost or free, for the elderly and needy in
    Country, Pennsylvania, and in
   other communities across the
    world.  The
   likes of godless communism and Nazism kills a
    hundred million persons, give or take a few
   tens of
    millions, in quest of a
   ‘heaven’ on earth.”
            As Burke
   says, symbols unite and divide, select
   and select out, induce attention toward and induce
    attention away from.  Pick the blinkered
   lenses of your
    choice.  They’re all
            So, later, an examination of
   the case for the
    ubiquity of religion
   Deacon and Cashman make in the article
   concludes: “We speculate that something like a
    religious predisposition, in the most general
   sense of the
    term, should be considered a
   universal consequence of the
   capacity evolving, whether here on earth, or in any
    other context where symbolic cognition might
    KB mailing list
    KB at kbjournal.org
    Clarke Rountree
    Chair and
   Professor of
    Communication Arts
    342 Morton Hall
    University of
   Alabama in Huntsville
    Huntsville, AL 
    clarke.rountree at uah.edu
   KB mailing list
   KB at kbjournal.org
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