Saturday, December 11, 2010

Angels & Demons 29: Demons as the Communication of False Information

In I John 4:6, the Spirit of Truth is contrasted with the Spirit of Error. The Spirit of Error seems to be connected with false prophets, in I John 4:1. It is clear that the biblical authors believed that God communicated truth, but that there is also the communication of error in the world. I have already equated the terms Spirit, Angel, and Word, in my commentaries. For Kenneth Burke, the relationship between terms that mean roughly the same thing in a certain symbol system is indicated by the use of the equals sign (=). Although Burke correctly teaches that each INDIVIDUAL has his or her own individual symbol system, I think that LANGUAGES WITHIN SPECIFIC MILIEUS approximate Burke’s application in some respects. Therefore, I assert that in the First Century A.D., the Hebrew/Judeo-Christian symbol system contains the following equation: Spirit=Angel=Word. All three terms represent the communication of God, as the Jews and Jewish Christians used the terms. In the New Testament Period, we could also add to this list of equations the following terms: =Bat Qol=prophecy=spiritual gifts (and all of the terms that = spiritual gifts).

While Burke teaches that an equals sign is operative in symbol systems, he teaches that a “vs.” sign is also operative. In other words, while Angel, Spirit, and Word all equal each other, they all also stand in opposition to certain other terms, such as Spirit of Error, Demon, False Prophet, etc. The Spirit of Error is the opposite of the Spirit of Truth, in I John. Likewise, False Prophets are the opposite of Prophets and Spiritual Gifts. Demons are the opposite of Angels. Using Burke’s shorthand, it looks like this: Demons vs. Angels, Spirit of Error vs. Spirit of Truth, and False Prophets vs. Prophets (=Spiritual Gifts). Lest my readers misunderstand, I am not painting a picture of an actual warfare being waged between angelic beings and demonic beings; I am simply pointing out that the list of terms “Spirit=Angel=Word” stand in strict opposition to the list of terms “Spirit of Error=Demon=False Prophet.” The terms in the first group are the opposite of the terms in the second group.

To the list of negative term equations, I add the term “unclean spirit,” since in the synoptic Gospels, Matthew 4:23-25 uses the terminology of demons, while, in a parallel passage, Luke 6:17-19 uses the term “unclean spirit” in place of demon. In another parallel, Matthew 8:28-34 and Luke 8:26-39 use demonic terminology, while Mark 5:1-20 uses the term “unclean spirit” in place of demon. Luke 4:33 even uses the combination: “spirit of an unclean demon.” In Luke 8:2, the term “evil spirit” is used. I, therefore also add the term “evil spirit” to the list of negative term equations. Because Jesus is accused of casting out demons by the power of Beelzebub--and because Jesus responds to this charge (in Matthew 12:26 and Luke 11:18) with the rhetorical question, “If Satan casts out Satan . . . how then shall his kingdom stand?” and (in Mark 3:23-26) with the rhetorical question, “How can Satan cast out Satan?”--we might also add the terms “Beelzebub” and “Satan” to the list of negative term equations. Mark 19:17-25 refers to a “speechless spirit” and Luke 13:11 refers to a “spirit of weakness”--possibly indicating the type of affliction each spirit visited upon its host. Acts 16:16 reports that a girl had a “spirit of Pytho” (meaning, I suppose, she prophesied using the Delphic oracle?). Paul “cured” her of that.

Using Burke’s system of charting, then, I find the following negative list of equations:

Spirit of Error=
False Prophet=
Unclean Spirit=
Evil Spirit=

This negative list is the opposite of (or, according to Burke, “vs.”) the following positive list of equations:

Bat Qol=
Spiritual Gifts (and all of the terms that = spiritual gifts)

Beginning with I John’s contrast between the Spirit of Truth and the Spirit of Error, one can easily see the primary distinction between Demons and Angels. Angels are the personification of TRUTH communication, while Demons are the personification of FALSEHOOD communication. Clearly, “error” is falsehood communication (or the communication of false information). I John links the Spirit of Error to False Prophets, the human “communicators” of FALSE INFORMATION. However, one need not have a human mediator to be given false information. A snake will do nicely. When Jesus brings the word Satan into the discussion of casting out Demons, he draws to mind the primal account of someone communicating false information—the serpent of Eden. I point out in Angels & Demons 5:

“Johns gospel quotes Jesus (8:44): ‘You have the devil for your father and you wish to practice the desires of your father; . . . he could not stay in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he tells a lie, he speaks according to his nature; for he is a liar and the father of liars.’ . . . Jesus is probably referring to Satans role as a tempter. If as the New Testament asserts, the serpent of Genesis is actually Satan, it is clear that he lies. He said, ‘You shall not surely die.’ . . . Revelation calls him the ‘deceiver of all humanity.’”

But, is a snake even necessary? James 1:13-14 seems to effectively eliminate the need for the role of a personified Satan in the temptation process. In his place, James seems to suggest that the process of temptation is conducted entirely within the mental processes of the human who is being tempted:

“Let no one who is tempted say, ‘I am tempted of God,’ for He tempts no one. But each person is tempted when he is drawn away and enticed by his own lusts. Then when the passion has conceived, it gives birth to sin, and the sin, when it reaches maturity, produces death.” (Berkeley Version)

Despite what James argues, it seems easier for the human to comprehend his or her own intrapersonal struggles by personifying his or her Id, as Freud names that selfish element in the psyche. As I discuss in Angels & Demons 7, Jewish writers name that element the YETZER HA-RA. So, who or what, in fact, induced Eve to eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil? Was it the Serpent? Was it Satan? Was it Eve’s YETZER HA-RA? Was it her Id? Was it primarily just Eve’s own mental processes? Genesis 3:6 discusses those:

“The woman saw the tree as being good for food, delightful to the eye and a tree desirable to render one wise, so she took of its fruit and ate; she also gave to her husband, who ate with her.” (Berkeley Version)

This account of Eve’s thought processes does not even include the FALSEHOOD communicated by the Serpent (“You shall not surely die”). If one suggests that Eve was Demon-possessed, she is effectively let off the hook. How could God hold Eve accountable for an act that she committed while under the control of a Demon? And yet, this is precisely the type of implication that enters into scenarios in which Demon-possession is discussed. Consider, however, this possibility: the term Demon is used not only to indicate that the person is the recipient of false information, but also the term Demon represents a FALSE ENTITY itself. I will follow that thread in my next commentary.

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