“Where Is Everybody?”—Exploring the First Episode of “The Twilight Zone”—Part 1

The popular TV series The Twilight Zone was first broadcast in 1959. “Where Is Everybody?” is the first episode of the series. It was broadcast October 2, 1959. This story takes a fascinating look at themes of interest even today. I’ve used it in philosophy classes to foster discussion about knowledge and justified belief.

Rod Serling-The Twilight Zone-imageI use a two-part handout with questions for guided discussion. The questions in Part 1, reproduced in this post, draw viewers into the story and help them recall and think about the events that transpire. In a separate post I’ll list the questions used in Part 2 to facilitate reflection and discussion of themes in philosophy.

I screen the episode in class, then lead discussion around a selection of these questions. There are more questions here than can be used during a class period. So I encourage students to take some time with the rest of the questions on their own. I mix it up a little by having students get into small groups to share ideas that are prompted by two or three of the questions. Then we discuss a few of the more philosophically technical aspects of the story as a whole group. This allows me to include some lecturing. At the end I may allow time for students to write their thoughts about a wrap-up question. Students then turn in their notes, taken while viewing the story and during discussion.

You’re welcome to experiment with this exercise in your own teaching. Or you may want to view this episode of The Twilight Zone with some friends, then have a discussion around the issues raised in these questions. If you have suggestions of your own, feel free to write them in the comments box for this post. And if you do try these out in class, let us know how it goes.

Part I – Questions about Your Experience and Evaluation of this Episode

  1. The story begins with a man walking along a dusty road. The narrator says, “the journey we are about to watch could be our” What does this mean? How does this personalize the story? Notice, the narrator uses the first person plural (“we” and “our”), not the third person (“you” and “your”). Why might this matter?
  2. The man hears music playing and walks into a coffee shop. Thinking there’s someone in the back room, he calls out, “Say, I noticed there’s a town just up the road. What’s the name of it?” These are his first words in the story. Why would he ask this? Does it have anything to do with what he later begins to experience? Why would he want to know the name of the town? Does he ever learn its name? Why not? Later we find out that he can’t remember his own name. What is significant about this being a town with no name and his inability to remember his own name? (When does he realize that he can’t remember his name?)
  3. During the coffee shop scene, the man begins talking to himself. This happens when he pulls out a wad of cash and notices that it’s American money. When he then says, “I’m not sure who I am,” he’s still talking to whoever might be around. But we realize he’s actually talking to himself. This shift between direct address and self-address happens repeatedly throughout the story. For the story to work, we have to know what the man is experiencing. The episode depends on narration by the character himself, speaking aloud about what he’s experiencing. He’s reporting his thoughts and responses to what he encounters. But he transitions back and forth between talking to others and talking to himself. These transitions back and forth need to be smooth to move the story along and to keep us informed about what’s going on in the mind of this man. How effective is this device?
  4. What is significant about the following events:
  • breaking the clock in the coffee shop?
  • crashing into a mirror in the theater?
  • discovering that the “woman” in the passenger seat is a mannequin?Twilight Zone-Oakwood Telephone Booth-image
  • the man’s conversation with the mannequin when she tumbles into the street?
  • the telephone ringing?
  • getting trapped in the telephone booth?
  • the gong of the clock in the church tower?
  • the film clip scene in the movie theater?
  • the cigar still burning in the ashtray?

Is there any symbolism here? What do these events reveal about the character, once we know the real nature of the experiment? What would you add to this list?

