Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Star Trek afterthoughts

(This is a follow up to the previous Star Trek impressions.)

Star Trek (the original) was a series with a very definite worldview: atheistic, secular humanism.

Its vision was of mankind naturally outgrowing all its violence and hatred, and coming together in a massive global (then interstellar) Federation. This wasn't just a plot-device. It was creator Gene Roddenberry's alternate religion.

Tim Bertolet discusses both Roddenberry's humanism and his personal immorality and egotism here and here. It's sad but hardly surprising to find that Roddenberry was a womanizer. Based on decades of observation, very frequently it's just this simple: scratch a virulent anti-Christian, and you simply find someone who wants to have a lot of immoral sex.

Which maybe explains Hollywood. But I digress.

Did you know Roddenberry went to a Baptist church as a youngun? Here's what he later said:
I listened to the sermon, and I remember complete astonishment because what they were talking about were things that were just crazy. It was communion time, where you eat this wafer and are supposed to be eating the body of Christ and drinking his blood. My first impression was, "This is a bunch of cannibals they’ve put me down among!" For some time, I puzzled over this and puzzled over why they were saying these things, because the connection between what they were saying and reality was very tenuous. How the h___ did Jesus become something to be eaten?
In fact, we learn that Roddenberry was in church because of his mother, and was mostly interested (sexually) in the deacon's daughter. Not a deep man, not a good listener, and not a profound thinker.

And that was the world of Star Trek. Not only no God, but no recognizable human religion whatever to speak of in the original series. This was by Roddenberry's design.

It contrasts starkly with Babylon 5, which came along a couple of decades later. Creator J. Michael Straczynski, though himself an atheist, dealt thoughtfully and more realistically with issues of faith and religion.

This worldview is a pipedream, however. It ignores man's dilemma and deepest needs, and God's provision for both.

So I watch the movie and notice that at one point an authority-figure says: "Godspeed."

That's unique, in the ST universe. Will the rebooted Star Trek do the Roddenberry, stick its fingers in its collective ears and do a "La la la I can't hear you" on the subject of God? Or will He come up?

Answer that and you answer whether future ST movies will be stimulating on more levels than fun, laughs, and special-effects eye-candy.

Not that I'm opposed to fun, laughs, and special-effects eye-candy, mind you.


Chris H said...

One of the things I appreciated most about DS9 was the way it handled the issue of faith. The concept of god(s) and religion play a large role in that series, and I always thought that if they would have just focussed on the one true God, they could really make some amazing headway.

Sisko, the main character in that series, even becomes a believer (of sorts) in the Bajoran gods, trusting them and the path they've "laid out for him."

Kira says to one atheist character something to the effect of, "That's the thing about faith: if you don't have it, no explanation will suffice; but if you do, no explanation is necessary." I thought that was a pithy statement with potential.

Anyway, lest I betray the full measure of my Star Trek geekiness, thanks for your thoughts about the show, and the movie.

DeanB said...

There is a Star Trek original series episode called "Bread and Circuses. The Enterprise encounters a planet that is patterned on ancient Rome. At the end of the show the dialogue goes like this:

McCoy: (to Kirk) I read in your report that Flavius was killed. I'm sorry. I really liked that sun worshipper.

Spock: I do wish we could examine that belief of theirs more closely.

Uhura: I'm afraid you have it all wrong. All of you. I've been monitoring their old style radio broadcasts. The Empire's spokesman trying to ridicule their religion. But he couldn't. (after a brief silence) Don't you understand? It's not the sun up in the sky. It's the Son of God!

Kirk: Caesar and Christ. They have them both.

Spock: It will replace their imperial Rome, but it will happen in their twentieth century.

Kirk: And the word is spreading... only now. Wouldn't it be something to watch it happen all over again?

timb said...

That view of faith is sadly all too popular. Elsewhere in Star Trek Worf says something similar about faith in the episode "Rightful Heir" where he meets Kahless (the Klingon 'Messiah') only to find out Kahless is a clone. At the end he says to Data something about faith being a blind leap and not needing evidence.

I always got the impression that ST made reverence to all the gods to show how deluded our ancestors were and how much smarter and evolved we are/will become, which is classic humanism.

Voyager had spiritualism and mysticism too, which went beyond Roddenberry's vision. (Although I think there is an episode where Kirk marries a couple and there is chapel with a cross in it--I think it is 'Balance of Terror).

Star Trek may have evolved with the culture and the cultural attitude towards 'faith'. Now spirituality is chic.

