Saturday, November 28, 2009

Disneology #1: Who is God (as compared to humans)? What is Disneology?

The New World Encyclopedia ( states:

“Throughout history, the vast majority of people in the world have believed in a God. Yet, although notions of an absolute divine power are found in virtually all of the world's religions, the precise definition of what God is . . . varies greatly among the religions, within specific sects, and even from person to person. Typically, monotheistic theology describes God as omniscient, omnipotent, and omnipresent (and in most theologies, immutable), as well as both the creator and sustainer of the universe.”

One way of viewing what God might be like is to consider the greatest humans the world has ever known and subtract out all the frailties and limitations. The reverse of this process is called anthropomorphism, from the Greek words anthropos (meaning man/human) and morphos (meaning form/shape). When humans attribute their own characteristics to God, they anthropomorphize. They reduce God, in a sense. Similar reduction occurs when physicians refer to their patients only in terms of their specific ailments—the hematoma in Room 212, the C-section in Room 533. Kenneth Burke sees such reduction in Behaviorism, as Behaviorists reduce humans to sheer animals, while Burke argues that humans are a unique variety of animal; they should not be so reduced. Humans are symbol-using (symbol-making, symbol-misusing) animals. Other animals communicate using signals, as opposed to symbols. I shall write more concerning this symbol use in future commentaries. For now, I just mention it to demonstrate my point: In defining God, I move in the opposite direction from reduction, from anthropomorphism. Instead of reducing God to humans, I elevate God from humans.

Some of the limitations of humans are referenced in the famous theological descriptive terms—omniscient, omnipotent, eternal, omnipresent, and immutable.
• Immutable means that, while humans change constantly, God is unchangeable; He is the same—yesterday, today, and forever.
• Omnipresent means that, while humans can only be in one place at a time, God is not confined to any single location at any specific time; He is present everywhere in the Universe at all times.
• Eternal means that, while humans are time-bound (they are born, they live a while, and they die), God has no beginning and no end.
• Omnipotent means that, while humans have been able to harness the energy of the Earth to send spacecraft to the Moon, Mars, and beyond, this power is infinitesimal compared to a God who created the entire universe (of which man’s space exploration has only scratched the surface).
• Omniscient means that, while humans know many things, God knows all things.

Humans are neither immutable nor omnipresent. No humans are eternal. A few, such as Enoch and Elijah from the Bible, are said to have never died, but they certainly were born. Hence, they are not eternal in both temporal directions. Powerful humans, throughout history, have sometimes been thought of as gods—Hercules, Alexander the Great, the Pharaohs of Egypt, Roman Emperors, etc. Yet, all of these powerful humans eventually fell. The humans, throughout history, whom society has termed “geniuses,” have been those who seemed to know more things that most other humans. While not being thought of as gods, Albert Einstein, Aristotle, Sigmund Freud, Thomas Edison, Leonardo DaVinci, William Shakespeare, and Wolfgang Mozart have been monumental figures in history. To this list of recognized geniuses, I would add the names of a lesser-known genius—Kenneth Burke—and a very well-known genius—Walt Disney.


None of these geniuses are gods. They all have/had significant frailties and limitations. Even the Greek part human/part god, Hercules, is depicted as a glutton and drinker, “capable of random outbursts of brutal rage” ( Alexander the Great was a megalomaniac. The Bible depicts terrible atrocities committed by the Pharaohs and various Roman Emperors. Sigmund Freud was a heavy cigar smoker who developed oral cancer. Thomas Edison was an early participant in film piracy. In 1902, his agents obtained a copy of a copy of “A Trip to the Moon” by Georges Méliès. He made multiple copies and showed it in America before Méliès could. This eventually bankrupted Méliès. Albert Einstein divorced his first wife and married his cousin. Kenneth Burke divorced his first wife and married her sister. Burke drank too much and spoke in vulgarities. By contrast, Walt Disney often opposed drinking. His theme parks did not market alcoholic beverages during his lifetime. His movie “Pinocchio” featured a conscience for Pinocchio, named Jiminy Cricket (a euphemism for “Jesus Christ”) steering the puppet away from alcohol, smoking, and truancy. Christian Filmmakers Academy faculty member Geoffrey Botkin observes: “Budding filmmakers will study Walt's mastery of cutting-edge technology and classic storytelling and the ‘19th century values’--monogamy, faithfulness, patriotism and virtue--that infused his stories” ( Nevertheless, the same academy criticized the Walt Disney Corporation for its gay-friendly policies and for its production of such movies as "Priest," "Dogma," and "Pulp Fiction," after Walt’s death.