  1. At the outset of the story, the man is relaxed and casual. When he discovers there are no people in the town he’s mystified. At times he seems to be humored by his circumstances. There’s his encounter with the mannequin, and the moment when he’s stuck in the phone booth and says, “This is an absolutely hysterical town, and I’m growing very fond of it.” In due course, however, his experience is increasingly disturbing, until he reaches the heights of desperation. What is happening to him? What is your sense of the explanation for this as things unfold? Does your understanding of his plight change at all by what is revealed at the end?
  2. How is the character delivered from his artificially manufactured experience? In his imagination he’s pressing a button labeled WALK, but in reality he seems to be pushing an actual button. What purpose is served by this button?
  3. Eventually we learn that the man’s name is Mike Ferris. And we learn the backstory. Why has Ferris been kept in an isolation booth? What was the purpose of the experiment?
  4. What did you experience as you watched this story unfold? When the man first discovered there was no one in the town, what did you think would happen next? Were you right? As the story went on, did you expect something dreadful might eventually happen to him? What did you think might happen?
  5. Describe what you were feeling as the man noticed there was a “woman” in the passenger seat of a car and he began to shout out to her? How did it make you feel when he opened the door and the mannequin tumbled out onto the street? Why would Ferris have imagined this?
  6. Movies often begin by giving viewers a reliable sense of what the story is about. This story doesn’t do that until the end, with only five minutes remaining. But the progression of events shapes our beliefs about the story and its meaning. Based on the clues provided in the story, we naturally seek to make sense of what is happening and what will happen next. How did your beliefs about these things shift as time went on? What did you think this episode was about when the man first walked into town? What did you think when he went looking for someone to find out what was going on? When he walked into the coffee shop and there was coffee brewing, but no one was around? When he ran into the jail? When the phone started ringing? When he got stuck in the phone booth? When he went into a movie theater and a film was playing, though no one was there? Why did you feel and believe the things you did? What elements of the story were the basis of your beliefs as they shifted over time?

Reading Up on Argentina, Birthplace of Pope Francis

With the Pope’s visit to the U.S. this week, now is a good time to add a few choice items to your reading list.

Pope Francis is from Argentina, a country in crisis. That includes economic crisis. For background to the history of capitalism and free enterprise in Argentina, have a look at The Crisis of Argentine Capitalism, by Paul H. Lewis. Paul Lewis-Crisis Argentine Capitalism-book coverArgentina once boasted a vital economy. Today it struggles under a regime that has frittered away the capital of a storied nation and crippled economic opportunity among the rank and file. Lewis documents the history of this condition and explains the unique story of economic decline in Argentina. In the same vein is Vito Tanzi’s informed on-the-ground account in Argentina: An Economic Chronicle—How One of the Richest Countries in the World Lost Its Wealth. Tanzi, an Italian, spent three decades working in various roles for the International Monetary Fund.

For those seeking a travelogue, Bruce Chatwin’s In Patagonia is the celebrated gold standard. Condé Nast, a travel journal, ranks it among “The 86 Greatest Travel Books of All Time”. The London newspaper Telegraph includes it among “The 20 Best Travel Books of All Time”. William Dalrymple, writing for The Guardian, proclaims it his favorite book in the category of travel literature. He judges that it is probably the most influential travelogue since World War II.

Uki Goñi-Real Odessa-Nazi War Criminals to Argentina-Book CoverMany have forgotten, or never knew, that Nazi war criminals found safe have in Argentina under Juan Perón. Uki Goñi narrates this story in his book The Real Odessa: How Perón Brought the Nazi War Criminals to Argentina. He documents collaboration between Perón and the Vatican. Kenneth Maxwell reviews the book in the journal Foreign Affairs. For a fuller description and evaluation of Goñi, see Richard Gott’s review in The Guardian. Gott doesn’t dispute the evidence of Catholic collusion.

Altogether incidentally, one of my favorite films, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, starring Paul Newman and Robert Redford (1969), recalls the demise of these affable ruffians in a hail of bullets while hiding out in Argentina.

Note: All links are to Kindle editions at Amazon.com

The Pope’s Support for Immigration and His Tacit Approval of Free Market Enterprise

Pope Francis is visiting the United States. He’s made several appearances, including a White House visit and an address before the United States Congress. His criticism of free market enterprise, of a capitalist economy, is well-known. Some have wondered whether he fully understands the unique expression of capitalism in the United States. It’s true, his views have been shaped by his experience coming from Argentina, which could not differ more extremely from political and economic arrangements in the U.S. But I wonder if he understands more than these commentators think.

Pope Francis Addresses Congress-2015.09Today, while speaking before Congress, Francis lauded the importance of an immigration policy that welcomes those seeking to improve their life circumstances. He called for, or commended, a humane and just policy that would allow movement across our borders. He was speaking to the U.S. Congress where the debate about immigration and border control is intense. The Pope weighed in on that debate. While his remarks were delicate and deferential, he did encourage adoption of an immigration policy that is welcoming.

Of course, he offered no detailed proposal for our border policy. Nor did he even hint at one. That would be a form of meddling that would be politically disruptive and unbecoming of a prominent religious leader who is visiting from outside the United States and enjoying the hospitality of gracious hosts. At any rate, there is little fodder here for left-leaning politicians to exploit in support of their open-borders preference. There’s nothing in his remarks to suggest that we should adopt this or that particular policy about border control.

