and Psychotic Entelechy
do Osama bin Laden, Adolph Hitler, David Koresh, Jim Jones, Gene Applewhite, and the slayers of abortion doctors all have
in common? They all base their dangerous and destructive actions to a large extent on some particular message
they believe they have received from God. The receipt of messages from God is called, in many religious
circles, spiritual gifts theology.
On October 10, 2005, the BBC offered a press release with
the headline: “God told me to invade Iraq, Bush tells Palestinian ministers.” The
press release quotes Palestinian Foreign Minister (now Palestinian Information Minister) Nabil Shaath, referring to his first
meeting with President George W. Bush in June 2003:
President Bush said to all of us:
“I’m driven with a mission from God. God would tell me, ‘George, go and fight
And I did, and then God would tell me, ‘George, go and end the tyranny in Iraq . . .’ And
I did. And now, again,
feel God’s words coming to me, ‘Go get the Palestinians their state and get the Israelis their security, and get
peace in the
And by God I’m gonna do it.”[i]
White House spokesman, immediately denied the charge: “That’s absurd.
He’s never made such comments.”[ii]
True. That story is absurd and extremely doubtful in light of
the evidence that Bush has never claimed such inspiration even among Evangelical Christian groups in all of his political
campaigns. Such rhetoric may have swayed some Evangelical Christians, but it would be ridiculous to assume
that it could sway Palestianian Muslims. The Palestinian Prime Minister, the other Palestinian leader in
attendance at the meeting in June 2003, identified by breitbart.com as Mahmud Abbas and by bbc.co.uk as
Abu Mazen, recounts Bush’s comments as follows: “I have a moral and religious obligation.
So I will get you a Palestinian state.”[iii] This second account, by the Palestinian Prime Minister, is
much more credible and much less indicative of psychotic entelechy based on a spiritual gifts theology. It
is one thing to say that one’s religious beliefs lead one to a moral obligation. It is quite another
to assert that God sent a personal message to fight specific wars. Perhaps, Mr. Shaath elaborated on the
message he heard from the President in accordance with his own preconceived notions of the President’s religious views,
or perhaps he intentionally distorted the President’s words to cause Bush to appear to be a Christian fanatic to Moslem
or Western audiences. Regardless of the circumstances of this incident, it is quite characteristic of many
American Christians to claim the type of divine inspiration President Bush denied claiming.
the last quarter of the twentieth century, spiritual gifts theology swept the churches in America. Congregation
after congregation, denomination after denomination began to teach and practice various spiritual gifts—both those listed
in the New Testament and other newly discovered gifts that appear to have developed over the years.
the Charismatic Movement is largely responsible for this trend. The defining doctrine of this movement
is that the spiritual gifts mentioned by the Apostle Paul—including such obviously supernatural abilities as the ability
to prophecy, heal, perform miracles, speak in tongues, and interpret tongues—have continued to exist in the church from
the first century to the twenty-first century. Moreover, according to many Charismatics, the trend should
even be expected to increase “in the last days.”
The Church of Jesus Christ Latter Day Saints (also known as Mormonism) capitalizes on
the bibilical prophecy that in the last days God will pour out His Spirit on all flesh. Staking its claim
to comprise these saints of the latter days, this relatively young (as compared to Islam, Christianity, and Judaism) yet rapidly
growing religion asserts that its leaders (and members) possess these supernatural gifts. So sure
is the Mormon church that prophecy and other gifts continue
that the Book of Mormon is afforded equal status with the New and Old Testaments as supernaturally inspired messages from
God. The Book of Mormon was purportedly discovered in North America by Joseph Smith. The
book asserts that Native Americans are actually the ten lost Israelite tribes who disappeared after the northern tribes were
defeated by Syria in the sixth or seventh century B.C. The angel Moroni helped Smith translate the original
tablets on which the book was written. After the book was translated, the original tablets disappeared.
Other recognized prophecies of the church have also been considered divinely inspired. These prophecies
range from a prohibition of drinking alcoholic beverages, coffee, and tea to the (now abandoned) acceptance of polygamy as
a family style.
One of the world’s three largest religions, Islam, is
founded on the premise that the gift of prophecy continued to exist at least as late as the seventh century A.D.