Unfortunately there is still suspicion of traditional forms of religion (e.g. orthodox Christianity). This is true in our times and is at times reflected on TV including ST. For example, in an Enterprise story Arch where the find the 'original' Vulcan scriptures to replace the corrupted teaching, and Archer remarks how familiar this is (making an obvious parallel to the pop-culture myth of Jesus vs. Christian orthodoxy.

Ok, I have betrayed my full measure of Star Trek geekiness... and I still need to see the new movie, sheesh.

Dan, thanks for the shout out.

RT said...

You are absolutely on point about Rodenberry's bankrupt philosophy - pure Macaulayism dressed up in spacesuits - and so manifestly and demonstrably wrong, it really beggars credulity that anyone could buy into it. Nietzsche (whose worldview was frankly more Biblical than Roddenberry's) very comically lists all of the motivators of "right" human conduct - "stoning, breaking on the wheel, impaling on a stake, ripping people apart or stamping them to death with horses, boiling the criminal in oil . . ." etc and concludes that "with the help of such images and procedures people finally retained five or six "Thou shalt not's" in their feeble memories . . "

Now THERE is the true legacy of humanity - not some pie in the sky notion of mankind's continual improvement. As Nietzche so effectively points out, men do not merely merely lean toward evil, they reach out and grab it with both hands and then stubbornly cling to it. Without God, there is truly no hope for mankind, whether in this world or one in another galaxy.

Fred Butler said...

I once knew a gal who was a vet here in LA. She saw a lot of celebrities come in and out with their high end pets. But her coolest moment she says, was Captain Picard and Captain Kirk both sitting in the waiting room with their pets chatting it up about ST.

By the way. Those who haven't seen it should watch Trekkies, the documentary about Trek fans. One of the strangest, funniest, and sad things I have ever watched.

Chris H said...

Ditto your sentiment about "Trekkies."

That woman in Arkansas made my head hurt, and made me a little sad for her.

Have you seen the Bible in Klingon?

Now this is derailing the meta....

Mike Westfall said...

That second Tim Bertolet link points to a "Star Trek Sermon" contest sponsored by Pirate Christian Radio, in which they will award the first pastor that preaches a sermon based on the new Star Trek movie a copy of Christless Christianity by Michael Horton.

Chris Rosebrough has a show called Fighting For The Faith that airs on PCR. On May 8, he did a great job of Fisking a sermon by Tommy Sparger that came in too early to win the contest, but was promised to be a Star Trek sermon. In reality, it had very little to do with Star Trek, and never got passed the opening line, "To Bodly Go..." It was pretty hilarious. It's in the second half of the 3-hour podcast, if you wanna take a listen.

timb said...

I think the second link should have been this one, where I made note of Star Trek's humanism.

DJP said...

True. Fixed. Thanks.

CR said...

Due to some comments I read some time ago on B5, I started watching the series a few months ago. I just started on season 2. I never got around to watching it when it was on.

Interesting series so far.

DJP said...

I envy you. Wish I could watch it again for the first time. Dude, it's just warming up. Stay with it. Some of the best TV ever.

Michelle said...

"Based on decades of observation, very frequently it's just this simple: scratch a virulent anti-Christian, and you simply find someone who wants to have a lot of immoral sex."

So, so true - yet another quoteworthy gem.

I see it with a "friend" on facebook who is a lesbian. Christians apparently are a big thorn in her side.

The ones who oppose Christians (because their consciences can't stand the light shed on their evil deeds) worry me less than the ones who couldn't care less and are completely given over to their depravity, eager even to practice their wickedness in the light.

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

From the in-depth Roddenberry interview:

Alexander: I’ve noticed that absence of evangelicals on the show. Perhaps the real hallmark is that people on the show are civil. There is a tremendous amount of individual respect the characters display for one another’s beliefs, even though they may, individually, not like or agree with those beliefs.

Roddenberry: I doubt if there is one belief that unites everybody. I doubt if you can find a belief — other than "mind your own business" — that fills that category. I’ve never felt the need to write in a character who are evangelical.

Alexander: I remember in the original series you had an episode, "The Way to Eden," with the central character played by Skip Homeier. He and his true-believing followers were looking for the mythical planet Eden. The twist was that the planet turned out to be the opposite of what Homeier and his followers believed it would be. It wasn’t sweet and wonderful put poisonous and deadly. Homeier’s character climbed a tree, ate an "alien fruit", and died instantly. Every time I see that episode, I think "Gene, you devil. Look what you got into that script." Talk about taking the biblical myth and reversing it…"

Roddenberry: I don’t remember that particular script, but I’m still proud of it. [Laughter.]