While these geniuses had faults, they also were significant “creators”—a primary epithet applied to God. Consider the artistic creations of DaVinci, Mozart, Shakespeare, and Disney. Think of the discoveries of Einstein, Freud, Aristotle, and Burke. Ponder the inventions of Edison. Their individual contributions affect all who live in the modern world. Yet, I have chosen to set apart the genius Walt Disney as a point of reference for my analysis of theology, philosophy, and rhetoric. When we think of God as omniscient, our best examples of human genius are suitable points of reference. Among these geniuses, one stands out as the most well-known to humans of all ages and cultures. The Christian Filmmakers Academy, referenced earlier, observes that Disney “exercises an alarmingly vast global influence.” The Walt Disney World Resort in Florida is the number #1 tourist destination in the world. Disney artistic creations are probably better known by all ages and cultures than those of DaVinci, Mozart, or Shakespeare. Disney even pays tribute to the genius of others throughout his theme parks and motion pictures. Furthermore, I have a good grasp of the genius of Disney. I reside in Florida. Even when I lived in the Midwest, I made annual trips to Florida. My wife and I honeymooned in Florida in 1970, just as Walt Disney World was being built. Whether our home was in Iowa, Illinois, or Indiana, we travelled each year to Florida and Walt Disney World. All of my four children—Shane, Charise, Auburn, and Tristan—and my daughter-in-law Dena have worked for Walt Disney World. I have also travelled to Disneyland in Anaheim and to Disneyland Paris. I know the parks and the creative productions of Disney. Lastly, I think it will be fun to view theology, philosophy, and rhetoric through Disney symbols. Those who travel to Orlando with their families may find in my commentaries opportunities to discuss theology, philosophy, and rhetoric as they visit Disney locations.

I wear no blinders. I am fully aware of (and frequently in agreement with) the religious and philosophical criticisms of the Walt Disney Corporation. My approach is not an attempt to discover the theology or philosophy of Walt Disney. Yet, even when I disagree strongly with the theology or philosophy implicit or explicit in Disney, I at least encounter the issue with which I disagree. I have an opportunity to explore the pertinent theology, philosophy, and rhetoric as each issue arises.

What, then, is Disneology? It is an exploration of theology, philosophy, and rhetoric. It uses Disney symbols as the starting point for each commentary. If archaeology discovers the vast repository of human culture from past generations, then Disneology discovers the vast repository of human culture that appeals to some segment/s of our current generation. Where better to explore theology and philosophy than at the most collectively successful cultural repository of our generation?

Saturday, November 14, 2009

The Movie 2012 and End-of-the-World Scenarios

Why is the human psyche so attracted to scenarios of the end of the world?

Last weekend, the movie 2012 opened. It set a box office record for the openings of nonfranchised movies. I arrived at the theater fifteen minutes before the scheduled showtime. (This, we all know, is 30 minutes before the show begins.) Other showings for the evening were sold out, but I found a seat for this showing, albeit, in a very crowded theater auditorium. Based upon trailers I had seen for this movie, I expected it to lay out a developed Mayan argument for anticipating the end of the world on the Winter solstice (December 21) of the year 2012. This, I thought, would lend verisimilitude to the movie, in the way Jurassic Park carefully laid out its explanation for its premise that dinosaurs could be genetically recreated (i.e., dinosaur DNA being found in blood devoured by a mosquito that was subsequently captured in amber). Instead, the Mayan dating premise was just paid lip service (almost in passing) a few times. It appeared to me that the creators had just developed an end-of-times movie, and since the date of the end of the Mayan calendar was approaching, they decided to link their movie to the Mayans, as an afterthought. The website of National Geographic debunks several myths related to the premises of the movie: 1. Maya Predicted End of the World in 2012, 2. Breakaway Continents Will Destroy Civilization, 3. Galactic Alignment Spells Doom, 4. Planet X Is on a Collision Course With Earth, 5. Solar Storms to Savage Earth, and 6. Maya Had Clear Predictions for 2012.