Mohammed, living in that century, claimed to be a prophet of God and wrote the Koran. Most of his
prophetic hortatory messages are entirely in line with Judeo-Christian values. Like Judaism and Christianity,
Mohammed proclaimed the God of Abraham the true God and opposed sins such as murder and adultery.
Like Christianity, Mohammed proclaimed Jesus the Messiah, the son of the virgin Mary. Like the church
of Jesus Christ Latter Day Saints, Islam prohibits the drinking of alcoholic beverages. Like the Catholic
Church and many conservative Protestant churches, Islam opposes the practice of abortion. Unlike the Catholic
Church, Mohammed resisted the elevation of Mary to divine status and denied the doctrine of the Trinity. To
Mohammed, Jesus was not the son of God. On the more dangerous side, the world currently faces a serious
problem with Mohammed’s controversial hortatory messages to slay infidels.
the vast majority of hortatory messages that have resulted from the acceptance of spiritual gifts over the years have had
positive results. Since the church has solidly established a biblical code of ethics over the past two
millennia, most hortatory messages delivered in the context of Bible-believing churches are very much in line with that biblical
code of ethics. When the occasional “messenger from God” exclaims that God wants us to kill
someone, to steal, to commit adultery, or to lie, the church quickly condemns this person as a “false prophet.”
The biblical warnings about “false prophets” are simultaneously an admission of and a cure for the dangers
of spiritual gifts theology. As an example of
a hortatory spiritual gifts message
that has had a positive result, I cite a note given to me recently by one who believes in
modern day spiritual gifts:
Several weeks ago, the Holy
Spirit told me that I needed to sow a financial blessing into this single mother. I kept seeking who this
would be. All
day, I sought after a single mother and nightfall was approaching and I needed to do this before I call it a night.
So, the Holy
Spirit told me who
to go to and I said no. Since I tarried all day, I thought he would [allow?] me to sow into this potential
around 9 pm that night I got up and went to the single mother that I wanted to sow into. While driving
over to the girl’s home, the
Spirit told me that this was not the girl He wanted me to sow into. So, I kept on driving until I got to
her house. In the meantime, I
became extremely hot and neither the air condition[ing] nor the windows in the car did anything for me.
When I arrived, she was not home.
I said ok[ay], maybe she’s at her mother’s house. Again, the Holy Spirit
told me that this was not the person. So, I drove over to her
mother’s house and nobody was there. The Holy Spirit told me that,
“You’re going to listen to me yet—now go and sow into the person I
told you earlier. So, I called the person that the Holy Spirit told me
and guess where she was—at the grocery store trying to buy groceries.
I felt really bad because the Holy Spirit had told me early
to go and find her. So I went to the grocery store where she was at and sowed into
her family. It was just what she lacked at the register.
Regardless of what
other reactions readers may have to this account, most can agree that the result of the hortatory message was not negative.
One individual assisted another individual financially. Benevolence is considered a positive result
in most cases.
I am, however,
aware of another circumstance in which the result of a benevolence-related hortatory message was somewhat damaging.
In the 1970s, a woman I knew was watching the PTL Club. She heard Jim Bakker state that the Spirit
had told him someone in the television audience needed to send a gift of $5000.00 to the ministry. She
perceived that this message from the Holy Spirit was intended for her. She dutily wrote a check for $5000.00
and sent it to the PTL Club. A few nights later, the Spirit told Bakker that the person who had sent $5000.00
before needed to send another $5000.00. The woman complied again. Unfortunately, she
did not have the money in her checking account to cover either check. Both checks bounced, resulting in
NSF fees. I do not consider it negative that the PTL Club was
unable to cash either check, but the
bounced checks and NSF fees damaged the woman’s relationship with her bank and with her husband.