Herding Grasshoppers said...

Religions vary in their degree of idiocy, but I reject them all. For most people, religion is nothing more than a substitute for a malfunctioning brain.

Gene Roddenberry

From here

Mike Westfall said...

Hey, I agree with Roddenberry there! I'm pretty sure that I'd rather have (a working) religion than a malfunctioning brain...

Herding Grasshoppers said...

Me too :0)

Daniel said...

I was going to mention the Bread and Circuses (TOS) episode myself, but I see DeanB beat me to it.

Roddenberry is credited as one of the writers (along with Gene Coon and (uncredited) John Kneubuhl).

My verification word was: avatiate.

Aaron said...

Based on decades of observation, very frequently it's just this simple: scratch a virulent anti-Christian, and you simply find someone who wants to have a lot of immoral sex.

Definately another DJP gem! This was exactly my reasoning before I came to Christ. Irony of ironies is that humanism destroys women most of all...but that is way off topic.

I thought STTNG was much more humanistic than the original series. Evolution was blatant and Picard was constantly spouting humanistic nonsense. Some episodes were nearly intolerable. During one of the movies or episodes, the Romulans, Klingons, and humans found a planet where an alien life form or recording thereof told them that the aliens seeded the prehistoric goo from all the planets. There was a planet where the race was all one gender. Riker fell in love with the alien he was working with and she felt like she was a female. She was then reeducated much to the chagrin of Riker. Clearly that was a homosexual reference.

I actually thought it was fortunate that the only reference to God from the human perspective was during one of the movies where they traveled to this planet where this alien being appeared to each of the crewmembers in a way in which they imagined God to look. (For humans it was an old man with a white beard). I thought STTNG was pretty harsh on religions of other planets (except that to tolerate them). It would have been a major drag to have overt bashing of Christianity.

All in all, I love SciFi and Star Trek. But the overt humanism is a bit depressing. Roddenberry could have made world peace due to the discovery of extra terrestrials and uniting against a common foe...but no, it was our "evolution." It wasn't clear how the economics of world peace worked, but everyone being well off and not worrying about money sure sounded good.

Aaron said...

So you guys are recommending Babylon 5? If so, I might get the DVDs to watch during rerun season. (although I still have some Christian DVDs..not entertainment, history, etc.).

DJP said...

Oh, yeah, I enthusiastically recommend Babylon 5. More importantly, so does the dear wife.

Aaron said...

did anyone else notice that the heros of Star Trek all participate heavily in violence considering they supposedly evolved into peace loving people? Kirk loved getting into fights. And before Picard had an artificial heart from when he was fighting Nausicans.

Aaron said...

That's good, Dan. My wife tolerates Star Trek. She likes Star Wars, but merely tolerates my love of Star Trek.

I hope MS can get a deal done to produce some Halo movies. Mass Effect would also be good.

CR said...


Yeah, so far, I've enjoyed the shows and as is the case with some science fictions, if they last any length of time, the characters grow and get mature over time.

I remember with TNG, I thought it started off in the first season so lame. The only reason why it survived past the first season was because of the fans and the fact that there was no science fiction on regular TV. Then TNG just got better, and better and better.

I'm looking forward to the rest of B5.

The only frustrating thing has been is especially with season 2, with Blockbuster Online, there have been some long waits with getting the DVDs. So maybe it's real popular and they don't have enough copies!

RT said...

Mesa Mike: "I'd rather have a (working) religion than a malfunctioning brain." Attend church with me some Sunday and you will see it is possible to have both.

Likewise while acknowledging the quotability of "scratch a virulent anti-Christian . . .", you can scratch a few professing Christians (Swaggart, Haggard, Privette, Barron, etc.) with the same result. Maybe it's the "virulent" part that is the deciding factor.

Rachael Starke said...

It's funny - I also thought the Hollywood motto was vintage Dan, but only in passing, because of what you described in the next paragraph about Roddenberry's experience in a Baptist church. Setting aside the fact of his hardened, unregenerate heart no being able to respond, my first thought was "What kind of communion sermon produced instilled that response? And I'm back to being mad at Baptists. :)

Rachael Starke said...

Also, I really thought B5 was a cheesy StarTrek knockoff, but if you, Carlo and your dear wife recommend B5, I'll program TiVo today.

Because I really need a new T.V. series to absorb my spare time.

The Squirrel said...

Sir Aaron:

"I hope MS can get a deal done to produce some Halo movies. Mass Effect would also be good."