Actually, 2012 is just the latest installment in humanity's extraordinary fascination with the end of times.

In 2006, former Vice President Al Gore's documentary film, An Inconvenient Truth, based on his 1992 book, Earth in the Balance, predicted dire consequences for the Earth, due to global warming.

In 2004, a science fiction movie, The Day After Tomorrow, attempted to dramatize the dire consequences Mr. Gore predicted.

In 1997, NBC TV aired the movie, Asteroid, in which the United States government tried to stop an asteroid collision with the Earth.

In 1995, Kevin Costner starred in the movie, Waterworld, in which the polar ice caps melt and most of the Earth's land mass is underwater.

In 1983, ABC TV aired the movie, The Day After, in which the United States and the USSR mutually destroy each other in nuclear war.

In 1968, Charlton Heston starred in the movie, Planet of the Apes, based on the premise that the human domination of the Earth would end after humans engage in nuclear war. Evolved apes would take charge of the Earth.

This list is only illustrative, not exhaustive. The list does not even include the many end-of-time speculations emanating from the religious world.

Kenneth Burke's classic Definition of Man includes the phrase, "rotten with perfection." Burke suggests that humans have a compulsion to see things completed or perfected. Why do die-hard fans not leave sporting events before the end of the game? (I pity the fans of the Indianapolis Colts who turned off their sets, Sunday night in the 4th quarter--when the Colts were 17 points down to the Patriots!) Why do we not leave a movie before its end? Why do some flip prematurely to the last chapter of a novel to see how it ends? Burke's answer: We are rotten with perfection. Burke calls his philosophy "Dramatism." He explains that humans tend to view their behavior as "action" rather than as "sheer motion." Action, as in drama, always has a beginning, middle, and end. We are fond of looking back to our beginnings--the Book of Genesis, the founding of our Country, the story of our Birth. We also, then, have a compulsion to envision our ends--the Book of Revelation, the Fall of our Country, etc. One notable exception to this point about envisioning our ends, as any life insurance salesman will tell you, is the idea of envisioning our death. In my book, "Persuasion, Proposals, and Public Speaking (2nd ed.)" (Say Press, 2009), I trace the sale of a life insurance policy through the 21 Sales in a Sale. Clearly, one essential ingredient in the sale of life insurance is getting the prospect to envision his/her own death. Most prefer not to think of that.

Perhaps, the most fascinating of all end-time scenarios is found in the Book of Revelation. Throughout the past 2000 years, audiences have tried to interpret and apply its symbols. In my book, "Revelation: The Human Drama" (Lehigh University Press, 2001), I offer a Burkean perspective on why this book is so compelling. I argue that John (the author) sees all of history as one huge Human Drama. He
writes of the Lamb as the "alpha and omega," the "first and the last," the "beginning and the end." He taps in to that human compulsion to view history dramatistically. I argue that he sees human history in the way one looks in a mirror. Seeing all the way back to the Beginning allows us to see all the way forward to the end. In the same way the beginning and end of such movies as Forrest Gump and The Lion King are mirror images of each other, John sees the End of the world as the mirror image of its Beginning. Creation, the Tree of Life, marriage, and an ideal world exist at both extremes of the drama.

As in all dramas, there is conflict and tension along the way, but the serpent who stirs up chaos in the beginning is the dragon who is devoured in the Lake of Fire in the end. In the dedication to my book, I sum up the representative anecdote: "Adam had Eve. God had Israel (and the first Jerusalem). Jesus has the church (the 144,000, the New Jerusalem). I have Linda. This is dedicated to my bride." In each epoch of history, John sees a woman/bride struggling with a serpent/dragon. In the first two epochs, the serpent/dragon wins. In the third epoch, the woman/bride wins. The bride's name is "New Jerusalem." She marries the Second Adam and lives happily EVER AFTER.

Which Psychotic Entelechy Killed 13 at Fort Hood?