What I find it interesting is this. The Pope urges hospitality toward those who simply wish to make a better life for themselves, while also adopting a negative posture toward a free market economy. The Pope recognizes the advantages that life in the U.S. affords those seeking greater economic opportunity. For the most part, immigrants from the south aren’t seeking political asylum; rather, they desire economic prosperity that is not available to them in their home countries. Capitalism, despite its shortcomings, is the engine that drives prosperity in this country. And the idea that a capitalist society such as ours should, as a matter of justice and hospitality, find ways to assimilate immigrants looking for a better life is tacit approval of capitalism.

This approval goes deeper even. For the Pope considers it morally commendable for this capitalist society, which has so much to offer legitimate immigrants, to share the fruit of an economy that increases opportunities for prosperity. This is tacit agreement that capitalism is not intrinsically motivated by greed, or essentially dependent on greed for its sustenance.

In addition, it is not accidental that the desirable fruit of our economy is the product of a free market system. I believe such a system is the only system that could bear such fruit. The alternatives, especially Marxist alternatives, are barren in this regard. The gross failure of economies south of our border explains why there is such a flood of immigrants into the United States.

The Pope’s concern for the poor and his efforts to galvanize collective efforts aimed at eradicating poverty is admirable. Free market enthusiasts argue that capitalism offers the greatest hope for achieving this ambitious goal. I concur. I suggest that the Pope, perhaps unwittingly, advocates for a qualified version capitalism when he urges us to share the fruit of our economy with those seeking a better life for themselves.

I would add that what is good for our economy is good for any economy. In fact, the poor of Central and South America would benefit even more fully if they could enjoy the fruit of a growing economy such as ours—without leaving their own countries. The Pope is uniquely positioned to work toward this goal. He hails from Argentina and is head of a church that dominates that part of the world that lies south of our borders.

The Pope has urged humane acceptance of immigrants. It is at least as humane to create opportunities for them that do not depend on immigration. And a successful policy for border control should include measures that would encourage the spread of capitalism from Mexicali to Tierra del Fuego.

Prince of Peace—Jesus, or Pope Francis?

On Fox News Sunday today, Chris Wallace interviewed Father Thomas Rosica, Advisor to the Vatican. This was prompted by the upcoming visit to the U.S. by Pope Francis. Here’s what Rosica said about the importance of this visit:

The visit to the White House, the President and his wife, and the whole team at the White House, are doing a very good job, and they have a certain decorum that’s required of them at that stage, to welcome the Pope as the great, greatest, I should say—not just the great, the greatest—the greatest moral leader in the world right now. And this is an opportunity for the President and his whole team to welcome him and to listen to the message of a peacemaker. The backdrop of this whole visit is not what’s happening in American politics, or a presidential campaign; the backdrop is a world steeped in violence, and bloodshed, and rancor, and hatred. And here we have, coming to your city [New York], to your diocese, a real prince of peace. If there’s any princely title that should be associated with Francis, it’s a prince of peace, it’s a bringer of peace. And when peacemakers come, they upset those who are not at peace. So [if] people are going to be upset, on any side of the spectrum here, let them look inside themselves and see what those issues are first, because in the presence of Francis, as you know and as I know, you’re in the presence of extraordinary goodness, of kindness, of intelligence, and of humanity. So humanity is coming to teach us how to be more human.

“Prince of peace” is biblical language. In other words, it derives from its use in the Bible as a descriptive title with a very specific context. The title “Prince of Peace” is used of the Messiah in Isaiah 9:6. It is, therefore—according to Christian orthodoxy—a reference to Jesus Christ. This is an extraordinarily honorific title. It denotes the full realization of messianic hope. In the Christian Scriptures it alludes to human reconciliation with God, and only by extension to the realization of peace within the human community. The agent, of course, is the Prince of Peace.

This agent is described in a series of four titles. The passage reads:

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder; and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.


