Fox Byte 5776 #2: Uncomplicated Good, Unrelenting Evil

Rocky, Bullwinkle, Boris, and Natasha. © Jay Ward Productions. Illustration accessed on Dishonest John's T.V. Toons.)
Rocky, Bullwinkle, Boris, and Natasha.  (© Jay Ward Productions. Illustration accessed on Dishonest John’s T.V. Toons.)

Great art retains its appeal through time.  This is true even with works created for children – including cartoons such as The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show.  The success of this cartoon classic is due to the things children appreciate:  outrageous characters, simple story lines, a make-believe world that mirrors real life, and just enough irreverence to entice the mischievous streak in every youngster.  And yet those who grew up with Rocky the flying squirrel and his friend Bullwinkle J. Moose continue to appreciate the show because of its sophistication.  As children we could not possibly understand the clever references to the Cold War then raging between the United States and the Soviet Union, nor the endless puns and jabs at politics, literature, and popular culture. 

As children we did not need to know those things.  All we needed to know was that Bullwinkle and Rocky were funny.  Even the villains were funny.  Boris Badenov and Natasha Fatale, along with their Fearless Leader, soon acquired fame that rivalled the title characters.  As caricatures of Soviet spies and political figures they were the perfect foils.  Moreover, they established a clear line between good and evil for young viewers.  Every child knew that Boris and Natasha were bad.  Their ceaseless efforts at killing Bullwinkle to advance their evil country’s fortunes originated from nothing else than pure meanness (as explained by Fearless Leader himself in the story “Goof Gas Attack”).  If the plot were exceptionally evil the spies would receive orders not only to deal with Bullwinkle, but to kill moose and squirrel.  Even when they received a note from Fearless Leader saying, “DO NOT kill Moose and Squirrel”, we knew that this apparent kindness occurred only because at that point the evil plans would best be served by keeping Rocky and Bullwinkle alive.

Children may not understand such things completely, but they grasp them instinctively.  Understanding comes later, after they have become adults and acquired years of knowledge and experience, not all of which is good or pleasant.  Children in their innocence discern good and evil, but they take as established fact that there is no gray area between the two.  After a few significant encounters in the real world they begin to learn that people and things can be confusing mixtures of good and evil.  Some appear to be good, but are evil at the core.  Some may do evil things, but for good reasons – or so they maintain.  Some do good for selfish reasons.  The sad reality is that children soon learn there is no absolute good among human beings, which makes navigation of this world exceedingly hazardous.  It is easier to revert to childhood innocence and attempt to stay there as long as possible.

The childlike place is comforting and safe.  There we recognize that good and evil exist, but all we need do is cling to the one while avoiding the other.  We need not seek the origins of evil, nor try to understand why evil and good seem to be intertwined in every heart.  A child will take the word of its parents in faith and act accordingly.  If they say a thing is good or bad, the child will act on that.  It is only later that the child begins to inquire into the nature of good and bad.  In time that path of inquiry leads to a line that should never be crossed:  the point of defining good and evil on his own terms.  Unfortunately, it seems that this very line has marked the boundary between childhood and adulthood since the time of Adam and Eve.  That may be why Messiah Yeshua said this:

And He called a child to Himself and set him before them, and said, “Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.  Whoever then humbles himself as this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”  (Matthew 18:2-4 NASB) Please click here to continue reading

Fox Byte 5775 #49: Ki Tetze (When You Go Out)

כִּי־תֵצֵא

Ernest Borgnine as Boris Vaslov, the Russian double agent in the Cold War espionage drama Ice Station Zebra. (Photo: The Movie Scene)
Ernest Borgnine as Boris Vaslov, the Russian double agent in the Cold War espionage drama Ice Station Zebra. (Photo: The Movie Scene)

As with all good spy stories, the 1968 movie adaptation of Alistair MacLean’s Ice Station Zebra does not reveal the full truth until near the end.  All we know at the beginning is that a US Navy submarine is on a mission to rescue British scientists trapped at a weather station on the Arctic ice pack.  We realize something unusual is afoot since the boat’s captain, James Ferraday (played by Rock Hudson), has been ordered to take aboard not only a platoon of Marines, but also a British Intelligence officer who goes by the name Jones (Patrick McGoohan).  At sea they are joined by Boris Vaslov (Ernest Borgnine), a Russian defector.  After an act of sabotage nearly destroys the submarine, Captain Ferraday confronts Vaslov, asking why he should not believe him to be the saboteur.  Vaslov responds, “That should be obvious, Captain.  I was born a Russian, but I chose my side out of conviction, not by accident of birth.”  Jones vouches for him, and the mission continues.

In time the submarine reaches the destination and breaks through the Arctic ice near Ice Station Zebra.  As the Navy crewmen rescue the surviving scientists, Jones and Vaslov go about the real business of the mission.  Ferraday finds opportunity to speak with Jones alone as the British agent searches for what we learn is a canister of highly sensitive photographic film created in the United States for use in a British camera of extraordinary technical capabilities.  Soviet agents had stolen the film and the camera, and the Soviet Union adapted both for use in a spy satellite.  Jones explains this in one of the movie’s most famous lines:

The Russians put our camera made by “our” German scientists and your film made by “your” German scientists into their satellite made by “their” German scientists, and up it went, round and round, whizzing by the United States of America seven times a day.

Just as the film canister is discovered, a force of Soviet paratroopers lands near the ice station.  Their mission, of course, is also to recover the film canister.  It is at that point that we learn Vaslov’s convictions are not as strong as he would have others believe.  He assaults Jones and reveals himself as a double agent whose real intent is to assist the Soviets in recovering the film.  As the American and Soviet forces engage in a firefight, Jones kills Vaslov.  The fighting ends when the hopelessly outnumbered Americans agree to surrender the canister, but then succeed in destroying it by a final act of intrigue.  Having no further reason to remain in conflict, both sides withdraw, leaving the body of the treacherous Vaslov on the ice.

Boris Vaslov teaches us an eternal truth.  Unable to choose between two identities, in the end he loses them both.  So it is with everyone who halts between allegiance to the Kingdom of Heaven and the kingdom of this world.  It is best to choose wisely since Scripture provides an unambiguous statement on the conclusion of this matter:

Then the seventh angel blew his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven, saying, “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Messiah, and he will reign forever and ever.”  (Revelation 11:15 NRSV)

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Fox Byte 5775 #25: Tzav (Command)

צַו

Operating in deadly environments. Clockwise from top: James Franciscus, Gene Hackman, and Richard Crenna in the 1969 space drama Marooned (photo: Movie Hunger); Peter Coyote, Samuel L. Jackson, and Dustin Hoffman under the sea in Sphere (photo: Torrent Garden); Gregory Peck sends John Meillon ashore in the radiation charged atmosphere of San Diego in the film adaptation of On the Beach (photo: Senses of Cinema); Dustin Hoffman in a virus-infected hot zone in Outbreak (photo: ET Online).
Operating in deadly environments. Clockwise from top: James Franciscus, Gene Hackman, and Richard Crenna in the 1969 space drama Marooned (photo: Movie Hunger); Peter Coyote, Samuel L. Jackson, and Dustin Hoffman under the sea in Sphere (photo: Torrent Garden); Gregory Peck sends John Meillon ashore in the radiation charged atmosphere of San Diego in the film adaptation of On the Beach (photo: Senses of Cinema); Dustin Hoffman in a virus-infected hot zone in Outbreak (photo: ET Online).

Consider the fragility of human existence.  We survive within a specific set of environmental parameters – a fixed range of temperature, hydration, radiation, and atmospheric content.  From a cosmic perspective the margin of error is very small; the slightest adjustment in even a single factor, such as the amount of oxygen, quickly moves the environment from pleasant to deadly.  Yet we have learned how to venture into the realm of the deadly when necessary.  Thanks to protective clothing, equipment, and protocols, our species can operate within the vacuum of space, in the ocean’s depths, in the radiation-charged atmosphere of a nuclear reactor, and in the hot zone of an infectious disease laboratory.

We venture into these deadly environments, but we do not live there.  We cannot survive there without observing the strictest standards.  Those who enter these realms understand this.  Astronauts, deep sea explorers, nuclear engineers, and epidemiologists are professionals who have answered the call to highly specialized career fields.  Not all who enter the paths of these professions advance to the point that they can operate confidently in the most dangerous places.  The selection and training standards must be established at the highest possible levels for the simple reason that the slightest error can produce lethal results.  Richard Preston explained this principle in The Hot Zone, an investigative look into the origins of viral hemorrhagic fevers like Ebola.  We learn from his book that the protocols for entering, working in, and leaving an infectious disease lab are elaborate and time-consuming, but necessary.  No amount of caution is excessive when microscopic killers can infiltrate through the tiniest puncture of a protective suit or escape through an improper seal of an airlock.  The viruses create the hot zone, whether it is in the lab or in the human body.  Because of the radical transformative nature of these microorganisms, the highly trained professionals who work with viruses like Ebola in a very real sense act as mediators between them and the general population.

In fact, the role of these professionals is not unlike the role of the Levitical priests.

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