I am not a narrow-minded defender of my own religion and philosophy. I look as critically at the mistakes of my own religion as I do the mistakes of other religions and philosophies. I stated in my book "Psychotic Entelechy: The Dangers of Spiritual Gifts Theology" (University Press of America, 2006):

"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 also find in the writings of Kenneth Burke, the agnostic, much wisdom."

Even though I am a Christian, my first publication on the concept of psychotic entelechy involved a critique of a Christian sect, the Branch Davidians of Waco, Texas. My essay, "Waco and Andover: An Application of Kenneth Burke's Concept of Psychotic Entelechy," was published August, 1999, in The Quarterly Journal of Speech. In that essay, I defined psychotic entelechy as "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.”

I concluded that David Koresh engaged in psychotic entelechy, and in April of 1993, eighty-six persons died because of his entelechy. In my book "Psychotic Entelechy," I blamed a very common (but, in my view, mistaken) Christian doctrine for producing a David Koresh. I warned that this doctrine has the potential to produce others with psychotic entelechy. I am aghast that the religion I love teaches this dangerous doctrine so cavalierly and uncritically. Nevertheless, Christianity did not supply the psychotic entelechy that killed 13 and wounded 29 in the Fort Hood Massacre. That psychotic entelechy was supplied by Islam.

In "Psychotic Entelechy," I explain the Islamic psychotic entelechy:

"In the instance of the Islamic terrorist attack on the Pentagon and the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, specific interpretations of Islamic scripture were carried to extremes. By his use of the Koran, Osama bin Laden sought to persuade his fellow Muslims that America should be attacked.

. . . What seems clear is that the rhetoric of Osama bin Laden has many receptive ears. Whether or not bin Laden is personally motivated by psychotic entelechy, many in the Islamic world appear to be open to the psychotic entelechy expressed in bin Laden's rhetoric.
To unite Muslims everywhere, bin Laden's appeal is to the one source of authority that transcends all of the factionalism in Islam--the Koran. . . . there are several anti-Jewish and anti-Christian comments in the Koran:

• 'So, for their breaking the compact, and disbelieving in the signs of God, and slaying the Prophets . . . and for their saying, "We slew the Messiah, Jesus son of Mary . . . And for the evildoing of those of Jewry, we have forbidden them certain good things that were permitted to them . . . ."' (I:123)

• 'They are unbelievers who say, "God is the Messiah, Mary's son."' (I:130, 139)

• 'They are unbelievers who say "God is the Third of Three."' (I:140)

. . . While identifying Jews and Christians as 'unbelievers' and 'evildoers,' the Koran recommends conducting holy war against unbelievers and evildoers:

• 'And fight in the way of God with those who fight with you . . . . And slay them wherever you come upon them . . . such is the recompense of unbelievers.' (I:53, italics mine)

• 'When you meet the unbelievers, smite their necks, then, when you have made wide slaughter among them, tie fast the bonds . . . . And those who are slain in the way of God [i.e., believing martyrs] . . . He will admit them to Paradise.' (ii:220, italics mine)

. . . Two and one-half years before 9/11, bin Laden and his associates issued a statement that purported 'to be a religious ruling (fatwa) requiring the killing of Americans, both civilian and military':

. . . The ruling to kill the Americans and their allies—civilians and military—is an individual duty for every Muslim who can do it an any country in which it is possible to do it."

Whether the Fort Hood Massacre was a plot hatched by al-Quaida or not, it was produced by Islamic psychotic entelechy. According to information gathered by the Washington Post, the alleged shooter, Nidal Hasan presented a PowerPoint presentation, entitled, "The Koranic World View as It Relates to Muslims in the U.S. Military," during his senior year as a psychiatric resident at Walter Reed Medical Center. In that presentation, Hasan said, "If Muslim groups can convince Muslims that they are fighting for God against injustices of the 'infidels'; ie: enemies of Islam, then Muslims can become a potent adversary ie: suicide bombing, etc." [sic] . . . We love death more then [sic] you love life!" Hasan’s use of the word “we” tells the whole story. He identifies with Islamic jihadists. He subscribes to an Islamic psychotic entelechy.