Friday, March 25, 2011

Hidden Mickeyisms 1: Cosmic Circles and Mickey Mouse

The universe is comprised of circles. As each fireworks display typically explodes into a circular image, the theme song of Epcot’s daily fireworks display states poetically: “Our dreams begin another thousand circles round the sun.” We understand a “circle round the sun” to refer to a year, 365 days. But is the poetry limiting us to an astrological year? Not only does the earth circle the sun, but other planets do, as well. The “thousand circles” may refer to a millennium, but each millennium is exponentially compounded by the thousand circles of other planets. How many millennia has the earth existed? And isn’t every decade, century, and millennium also a circle of sorts? The number of circles in the universe is again exponentially compounded. For that matter, while the earth is circling the sun once, it is also rotating in a circle on its axis 365 times. These are 365 additional circles to factor in. And once, every 28 days, the earth’s relationship to its moon creates another circle—a month (or as my Hebrew professor at Indiana University, Henry Fischel, called it, “a moonth,” since the word month was coined to recognize the circular pattern of the moon's cycle). Remember also that the sun is only one of billions of stars, all of which have their own circling planets, and those planets, their moons. The number of circles in the universe is mind-boggling. Don’t forget that these stars all seem to be circling within their own galaxies. The Milky Way is only one circular galaxy, with countless circles occurring within. Have you considered enough circles? We are not finished. Now, consider the atom with its nucleus, and circling protons and neutrons, and try to envision the number of circles in the universe, since every planet, moon, star, asteroid, and meteor is comprised of countless atoms. This is what I mean when I say the universe is comprised of circles.

Every one of those astrophysical and atomic circles to which I have just referred is what Aristotle refers to as an entelechy. Each circle has a beginning, middle, and end. And, once each circle completes one entelechy (one circle), it begins a new entelechy (a new circle). With all of these circles in the universe, we are bound to find a few “hidden Mickeys.”

Of course, Aristotle is not content to consider as entelechies only astrophysical circles. He is primarily interested in geophysical and biological entelechies. The circle of a drop of rain falling from the sky, running from a stream of water into a creek, then into a river, then into the sea, after which it evaporates into the atmosphere and helps form a cloud, until it becomes too heavy and eventually condenses and becomes a drop of rain again is an entelechy, a circle. A kernel of corn is planted in the earth. It puts forth roots, then a blade, which becomes a stalk. The stalk develops leaves, tassels, and ears—composed of husks, silks, and cobs. The cobs develop rows and rows of kernels. Once these kernels of corn have matured, that entelechy is complete, but these kernels are ready to begin new entelechies, new circles. My wife tells me all of these circles have her head spinning. But we have not reached anywhere near the end of even Aristotelian entelechial circles. There is the biological “Circle of Life,” as Disney’s Lion King names it. That circle includes not only the circle of biological reproduction and maturation of every single animal, followed by another reproduction and maturation, etc. It also includes the circle of the food chain, the circular nature of the respiratory, circulatory, and digestive systems of each biological organism, and so on.

Your mind is oriented to circles. Once you complete one circle, you start another. This series of commentaries on “Hidden Mickeyisms” is based on the many circles your life encounters. If you had wondered why we think in terms of circles, perhaps this consideration of cosmic circles has given you a hint. Small wonder, as Burke observes, that the human psyche is oriented to circles. We measure the human concept of time in circles, as the second, minute, and hour hands of our clocks go round and round in circles. We conform even the days of our lives into smaller circles than the astrophysical circles of years and months. We divide months into 4 circles which we call weeks. Arthur Miller discovered that 7 items are about the maximum number of items we can easily remember. So, we have only 7 days in a week. We have only 7 numbers in our basic phone numbers. Weeks are new, human-created symbolic circles. In academic “circles,” the completion of each grade in school, each level of education (elementary, middle, high school), each degree (Associate’s, Bachelor’s, Master’s, Doctor’s), each college course, each paper written, each quiz studied for and taken, each book written, and each conference paper proposed, prepared, and presented is a circle—an entelechy—usually followed by another similar circle.

This series of commentaries will concentrate on a specific type of circle—that which is presented in Disney films. To understand these circles, I will rely on Kenneth Burke’s concept of entelechy. Burke is interested in the study of circles, but his circles are qualitatively different from the cosmic circles observed by Aristotle. Burke is interested in the type of circles humans invent. And, Disney is a very influential inventor and distributor of those circles. I will explain Burkean circles and how Disney films contain them in my next commentary.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Angels & Demons 33: Revelation and Aggadah Concerning the Origin of Demons

Bernard Bamberger, in his book Fallen Angels, pages 22-23, summarizes the story of how demons originated, as that story is presented in the Ethiopic book of Enoch, a second century B.C. work:

“One passage states that the giants [who were the offspring of the fallen angels and the daughters of men] became evil spirits; another, that the fallen angels became evil spirits, leading men astray to sacrifice to demons, while the women they married became sirens. But the usual view is that when the giants were slaughtered, in accordance with the punishment decreed for them, the evil spirits emerged from their bodies. In any event, the demons, once they made their appearance, remain at large until the final judgment.”