Honor Harrington! We want Honor Harrington movies!


The Squirrel said...


"Because I really need a new T.V. series to absorb my spare time."

I know what you mean... I've got two weeks of Harper's Island to catch up on...


RT said...

Rachel: Frankly I doubt the veracity of Rodenberry's statement, unless we are to assume the Baptist church was preaching transubstantiation. His, I think, was just a case of "Hardened heart seeks excuse, only evangelicals need apply."

DJP said...

That's what I meant by "not a good listener."

RT said...

"Not a good listener" - Doubtless, but I still prefer to assume he was lying as more in line with my view of humanity.

DJP said...

Could be both. Didn't really listen, so he made it up.


RT said...

LOL - so true of most people!

LeeC said...

I've always been more of a Star Wars that trek fan, but I'll go see this one. Of them all believe it or not I like DS9 the best. It actually had some continuity and an ongoing story.

Overall I prefer the SG1 series more the trek or B5. I enjoy the stories, the characters are of the heroe mold rather than anti hero. The premis of Aliens impersonating gods can be fun and they very assiduously seem to avoid Christianity bashing.

I just finished rewatching Seasons 1&2 of SG1 and the few mentionings that could be about Christianity are met with at worst agnosticism. And I love Andersons delivery and wit in the show.

DJP said...

Squirrel has a hysterical review you've all got to go see.

David said...

"This is a bunch of cannibals they’ve put me down among!"

OK, I just can't respect a man who writes a sentence like that.

DJP said...

...and so we see Kjos' pointy ears, tricorder, and Federation insignia cast to the dust.

Mike Westfall said...

Yer right David Kjos. It should be, "... down among which they've put me."

Rachael Starke said...

Aaaand.... cue the Churchill quote.
Hmmm, wonder how many people know it.

David said...

Tricorder? I could have a tricorder? Now, that's something that's worth staying on for! (forgive me)

Mike, um ... yeah, that would work ...

"They’ve put me down among a bunch of cannibals!" Sorry, my homeschooling grammar-nazi alter-ego can't help it.

CR said...


I'll let you know after I've seen the full second season for an honest independent recommendation. I'm kind of a simpleton when it comes to sci fi, because I like sci fi. But I'm also honest. TNG was cheesy the first season but it got better.

Most science fictions start off real cheesy the first season. I can't make that assessment with B5 yet because I haven't seen the other seasons yet.

Oh, and I assume you meant Dan's dear wife as the other recommendation since I'm not married.

Peren said...

"This is the kind of errant pedantry up with which I will not put" - Churchill

"Daddy, what did you bring that book that I don't want to be read to out of up here for?"

I agree with Shatner -- Galaxy Quest was the best Star Trek documentary ever made.

Jon said...

Oh man, that Onion review was awesome! Star Trek definitely turns off the "normal" movie goer where Star Wars doesn't. I couldn't get my sister or brother-in-law to go and see it with me and they practically go and see anything in the theaters.

And... maybe I shouldn't admit this, but... I've never watched Babylon 5. *GASP*

Joe W. said...

You might want to check out Hulu.

They currently have 45 episodes of B5 online - seasons 1 & 2.

Steve B said...

I stopped watching The Next Generation after about the third big soliloquy against religion. Don't remember the episode, but Picard is struggling with how to help a people after the inadvertatently violate the prime directive, and he pounds his fist on his knee and declares that he will not consign these people to the dark ages of religion or some such.

You can have "Q", the ascendant being, but you can't have religion.

I really like StarGate SG-1, but was kind of turned off when they got into all the new age ascendant stuff as well.

BTW, found your blog via the Pyro site. Great stuff, linked you, etc.

DJP said...

..."inadvertatently violate the prime directive," which was pretty much a weekly occurrence.


LeeC said...

Hoo Boy,here's some exigesis for you Dan!

Star Trek as a Gift From God.

Steve B said...

To misqoute a certain pirate movie..

"its really more of a guidline"

Mike Westfall said...

So... What is your church's Prime Directive?

LeeC said...

1 Timothy 4:2 preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction.

Mike Westfall said...

What? I thought it was to boldly go where no church has gone before in vain attempts to be relevant to the popular idolotry.

LeeC said...

Not my church Brother.
Perhaps in that alternate reality universe where Spock has a beard....

LeeC said...

That wasn't exactly correct BTW. As per our website:

"Calvary Bible Church is an independent Bible Church founded by Jack MacArthur in 1954. We are committed to Expository Preaching, evangelization of the lost, equipping the saints, and worshiping God in spirit and truth."