hortatory messages offered in spiritual gifts contexts are far more damaging than the preceding example. Jim
Jones' People's Temple, Gene Applewhite's Heaven's Gate, David Koresh's Branch Davidians, and Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda all
based their hortatory messages on the validity of spiritual gifts. To ignore them is to continue to see
cult followers and their enemies incur possible death. In his Preface to Modern Rhetorical Criticism,
Roderick P. Hart lists some reasons for a current "renewed interest in the study of rhetoric":
Hitler's rise to power, the Iran-Contra hearings, the resurgence of David Duke, televised evangelism, the politicized
protest rallies, AIDS awareness campaigns, Weight Watchers International, soap operas, and the Ayatollah
Khomeini. All of these characters and events collect
in the rhetorical arena. All of them change people's lives. To ignore them is to
incur possible political, moral, health, and financial risks.[iv]
Surely, we could legitimately add to Hart's list of rhetorical situations
that produce risks the religious cults and movements mentioned earlier. The fact that such cults and movements
continue to arise indicates that rhetorical critics need to find methods not only of understanding such rhetorical processes
but also of curing the underlying rhetorical excesses. Using Kenneth Burke's concept of psychotic entelechy,
we are able to find such methods.
Recently, an expert on "diversity training" remarked in an interview that no religion is superior and none
are inferior. If that is true, then Jim Jones' People's Temple, Gene Applewhite's Heaven's Gate, Osama
bin Laden's terrorist version of Islam, and David Koresh's Branch Davidians are all equal in validity to mainstream Christianity.
Here is the difference between a dangerous religion and a scholarly approach to the Bible, for example: In a dangerous religion,
the interpreter (typically claiming some spiritual gift such as "prophecy") provides his followers with
the correct interpretation of his scriptures. Then, since this "gifted prophet"
is considered infallible, his followers do whatever he says (even if it means staying inside burning buildings or
drinking cyanide or committing suicide in other ways). A scholar will submit his/her views to his peers
for review, feedback, recalcitrance, etc.
I do not place
religion in general in the category of psychotic entelechy. I do not place Kenneth Burke in the category
of those overly affected by psychotic entelechy, either. Burke was opposed to technologism as was Theodore
Kaczynski (the Unabomber). Nevertheless, only one of those two was motivated by psychotic entelechy as
it relates to anti-technologism. Kaczynski killed people in his anti-technologistic entelechy.
Likewise, not all members of a given religion are motivated by psychotic entelechy. We all need the courage to doubt
our own opinions from time to time. The biggest danger associated with "end time" prophecies in the Bible is when
someone KNOWS (not just believes) that his/her interpretation of the Bible is the correct interpretation.
(As I will demonstrate later, it is not necessary or even advisable to try to persuade the dangerous person that the
scripture is not to be believed. Recalcitrance usually just needs to cause the person to question
the inerrancy of his/her interpretation.) Absolute conviction that he was right caused Jim Jones
to make his followers drink cyanide-laced KoolAid. Absolute conviction that bin Laden was right caused nineteen men to commit
suicide in the 9/11 terrorist attack. If they were not convinced they would definitely go to paradise upon
completing this deed, they probably would not have willingly killed themselves (and others). This is psychotic.
It is also entelechial. They were operating on the conviction (not just assumption) that this attack on
America would get them into paradise (their telos). If the terrorists are wrong, the world needs
to be informed about how to diagnose their dangerous malady and seek solutions.
To eliminate all spiritual gifts theology from society would virtually eliminate religion as we know it, something
neither feasible nor wise. Conversely, to embrace all religions—and, by extension, all spiritual
gifts theology—currently present in society invites disaster. Nevertheless, advocates of each of
these extreme positions exist at the present time. Some might infer, based on the title of this book, that
I prefer the first option. That inference would be incorrect; I do not. I do not favor
the second extreme, either. While the doctrine of equality among all religions sounds noble, it exposes
society to dangers from certain religious sectors. Our choice is not an either-or choice.
option is to choose a single religious position and to systematically eliminate other religious positions. Such
a position is held by some militant Moslems today as it was held by various Jewish, Roman Catholic, and Protestant sectarians
in various parts of the
world in years past. Not only is this option contrary to America’s historic freedom-of-religion
principle, it supports a position that has served as the underpinning for religious wars throughout human history.
I advocate accommodates postmodernist arguments, religious scriptures and claims, and American principles of religious tolerance.
Twentieth century philosopher of human communication Kenneth Burke made no claims that his observations were inspired
by God. Despite the arguments of some Burkeans that Burke was a theologian,[v] and the arguments of other Burkeans that Burke was a thoroughgoing secularist who studied theological
language only to understand how language works, I take Burke at his word. He indicates that he is an agnostic.[vi] Unlike Burke, I am not an agnostic; I am a Christian. Yet,
I hold a master’s degree in Hebrew from the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Cultures at Indiana University.