  1. This passage is prophetic.
  2. It refers to the messiah by “name.” This name is captured by four descriptive titles. They are combined to express complementary and mutually reinforcing attributes of the messiah.
  3. Within this complex of titles are the superlative designations “Mighty God” and “Eternal Father.” The Prince of Peace, then, is the almighty God, creator of the universe, the beginning and the end. As “Mighty Counselor,” he is wise without limit and all-knowing.
  4. This prophecy will be fulfilled with the coming of the messiah, the incarnate son of God to be born into this world.
  5. The name of this son—denoted by this magnificent fourfold description—is linked to the role he is to play: the government will rest on his shoulders.
  6. The implication is that those who are governed will declare this figure to be the “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.” These are the titles they will use when speaking of him.

Verse 7 enriches the sense of things:

Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.

It is striking, then, that Father Thomas Rosica adopts this title when speaking of Pope Francis. In its biblical setting, which surely is Rosica’s source for the language he uses, “prince of peace” is an honorific title reserved for a specific individual who acts with uniquely divine authority. In a daring move, Rosica deploys the biblical language to express this pope’s gravitas as a peacemaker and as “the greatest moral leader” in the world today.

Rosica does not say that Francis comes as an emissary of the Prince Peace, the Lord of hosts. He simply calls him a prince of peace. In his defense, we might think that, in calling Francis a prince of peace, he does think of him as an emissary of peace. If asked, Rosica might explain that Francis is an emissary of the God who desires peace, an emissary of the Prince of Peace, as it were. In that respect, Francis would be an emissary of the Emissary of Peace!

But will this do as an explanation? There is overt and intentional grandeur in Isaiah’s use of the title for the messiah. This messiah, the Pope would no doubt agree, is none other than Jesus Christ. Christians boldly proclaim that Jesus is the incarnate son. He reconciles the world to Himself, and in this way he brings peace. He alone is worthy of the exalted titles ascribed to him in Isaiah 9:6. These titles should be reserved for the Lord of hosts who accomplishes these things, though he accomplishes them in part through the sons and daughters he has redeemed.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. the old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself, and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. – 2 Corinthians 5:17-19

The New Testament emphasizes the peacemaking role of individual believers in Christ. It’s called “the ministry of reconciliation.” Reconciliation here must be understood in the most basic sense; it is reconciliation between God and human persons. When a person is reconciled with God, He no longer counts their trespasses against them. Harmony with God is restored. That is true peace. And it falls to those who are in Christ, who are themselves restored creatures, who have been reconciled to God, to bear the “word of reconciliation” throughout the world.

There are two dimensions to peacemaking. The first and most fundamental is reconciliation with God so that personal sin is no longer a barrier to fellowship with God. The second dimension builds on this, pointing men and women to their need for fellowship with God through reconciliation with Him and making peace with others on that basis.

As I reflect on these things, it seems fitting to call the pope a peacemaker. That surely is one of his goals. And he has a useful platform for acting as a peacemaker. I would hope that both dimensions of peacemaking, carried out in their proper order, will be exhibited during the pope’s visit. But I would reserve the title “prince of peace” for him alone who has purchased peace between almighty God and human persons, namely, Jesus Christ. Is the pope a “peacemaker”? Yes. “Prince of peace”? I think not.

Good Quote—Josh McDowell

“Having convictions can be defined as being so thoroughly convinced that Christ and His Word are both objectively true and relationally meaningful that you act on your beliefs regardless of the consequences.”

Josh McDowell’s birthday today

Name This Object


Should Christians Renounce Donald Trump?

“Can anyone stop Trump?”

Since Donald Trump’s performance at the first Republican presidential debate, broadcast by Fox News August 6 (2015), there has been much braying, blasting, and boosting about his candidacy. The braying and blasting come mostly from establishment Republicans (for example, Charles Krauthammer and George Will) and a few of his Republican opponents. Boosting is heard from the likes of Anne Coulter and many in the electorate who are just plain angry with “the way business is done in Washington.”

  • I get the anger.
  • I get the desire for a non-politician politician.
  • I get the intrigue with Donald Trump’s candidacy.

And I’ve kept an open mind and hoped that Trump would inject some energy into public discourse about several urgent issues facing Americans today.

What I did not expect—and what is shocking—is Trump’s invective against women. He has made a number of demeaning public remarks about women that he has singled out for ridicule in the crassest of terms. Early in the debate, Meghan Kelly drew attention to these well-documented remarks and invited him to explain how he could say such things and expect to get elected. In response, Trump came very close to calling Kelly a bimbo; and in the aftermath he attacked her with scandalous language that really has no place in public discourse, least of all among presidential candidates.