John, the author of Revelation uses this “usual view” of the origin of demons as a literary allusion, to describe the connection between the Roman Emperor Nero (the last of the Caesarean family) and the three primary Roman emperors who followed him (from the Flavian Dynasty): Vespasian, Titus, and Domitian. Revelation 16:12-13 states:

“And the sixth angel poured out his bowl onto the great river Euphrates. And its water was dried up so that the way of the kings from the land of the rising sun might be prepared. And I saw out of the mouth of the dragon, and out of the mouth of the beast, and out of the mouth of the false prophet, three unclean spirits coming out as frogs. And they are spirits of demons doing signs, which go forth to the kings of the land—even of the whole inhabitable world to gather them together to the war of the great day of God Almighty.”

For a thorough analysis of the identities of the dragon, the beast, and the false prophet, I refer the reader to my book, Revelation: The Human Drama. Nevertheless, in the interest of brevity, I will summarize:

• All scholars agree that the Dragon is Satan.
• The vast majority of scholars agree that the Beast is Nero.
• Ford and others agree that the false prophet is the Jewish High Priestly Family in Jerusalem.

In my book (pages 41-42, and others), I discuss why the Roman Emperor Vespasian and his two sons who followed him as emperors (Titus and Domitian) are the clear referents to John’s literary allusion concerning the origin of demons. With G. B. Caird, I agree that Vespasian, Nero’s general whom he sent to wage war on Jerusalem in 66 A.D. is the easiest and clearest understanding of the Beast (Nero) who received a death blow and then came back to life. Nero committed suicide in 68 A.D., but in 69 A.D. his Jerusalem general Vespasian became Emperor. Vespasian then promptly sent his son Titus as general to Jerusalem to finish the devastating war on the Jews. Titus became Emperor after Vespasian, and then his brother Domitian became Emperor after Titus. It was as if the Beast died, but these three “demons” came out of his mouth (and the mouth of Satan and the mouth of the anti-Christian Jewish High Priest). John is able to tie a very negative connotation to Satan, Nero, the Jewish High Priesthood, Vespasian, Titus, and Domitian by the very force of a demonic literary allusion.

While the story of the origin of demons in the Ethiopic book of Enoch is certainly Aggadah (Jewish folklore), John is not using the Aggadah as Homiletic Aggadah, as did I Peter, II Peter, and Jude (See Angels & Demons 10). John is not preaching a sermon as Peter and Jude were doing. Neither does the fact that John is alluding to this Aggadah suggest that John believed the Aggadah to be a true account of the origin of demons. As I pointed out in my previous commentary, Revelation 9:20 appears to agree with Paul—that demons (like idols) are nothing. John writes of unrepentant men who worshiped the “works of their hands”—“demons and golden idols, and silver, and bronze, and wooden, which are not able to see, nor hear, nor walk.” If demons are the works of men’s hands--neither able to see, hear, nor walk—demons do not exist as super-human forces that can take over the bodies of humans.

John is also illustrating the fact that one needs not believe in the historical truth of the stories from the various books of Enoch in order to use them for literary purposes. Likewise, Peter and Jude could use Fallen Angel stories from the various books of Enoch as sermon illustrations without believing them to be true historical accounts.

With this commentary, I conclude my series of commentaries on Angels and Demons. Perhaps, owing to my own scholarship in the field of Communication, I have a perspective on the nature of angels and demons that not many other scholars have. I can see that it is sometimes necessary to “personalize” our communication. We give “names” to our books, speeches, and literary documents and endow them with powers that make them seem to stand alone as separate from those who wrote the documents or spoke the words. Hence, the U.S. Constitution and Declaration of Independence exercise authority over us as if they were actual people—even super-human people. The false teachings that are broadcast over our airwaves may have even demon-like power to possess the minds and behaviors of those who listen to and believe these falsehoods. Let listeners and readers beware! Angels and demons (in the form of godly and false communications) are floating in the air all around you. Be careful about those communications that possess you!

In my next series of commentaries, I will be exploring the “hidden” messages in the films of the Walt Disney Corporation. You may even find some angels and some demons lurking in the messages of those films!