I had a Christian, a Moslem, and a Jew on my thesis committee. I have great appreciation for Judaism.
I learned a great deal about my own religion by studying Rabbinic Judaism. I also have considerable
respect for Islam. I find some Islamic values closer to my own than those of some Christian communities.
I also find in the writings of Kenneth Burke, the agnostic, much wisdom.
Throughout the history of
religion, practices that harm individuals and society in general have existed. Jewish and Babylonian worshippers
of the god Molech sacrificed their children by burning them to death. The Greek king Agamemnon, following
the dictates of the Delphic oracle, sacrificed his daughter, Iphigenia, to Greek gods. The ancient Mayans
sacrificed their noblest children to their gods. Modern-day Christians who believe in faith healing have
denied their children access to medicines and medical procedures that might have prolonged their lives. They
did this in order to demonstrate their faith in the spiritual gifts of their “healers.” Of course, religions are not the only sources of dangerous practices.
Darwinistic theories of evolution contributed strongly to racial supremacy views. Darwinistic views
devalued the lives of members of some races and the victims of some illnesses. Amoral pragmatic philosophies
have paved the way for abortion and the infanticide of baby girls in Communist China. All of these practices
I classify as psychotic entelechy, a phrase that is not specifically used by Kenneth Burke but that is certainly implicit
in his works.
More than two millennia ago, Aristotle coined the term entelechy
[entelecheia] to indicate a process. The process to which entelechy refers in Aristotle's writings
is not an extreme process. The process is not an uncommon process; rather, it is the most common
process. Entelechy, according to Aristotle, refers to natural processes. Aristotle
thinks of seeds, for example, as possessing within themselves the "final cause" or telos--the goal of what
the mature plant will be. He believes that there exists within a grain of wheat the formula that makes
the seed first produce roots and a sprout, then grow a blade, which grows into a stalk, until finally an ear of new grain
develops. The plan for the fully grown stalk with its ear of grain is implicit in the seed.
To use a computer metaphor, the seed is in a sense "programmed" to produce a fully developed wheat plant.
The telos (or goal) of the fully developed plant is held in the seed and in the plant throughout the growth
process. Hence, Aristotle calls the process "entelechy." "En" means
"within." "Tel" is short for telos, the goal. "Ech"
means "to have." "Y" indicates "process." Thus, "En-tel-ech-y"
means: the process of development (cf. Attitudes Toward History, hereafter ATH, 107)
while having one's telos within oneself. Entelechy, like many of Burke's terms, can be best understood
in terms of a "philosophical vocabulary" that Aristotle bequeathed to subsequent generations. Burke's
friend, Classicist Richard McKeon, comments:
[Aristotle's] influence on the vocabulary of philosophy may be
taken as typical of his influence in general . . . for the technical terminology of later philosophical discussion is taken largely from his distinctions, but the terms
to which he gave prominence were for the most part used in other senses than he gave them and in other contexts of arguments
and suppositions than his.[vii]
When Burke extends Aristotelian entelechy from the biological
realm to the symbolic realm, he leaves intact most of Aristotle's definition. Burke employs the term entelechy
in his theorizing in 1945, where his comment on the matter is little more than a brief summary of Aristotle's use of the "concept
of the 'entelechy,' which [Burke, then] might call the individual's potentialities for becoming a fully representative member
of its class" (A Grammar of Motives, hereafter GM, 27). Although Burke there presents the
notion that Aristotle's concept of entelechy was derived in a sense from a "Platonic theory of forms," he also distinguishes
the "Aristotelian" view from that of the "realist" or the "nominalist." Later,
in GM, Burke defines the Aristotelian entelechy as
"the striving of each thing to be perfectly the kind of thing it
was" (GM 249). This sometimes biological, sometimes physical, "striving" is, of course,
a "temporizing of essence." The essence, for example, is already completely located, dormant
in the seed. The temporizing is the time-bound process of sprouting, growing, maturing, and producing new
seeds. Again, Burke distinguishes "Aristotle's more 'scientific' brand" from Platonism since
"the Aristotelian 'entelechy' resided in the things of sensory experience" as opposed to "the heavenly family
identity" (GM 253). Still commenting on the Aristotelian entelechy, Burke offers one more definition
of entelechy in GM: "having its end [or purpose] within itself" (GM 261).