Oddly, polls reflect continued enthusiasm for Trump. Some speculate that his harsh language is part of the reason. Political “experts” have been scratching their heads—and wistfully predicting that “Teflon Don’s” sizzle will fizzle. Some are beginning to doubt a future fall from grace.

So who are the people expressing such support for Donald Trump? Why are his poll numbers so high and still rising? My hunch is that Trump would not be polling so well without enthusiasm among conservative Christians.

If true, this is troubling.

Jesus said to his disciples, “The things that proceed from the mouth come from the heart, and those defile the man” (Matthew 15:18). How a person speaks, what he says, the words he uses, expose the condition of his heart. This is a warning because the heart is the core of a person’s being. And it is this core that determines how a man will conduct himself, what kind of a leader he will be. A person’s speech is a public means of assessing a person’s character.

This is why the apostle Paul admonished believers, “Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification, according to the need of the moment, that it may give grace to those who hear” (Ephesians 4:29). “But,” you may say, “what Paul expects of Christians does not apply to unbelievers.” But this would be a mistake.

First, Scripture expresses truths that are also good common sense and beneficial to the health of human society. Here we have an example of wisdom for nonsectarian circumstances confirmed by explicit Christian teaching.

Second, Christians are to be an example to unbelievers in every domain that involves attitudes toward others. Our public witness on behalf of wholesome speech is compromised when we celebrate the indecent speech of public personalities and cheer for their success as it impinges on our shared human concerns.

And third, Christians surely believe that both wisdom and grace are needed in the formation of policy by our elected officials. We may not insist on voting exclusively for those who share our religious convictions. But should we turn a blind eye to egregious spewing of venom against others?

In the New Testament letter of James we’re reminded that the tongue is a fire. It is a small organ of the body, but “it boasts of great things.” “Behold,” says James, “how great a forest is set aflame by such a small fire.” What does he mean when using the metaphor of fire for the tongue? “It is a restless evil, and full of deadly poison.” Sometimes we encounter clear cases of this, and we should dread the consequences, for the tongue “sets on fire the course of our lives.” James even says, in direct connection with this, that the same tongue is used “to bless our Lord and Father” and also to “curse men, who have been made in the likeness of God.” This includes words that intentionally demean the dignity of human persons. And this includes cheap shots against women made to garner public attention. (See James 3:5-11.)

One other passage is telling in this regard. It speaks to the issue of solidarity with others. God’s people, those who fear Him, are warned against consorting with scoffers: How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, nor stand in the path of sinners, nor sit in the seat of scoffers! (Psalm 1:1). This is relevant, for enthusiasm in the polls expresses solidarity with Trump. This solidarity, I fear, blinds supporters to the shamefulness of his public conduct.

Again, my focus is Trump’s alarming habit of lacing his speech with demeaning words that directly attack the dignity of individual persons—in this case especially, women.

You may like what Trump says about border control or taking a hard line with despots worldwide. You may imagine that a self-made man (who boasts of this at every opportunity) can reverse the downward spiral of our economy. And you may fear that no other candidate, Republican or Democrat, shares your sentiments and feeling of urgency about such things. But can you really be indifferent about what words reveal about a person? And can you ignore the implications this might have for leading a nation that desperately needs God’s blessing? And how are we to explain our professed interest in divine blessing if we temper our objections to Trump’s speech with a rationale that gets things backwards?

I’m writing this for Christians who take seriously their role in human society, who would stand for the right and the good in the public domain. And I urge all believers who are drawn to Donald Trump’s candidacy to consider the possibility that touting Trump approves and encourages shameful behavior.

“Who can stop Donald Trump?” If I’m right about Trump’s support among conservative Christians, they can make a big difference by shifting their support to a more respectable candidate. This answer to the question deserves greater attention.

Here are three suggestions for Christians reading this post:

  1. Circulate this post through Facebook and on your blog to encourage discussion of this issue.
  2. Leave your own evaluation of this post here.
  3. If you’re ever polled about Donald Trump, say you’re concerned about the coarsening of American culture and that you would be uncomfortable supporting his candidacy.

If Christians take a stand against what is sordid and vulgar in public debate, Trump’s numbers might decline dramatically.

* * *

Other blog posts that speak to this general problem:


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 3,200 other followers

%d bloggers like this: