Fox Byte 5775 #52: Vayelekh (And He Went)

וַיֵּלֶךְ

Concept art for an upcoming Czech film adaptation of Karel Čapek’s War with the Newts. (Photo: The Fish People Attack! Amazing Concept Art For Czech Creature Feature WAR WITH THE NEWTS (VALKA S MLOKY) on twitch, via Topzine.cz; © 2014 Salamander syndicate)
Concept art for an upcoming film adaptation of Karel Čapek’s War with the Newts. (Photo: “The Fish People Attack!” on twitchfilm.com, via Topzine.cz; © 2014 Salamander syndicate)

Isaac Asimov could have written I, Robot without Karel Čapek’s help, but he would have needed a different word for the artificial life forms featured in his writing.  Asimov’s robot stories shifted the paradigms of science fiction by exploring the unintended consequences of creating something smarter and stronger than a human, but without a human’s ethical configuration.  For over half a century he probed dark and difficult territory, asking questions and spinning scenarios that remain disturbingly applicable to our present reality.  Yet Asimov neither invented the word “robot”, nor initiated the inquiry into the potential nemesis of unbridled technological innovation.

Bad things happen when man plays the role of God, as Mary Shelley demonstrated in 1818 with her first novel, Frankenstein; or, the Modern Prometheus.  Shelley brought the question into the modern era, but it was Karel Čapek who mechanized it.  Čapek’s play R.U.R. (Rossumovi univerzální roboti; Rossum’s Universal Robots) was a success from its first performance in 1920.  The play introduced international audiences to the Czech word robota, meaning hard work, a word rendered into English as robot.  The play is not a comedy; in Čapek’s imaginary world the robots are manufactured life forms designed to assist humans, but eventually they rebel and extinguish all human life.

Čapek revived this scenario in War with the Newts, a novel published in 1936 as satire on the hypocritically self-serving international system which enabled Nazi Germany’s dismemberment of Czechoslovakia two years later.  It is a humorously dark tale about a race of sentient amphibian creatures discovered in the waters of Indonesia.  The newts prove to be swift learners and adept at a multitude of tasks, making them ideal candidates for exploitation not only as workers, but also as undersea warriors.  In time the newts, like the robots, rebel, destroying the dry land and turning it into shallow waters suitable for their environmental needs.  The nations of the earth find themselves in a war for survival against a global amphibian army.  It is a war humanity will not win, but Čapek reveals that the victorious newts will turn on themselves and become the instruments of their own destruction, leaving a remnant of mankind to rebuild the planet.

It is frightful to contemplate the end of one’s world, particularly when the end is justly deserved.  Asimov, Shelley, and Čapek relate scenarios of judgment resulting from mankind’s own selfish shortsightedness – playing God, if you will.  The element of terror they invoke lurks in the revelation that the instruments of judgment are the works of our own hands.  As usual, art imitates life.  YHVH renders judgment on those who disregard His standard of righteousness and set up standards of their own – playing God, if you will.  Judgment brings a sentence of destruction and death, which is terrifying enough.  What makes it more chilling is to learn the name of the one who will bring about the anticipated death and destruction.  About 35 centuries ago, the doomed Canaanite civilization experienced that very thing shortly after Moses spoke these words:

It is the Lord your God who will cross ahead of you; He will destroy these nations before you, and you shall dispossess them.  Joshua is the one who will cross ahead of you, just as the Lord has spoken.  (Deuteronomy 31:3 NASB)

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Fox Byte 5775 #2: Noach (Rest)

נֹחַ

Methuselah (Anthony Hopkins) meets his great-grandson, young Shem (Gavin Casalegno) in Darren Aronofsky's 2014 film, "Noah".
Methuselah (Anthony Hopkins) meets his great-grandson, young Shem (Gavin Casalegno) in Darren Aronofsky’s 2014 film, Noah.

Darren Aronofsky made a valiant effort to tell the story of Noah in a fashion worthy of Hollywood.  His 2014 film, starring Russell Crowe as Noah, certainly has its flaws.  No one would dispute that the filmmakers took considerable liberties with the biblical account.  Nevertheless, this telling of the story captures something that people often overlook:  Noah, like all the rest of us, walked hesitantly through life trying to understand what he had been created and commissioned to do.  With the hindsight of four millennia we assume that our Creator held a conversation with Noah at the start of the project in which He explained everything that Noah needed to know about the task of saving humanity in a giant boat.  And yet Russell Crowe’s portrayal is something entirely different.  He shows us a very human Noah who, like us, hears from the Lord only imperfectly, and must move forward one step at a time as he receives additional information through various means, including the wise counsel of his elders.  And there is something else:  we learn that Noah and the people with him were active participants in the story, and that the outcome very much depended on their decisions and actions.  The Lord God indeed had a plan, and an ideal way for that plan to be implemented, but then, as now, it is imperfect human beings who shape and carry out that plan.

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Fox Byte 5775 #1: Beresheet (In The Beginning)

בְרֵאשִׁת

This is the first Shabbat (Sabbath) of a new Torah cycle.  Each year, Jews and Messianic believers in Yeshua go through the Torah (the Books of Moses) and the Haftorah (selected passages from the other books of the Tanakh (Old Testament)) in weekly portions.  The portion for this week is Beresheet, “In the Beginning”.

After losing the French and Indian War, France chose to trade all of Canada and Louisiana for the small island of Guadeloupe.
After losing the French and Indian War, France chose to trade all of Canada and Louisiana for the small island of Guadeloupe.

The world’s first truly global conflict, known in Europe as the Seven Years’ War and in America as the French and Indian War, was a disaster for France.  By the war’s end in 1763, France had ceded the vast territories of Canada and Louisiana to England and Spain.  And yet it was not a complete disaster; the Treaty of Paris which ended the war left France with its most prized possession:  the Caribbean sugar island of Guadeloupe.  Great Britain had won control over both Guadeloupe and Canada during the war, and in the peace negotiations the British deemed Canada more strategically valuable to their empire.  But Guadeloupe had proven more valuable economically, producing more income for France than all the fur collected by trappers and traders in Canada, and all the sugar produced by Britain’s own island colonies.  King Louis XV, therefore, was quite willing to trade a vast empire for this small island.

A similar transaction appears in Scripture, when the Lord explains what He is ready to do to redeem a people He deems more valuable than all the nations of the earth:

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