finds it necessary, however, to replace the implicit determinism of Aristotelian biological entelechy with the implicit freedom
of human action in his concept of entelechy. Certainly, by 1961, Burke has put in place the logological
framework that characterizes the Burkean entelechy in its extension of the Aristotelian entelechy. Burke
here speaks of "terminologies that can be developed in connection with the 'logic of perfection.' (A
bright Greek will treat it in terms of . . . the 'entelechy')" (The Rhetoric of Religion, hereafter RR, 300).
And while Burke acknowledges that "[t]he Aristotelian concept of the 'entelechy' is essentially a biological analogy,"
that locates the "entelechy . . . as residing not just in the . . . seed, but in the . . . process as a whole"
(RR 246-247), Burke is moving to "extend" Aristotle's biologically-contextualized entelechy to his own logologically-related
Burke later states: "By entelechy, I refer to such use of symbolic resources that potentialities
can be said to attain their perfect fulfillment" (Dramatism and Development, hereafter DD, 39).
Since Burke's concept of entelechy is described in the final clause in his definition of [hu]man--which definition,
at its outset, distinguishes between the human's biological nature (animality) and his/her logological nature (symbolicity)--Burke
is concerned with tracking down the logic of perfection implicit in symbols, terminologies, nomenclatures. This
concern is Burkean, not Aristotelian.
Implicit in the action of Burkean entelechy
is what Burke calls the "temporizing of essence." Burke declares that the "temporizing of
essence" is "a major Dramatistic property":
refer to Dramatism's investment in what (in my Grammar of Motives) I called the "temporizing of essence,"
and which I have later
I might approach the issue thus: Recall, in Chapter VII of the Poetics, where Aristotle
propounds the proposition
whole is what has a beginning, middle, and end." There are few statements that
are more platitudinous, and even fewer that
more fertile. In particular, owing to my study of dramatic and narrative forms, I became involved in somewhat
considerations whereby, if
a work is integrally formed, then whereas a beginning, middle, or end must be explicitly exactly as it is, each
such stage must implicitly contain the other two, in anticipation
(as regards a beginning), in retrospect (as regards an end), while the
middle would somehow contain the "substance" of both.[viii] If beginning, middle,
and end all contain each other "implicitly," the temporizing of essence is a thoroughly entelechial concept. Burke elaborates on his concept
of the temporizing of essence on pages 430-440 of GM. In simplest terms, the temporizing of essence is
a way of "translat[ing] back and forth between logical and temporal vocabularies" (GM 430). As
Burke puts it, "There is no temporal sequence in the premises and conclusion of a syllogism though the stating
of the propositions involves the passing of time."[ix] Yet narrative includes temporal sequence. The term entelechy, as Burke
and Aristotle use it, may be defined as: the process of changing from what something is into what something
should become, which process is directed by an internal principle of change that allows the thing to possess internally the
final form toward which the thing is changing.[x] The Aristotelian basis for Burke's concept of entelechy is hardly "extremist."
Burke is extending a thoroughly natural concept, and Burke frequently uses the terms entelechy and entelechial in contexts
that do not suggest extremism. For instance, in Burke's first published use of the term he states:
"[A] philosophy is an 'entelechy'" (ATH 107n). Philosophies are usually not regarded as
extremist, yet they are usually very systematic and thorough. On certain occasions, however, Burke definitely
discusses entelechy in extremist contexts.
Rhetorical scholars are familiar with Burke's final clause or
"wry codicil" in his definition of (hu)man: "and rotten with perfection" (Language
as Symbolic Action, hereafter LSA, 16). In Burke's discussion of this clause, he explicitly ties the
clause to the term entelechy. He makes some non-extreme connections, such as: "The
mere desire to name something by its 'proper' name, or to speak a language
in its distinctive ways is intrinsically 'perfectionist'" (LSA 16). In the same discussion, he mentions
extremist applications for the term entelechy. Burke offers Freud's "repetition compulsion" as
an application of the principle (LSA 17). He suggests that a "'perfect fool' or a 'perfect villain'"
is "precisely" what he has "in mind when in [his] wry codicil [he] refer[s] to [the hu]man as being 'rotten'
with perfection" (LSA 18). Burke then moves to Hitler's identification of the Jew as a "'perfect'
enemy" (LSA 18). Burke offers as an example of "'terministic compulsion' to carry out the implications
of one's terminology . . . [the example of] an astronomer [who] discovered by his observations and computations that a certain
wandering body was likely to hit the earth and destroy us." Burke opines that the astronomer "would
nonetheless feel compelled to argue for the correctness of his computations, despite the ominousness of the outcome"
Although Burke does not discuss his concept of entelechy in great detail until GM, he implicitly
recognizes the possibility of this extremist type of entelechy--what might be called psychotic entelechy--as early as his
first book of criticism, Counter-Statement (hereafter CS). Burke's pertinent line is:
"'Madness' is but meaning carried to the extreme" (CS 180).
In his second book of criticism, Permanence and Change: An Anatomy
of Purpose (hereafter, PC), Burke uses the terms "psychosis" and "psychotic" as John Dewey used them--not
in a psychiatric sense, but referring simply to "a pronounced character of the mind" (PC 40).
Burke views Dewey's concept of "occupational psychosis" as being interchangeable with Veblen's concept of
trained incapacity. Burke's own way of putting the point is: "A way of seeing is
also a way of not seeing" (PC 49).
Burke's use of the terminology "seeing" and "not
seeing" brings to mind the concepts of selective perception, selective organization, and selective interpretation, as
taught by interpersonal communication specialists Berko, Rosenfeld, and Samovar.[xi] They cite H. M. Tomlinson: "We see things not as
they are, but as we are." The point that all of these thinkers make is that humans perceive the world
partially, selectively. However, it did not take Burke, Dewey, Veblen, or Berko, et. al., to notice
that humans are capable of "not seeing" quite a bit. A proverb that runs throughout the gospels
and Acts in the New Testament reflects the same observation: "Though seeing they do
not see; though hearing, they do not hear or understand" (Matthew 13:13 NIV; Cf., also
Mark 4:12 and 8:18, Luke 8:10, John 9:39, and Acts 8:26). Matthew attributes the proverb to the Old Testament
book of Isaiah (6:9-10):
" . . . In them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah: 'You will be
ever hearing but never understanding; you will be ever seeing but never
perceiving. For this people's heart has become calloused; they hardly hear with their ears, and they have
closed their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their
hearts and turn, and I would heal them' . . . ." (Matthew 13:14-15 NIV)
Given the prominence of the biblical proverb concerning seeing and not seeing,
it is ironic that religious leaders so frequently fall prey to the proverb. In November of 1978, members
of the People's Temple, led by Jim Jones and transplanted from San Francisco to South America, killed Congressman Leo Ryan
and four others before committing mass suicide in their compound. In October of 1994, in Cheiry and Les
Granges, Switzerland, forty-eight members of a Swiss cult called the Order of the Solar Tradition became victims of a mass
murder-suicide. According to Alexander G. Higgins of the Associated Press, "the Swiss cult . . . draws
on Roman Catholicism and predicts the end of the world."[xii] In March of 1997, thirty-nine members of the Heaven's Gate cult in southern
California shed their "vehicles" (earth-bound bodies) by committing mass suicide in order to hitch a ride on the
chariot that was coming in the tail of the Hale-Bopp comet. Applewhite, the leader of the Heaven's Gate
cult, identified somewhat with the Branch Davidians of Waco, Texas.
One of the most tragic of the death-related cult events is the case of David Koresh and the Branch Davidians.
In April of 1993, eighty-six persons died in a fire at the Branch Davidian compound after a fifty-one-day standoff
with federal agents. What should the deaths at Waco be called? Suicides? Murders? Accidents? Should
these deaths be categorized with the deaths at Jonestown, Switzerland, and California--even if they are termed accidents?
I think so. Regardless of the term used to describe the deaths, the deaths appear to have resulted
from psychotic entelechy, just as did the other cult deaths mentioned.
