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?

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