While Burke following Dewey uses the term psychotic to refer only to a pronounced character of the mind, I have in
mind a somewhat
stronger connotation for the term when I speak of psychotic entelechy. Though
not yet using the term in a psychiatric sense, I use the term psychotic entelechy to refer to the tendency of some individuals
to be so desirous of fulfilling or bringing to perfection the implications of their terminologies that they engage in very
hazardous or damaging actions. This definition of psychotic entelechy is in line with Burke's example
of the astronomer who, upon calculating the coming of a human-life-ending cosmic event "would nonetheless feel compelled
to argue for the correctness of his computations, despite the ominousness of the outcome" (LSA 19).
It would aptly encompass Freud's "repetition compulsion" and Hitler's attitude toward the Jew as the "perfect
As a religious example, it is not uncommon among religious groups for individuals to
believe in the necessity of controlling their sexual appetites. Yet, some in the Heaven's Gate cult found
that their sexual temptation was too difficult to control in light of the fact that permitting sensual arousal in thought
or action was considered a major offense in the cult. According to Mark Miller, before DiAngelo joined
[T]wo members had quietly gone to Mexico to be castrated.
The others increasingly talked about getting "neutered." Finally, . . . Do
[Applewhite] himself decided to lead the way. "He
did it to his own vehicle just to make sure. He protected us in every way," says
DiAngelo. Do had trouble finding a doctor willing to
perform the operation, however; most wanted him to see a psychiatrist. The one
[castration surgery] Do got "goofed," as DiAngelo put it.
Do healed very slowly. Still five others eagerly followed. "They couldn't
stop smiling and giggling," says DiAngelo.
"They were excited about it."[xiii]
This example fits Burke's definition of madness as "meaning carried to the extreme."
The specific "meaning" here could be defined as a principle of religious purity--the implicit desire to conquer
or control the sexual appetite. This is not an unethical telos. Castration,
however, takes this principle too far. In an effort to bring to perfection the implications of religious
purity terminology, the Heaven's Gate cult engaged in very hazardous or damaging actions.
The search for a method
of understanding and curing the underlying rhetorical excesses of religious cults and movements begins with a
search for a theory that
explains the rhetoric. Kenneth Burke offers such a theory in his extension of Aristotle's highly naturalistic
concept of entelechy. Burke utilizes
the deterministic framework of biological entelechy, but eliminates the determinism. In the place of determinism
or motion, Burke inserts human choice, or free will, or action. Despite the implications of free will in
Burke's theory, he finds that frequently humans (however free) subject themselves to near-deterministic compulsions supplied
by their own terminologies. These logical (or logological) compulsions are easily carried to the extreme
or to psychotic levels. I use the term psychotic entelechy. I refer to the tendency
of some individuals to be so desirous of fulfilling or bringing to perfection the implications of their terminologies that
they engage in very hazardous or damaging actions.
[iii] “God Told Me” and “White House Denies.” [iv] Roderick P. Hart, Modern Rhetorical Criticism (Glenview,
Illinois and London: Scott, Foresman/Little, Brown Higher Education, 1990), i. [v] Edward C. Appel, “Kenneth Burke: Coy Theologian,”
Journal of Communication and Religion 16 (1993): 99-110, and Wayne C. Booth, “The Many Voices
of Kenneth Burke, Theologian and Prophet, as Revealed in His Letters to Me,” in Unending Conversations:
New Writings by and about Kenneth Burke eds. Greig R. Henderson and David Cratis Williams (Carbondale:
Southern Illinois University Press, 2001), 179-201. [vi] Stan A. Lindsay, Implicit Rhetoric: Kenneth
Burke's Extension of Aristotle's Concept of Entelechy (Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 1998),
91 & 134. [vii]Richard McKeon, Introduction to Aristotle 2nd ed. rev.
(Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1973), xlii. [viii]Kenneth Burke, "Poetics and Communication," in Perspectives
in Education, Religion, and the Arts eds. Howard E. Kiefer and Milton K. Munitz (Albany: State University
of New York Press, 1970), 415 (emphases, Burke's). [ix]Burke, "Poetics and Communication," 416. [xi]Roy M. Berko, Lawrence B. Rosenfeld, and Larry A. Samovar, Connecting:
A Culture-Sensitive Approach to Interpersonal Communication Competency 2nd ed. (Fort Worth, TX: Harcourt
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